Lamar County, Mississippi Genealogy and History


Pamela J. Gibbs County Coordinator

Lori Thornton,  State Coordinator
Deb Haines
, Assistant State Coordinator

WPA History of Lamar County, Mississippi


The Barney Lewis Train Robbery

        At the time Barney Lewis robbed the N. O. & N. E. train #42, that runs from New Orleans to Meridian, of from $42,000 to $92,000, he was a resident of Cocomo, Mississippi in Marion County. He was about 38 years old at this time. It is said that Barney Lewis received a phone call in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from New Orleans, Louisiana, that on the night of April 12 or 13 train #42 passing through Purvis, Mississippi about 11 o'clock P. M. was to carry a large sum of money. Barney and a Mr. Ennis left Hattiesburg going to Okohola where Ennis stopped at the switch. Some say Lewis went on to Purvis and boarded the train there; others say he boarded between Purvis and Okohola where the train stops for water. Barney Lewis uncoupled the baggage car from the engine while Ennis crawled into the cab and told the engineer to drive a little further down the track. Lewis went to the baggage car and found the safe had a double lock. Boring a hole in the safe and using one charge would not open the safe, so he bored another hole and put two charges of explosive in and opened the safe. After they had put the money into a mail pouch they fled into the woods and it took them two days to reach their home. On reaching their destination Lewis gave Ennis $2,000 for his part. Ennis went to Alabama, got drunk and pinned $20 bills all over his clothes. It was in 1915 when these men were arrested for the robbery. This was brought about by Lewis buying a large farm and car loads of cattle and spending large sums of money in general. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary at Atlanta, Ga., serving about 7 1/2 years of the sentence. He was tried in Federal Court in Biloxi, Mississippi


        Train No. 2 upon the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad, due here in Hattiesburg at 11:08 P. M. was held up about one half hour ride south of here in Lamar County last night by two masked men.

        The robbers molested only the express car in which they blew the safe and robbed it of it is estimated $200,000. Five charges of dynamite were used in blowing the safe, while one of the robbers worked on the safe the other stood guard over the train crew.

        The train had stopped to take water when robbers boarded it. One robber lined up the train crew alongside the train while the other entered the express car. The train was carrying a large amount of government money from New Orleans to eastern points. Two guards were in the express when it was entered. One of them was disarmed and sent into the passenger coaches to warn the passengers of the fact that the train was being robbed. The guard was instructed to tell the passengers to hide their valuables.

        After looting the express car the robbers left the train and took to the woods. One of the packages taken is said by the messenger to have contained $14,000. The chief of police of Hattiesburg and the sheriff of Forrest County have left with bloodhounds and will endeavor to trail the bandits while the trail is fresh. A large posse of Hattiesburg citizens accompanied the officers--County officers were notified. Posses were immediately formed and mounted on horses started in pursuit of the robbers, who it is said, took a northeasterly direction, evidently heading for the Alabama State Line. (This is known as the Barney Lewis Train Robbery) (Copied form Marion County record files of May 16, 1912)


        Barney Lewis, aged 40, was arrested at his home yesterday in Tangiphoa or 4 miles from that parish (Louisiana) , on a charge of being one of three men who held up a Queen and Crescent Train at Okahola, Mississippi in Lamar County, May 1, blew open the express car and escaped with a sum said to be $92,000.

        The arrest was made by Sheriff Ballard of Tangiphoa, and Detective T. K. Trigg, of Birmingham, Ala. Trigg brought Lewis to New Orleans last night and kept him in the Parish prison. They will leave at 8:00 this morning for Purvis, Mississippi, Lamar County. Purvis is the County Seat in the robbery section.

        According to Trigg, the evidence against Lewis is conclusive. His trail picked up ten days after the hold-up, one of the most daring in history. Lewis has been shadowed every since. The other two men, the detective says, are on the verge of arrest in a town near Birmingham, Ala. Lewis wouldn't talk except to say that he could prove an alibi, by friends in New Orleans. He named Dr. Swords as a man who could testify in his favor, "You won't get nothing from me," he said.

        Trigg claims that Lewis made a practical confession on the way to New Orleans last night. "He told me he knew that he was being shadowed for eight or nine months," said Trigg "This is a relief from an awful suspense", he said. "A dozen dicks have crossed my path in the last few months. I could pick out every one and I knew my arrest was coming. Everywhere I went I knew a detective was shadowing me", " and then he intimated that it is up to us to convict him. We have got the goods strong on him, every move that he has made, the detectives have followed him, if he is the right party that has served time in the penitentiary in Alabama. I think, too, that he is the same man who blew up the penitentiary in Jackson, Miss several years ago and escaped. One of his early jobs was at Reform, Ala., many years ago, when he and others cracked the safe at the Southern Express Company and made away with a lot of money. He was arrested, placed under a nominal bond, and jumped it."

        Lewis will be placed in the jail at Purvis, Mississippi, Lamar County today, he won't be kept in jail very long. The guards will be on him all the time.

        An effort is being made to connect Lewis with a gang that robbed the express cars of the Illinois Central at Batesville, Mississippi two months ago, according to a statement by Sheriff Ballard of Amite City, last night. The gang has been traced to that vicinity. Trigg does not place much confidence in that theory, he thinks Lewis has retired from the "Yegg" gang.

        Of information against Lewis, he is a modern alias Jimmy Valentine. He wants to live a straight life and with proceeds from the Northeastern Robbery he intended to establish himself as a peaceable citizen. After this work at Okohola Lewis came to New Orleans; he was in and out of the city for several months it is said. Then he married a young girl. Just when he married; officers don't know, but behind him in Tangiphoa farm yesterday afternoon he kissed a sweet faced weeping woman good-by, the detective says, for several minutes they were in embrace, husband in handcuffs. The woman expects his early return to the farm.

        After marrying the girl, Lewis went straight to Tangiphoa and spent several days prospecting. Then he purchased a 400 acres farm four miles from Tangiphoa Station, took his wife there and furnished the house in elaborate style, prepared to settle down and live a peaceful life. Then the detectives began to pop up now and then in Lewis' sight, his happiness began to fade, deep lines began to appear in his face and his eyes sank back into his head, but Lewis did not flinch. This is according to the detective's story.

        Lewis prospered on his farm. He has one of the finest cotton crops in the parish and is said to have been recently on another deal which would involve $5,000. He did not work the land himself, but acted as overseer, kept an itemized account. He was highly respected and his arrest yesterday afternoon created a surprise to his neighbors. He offered no resistance when the officers drove up in the buggy but walked part of the way to meet them.

        "You are Mr. Lewis?", the sheriff asked.

        "Yes," he replied.

        "We have a warrant here for your arrest," continued the officer. The Sheriff made further explanation. Lewis only grinned when Trigg pulled out a pair of handcuffs and clamped them to his wrist. He agreed to make a trip to Purvis, Lamar County, Mississippi without any extradition papers.

        The robbery was committed in the early morning of May 16, 1912, just out of Okahola, about eight miles from Hattiesburg, Mississippi and was committed by only two men of average build, who succeeded in perfecting their escape through the swamp surrounding the scene of the desperate deed. The hold-up was done in a truly wild and woolly manner. Riding quietly out of the station in Hattiesburg, until they passed Okahola, the two robbers, wearing masks, carrying revolvers crawled over the tinder and commanded the engineer and fireman to stop the train.

        "Shall I stop here?" queried the frightened engineer when the scare had worn off.

        "No, just around that curve'" commanded the robber with a flourish of his revolver.

        When the train came bumping to a halt the desperadoes commanded the engineer crew to preceed them to the baggage car. At the door the engineer was forced to call a messenger. When he responded looking out the door of a car he was looking into the nose of a blue steel revolver.

        "Call your friend," suggested one of the robbers with an air of bravado.

        Forced to the door from curiosity the special guards found little consolation in looking down the face of a heavy gun. The robbery, while theatrical in the extreme, was effected without a shot being fired.

        After the train crew had been lined up and searched for weapons one of the robbers stood guard while the other attempted to crack the safe. Before the patented lock affair was blown open six shots of nitroglycerin had to be prepared by the bandits.

        Scooping up the fat rolls of currency and as much of the silver as they could carry comfortably the robbers without as much as a glance at the dollars scattered about the car ordered the train forward. When the train had gone out of sight the two disappeared around a cut in the trees and were later trailed along a long road with hounds until the trail was lost in the swamp. They were ultimately believed to have escaped with the use of a motor boat hidden in one of the numerous bayous southeast of where the robbery occurred. The robbery entailed $92,000 while $300 was left scattered around the car and stuck to the safe which had been blown. Owing to the amount of money carried the car had been equipped with a special safe with a special lock and carried a special guard. The arrest and conviction of the two men entailed a reward of $1,000 offered by the Adams Express Company.

         BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA August 17, 1913.-- Henry Ennis, alleged to be one of the bandits that held up and robbed train No. 42 on the N. O. & N. E. Railroad on the night of May 16, 1912, and secured $92,000 from the Southern Express Safe, was captured at 4:45 this morning, seven miles from Carbon Hill in the western part of Alabama. The arrest was made by a party of Birmingham detectives. Ennis was brought to Birmingham and lodged in jail here. He refused to make any statement.


         Hattiesburg, Mississippi Aug. 23.-- All doubt of a confession from Jerry Ennis has been removed. The confession was made in the Forrest County Jail and a transcript of it made by Gower Meader of this city. The release of Henry Ennis followed the confession and his connection with the case will end after the preliminary trial of Jerry Ennis and Barney Lewis at Purvis next Friday before Justice Parker. Express Agents say that the trial will be a calm affair as they have all of the testimony necessary to convict both men.

        According to the confession as reported the men in question held up both the N. O. & N. E. near this city and the Mobile and Ohio near Corinth a few weeks earlier. Ennis states that the booty acquired at Corinth was only $427 and after the comparatively small haul he returned to his Alabama home and was earning a living by the sweat of his brow; on March 1, 1912, after the Mobile and Ohio hold up , he (Ennis) was plowing in his field when Lewis came and suggested another train robbery, and after much persuasion induced him to come to Mississippi and take a part in the holdup. They came to the state and on the night of the holdup at Okahola, they boarded the train at Purvis and after a short run they covered the engineer and fireman and ordered the train stopped. They marched these men back to the express car and demanded that the car be opened. Ennis stood guard while Lewis did the work. This P. M. Engineer Marker and Fireman Jones were both taken to the jail and identified the prisoners as the men who held them up. They stated that they could recognize them by their voices. Ennis states that after the work was accomplished he was handed the largest bag of booty, while, Barney Lewis came from the car with his arms filled with bills. He states that they stopped after having gone a short distance and burned all papers except money. He says they took no jewelry. He also says that the story that they made their escape in an automobile is not true, for they walked all that night and the next day till they came to a branch line of the Illinois Central (Supposed to be the Kentwood and Tylertown branch) and after reaching the main line they went to Winona, Mississippi, leaving this point. They buried their money at some point in Mississippi before reaching the Alabama line. Ennis does not recall the place the treasure was buried.

        The story goes further that on or about September 1, 1912 Lewis came to Enis' home in Alabama bringing him $9,000 and was told that this was his share of the booty. Rumor yesterday was that Jerry Ennis made his brother Henry a present of $1,000 of this money and this was the connection Henry had in the case. Ennis it seems does not know the full amount of money gotten.

        R. L. McDaren of Vicksburg, Chief counsel for the South Bound Express Company, is in the city and has associated Tally and Mason with him to assist in the prosecution of the accused at Purvis, Friday. Ennis is very ill in the county jail. His temperature is 104. Express Railroad Officials are resting on their oars having the case well in hand and satisfied with the work this far. No other persons are implicated and Detectives Trigg and Bodeker have returned home.
        Free Press, August 21, 1913. Pearl River County Paper

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Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007  by Pamela J. Gibbs except where otherwise noted.


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