An Alabama widow lives in fear of the terrifying murderer Railroad Bill. But is he really what the townsfolk say he is? Written and told by Christine Horn.

Listen to storyteller Christine Horn narrate “Railroad Bill”

I’d like to share a story with you if you’ve got a minute or two. Now I don’t know if it’s true or not, I’ll let you make that up for your own mind. I guess this story is about a lot of things, but mostly it’s about keeping the faith. 

There weren’t any window screens on Miss Ellie’s little white ramshackle house. Every night as the sun went down, and the night chill settled in, she shuffled over to each window and hook the wooden shutters and then she locked the front door.  Not just to keep out the night air, mind you, but mostly to keep out whatever was lurking in the shadows. 

Miss Ellie was a widow woman whose husband passed on 30 years ago.  Her children were all grown and moved away to the city to live their own lives, and she’d gotten too old and too crippled by arthritis to work anymore, and had to survive on the meagre pension check her husband left her. 

Now even though Mis Ellie was poor, she was a proud woman and didn’t take kindly to charity.  Seems her faith always got her through the hard times, and she always trusted the Lord to take care of her. Miss Ellie’s pension check was a week overdue, and the only food left in the pantry was a jar of stewed tomatoes. Times hadn’t been much worse, and Miss Ellie was in bad need of a miracle. 

And as if Miss Ellie didn’t have enough troubles, the stories about Railroad Bill started. Seems he was on the loose again, and she’d been terrified of him nearly all of her life. Miss Ellie couldn’t keep him off her mind – not since her neighbor, Miss Rose Cooper, claimed she saw him walking down the tracks late one Saturday week.  Folks said he was the most dangerous man who ever lived, and he didn’t have respect for anyone.  Rumor was he murdered a man in cold blood just because he didn’t like the way he looked at him.  Fact was, no one knew for sure if he was flesh and blood, man or ghost. 

Odd thing was, Railroad Bill always seemed to show up when folks was going through tough times.  But no one ever seemed to put two and two together, if you know what I mean. Miss Rose claimed that Railroad Bill was a giant of a man from south Alabama who liked to rob freight trains along the Louisville and Nashville line, just for fun.  She was proud of the fact that she’d actually seen him. 

But most folks didn’t pay Rose no never mind.  Story was that if the police were hot on his trail, he dropped his stolen loot on some needy person’s porch and then disappeared into the night. He usually left cans of food and fresh vegetables, and sometimes even a little money. Poor Miss Ellie didn’t know what to believe, but she wasn’t taking any chances when it came to Railroad Bill.  So she pushed a chair in front of the door just in case.  After she thanked the Lord for allowing her to spend another day on Earth, she called into bed. 

Houses on Railroad Tracks, Birmingham, Alabama

Now she was just nodding off to sleep when she was startled awake by the sound of gunshots from close by. It sounded like somebody had come runnin’ and taken a big jump and landed right on the back porch.  Next came a rattling and a clatter.  She opened the door just in time to see the biggest black man she’d ever seen in her life standing on her back porch!  He turned around and grinned at her before he ran down the railroad tracks. Miss Ellie stood in the door with her mouth wide open. 

Now Miss Ellie’s eyesight wasn’t too good anymore, but she swears she saw this man vanish right before her eyes.  Was it possible that she’d just seen Railroad Bill?  She looked at the cans of food and fresh vegetables scattered all over her porch. She didn’t know whether to be frightened or relieved. 

When Miss Ellie went back to bed that night, she listened to the mournful sound of the train whistle as it disappeared into the Alabama night. She thought about Railroad Bill for a long, long time. Was it possible he robbed freight trains so he could give food to the poor?  Maybe he’d been poor too and knew what it was like to go hungry. Miss Ellie knew one thing for sure – Railroad Bill was an answer to her prayers. 

Bright and early the next morning, Miss Rose stopped by Miss Ellie’s for her usual morning gossip and to show her newspaper clippings he found an old trunk.  The articles were over 40 years old, and said the police had captured the notorious bandit Railroad Bill.  It went on to say that Railroad Bill had been killed trying to escape. One thing was certain: the Lord certainly works in mysterious ways.


Story provided courtesy of ART Station.  As told by the Tour of Southern Ghosts, ART Station, Stone Mountain, Georgia.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Jamie McDonough

    Sometimes when I’m not at my best I think of people I upset once that are no longer in my life. And I wonder. Have they forgiven me? I’ll never know, and it worries me sometimes. But I trust those who once knew me in my less glorious moments will trust that maybe I am not the person I was in those moments long ago. So, when railroad Bill doesn’t like the way a man looks at him. I want to tell Bill to trust that man is just having a bad day and Bill should please give him a second chance even if he doesn’t feel up to it for a little time to come. I know what it’s like to start off on the wrong foot and then someone forgives me, or I forgive them, and we become friendly.

  2. David Schmidt

    Beautiful story, and excellent delivery of it. Loved hearing your sonorous voice telling it so artfully.

  3. Jamie McDonough

    I like this tale, because it makes me think. Thank you, The Moonlit Road. We know railroad Bill. Donates food to people in need, but he does it when the law is hot on his trail. Does that make his donations less sincere? Is it fair to praise railroad Bill if his donations weren’t his to give away in the first place? If the people he helps are aware of this does that make them less sympathetic? Even if they are less sympathetic are they still forgiven in the minds of the audience of this story? Am I good or bad for questioning what side of the law these characters are on and how much of the law they must obey to be in my good book?

  4. RC Roark

    Nicely done! Thank you.

  5. Anne

    Thank You doing such a Great job narrating! You have a beautiful Southern accent, Georgia? I’m from Memphis myself so I can recognize a great natural Southern accent. Keep up the awesome work!