- Grant Recipient
Legends & Lore®
- 7028 Webster Rd, Cowen, WV 26206, USA
- 38.409677, -80.556916
The Webster County Historical Society, Inc.
At the turn of the century, Wild West Shows were popular traveling entertainments that presented an exciting and romantic depiction of the American West. As a rule, these were reenactments of western tropes, not the genuine article. But in 1905, Texas Bill’s Wild West Show brought a real Old West shootout to the little town of Cowen. A bloody gunfight erupted between Texas Bill’s Wild West show cowboys and Baltimore & Ohio railroad police at Cowen station on an “excursion train,” a locomotive trip for sightseers and tourists. In the aftermath, three of Texas Bill’s showmen lay dead and another fatally wounded.
The trouble started when Mexican Bill, a local celebrity while the show was in town, boarded the excursion train at Cowen, where the Wild West Show was performing that day, and strode into the bar car. Mexican Bill was the troupe’s most daring and handsome rider, and one of the ladies at the bar swooned at his presence and rushed to shake his hand. This attention enraged her jealous escort who exchanged words with Mexican Bill. At the same time, Mexican Bill’s friend, the show’s flutist, grabbed a female passenger and insulted her. The railroad police officers confronted the Wild West showman over the squabbles, and the flutist was arrested and transported to the jail at Camden-on-Gauley.
The arrest of his friend angered Mexican Bill, who threatened to “knock the block off” the remaining railroad bulls when they returned to Cowen. Indeed, upon the train’s arrival at Cowen Station, Mexican Bill leapt from the train, found an arsenal of rocks, and began peppering the policemen. The officers attempted to make an arrest, but Mexican Bill escaped to the nearby circus train cars. The officers caught up with him and battered him black and blue with their billysticks. But as the police were dragging their prisoner to the train, he let out the notorious “Hey, Rube!” The already volatile situation escalated as his fellow showmen, toting guns, rushed to his aid, demanding Mexican Bill’s release.
In the melee that ensued, the showmen unleashed a volley of small arms fire into the train. Windows were smashed, doors battered, and a showman was felled by crossfire from his own compatriots. The train’s three hundred passengers, who were offered a front row seat to a Wild West Show not of their own choosing, made a mad dash for safety. The officers managed to fight off the showmen while holding onto Mexican Bill, and the train began to steam for Clarksburg. In a desperate last-ditch effort to save Mexican Bill, another showman attempted to detach the rear car where Mexican Bill was confined. The man received a grazing, non-fatal gunshot wound, fell to the track, and was sliced in two by the train wheels. When the gunfire let up, three showmen were dead and one fatally wounded. The police and passengers were unharmed, but the train was riddled with bullet holes and spattered with blood. Mexican Bill was charged with disorderly and riotous conduct, and the next day, the sheriff sent a posse to arrest Texas Bill’s entire remaining Wild West Show. For one legendary day, the Wild West had come east.