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Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Sam Bass, Outlaw
Born on a farm near Mitchell, Indiana on July 21, 1851, Sam Bass was the son of Elizabeth Jane (Sheeks) and Daniel Bass. He was orphaned, probably by age ten. He and his brother and sisters moved to a nearby farm to live with a reportedly abusive uncle and his nine children. He ran away in 1869 and—with no formal schooling—worked most of a year in a sawmill in Rosedale, Mississippi. In the summer of 1870, he left for cattle country and arrived in Denton, Texas in the fall. Cowboy life was not as he had pictured it, so he returned to Denton. He worked for a hotel, in the stables of Sheriff William Egan caring for livestock, cutting firewood, and spending much of his time as a freighter between Denton and the railroad towns of Dallas and Sherman.

Soon Bass became interested in horse racing. In 1874, he acquired a racing horse that became known as the Denton Mare. After winning most of his races in North Texas, he took this mare to San Antonio. When his racing played out in 1876, he and Joel Collins gathered a small herd of longhorn cattle for their several owners. The two drovers reached Dodge City and decided to trail the cattle further north where prices were higher. After selling the herd and paying the hands, they had $8,000 in their pockets. Instead of returning to Texas where they owed the money, they squandered it gambling in Ogallala, Nebraska and in Deadwood, South Dakota.

After Union Pacific
In 1877, Bass and Collins tried freighting without success, so they recruited several hardened characters to rob stagecoaches. Collins and Bass with four others rode to Big Springs, Nebraska where they held up the Union Pacific passenger train. They took $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces from the express car plus $1,300 and four gold watches from passengers. They divided the loot and went in different directions. Within a few weeks, Collins and two others were killed while resisting arrest. Bass made it back to Texas and formed a new gang.

Sam Bass, standing
at left, with his new gang
The new Bass gang held up two stagecoaches and robbed four trains within twenty-five miles of Dallas. They didn’t steal much money, but their activities enraged citizens. A special company of Texas Rangers headed by Junius Peak chased the gang across North Texas. In a sweep of all residents suspected of harboring the bandits, Jim Murphy and his father Henderson Murphy were arrested and Jim taken to Tyler to face charges of robbing the U.S. mails. Jim turned informer and agreed to rejoin the gang and betray Sam Bass to the Rangers.

On July 14, 1878 Sam, Frank Jackson, and Seaborn Barnes arrived in Round Rock to case the bank one final time while Jim waited at camp. They went into Kopperal’s General Store. Williamson County Deputy Sheriff Grimes decided to investigate the men’s actions, and was accompanied by Travis County Deputy Sheriff Morris Moore. Shooting broke out and Grimes was killed and Moore severely wounded. Barnes died, but an injured Bass was helped by Jackson and escaped. Texas Ranger Ware, who was getting a shave at the time, ran into the street and fired at the escaping bandits and believed he shot Bass. Ranger Harold believed he wounded Bass. Ranger Jones was at the telegraph office, heard the commotion, and he also fired at the bandits.

Who actually shot Sam Bass was never completely decided. The Rangers called off the search to avoid what they feared as an “outlaw war” of reprisal. But on July 20, two men discovered Bass leaning against a tree. He’d given Jackson his mount, guns, cash, and all his ammunition. When approached, he said, “I’m Sam Bass, the man that has been wanted so long.” He died the following day on his 27th birthday. Jim Murphy died the following year, but no one is certain whether he committed suicide or Frank Jackson killed him.

Original tombstone
Sam Bass’ original tombstone, erected by his sister, has been chipped away by souvenir hunters. It said “A brave man reposes in death here. Why was he not true?” A new stone, seen below, has been erected by Round Rock’s Historic Preservation Commission.  Seaborn Barnes' grave is beside that of Bass.

Rosston (twenty miles from Gainesville, Texas) where Bass reportedly lived, celebrates Sam Bass Day on the third Saturday in July. Round Rock has celebrated Frontier Days on July 4th since 1964.

The preceding material was taken from data available from Texas State Historical Society Handbook of History Online and the City of Round Rock information.
Caroline Clemmons writes western historical, time travel and contemporary romances. Her website is http://www.carolineclemmons.com/ and her blog is at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com/ She loves to hear from readers at caroline@carolineclemmons.com


Jody said...

Thanks for a great post. Though not a big fan of western fiction per se, this caught my eye because my grandfather who was born in 1877 was in his 70's when I was born and my mom remembers all the childhood tales he told her growing up about the outlaws that he saw a kid in Missouri growing up. Western romances are doing a great service to keep the legends and stories of this period of history alive.

Anne Carrole said...

As a big fan of western romances, I loved this post. I knew a lot about Bass as an outlaw but it was interesting to read about his early life. Too bad making $8k wasn't enough to encourage him to try his hand again at trailing. 27 is too young to die.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Ladies, thanks for stopping by.

Lynn Cain said...

I recently discovered doing some genealogical research that Sam Bass is a cousin of mine. His mother was a sister to my great, great, great grandfather Adam Sheek. Mr. Sheek married the mother of Charles Goodnight the famous cattle rancher of the Texas Panhandle.

quick house sale said...

A nice laque of history!

Margaret Tanner said...

What an interesting post. I haven't heard of Sam Bass before, but what a pity people find it necssary to desecrate his grave so they can have a souvineer.



Anonymous said...

The photos which are depicted here are not of Sam Bass. Bass's sister came to Texas shortly after Bass died to pay her respects and to make improvements to his grave marker. At this time she was shown these and other possible photos of Sam and stated that none of them were her brother. When one considers just how difficult it was for law enforcement to locate or catch Bass, the fact that photos of him were either nonexistent or inaccurate only added to the challenge and his personal mistique.

J.W. Safranek

cool kid said...

i am his great great great grand daughter cool right

Anonymous said...

But he had no children I thought????