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The Outlaw Sam Bass

Updated on September 2, 2015

Sam Bass

Sam Bass was an outlaw during the later 1870s who robbed stagecoaches, trains and banks. He was born near Mitchell, Indiana in July of 1851. As a boy he didn’t care much for school and as a result he grew up to be illiterate. His parents had both died before he was 15 and he was sent to live with an uncle along with his six siblings. He left there about the age of 18 in 1869 and headed for Denton, Texas.

Sam started out trying to make a living legitimately there, first working for the local sheriff, W. F. Egan,as a teamster. However, loading and unloading wagons was not his forte’. He figured there must be an easier to make money. To supplement his income he bought a small race pony and hired a jockey by the name of Charlie Tucker. He raced the pony quite successfully on Saturday evenings.

However, his employer noticed his work was suffering from the time he spent caring for the animal. Bass was warned he would have to get rid of the mare if he wanted to stay employed. He walked off the job. Bass also got into trouble with local authorities over a racing dispute. Although he won the case he decided he might be better off in another business somewhere else. He chose San Antonio, Texas.

There, he met two men two men, Jack Davis and Joe Collins.Collins was a bartender by profession. The three thought they could make a good living driving Cattle. Some accounts say they bought some cattle and drove them North towards Kansas to sell them. Others say they drove the cattle for someone else and after selling them they went to a saloon, got drunk then decided to keep the money. In either case, they wasted all of the money drinking and gambling. Afterwards they headed for the Dakota gold fields.

Bass's Gun and Rare Book

Once in South Dakota, Bass realized that prospecting was hard labor also. Maybe freighting was the answer. Apparently it wasn’t as they decided to form an outlaw gang. The gang originally included his first two partners Davis and Collins, Tom Nixon, Bill Potts, Jim Berry, and Robert "Little Reddy" McKimie. McKimie was wild and reckless with his shooting irons and during their first robbery needlessly shot and killed the stage driver. Robbery was one thing, murder was another. Bass promptly booted McKimie out of the gang.

They held up the Deadwood stage seven times without making much of a profit. So, maybe stagecoach robbing wasn’t the answer either. What about train robbery? Yes, that was the ticket!

They robbed the Union Pacific train at Big Springs, Nebraska on September 19, 1877 and made off with $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces. Then the gang split up. Berry was later killed in Missouri and Nixon disappeared somewhere in Canada. Collins and Potts were ambushed and killed at Buffalo Station, Kansas, Davis fled to New Orleans and Bass returned to Denton.

He arrived in Texas November 1, 1877 and set about forming another gang. This gang included Tom Spotswood, Frank "Blockey" Jackson and Seaborn Barnes. The new gang held up the Texas and Pacific train at Allen, Texas, in February 1878, but Spotswood was captured shortly afterwards.

The Bass Gang was now becoming known as a serious threat and the governor enlisted the aid of Captain Junius Peak. Peak was a lawman and a Civil War veteran who had a hand in putting an end to cattle rustling by Billy the Kid in New Mexico. There were also others hot on the gang’s trail. There were U.S. Marshal Stillwell Russell, Grayson County Sheriff Bill Everheart's posse and another posse headed by Bass’s old employer Sheriff Eagan from Denton County.

Bass decided to hold up the Texas and Pacific train again, but this time with a larger crew. He recruited Sam Pipes, Albert Heindon, William Collins, William Scott and nine other willing participants to pull it off. The job didn’t go as well as anticipated, however. One man was killed and Barnes sustained four gunshot wounds.

The gang later made one more train robbery at Mesquite. It would be their last. From that point on posses were relentlessly in pursuit.The Bass Gang lost another member to a posse in Wise County at Salt Creek, Texas.

Unbeknownst to Bass, he had a traitor in his ranks. A man called Jim Murphy had cut a deal with the law to lead them to the gang. He set up an ambush at Round Rock. The plan was to rob the Williamson County Bank. On July 19, 1878, Bass, Barnes, Jackson and Murphy cased the area before they moved in.

They first stopped in a local store, buying some tobacco while they looked around to ascertain the situation. Williamson County Deputy Sheriff Caige Grimes was waiting and watching a ways off. When Grimes started coming towards the store he was shot and killed.

Other lawmen, who had also been laying in wait, opened fire. A deputy named Moore fell, wounded. Bass also took a bullet, but was still on his feet. The four would be robbers quickly went for their horses hoping to escape. Barnes was hit and killed as he mounted his horse, but Jackson got away.

While getting away Bass was shot again in the back. Who actually shot Bass has been the subject of much controversy. Some say Texas Ranger George Herold shot him. Others say it was Private Dick Ware. Ware was in a barbershop getting a shave when the outlaws killed Grimes. With his shave only half done, Ware had rushed out of the shop and fired at the fleeing outlaws. Several witnesses said one killed Barnes and another wounded Bass. But Bass, even as he lay dying, said the man who shot him had shaving lather on his face. Bass died from his wounds the next day on his birthday, July 21, 1878 at the age of 27.

He was buried in the cemetery at Old Round Rock. A small monument was erected over his grave by a sister in 1879. Part of the inscription reads, “A brave man reposes in death here. Why was he not true?”

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