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History of the Sam Bass Outlaw Gang

Sam Bass was born on July 21, 1851 near Mitchell, Indiana. Sam ran away from home about 1869 and wound up in Denton County, Texas, where he worked as a teamster. Sam soon quit this job to become owner of a one-man racing stable. Sam's first brush with the law was over a horse racing dispute.

From Denton, Sam moved to San Antonio, where he formed a partnership with Joel Collins, a bartender. The two bought some cattle and drove them north, probably to Kansas, where they sold them. From there, they went on to Deadwood, South Dakota. They tried freighting but it wasn't profitable. So the two formed a gang.

The gang consisted of Sam Bass, Tom Nixon, Bill Potts, Jim Berry, Jack Davis, and Robert "Little Reddy" McKimie.

Sam Bass
Outlaw Sam Bass as a young man.

McKimie was kicked out of the gang after their first robbery, in which he shot and killed the driver. They held up the Deadwood stage seven times, but none of them yielded much. So they decided to try their hand at train robbery.

On September 19, 1877, they robbed the Union Pacific train at Big Springs, Nebraska for $60,000. Barry and Nixon went to Missouri where Berry was later killed. Nixon fled to Canada and was never heard from again. Collins and Potts were shot to death in an ambush at Buffalo Station, Kansas. Davis fled to New Orleans and Bass went back to Texas.

Sam Bass returned to Denton, Texas on November 1, 1877. Bass organized another gang there including Frank "Blockey" Jackson, Seaborn Barnes, and others.

Sam and Jackson and Tom Spotswood held up a train at Allen, Texas, on February 22, 1878. Spotswood later was captured and identified.

Captain Junius Peak was summoned to Austin by the governor to capture or kill Bass and his gang. He was a good choice since he was a civil war veteran. He was also a law officer and part of the group that ended rustling in Billy the Kid's Land in New Mexico. Also after Bass was U.S. Marshal Stillwell Russell, Sheriff Bill Everheart's posse from Grayson County, and Sheriff Eagan's posse from Denton County.

When Sam got ready to hold up the Texas and Pacific Railroad the second time, gang members were plentiful. Sam Pipes, Albert Heindon, William Collins, and William Scott and nine others joined the gang. This was the first time any of the gang had been hurt. Barnes had four gunshot wounds. One man died. Mesquite was Bass's last train robbery. Posses were after them all over the place. They battled each other across the county. At Salt Creek, another gang member was killed by Peak's rangers.

Jim Murphy cut a deal to save him and his father, in exchange for leading the law to the gang. He set up an ambush at Round Rock, where they would "Rob" the Williamson County Bank. On Friday the 19th, Sam, Frank and Seaborn went into New Town to case the bank one final time; Murphy had stayed behind in Old Town in the hopes of getting in contact with Major Jones. The bandits hitched their horses in the alley north of Georgetown Avenue at the corner of Lampasas. They then walked up the street to Kopperal's General Store, located at the southeast corner of Mays and Georgetown Avenue. At the same time, Ranger Ware crossed the street from Highsmith's Livery Stable to the barber shop.

Bass Gang
Jim Murphy, Sam Bass and Seaborn Barnes

As the bandits crossed over to Kopperal's store, they were also observed by Morris Moore, a Travis County deputy sheriff, and Deputy Sheriff Grimes of Williamson County. Grimes indicated that he believed that one of the strangers was wearing a pistol, which was against the law in Round Rock.

Grimes walked up to the bandits who were purchasing tobacco in the store, Grimes asked Sam, "Do you have a pistol?" to which Sam is said to have answered "yes" or "I'll let you have it". Frank and Seaborn also opened fire on Grimes, killing him instantly. Grimes never even had the opportunity to draw his gun; six bullet holes were found in his dead body .

Dep Grimes
Deputy A.W. Grimes killed in Round Rock On July 19, 1878

Moore, who had been waiting outside the door of Kopperal's Store, entered and opened fire on the bandits, shooting Bass through the hand. He was then shot in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung, and was forced to discontinue the chase. The shooting had attracted the attention of Ranger Ware, who was receiving a shave at the time. He ran to the street, his face still lathered, and for a time, single-handedly fought the fleeing bandits.The firing had also attracted the attention of Major Jones, who was at the International and Great Northern Telegraph Office at the time of the initial shooting. Meeting up with Ranger Ware, Jones fired what was considered to be his only shot as a Texas Ranger at the fleeing gang; the bandits returned the fire, missing Jones.Ware and Jones were also joined in the fight for a time by a one-armed man named Stubbs, who had picked up Grime's gun and opened fire on the bandits. By this time, the bandits had made their way back to the alley and were attempting to mount their horses. Ranger Harold and a local citizen named Conner shot at the gang with rifles. It was at this point that Ranger Harold believes that he inflicted the mortal wound on Bass Simultaneously, Seaborn Barnes fell dead with a bullet wound to the head.

Who actually shot Sam Bass was never completely decided. The Rangers reported that Dick Ware was the one who had administered the fatal blow. At the official inquest, Ware replied that he did not believe that he had shot Bass and Harold claimed that he did; which was recorded in the official record. Another account of this event states that after Seaborn was killed, both Sam and Frank were able to mount their horses and had begun to ride off when Sam was hit by a bullet to the back. Sam clasped onto his saddle horn but was unable to stay on his horse and fell to the ground. It was at this point that Frank held the charging Rangers and citizens at bay with his gun as he helped Sam back onto his horse, and they rode off with Frank steadying Sam .

Sam and Frank rode through Old Town to their camp near the Round Rock Cemetery. Sam was being held in the saddle by Frank while he reloaded his pistols. As they turned up Georgetown Road (present day Chisholm Trail Road), passing a Mrs. Tisdale's place; they turned down a lane headed towards the woods. It was at this point that Sam indicated that he was in too much pain to continue . Sam insisted that Frank leave him here and try to save himself. Frank did not want to leave his friend, but he was eventually convinced to do so. Sam gave him all of his money, guns, ammunition and his big bay horse, which was superior to Frank's. Frank left his horse with Sam and hid his saddle in the brush nearby; after a tearful farewell Frank rode off. However, Frank did not abandon his friend but camped nearby him .Back in Round Rock, Jim Murphy went into New Town and identified the body of Seaborn Barnes.

No great effort was made by the Rangers to pursue the fleeing bandits due to the fear that Bass was supported by an army of outlaws who would seize on any pursuers. Of course the truth was that the actual Sam Bass Gang at this point was composed of only four individuals, one of whom was now dead and another having deserted the gang. Out of concern for their own safety, the Texas Rangers decided to call off the search for Bass until Saturday morning. Two searchers, Tucker and Lane, spotted a man propped up against a tree but assumed that he was only one of the railroad workers who were constructing the line of the Georgetown Railroad at the time. Tucker eventually went up to him and Sam held up his hand and uttered, "I am Sam Bass, the man that has been wanted so long." At this time, the rest of the search party, including Jim "Judas" Murphy, appeared. Tucker felt that Bass should not see Murphy; so, Murphy identified Sam while hiding behind a tree. Bass explained to the questioning Rangers that his wounds had forced him to stop near the spot he was currently at last night. The Rangers then put Sam in the back of a wagon and brought him back to new Round Rock.

When Major Jones learned of Bass's capture, he contacted the Attorney General in Austin, who then notified the State Democratic Convention that was meeting at the time The dying Bass was placed in a small shack located on the lot at the intersection of present day Round Rock Avenue, Main Street and Mays. Major Jones questioned Bass but was unable to get any useful information about the other members of his gang. Bass's code of ethics was summed up by his statement: "it is ag'in' my profession to blow on my pals. If a man knows anything he ought to die with it in him," referring to his unwillingness to cooperate with the Rangers even though he knew that he was going to die. Bass did confess that "if I killed him [in reference to Deputy Grimes], he is the first man I ever killed." On Sunday, July 21, 1878, the doctor told Sam that it would not be long; Sam supposedly said, "Let me go", and a few minutes later opened his eyes and exclaimed, "This world is a bubble, - trouble wherever you go" - a fitting epitaph for Sam Bass's life .

Due to the summer heat and the inability to locate ice in which to pack his body , it was decided to bury Sam Bass in the local Round Rock Cemetery. His funeral procession consisted of two mules pulling a wagon with Sam's plain pine coffin, attended by two men to dig his grave. When the procession passed the house of J. W. Ledbetter, a Methodist Minister, he joined in and conducted a Christian funeral ceremony for Sam. Mary Matson, a black woman who had been employed by Sam Bass to cook some meals earlier in the week, observed the funeral from a cotton patch.

Final resting place of Sam Bass and Seaborn Barnes

There are many accounts of what became of Frank Jackson after he left Round Rock. It is believed that he went to Denton for a few days. Ranger Ware claimed that he later saw him in the Arizona State Prison, using the name of Downing . Still others claim that he lived out his life on a ranch in New Mexico . Jim "Judas" Murphy spent the rest of his life in fear, worrying that one of Bass's friends was going to avenge Sam's betrayal by killing him. The following year, He killed himself by taking poison on June 7, 1879.

The Round Rock bank that the Bass gang attempted to rob is currently located in Fort Tumbleweed in Liberty Hill Texas.

Reprinted with the permission of Len Kubiak