Toney Heis to Roberts, November 23, 1881

The legend of Sam Bass has grown far out of proportion to his outlaw deeds, which were actually quite modest by the standards of the time. Born in 1851 in Indiana, Bass left home for cattle country in 1870, and found work as a cowboy near Denton. Bass worked around the area for several years before taking up horse racing and gambling for his livelihood. In 1876, Bass and Joel Collins drove a small herd of longhorns to Nebraska and earned the princely sum of $8000, which they squandered in the gambling dens of Ogallala, Nebraska, and Deadwood, South Dakota.

After trying their hands at freighting, Bass and Collins turned outlaw. At first unsuccessful at stagecoach robberies, they pulled off a huge heist of a Union Pacific passenger train on September 18, 1877, netting $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces from the express car, $1,300 in cash from the passengers, and four gold watches. The bandits divided the loot and went in different directions.

Bass made it back to Texas, where he formed a new gang to rob stagecoaches and trains. The Texas Rangers under Junius Peak (see Texas Treasures for more) were under pressure to prove their effectiveness, and they set out to capture Bass at any cost. The Rangers chased Bass until July 19, 1878, when Bass was killed in a gun battle during a bank robbery in Round Rock.

The Ranger pursuit of Bass and the gun fight in Round Rock inflated the reputation of Bass and his gang, and the cowboy song "The Ballad of Sam Bass" made him a legend. Three years later, Governor Roberts was still getting letters like this one from a detective in New Mexico, offering to pursue the remnants of the Sam Bass Gang.

"The Wild West"

Letter on the Sam Bass gang

Santa Fe, N.M. Nov 23 1881


Hon Gov Texas

Sir I wish to inquire of you


if there is a reward for any of the Sam Bass party


who escaped one of the men who rode in front of the


Printing Office in Denton and told the Editor not to publish


anything again in his paper concerning the names of the


Sammie Bass party that the two spurs that went into


their camp and came near being shot told about

Send me the names and discription of the parties


who are now at large and i think is in the Territory


and i can git him

ancer and oblige

Toney Heis


Chief Dep. U.S. Marshall


New Mexico

"The Wild West"

Toney Heis to Roberts, November 23, 1881, Records of Oran Milo Roberts , Texas Office of the Governor, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Page last modified: March 30, 2011