Did You Know in Texas History: Texas outlaw Sam Bass

By Caroline Jones, Library Assistant

On July 19th 1878, Texas outlaw Sam Bass was mortally wounded in a gun fight against Texas Rangers in Round Rock, TX. He died a few days later in Round Rock on July 21st, his 27th birthday.

According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Bass was born on July 21st, 1851 in Indiana and moved to Denton, TX in the fall of 1870 where he worked for Sheriff William F. Egan as a ranch hand building fences and caring for the livestock. During this time he, also worked for the railroad as a freighter loading goods on to railroad cars between Denton, Dallas, and Sherman. After leaving Egan’s property he began transporting cattle and racing horses, while also accumulating gambling debts he could not afford. It was during this time that Bass began robbing stagecoaches.

Bass used the skills he acquired as a ranch hand and as a railroad freighter to rob stagecoaches and railroad cars in and outside of Texas. By the spring of 1878, Bass and his gang had robbed four trains outside of Dallas- cementing Bass’s reputation as a notorious, Texas outlaw. Part of TSLAC’s collection materials concerning Bass is from a robbery committed in Nebraska. The gang held up a Union Pacific passenger train and stole $60,000 worth of new twenty-dollar gold pieces along with an additional $1,300 and four gold watches from the passengers. The image below is the digitization of a reward for the “Omaha Train Robbers” Bill Heffery, Sam Bass, Jack Davis, James Berry, and Tom Nixon. It can be found here in the Texas Treasures online exhibit.

List of Texas fugitives

Lists of fugitives, 1865-1879, 1898-1899, Lists of fugitives, Frontier Battalion records, Ranger records, Texas Adjutant General’s Department. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

List of Texas fugitives

Lists of fugitives, 1865-1879, 1898-1899, Lists of fugitives, Frontier Battalion records, Ranger records, Texas Adjutant General’s Department. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Before actually robbing the bank in Round Rock, Bass wanted to survey the area to be sure they had an escape route. According to Rangers of Texas, Bass came with three gang members to complete the heist: Frank Jackson, Seaborn Barnes, and Jim Murphy. Unbeknownst to the rest of the gang, Murphy was an informant for the Texas Rangers. So when the gang rode into Round Rock, Commander Major John B. Jones had three Rangers waiting to meet them.

Photo of John B. Jones, Texas Ranger Commander

John B. Jones. 1/102-333, People Collection, Prints and Photographs. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

However, it was local law enforcement officer Morris Murphy, accompanied by Deputy Sheriffs Grimes and Moore, who first approached the bandits. A gun fight broke out in a convenience store, with Barnes killing Grimes, Moore sustaining severe chest wounds, and Bass losing fingers from his right hand. As the gang fled the Rangers appeared, killing Barnes and fatally wounding Bass with a shot to the spine. Jackson rode out of town with a dying Bass, but ultimately had to leave him behind. The next day Bass was found about 3 miles north of Round Rock. He was brought into town and died of his injuries the following day, July 21st.

Even after his death, Bass’s story lived on through the tales of the Texas Rangers, the ballads of cowboys, and in the remaining members of his former gang. As seen in the image below, three years later, Texas Governor Roberts received messages from those interested in capturing the rest of the outlaw gang for a chance at the reward money.

Note from Toney Heis to Governor Roberts regarding the remaining Bass outlaw gang.

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.

The legend of Bass outlived him and continues to be a point of folklore and historical research in Texas.

Further Reading:

Texas Treasures: Rangers and Outlaws: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/law/index.html

Texas Governor Oran Milo Roberts, 1861-1883 (bulk 1878-1883): http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/40019/tsl-40019.html

Texas Adjutant General’s Department, Ranger Records: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/30027/tsl-30027.html

State Executive Record Books, 1835-1917: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/30057/tsl-30057.html

Texas Secretary of State, Fugitive Records: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/tslac/30088/tsl-30088.html

Title Call No.
Tracking the Texas Rangers : the nineteenth century Z N745.8 G463tr
Rangers of Texas 923.9764 R163
Sam Bass & gang 364.1 M617s
The tenderfoot bandits : Sam Bass and Joel Collins, their lives and hard times 923.41 B293R
Sam Bass: 100 years later, 1878-1978 976.406092 B293S
The Black Sheep 364.922 M264B
Tame the restless wind; the life and legends of Sam Bass 920.7 B293G and 923.41 B293GR
A sketch of Sam Bass, the bandit : a graphic narrative : his various train robberies, his death, and accounts of the deaths of his gang and their history 923.41 B293m 1956
Authentic history of Sam Bass and his gang 920.7 B293B 1950
Sam Bass, the train robber; the life of Texas’ most popular bandit 920.7 B293C

 

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