OUT LAWS IN THE OLD WEST
We have looked at some of the shooters in the old west and visited with some of the women and prostitutes that lent color, and even touched on several of the outlaw gangs. Now lets visit with some of the bad boys who were around in them thar days.
Sam Bass was a legend in his own time in East Texas. He became somewhat of a folk hero to the poor Texas farmer and small rancher who thought that the bankers were taking advantage of them, whether true or not. When Sam finally met his end under a storm of Ranger bullets there was hardly a dry eye to be found in the area.
“Sam Bass was born in Indiana, it was his native home;
And at the age of seventeen, young Sam began to roam.
Sam first came out to Texas, a cowboy for to be–
A kinder-hearted feller you seldom ever see.”
so goes the opening stanza of the ballad written about Sam Bass. Although Sam was a likable young high-way man, no one really knows what he looks like. several different photograph claim to be him but each is of a different young man. It is known that he was born in Mitchell, Indiana on July 21, 1851, that he was orphaned at a young age. He left for greener pastures in 1869, a cowboy for to be. Sam stood five-foot -eight, weighed about 140 and had-black hair, dark eyes, and a sallow completion. He spoke with a nasal twang and walked with a slight stoop, of such stuff legends are made?
Sam drifted in to Denton, Texas, and his fortunes looked up. He somehow acquired a sorrel mare named “Jenny”, but became to be known as the “Denton Mare”. Not the fastest horse in Texas but she could hold her own with the best. she allowed Sam for Sam to become a sporting fellow with a attachment to a lot of money. Sam sold the mare and joined forces with a ne’er-do-well saloon keeper and gambler named Joe Collins.
they headed to Deadwood where they had the mistaken belief that the miners did not know how to gamble. Soon to their surprise they had to reevaluate their beliefs after going broke. Not being prone toward honest labor they turned to stagecoach robbing. they formed a gang with Jim Berry,Bill Heffridge, Tom Nixon and a fellow known only as Reddy.
After stealing some horses they set out to rob the Cheyenne stage. It came careening around a bend, the gunmen stepped into the middle of the road and convinced the driver John Slaughter to stop. then the horses swerved and shied into Reddy. In a burst of anger he Reddy blasted Slaughter with a shotgun knocking him out of the drivers seat. The horses bolted and raced off to Deadwood driver-less. Outraged stage officials nailed Slaughters vest to the office door to induce vigilantes into action.
The outlaws were outraged and considered killing Reddy themselves for putting them in jeopardy of a noose. Instead the drove him out of the gang. He drifted down to fort Griffin, Texas where he was caught rustling horses and lynched.
Bass and his gang laid low for a few weeks and tried their hands at robbing stages again. A little more successful they got $11 from on and a dozen peaches from the other. they were not even able to feed themselves on their takes.
Stagecoach robbing was not paying off so they decided to try train robbing. On September 18, 1875 they struck the Union Pacific at Big Springs, Nebraska. This proved to be a little more lucrative. After the usual shots and threats, the train crew and passengers surrendered their loot.
They collected $13,000 and four gold watches. Non of the women were searched and Sam returned $20 to a one armed man and told him to sit down and keep his mouth shut.
In the baggage car, the robbers found several hundred dollars in paper money, not a real haul. Someone kicked a wooden box and out spilled $60,ooo in new Golden Eagles in $20 gold pieces.
They packed their loot into pockets sacks anything they could find and skedaddled. After dividing their loot they made a clean escape form the state and separated. Nixon vanished from sight never to be sen again. Collins and Hefferidge were caught by a sheriff and a squad of solders who were looking for Indians. The outlaws tried to shoot it out and were shot to pieces by the soldiers.
Berry went to Mexico, Missouri where he was living it up until a bank became suspicious of all the $20 gold pieces he was spending around. A posse ambushed Berry and he sustained a serious shotgun wound to his leg. He later died of shock later.
Sam returned to Denton, but he could not stay out of trouble. He formed another small outlaw gang, started robbing stages again, and as before had no real success. So in 1878 he shifted back to train robbery. At Allen, Texas they hit the Huston and Texas Central for $20,000.
In the next few weeks they went on a rampage robbing the Dall-Fort Worth area trains of the Hutchins and the Texas Central, Eagle Ford and Mesquite. In all these desperate deeds no one was killed although many shots were fired and several wounded.
On time a express agent refused to open the door to the baggage car, Sam disconnected it and had it towed to a siding where he piled brush and lumber under it and soaked it kerosene and threatened to set it on fire, the door flew open with a bang.
Sam Bass became the most discussed and most popular person in the state of Texas. Texas at this time was populated by mostly rural farmers living in almost primitive conditions. The blamed big business, banks and railroads for exploiting them. Old Sam Bass was giving “them the high and mightys” what they figured the big boys had coming to them. They cheered Sam as the Pinkerton defectives, Texas Rangers, bounty hunters and large posse’s swarmed after them. News papers dubbed the gang as “Sam Bass and Company” and called the struggle as the “Bass War.” Only once did the two sides clash and a outlaw named Arkansas Johnson fell to the gunfire.
Trains were by now so heavily guarded that Sam and Company decided to rob the Round Rock bank. It might have worked but someone tipped the Texas Rangers.
Sam was kinda suspicious of all the strangers in town, but they looked like ordinary cowboys, so he shrugged it off. Sam, Seaborn Barnes and Frank Jackson, had spent several days i town resting their horses for the fast getaway they planned. And no one had recognised them.
Round rock was full of lawmen, especially Rangers. Dick Ware, to become a U.S. Deputy Marshal in El Paso and George Herold who would become a long time El Paso police officer. Herold would shoot Bass but Ware would get the official credit.
the three outlaws strolled down the street toward the street toward the bank with saddle bags over their arms like they were going to make a large withdrawal. Deputy Sheriff noticed a suspicious bulge under one mans coat. slaundering over to Bass and not realising who these men were. Placing his hand on bass’s side said “Say mister are you carrying a gun?” The last words he ever would utter.
It was too late to transact any bank business, the outlaws fled back down the street toward their horses. The Rangers and half the town followed in pursuit. Dick Ware shot Barnes in the head and he fell dead instantly. Bass’s hand was mangled by a store keepers wild shot. Sam and Jackson reached their horses, Herold shot Bass in the back. SAM struggled into the saddle with Jackson’s help.
Jackson laid down effective barrage of accurate fire as Sam galloped away then turned and followed. They managed to get away.
that night Sam and Jackson hid in a cedar brake and Jackson tried to tend Sam’s wounds as best he could. finally doing all he could for Sam he rode away. the next morning Sam staggered out of the brake seeking help and collapsed in the road. Several hours later the Rangers found him laying against a tree.
to the very end Sam refused to give confession or information. He replied “Its against my profession. If a man knows anything, he ought to die with it in him.”
as the days passed he started to feel beter and it was thought he might survive. then his condition deteriorated . Upon hearing the worst he said “Let me go” a few minutes later he cried out ” the world is bobbing around”. those were his last words, he died on July 21,1878, his birthday.
His Epitaph reads “A brave man reposes in death here. why was he not true?”
“Sam met his fate at round rock, July the twenty-first;
they pierced poor Sam with rifle balls and emptied out his purse.
Poor Sam he is a corps now and six feet under clay;
And Jackson is in the brake, trying to get away.
So ends the ballad of Sam Bass, another of the Old West bad boys.
Once again my disclaimer is I am no historian just a fellow with a interest in our history of the Old West and a hand full of books.
Thanks for sitting a spell and spending some time with this old fellow.