Story of Texas Legend & Outlaw Sam Bass.
There is a fine line between history and folklore, and this couldn’t be truer than in the great state of Texas. Many a Texas legend has been told and retold throughout Texas history. Some will send chills down your spine, some will uplift your day, some will be living legends, and others will leave you scratching your head.
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Many Texas legends, as kept alive by rumors and hearsay include tales of buried treasures, lost mines, outlaws, ghosts, and the supernatural. There are stories of lovers, wild horses, Native Americans, lost canyons, ghostly footprints, pirates, and pirate treasure. Legends and stories of cliff dwellers, Aztecs, Spaniards, underground cities, and secret underground passages have been told, retold, and recorded by regular folks throughout Texas history.
One Such Legend is Sam Bass and His Gang
Sam Bass was an outlaw in the old west who eventually died from a gunfight against the Texas Rangers. Born in Mitchell, Indiana he settled in Denton Texas at age 19 where he met many of his cronies. Sam worked as a cowboy and farmhand there until 1875.
Sam then embarked on his life of outlawing. First robbing a train in Nebraska and returning to Denton with his share of the spoils. His share of the $60,000 take in $20 freshly minted, uncirculated, gold coins was enough to make Sam a rich man for the times. However Sam did not stop there, he went on to form the Sam Bass Gang. Legend and rumors abound about Sam hiding his spoils in various areas of Texas although in all likely hood he spent the majority of it.
Sam and his gang continued to rob stagecoaches and trains in Texas. After a rash of train robberies pulled off by his gang the governor of Texas called out the Texas Rangers to capture the Sam Bass Gang.
Just before his death, the gang headed south to Round Rock, Texas to rob a bank. One of Sam’s gang, Jim Murphy looking to betray Sam, would give Sam away to the Rangers by making known their plans. The Rangers set out in hot pursuit to capture Sam at any cost.
How did Sam Bass Die?
Shortly before the robbery on July 19, 1878, Sam and his gang were spotted by the sheriff in Round Rock and a shooting ensued. Deputy Sheriff Grimes was killed by Sam and his gang. The Rangers arrived shortly after and a second shoot-out took place with Sam taking a bullet.
Who actually shot Sam Bass has been disputed however the official record is that the mortal wound was inflicted by Texas Ranger George Harold. Sam fled and was eventually taken into custody where he later died on his 27th birthday July 21, 1878.
Sam was buried in the Round Rock Cemetery where his tombstone read:
“A brave man reposes in death here. Why was he not true?”Samuel Bass, Born July 21, 1851, Died July 21, 1878, Age 27 Years
Those are the facts we can verify.
The Legend of Sam Bass
The legend of Sam Bass however consisting of countless stories of his exploits, speculations regarding his buried treasures, and Sam’s ability to make friends wherever he went, did not die as quickly as his life ended. Sam was rumored to be a good-hearted man that was a friend indeed to the common men and women of the times. He was said to be generous to the poor and downtrodden.
There are reports as late as July 1878 of Sam giving one of his gold coins from the Nebraska railroad robbery to a farmer on his ill-fated journey to Round Rock. Other stories have been told of him giving the coins to country folk and common people in payment for food and livestock. This may tell a different story of the Union Pacific heist and whether the freshly minted coins were spent or stashed elsewhere.
There is no record of any of the coins being found after his death and it is thought that most of the coins have never been circulated. As with most outlaws of his time, Sam met an untimely death. Sam became a folk hero to the common men and women of the 19th century. A ballad depicting his life “The Ballad of Sam Bass” became a popular song with Texas cowboys. The author remains unknown.
There is a local well-known, well-traveled road in Round Rock, Texas named Sam Bass Road as well as a road in Denton, Texas of the same name.
So goes the Texas Legend of Sam Bass. To quote a common saying of our modern age, Sam led a ‘complicated life’.
"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 fellow you seldom ever see." Excerpt from: The Ballad of Sam Bass, author unknown
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Sam Bass (July 21, 1851 – July 21, 1878) was an American Old West train robber and outlaw. His gang, sometimes known as the Sam Bass Gang, operated primarily in and around Texas during 1877–78. He is best known for leading the “Great Train Robbery” of 1878, which yielded more than $60,000 in stolen loot consisting of $20 freshly minted, uncirculated, gold coins. He became a legend for his daring train robberies and for befriending the common men and women of the 19th century. Sam was rumored to be a good-hearted man that was a friend indeed to the common men and women of the times. He was said to be generous to the poor and downtrodden. He became a legend in his own time and continued to be remembered through books, movies, and songs of his exploits. A ballad depicting his life “The Ballad of Sam Bass” became a popular song with Texas cowboys. The author remains unknown.
Dobie, J. Frank (James Frank), 1888-1964. Legends of Texas, book, 1984; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc67651/: accessed April 6, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press. Read here: Legends of Texas
DePaola, Tomie, 1934-2020, The Legend of the Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas. New York: Putnam and Grosset Group, 1996.
Handbook of Texas, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook
The Best of Texas Folk and Folklore: 1916-1954, https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc38307/
Sam Bass: “The Ballad and the Man” http://www.bluegrassmessengers.com/sam-bass-the-ballad-and-the-man.aspx
The Ballad of Sam Bass, From John Lomax’s 1910 edition of Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads
A Sketch of Sam Bass, the Bandit (Volume 6) (The Western Frontier Library Series)
Martin, Charles L.
Sam Bass Road sign photo credit. Billy Hathorn, CC BY-SA 3.0
US Mint $20 Dollar Gold Coins, Photo credit: National Numismatic Collection (photograph by Jaclyn Nash), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Texas Treasures: Rangers and Outlaws: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/treasures/law/index.html
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