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Sam Bass (outlaw)

Sam Bass (July 21, 1851 ‒ July 21, 1878) was a 19th-century American Old West train robber and outlaw, who died as a result of wounds sustained in a gun battle with Texas Rangers. Notoriously, he was part of a gang that robbed a train of $60,000 (equivalent to $1.4 million in 2018).

Sam Bass
Sam Bass
Born(1851-07-21)July 21, 1851
DiedJuly 21, 1878(1878-07-21) (aged 27)
Cause of deathGunshot wounds

Early lifeEdit

Samuel Bass was born in Mitchell, Indiana, on July 21, 1851; the son of Daniel and Elizabeth Jane (nee Sheeks) Bass.[1][2] He was orphaned before his thirteenth birthday, and afterward raised by an uncle.[2] Bass left home at age 19 to seek his fortune out west.[2]

Bass worked at a sawmill in Minnesota for a time, but eventually drifted to north Texas; where he tried his hand at wrangling cattle in Denton.[2] Unfulfilled by the hard work and little pay, he bought a horse and raced it, living off the proceeds for several years.[2] After the horse became too old to race, Bass and a partner, Joel Collins, formed a cattle drive for several ranchers in the San Antonio, Texas area. In 1876, they drove the cattle to Nebraska, but squandered their (and the ranchers') proceeds by gambling it away in the gold rush town of Deadwood in the Black Hills area.[2]

Life of crimeEdit

Now broke, Bass and Collins tried working as freighters, but could not make a living at it, so they formed an outlaw gang preying on stage coaches.[1][2] The gang literally struck gold when they robbed the Union Pacific Railroad gold train from San Francisco on September 18, 1877. They intercepted the train at Big Springs, Nebraska. The robbery netted the gang over $60,000, and they split up.[1]

Bass promptly headed back to Texas and formed a new gang responsible for string of stagecoach robberies.[1][2] In 1878, the gang held up two stagecoaches and four trains within 25 miles (40 km) of Dallas.[1] Although the robberies netted them little money, they became the object of a manhunt by Pinkerton National Detective Agency agents and a special company of the Texas Rangers headed by Captain Junius Peak.[1]

A trap is setEdit

Tombstone marking the grave of Sam Bass, Round Rock Cemetery, Round Rock, Texas

Bass was able to elude the Texas Rangers until a member of his gang, Jim Murphy, turned informant.[1] Mr. Murphy's father, who was very ill at the time, had been taken into custody and held for questioning. He was not allowed to be seen by a doctor and was prevented from receiving medical treatment, which caused his condition to rapidly worsen. Lawmen sent a message to Murphy informing him that they had his father in custody, and that if Murphy did not agree to meet with them, they would continue to withhold medical treatment from the father. Knowing how sick his father was, Murphy agreed to the meeting. There, he reluctantly agreed to turn informant. John B. Jones was subsequently notified of Bass's movements and set up an ambush at Round Rock, Texas, where Bass and the gang planned to rob the Williamson County Bank.[citation needed]

Final shootoutEdit

On July 19, 1878, Bass and his gang were scouting the area before the robbery. When they bought some tobacco at a store, they were noticed by Williamson County Deputy Sheriff A. W. Grimes. When Grimes approached the men to request that they surrender their sidearms, he was shot and killed.[2] A gunfight ensued.[1] As Bass attempted to flee, he was shot by Texas Rangers George Herold and Sergeant Richard Ware.[2] Soapy Smith and his cousin, Edwin, witnessed Ware's shot. Soapy exclaimed, "I think you got him!"[3] An interesting note to all of this is the fact that no one in Round Rock, nor any of the visiting Texas Rangers, except Jim Murphy, knew what any of the Bass gang looked like. In fact, after Seaborne Barnes was killed and lay in the street, Ware had to have Murphy identify the body, as no one else knew who the man was. Ware himself stated that he had seen the same three men earlier in town crossing the street to enter the dry goods store, but in fact did not recognize them as the Bass gang.


Bass was later found lying in a pasture west of Round Rock[1] by Williamson County Deputy James Milton Tucker. More specifically, Bass had to call out to the posse as they were about to ride by him, shouting, "Hey I'm over here. I'm Sam Bass, the one you are looking for." He was taken into custody and died the next day on July 21, 1878, his 27th birthday.[1] Bass was buried in Round Rock in what is now known as Round Rock Cemetery.[1] His grave is now marked with a replacement headstone—as the original suffered at the hands of souvenir collectors over the years.[citation needed] What remains of the original stone is on display at the Round Rock Public Library.[citation needed]


There is a road named after him in Round Rock, Texas.

During Round Rock's Frontier Days celebration each year, performers re-enact the shootout in the old downtown.[4]

Rosston, Texas celebrates Sam Bass Day annually on the third Saturday in July.[2]

Dramatic representationsEdit

Bass has since been portrayed in several books, radio programs, television shows, and movies.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sam Bass; Wayne Gard, (Sam Bass (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936)); via "The Handbook of Texas"; Texas State Historical Society, accessed August 18, 2019
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sam Bass: 1851–1878; Frontier Times online;
  3. ^ Smith, Jeff (2009). Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, Klondike Research. pp. 30-32. ISBN 0-9819743-0-9
  4. ^ Syers, Ed; Hodge, Larry (2000). Backroads of Texas: The Sites, Scenes, History, People, and Places Your Map Doesn't Tell You About (4th ed.). Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 104. ISBN 978-0891230533.
  5. ^ Death Valley Days; Old Time Radio Researchers Group (OTRR) website; "Free Old time Radio Shows"; accessed Feb 2018
  6. ^ Tales of Wells Fargo: Season 1 Episode 10; TV Guide online
  7. ^ Lone Ranger; via Old Time Radio Researchers Group (OTRR); CD #20; accessed Feb 2018
  8. ^ "Colt .45". Retrieved December 22, 2012.
  9. ^ "The Informer Who Cried on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved September 20, 2018.


External linksEdit