For Texas outlaw Sam Bass, end of the line came 138 years ago this week

One hundred and thirty-eight years ago this week, the notorious Old West outlaw Sam Bass was shot in the streets of Round Rock, right after leaving Quinn’s Neighborhood Bar.

Texas outlaw Sam Bass is buried in Round Rock.

Texas outlaw Sam Bass is buried in Round Rock.

No, that’s not true, 101 E. Main was the Koppel Store back then. And traffic was probably much better. But either way, he was shot on Friday, July 19, 1878 and died two days later, on his 27th birthday.

Bass didn’t take up his outlaw ways until the last 2 years of his life. Among his more honest jobs was racing horses. It wasn’t until he took a herd of longhorn cattle north of Dodge City — pocketing the proceeds instead of paying the cattle financiers, according to “The Handbook of Texas Online”  — that he got a taste of the outlaw life.

After gambling away $8,000 (this was during a time where you could buy a pair of jeans for a little more than a $1 or a pair of shoes for a little less), it’s easy to presume that Bass wasn’t ready to go back to freighting or looking after livestock.

Here’s how the end played out for Texas outlaw Sam Bass …

He started off as a member of the short-lived Joel Collins gang, which hit several stagecoaches for little gain in 1877 before hitting a Union Pacific train near Big Springs, Nebraska, for more than $60,000 in gold coins.

Collins was killed by authorities in short order, but Bass escaped to Texas to form his own gang.

Hey, that train thing worked great, right? Well, Bass didn’t get so lucky again. They tried four trains in the spring of 1878 around Dallas, but mostly what they got was a lot of heat from local posses and the Texas Rangers.

Bass was good at getting away, though. And might have gone on robbing if not for gang member Jim Murphy. Murphy had been captured but Ranger Major John B. Jones let him loose on the condition that he would betray Bass.

Sam Bass, center, is seen with is betrayer Jim Murphy, right. Photo from Austin History Center 9248

Sam Bass, center, is seen with is betrayer Jim Murphy, right. Photo from Austin History Center 9248

John B. Jones was another unique Texas character. A Confederate officer during the war, he took defeat hard and made a run for the border, seeking to establish a Confederate colony in Mexico or Brazil. He eventually came home and was promptly elected to the Texas Legislature, but did not serve. Instead, he took command of the Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers.

Back to the story at hand, Murphy did betray Bass. Despite being carefully watched by a suspicious Bass, he managed to send a letter to officials from Belton that the gang planned on robbing a bank in Round Rock. (No, they didn’t stop at Robertson’s in Salado for beef jerky — it hasn’t been around quite that long.)

According to this detailed historyJones (in Austin) got Murphy’s letter (from Belton) that Bass was going to hit a bank (in Round Rock) so he sent a corporal to ride horseback all night (to Lampasas), where the corporal then caught the stage (to San Saba) and to the nearest company of Rangers. Man, things were hard before cell phones. Those Rangers would ride furiously (to Round Rock) as Jones and a few other Rangers who were in Austin also headed that way.

Amazingly, everyone arrived in Round Rock on the same day: Friday, July 19. Bass and two of his outlaws went to town to case the bank, only to be noticed by local law enforcement. One asked Sam Bass if he had a gun. And — in a prelude to bad-guy scenes in future action movies — Bass said “yes” and shot him dead. 

The shot attracted the attention of John B. Jones and the Austin Rangers who rushed to a rapidly-developing shootout in the streets of Round Rock. The situation went quickly downhill for the outlaws. One was shot dead and Bass was mortally wounded, though he did manage to get on his horse and flee town — just missing the lieutenant coming in from San Saba (“Hey guys, did I miss anything?”)

The next morning, pursuers found Sam Bass under a large tree, bleeding from a terrible wound. Our detailed history says the bullet “entered his back just above the right hip bone. The bullet badly mushroomed and made a fearful wound that tore the victim’s right kidney all to pieces.” He was taken back to town for medical care, but died on Sunday, July 21.


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