Historical society scrapbook: Sam Bass, central Texas outlaw Part I

Brownwood Bulletin
Ronnie and Donnie Lappe

Everyone has heard tales of legendary outlaw Sam Bass. Some are true and some are tall tales. Here are some true facts.

To this day, people are still searching for caves where the stolen gold is supposed to hidden in San Saba county and other places. His life story sounds like a Hollywood movie script.

The parents of Sam Bass died when he was young. He was raised by an uncle. When he got old enough, he left home. He worked a little while on a river boat. He hung out with people that taught him card playing and how to be a crack shot.

He came to Texas looking to find prosperity. He worked as a farmhand for awhile and drove a team for a freight shipper for awhile. This man was a lawman, who later who later served with the team of the lawmen trying to arrest Bass.

Bass looked for an income that paid a lot with little manual toil. The labor jobs he did paid for food and a place to stay, but not much more.

He started hanging out with rough cowboys and playing cards. He was able to win more at cards than manual labor paid him. He wanted more money quickly, without having to work long, hard hours.

He heard that a company payroll would be sent on a train in gold coins. He rounded up a gang. They came onto the train when it was stopped and demanded the payroll. There was $2,000 in $20 gold pieces, all dated the same year. They had to hide the gold and only use it a little at a time because it would be unusual for someone to have a lot of gold pieces and all of them from the year of the stolen coins. This could cause suspicion and lead law enforcement to find them.

After they started robbing trains, they may have gotten blamed for others that they did not rob because there were a lot of widespread train robberies around the same time and over the same area. It would be difficult for one small gang to carry out all the robberies attributed to the Bass Gang.

Law enforcement believed Bass had a large gang that was spread out in several areas with members carrying widespread robberies, but when some arrests were later made, the gang members described a small gang, led by Sam Bass, who made all the plans and went to each robbery. The trains were powered by steam.

They had to stop at rural locations for water. The gang would hide out in the brush and come on the train when it was stopped for water. Some workers would be off the train working or taking a rest break. The gang would open the mail car and take the money shipment. They would also walk through the train and demand money and jewelry from the passengers.

Once, Bass was shot in the hand trying to escape a robbery. The gang rarely killed anyone on the train, or law enforcement officer, only if they “had to.” Shipping companies were losing money and the train companies started hiring security guards to ride on the trains or persuaded law enforcement in the county and rural areas where the train stopped for water to watch the area when the train was stopped.

The gang started robbing banks when it got where they were getting little bounty from the train robberies. The companies sending money started sending a little at a time on many more trains, or otherwise trying to hide it in other shipments, like clothes, where it would be hard to find.

The robbers did not have time to go through each box on the train. The security on the train also deterred the attacks. Bankers pressed law enforcement to round up the Bass gang. The Texas Rangers were called. Major Jones was sent to try to arrest Bass. Warren Mcghee and other Brown county men were serving with the Texas Rangers unit that was sent to catch the Bass gang helped to capture them in the long run.