notorious Old West bandit Sam Bass buried all the gold he is said
to have buried in Central Texas, he would have been a wealthy man
indeed. He wouldn't have made the fatal decision to rob a bank in
in July of 1878. He would simply have stopped by one of the caves
where millions of his dollars are said to have been buried, and hightailed
it to Mexico,
Likewise, if he stopped by every place he is said to have been sighted
on that ill-fated trip to Round
Rock, his route would have been most circuitous indeed.
For years - a hundred or more - people have talked about when Sam
Bass dropped by The
Grove in Coryell
County en route to Round
Rock. W.J. Graham, who ran a store in The
Grove during Bass' heyday, recounted a day when Bass dropped by
the store and asked Graham what he would say to Sam Bass if he were
to come into the store. Graham said he would tell the outlaw to go
straight to hell.
"Well, here's your chance because I am Sam Bass," the man said.
"Now, that's an altogether different matter, isn't it?" Graham said.
Bass, or someone pretending to be Sam Bass, might have made it over
to the saloon for a little nip because there is another story concerning
Sam Bass at The Grove.
In this story, some locals were hanging out at the saloon and heckling
a young man who had come in to quench his thirst. The object of their
ridicule was the man's straw hat. Apparently, no one in The Grove
had made this particular kind of fashion statement before.
The man approached the hecklers and said he liked a good joke as well
as the next person and would be glad to join in if they would tell
him what was so funny. Before they told him, he introduced himself
as Sam Bass, which inspired everybody in the saloon to seek entertainment
Legend and lore surrounding Sam Bass still exists today because facts
never got in the way of a good story, even during Bass' brief time
in the spotlight. With the exception of one big haul, when he and
his gang got away with $60,000 in gold coins from a Union Pacific
train, Sam Bass and his gang weren't all that successful as bandits.
But oral history and folklore have been kind to Bass because of his
enduring reputation as basically a merry bandit, a Robin Hood of the
County Attorney and Old West historian Rick Miller probably knows
more about Sam Bass than anybody on the planet. His biography of Bass,
"Sam Bass and Gang," was named by True West magazine as one of the
50 best books ever written on the American West. To give you an idea
of the kind of company he's in with that award, Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome
Dove" is also on the list.
who want to believe that Sam Bass passed through Coryell
County on his way to Round
Rock will find scant support in Miller's book, which traces day-by-day
the route Bass and his gang made on that final fateful ride.
Even if the gang did stop off in The
Grove, Sam Bass and his gang were in no position to announce their
presence in general stores and saloons. They were in a world of trouble,
and getting away unnoticed was a matter of life and death.
| Bass and gang
did stop in Belton
and even considered robbing the bank there, but Belton
spooked Bass. "I would hate for them Belton fellows to get after us
for they are bad medicine," Bass said. "These Bell
County fellows are different material."
Miller speculates that Bass might have heard some stories about Belton,
such as the time in 1874 when a mob took over the jail and shot to
death nine prisoners inside.
Or maybe he was thinking of more recent history, when in June of that
year another mob stormed a house near Troy and shot to death a man
and 14-year old boy, possibly over an elopement.
Bass wanted no part of Belton
or Bell County. The
gang soon moved into Williamson
County, where the saga of Sam Bass came to a bloody end. He was
betrayed by a member of his gang, who had wired the Texas Rangers
from Belton to inform
them of Bass' plans to rob the Round Rock bank.
Scarcely had he been buried in Round
Rock before songs and biographies romanticizing the "Robin Hood
of the West" began to appear.
Miller cut through the legend and lore to write his book on Bass,
and he cuts neither the man or the legend little slack.
"In truth, Sam Bass was singularly unsuccessful as an outlaw except
when he stumbled over the gold coins during the Big
Springs robbery," Miller wrote in his epilogue. "Beyond that it
is difficult to attribute anything to him of a positive nature. He
was an illiterate crook who sought easy riches, but by being the focus
of a manhunt unparalleled in the history of Texas then or since, Bass
indirectly reinforced the need for an organized state police force.
"Bass' exploits have been glamorously but untruthfully distorted to
give him more credit as an outlaw than he deserves, but his is nevertheless
an exciting tale that has become a significant footnote in Texas
13, 2006 column
More "Letters from Central Texas"
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