Sam Bass and His Train Robber Gang

A few days after the separation of the robbers, Joel Collins and Bill Heffridge rode into a small place in Kansas called Buffalo Station. They led a pack pony. Dismounting from their tired horses and leaving them standing in the shade of the store building, the two men entered the store and made several purchases. The railroad agent at the place noticed the strangers ride up. He had, of course, been advised to be on the lookout for the train robbers. He entered the store and in a little while engaged Collins in conversation. While talking the robber, he pulled his handkerchief out of his coat pocket and exposed a letter with his name thereon. The agent was a shrewd man. He asked Collins if he had not driven a herd of cattle up the trail in the spring. Collins declared he had, and finally, in answer to a direct question, admitted that his name was Collins.

Five or six hundred yards from Buffalo Station a lieutenant of the United States Army had camped a troop of ten men that was scouting for the train robbers. As soon as Collins and Heffridge remounted and resumed their way, the agent ran quickly to the soldiers’ camp, pointed out the bandits to the lieutenant and declared, “There go two of the Union Pacific train robbers!”

The army officer mounted his men and pursued Collins and Heffridge. When he overtook the two men he told them their descriptions tallied with those of some train robbers that he was scouting for, and declared they would have to go back to the station and be identified. Collins laughed at the idea, and declared that he and his companion were cattlemen returning to their homes in Texas. They reluctantly turned and started back with the soldiers. After riding a few hundred yards the two robbers held a whispered conversation. Suddenly the two pulled their pistols and attempted to stand off the lieutenant and his troop. The outlaws were promptly shot and killed. On examining their packs the soldiers found tied up in the legs of a pair of overalls $20,000 in gold. Not a dollar of the stolen money had been used and there was no doubt about the identity of the men.

Posse

Posse

Not long after they had divided up in Nebraska, Jim Berry appeared at his home in Mexico, Missouri. At once he deposited quite a lot of money in the local bank and exchanged $3,000 in gold for currency, explaining his possession of the gold by saying he had sold a mine in the Black Hills. In three or four days the sheriff of the county learned of Berry’s deposits and called at the bank to see the new depositor’s gold. His suspicion became a certainty when he found that had deposited $20 gold pieces.

That night the sheriff with a posse rounded up at Berry’s house, but the suspect was not there. The home was well provisioned and the posse found many articles of newly purchased clothing. Just after daylight, while searching the place the sheriff heard a horse whinny in some timber nearby. Upon investigating, he suddenly came upon Jim Berry sitting on a pallet. Berry discovered the officer at about the same time and attempted to escape by running. He was fired upon, one bullet striking him in the knee and badly shattering it. He was taken to his home and given the best of medical attention, but gangrene set in and he died in a few days. Most of his $10,000 was recovered. Tom Nixon evidently quit Berry somewhere en route, for he made good his escape with his ill-gotten gain and was never apprehended.

Sam Bass and Jack Davis, after the separation in Nebraska, sold their ponies, bought a light spring wagon and a pair of work horses. They placed their gold pieces in the bottom of the wagon, threw their bedding and clothes over it, and in this disguise traveled through Kansas and Indian Territory to Denton County, Texas. During their trip through the Territory Bass afterward said he camped within one hundred yards of a detachment of cavalry. After supper he and Davis visited the soldiers’ camp and chatted with them until bedtime. The soldiers said they were on the lookout for some train robbers that had held up the Union Pacific in Nebraska, never dreaming for a moment that they were conversing with two of them. The men also mentioned that two of the robbers had been reported killed in Kansas.

This rumor put Bass and Davis on their guard, and on reaching Denton County they hid in the Elm Bottoms<style=”margin-top: 0; margin-bottom: 0″> until Bass could interview some of his friends. Upon meeting them he learned that the names and descriptions of every one of the Union Pacific train robbers were in the possession of the law officers; that Collins, Heffridge, and Berry had been killed; and that every sheriff in North Texas was on the watch for Davis and himself. Davis at once begged Bass to go with him to South America, but Bass refused, so Davis bade Sam goodbye and set out alone. He was never captured. On his deathbed, Bass declared he had once received a letter from Jack Davis written from New Orleans, asking Bass to come there and go into the business of buying hides.

Bass had left Denton County early in the spring an honest, sincere and clean young man. By falling with evil associates he had become within a few months one of the most daring outlaws and train robbers of his time. Before he had committed any crime in the state the officers of North Texas made repeated efforts to capture him for the big reward offered by the Union Pacific and the express company but, owing to the nature of the country around Denton and the friends Bass had as long as his gold lasted, met with no success.

Bass’ money soon attracted several desperate and daring men to him. Henry Underwood, Arkansas Johnson, Jim Murphy, Frank Jackson, Pipes Herndon, and William Collins, — the last one, a cousin of Joel Collins — and two or three others joined him in the Elm Bottoms. Naturally, Bass was selected as leader of the gang. It was not long before the outlaw chief planned and executed his first train robbery in Texas: that at Eagle Ford, a small station on the Texas Pacific Railroad, a few miles out of Dallas. In quick succession the bandits held up two or three other trains, the last, at Mesquite Station, ten or twelve miles east of Dallas. From this robbery they secured about $3,000. They met with opposition here, for the conductor, though armed with only a small pistol, fought the robbers and slightly wounded one of them.

The whole state was now aroused by the repeated train hold-ups. General John B. Jones hurried to Dallas and Denton to look over the situation and arranged to organize a company of Texas Rangers at Dallas. Captain June Peak, a very able officer, was given the command. No matter how brave a company of recruits, it takes time and training to get results from them, and when this raw company was thrown into the field against Bass and his gang the bandit leader played with it as a child plays with toys. Counting the thirty Rangers and the different sheriffs’ parties, there were probably 100 men in pursuit of the Bass Gang. Sam played hide-and-seek with them all and, it is said, never ranged any farther west than Stephens County or farther north than Wise County. He was generally in Dallas, Denton or Tarrant Counties. He would frequently visit Fort Worth or Dallas at night, ride up with his men to some outside saloon, get drinks all around and then vamoose.

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