Sam Bass and His Train Robber Gang

Seaborn Barnes

Seaborn Barnes

Finally, in a fight at Salt Creek in Wise County, Captain June Peak and his Texas Rangers killed Arkansas Johnson, Bass’ most trusted lieutenant. Either just before or soon after this battle, the Rangers captured Pipes Herndon and Jim Murphy and drove Bass and his two remaining companions out of North Texas. At that time the state had on the frontier of Texas, six companies of veteran Rangers. They were finely mounted, highly equipped, and were the best mounted police in the world. Any one of those highly trained commands could have broken up the Sam Bass Gang in half the time it took a command of new men.

After the fight on Salt Creek only Sam Bass, Seaborn Barnes, and Frank Jackson were left of the once formidable gang. These men had gained nothing from their four train robberies in North Texas, and were so hard pressed by the officers of the law on all sides that Bass reluctantly decided to leave the country and try to make his way to Mexico. Through some pretended friends of Bass, General Jones learned of the contemplated move. He, with Captain Peak and other officers, approached Jim Murphy, one of Bass’ gang captured about the time of the Salt Creek fight, who was awaiting trial by the Federal authorities for train robbery, and promised they would secure his release if he would betray his friend.

Murphy hesitated and said his former chief had been kind to his family, had given them money and provisions, and that it would be ungrateful to betray his friend. The general declared he understood Murphy’s position fully, but Bass was an outlaw, a pest to the country, who was preparing to leave the state and so could no longer help him. General Jones warned Murphy that the evidence against him was overwhelming and was certain to send him to the Federal prison — probably for life — and exhorted him to remember his wife and his children. Murphy finally yielded and agreed to betray Bass and his gang at the first opportunity.

According to the plan agreed upon Murphy was to give bond and when the Federal court convened at Tyler,Texas, a few weeks later he was not to show up. It would then be published all over the country that Murphy had skipped bond and rejoined Bass</style=”margin-top:>. This was carried out to the letter. Murphy joined Bass in the Elm Bottoms of Denton County and agreed to rob a train or bank and get out of the country. Some of Bass’ friends, suspicious of Murphy’s bondsmen, wrote Sam that Murphy was playing a double game and advised him to kill the traitor at once.  Bass immediately confronted Murphy with these reports and reminded him how freely he had handed out his gold to Murphy’s family. Bass declared he had never advised or solicited Jim to join him, and said it was a low down, mean and ungrateful trick to betray him. He told Murphy plainly if he had anything to say to say it quickly. Barnes agreed with his chief and urged Murphy’s death.

Sam Bass Gang, photo courtesy City of Roundrock, Tx and Robert G. McCubbin, Jr.

Sam Bass Gang, photo courtesy City of Roundrock, Tx and Robert G. McCubbin, Jr.

The plotter denied any intention of betraying Bass and offered to take the lead in any robbery Bass should plan and be the first to enter the express car or climb over the bank railing. Bass and Barnes were angry and decided to kill the liar at once. Frank Jackson had taken no part in the conversation, but, he now declared he had known Murphy since he was a little boy, and he was sure Murphy was sincere and meant to stand by them through thick and thin. Bass was not satisfied, and insisted that Murphy be murdered then and there.

Jackson finally told Bass and Barnes that they could not kill Murphy without first killing him. Although the youngest of the party at just 22 years old, Jackson had great influence over his chief. He was brave and daring, and Bass at that time could not very well get along without him, so his counsel prevailed and Murphy was spared. The bandits then determined to quit the country. Their plan was to rob a small bank somewhere en route to Mexico and thus secure the funds needed to facilitate their escape, for they were all broke.

Bass, Seaborn Barnes, Frank Jackson, and Jim Murphy left Denton County early in July, 1878. With his usual boldness, Bass, after he had passed Dallas County, made no attempt at concealment, but traveled the public highway in broad daylight. Bass and Barnes were still suspicious of Murphy, and never let him out of their sight, though they refused to talk to or to associate with him in any way. When Bass reached Waco the party camped on the outskirts of the town and remained there two or three days. They visited the town each day, looked over the situation, and in one bank saw much gold and currency. Jackson was enthusiastic and wanted to rob it at once. Bass, being more careful and experienced, thought it too hazardous an undertaking, for the run through crowded streets to the outskirts of the city was too far; and so vetoed the attempt.

While in Waco, the gang stepped into a saloon to get a drink. Bass laid a $20 gold piece on the bar and remarked, “There goes the last twenty of the Union Pacific money and d–n little good it has done me.” On leaving Waco the robbers stole a fine mare from a farmer named Billy Mounds and traveled the main road to Belton. They were now out of money and planned to rob the bank at Round Rock, Texas.

General Jones was, by then, getting anxious over the gang. Not a word had been heard from Jim Murphy since he had rejoined the band, for he had been so closely watched that he had had no opportunity to communicate with the authorities, and it seemed as if he would be forced to participate in the next robbery, in spite of himself.

At Belton, Sam sold an extra pony his party had after stealing the mare at Waco. The purchaser demanded a bill of sale as the vendors were strangers in the country. While Bass and Barnes were in a store writing out the required document, Murphy seized the opportunity to dash off a short note to General Jones, saying, “We are on our way to Round Rock to rob the bank. For God’s sake be there to prevent it.” As the post office adjoined the store the traitor succeeded in mailing his letter of betrayal just one minute before Bass came out on the street again. The gang continued their way to Round Rock and camped near the old town, which is situated about one mile north of New Round Rock. The bandits concluded to rest and feed their horses for three or four days before attempting their robbery. This delay was providential, for it gave General Jones time to assemble his Rangers to repel the attack.

After Major Jones was made Adjutant-General of Texas he sent a small detachment of four or five Rangers to camp on the Capitol grounds at Austin. He drew his units from different companies along the line. Each unit would be detailed to camp in Austin, and about every six weeks or two months the detail would be relieved by a squad from another company. It will readily be seen that this was a wise policy, as the detail was always on hand and could be sent in any direction by rail or on horseback at short notice. Besides, General Jones was devoted to his Texas Rangers and liked to have them around where he could see them daily. At that time, four men from Company “E” — Corporal Vernon Wilson and Privates Dick Ware, Chris Connor, and George Harold — were camped at Austin. The corporal helped General Jones as a clerk in his office, but was in charge of the squad on the Capitol grounds, slept in camp and had his meals with them.

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