Sam Bass and His Train Robber Gang

John B. Jones

John B. Jones

When General Jones received Murphy’s letter he was astonished at Bass’ audacity in approaching within fifteen or twenty miles of the state capital, the very headquarters of the Frontier Battalion, to rob a bank. The letter was written at Belton, Texas, and received at the Adjutant-General’s office on the last mail in the afternoon. The company of Rangers nearest Round Rock was Lieutenant Reynolds’ Company “E,” stationed at San Saba, 115 miles distant. There was no telegraph to San Saba at that time. General Jones reflected a few moments after receipt of the letter and then arranged his plan rapidly.

He turned to Corporal Wilson and told him that Sam Bass and his gang were, or soon would be, at Round Rock, Texas, to rob the bank there.

“I want you to leave at once to carry an order to Lieutenant Reynolds. It is 65 miles to Lampasas and you can make that place early enough in the morning to catch the Lampasas and San Saba stage. You must make that stage at all hazards, save neither yourself nor your horse, but get these orders to Lieutenant Reynolds as quickly as possible,” he ordered.

Corporal Wilson hurried to the livery stable, saddled his horse and got away from Austin on his wild ride just at nightfall. Wilson reached Lampasas at daylight the next morning and made the outgoing stage to San Saba. From Lampasas to San Saba was 50 miles, and it took the stage all day to make the trip. As soon as he landed in town Corporal Wilson hired a horse and galloped three miles down to Lieutenant Reynolds’ camp and delivered his orders.

After dispatching Corporal Wilson to Lieutenant Reynolds, General Jones hurried over to the Ranger camp on the Capitol grounds and ordered the three Rangers, Ware, Connor, and Harold, to proceed to Round Rock, put their horses in Highsmith’s livery stable, and keep themselves concealed until he could reach them himself by train next morning. The following morning General Jones went to Round Rock. He carried with him from Austin, Morris Moore, an ex-Ranger but then deputy sheriff of Travis County. On reaching his destination, the general called on Deputy Sheriff Grimes of Williamson County, who was stationed at Round Rock, told him Bass was expected in town to rob the bank, and that a scout of Rangers would be in town as soon as possible. Jones advised Deputy Grimes to keep a sharp lookout for strangers but on no account to attempt an arrest until the Rangers could arrive.

Historic Round Rock, Texas

Historic Round Rock, Texas

In the meantime, at San Saba, Sergeant Nevill delivered Reynolds’ orders to the Ranger camp, which were brief and to the point: “Bass is at Round Rock. We must be there as early as possible tomorrow. Make a detail of eight men and select those that have the horses best able to make a fast run. And you, with them, report to me here at my tent ready to ride in thirty minutes.”

First Sergeant C. L. Nevill, Second Sergeant Henry McGee, Second Corporal J. B. Gillett, Privates Abe Anglin, Dave Ligon, Bill Derrick, and John R. and W. L. Banister were selected for the detail. Lieutenant Reynolds ordered two of our best little pack mules hitched to a light spring hack, for he had been sick and was not in condition to make the journey horseback.

In thirty minutes from the time Corporal Wilson reached camp the Rangers were mounted, armed and ready to go. Lieutenant Reynolds took his seat in the hack, threw some blankets in, and Corporal Wilson, who had not had a minute’s sleep for over 36 hours, lay down to get a little rest as we moved along. The Rangers left their camp on the San Saba River just at sunset and traveled in a fast trot the entire night.

The sun was coming up when the Rangers as they crossed the North Gabriel River, 15 miles south of Lampasas. They had ridden 65 miles and had 45 miles yet to go before reaching Round Rock. They halted on the Gabriel River for a breakfast of bread, broiled bacon and black coffee and the horses were fed. After just 30 minutes, they were off again, reaching the vicinity of old Round Rock between 1 and 2 o’clock in the afternoon of Friday, July 19, 1878. The Rangers camped on the banks of Brushy Creek while the lieutenant drove into New Round Rock to report his arrival to General Jones.

Bass had decided to rob the bank at Round Rock on Saturday, the 20th. After his gang had eaten dinner in camp Friday evening they saddled their ponies and started over to town to take a last look at the bank and select a route to follow in leaving the place after the robbery. As they left camp Jim Murphy, knowing that the bandits might be set upon at any time, suggested that he stop at May’s store in Old Round Rock and get a bushel of corn, as they were out of feed for their horses. Bass, Barnes and Jackson rode on into town, hitched their horses in an alley just back of the bank, passed that building and made a mental note of its situation. They then went up the main street of the town and entered Copprel’s store to buy some tobacco. As the three bandits passed into the store, Deputy Sheriff Moore, who was standing on the sidewalk with Deputy Sheriff Grimes, said he thought one of the newcomers had a pistol.

“I will go in and see,” replied Grimes.

“I believe you have a pistol,” remarked Grimes, approaching Bass and trying to search him.

“Yes, of course I have a pistol,” said Bass. At the words, the robbers pulled their guns and killed Grimes as he backed away to the door. He fell dead on the sidewalk. They then turned on Moore and shot him through the lungs as he attempted to draw his weapon.

At the crack of the first pistol shot, Dick Ware, who was seated in a barber shop only a few steps away waiting his turn for a shave, rushed into the street and encountered the three bandits just as they were leaving the store. Seeing Ware rapidly advancing on them, Bass and his men fired on the Ranger at close range, one of their bullets striking a hitching post within six inches of Ware’s head and knocking splinters into his face. This assault never halted Ware for an instant. He was as brave as courage itself and never hesitated to take the most desperate chances when the occasion demanded it. For a few minutes Dick fought the robbers single handed. General Jones, coming up town from the telegraph office, ran into the fight. He was armed with only a small Colt’s double action pistol, but threw himself into the fray. Connor and Harold had now come up and joined in the fusillade. The general, seeing the robbers on foot and almost within his grasp, drew in close and urged his men to strain every nerve to capture or exterminate the desperadoes. By this time every man in the town that could secure a gun joined in the fight.

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