Best Selling author Carra Copelin writes contemporary and historical romance. The Texas Code Series, contemporary romantic suspense novels include Code Of Honor, Book One. The Brides of Texas Code Series, western historical novellas, explores the Texas Code Series beginnings. Katie and the Irish Texan, Book 1, Matelyn and the Texas Ranger, Book 2, and Angel and the Texan from County Cork, Book 3. Laurel:Bride of Arkansas, American Mail-Order Brides Series, Book 25

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sam Bass, Famous Texas Outlaw

Through the genealogy research of our family history, I continually search for the validity of stories passed from one generation to the next. So far I'm 0 for 0. A few of these are:

1.  A great grandmother was Cherokee or part Cherokee. No.
2.  A great-great grandfather came to Tennessee from Germany, then to Texas. No, it appears he was possibly an Englishman from Illinois.
3.  My Pike ancestors were related to Zebulon Pike, explorer and discoverer of Pike's Peak. No.
4.  We are related by marriage to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. You guessed it, No.
Now, in all fairness, it is possible I haven't gone down the right trail or all evidence for the right trail no longer exists. Maybe there's a left turn out there I will find someday.
            The biggest story we haven't proven yet is that we are related to Sam Bass, the outlaw. My great-grandmother, on my father's side, was Anna Bass Carr. She was born in 1874, to William Edward  and Sarah Hardison Bass in Clifton, Bosque County, Texas. She told the story of how, when she was a little girl, a man came to their home late one night. Her mother let him in and gave him food and lodging. The next morning, when she awoke, the man was gone. Granny said, her mother told her that man was her cousin, Sam Bass.
Another story involving, Sam Bass, happened on my mother's side of the family. This tale says the outlaw was headed south from Denton by way of the Garland - Mesquite area, North of Dallas. Sam stopped at the McCommas farm, the home of mother's great-great uncle. Sam bought fresh horses and left his own for the farmer. Once again, there is no proof, but I want to believe.

Sam was born on July 21, 1851on a farm in Mitchell, Indiana. He was orphaned at the age of ten. He and his brother and sisters lived with an abusive uncle and his nine children for the next five years. In 1869, Sam lived on his own in Mississippi at Charles' Mill where he learned how to handle a pistol and sharpened his card playing skills. In 1871, he moved to Denton in North Texas.  

He went to work for Sheriff W.F. (Dad) Eagan. Sheriff Eagan employed Sam as a farmhand where he curried horses, milked the cows, and cut firewood, but more importantly, young Sam spent some time as a teamster. It was at this position that he became acquainted with the country and learned all the trails, back roads and thickets he would later use to elude the Texas Rangers.
Bass formed a gang and robbed the Union Pacific gold train from San Francisco. He and his me n intercepted the train on September 18, 1877 at Big Spring, Nebraska, looting $60,000. To this day it is the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific. Sam and his gang staged a string of robberies after this, never netting over $500 at any one time. In 1878, the gang held up two stagecoaches and four trains within twenty-five miles of Dallas and became the object of a manhunt by Pinkerton agents and a special company of Texas Rangers headed by Captain Junius Peak. 

The Bass gang eluded the Rangers until one member of his gang, Jim Murphy, turned informant. Mr. Murphy's father, who was very ill at the time, was taken into custody and held for 'questioning'. He was not allowed to see a doctor, and his condition rapidly worsened. Law officers then sent a message to Murphy informing him that they had his father in custody, and they would continue to withhold medical treatment. Murphy, knowing how sick his father was, agreed to the meeting, which resulted in him reluctantly agreeing to become an informant. That is the tactic that had to be employed to catch the wiley Sam Bass. Major John B. Jones, Texas Ranger, was informed of Bass's movements, and set up an ambush at Round Rock, Texas, where Bass planned to rob the Williamson County Bank.

 On July 19, 1878, Bass and his gang were scouting the area before the robbery. When they bought some tobacco at a store, they were noticed by Deputy Sheriff A. W. Grimes. When Grimes approached the men to request that they surrender their side arms, he was shot and killed. As Bass attempted to flee, he was shot by Ranger George Herold and then by Texas Ranger Sergeant Richard Ware. Near Ware, were Soapy Smith and his cousin Edwin who witnessed Ware's shot. Soapy exclaimed, "I think you got him." Bass was found lying in a pasture by a group of railroad workers, who summoned the authorities. He was taken into custody and died the next day on his 27th birthday. 

Bass was buried in Round Rock, some fifteen miles north of Austin, Texas's state capitol. Today, his grave is marked with a replacement headstone, the original having suffered at the hands of souvenir collectors over the years. What remains of the original stone is on display at the Round Rock Public Library.


After Sam died his legend grew, helped along by a song. "The Ballad of Sam Bass", written by John Denton of Gainesville, Texas, was sung by many cowhands in an attempt to sooth the herd on stormy nights. Sam's fame spread to Great Britain in the late 1800s, culminating in a wax statue of him in Madam Tussaud's Waxworks in London (Ibid.).
 Today, Sam Bass is not as well-known as he was in the past. However, Round Rock maintains its historical legacy as evidenced by the street markers identifying the events in the celebrated shootout.
My family's connection to Sam, while not yet proven, may still be true. I have traced our Bass ancestors back to Gibson County, Indiana. I'm ever hopeful that one day a distant relative will stand up and say 'Howdy', so to speak, and we'll have our documentation.
I hope you enjoyed this tidbit from my family's history. It's a reprint from a guest post in September 2012 at  Sweethearts of the West. If you're a fan of history, take some time and follow the link to You'll be glad you did.         



  1. Carra, I loved reading about your infamous (possible)cousin! I hope you one day prove your relationship to him. Maybe you should write a book about him. :)

  2. Carra, sometimes those tales have a kernel of truth in them, if only you keep searching. For instance, my family thought they were related to Samuel Clemens even though the spelling is different. We are, but through his mother's family and very distantly. Also, if your grandmother was part Cherokee but passed for white (as mine did) you will not find a record for her in the Cherokee rolls. Even many who signed up on the rolls used a different name to confuse the govt. because (with good reason) they did not trust them. Loved the post.

  3. Thank you, Lyn and Caroline, for visiting and commenting today. I will never give up the search for any relative and yes, a book may someday bubble to the surface.