Dealt life blows early (his mother, Elizabeth, dies giving birth to her 10th child when Sam is 10, his father, Dan, takes ill and dies three years later, and his Uncle David uses Sam on his farm as a day laborer), at 18 Bass runs away from Indiana and starts roaming the West ... gaining experience as a mill hand on the Mississippi, handling freight for Sheriff William "Dad" Egan in Denton, Texas, cow punching on various ranches, and racing a horse he owns called The Denton Mare. When funds run low though in the summer of 1876, he begins robbing stage coaches out of Deadwood, South Dakota with a cowboy buddy named Joel Collins.
When hitting heavily armed Black Hills coaches proves less lucrative, and much more dangerous than anticipated (in one robbery, the driver, Johnny Slaughter, is killed and the coach runs back to Deadwood ... for a ZERO net for the outlaws, on another run they come away with only $11), Bass and the collection of hard cases he leads (Jack Davis, Jim Berry, Collins, Bill Heffridge, Tom Nixon, Robert McKimie) move up to trains, and then banks, By 1878, the gang has robbed five trains, another stage coach, and escaped a gun battle with Rangers and local lawmen near Salt Creek, Texas ... and top the list of desperadoes the Rangers want to shut down. The bank at Round Rock is thought to be the tonic for the gang's misadventures ... an easy score from a town of barely 1,000 people with a very small law enforcement presence. They could not be more wrong!
Sam Bass & John E. Gardner (BACK, L-R), Joe & Joel Collins (FRONT, L-R)
Trapped into giving information on the gang when his ailing father is refused medical treatment and threatened with arrest for harboring members of the Bass Gang (and for leniency come trial time), new recruit (Collins and Heffridge are dead in a shootout with soldiers out of Fort Hays, Kansas, Berry is killed in Mexico, and Nixon and Davis vanish after a robbery and are never seen again) Jim Murphy betrays his comrades and gets detailed information to the Texas Ranger Major John B. Jones on the gang's plans for Round Rock ... and the town is soon secretly full of lawmen waiting for Bass and companions to appear.
Judas Jim Murphy
And appear they do ... establishing a camp site in the woods outside of town, the gang (Bass, Seaborn Barnes, Frank Jackson, and Jim Murphy) prepares their weapons and scouts the bank twice. Ready, on Saturday, in the heat of a blistering hot afternoon, the men mount up and ride into town. But before hitting the bank, Bass, Barnes, and Jackson decide to visit Koppel's general store (next to the bank) for some tobacco, while Murphy heads to the livery for some grub for his horse, although he is actually making himself scarce to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of what he knows is coming. Noticing armed men entering the store, but not recognizing them as members of the Bass Gang, Deputy Sheriffs Ellis Grimes and Morris Moore decide to question the strangers ... a big mistake!
While Moore stands by the door of the store, Grimes walks up to the men as they haggle with clerk Simon Juda over the cost of tobacco, "I believe you have a pistol," the lawman tells the outlaws. As one, the gunmen admit they do, turn, and begin blasting away with their weapons. Hit point blank in the chest by multiple rounds, Grimes never gets his pistol out of his holster, staggers backwards, and drops dead in the store's doorway (afterwards, many will question why the lawmen approached the men, guns in their holsters, when the Rangers' plan was to have the two deputy sheriffs only observe and notify of the arrival of any strangers ... many believe the mistake comes from not wanting to split any reward money with any other officers). Moore however is able to pull and shoot, wounding Bass in the hand and side as the outlaws fly out of the store for their horses in the alley ... and he in turn is shot through the lungs (he will survive his injuries). Grimes leaves behind a wife and three children.
And of course, the sound of gunfire draws other lawmen and armed citizens to the outlaws ... along with lawmen firing from various positions on the street, Albert Highsmith blazes away at the badmen from the back of his livery stable, while F.L. Jordan shoots at the outlaws from a nearby saloon. Too much lead to avoid, Bass is hit by a bullet that tears through his kidney and exits his body near his navel and Barnes is killed by a slug from Ranger Dick Ware that hits the outlaw in the head as he is mounting ... only Jackson is missed in the deluge of lead that sweeps the streets. Helped by Jackson, Bass and his buddy make it out of town and back to camp ... but the outlaw leader's wounds are mortal and he orders Jackson to flee without him.
Major John B. Jones of the Texas Rangers
Eventually found sitting under a tree, Bass is hauled back to Round Rock in a wagon and placed on a cot in August Gloeber's tin shop (the local hotel has refused to provide space for the wounded outlaw). "The world is bobbing around," are the bandit's last words before slipping into unconsciousness and then death. Bass is 27-years-old when he dies on his birthday!
Round Rock Grave Site