Sam Bass (leader of the Sam Bass Gang)

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Samuel "Sam" Bass

Birthdate: (27)
Birthplace: Lawrence County, IN, United States
Death: July 21, 1878 (27)
Round Rock, Williamson County, TX, United States (mortally wounded by Texas Rangers on 20 July 1878)
Immediate Family:

Son of Daniel Bass and Elizabeth Jane Bass
Brother of Solomon Bass; Isaac Bass; George W Bass; Euphemia Bass; Clarissa Bass and 4 others

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Immediate Family

About Sam Bass (leader of the Sam Bass Gang)

Sam Bass: (21 July 1851 - 21 July 1878) Born near Mitchell, Indiana. After numerous 'money-making' ventures Sam had formed a partnership with Joel Collins and Jack Davis. After driving a herd of cattle to Dodge City, then on to Ogallaha in the South Platte Valley, they decided to venture on to the Black Hills. They tried unsuccessfully to establish a freighting outfit. Sam had pointed out that "It's pretty hard to quit our old trade and go into a business that don't pay any better than this." With this Sam and Collins began to form their gang; Tom Nixon, Bill Heffridge and Jim Berry. Their first target was the Deadwood Stage, they held it up four times, from Jul To Aug 1877. With only seven peaches and less than $50 as their total loot, they agreed to try one more time when Collins had learned of a shipment of $150,000 in gold dust. The holdup was a failure, which drove them the Union Pacific would be more profitable. The gang's first train robbery was their most successful. At Big Springs, Nebraska, the loot was $60,000 dollars in shiny new twenty dollar gold coins from the San Francisco mint. The passengers of the train turned over an additional $400 cash and gold watches.

Sam Bass (July 21, 1851 – July 21, 1878) was a nineteenth-century American train robber and outlaw.

Early life

Bass was orphaned at the age of 10. For the next five years, he and his siblings lived with an abusive uncle. In 1869, he set out on his own and spent the next year in Mississippi. In 1871, he moved to Denton in north Texas.

Outlaw years

After failing at a series of legitimate enterprises, Bass turned to crime. He formed a gang and robbed the Union Pacific gold train from San Francisco. Bass and his men intercepted the train on September 18, 1877 at Big Spring, Nebraska, looting $60,000 - to this day the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific.

Bass and his gang staged a string of robberies, yet never netted over $500 at any one time.[citation needed] 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 by a special company of the Texas Rangers headed by Captain Junius Peak.

Bass was able to elude the Rangers until a member of his gang, Jim Murphy, turned informant. John B. Jones 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 19 July 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 sidearms, he was shot and killed. As he attempted to flee, Bass 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." He 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, his 27th birthday. Bass was buried in Round Rock, and 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.


As with many figures of the American Old West, Bass captured the public's imagination. In 1936, the radio drama "Death Valley Days" portrayed Bass's last days before his death in Round Rock, Texas. In the 1949 Western, "Calamity Jane and Sam Bass", Bass is portrayed by Howard Duff. In 1954, Bass was portrayed by Don Haggerty in an episode of the syndicated western television series Stories of the Century. Haggerty was forty when he played the doomed 27-year-old Bass. Bass was thereafter portrayed by Jack Chaplain in an 1961 episode of The Outlaws. In the fictional 1951 film The Texas Rangers, Bass heads a gang composed of The Sundance Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Butch Cassidy and Dave Rudabaugh, then squares off against two convicts recruited by John B. Jones to bring them to justice. He died in Round Rock.


Sam Bass

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Sam Bass


Died at age 27

Sam Bass, outlaw, was born on a farm near Mitchell, Indiana, on July 21, 1851, a son of Daniel and Elizabeth Jane (Sheeks) Bass. He was orphaned before he was thirteen and spent five years at the home of an uncle. He ran away in 1869 and worked most of a year in a sawmill at Rosedale, Mississippi. Bass left Rosedale on horseback for the cattle country in the late summer of 1870 and arrived in Denton, Texas, in early fall. For the winter he worked on Bob Carruth's ranch southwest of town. But, finding cowboy life not up to his boyhood dreams, he went back to Denton and handled horses in the stables of the Lacy House, a hotel. Later he worked for Sheriff William F. Egan, caring for livestock, cutting firewood, building fences, and spending much of his time as a freighter between Denton and the railroad towns of Dallas and Sherman.

Before long Bass became interested in horse racing, and in 1874, after acquiring a fleet mount that became known as the Denton Mare, he left Egan's employ to exploit this horse. He won most of his races in North Texas and later took his mare to the San Antonio area. When his racing played out in 1876, he and Joel Collins gathered a small herd of longhorn cattle to take up the trail for their several owners. When the drovers reached Dodge City they decided to trail the cattle farther north, where prices were higher. After selling the herd and paying the hands, they had $8,000 in their pockets, but instead of returning to Texas, where they owed for the cattle, they squandered the money in gambling in Ogallala, Nebraska, and in the Black Hills town of Deadwood, South Dakota, which was then enjoying a boom in gold mining.

In 1877 Bass and Collins tried freighting, without success, then recruited several hard characters to rob stagecoaches. On stolen horses they held up seven coaches without recouping their fortunes.

Next, in search of bigger loot, a band of six, led by Collins and including Bass, rode south to Big Springs, Nebraska, where, in the evening of September 18, they held up an eastbound Union Pacific passenger train. They took $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces from the express car and $1,300 plus four gold watches from the passengers. After dividing the loot the bandits decided to go in pairs in different directions. Within a few weeks Collins and two others were killed while resisting arrest. But Bass, disguised as a farmer, made it back to Texas, where he formed a new outlaw band.

He and his brigands held up two stagecoaches and, in the spring of 1878, robbed four trains within twenty-five miles of Dallas. They did not get much money, but the robberies aroused citizens, and the bandits were the object of a spirited chase across North Texas by posses and a special company of Texas Rangers headed by Junius Peak. Bass eluded his pursuers until one of his party, Jim Murphy, turned informer. As Bass's band rode south intending to rob a small bank in Round Rock, Murphy wrote to Maj. John B. Jones, commander of the Frontier Battalion of Texas–the rangers. In Round Rock on July 19 Bass and his men became engaged in a gun battle, in which he was wounded. The next morning he was found lying helpless in a pasture north of town and was brought back to Round Rock. He died there on July 21, his twenty-seventh birthday. He was buried in Round Rock and soon became the subject of cowboy song and story.

"BASS, SAM." The Handbook of Texas Online.


In July 1878,. Richard Clayton Ware (1851-1902), Texas Ranger, sheriff, and United States marshal, was among the rangers sent to accompany Maj. John B. Jones to Round Rock to intercept Sam Bass and his gang.

Ware was in a barbershop being shaved when the outlaws entered the town and killed Deputy Sheriff A. W. "High" Grimes. He rushed from the shop only partially shaved and fired his gun at the fleeing outlaws. One shot killed Seaborn Barnes, and another, it is thought, was the bullet that fatally wounded Sam Bass. Although Lieutenant Nevill's official report, based on the coroner's verdict, credited George Herold (or Harrell) with the fatal shot, several eyewitnesses, including fellow ranger Chris Connor, attributed it to Ware.

Even the dying Bass declared that the man who felled him had lather on his face. The controversy over who really killed Sam Bass was never entirely resolved.


The Handbook of Texas Online.


According to local lore, the outlaw Sam Bass used the vicinity of Rosston, Texas (twenty miles from Gainesville) as a rendezvous, and the community celebrates Sam Bass Day annually on the third Saturday in July.


July 21, 1851

near Mitchell, Indiana


Orphaned, he ran away and worked in a sawmill at Rosedale, Mississippi.

age 18

Early fall1870

Arrived in Denton, Texas

Worked as a cowboy for the winter, but didn't like it.

Handled horses in the stables of the Lacy House hotel.

age 19

Later worked for Sheriff William F. Egan

Cared for livestock

Cut firewood

Built fences

Freighted between Denton, Dallas and Sherman


Became interested in racing horses

Won most of his races

age 23


Drove a small herd of longhorns, along with Joel Collins, for several owners from Texas to north of Dodge City, Kansas.

age 25


They sold the herd, payed the hands and then kept the $8,000 instead of returning to Texas to payoff the owners.

They squandered the money in gambling in Ogallala, Nebraska, and in the Black Hills town of Deadwood, South Dakota.

age 25


He and Joel Collins tried freighting unsuccessfully.

The recruited several hard characters, stole some horses and held up seven stagecoaches.

age 26

September 18 1877

A band of six, including Sam Bass, led by Joel Collins, held up an eastbound Union Pacific train at Big Springs, Nebraska.

They took in $60,000 in gold coins, another $1,300 and four gold watches from passengers.

age 26

A few weeks later,

Sam Bass, disguised as a farmer, made it back to Texas and formed another gang.

The gang held up two stagecoaches.

age 26

Spring 1878

The gang robbed four trains within 25 of Dallas.

age 26

Spring 1878

Texas Rangers, headed by Junius Peak, and posses chased the gang across North Texas unsuccessfully. However, credit is given for forcing them south towards their ultimate ends.

One of the gang members, Jim Murphy, turned informer. He wrote to Major John B. Jones, Texas Ranger commander, Frontier Battalion.

age 26

July 19, 1878

On the way to rob a small bank in Round Rock, Texas, the gang became involved in gun battle with Rangers.

Sam Bass was wounded.

age 26

July 21, 1878

Sam Bass died the morning after having been found helpless in a pasture north of Round Rock.

age 27 - on his birthday

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Sam Bass & Gang

Books about Sam Bass

Sam Bass & Gang

The exploits of the outlaw Sam Bass led to his legendary status of an amiable rogue who took on the widely disliked railroad corporations and who followed the code of the outlaw by refusing to give up his companions to the pursuing lawmen. Beginning his life of crime by robbing stagecoaches in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory, Sam Bass and his gang were soon holding up trains in Nebraska and Texas.

A Sketch of Sam Bass: The Bandit

From the Publisher

Best known for his robbery of the Union Pacific at Big Springs, Nebraska, on September 19, 1877, Sam Bass is perhaps the most notorious Texas outlaw of the 1870s. Within four years he and his band robbed trains, stages, and stores from the Dakota Territory to the Mexican border. He was not a killer, and because the railroads and their high freight rates were unpopular, Bass quickly became a legendary hero. Nevertheless, Wells Fargo agents, railroad detectives, Texas Rangers, and posses of private citizens chased Bass from his hideout in Denton County, Texas, throughout the old Southwest until he was shot by Texas Rangers in an attempted bank robbery at Round Rock, Texas, in 1878. According to Ramon F. Adams, in his introduction, Charles L. Martin's account, first published in 1880, is the most complete of several contemporary books about the outlaw. For this edition, Robert K. DeArment updates the story of Sam Bass in a new foreword.

We are adding books on other Outlaws, so check each one for list.


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Highwaymen of the Railroad

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The next gang that made its appearance was one headed by Sam Bass, the Collins brothers and others. They “held up” and robbed the Pacific Express on the Union Pacific Railway and got about $60,000 in gold. Two of this gang stopped the train, compelled the crew to alight together, while they went through the safes, taking everything in sight, money, watches and jewelry. Their career, however, was brief. Joel Collins was shot and killed; one confederate named Berry was shot and killed near Moscow, Missouri, arid all the money recovered. Sam Bass succeeded in making his escape, and went to Denton County, Texas , where he had a great many friends, being situated there in very much the same way as the James brothers in Missouri, nobody being willing to give any information concerning him.

In Texas he organized another gang of train robbers. These men perpetrated a number of train robberies in Texas, but the United States government took hold of the matter in conjunction with the detectives and arranged a plan for luring the gang to Round Rock, Texas , for the purpose of robbing a bank.

Sam Bass died of gunshot wounds on his 27th birthday.

his image available for photographic prints HERE!

The bank was carefully covered by armed men secreted wherever men could be put without attracting attention. When the gang appeared near the bank the fight was opened prematurely by a local officer, who attempted to arrest one of the number for carrying firearms, not knowing of the plans which had been made. The fight thus commenced, the concealed officers ran into the street and opened fire on the gang with their Winchesters, killing most of them and taking the others prisoners. One thing will be noticed about train robbers, they generally go in families, that is, there are usually two or three members of one family in the same gang.

The next series of train robberies were perpetrated by Jim and Rube Burrow, of Alabama. These men, in company with several others, “held up” a number of trains, but never succeeded in getting much money. All three of the men were after-wards arrested by our men acting for the Southern Express Company, tried and convicted in Texas. Rube and Jim Burrow were surprised by the local officers in Savannah, California; Jim was arrested, but Rube was not taken so easily. He shot down two men in Savannah, one of whom died afterwards, but he succeeded in getting away. Jim was turned over to our men, who took him to Arkansas for his part in robbing the Southern Express Company. He was sentenced to Arkansas State Prison, where he died. Rube Burrow, in company with two others, “held up” a train at Duck Hill, Mississippi, on the Illinois Central Railroad. Both he and his companions succeeded in making their escape to the mountains of Alabama. He held up another train in Florida to which was attached a Southern Express car. The Southern Express and their detectives followed him persistently and finally caused his arrest by the local officers.

Then came the daring express robbery on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad, which was perpetrated a few miles outside of St. Louis by Fred Wittrock, of Leavenworth, Kansas. Wittrock had planned the robbery for some time and had taken a number of people into his confidence, but they weakened when they saw the risk they had to take. He then went alone to commit the robbery. Wittrock presented an order to the messenger purporting to be from the route agent of the Adams Express Company for that division, asking the messenger to “break him in.” When out a little way on the road, he plugged the bell cord, threw the messenger on the floor, bound and gagged him and then rifled the safe of its contents and succeeded in getting away about 50,000.

Under the name of Jim Cummings he subsequently wrote several letters to the St. Louis papers stating that the robber would never be discovered. He was, however, arrested in Chicago by Mr. Robert A. Pinkerton and two of our detectives and the balance of the gang were all captured. Wittrock was extradited to Missouri and sentenced to seven years imprisonment in the penitentiary. He gave up all the money he had not spent. Everybody connected with this robbery had been located almost immediately after it was committed with the exception of Wittrock, who was caught about forty days after the robbery. When arrested he was heavily armed and would have made a desperate resistance had he not been taken by surprise.

The bodies of Bill Power, Bob Dalton, Grattan Dalton

and Dick Broadwell.

This image available for photographic prints HERE!

About this time the Dalton brothers made their appearance in Kansas and the Indian Territory . These men, five in number, “held up” numerous trains throughout the country. Their base of operations extended from Missouri to the Pacific Coast. Several of them were taken into custody, but afterwards succeeded in making their escape from jail. The whole gang was shot down with the exception of one brother who is now in Kansas, and who is supposed to be the leader of a new gang operating under the old name “The Daltons.”

The next robbery of any note was that of the Adams Express on the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad, near Pacific, Missouri, by Albert Denton Slye, Marion Hedgepeth, Dink Wilson and a man named Tom Francis. They obtained about 15,000 by this robbery.

The case was worked by our agency in conjunction with the St. Louis, San Francisco and Los Angeles police forces. Robert A. Pinkerton, Detective Whittiker, and an officer in Los Angeles arrested Slye at Los Angeles, California. On his person was found the watch taken from the express messenger and a ring that was known to have been in the express safe. Slye pleaded guilty and was sentenced to twenty years. Later on I received information that Hedgepeth was receiving mail under an alias at San Francisco, California. This information was communicated to the San Francisco police, who arrested Hedgepeth a few days later as he was calling for his mail at the post-office. Shortly after this Jim Francis and a man named Myers, members of this gang, attempted to “hold up” a train near Ft. Scott, Kansas, but were overpowered and killed. Hedgepeth fought his case bitterly in the courts, but was finally convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years in the Missouri State Prison. Dink Wilson, the other member of this gang, escaped, went into the mountains near Utah , and was in hiding for a long time. Last July while a detective at Syracuse, New York, was trying to arrest two men who were suspected of being connected with a number of burglaries which had occurred in the neighborhood of Syracuse, the men turned and fired at short range, killing him almost instantly. One of the murderers was taken, but the other escaped. The picture of the man arrested was sent throughout the country, and was finally identified as that of Dink Wilson. We subsequently located the second man at Buffalo, where he was arrested by the local officers. These two men are bound to be convicted, and will, in all probability, be electrocuted. This will dispose of this whole gang of train robbers.

The two Sontag brothers and [Chris] Evans were the next train robbers to spring into prominence. They operated as far East as Racine, Wisconsin They “held up” a train on the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, robbing the American Express Company of a large amount of money. After this robbery they decamped to Minneapolis, and there our agency, acting for the American Express Company, were put on their track, but did not have sufficient evidence to arrest them. We, however, followed them to California, where they “held up “a train on the Southern Pacific, robbing the Wells-Fargo Company’s safe. One of the Sontag brothers was arrested, but Evans and the other Sontag succeeded in escaping after shooting all the officers. They were, however, recently captured and in the encounter Sontag was killed, and Chris Evans is now awaiting trial, badly wounded.

In the recent train robbery on the Mineral Range Railway the robbers succeeded in getting about $70,000, the property of the American Express Company. This robbery was committed by two brothers named Hoagan and three others. Our agency, with the aid of the local officers, speedily captured these men and recovered all the money. The last robbery of the United States Express Company, on the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, has not yet been worked up, but I feel confident that the officers engaged on this will eventually get the right people. There is one thing certain, that the men engaged in the last express robbery will not be allowed to escape.

One of the reasons for the recent epidemic of train robberies may be found in the general business depression. It is, however, also largely due, in my opinion, to the reading of yellow-covered novels. Country lads get their minds inflamed with this class of literature. Professional thieves or designing men find among this class many who are willing to go into their schemes. The majority of these robbers are recruited from among the grown boys or young men of small country towns. They start in as amateurs under an experienced leader. They become infatuated with the work and never give it up until arrested or killed. I recollect a case where three boys aged respectively seventeen, twenty-one and twenty-six “held up” a train near Emmett, Arkansas, in 1882 and took from the Pacific Express about $9,000 and from the passengers about $1,500. The conductor of the train ran one of them down and brought him back, the other two escaped, but were eventually arrested in the Indian Territory. They were convicted and sentenced to seventy years each in state’s prison. One of these was a mere lad, who had seen a railway train for the first time to “hold it up.”

Train robbery is not a profitable pursuit by any means. In nearly every case capture and punishment are almost certain, and death is very frequently the penalty. The chances of escape are not one in a hundred, and the stealings as a rule are very small in spite of the popular belief that train robbers succeed in getting large sums of money without being caught. Until three years ago dynamite was never used in train robberies. It has been employed, however, in several of the more recent cases, and its use makes train robberies all the more dangerous. The robbers can now blow open an express car in a few seconds, where formerly it took them several minutes to pick the lock or force the combination. Speaking on this point the General Manager of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad said recently

I frequently receive suggestions to have steel express cars built and to send guards with trains. But why should we do that when any one may buy a quarter’s worth of dynamite, and blow to pieces the strongest metal ever put together? Great treasure is carried by every line, and dynamite will open the best of safes. In many states any one may buy that dangerous explosive, and no questions are asked. Law should first restrict the sale of it, as it does the sale of poison. Men who hold up passenger trains are armed, and, if it is necessary to carry out their designs, they will kill. Aside from the liability of a messenger, an engineer, or a curiously inclined passenger to be shot, there is a greater danger that another train may come along and wreck the passenger train, standing alone on the track, in some dark cut or lonely piece of woods. Train robberies are increasing each year, and I shall bend my energies to procure legislation making train robbery a capital offence.

That this peculiar form of crime is on the increase no one will deny. That it should be checked promptly and firmly is imperative. Indeed, unless some measures are taken to prevent the increase of train robberies I would not be surprised to see an express train held up within ten miles of New York or Philadelphia at a not very remote date. The question is a very serious one. In fact a meeting of the general managers of the different railroads centering in a Western city was recently held for the purpose of adopting some means of defense against these desperadoes.

The bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Caidwell, of Ohio, which proposes to place the crime of train robbery under the jurisdiction of the United States, has great merit, and should be passed without delay. If it becomes a crime against the United States to “hold up” and rob a train, it is almost certain that this class of work will soon come to an end. The robbers frequently have friends or relatives among the local authorities in the county in which they reside, and more particularly is this so in the South and Southwest. A Western officer once told me, when I asked his assistance to arrest a part of a train-robbing gang, that he would deputize me and aid me secretly, but owing to the relatives and sympathizers of these men residing in the county he dare not lend a hand openly; that J did not reside in the county and did not have to live there after this arrest was made, but he did. He deputized me and one of our men whom I had brought with me, and that night he rode with us into the Missouri River “bottoms” and pointed out the home of the men we wanted, helped to surround the house, and was ready to kill either of the men if necessary, providing it was not known that he helped to do so. This man was a good officer and willing to do his duty, but it was impossible for him to conduct a fight against these men alone. Had it been known that he was against them he would have been assassinated. This itself is a good argument why the United States government should take charge of these cases, as the robbers are not likely to be able to control the United States officials as they control the local authorities. The latter will frequently drop pursuit at the state or county lines, claiming that they have no authority to go further. A state or county line would not act as a barrier for a United States officer. I hope, therefore, that Congress may see the necessity of taking some action on the bill now before them.

If it were not for the prompt and energetic action of the express companies in persistently following up train-robbing gangs and never giving up the search until all the gang are landed in prison or killed, train robberies would be more frequent. A man who will rob an express company is a fugitive forever afterwards until arrested or punished, as express companies are relentless in pursuing those who rob them; but it is not right that these companies should be obliged to take these steps and go to the great expense that they frequently are obliged to go to in order to arrest or exterminate these highwaymen. They are as much entitled to protection under the law as is a private individual, but, being corporations, they do not get this protection, but are obliged to spend large amounts of money to protect themselves.

Express companies which carry large sums of money are seriously considering the advisability of placing the money rates so high that the banks will be forced to use the United States mails for the transport of their money, so that the robbers, to get the money, must “ hold up” the United States mails as well as the express companies, thus making such a robbery a government offence. The express companies are now carrying on their heavy money trains guards armed with the latest improved style of revolvers and Winchesters. These guards are men known for their determination and nerve, and will most likely give a warm reception to the next gang that attempts to rob a train anywhere in the country. The express companies are also placing burglar proof safes in their cars. These safes are strongly constructed, so it will take the robbers hours to get into them, and if they are blown up the money will be destroyed so that it will not do the robbers any good. The safes are locked in New York and cannot be opened by any one until their arrival at Chicago or other point of destination, the messenger not knowing the combination.

Added August, 2006

Highwaymen of the Railroad, written by William A. Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, appeared in The North American Review in November, 1893. The Pinkerton Agency was founded by William's father, Allan Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant in 1850. Quickly, he became one of the most important figures in crime detection and law enforcement during the latter half of the 19th century. Both William and his brother Robert worked at the agency, eventually taking it over after their father died in 1884. Though no longer family run, Pinkerton's still in business today.

Also See:

The Pinkertons - Operating For 150 Years

William Pinkerton and railroad special agents,

late 1870s, courtesy Library of Congress

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Sam Bass (leader of the Sam Bass Gang)'s Timeline

July 21, 1851
Lawrence County, IN, United States
July 21, 1878
Age 27
Round Rock, Williamson County, TX, United States