Society of the Old West

From early westward expansion through the early 20th Century.

During one two-month period the Deadwood stage was held up four times by the Sam Bass Gang, consisting of Bass, Joel Collins, Tom Nixon, Bill Heffridge and Jim Berry. Driver Johnny Slaughter was killed on March 25, 1877, driving a stage bearing eleven passengers and $15,000. The stage was delayed by spring snow and mud and a breakdown five miles north of Hill City. Two miles outside of Deadwood road agents led by Sam Bass attempted to rob the stage a fifth time. In the process Slaughter was killed, the horses bolted, running off toward town only to be stopped when the lead horses became entangled in the leads. Slaughter's body was returned by special coach to Cheyenne, where his hearse was drawn by six dappled grays matching the team he had driven in Deadwood.

The gang fled to Nebraska where they robbed the Union Pacific train at Big Spring of $60,000 in freshly minted double eagles from the San Fransisco Mint, $450.00 from the mail car safe and $1,300.00 from the passengers. Following the robbery Collins and Heffridge were killed by a sheriff's posse near Buffalo Station, with $25,000 being recovered. Berry was captured at Mexico, Missouri and Nixon disappeared carrying, according to Berry, $10,000, never to be seen again. Another alleged member of the Bass Gang, Frank K. Towle, was killed later the same year while attempting to rob a stage. One of the guards on the stage, Boone May, upon his return to Cheyenne discovered that there was a price upon Towle's head. May then returned to the scene of the attempted crime, found Towle's remains, cut off the head, and returned with his gory proof to Cheyenne in order to collect the reward. Unfortunately, word had already gotten out about Towle's demise and the reward had been cancelled. Thus, May's trip was for naught and all he had for his efforts was a rather unusual souvenir. Ultimately, May disposed of Towle's head by burying it outside of Cheyenne. It was dug up by prairie dogs who used it as a toy.

Sixteen months after the killing of Slaughter, Bass was ambushed at Round Rock, Texas, by Texas Rangers to whom Bass was betrayed by Jim Murphy, a member of his gang. A compatriot, Frank Jackson, escaped with an indeterminate amount of gold coin, which Bass had being carrying in his saddlebags. Two days later on his 27th birthday, July 27, 1878, Bass died from gunshot wounds received in the ambush, his last words, "The world is bobbing around."

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Old West justice at it's best. If the law didn't get you, your side winding partners just might. Once again a good example that crime doesn't pay. I admit I've known and worked with some hombre's that had handles of Nixon, Collins, Berry and one Towle's but no Bass that I recall. We was chum's back in school or in the Navy and we weren't into back stabbing or robbery, but we all liked history such as this. Another good one you posted here Milt. Much obliged Dirtrider.  


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