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.