Friday, February 15, 2013

Grandpa and the Outlaw Sam Bass

Emmett Leatherwood was exactly one month short of his 5th birthday in 1878 when 27-year-old Sam Bass died in a shoot-out with law officers in Round Rock, Texas, not far from where Grandpa lived in the sleepy central Texas town of Lampasas. Years later he wrote, "The Ballad of Sam Bass was on the lips of every school boy."

Sam Bass was born in Indiana, it was his native home,
And at the age of seventeen young Sam began to roam.
Sam first came out to Texas a cowboy for to be-
A kinder-hearted fellow you seldom ever see.

I would listen with rapt attention as Grandpa told me the story of poor Sam's untimely end and sang to me in his deep rumbling voice. 

Sam met his fate at Round Rock, July the twenty-first,
They pierced poor Sam with rifle balls and emptied out his purse.
Poor Sam he is a corpse and six foot under clay,
And Jackson's in the bushes trying to get away

"Poor" Sam, of course, was an outlaw. A thief. Robber of banks and trains, holder-up of stagecoaches, absconder of cattle money from a drive he headed up. An all-round rascal and more. 

 I was reminded of Sam and his crime spree during the recent man-hunt for the ex-LAPD officer who killed three or four people, then went out himself in a literal 'blaze of glory', making headlines much like Sam Bass over a hundred years ago. There's nothing new under the sun, and, as Sam has been forgotten, so will others be who followed his crime-soiled footsteps in much worse ways. 

But it strikes me with something of a chill that Sam Bass, Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, and others of their ilk have become 'folk heroes' as the years have passed. True, they are part of history--a dark part. Movies and books have cleaned up their acts to some extent and, unfortunately, justified if not glorified their short, violent lives. It's still happening. While good people who sacrificed their lives for their fellow man are forgotten, these others live on. It's something to think about. 

Here's a link to a picture of Sam and his tombstone.

And tomorrow or the next day, I'm going to write about some real heroes.


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