The story I'm about to share has been shared here before. While the first version was full of character (based on solid research), this one has more background as well as details regarding the final showdown...An outlaw from an infamous gang. A U.S. Marshall on his trail all the way from Texas. Their paths meet in Pembina on a cold November day in 1878...
|Sam Bass gang - Sam in back, on|
left; in front, the Collins bros.
William is on left, Joel on right.
In the annals of western outlawry, certain names have been etched into the American psyche – names such as Jesse and Frank James, the Younger Brothers, Billy the Kid, Black Bart and Sam Bass, just to name a few. For the most part, their villainous exploits took place in parts of the country far remote from rural
closest any of them got to North
was the James Gangs ill-fated attempt at robbing the bank in North Dakota and the Bass gangs robbing of
seven stage coaches in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Still, the effect of one outlaw’s exploits
rippled to the tiny town of Northfield,
Pembina Dakota Territory in 1878.
Sam Bass was a young
headquartered himself in Texas . Teamed up with the outlaw Joel Collins and
four others, the Bass gang staged the largest train robbery in U.S. history (at
the time) when they held up the Union Pacific railroad at a tiny watering hole
called Big Springs, Nebraska on the evening of September 18, 1877. Although Bass was considered leader of the
gang, law enforcement claimed Joel Collins was the brains of the outfit. The gang rode into the stop over, made
hostages of the station master and several others in the vicinity, cut the
telegraph lines and waited. When the
train pulled in for water, one gang member swung himself into the cab of the
locomotive and took the engineer and fireman hostage while the others headed
for the baggage car. Denton, Texas
When they rode off into the night, the gang had relieved the railroad of $60,000 in freshly minted 1877 twenty dollar gold pieces. Dividing up the treasure, each man had 500 gold coins in his possession – about 35 pounds of gold per gang member. The group split into three groups of two men, each heading in a different direction. Word spread fast about the robbery and law enforcement swooped in on the area. One of the gang members disappeared and was never heard of again (many assumed he had gone to
). Joel Collins and his partner didn’t fare as
well, being intercepted by a posse within days.
After a brief shoot-out, both outlaws were dead and $20,000 of the gold
coins were recovered. Canada
Bass and his partner figured two lone riders would be suspicious so they acquired a buggy, stashed the coins under the seat and rode blissfully by the bands of law officers they encountered. Returning to
Bass enjoyed the high life, spending freely and enjoying a local sort of hero
worship. He had plenty of friends to
warn him of approaching trouble and knowing the area like the back of his hand,
he could easily hide from pursuers.
Living the high life the money soon ran out and Bass returned to his old
ways. Organizing a new gang, he returned
to robbing trains. Only this time he
chose to hit the local railroads – his gang robbing four trains in quick
succession within a 25 mile radius of his base of operation. It was at this point the locals turned on him
and his gang. For seven weeks, the gang
was pursued by a company of Texas Rangers, Denton
Marshals and local law enforcement, all to no avail (although an accomplice, “ U.S. ”
Johnson, was killed in a skirmish from which the rest of the gang escaped). Arkansas
Bass’ downfall came at the hands of a spy that infiltrated the gang – and by gang member Jim Murphy who betrayed him in exchange for having charges dropped against himself and his father. The fatal day came when the gang rode into Round Rock,
intent on robbing the local bank. Laying
in wait were the Texas Rangers and local law enforcement. In a brief bloody shootout, one deputy
sheriff was killed as was one of the outlaws.
Bass himself was wounded but managed to clamber onto to his horse and
ride away. The trailing posse found him
the next day, lying under a tree, still alive but mortally wounded. Death came to Sam Bass Texas July 21, 1878 – it was his 27th
Of the participants in the April 10th train robbery at
, six of the eight robbers had either
been killed or were in prison by the time of Bass’ death. The robbery had netted each of the bandits
the paltry sum of $23 each! One of the
gang – William Collins, was arrested days after the robbery and taken to Mesquite,
to stand trial. He was moved to the jail
in Austin in June where a family
friend posted a $15,000 bond to secure his appearance in court—a date he did
not intend to keep. Dallas
A brother to outlaw Joel Collins who had participated in the earlier Big Springs train robbery, William Collins jumped bail and headed north, roaming across several states before eventually ending up in Pembina, Dakota Territory working as a bartender in Jim White’s saloon, a unique watering hole that straddled the border. A red stripe painted on the floor designated which country a patron was in – the saloon on the
side of the line, with the kitchen and sitting room on the Canadian side. Known to the locals as William Gale, Collins
befriended a local man, Robert Ewing, finally telling U.S. Ewing
his real name and confiding he had a wife living in . Gale/Collins asked Dallas Ewing
to write her a letter, which apparently Ewing did. One can only speculate but it is assumed
authorities were watching her mail. It
wasn’t long before a deputy
marshal arrived in Pembina looking for Collins. U.S.