Thursday, February 4, 2010

Being In The Wrong Place Can Sometimes Last Beyond Life Itself

The story of the outlaw Sam Bass is still very well known around Round Rock, Texas. After Sam and his famous gang rode into the city in July 1878, intending to rob a bank, his name and legend have grown in notoriety and have been synonymous with Round Rock itself. Books and songs have been written about Bass, and, while he did not leave Round Rock alive, his memory has remained alive, given all the things in town still named after him.

The same, however, cannot be said for the deputy sheriff Bass killed in Round Rock, who also died very young, and in contrast to Sam Bass, has remained in relative obscurity ever since.

Sam Bass, was born in Indiana in 1851, and like many from the eastern part of the United States during that era, he eventually headed west. While it seems he first tried to be a law abiding citizen, things did not work out and he soon began robbing trains and banks. Although an outlaw, he was viewed by many in his time, to be a “Robin Hood” like figure, in that he had a reputation of “taking” things only from the rich. There were many people in the poor and rural areas of Texas, and around the South, who hoped he would never be caught and actually mourned his death.

Ahijah W. (A.W.) Grimes was born in 1850, in Bastrop County Texas, to a well-known Texas family. His ancestors and relatives were early Texas pioneers, politicians, defenders of the Alamo, and were present at the Battle of San Jacinto. A.W. Grimes, upon reaching adulthood, first became the Bastrop City Marshal, later a member of the Texas Rangers, and finally, a Williamson County Deputy Sheriff. In was in his position of deputy sheriff that he met up with Sam Bass in Round Rock on that fateful day of July 19, 1878.

Bass and his gang were betrayed by a fellow gang member, and, therefore, law enforcement officials knew the gang was headed to Round Rock to rob a bank. While Bass and his cohorts were casing the town, they went into Koppel’s General Store to purchase tobacco. Unfortunately for them, they had been spotted, not for who they were, but for carrying firearms in Round Rock. This was in violation of a local ordinance, and most likely a misdemeanor at the time.

Once alerted, Deputy Grimes walked into Koppel’s and asked Bass and his companions from behind if they were carrying firearms. Bass, in the process of turning around said something like, “yes, of course,” or just “yes.” But while Bass turned around to face Grimes, he was not only talking, but shooting his pistol. Grimes died instantly in the discharge of gunfire from Bass and his accomplices. Grimes never had a chance. He didn’t even have time to pull his gun.

While Grimes died on the spot, Bass quickly made his way out of the store, but was mortally wounded as he tried to leave town. One of his companions, Seaborn Barnes, was shot in the head and killed while attempting to flee. Bass, was quickly found on the outskirts of town, captured, and died a few days later while in the custody of the law.

Both Bass and Grimes were nearly the same age. Bass turned 27 the day of his death, and Grimes had just turned 28, a few weeks earlier. Other than age, they shared few similarities in life. Bass was a bachelor, who came from the Midwest and who had traveled the country living a life of crime. Grimes, on the other hand, was a native Texan, and a local peace officer who had a wife and several children. Despite the differences, they shared one thing in common; they were both in the wrong place when they encountered each other in the store that day long ago. The story, however, does not end there.

Soon after the shootings, Sam Bass and his “right bower,” Seaborn Barnes, were both laid to rest next to each other in Round Rock Cemetery. A.W. Grimes, in one more similarity with Bass, was also buried in the same cemetery. But, as in life, the similarities in death were few and far between.

Bass, as noted earlier, became even more famous after the Round Rock incident. He became a legend, and part of the ongoing folklore of the Old West. After his death, he was featured in books, songs, and films. For many years after the shootout, Round Rock residents took pride in the events which took place in Koppel’s General Store, and their pride focused almost exclusively in Sam Bass. Over the years, souvenir hunters chipped away at Sam’s gravestone to such an extent to where there was almost nothing left. In time, a new and impressive gravestone was erected for Sam Bass, and, over the years, roads, markets, music stores, and theatres were all named in his honor.

The memory of A.W. Grimes has not fared as well as the memory of Sam Bass. While it is true that Grimes only has a place in history, perhaps, because he was killed by the Bass Gang, it is also true that he was a very important element in ending the criminal activities of the gang. Until quite recently, he was relatively unknown, even in Round Rock. In a long overdue and belated gesture, a road in Round Rock was finally named in his honor a few years ago, and, even more recently, a medical center was named after him. But, even in death, it seems, it is still important to not be caught in the wrong place.

While Sam Bass was buried in the so-called “bad part” of Round Rock Cemetery and A.W. Grimes in the so-called “good part,” whatever that means, time should be a great equalizer. But, such is not the case. Today, the polished grave stones of the outlaws of Sam Bass and Seaborn Graves stand tall, and are frequently visited by people who leave everything from flowers to bottles and cans of beer.

In contrast, the original and weathered gravestone of A.W. Grimes, with the engraved words “Gone But Not Forgotten,” has been hard to find and is seldom visited. Despite the words on the stone, Grimes is both long gone and has been largely forgotten since his death. And, to add insult to injury, a recent storm blew down limbs off a large tree which sheltered his grave. In the process, his old gravestone was snapped at the base, and the metal marker indicating his service with the Texas Rangers was bent.

Being in the wrong place, it seems, can sometimes even last beyond life itself.


  1. Things do change over time when the struggles at hand and the emotions that go with them fade. Your post is a excellent memorial of the people of the past.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it very much!