If Sam Bass had resolved to change his ways on New Year’s Day back in 1878, giving up his bank- and train-robbing habit, he might have lived past his 27th birthday. Then, Round Rock probably wouldn’t have been elected as his final destination.
Perhaps it was already too late for Sam. A couple of years earlier, he and a partner had gambled away the $8,000 due the owner of the cattle they’d just herded and sold. If the raids on stagecoaches initially seemed a strategy for recouping those funds, it’s fairly clear that robbery became an end in itself and a career of sorts.
Spotting some Sam Bass-oriented western novels on the shelf last week reminded me of the outlaw’s enduring popularity as a subject. Deputy Alijah W. Grimes, attempting to disarm Bass and his gang, was gunned down in the process; A.W. Grimes Boulevard was named for him. Sam Bass, the wanted desperado, inspired not only a street name but also a theatre, a baseball league, a statue at Madam Tussaud’s, several film characterizations, at least one ballad, and scores of books. A search of the library catalog will yield several biographies and three works of fiction devoted to Bass. Deputy Sheriff Grimes has none.
Say what you will about who deserves what, the fact is that lawbreakers fascinate us. The only controversy regarding Deputy Grimes’ actions has to do with the practicality of challenging Bass at that precise juncture. Just about everyone values bravery and devotion; those attributes we understand. It’s rashness, greed, and cruelty that don’t compute so easily. No wonder readers can’t seem to get enough of true crime stories.
And if it’s Texas-based, enigmatic, legendary bad guys you seek to comprehend, look no further than Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The winning selection for the 2011 Round Rock Reads! campaign, Jeff Guinn’s Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie & Clyde, sets the focus for events beginning January 4. If you can buy, check out, or borrow a copy to read, you’ll be rewarded with a stranger-than-fiction tale of the first order. If you haven’t finished (or even started) the book by next week, you’ll still enjoy the activities. We hope you’ll come to one or more. As history demonstrates, starting out the New Year right does make a difference!