Breckenridge Texan

New Stephens County historical marker honors sheriff, citizens who chased Sam Bass Gang out of area in 1878

New Stephens County historical marker honors sheriff, citizens who chased Sam Bass Gang out of area in 1878
April 27
15:57 2023

By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

On Tuesday evening, the clouds over eastern Stephens County parted enough to let a little sun shine down on the crowd gathered on FM 717 for the unveiling of a new Texas Historical Marker that tells the tale of how a posse of local men drove a notorious train robber and his gang from the county 145 years ago.

The marker is located just off the road, on the MT7 Ranch, about half a mile from the area known as Bass Hill, so named because that’s where the outlaw Sam Bass and his gang hid out for a while. Current ranch owners Mary and Mike Terry were on hand for the event, as were a couple of book authors and others with connections to the project or Bass. They chose the location for the marker because it is easily accessible by the public and even provides an off-the-road spot to park.

Mike Terry, owner of the MT7 Ranch in Stephens County, talks about the history of the ranch and its connection to the Sam Bass Gang at the unveiling of the new historical marker. Click here to see more photos from the event. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Across the prairie from the historical marker, Bass and his gang of outlaws and train robbers holed up in 1878, hoping to lay low while the law was looking for them. Bass, the leader of the group of bad guys, was already notorious at the age of 26 for taking part in a Nebraska train robbery that netted each of the six thieves $10,000 in $20 gold pieces. According to an online inflation calculator, that’s more than $300,000 in today’s dollars, but the actual gold coins would likely be worth much more today.

After stealing the gold, the six men split up. Two were killed a week later and a third was captured and/or killed. One of the outlaws who was killed was Joel Collins, who had a sister who lived near Caddo with her husband. Additionally, Bass had added some new members to his gang, and one or more of the others also could have had ties to the area. As is typical of the old-west legends, there are several different versions of each piece of the story.

According to some of the tales, Bass was generous with his ill-gotten gains, and the sudden appearance of $20 gold pieces in Stephens County drew the attention of the sheriff and other lawmen. However, most of Bass’ cut of the gold theft was never found, and rumors have persisted for generations that he buried the fortune in Stephens County.

Candace Fountoulakis looks at the new historical marker. She wrote the narrative for the application for the marker, doing extensive research into the Sam Bass Gang in Stephens County. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Stephens County Sheriff Berry B. Meaders organized a posse and went after the gang, which fled to Palo Pinto and elsewhere in Texas. Not long afterwards, Bass was killed in a shootout with Texas Rangers and other lawmen in Round Rock. Initially wounded in the gunfight, Bass died a day or two later on July 21, 1878, his 27th birthday.

Mike Terry and Ranch Manager Ty Bartoskewitz welcomed the guests to the unveiling Tuesday evening and offered a little bit of history about the ranch.

The Terrys live in Dallas but have gotten to know some of the local families as they’ve expanded their ranch in Stephens County. Mary’s great-grandfather, C.C. Slaughter, ranched in Palo Pinto before becoming known as the “Cattle King of Texas.” The Terrys suspect that he rode his horse through what is now their ranch, chasing cattle.

The historical marker project has been in progress for three years, delayed by events such as the pandemic and supply chain shortages, said Candace Fountoulakis, who wrote the narrative for the marker application to the Texas Historical Commission.

Blythe Harrell Grates talked about her connection to the Sam Bass story. Her great-great-grandfather was the Texas Ranger who shot Bass. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

During her work on the project, Fountoulakis visited Breckenridge and researched the Sam Bass stories from Stephens County. Additionally, she drew on the work of Rick Miller, author of “Sam Bass & Gang,” and Bob Alexander, author of several books about the Texas Rangers and other Texas law enforcement officers. Both authors attended Tuesday’s event.

Fountoulakis detailed how Stephens County Sheriff Berry “BB” Meaders and a posse of local citizens went after Bass. “They defeated the gang of train robbers and horse thieves who were trying to set up another longer term safe haven here in the hills surrounding Cedar Creek. They use their wits, their weapons, and the latest technology — the telegraph — in order to chase that gang back to Denton County and eventually to Round Rock, where they met their demise,” she said. “This marker celebrates the men and women who fought off those desperados and brought back law and order. And tonight we salute their determination.”

County Judge Michael Roach addressed the crowd, thanking the Terrys and everyone involved in getting the historical marker for Stephens County.

As Mike Terry prepared for the unveiling event, he found out that one of his employees in Dallas has a connection to Sam Bass. Blythe Harrell Grate’s great-great-grandfather was George Harrell, one of the Texas Rangers who had the shootout with Bass in Round Rock in 1878. She read from a book about the Texas Rangers, written by Walter Prescott Webb, quoting a Galveston newspaper report stating that the coroner had said George Harrell was the Texas Ranger who shot Bass. (Some accounts of the event attribute the fatal bullet to another Texas Ranger.)

Mary and Mike Terry removed the cloth that had been covering the marker, and Bartoskewitz read the text of the marker:


In 1878, the hills of eastern Stephens County became the setting for confrontations between lawmen, citizens and members of a gang led by outlaw Sam Bass (1851-1878). With Texas Rangers on their trail, the gang took refuge near the town of Caddo, resupplying from local stores and relying on family members and friends to protect their identities.

The gang’s former leader, Joel Collins, was killed in Kansas in 1877 as they fled a successful robbery, and Sam Bass took over leadership, utilizing Collins’ sister, Annie Collins Taylor, to hide out and restock. Annie and her husband, Perry King Taylor, owned the P.K. Taylor Store in Caddo, the location of verified sightings of the Sam Bass Gang. Sightings of Bass gang members in southeastern Stephens County were frequent in May of 1878, as documented by local attorney William C. Veale (1833-1899). Sheriff Berry B. Meaders (1833-1895) of Breckenridge was informed of the gang being in the area and quickly organized a posse. At the same time, local citizens formed their own groups to bring the gang to justice. One such group was captured by the Sam Bass Gang and taken to the P.K. Taylor Store as hostages. They were treated to alcohol and stories of the gang’s crimes and wealth. With the sheriff’s posse in close pursuit, they retreated, split up and continued to elude law enforcement.

The gang’s brief foray into Stephens County did not give them the long-term sanctuary they were seeking and the gang was forced to reverse course. In July 1878, the Bass Gang was spotted planning a bank robbery in Round Rock. Sam Bass was shot and captured, and died on July 21, 1878, ending the gang’s criminal career.

The historical marker is located on FM 71 7 North. To get there from Breckenridge, travel east on U.S. Highway 180 East about 12 miles from the Breckenridge city limits; turn north onto FM 717 and travel another 4.5 miles. The marker is located on the west side of the road just on the other side of the MT7 Ranch fence.

Click here to see the Breckenridge Texan’s Photo Gallery from the event.

Celebrating the new historical marker were, from left, Candace Fountoulakis, Bob Alexander, Mary Terry, Rick Miller, Blythe Harrell Grates, Mike Terry, Michael Roach and Ty Bartoskewitz. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: Mike and Mary Terry unveil the new Texas Historical Marker about the outlaw Sam Bass and the local citizens who drove him out of the county in 1878. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)




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