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Make out like a bandit: Sam Bass ï¿½ Railroad History Day commemorates state's first train robbery
Photo courtesy of Tom Keener – The only known authenticated photo of Sam Bass (back left) and his gang, who stole $1,300 from a train at Allen Station on February 22, 1878 in the state's first train robbery.
Allen will commemorate the state's first train robbery on Saturday during Sam Bass - Railroad History Day, an annual event focused on the city's locomotive roots. This year's event will take place from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m at the Allen Heritage Center at 100 E. Main St.
The arrival of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad in Allen in 1872 was a turning point in the city's history, according to Tom Keener, cultural arts manager at the Allen Public Library. The train station served as a meeting ground for people transporting their goods to market, he said.
ï¿½[Trains] were important to Allen commerce until the 1950s,ï¿½ Keener said.
They also added a dramatic flair to the city's history.
Sam Bass and his gang robbed a train at Allen Station on Feb. 22, 1878 just months after stealing $60,000 in gold pieces from a train in Nebraska, which remains the largest robbery of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The gang stole $1,300 during the Allen robbery and went on to rob trains in Mesquite, Hutchins and Eagle Ford.
The Allen train robbery will be reenacted by Allen High School drama students on Saturday. In addition, the day's events will include blacksmith demonstrations and illustrations of a historical telegraph system, train flag signals and train bells. An original Ebenezer Allen ï¿½ the namesake of the city ï¿½ steam engine bell recently acquired by the Allen Heritage Guild will also be on hand for visitors to ring.
Bass was wounded in a shootout while casing a bank in Round Rock on July 19, 1878 after one of the members of his gang told police about the robbery. He was captured by police and died two days later. After his death, a folk legend grew stylizing him as ï¿½Robin Hood on a Fast Horse,ï¿½ according to the Historic Round Rock Collection.
Tom Keener said the outlaw remained a controversial figure in Allen into the 1960s, with some considering him a criminal and others a sympathetic figure who gave money back to people he pitied. Keener said there was a story of Bass returning a man's gun ï¿½ a prized possession during that time ï¿½after he emptied its bullets during a robbery.
ï¿½Sam Bass was still fighting words when I was little,ï¿½ Keener said, adding his father told him not to talk about the train robber.
According to the Round Rock Collection, much information about Bass is likely folk legend. The reports states that he was ï¿½probably more inept than brave or nobleï¿½ and that several of his gang's robberies were ï¿½highly amateurishï¿½ because of vast amounts of money left behind.
For more information on Sam Bass - Railroad History Day, visit http://www.allenheritage.org/.
For more information on Bass, visit http://www.roundrocktexas.gov/home/index.asp?page=1768.
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