In the course of telling my ghost stories on the square, I rarely have time to share a folktale. However, today I shared a story about the history of the outlaw Sam Bass, and his connection to Denton on This Eclectic Life. It got me thinking about the many tales I have heard about Sam Bass which described him as the Robin Hood of Texas.
As the folklorist J. Frank Dobie said, “Stories about Sam Bass by people of adverse feelings seem not to persist. What people like to believe does.”
Here is one of the tales I heard about him. It’s one I would like to believe:
Back in the early days of Denton, a widow woman tried to scratch out a living in the western part of the county. Times were difficult since her husband passed, and she was barely able to get along. In fact, that very day she expected the banker to come and throw her off her own land, because she didn’t own the deed. She certainly couldn't pay off the land.
But, until Trouble showed up, the chores still had to be done. She was feeding the chickens in her front yard. Her apron, full of feed, was bunched up in her hands as she scattered the seeds barely choking back tears of worry. Glancing up, she saw two men on horseback riding into her yard --- both of them strangers to her.
One of those young men had a grin that would charm the socks off of an alligator. When that sandy-haired boy took off his hat and smiled at her, it warmed her heart. He reminded her of her own son who had gone off to fight the Yankees and never came back. He said, “Ma’am, could you spare some water and maybe a bit of grub for a couple of hungry travelers?”
Although she didn’t have much to spare, it was a crime to send away a hungry stranger … and she did like his smile. Quicker than a duck jumps on a June bug, that woman took off her dirty apron, washed her hands, and mixed up a batch of biscuits. While the biscuits baked, she slapped some hog grease in the fry pan, coaxed some milk out of the cow, and whipped up some cream gravy.
Those boys sat at her table with biscuits, gravy, and a glass of cool water from the well. As they ate, they praised her cooking as if it were a fancy meal in a high dollar restaurant. But, that sandy haired boy was perceptive, and he noticed her worry.
He said, “Ma’am, have you got troubles?”
That was all it took. With a little sympathy, she poured out the tale of how that banker was going to throw her off land that she and her dead husband had worked for years. She told him she didn’t know what in Thunder she was going to do, and she had no where to go.
The young man, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and reached into his pocket. “Well, ma’am,” he said, “I reckon we ought to pay you for this fine feed you put on for us.” He pulled out ten $20 gold pieces and put them on the table. With a grin he said, “That should help a bit.”
That old woman was flabbergasted. She said, “Son, that’s too much! You don’t owe me that!”
The young man shook his head, patted her hand, and said, “Don’t you worry, Ma’am. What goes around comes around. You give that money to the banker.” With that, the boys climbed on their horses and rode away.
Later that afternoon, that banker did indeed ride out from town. He fully intended to give that old woman the boot, but when she pulled out those gold coins and plunked them on the table his eyes glittered. He was more than happy to sign over the land to her and take that woman’s money, because that was what he wanted in the first place.
The banker rode away whistling, because he was pretty pleased with himself. All was right with the world … at least it was until he came around the bend to find the pathway blocked by two strangers on horseback.
One of them, a sandy-haired fellow with a big grin, pulled a gun on the banker and called out, “Mister, it’s your money or your brains.”
The banker said, “I assure you I don’t have any money!”
The young man said, “I’d say you don’t have any brains, either. If you don’t have money, prove it!” They made that banker get off of his horse and strip down to his underdrawers. Those boys found the money, all right. They took the gold, his boots, his coat, his gun, his watch, his hat, and his britches. Then they grabbed the reins of his horse and turned to head down the road.
The banker hollered, “What’s going on here?” The sandy-haired fellow grinned and said, “Mister, what goes around comes around.”
As those boys turned to ride away, the banker yelled, “Who are you, anyway?”
That fellow turned around and tipped his hat. He said, “Mister, I’m Sam Bass … and you can kiss my ass!” And, away he rode to his next adventure.
Shelly has been a professional storyteller for 27 years. You don't even have to twist her arm and she will tell you a story.