Western Trips

Western Trips

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Outlaw Sam Bass and His Hidden Caves

If you discuss the subject of old west Texas outlaws, the name of Sam Bass will undoubtedly pop up. Like the majority of Texans in the 1800's, Sam Bass came to Texas from someplace else. Born in Indiana in 1851 Sam Bass was an orphan when he turned thirteen. He spent a few years working at a sawmill in Mississippi and then decided to head west to Texas.

outlaw sam bass
Texas Outlaw Sam Bass
Bass made it to Texas in 1870 and his first stop was Denton, about thirty miles north of Dallas. Bass worked there on a nearby ranch and also worked as a freighter but also fell in the wrong crowd. In fact by 1877 Sam Bass was involved in one of the largest train robberies in the history of railroading.

Later in this article is a brief description of the Union Pacific train robbery that occurred on September 18, 1877 at Big Springs Nebraska.

The Sam Bass Caves in Texas

Sam Bass and his gang stole a good deal of money in the period of just a few years and it's been said that he hid some of the loot in remote caves in Texas. If your travels take you to the Lone Star State you may want to add these interesting sites to your Texas trip planner.


sam bass cave
Cave entrance near Burnet Texas
Burnet County

One cave said to be used by Sam Bass is today within the Lone Star Caverns State Park. Longhorn Caverns State Park is located in Burnet County Texas. This is about 63 miles northwest of Austin and about 10 miles north of Marble Falls in the beautiful Texas Hill Country. Longhorn Caverns is on Park Road 4 accessed to the west off of U.S. Hwy 281 and north of Marble Falls.

The park operates 363 days per year, closing only on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.When you take one of the guided tours of the fascinating caverns and their colorful and unique structures you'll have a chance to see one of the the entrances to a cave reportedly used almost 150 years ago by Sam Bass and supposdly was used to store some of his plunder. Be sure to climb the observation tower for a great view of the surrounding Texas Hill Country. The observation tower was built in 1935 by the CCC.

Denton County

Nothing says that an outlaw can have only one cave to hide out in. Many say that Sam Bass also hid out in a cave just south of Denton Texas. While the location today is on private land, the cave is located in a hill that's easily seen from Interstate 35 W. The hill is named Signal Hill and there's also a story that treasure was hid their as well but by this date the site certainly has been thoroughly searched and explored.

longhorn caverns texas
Longhorn Caverns Observation Tower
Grapevine Texas

There have been many rumors to surface that said Sam Bass used a cave which today resides near Grapevine Lake. Being so long ago nobody knows for certain if this is true or not but the location is in the area that Bass was known to hang around. Grapevine Lake is located just north/northwest of today's DFW International Airport between Dallas and Fort Worth. A very interesting exploration of the cave's location with photos can be seen at website www.http://thiseclecticlife.com/2014/02/17/denton-cave-sam-bass/

The Union Pacific Train Robbery at Big Springs Nebraska

The robbery of the Union Pacific gold train in Big Springs Nebraska was one of the biggest train holdups ever.  After taking over the train depot and destroying the telegraph, Sam Bass and five companions from Texas stopped the Union Pacific express train which just so happened to be taking a large amount of  gold east. In fact, this particular train was carrying a very large amount of gold coins.


 train robbersBass and his gang reportedly took some $60,000 in the robbery. This kind of stolen loot made Sam Bass a very wanted man.  The stolen money was in $20 gold pieces freshly minted at the San Francisco Mint. This was a great deal of money in that era. The story of the robbery is that the gang initially found only about $450 but just before leaving they came across the crates of gold pieces.

The gang was violent. They pistol whipped a freight agent on the Union Pacific train.  History states that this was and still stands as the largest Union Pacific robbery to ever occur. This type of heist made Sam Bass one of the great train robbers and very much in the sights of the country's lawmen. What's also amazing is that the Big Springs Nebraska train robbery involving this large amount of loot was the gang's first ever train holdup.


pinkertons logo
Every Lawman After Sam Bass

By the late 1870's Bass had not only the Texas Rangers on his trail but also the Pinkerton detectives. One of the surest ways for an outlaw to be in the sights of the Pinkertons was to rob a train. This is what brought the Pinkertons to Missouri looking for Jesse James and his gang. In the case of Sam Bass, he was tied in to other train and stagecoach robberies and was wanted by the Pinkertons and local law enforcement as well as the governor of Texas. Another one of Bass' train holdups occurred in Allen Texas, today another far northern suburb of Dallas. That robbery involved a Texas and Pacific Railroad train.

In the late 1800's when western local law enforcement might have been shorthanded, the Pinkertons really functioned as a quasi police force.

A Short Career

Sam Bass met his end in Round Rock Texas, just a few miles north of Austin, in 1878. His was not an especially long criminal career. Bass died at the age of 27 after being gunned down by a lawman in Round Rock where Bass and others had planned to rob the Williamson County Bank. During the shootout in Round Rock Bass shot and killed one deputy and seriously wounded another.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below...

Jesse James and the Blue Cut Train Robbery

The Most Famous Stagecoach Driver Charley Parkhurst

Yuma Territorial Prison / The First Female Stagecoach Robber


old round rock texas
1800's structure in old town Round Rock, TX
The tale here is that an accomplice of Bass cut a deal with the law and helped set up an ambush where Sam Bass would be taken down. The shootout in Round Rock Texas occurred on July 19, 1878.

It was said that two people were firing rifles at the fleeing gang, one a Texas ranger, as they were attempting to mount their horses for their escape. One gang member was killed and Bass was mortally wounded. Sam Bass was able to flee the shooting on horseback with another gang member but had to dismount outside of town because of pain. They were not immediately pursued. The next day a search party found the wounded Bass resting against a tree and brought him back to Round Rock where he died on July 21st. This was merely eight years after had originally arrived in Texas from Mississippi.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Old West Railroad Survey Equipment

Deciding Where to Build the Railroad

The U.S. Government sponsored several expeditions beginning in the 1840's to search for a possible railroad route across the west. The California Gold Rush created a ready market for the first important transcontinental traffic and it changed the general public attitude about the West.

transcontinental railroad postage stamp
As you can understand just about everyone wanted a rail line through their town. The economic and growth benefits were obvious. Several different groups would form to promote a specific route. Politics played front and center when routes were finally selected. During the early years towns prospered depending on their proximity to the railroad.

The biggest fight for a transcontinental route was between the South which of course favored a southern route to the Pacific and those interests that preferred a north or central route which was the Overland Route. By the 1860's the Civil War settled the question. The first transcontinental route would be along the Overland Trail.

The Job of the Railroad Surveyor

When the surveys first got under way however there weren't many towns west of Iowa or Missouri. That was the western frontier line. As an example, the frontier line in Texas in about the mid 1840's would have been a line from about Dallas southwestward to San Antonio. Anything west of that was essentially Comanche territory.

As a side note, during the early years of Texas the famed Texas Rangers often did land surveys of unexplored areas while scouting for Indian raiding parties. The fact that the Rangers knew the territory and had the means to protect themselves allowed them to set boundary lines for land owners.

central pacific railroad construction
Central Pacific Railroad trestle, circa 1869
Surveying a route for future railroads through the America's old west had a few risks involved with the job.The main risk was from Indian attack and it was many a survey crew member that kept his firearm nearby.

As a good example, in Nebraska, both the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes harassed survey crews. Paiutes attacked both the army and the surveyors in Utah. Years later it would be the Paiutes that conducted a war with the Pony Express stations and riders in Nevada and Utah.  It was common for military escorts to be attached to the early survey teams.

Visit the Venues Below For a Fun Exploration of the Transcontinental Railroad and Survey Exhibits 

The California State Railroad Museum is one of the finest railroad museum's in the world. Located in Old Town Sacramento California, the CSRM has everything you want to know and explore about the Transcontinental railroad and the old and historic Central Pacific Railroad which laid it's tracks over the rugged Sierra Nevada.

california railroad museumThe Texas Rangers Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco Texas has a fine display vintage railroad surveying equipment.

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum located in Council Bluffs Iowa offers an enormous amount of information and artifacts regarding the building of the Union Pacific. Visitors will be transported to the 1860s as they learn about frontier life, the monumental work needed for constructing the railroad and the communities that were created along its route. The Union Pacific Railroad connected with the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Utah on May 10th, 1869. 

The San Juan County Museum in Silverton Colorado has excellent history about the Silverton Durango Railroad including many artifacts and survey equipment both for mining and the railroad. The museum is operated by the San Juan County Historical Society. 

The San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum located in San Bernardino California explores everything railroading. The museum stores the Santa Fe Western Archives and many unique history and railroad artifacts. There are several model train exhibits.

See our Western Trips articles on the links below...

The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Dining Car

The Pullman Car and What It Did For Rail Travel

Donner Summit and the Central Pacific Railroad

transit compass
Young & Sons transit
The Equipment Used 

Young and Sons Transit, circa 1875

William Young is credited with being the first maker of transits in America which he introduced in about 1832.  A transit like the one shown in this article has a telescope that can move through a vertical plane. The one shown here is dated to around 1875. Young was also the first American to own a dividing engine which he built himself. This is a device for mechanically dividing circles into degrees and minutes.

W. & L.E. Gurley Vernier Railroad Compass and Tripod, circa 1860-1870

W. & L. E. Gurley introduced this type of instrument–a railroad compass with one vernier on the limb–in 1868. Vernier compasses located both true north and magnetic north. In "reading" the vernier, if it is moved to the right, count the minutes from its zero point to the left, and vice versa.


vernier railroad compass
Vernier Railroad Compass
W. & L.E. Gurley brass level attachment

The brass level attachment allowed surveyors to upgrade their equipment. The brass level attachment slid into the arms of a compass and allowed the surveyor to determine the altitude between several points.

Transcontinental Surveys

Four surveys for a route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean included an eastern terminus at Council Bluffs Iowa, St. Louis Missouri and Little Rock Arkansas. Another survey was a southern route which essentially ran from San Antonio to the Pacific Ocean along the southern areas of New Mexico, Arizona and California. By 1853 the federal government funded a program to find the best route to the Pacific. The program was directed by Jefferson Davis who was at that time Secretary of War.

A Central Route

Interestingly enough, much of the surveying through the northern plains was along the same route that had been traveled by buffalo, followed by Indians, followed by the Mormons and then by the immigrants heading west to California and Oregon. This was the Platte River route through Nebraska and Wyoming which was also referred to as the Overland Trail.


railroad survey equipment
Brass level attachment
A Route Running to the Southwest

Citizens of St. Louis, led by Senator Thomas Hart Benton, were quite keen to have the railroad follow a route between the 38th and 39th parallels, as their city would be the natural eastern terminus. This would be a route through Kansas, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

A Southwest Route

The survey expedition for a southern route along the 35th parallel was led by Lieutenant Amiel Weeks  Whipple. This survey team was charged with funding a suitable route from Little Rock, Arkansas, through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California. This route eventually led across the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles.

A Big Story to Tell

The surveying and building of the Transcontinental Railroad allowed the United States to connect commercially with the westernmost states and territories. It is a fascinating story retold at many railroad and history museums throughout the West. The railroad influenced just about every aspect of out country's history and life from the mid 1800's to the mid 1900's.

When planning your next western vacation you may want to add some of these venues to your trip planner.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips. Image of postage stamp and Central Pacific RR trestle in the public domain)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Visit the Gallup Cultural Center / New Mexico

The Gallup Cultural Center was a project put together by the Southwest Indian Foundation and the city of Gallup New Mexico. If your western travels take you through Gallup you will want to add this venue to your trip planner. You'll find the Gallup Cultural Center filled with exhibits and information about the people who inhabit this part of New Mexico.

gallup cultural center
Gallup Cultural Center
In addition, the Gallup Cultural Center serves as a compete community center with it's Gallup Visitors Center, the Storyteller Museum and the Master's Gallery. There is also a gift shop and cafe.

The Southwest Indian Foundation

The Southwest Indian Foundation was started in 1968 by Fr. Dunstan Schmidlin.The overall goal of the foundation is first, to recognize the great human potential of each individual; and second, to offer those in need a hand - not a handout.

The SWIF assistance is strictly limited to Native Americans - with priority given to the elderly, handicapped, and families with dependent children. Along with the Navajo people, we also serve the Zuni, Hopi, and other pueblo tribes of the area. According to the SWIF website their services include: Substantial school grants and individual tuition assistance, homes for battered women and children, home repair and wood stove installation, Christmas food baskets for needy families, alcohol counseling, and emergency assistance in the areas of food, clothing, heating fuel, and temporary shelter. For more information about the Southwest Indian Foundation see their website at www.southwestindian.com


gallup new mexico attractions
Gallup Cultural Center Amtrak Station
The Gallup Cultural Center

The Gallup Cultural Center resides inside the restored 1918 Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway station. This was also a Fred Harvey House. In 1923 Santa Fe Railroad architect Mary Colter's fabulous El Navajo hotel was added on to the depot on it's west side. Mary Coulter is known to have designed most of the Fred Harvey Houses throughout the west. The hotel was demolished during the 1950's to help widen Route 66.

In 1996 the City of Gallup turned to the Southwest Indian Foundation requesting the Foundation take possession of the historic and newly renovated Sante Fe Depot. The City asked the Foundation to turn the building into a Cultural Center. Today, this fine cultural center draws thousands of tourists annually. It's the perfect place to gain knowledge about the Native American people and the region.


Gallup Cultural Center Exhibits and Programs

With a focus on American Indian culture, arts, and crafts, rotating exhibits from local artists fill the galleries, while educational tours of the area are also available. A 10ft-tall bronze sculpture of a Navajo code-talker shown in this article honors the sacrifices made by many men of the Navajo Reservation during WWII. A small theatre screens films about Chaco Canyon and the Four Corners region. Both of these sites make great additions to your travels around this part of New Mexico.

In the summer there are live Indian dances every night at 7:00pm.

See the Western Trips articles on the links below... 

Visit Red Rock State Park just a few miles east of Gallup NM

Gallups' Historic El Rancho Hotel

A Visit to Winslow Arizona

The Storyteller Museum

The Storyteller Museum within the Gallup Cultural Center allows visitors to explore trains, weaving, sandpainting, Historic Route 66, silversmithing, and more. Included are in-depth audio interviews with experts.


gallup new mexico native american museum
Entrance to Gallup Cultural Center on old Rte 66
red rock state park new mexico
Scenery at Red Rock State Park
Gallery of the Masters

The exclusive "Masters Gallery" contains the art of the "Reunion of the Masters"; and in keeping with their mission, 25% of all sales go back into the Children’s Art Scholarship and School Awards program.

The "Reunion of the Masters" is a non-profit organization made up of a group of world-renowned Native American artists from the Four Corners area. They are painters, sculptors, weavers, potters, and more from the various tribes in our area

Visiting Gallup New Mexico

Gallup New Mexico represents everything that makes a New Mexico vacation a fun experience. Historic structures like the El Rancho Hotel, the Gallup Cultural Center described in this article, mountain biking and hiking trails and Native American products are all found in and around Gallup.

navajo art exhibit
Native American art exhibit
A very easy to reach destination, Gallup is located along Interstate 40 about a 2 hour and 10 minute drive west of Alburquerque and about a 2 hour and 50 minute derive east of Flagstaff Arizona.

Add a trip up to Window Rock Arizona as part of your Gallup visit. Window Rock is just 26 miles northwest of Gallup and can be reached in about 30 minutes. Window Rock Arizona is the capital of the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation consists of the largest Native American tribe in North America. The town is a great venue for educational, historical and cultural enrichment for the entire family

The Gallup Cultural Center is located at 201 E. Historic Rte. 66

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)


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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Dripping Springs And A Texas Frontier Settlement

There was a time when the western frontier line of Texas reached to just about Austin and San Antonio. The land to the west and northwest of that line was referred to as Comancheria. This was the land of the Comanche Indians and other tribes. Regardless of the fact that Comanches and other Texas tribes raided settlers there were still people who settled west of what would be considered at that time the line where civilization ended. It was an area that not all dared to settle in.


doctor pound home dripping springs texas
Dr. Pound Home, Dripping Springs, TX
During the 1850's Texas was a part of the United States. It joined the Union for the most part to be protected against Mexican aggression leading up to the Mexican American War.

This was also a time before the great Texas ranches simply because there was no market available for Texas cattle during the 1850's save for Louisiana. The Texas cattle drives would come a short time later when routes such as the Chisholm Trail would be the first to take Texas cattle up to the future rail heads in Missouri and Kansas.During the 1850's Texas was primarily agricultural and this is what the new homesteads along the frontier line relied on to survive.

Dripping Springs Texas

Today, the people of Texas as well as the state's tourists can visit a restored settlement that's located in the Texas Hill Country town of Dripping Springs. The town of Dripping Springs is located about 21 miles southwest of Austin along Highway 290.

frontier medical supplies
Desk and frontier medical supplies and equipment
 Dripping Springs Texas was founded by three families from Mississippi who decided to embrace the popular term of the time, "Gone to Texas". The three families were that of Dr. Joseph McKegg Pound, John L. Moss and John Lee Wallace. By 1957 the settlement that these three families had chosen to establish, and also a home to the Tonkawa Indians, needed to have a name. Without a name there could be no post office and a true permanent settlement needed mail service. John Moss' wife came up with a suitable name that actually described the physical area. The town name of Dripping Springs was chosen because it described the "dripping springs" at the Edwards Aquifer which was used often by Native Americans.


frontier log cabin
Original log construction
Visit the Dr. Pound Pioneer Farmstead Museum

Today when you're exploring the Texas Hill Country you can treat yourself to a unique visit to the  Dr. Pound Pioneer Farmstead Museum in Dripping Springs. When you visit this historic farmstead volunteer docents will offer a lot of information about the site's historical details and the settling of Dripping Springs.

After migrating to this area in 1854 Dr. Pound built a home which is just a few blocks north of today's Dripping Springs town center. His original farmstead and one room home comprised 750 acres in an unsettled area of Texas. The Pound wooden structure was the first structure built in Dripping Springs.

In this home Dr. Pound and his wife Sarah raised nine children. Additional rooms were added to the one room structure. One of the additional rooms was reportedly used to treat patients that would not have been able to travel. When you visit the home today you'll see family photos of Dr. Pound's family, some of his medical equipment and desk as well as other furnishings dating back to the 1800's. One of the displays is that of Dr. Pound's dress Confederate uniform.

frontier log cabin interior
Interior of original one room cabin
The Dr. Pound Pioneer Homestead is now on five acres. In addition to the Dr. Pound home you'll see their stone smokehouse, windmill, cistern and blacksmith shop which often times has a blacksmith there with exhibits.

Interestingly enough, the Dr. Pound homestead stayed within the family for 130 years being occupied by descendents until the 1980's. Four generations of the Pound family lived on the farmstead until 1983. Dr. Pound was a medical doctor, is considered to be the first physician of Hays County Texas and was a veteran of Civil War.Interestingly enough, Dr. Pound first came to Texas years earlier to serve in the Mexican American War.

Being a medical doctor most likely helped with Dr. Pounds relations with the local Native Americans which, as any historian of Texas history knows, could be a dicey proposition at best. It was said that Pound did administer care to the local Indians when needed and it's believed that this medical aid is what spared the Pound family from the Indian raids that were very prevalent on the Texas western frontier line. The Pounds used their home and farmstead as a medical clinic and hospital, a schoolhouse and a religious sanctuary.

frontier smokehouse
Pound Family stone smokehouse
See the Western Trips articles below for more unique Texas Hill Country destinations...

Longhorn Caverns State Park

Nimitz National Museum of the Pacific War

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park 

The Texas Hill Country is one of the most scenic areas of Texas and is a popular destination for both Texans and Texas tourists.  The Hill Country of Texas is comprised of twenty five counties in central and south Texas. Geography of the Hill Country includes wooded canyons and spring fed streams. Austin is at the east end of the Hill Country, San Antonio to the south. The remainder spreads over about 200 miles to the west.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Western Trips)



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