The family of Alijah W. Grimes was reportedly infuriated that the outlaw, part of the gang who had murdered their loved one, would be buried in the same cemetery with his victim. They insisted that the outlaw be “planted” at the outskirts of the cemetery next to where the slaves had been buried before the Civil War, because in 1878 they considered that an insult for a white man.
So, the outlaw Sam Bass is buried on the western edge of Round Rock Cemetery. There is a historical marker beside Sam’s grave. A.W. Grimes, a former Texas Ranger, is buried across the way on the east side of the cemetery with a tiny metal cross (indicating his status as a Texas Ranger) beside his tombstone instead of a historical marker.
My husband and I were traveling home from the Austin area today, and decided to go down Sam Bass Road in Round Rock to visit the cemetery. You see, today (July 21st) is the anniversary of both the birthday and death day of Sam Bass. After being wounded in a gun battle in Round Rock on July 19th, 1878 in a failed bank hold-up, Sam escaped down the road that now bears his name. Two days later, on Sam’s 27th birthday, he was found sprawled helplessly dying in a field north of town.
Because I tell ghost stories about Sam Bass on my Ghosts of Denton haunted tour, I came to see his grave out of curiosity. I wasn’t necessarily “paying respects,” because it’s hard for me to muster respect for a thief. Yes, I know that he was dubbed “The Robin Hood of Texas” because he stole from the “rich” and he gave to the poor … but he stole first. Probably the only reason Sam Bass wasn’t also considered a murderer is that folks he robbed got lucky.
As we snapped photos of the grave a stranger came striding toward us. He called out, “Thanks for remembering Sam on his birthday!” The man was dressed in Western style (boots, jeans, white shirt, vest, string tie, and a cowboy hat). That “long, tall drink-of-water” looked like he had just stepped out of a movie — and in fact “Tex” told us he had played bit parts in several well-known Western movies. He had come to take a photo of Sam’s grave for an elderly friend whose father knew Sam Bass. Tex knew a lot about Sam Bass, and he wanted to share it, not knowing that I already have studied the man.
I could match him fact for fact on Sam’s life story, but Tex told me about A.W. Grimes and the anguish of his family at the fact that Sam Bass would be buried in the same graveyard. I knew nothing about that story. Suddenly, I knew why I was in that cemetery. In open-toed shoes I sashayed across the cemetery, fending off the fire ants, to find Mr. Grimes. I noticed his original tombstone flat on the grass, broken of course.
The tiny metal marker shown above is beside the older tombstone. More recently, another tombstone was added:
The inscription reads:
Here lies A. W. Grimes, Williamson County Deputy Sheriff & former Texas Ranger who was killed in Koppells Store, Main Street, Round Rock, July 19, 1878 as he attempted to disarm gangmembers Sam Bass, Seaborn Barnes & Frank Jackson. It is not known who fired the fatal shot. He left a wife and three children. She received $200 & one of the Bass Gang horses as indemnity for her husband’s death.
I realize that $200 was a lot of money in 1878, but it still seems a small compensation for a man’s life.
I decided not to post the photos we took of Sam Bass’ grave today, even though one tiny wildflower bloomed to wish him, “Happy Birthday.” I will show you a picture of a road sign, though, because I made my husband turn around and stop the car so I could take the picture. If I don’t use it, he just might start refusing to give me any photo-ops! It’s at the junction of “Sam Bass Road” and “Hairy Man Road.” The Hairy Man is a spooky tale told in Round Rock that I’ll save for another day.
I won’t post his grave, because I think that Sam has gotten enough of the glory. Sam had a road named for him many years ago, but A.W. Grimes didn’t get a road with his name on it until the year 2000. Sam is memorialized in song and story, but A.W. Grimes has been largely forgotten despite the words on his original tombstone.
Today I want to pay my respects to the lawman, not the outlaw. May Alijah W. Grimes rest in peace.