Tuesday, April 22, 2008
BILLY POTTS A MEMBER OF THE SAM BASS GANG AND HE DIED WITH HIS BOOTS ON
A Great Piece of History
This copy of a drawing that was made into a tin Type of the Collins Heffridge shooting by
"Charlie Lafferty, a Pennsylvania photographer, the photo was taken of an unknown drawing before 1884.
Norma Strother owns the original tintype.
The tintype went with Charlie her grandfather
from Pennsylvania to the Idaho Gold Rush in 1884. It has been passed
down to her along with other 1800s photographs.
Tag photo to enlarge for better detail.
Thank You Norma!
The Sam Bass Gang... Billy Potts is in there somewhere
HE DIED WITH HIS BOOTS ON!
A former Pottsville man turns up his toes in the west with a bullet through him as a reward for his fondness for other people’s money
So the article read in the Pottsville Evening Chronicle on October 9, 1877.
Being a fan of the old west this story caught my attention. After reading the article I was completely engrossed in trying to find anything I could on this one particular fellow. His name is William Potts, and he did come from Pottsville.
Anyway the story reads like this:
The Omaha Bee of recent date contained the following: The right name of Bass was not ascertained until the bodies of the two robbers were brought for burial to Ellis, a small place not more than 200 inhabitants. Of course the arrival there of the dead bandits created the most intense excitement, and everybody viewed the faces of the deceased as they “Lay in State” in their coffins. Among the number who paid their respects to the thieves was a Mrs. Jacobs, who upon seeing the face of Bass exclaimed, “He was my late husband,” and stated that his right name was William Potts, and that he had a tattoo on the right hand, between the thumb and first finger, and a figure of a dancing girl on the right arm. The lid of the coffin was raised and his hand and arm were examined, and sure enough the marks were found, according to Mrs. Jacobs’ statement.
Mrs. Jacobs was formerly the wife of a man named Jacobs, who was for a time recorder of Deeds at Wichita, Kansas, and who died a drunkard. His widow afterward married Potts, but when she learned that he had a wife in Pennsylvania she left him. She had not seen him for eighteen months, and neither knew the whereabouts of the other.
William Potts came originally from Pottsville, Pa. During his career in the west he made his headquarters principally in Wichita, but he had no fixed home. He travelled through Texas and the Indian Territory frequently, and he was generally supposed to be engaged in crooked transactions chiefly horse and cattle stealing. He was in the Black Hills with Collins, with whom he was a favorite, and to whom he was the right-hand man in the Union Pacific Robbery.
It is interesting to note that in this story they refer to Potts as “Bass”. Bass was the notorious train robber Sam Bass. And at the time Potts was thought to be Sam Bass. More as the story continues.
Sam Bass (21 July 1851-21 July 1878) was a nineteenth-century American train robber
After failing in a series of legimitate enterprises, Bass turned to crime, and robbed the Union Pacific gold train from San Francisco on September 18, 1877, looting $60,000, to this day the largest single robbery of the Union Pacific. After a string of robberies in 1877 and 1878, including the first train robbery in Texas history, in Allen, Texas, Bass was betrayed to the authorities by a member of his gang. After being mortally wounded, Bass was eventually taken into custody, and he died from his wounds on July 21,1878,his 27th birthday.
Despite his short career, Sam Bass was colorful and saw extreme financial success in his robberies from 1877 until his death in 1878. The well publicized and unsuccessful law enforcement pursuit of Bass and his gang following their $60,000 take on the Union Pacific train robbery was the event that brought him to the attention of the public and what captured their imagination. That single event, and his evading capture afterwards, led to Bass reaching the status of legend.
Sam had formed a partnership with Joel Collins and Jack Davis. After driving a herd of cattle to Dodge City, then on to Ogallaha in the South Platte Valley, they decided to venture on to the Black Hills. They tried unsuccessfully to establish a freighting outfit. Sam had pointed out that "It's pretty hard to quit our old trade and go into a business that don't pay any better than this." With this Sam and Collins began to form their gang; Tom Nixon, Bill Heffridge also known Billy Heffery (Bill Heffridge and Bill Heffery were alias names used by William Potts,) he also went by the name Bill Potts, and Jim Berry.
Authors Note: My research shows that some accounts of Sam Bass’s activities mentions him as Potts, and others as Heffridge .
Their first target was the Deadwood Stage, they held it up four times, from Jul To Aug 1877. With only seven peaches and less than $50 as their total loot, they agreed to try one more time when Collins had learned of a shipment of $150,000 in gold dust.
The holdup was a failure, which drove them to the Union Pacific where it would be more profitable. The gang's first train robbery was their most successful. At Big Springs, Nebraska, the loot was $60,000 dollars in shiny new twenty dollar gold coins from the San Francisco mint. The passengers of the train turned over an additional $400 cash and gold watches.
Being angry that they were not making much money on their prior ventures at robbery a friend of Collins and Bass a California bandit named Jack Davis suggested that the Bass gang attack a Union Pacific train, saying these trains carried huge gold shipments from the west, consigned to Wells Fargo and then sent on to eastern banks.
Union Pacific Wanted Poster...William Potts Alias Billy Hefferige
Note the tatto of dancing girl listed.
Click on to enlarge.
Collins made up the plan to rob the train at Ogallala, Neb. The gang included Bass, Collins Nixon, Davis, Potts, and Berry. There were to many people in the town of Ogallal so the gang decided to attack the train at Big Springs, Nebraska. Here on Sept 19, they boarded the train at 10 p.m. at a water station, The Union Pacific Train was held up just west of Ogallala, Nebraska, and just happened to be carrying $60,000 in gold pieces. The gang of six outlaws split up in pairs. Collins and Potts rode south along one of the branches of the Western Cattle trail. at a little Kansas Pacific railroad station called Buffalo station 60 miles from Hays City. On September 26, 1877 Collins and Potts were recognized by Ellis County Sheriff George Bardsley who rode out onto the prairie to talk to the them. They were already saddled up and getting ready to head to Texas. Sherieff Bardsley was accompanied by 10 cavalry troopers out of Fort Hays. Bardsley convinced the boys to return to the station for questioning. Collins and Potts seemed calm and innocent as they turned toward Buffalo, but suddenly according to witnesses Collins pulled his pistol while shouting, By God! Lets die game! Both outlaws were shot from the saddle before they fired a shot. About $25,000 dollars in twenty dollar gold pieces was found in Collins saddlebags. And so ended the career of Pottsville’s most famous wild west outlaw.
The story ends with Collins and Heffridge (Potts) being taken to Ellis, Kansas, to be identified and there they were buried. the two robbers lie buried in unmarked graves in a small cemetery there.