An Overlooked Lawman

AW GrimesVery few people know who Ahijah W. Grimes was —no, not even those who daily travel on the road named in his honor in Round Rock, Texas.

Ahijah W. Grimes (called AW by his family and friends) was born in Bastrop, Texas on 5 July 1850. He was second from the youngest son of Robert Henry and Elizabeth Highsmith Grimes, who were among the first pioneer families of Bastrop County.  AW’s grandfather, Jesse Grimes, for whom Grimes County is named, was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, a politician, and a Texas judge. In later years, Jesse Grimes was a running mate of Sam Houston in his bid for the governorship after statehood. Jesse’s son Albert Calvin Grimes was one of the men who fell at the Alamo in 1836.

AW was named after his maternal grandfather, Ahijah Morris Highsmith; his grandmother Deborah Turner descended from prominent Mayflower families.  Many of the Turners traveled to Texas with the Highsmith’s from Missouri. The fact that Ahijah Highsmith, settled in Bastrop in the 1820s made him an Indian fighter out of necessity.  Both he and his son Benjamin participated at the Battle of San Jacinto.

AW’s family settled along Plum Creek; Robert Henry participated in the Texas Revolution as a member of Washington H. Secrest’s Cavalry.  Robert became a justice of the peace in Bastrop County in 1846.  He moved to Craft’s Prairie in 1852 and went into the lumber mill business.  Robert Henry passed away in 1863.  As AW was only 13 when his father died, the most influential people in his formative years were his extended family: the Cottles, Turner’s, and Highsmith’s.  Elizabeth Grimes later remarried James Hendon Wilkins in 1866.

The Grimes family seemed to gravitate toward law enforcement.  AW’s law career began as a Bastrop City Marshall in 1874, although it is believed that he worked as a printer’s assistant in Bastrop as a younger man.  Also in that year, AW married Charlotte (Lottie) Lyman of McDade, Texas. Lottie’s parents were Major Benjamin Lyman and Lelia Addie Dabney.  Lyman was also in the lumber business, but the business failed after the civil war and he moved on to Lampasas, Texas; there he accepted an appointment as a federal judge.

In 1875, AW was elected to serve as a city tax assessor, and in the following year he was appointed to serve as a constable in Precinct Six.  Nineteen days after his brother Albert joined the Texas Rangers in 1877, AW joined as well, on 20 September.  He served in Neal Caldwell’s A Company of the Frontier Battalion but resigned in December if that year and returned to Bastrop.  Shortly later, AW moved his family to Round Rock to work for Miller’s Exchange Bank.

By this time, Grimes had three small children —factors which may account for his short tenure with the Texas Rangers.  That said, when Williamson County Sheriff Sam Strayhorn offered Grimes a deputy’s star, he accepted it.  The city of Round Rock was growing, and with it, incidents of crime were on the rise. Apparently, Grimes believed that a position as a Sheriff’s Deputy was more lucrative than clerking in a bank.

Seaborn BarnesOn 19 July, famed outlaw Sam Bass[1], along with cohorts Frank “Blocky” Jackson[2] and Seaborn Barnes (shown right)[3] returned to the new town section of Round Rock to case the Williamson County Bank one final time before robbing it.  Jim Murphy, a spy for the Texas Rangers, had remained behind at camp with the hope of contacting Texas Ranger Major John B. Jones to inform him of Sam Bass’s criminal intentions.  Upon their arrival in town, the outlaws hitched their horses in the alley north of Georgetown Avenue at the corner of Lampasas Street and walked up the street to Kopperal’s General Store.  Texas Ranger Sergeant Richard Ware crossed the street from Highsmith’s Livery Stable and entered a barbershop.

As the brigands crossed over to Kopperal’s Store, they were also observed by Travis County Deputy Sheriff Morris Moore, and Williamson County Deputy Sheriff AW Grimes.  Grimes indicated to Moore that he believed one of the men was wearing a pistol, which at the time was against the law in Round Rock. While Moore waited outside, Grimes entered the store, walked up to the men, who were purchasing tobacco, and asked one of them, “Do you have a pistol?”

Sam Bass replied, “Sure. I’ve got two of ‘em.  I’ll let you have ‘em both.”  Blocky Jackson and Seaborn Barnes then drew their pistols and opened fire, shooting Grimes six times, killing him instantly.

Deputy Moore rushed inside the store and opened fire on the bandits, shooting Bass through the hand. Moore was shot in the chest, the bullet piercing his lung, forcing him to withdraw.  The sound of shooting galvanized Ranger Ware who was getting a shave. Ware ran into the street, his face still lathered, and engaged the bandits single handedly.  Major John B. Jones also heard the commotion from his position at the International and Great Northern Telegraph Office.  He rushed out to meet up with Ware and got off a single shot. The bandits returned fire, missing Jones.  Now Ranger George Herold joined up with Ware and Jones.  Nearby were two witnesses, Soapy Smith[4]and his cousin Edwin.  As Bass attempted to flee on horse, Harold and Ware got off another shot.  “I think you got him,” Soapy exclaimed.  Barnes fell dead with a bullet to the head and Bass, now slumped in the saddle, rode off.

Sam BassThe official report of the Texas Rangers credits Dick Ware as the one who made the fatal shot, but at an official inquest, Ware stated that he did not believe he had shot Sam Bass (shown right); George Harold insisted that it was Ware.  After the shooting the Rangers made no great effort to pursue Sam Bass because of their concern that he would lead them into a trap.  The Rangers called off the search for him until the next day.  Bass was eventually discovered propped up against a tree.  As one of the searchers approached him, Bass held up his hand and said, “I am Sam Bass—the man that has been wanted for so long.”  Rangers placed Bass in the back of a wagon and returned him to Round Rock.

Texas Rangers interrogated Bass, but he refused to give them any information about his cohorts. Speaking about Deputy Grimes, Bass is reported to have said, “If I killed him he is the first man I ever killed.” Bass died of his gunshot wounds the following day, which was his 27th birthday, on 21 July 1878.

After Grimes was killed, Lottie returned her parent’s home in Lampasas.  She later remarried a man by the name of Hart.

Sources

  1. Handbook of Texas
  2. Grimes Family Biography, Ancestry
  3. Gard, Sam Bass, 1936
  4. Eckhardt, C.F. Tales of Badmen, Bad Women, and Bad Places: Four Centuries of Texas Outlawry. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1999

Notes:

[1]After failing at a series of legitimate enterprises, Sam Bass turned to crime. He joined a gang that robbed the Union Pacific Railroad gold train from San Francisco, California on 18 September 1877. The outlaw gang intercepted the train a Big Springs, Nebraska and netted $60,000.  Shortly afterward, Bass formed his own gang in Texas, which staged a string of robberies.  In 1878, the gang held up two stagecoaches and four trains within 25 miles of Dallas.  Sam Bass and his gang became the object of a manhunt by Pinkerton National Detective Agency and a special company of the Texas Rangers headed by Major John B. Jones and Captain Junius Peak.

[2]Texas born Frank Jackson was orphaned at a young age.  By 1874, Jackson was working as a tinsmith in Denton, Texas when he became acquainted with Sam Bass.  Two years later, Jackson killed a horse thief by the name of Henry Goodall. The following year, Jackson joined up with Bass and his gang in a number of bank robberies, including the hold-up of a stagecoach near Fort Worth, Texas on 22 December 1877 and again on 28 January 1878.  Within several weeks, Jackson began robbing trains stopping near Allen and Hutchins, Texas. Over the course of the next year, Jackson became a close associate of Bass and, at one point, was able to intervene on behalf of another gang member, Jim Murphy, who was suspected of being an informant (and in fact, he was), thus saving Murphy’s life.  Jackson died in the late 1920’s in New Mexico; by then, he was a wealthy rancher.

[3]Seaborn Barnes was also known as Nubbin Colt (1849-1878).  He was born in Cass County, Texas.  Illiterate, Barnes worked as a cowboy in his early years, but never able to hold his liquor, he gained the reputation of a barroom fighter.  He was jailed for one year in Fort Worth, Texas for his involvement in a gunfight in a local saloon.  After a second arrest in 1874, he escaped jail and became a wanted fugitive from justice. Barnes joined the Bass gang in 1878 and soon became Sam Bass’ chief lieutenant, helping to rob several trains in the spring of that year.  In the shootout at Round Rock, Texas, Barnes was shot in the head and died instantly.

[4]Jefferson Randolph Smith II (November 2, 1860 – July 8, 1898) was a con-artist and gangster whose most famous scam was the so-called soap-sell racket, which earned him the sobriquet of “Soapy”.  The nickname remained with him to his death.   This particular scam, one of many, involved setting up a stand on a street corner and, piling ordinary soap cakes onto the display case, he began expounding on the wonders of the product. As he spoke to the growing crowd of curious onlookers, he would pull out his wallet and begin wrapping paper money, ranging from one dollar up to a one-hundred-dollar bill, around a select few of the bars of soap.  He then finished each bar by wrapping plain paper around it to hide the money.  He then sold the soap to the crowd for one dollar a cake.  A shill planted in the crowd would buy a bar, tear it open, and loudly proclaim that he had won some money, waving it around for all to see. This performance had the desired effect of enticing the sale of more packages. More often than not, victims, hoping to “win,” bought several bars before the sale was completed. Midway through the sale, Smith would announce that the hundred-dollar bill yet remained in the pile, unpurchased. He then would auction off the remaining soap bars to the highest bidder.  This should serve to remind us that a fool and his money are soon parted.

On one occasion, Smith was arrested by policeman John Holland for racketeering.  While writing his arrest report, Holland had forgotten Smith’s first name and wrote “Soapy”; the sobriquet stuck. Smith was shot and killed in Juneau, Alaska when confronted by vigilantes on 7 July 1898.

 

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7 Responses to An Overlooked Lawman

  1. Pablo says:

    Another great story.
    The notes really completed the essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kid says:

    Yes, great story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mustang says:

    @ Pablo … I’d like to put up stories surrounding your Texas ancestors.

    Like

  4. Good stuff.
    I always put off reading these until I can savor them.

    Like

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