Today, we're launching a QR code scavenger hunt on the square. The hunt revolves around local trivia about Denton's most notorious outlaw, Sam Bass. He's not just famous, he's INfamous. One of our favorite historians, Shaun Treat, is to thank for the knowledge and elbow grease putting this one together. So finish that cup of coffee, put on your pants, turn your brain on and get to work. This scavenger hunt is full of fun prizes, twists, and turns that will take you all around the Denton square. Read on to get started...
As we’ve previously written, the Texas outlaw Sam Bass got his start in Denton as a stable boy and hired hand when he arrived in 1870, but quickly achieved notoriety racing his famously fast Denton Mare around the territories. Sam became infamous, however, when his gang robbed a Union Pacific train of $60,000 in $20 double-eagle gold coins during an 1876 heist… that’s almost $1.3 million in today’s dollars, and still today the single largest UP train heist ever! Take that, Jesse James!
Odd thing is, after returning to Denton and living high on the hog for a’while, the Sam Bass Gang soon returned to banditry until the railroad-hired Pinkerton Detectives and the Texas Rangers turned him into Texas’ Public Enemy #1 with a bounty on his head. After being mortally wounded in a Round Rock TX shootout and dying on his 27th birthday in 1878, Sam left everyone wondering what happened to his fortune in gold. On his deathbed, Sam claimed he’d given his last $20 gold piece to an African-American widow at Round Rock in payment for some biscuits and chicken, but even the Rangers figured he was throwing them off the scent. Some say he squandered it on the notoriously costly vices of whiskey, women, and gambling, while others guess the notoriously generous outlaw had spread it around while on the lam from the law. But most folks figured he had buried his stolen gold in secret troves that he could access while on the run, and thus began the legends of Sam Bass’ hidden gold.
Sam Bass was barely cold in the ground when folks started hunting for his hidden gold, and still are to this day. If you believe everything you Google, the location of Sam’s gold is ‘definitely’ hidden somewhere different across three states, depending upon which treasure hunter you believe. But there’s some pretty darn convincing evidence that Sam’s loot, if there was any left, is somewhere around Denton! Cove Hollow outside Sanger, caves at Pilot Knob, near Grapevine Lake, and Denton’s Crosstimbers thickets have long been rumored locations. The Freedman Town southwest of the Denton Square pretty quickly circulated rumors that Sam Bass’ ghost was haunting the dirt roads at night atop his Denton Mare in search of his hidden gold, and other locals reported that Sam’s partner, Frank Jackson, had escaped the Round Rock shootout to return to Denton briefly. A few Dentonites claimed Sam had left his treasure somewhere on the Denton Square with a trusted confederate, who took its secret location to their grave before Frank returned. At the 1949 movie premiere of Calamity Jane and Sam Bass at the Campus Theater, several old timers claimed that an elderly Frank Jackson had secretly returned 12 years prior “hunting for a pot of gold buried near Denton, but he never did find it.” So the question remains: Is Sam Bass’ gold hidden somewhere in Denton?
Heck, we honestly don’t know, but hunting for secret treasure sure can be fun! In that spirit, Shaun Treat has collaborated with We Denton Do It to create a treasure hunt keeping with the historical legend. The prizes are very real, with a grand prize of $100 to the first treasure hunter who can chase down and complete the QR clues, but runner-up rewards (including a pass to this year's 35 Denton and much more) to the next 10 who are able to finish the challenge! Reckon you got what it takes to solve the mystery to #GetSamsGold? If ya do, we’ll seeya at the secret hideout! Get started by scanning the QR code in the image above.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of the fine folks with the Denton County Department of History & Culture as well as our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past.