At the upcoming BashCon 33, I will be running what should be the 3rd and final chapter in my epic story of 'A Little Horror on the Prairie'. To get some people updated on the adventure to come and what has happened in the previous sessions, please read on.
Being a Stay Alive! Gaslight adventure, I always try to blend history and fantasy, thinking of the events in my campaign world as an alternate reality. For this adventure, I wanted a train robbery that took place on the plains and close to the Black Hills. The background for this event was found at the following website: Legend of America: Big Springs, Nebraska Train Robbery, authored by Kathy Weiser.
The Real Black Hills Bandits
In 1867, the Union Pacific Railroad established a water station at Big Springs in Nebraska. It was located next to an old natural spring that was long used by the local indian tribes. It did harbour a few settlers before becoming a town due to the travelers along the Oregon and California Trails as well as a stopover for the stage coaches and the Pony Express. As a jerkwater, it became one of numerous stops for steam trains at that time. In 1883, it would become the town of Lone Tree.
In 1876, Texas cowboys Sam Bass and Joel Collins drove cattle to the northern markets but instead of returning to the ranchers that hired them with the profits, they began prospecting in the Black Hills of South Dakota for gold. Having no luck and having spent all their money, they created a gang of desperados and took up robbing stage coaches becoming known as the Black Hills Bandits. Many of the stages robbed were on the same Deadwood Stage line and the last one resulted in the death of the driver (Johnny Slaughter). The horses bolted at the sound of the gunfire and as legend as it, this was the runaway stage that Calamity Jane stopped before entering Deadwood.
They soon decided that robbing stage coaches and splitting the profits six ways was not enough so they decided to take on robbing trains. On September 18, 1877, they made their way to the Big Springs station in Nebraska, captured the station master (John Barnhart), destroyed the telegraph, and forced him to signal the eastbound train to stop. The mail car safe held only $450 and when they tried to rob the larger safe, it had a time lock that prevented it to be opened until it arrive at its destination. They beat the attendent brutally but to no avail; he was unable to open it. They continued to search the train and for some reason, a shipment of $60,000 in freshly minted gold coins were stowed away in wooden boxes and not under any special guard or in a safe. The reason for this is unknown.
After the robbery and capture of over $60,000 in gold coins, $450 from the mail car safe, and about $1,300 and four gold watches from the passengers. They split up in pairs and and headed in different directions.
Sam Bass and Jack Davis posed as farmers and rode south in a one horse buggy with their share of the haul stowed under the seat. After making it to Texas, Bass explained to locals he was wealthy from hitting a stike of gold in the Black Hills. He would eventually start another gang and rob trains again in Texas before he was eventually killed in 1878 on his 27th birthday in an ambush by Texas Rangers at Round Rock, Texas. Davis had tried to convince Bass to come wiht him to South America. He was never seen again.
Bill Heffridge and Joel Collins were preparing to leave for Texas when they were approached by the Ellis County Sheriff George Bardsley and ten cavalry troopers from Fort Hays. They both agreed to return with the sherrif for questioning but while riding back to the station, they decided to pull their guns with Collins shouting "By God! Let's die game!". With the cavalry behind them, they were killed before they were able to fire their own weapons.
Jim Berry and Tom Nixon fled to Missouri where Berry was from. Berry's wife had given birth to their 6th child a die after the robbery in Montana. In Mexico, Missouri, Berry made the mistake of exchanging the gold coins for currency which alerted the authorities. The Sherriff, Henry Glasscock, apprehended Berry at his home in Shamrock, Missouri. He had been shot in the leg with buckshot while escaping and died two days later from gangrene (October 21, 1877). Before he died, he had said that Nixon took off shortly after arriving in Missouri. It has been long thought he returned to his native Canada having never been captured.