Give this dollar to my wife. It, and the month's wages coming to me, will be all she'll ever have.
There were telephones now throughout the West, along with ice cream parlors, bicycles built for two, Coca-Cola, hot dogs, and toothpaste in a tube. Adventurous young men who yearned to follow frontier ways had few places to "hear the owl hoot" at the turn of the century, but Arizona still offered far horizons and a sense of freedom and exuberance. Mountain trails and open rangeland invited those who wished to ride; deer, antelope, bear, and big cats abounded for the hunt. Cowboys still could find large ranches that were hiring, while dishonest drovers stood a good chance of making off with rustled cattle. The Arizona population was sparse: in 1900 the largest town, Tucson, held only 7,531 people, and just 123,000 persons were scattered across the sweeping vastness of the territory. Bank and train robbers, murderers, rustlers, and other lawbreakers with a fast horse stood a reasonable chance of remaining free from arrest.
Individuals with the instincts of a manhunter could find a rare challenge remaining in Arizona. A man could pin on a badge, climb into the saddle and, in the righteous cause of justice and the territorial statutes, gallop into the mountains and canyons and deserts in pursuit of society's enemies. There were still plenty of wrongs to right in Arizona.
On February 15, 1900, for example, a northbound train pulled into Fairbank at dusk and was jumped by five bandits. Express messenger Jeff Milton was hurled off his feet by a severe arm wound, but he scrambled for a shotgun and blasted "Three-Fingered" Jack Dunlap with eleven buckshot. Gunfire continued, and by the time the outlaws forced the door, Milton had fainted from loss of blood. He had hidden the keys before he lost consciousness, however, and the outlaws rode away empty-handed from the scene of the shootout. The heroic Milton was hospitalized for months, and his arm was permanently crippled.
In March, cattle rustlers murdered Gus Gibbons and Frank Lesueur northeast of St. Johns. Veteran law officers George Scarborough and Walter Birchfield trailed the gang into a canyon, but a rifle bullet ripped through Scarborough's leg and killed his horse. Scarborough was taken to Deming, New Mexico, where his leg was amputated, but he died the day after being shot, on April 6, 1900.
Two days later, at noon, Billy Stiles, a former lawman-turned-train robber, confronted jailer George Bravin in Tombstone's Cochise County Courthouse. Stiles, who had been given trusty privileges following a confession, produced a revolver and demanded the keys. Bravin resisted, and after a brief scuffle he was shot in the leg by Stiles, who then tried to release all of the prisoners. Only two men followed him to freedom. A couple of weeks later, the fugitives sent the jail keys back to Tombstone along with an arrogant note: they had met some men who were wanted for killing a gambler, but they did not arrest the "killers" because "we had no warrant and were afraid we could not collect the mileage." Stiles was in and out of custody again, but early in 1901 he was captured by Sheriff Del Lewis while in a Casa Grande saloon. After being handcuffed, however, Stiles bolted for the rear door and escaped into the darkness.
With outlaws seemingly gaining the upper hand in Arizona, cattlemen, mine owners, railroad officials, and newspaper editors pressured Territorial Governor Nathan Oakes Murphy to combat lawlessness with a special force modeled upon the famed Texas Rangers. As early as 1898 an editorial proclaimed the need for a band of rangers: "When such conditions exist, a company of paid `Rangers' are required to stamp out and destroy the characters that bring about such a state of affairs. Let us have a Territorial Ranger Service."
The ranger bill created a fourteen-man force: one captain, one sergeant, and twelve privates. The captain would be paid $120 per month; the sergeant $75 monthly; and the privates $55 each. The men were to provide their own arms, mounts, "and all necessary accoutrements and camp equipage," although the territory would replace horses killed in action. Rangers were authorized to temporarily confiscate horses, if needed, while in pursuit of criminals. The territory would provide ammunition, food, and forage for each Ranger, not to exceed one dollar for meals and fifty cents for horse feed per day. A tax of five cents on every $100 of taxable property in the territory was to be collected and placed in "the ranger fund," which would finance all necessary expenses.'
Rangers were to be enrolled for twelve-month enlistments, and they would be exempted from military or jury service. The force was to "be governed by the rules and regulations of the army of the United States, as far as the same shall be applicable." Rangers were empowered to arrest lawbreakers anywhere in the territory, then deliver prisoners to the nearest peace officer in the county where the crime was committed.
The governor was authorized to appoint "competent persons as captain and sergeant," and Murphy knew exactly whom he wanted to head the Arizona Rangers. Burton C. Mossman had impressed most people since his arrival in Arizona in 1893.
Born in 1867, Burt Mossman was the son of an Illinois farmer who rose from private to major with the Thirty-sixth Illinois Volunteers during the Civil War. When Burt was a boy the family moved to Missouri, then migrated to New Mexico in 1882. He learned to speak Spanish, worked with a survey crew in the Apache-infested Sacramento Mountains, and hiked 110 miles round-trip across the desert to a stage stop with surveyors' reports for Washington.
He was employed to manage Arizona's Bar 00 spread along the Verde River north of Phoenix. In 1897 the Bar 00 was sold, but by year's end Mossman was employed as superintendent of the vast Aztec Land and Cattle Company. The Hash Knife, as the famous spread was known, grazed 50,000 cattle and 2,000 horses on a two-million-acre range located eighty miles west of Holbrook and forty miles south of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad tracks. Under negligent management, the Hash Knife had become a haven for lazy and often dishonest cowboys, many of whom actually helped rustlers like the notorious Bill Smith and his gang. For fourteen years in a row, the Hash Knife had been unable to pay a dividend to its investors. In 1900 the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, like other western ranching syndicates, decided to liquidate their holdings.
Mossman talked into accepting the captaincy of the Arizona Rangers, stipulated that he would serve just one year, and he extracted concessions that he could select his own successor and "that I would not be interfered with." Mossman's commission was dated August 30, 1901. Section 10 of the Ranger Act stated that the captain should select "as his base the most unprotected and exposed settlement of the frontier." Captain Mossman decided that Ranger headquarters should be in Bisbee.
Mossman now had to recruit thirteen Rangers. He wanted outdoorsmen - men who could ride and trail and shoot, men who had experience as cowboys or peace officers. He had several candidates in mind, but he went about the enlistment process quietly. Mossman did not announce the new members of the force, hoping to guard their identities from lawbreakers.
The first men enlisted were Bert Grover and Tom Holland, who signed up at headquarters in Bisbee on Friday, September 6. Joining the force that same day were Texans Leonard Page and George Edgar Scarborough, who signed his papers in Tucson. Ed Scarborough, a mere twenty-three years old, was the son of George W. Scarborough, the veteran officer who had died the previous year after taking a rifle bullet from a rustler near San Simon.
The next week Carlos Tafolla enlisted at St. Johns. On September 13 Fred Barefoot and James Warren signed up at Clifton, along with Texan Don Johnson, at twenty-two the youngest of the original Rangers. Five days later John Campbell, a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Richard Stanton, from New York City, were accepted in Phoenix. Campbell, although most recently a farmer, had amassed "unusual military experience" and eventually rose to sergeant. Enlisting on September 20 was Duane Hamblin, a tanned, rugged-looking outdoorsman with a sweeping mustache and a growing family.
The thirteen vacancies were filled in October, with Henry Gray, a forty-seven-year-old Californian and the oldest of the charter Rangers, as the twelfth, and forty-year-old Frank Richardson as the thirteenth. Mossman, although a staunch Republican, had never asked his men about their politics, being far more concerned with their ability to ride and shoot. "Now governor," said Mossman, "if you think I can go out in these mountains and catch train robbers and cattle rustlers with a bunch of Sunday School teachers, you are very much mistaken. "As it is now," continued Mossman, firmly imbedding his tongue in his cheek, "every time one of my men gets killed, he's a Democrat, and there are too many of them in this territory already. So, all I have to do is keep appointing Democrats and there soon won't be any left to worry the Republicans."
John M. Browning, America's foremost genius in arms design, devised the Model 1895, which was a landmark in Winchester production. The 1895 Winchester was the first lever-action repeater to use a box mag azine instead of the old tubular magazine. Five rounds nestled in the box, and the chamber could accommodate a sixth. One advantage of this rifle was that it used the same caliber cartridge as the Army Krag, and "we could always be sure the commanding officers at Fort Huachuca and Fort Apache would load us up with plenty of ammunition whenever we ran low."
Each member of the company was expected to furnish his own "six shooting pistol (army size)." The Rangers thus were armed with powerful Winchester repeating rifles and the reliable Colt .45 single-action revolvers. The territory would furnish ammunition, along with provisions and forage for horses.
An immediate target of the Rangers was the Bill Smith Gang. This band of rustlers made their headquarters in northern Graham County, where Bill Smith and his younger brothers and sister lived at their mother's home on the Blue River, near Harper's Mill.
As a young man, Bill had drifted into Oklahoma Territory, where reportedly he served an apprenticeship in rustling and other frontier chicanery with the Dalton brothers. By the turn of the century, he was Arizona's most notorious cattle rustler. Bill had first been arrested in 1898 for cutting out and weaning a score of calves from ranchers Henry Barrett and Bill Phelps. Smith was jailed at St. Johns. Jailer Tom Berry found Smith to be such a hard sleeper that it was necessary to enter his cell at breakfast time to awaken him. But Berry was merely the victim of an escape ruse. One morning when he walked into the cell, Berry found himself staring into the muzzle of a .45 revolver, smuggled to Smith by his brother Al. Smith locked Berry inside the cell, then slipped out to a woodshed, where Al had left a Winchester and ammunition.
After his escape, Smith fled to New Mexico for a year. When he returned to Arizona he was wanted for train robbery, and he continued to steal cattle and horses, often from Henry Barrett. During the first week of October 1901, the Bill Smith Gang was spotted heading south near Springerville with a herd of stolen horses. A couple of days later, one of the younger Smith brothers rode into St. Johns to buy supplies, and he casually asked the whereabouts of Barrett. The tough old rancher heard of the inquiry and proceeded to organize a posse. Barrett rode with Hank Sharp, Pete Peterson, and Elijah Holgate to Greer, where they found Rangers Carlos Tafolla and Duane Hamblin. Tafolla and Hamblin, having been assigned to search for the Smith Gang, readily joined Barrett.
The posse followed the trail three miles south to Sheep Crossing of the Little Colorado River and on to Lorenzo Crosby's ranch on the Black River. There the posse enlisted Crosby and the Maxwell brothers, Bill and Arch. The Maxwells, regarded as superb scouts, had been friends with the Smiths until the gang made off with several horses from the Maxwell range.
The rustlers' trail led south to Big Lake to Dead Man's Crossing on the Black River to Pete Slaughter's ranch where, according to the signs, the gang had camped. The posse pitched camp at the same site, then the next day, October 8, followed the trail six miles down the west bank of the Black River.
There is no more beautiful or forbidding wilderness in America than the Black River country. In October the temperatures are crisp during the day and frigid at night, and the forests are a riot of orange and red leaves, with a thick carpet of pine needles on the ground. Soaring mountains bristle with towering pine and spruce trees, cedars and junipers. It is difficult country to traverse: the narrow, winding valleys are too thickly forested for easy passage, while the steep mountainsides offer treacherous, boulder-strewn angles littered with fallen timber. Breaks in the timber from high on the mountains reveal breathtaking views of wild beauty, but the almost impenetrable wilderness provided a natural hideout for fugitives. Rustlers regularly found refuge in the area, and the nearby western border of New Mexico offered an additional avenue of escape.
On Tuesday, October 8, the outlaws were in camp at Reservation Creek, in a gorge 200 yards wide and 100 feet deep near the headwaters of Black River. The gang had shot a bear and late that cold afternoon were engaged in skinning the beast. Some of the gang members had started supper, while bloodhounds prowled the camp perimeter. One hound nervously barked out an alarm, and Bill Smith scrambled to the top of a rim for a look. He darted back to camp with news that several men were approaching. Al and George Smith began to move the horses out of the clearing.
The posse had heard the trio of rifle shots that brought down the bear, and a ride of half a mile brought them to a bloody trail in the snow. Sign indicated that two men were packing out freshly killed game on a horse, and the posse, sensing their prey, followed the trail in the final hour of daylight.
The nine posse members tied their horses to a cluster of bushes and crept the last 300 yards through the snow on foot. They moved in from the west as the sun set between Mount Ord and Old Baldy. The outlaws thus enjoyed the protection of a shadowed gorge, while sun rays, highlighting the rim to the east, made it difficult to fire into the rustlers' camp. Most of the possemen crawled to prone positions on the rim, but the two Rangers and Bill Maxwell boldly advanced into the clearing. In the open, they were starkly silhouetted against the whiteness of the snow.
Barrett shouted from the rim for the lead man to get down. Hamblin flattened onto the ground, but Tafolla and Maxwell ignored their danger. Maxwell called out an order to surrender. "All right," replied Bill Smith. "Which way do you want us to come out?" "Come right out this way," directed Maxwell.
The outlaw leader walked toward the lawmen, dragging a new Savage .303 rifle behind him. Suddenly, Smith brought up the Savage repeater and opened fire from a distance of forty feet. Tafolla went down, shot through the torso, while Maxwell was hit in the forehead and died on the spot. Smith darted for cover as the other outlaws began firing from behind tree trunks. Tafolla gamely emptied his Winchester, and his companions opened up from the rim. Most of the rifles were loaded with black powder cartridges, and a haze of white smoke began to spread through the gorge as gunshots echoed off the surrounding walls. Barrett's fire was especially effective; the rancher was armed with a Spanish Mauser captured in Cuba, and the smokeless, steel jacketed rounds ripped through the little pine trees that shielded the outlaws. Two rustlers were wounded, shot in the foot and leg, and one of their hounds was killed. After a few moments, the gunfire ended as the gang retreated into the timber.
During the shooting, Hamblin had worked his way around to the outlaw mounts. He found nine saddle horses and a pack mule, drove the animals away, and put the rustlers afoot. Desperately, Smith and his men pressed into the wilderness and escaped into the sudden mountain nightfall.
Back in the clearing Tafolla lay on his back, shot twice through the middle and moaning for water. Bill Maxwell was dead; his big hat had three bullet holes in the crown. As the posse closed in they found the dead hound, along with saddles, bridles, camp gear, and personal belongings that the fleeing outlaws had abandoned. Tree trunks throughout the gorge were scarred with bullet marks. The clearing forty miles south of St. Johns would become known as the Battle Ground.
Bill Maxwell's hat was left on the ground, and cowboys who later had occasion to ride through the Battle Ground superstitiously refused to touch the bullet-riddled sombrero. Maxwell was carried to where the posse had tethered their horses and was laid out on two saddle blankets. Hank Sharp and Arch Maxwell rode east for help to the Mormon community of Nutrioso, where the Maxwell homestead was located. Hamblin, Barrett, Peterson, Holgate, and Crosby stayed behind to provide crude care for the agonized Tafolla. Before he lost consciousness Carlos, realizing that he was dying, pulled a silver dollar from his pants pocket and handed it to Barrett.
Tafolla died at midnight. Captain Mossman received word at Solomonville of the tragic fight. The message had been sent by Henry Hunig, a St. Johns merchant and sheepman. While he was readying his horses, Mossman received a second telegram: "Tefio [sic] died from wound send force if possible up Blue to Mrs. Smiths place near Harpers Mill site she is mother of one of the murderers."
Mossman sent orders south to guard the routes into Mexico, then he rode out with three Rangers. They spent the first night at Clifton and reached the Battle Ground late the next day, where Henry Barrett de scribed the fight. From the San Carlos Indian Agency the captain acuired two Apache trackers, Josh and Chicken, and Mossman and his men plunged into the White Mountains in search of the Smith Gang.
Bill Smith had led his men through the snow-covered wilderness. On Beaver Creek the gang roused a slumbering camp of drovers and obtained a meal. The cowboys had heard of the fight and revealed the identity of the dead men. "Well, I'm sure, sure sorry," said the outlaw leader after learning that Bill Maxwell had been slain. "When he stood up that way we thought it was Barrett, he was the man we wanted. We feel mighty sorry over killing Bill Maxwell, he was a good friend of ours. Tell Bill's mother for us that we're very sorry we killed him."
The fugitives continued on into Bear Valley between the Blue River and the New Mexico border. They arrived at the isolated ranch of Hugh McKean and asked to buy horses. When McKean refused, they rounded up his best mounts and saddles, seized his guns and a sack of food, then headed toward New Mexico.
Mossman's Apache trackers led the Rangers to the MeKean ranch the next day. Mossman pressed on, but a heavy snow descended and obliterated the trail. Another snowstorm drove Mossman back to the McKean ranch, but stubbornly he rode into New Mexico. Josh and Chicken picked up a trail which led to Magdalena and to the Rio Grande three miles south of Socorro. At this point the trail disappeared and Mossman returned to Arizona.
Four other Rangers had made their own sweep into New Mexico. Bert Grover, Leonard Page, Dick Stanton, and Tom Holland were in Naco when orders from Mossman arrived by telegram (Grover became miffed when "at least fifteen people told him the contents of the telegram before he received it"). The four Rangers rode out of Naco on the night of October 11 and headed east. Finding no sign of the Smith Gang along the Mexican border, the Rangers moved into New Mexico through heavy rainstorms. They found no one to arrest, but they did round up a number of horses that had been stolen from various Arizona ranches. The four returned on Thursday, October 24, saddle weary and with no prisoners.
A favorite haunt of rustlers had been penetrated, so word began to spread among outlaws. The Smith Gang never resumed its activities in Arizona. The widow Smith later told Ranger Joe Pearce that Bill and AI made their way to Galveston, Texas, where they took a boat to Argentina. In 1909 George Smith returned and surrendered himself to Sheriff Jim Parks of Graham County. However, since the only charges against him had been filed in Apache County, he was released from custody. George Smith settled at his mother's ranch on the Blue River and tended to her little herd of cattle.
The Bill Smith Gang was not the only one to shoot their way past the Rangers; few arrests were made by the new law enforcement agency in 1901. The first Ranger apprehension was recorded on October 2, when suspected murderers Andrew Griffin and Hete O'Connor were captured in the Huachuca Mountains. A week later, horse thief Frank Hollis was arrested as the Rangers scoured the Black River country. But the Rangers, preoccupied with a fruitless search for the killers of Carlos Tafolla and Bill Maxwell, recorded no further arrests for more than a month.
On November 11 cattle rustlers James Head and William Williams were apprehended in the Chiricahua Mountains. For several months ranchers in the Chiricahua and Swissholm Mountains had regularly lost cattle. Some of the animals had been stolen, while others had been killed on the range. The brand would be cut from the hide of a slain animal, a side of beef would be butchered, and the rest of the carcass left to rot. Responding to complaints, Captain Mossman detailed Bert Grover and Leonard Page to investigate. Grover and Page prowled around the area for several days with no result, but on Monday, November 11, they rode into Hunt Canyon in the Chiricahuas. Ahead of them two men later identified as Head and Williams roped and killed a steer. The two Rangers concealed themselves as Head and Williams cut off the brand and began to butcher a hindquarter. The Rangers then moved in, arrested Head and Williams at gunpoint, and shackled the two rustlers. After an overnight stay at a ranch, the Rangers took their prisoners in to Bisbee, where Head and Williams were quickly tried and convicted.
Head and Williams, however, were the only lawbreakers captured during November. In December the Rangers were briefly back at full force: Texas cowboy McDonald Robinson filled Tafolla's vacancy on the first of the month, although two days later Richard Stanton was discharged. But there seemed to be little improvement in arrest totals. On December 5 Martin Woods was arrested at San Carlos, and five days later John Ruth was taken into custody at Cochise; both men were charged with grand larceny.
During the first three months of their existence, the Rangers had managed to apprehend merely seven malefactors, and the only major clash with outlaws ended tragically for the new organization. On the last day of 1901, however, the Rangers moved in on four murderers. Cruz Figuerra, Ramon Moreno, Trinidad Ariola, and Francisco Hernandez were arrested in the Huachuca Mountains on December 31. The Rangers had scored an impressive coup at the close of the year, and it was a sign of things to come for 1902.
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