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David Fisk (Lens of
The Aztec Cattle Company & the Hashknife Outfit
in 1877. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Aztec Land and Cattle Company of Boston began operations in
with its headquarters
situated across the Little Colorado River from
the site of Saint Joseph (now
The third largest cattle company in North America, the organization was
better known as the
Hashknife Outfit, because
their brand resembled the old hash knives used by chuck wagon cooks.
The next year, the Aztec Company transferred
its headquarters to
and in 1886, they purchased one
million acres of former railroad land from the Atlantic and Pacific for 50
cents an acre. The ranch claimed a range that stretched some 650
miles, from the
border to just south of
company then bought the
brand and some 33,000 head of cattle and 2,000 horses from the
Continental Cattle Company in
which was going broke because of drought. When the stock arrived
by rail, they were let off the train at stops all across northern
Along with the cattle and the brand, also came a number of original
initially welcomed the money of the cattle company and its associated
until they saw what they were in for.
of the outfit quickly gained the
unsavory reputation of being the "thievinist, fightinest bunch of
cowboys” in the United States. The sudden presence of so many
punchers also gave rise to rustling, robbery and gunfights, with
much of the cattle thievery perpetuated on the Aztec Cattle Company
Though many said that the
were good men, there were a number of them who had reputations
for hot-headedness and others, who were outright
Some of these crooked
cowboys were wanted men and on two occasions, they were linked to
train robberies at
Diablo. Another time, a cowboy took off with a bunch of the
outfit’s cattle and headed to
Colorado. There, he set up a
with his profits. However, he was soon without money again and
rejoined the outfit once more.
Stagecoach and train robberies became an
almost recreational pastime for
cowboys and drifters in the
area. And, when the
came off the range, with money in their pockets and whiskey on their
minds, it was time for
Holbrook to "look-out!" In 1886 alone, there were twenty-six shooting deaths on the streets of
Holbrook, which was called
home to only about 250 people at the time.
It was somewhere along this time that the St. Johns
Herald reported: "The Salvation Army is going to visit
Holbrook. A good field for
In the meantime, the small ranchers, who
had previously settled in the area, resented the takeover of the
public lands that they had formerly used. One bitter
pioneer wrote: "Thousands of longhorns ate the grass; riffraff and
hell-hounds out of
ate the rancher's beef."
The animosity between the two factions soon
resulted in even more cattle
rustling against the Aztec Company and the
were quick to utilize their guns to keep small ranchers off their lands.
There was obviously a need for law enforcement
Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens is credited with bringing it to the wild
and crusty town in 1887. Within a couple of years, he and and his
deputy, Frank Wattron, had rid the country of the worst of the
gangs. However, while the area towns were relatively peaceful, numerous
cattle thieves still continued to plague the Aztec Ranch.
In desperation, the Aztec Company hired
Burt Mossman, who would later become the captain of the
Arizona Rangers, to manage
the outfit in January, 1898.
Mossman immediately declared war on the cattle rustlers and in his
first official act, he fired 52 of the 84 men on the payroll.
He then put two men in charge of the
remaining cowpunchers and went after the cattle rustlers. By the end of
the year, he had sent 11 men to the county jail for cattle rustling,
helped even more to tame the lawless town of
Holbrook, and Aztec Company was finally
beginning to show a profit. On one occasion as he and a new recruit
walked past the Bucket of Blood Saloon in
Mossman said to the other man:
Members of the posse who caught up with four
members of the
"We ain't had a killin' in there since last
summer. One more'd make it 17. Most of 'em been
Hashknife boys or old hands that used to work for the outfit."
However, it was too late to save the Aztec
Company, as the next winter a severe blizzard hit northern
killing thousands of
cattle. The following spring, cattle prices dropped dramatically and the
Mossman to liquidate its holdings. In 1901, the ranch was sold to the
Babbitt brothers of
That same year, the Arizona Rangers were formed and
Mossman became their first captain.
of America, updated August, 2011.
The Salvation Army is going
to visit Holbrook.
A good field for operation.
- St. Johns Herald in the late 1800s
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