Before Navajo County,
formed, it was first made part of Yavapai County on November 8, 1864. But Yavapai County was so large; it was subsequently divided into six
different counties on February 24, 1879, from which Apache County was
created. Encompassing almost 21,000 square miles, the newly created Apache
County was mostly unknown and uninhabited. As Texas cattlemen began
to move in,
raided the settlements. To further complicate matters on this large
frontier, Apache County was soon torn by range wars between the newly
cattleman and the already established Mexican and Indian sheep men.
Then again, on March
21, 1895, Apache County was split to create Navajo County. The
bill to create the new county, authored by Will C. Barnes, created a
two month fight within the territorial legislature. Held up by a
filibuster, it finally passed within a few moments of adjournment on
the last day of the session.
The newly created
Navajo County made
founded in 1881, its county seat. In the beginning the county
was supported by lumbering, farming, railroading, ranching and trade
with the Indians. It was also a rugged stretch of land called home
mostly to a crusty bunch of men. At its center, Holbrook
had taken on all the vices of a typical Wild West town, complete with a
saloon called the Bucket of Blood. Law and order were
non-existent, gambling was popular, and
painted ladies far outnumbered "proper women.”
was obviously a need for law enforcement in Navajo County and Holbrook
soon brought in
Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens to settle down the
lawless elements. Owens, already the Sheriff of Apache County had
gained a reputation for cleaning up the territory, so much so that he
was called "Saint George with a six-shooter."
When Navajo County
was formed, Owens was appointed as its first sheriff, a position he
held until Frank Wattron was elected to the post in 1896.
In 1898, the county
erected a new courthouse that would become the scene of a number of
notorious trials over the years. The basement of the courthouse
housed the jail cells, manufactured as complete units in
and shipped to Holbrook
on railroad flatcars. The small, dark cells were very effective
throughout the years, as no one ever escaped from them.
Though the court would continue to
dispense justice at this location for the next seventy-eight years,
the most famous would always continue to be the first and only man
ever hanged in Navajo County.
November, 1899, the new courthouse jail was holding one of its most
notable prisoners, a murderer named George Smiley. Convicted of
having killed a railroad section foreman named McSweeney, Smiley was
scheduled to hang on December 8, 1899. At this time
law required that the county sheriff send "invitations” of executions to
the other Arizona
sheriffs, as well as certain territorial officials. However, the
legislature did not provide a form for the required invitation nor any
guidelines on the format.
Goaded by his friends,
Wattron decided to
issue a "novel” invitation, having it professionally printed on
gilt-bordered paper. However, when a reporter got a hold of the
invitation, he wired it to the Associated Press.
Before long the invitation was printed in newspapers all over the nation
and even appeared in the London Times, the Berlin Tageblatt and Paris
Fiarge. President McKinley then wired Arizona
Governor Nathan Oakes Murphy, who stayed the execution for 30 days and
issued a reprimand to Wattron.
Though Sheriff Wattron was seemingly un-phased, stating to a friend,
"Well, I got a hell of a lot of notoriety anyway,” the incident rankled
him. Determined to make his point and have the last word, he
prepared a second printed invitation, this time more "mournful” than the
first and slightly sarcastic. It too was professionally printed,
though this time the invitation was edged in black. He then waited to mail
out the second invitation until he was sure it would not be received by
the governor and other officials until after the execution had been