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Vigilantes and Bad Men of Arizona - Page 2

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Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens

Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens

This image available for photographic prints HERE!



One of the most famous of frontier sheriffs was Commodore Owens, whose particular field was Northeastern Arizona. He looked the part of the frontier sheriff with long hair down his back, large hat and high boots, carrying at least one large revolver. What gave him more than local celebrity was a fight in 1886 in Holbrook in which he killed three cowboys and wounded a fourth.


At that time Holbrook was still included within Apache County of which Owens was sheriff. One Andy Cooper had a few head of cattle in Pleasant Valley. He had a bad reputation with stock men and on numerous occasions had been accused of stealing cattle and horses but the fellow had been canny in his operations and never could there be gathered together evidence enough to convict. Finally the Apache County grand jury found an indictment against him but evidence was lacking. The sheriff was advised by the district attorney that the indictment had been found more as a scare than anything else.


On the day of the killing, Cooper was in Holbrook visiting his mother at a time when the sheriff also happened to be in town. He was advised of Cooper's presence by a number of saloon loungers. 


When Owens showed no inclination to make the arrest, he was baited by the crowd and he finally lost patience. He rode to the house of Cooper's mother, Mrs. Blevins, and dismounted about thirty feet in front of the house, and walked up to the house. He knocked on the door and when he identified himself, the door was slammed in his face. He began backing up toward his horse when the house door opened and a rifle ball sang just past his head and killed his horse. Before the door closed, Owens fired, shooting his would-be murderer through the shoulder. The man he had just shot was John Blevins, Cooper's half brother. At almost the same instant, Cooper's face was seen peering over the sill of a window. Owens immediately fired through the boards of the house, shooting Cooper through the lower part of the body. A third cowboy, named Roberts was seen stealing around from the rear of the house, with a revolver held over his head ready to fire. Owens shot him in the back as he was turning around, and though he dragged himself to a back room, he was dead in ten minutes. Then, young Blevins, a lad of only 16. appeared through the same front door where the first shot had been fired. Clinging to him was his mother, shrieking and trying to hold him back, the half crazed lad was dropping his pistol to shoot when Owens sent a bullet through his heart.


One of the most lurid dime novel bandits the Southwest ever knew was Augustine Chacon, captured near the international line by Ex-Captain Mossman of the Arizona Rangers, who had a personal interest in landing the desperado. Chacon murdered a Mexican in Morenci in 1895 and thereafter was sentenced to hang. He escaped from jail a few days before the date of his execution and later was charged with the murder of two prospectors on Eagle Creek and of an old miner whose body was found in an abandoned shaft. He then joined Burt Alvord and other outlaws in Sonora and participated in at least one train robbery. Chacon, after his arrest was duly hanged at Solomonville in December 1902.


In the list of desperadoes of the early days, a place should be reserved for a blacksmith named Rodgers who, at the Santa Rita mines in 1861, boasted of having killed eighteen persons and who then produced a string of human ears to prove his tale. At the time, he promised that he would make the number twenty-five before he quit. In this ambition he later killed six men at El Paso, where he was caught and. in an endeavor to make the punishment fit the crime, he was hanged by the heels over a slow fire -- and his own ears made the twenty-fifth pair.


The first legal execution in Yuma County occurred in 1873, and was that of Manuel Fernandez, hanged for the murder of D.A. McCarty, generally known as "Raw Hide." The crime was committed for loot and before it was discovered the Mexican and his confederate had worked several nights carrying wagonloads of goods away from their victim's store.


A rather noted criminal was Joseph Casey, hanged in Tucson, April 15, 1884. He was a deserter from the regular army and had been charged with a number of murders and with other criminalities along the border finally being arrested in 1882 in the larceny of cattle. October 23, he and three men, held on a charge of murder, and five other prisoners broke out of jail at Tucson but Casey six months later, was re-arrested at El Paso. April 29, 1883, again an inmate of the Tucson jail, in a second escape killed jailer A.W. Holbrook. A mob tried to get him out to hang him but there was swift retribution and he was soon sentenced by Judge Fitzgerald to capital punishment and was duly hanged.




A notable execution occurred at Tombstone late in 1900 in the hanging of the two Halderman brothers, found guilty of the murder of Constable Chester Ainsworth and Teddy Moore at the Halderman ranch in the Chiricahua Mountains. The brothers had been arrested on a charge of cattle stealing by Ainsworth and Moore and had been allowed to enter their home to secure clothing. Instead they reappeared with rifles and shot the officers from their horses. The murderers fled, but were captured near Duncan by a sheriff's posse and returned for trial at Tombstone.



Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October, 2012.



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Notes and Author: James Harvey McClintock was born in Sacramento in 1864 and moved to Arizona at the age of 15, working for his brother at the Salt River Herald (later known as the Arizona Republic). When McClintock was 22 he began to attend the Territorial Normal School in Tempe, where he earned a teaching certificate. Later, he would serve as Theodore Roosevelt’s right-hand-man in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War and become an Arizona State Representative. Between the years of 1913 and 1916, McClintock’s published a three volume history of Arizona called Arizona: The Youngest State (now in the public domain,) in which this article appeared. McClintock continued to live in Arizona until his poor health forced him to return to California, where he died on May 10, 1934 at the age of 70.


Note: The article is not verbatim as spelling errors and minor grammatical changes have been made.


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