Hailing from Westport (now
Kansas City,) Missouri, Behan made his way to California as a young man, working as a freighter and a miner.
He later joined the California Column and fought with them at
Apache Pass near
July 15, 1862.
In 1863, he decided to settle in
first worked at a freighter at Fort Lowell, then at the Cerro Colorado Mine in
Pima County, before moving on to the Prescott area, where he worked in various
jobs. While prospecting along the Verde River, he and about five other men were
attacked by Indians, but successfully fought them off on February 28, 1866.
That same year, he became the under sheriff of John
P. Bourke in Yavapai County, Arizona where he gained a reputation as a brave and honest lawmen.
time, he also joined with civilian groups in investigating Indian attacks and
married Victoria Zaff in1869. The couple would have two
Johnny Harris Behan (1845-1912)
By 1871, he was made the sheriff of Yavapai County,
a position he held for two years. In 1873, he was the Prescott representative in
the Seventh state assembly. In 1875, he and his wife divorced and Behan moved to
Mohave County, where once again he was a state assembly representative, this
time for Mohave County in 1879.
When mining in
began, he moved south and in 1880, became a deputy under
Sheriff Charles A. Shibell
of Pima County. When Cochise County, which included
was organized in 1881, Behan became its first sheriff. Working for him as
Frank Stilwell, William Breakenridge,
Harry Woods, W.I. Perry, Bill Soule, H.L. Goodman and others.
Shortly after Behan became sheriff, Virgil Earp became the city marshal of
Tombstone and recruited brothers Wyatt and Morgan as"special deputy policemen." The Earps almost immediately came into conflict with the Clantons and the
McLaurys, to whom Behan was an advocate. This naturally pitted him against the Earps. Adding
further fuel to the fire, was Behan's interest in Josephine Sarah Marcus, who
was quickly becoming enamored with Wyatt
gunfight at the O.K. Corral
on October 26, 1881, Behan arrested Virgil, Wyatt, and Morgan Earp, as well as Doc Holliday for the murder of
Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury. However, the judge decided that
Holliday had been justified in their actions.
September, 1882, after the Earp Vendetta Ride,
Behan had a feud with his own deputy,
which made him unpopular with Cochise County citizens. At the same time,
investigations discovered that Behan had somehow banked some $5,000 during his
tenure as sheriff. Where the money came from was never discovered.
In the end, public criticism of
Behan resulted in his showing last on the ballot of possible sheriff nominees
for his own party, an unusual result for a seated sheriff. Losing the
nomination, he was forced out of office in November, 1882. He
would never serve as a peace officer again.