Heath and the Bisbee Massacre
Heath was born on December 15, 1844 in Ohio but moved to Terrell,
with his family at a young age. There, he got involved in rustling and
robbery. He also married twice, first to Mary Ann Redman in October, 1867.
What became of her is unknown. He married again in March, 1869 and was
known to have had three children – Myrtle, Kittie and John.
the early 1880’s he was living in
where he served as a deputy sheriff in Cochise County for a brief time.
However, he soon found that the pay was not nearly as good as thievery,
resigned and went back to his outlaw ways.
Arizona, Heath opened a
saloon and dancehall. In no time, it quickly became known as a hangout
and other shiftless characters.
On December 8, 1883, five men held up the
Goldwater and Castenada Store in
Bisbee, leaving behind four people
dead, including a pregnant woman. The vicious robbers included Daniel "Big
Dan” Dowd, Comer W. "Red” Sample, Daniel "York” Kelly, William "Billy”
Delaney and James "Tex” Howard.
John Heath was hanged by
This image available for photographic prints
Having heard that a $7,000
payroll for the Copper Queen Mine was held for safekeeping in the
store, two of the men charged inside demanding the money, while the
other three waited outside. However, to their disappointment, they
discovered that the payroll had not yet arrived. Angered, they then
took what money was in the safe (reports vary from $900 to $3,000) and
robbed the staff and customers of any valuables.
In the meantime, the three
waiting outside began a shooting spree, first aiming through the
window and killing a customer named J.C. Tappenier. Hearing the shot,
Deputy Sheriff Tom Smith came running, and was immediately shot down by
the bandits. A bullet gone wild entered a boarding house, killing a
pregnant Annie Roberts. Another shot hit a man named J.A. Nolly as he
stood outside his office. Yet another unknown man took a bullet in the
leg as he was trying to run away from the shooting spree.
The whole affair lasted less than five minutes
and with cash in hand and seemingly unperturbed, the
left the town at a leisurely pace, evidently unworried about capture.
The town leaders wasted no time notifying Sheriff
J.L. Ward in Tombstone
by telegraph. Ward soon formed two posses, with himself leading one,
and Deputy Sheriff William Daniels, leading another. When Daniels
arrived in Bisbee he began to question its citizens, including John
saloon was just down the street from the Goldwater-Castaneda
Mercantile. Heath told Daniels that he knew the men involved and could
probably help to lead them to
Though Daniels was apprehensive of Heath, due to his already having a
reputation as an unsavory character, he also hoped to quickly
apprehend the murderers.
With Heath at the lead, the posse found nothing and soon accused Heath
of leading them on a false trail.
Heath returned to his
saloon and the posse continued to search for the
Though it took several weeks, all five were found, two in Mexico, one
and the other two in Clifton,
When questioned, some of the
began to indicate that John Heath knew more about the crime than he should
have. Soon, the authorities brought Heath in and began to question him.
Under pressure, Heath "fessed” up to having prior knowledge of the crime
and many believed that he probably master-minded the whole affair.
This image available for photographic
scheduled to be tried, but Heath requested a separate trial and was given
it. Furious Bisbee citizens awaited the outcome of the
involved in what had become known as the "Bisbee Massacre.” On Feburary
17th, the trial began for the five killers and two days later they were
all sentenced to be hanged on March 8, 1884.
Heath’s trial began on February 20th, where he
admitted to being the mastermind of the robbery, indicating that the
others lacked the intelligence. However, he adamantly insisted that the
killings were never a part of the plan and that he was in no way
responsible for the actions of the other five men. A coward at heart, he
even admitted that when he heard the shots being fired, he hid behind the
bar of his own
saloon. The next day, Heath was convicted of second degree murder and
conspiracy to commit robbery, and sentenced to life in the Yuma prison.
Though Heath was obviously relieved, the citizens of
Bisbee were furious and determined to do something about it. Early on the
morning of February 22nd, a mob of some 50 men, led by Mike Shaughnessy,
descended upon the Tombstone
jail and dragged Heath from his cell into the dusty street.
At the corner of First and Toughnut Streets, they
looped a rope over the crossbeam of a telegraph pole, as Heath continually
claimed his innocence. The
vigilantes were not listening. In his last moments, he said: "I have
faced death too many times to be disturbed when it actually comes." As the
rope began to pull him skyward, he cried out one last request, "Don't
mutilate my body or shoot me full of holes!" Public approval of the
hanging was reflected in the verdict of the coroner's jury: "We the
undersigned, a jury of inquest, find that John Heath came to his death
from emphysema of the lungs--a disease common in high altitudes--which
might have been caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise."
Though there is a marked grave today in Tombstone's
Boot Hill for John Heath, records actually indicate that he was returned
and buried in the Oakland Cemetery by his family in an unmarked grave.
The other five killers' scheduled hanging for March
8th remained unchanged, soon taking on a carnival like atmosphere. Free
tickets were issued for the event, but when Sheriff Ward ran out of them,
an enterprising business man built bleachers around the gallows and
began selling yet more tickets.
However, famous business woman, gold prospector, and
spiritual caretaker, Nellie Cashman, objected adamantly to the circus that
was surrounding the event. Outraged at the citizens’ behavior and feeling
that no death should be "celebrated,” she soon befriended the five
convicts, visiting them often and providing them with spiritual guidance.
She pleaded with Sheriff Ward to place a curfew on the town during the
time that the hangings were to take place. Ward conceded and the vast
majority of interested onlookers were not allowed to watch the "event.” In
the meantime, she and some friends had destroyed the bleachers that had
been built. When the five men were standing on the gallows, reportedly Dan
Dowd remarked that the multi-gallows were a "regular choking machine.”
Unfortunately, he was right, because of the five men, only one died of a
broken neck, the other four dying slowly of strangulation.
After they were executed, the men were buried in Tombstone's
Boot Hill cemetery.
Cashman also found out that there was a plan to rob
the bodies from their graves for a medical school study. This too
outraged the woman and she hired two prospectors to guard the graves for
ten days, which were left undisturbed and remain at
Boot Hill today.
of America, updated December, 2013
February 24, 1884, New York Times
"How An Arizona Mob Disposed Of One Of The Bisbee Murderers:
Feb. 23. -- At 9 o'clock on Thursday morning Judge Pinney sentenced
Heath to confinement in Yuma Penitentiary for life for complicity in
the Bisbee murders. Twenty-four hours later the dead body of
dangled from the cross bar of a telegraph pole near the foot of Toughnut
Street, where it was suspended by a rope. The following are the
particulars of the occurrence as near as can be gathered: About 8:30
yesterday morning a crowd of men, mostly miners, numbering about 150,
proceeded to the Courthouse. Arriving there they detailed seven of their
number from Bisbee, who entered and demanded that
Heath be turned over to them. The seven men approached the door
leading to the corridor of the jail and one of them knocked. Being about
time for the Chinaman who brings food for the prisoners to arrive, Jailer
Ward opened the door unsuspiciously, and was immediately covered by
weapons and told to give up the keys of the jail.
attempt at resistance would be useless he did as requested, and in a few
minutes the deputation was in the presence of the sought-for man. The
crowd, which by this time had filled the spacious hall, started for the
street. At the door they were met by Sheriff Ward, who called on them in
the name of the law to desist. The Sheriff was picked up and gently
removed down the steps out of the way, while the crowd started down the
street on a run. The rope had been placed around
body, and about 20 men had hold of it. It never became taut during the
run, the prisoner keeping up with the crowd, and showing no signs of the
the place selected for the hanging one of the party climbed a telegraph
pole and passed the rope over the cross-bar. Heath
pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and, placing it on his knee, coolly
and deliberately folded it, and, placing it over his eyes, asked someone
in the crowd to tie it. This being done, he informed the crowd they were
hanging an innocent man, and would find it out when the others (meaning
Dowd and his companions) were hanged. He told them he had faced death too
often to be afraid, and had but one request to make, namely, that they
would not shoot into his body. He was told his last wish would be
respected and he told them he was ready. Countless hands grasped the rope.
A run was made, and in a twinkling the man was suspended to the pole.
The news spread about town rapidly, and in a
few minutes an immense crowd of men, women, and children congregated on
the scene. The universal expression was, "Served him right." That this
opinion should be so prevalent is no doubt the result of the testimony at
the trial, which was convincing to any mind of ordinary intelligence, that
was a guilty accessory to the Bisbee murders.
Coroner's jury found as a verdict that Heath
came to his death from "emphysema, which might have been caused by
strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise." A placard was posted on the
telegraph pole where Heath
was found suspended and dead with the following inscription: "John
Heath was hanged to this pole by citizens of Cochise County for
participation in the Bisbee massacre as a proved accessory at 8:20 A.M.,
Feb 22, 1884 to advance
February 28, 1884,
Kaufman Sun, Terrell, Texas
was taken by a mob from jail and hung in Tombstone.
His remains were brought to Terrell and interred yesterday. He was a
notorious gambler, burglar, horse and cattle thief."
Unknown Date, Report from Orson Pratt Brown who lived in Bisbee and Tombstone
in the 1880's
to work for Morris & Cheers Mines, hauling lumber from the Chiricahua
Mountains to Bisbee,
I stayed at this work for about a year. It was during this time that I
met Dan Dowd. He was a huge man about 25 years old, over 6 feet tall and
weighed about 180 lbs. Dan Dowd was one of the drivers for the mine as I
was, and we made several trips together through the mountains. We had to
pass a little ranch on the White Water Creek located between the sawmill
owned by a half breed named Milt Hall and his partner Frank Buckles.
Another driver, William Delaney and Dowd became very good friends and
often they would stop at this little ranch while on the road.
Dan Dowd declared himself. He said the world owed him a living and he'd be
damned if he was going to work so hard any more. Then he quit his job and
went away for about two weeks. When he returned to the Hall-Buckles Ranch
he was accompanied by a chap named
a dandy looking man who was well-dressed and riding a fine looking horse.
He had two white-handled six shooters, a
rifle and two belts of cartridges.
stayed at the ranch for a couple of days and then went off to Bisbee while
Dowd went north. When Dowd returned to the ranch a few days later he
brought with him three hard looking men, Red, Tex, and Kelly. And soon
after when Hall and I came to the ranch with our oxen and loads of lumber
we found five men there. Dan Dowd, Red Sample, Tex Howard, Dan Kelly, and
Billy DeLaney. I asked Hall what they were doing there and he said they
were looking to buy a ranch.
traveled on and about sundown the next day - December 8, 1883,
the day of the murders - we saw five horsemen off to the east of us. We
couldn't recognize them but I knew the horses were from the Hall-Buckles
Ranch. We made camp at the south of the Bisbee
Canyon and the next morning as we were getting breakfast two men rode into
camp. One was Heath.
They drank a cup of coffee with us and told us there had been a hold up in
Bisbee the night before. The bandits had robbed the Copper Queen Store and
they had murdered two men and a woman. They said they were in a posse on
their trail and that they had headed toward Tombstone.
partner Walt was out rounding up the oxen and about an hour later five men
approached. They had seen the smoke from our campfire and came over. It
was Sheriff Daniels and his posse who had been following the trail of the
bandits. They asked me whether I had seen any of them and I took Sheriff
Daniels over to one side and told him what I knew. I said that I had
recognized two horses as being from the Hall-Buckles Ranch among the five
horsemen that we had seen the day before. And that I suspected that
Buckles himself knew something about it since these hard looking men in
company with Dan Dowd had been at the Hall-Buckles Ranch the week before.
I also told him of the two horsemen who had just gone by. The sheriff
thanked me and sent two men after the horsemen. He and the others went
immediately to the Hall-Buckles Ranch and arrested Buckles. Buckles turned
states evidence against the other men."
of America, updated July, 2015.
West Gunfighter List
The Town Too Tough to Die
Tombstone Photo Gallery
From Legends' General Store
Lynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - By
Owner/Editor of Legends of America
Execution by hanging was the most
popular legal and extralegal form of putting criminals to death in the
United States from its beginning. Brought over to the states from our
English ancestors, hanging soon became the method of choice for most
countries, as it produced a highly visible deterrent by a simple method.
It also made a good public spectacle, considered important during those
times, as viewers looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the
punishment. Legal hangings, practiced by the early American colonists,
were readily accepted by the public as a proper form of punishment for
serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. It was also readily practiced
for activities that are not considered crimes at all today, such as
witchcraft, sodomy and concealing a birth.
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