Heath and the Bisbee Massacre
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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
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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 cam 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.
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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
Page (historical text)
West Gunfighter List
The Town Too Tough to Die
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From Legends' General Store
Lynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - By
Owner/Editor of Legends of America
Execution by hanging was the most
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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
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Autographed. 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.2 inches, paperback -- 78 pages. Published by
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