Peace Officers of Arizona

By James Harvey McClintock in 1913

Phoenix, Arizona, 1970

Phoenix, Arizona, 1970

Henry Garfias was appreciated by Arizonans as one of the bravest men ever known in this region of brave men. He came in 1874 from Anaheim, California, and was a native of the Golden State. In 1876 he was elected constable of Phoenix and since that time had continued till his death to be a peace officer in some capacity. For seven or eight years he was the city marshal.

A desperado named Oviedo, known as the Saber Slasher, was arrested. As he and Garfias were personal enemies, the latter was unwilling to undertake the arrest but did his duty. Oviedo had threatened to kill Garfias on sight.

As the officer walked toward him, Oviedo snatched up a shotgun and fired pointblank. Garfias was one of the quickest of men with a revolver and probably beat the record on this occasion, for when the load of buckshot whistled over his head he had put two deadly bullets into Oviedo’s body.

When Garfias was city marshal, several Texas cowboys fresh from their native heath, mistook the character of Phoenix and started to shoot it up. They were plainly not acquainted with the reputation of the marshal. As the first joyful yell came to his ears and the sound of pistol shots opened the ball after the fashion of the Panhandle, Henry was on his horse. The four cowboys were gaily curveting down Washington Street eastward, occasionally taking a shot at a promising looking door, sign or hanging lamp, when called upon by the lone Marshal to surrender. They did not and opened fire. The Marshal was unharmed despite a hail of lead and was fortunate to wing two of the cowpunchers, one of them fatally. Then he rounded them up and put them in jail.

George Scarborough

George Scarborough

One of the most notable peace officers in the Southwest was George Scarborough of Deming. He had killed a number of men but always in discharge of his duty. There was nothing of the bully about him. It is probably that he was feared by the cattle rustlers as had been no other man. In April 1900, Scarborough and Deputy sheriff Walter Birchfield of Cochise County started from San Simon to investigate a case of cattle rustling. In the Chiricahuas Mountains they rode up to a couple of saddled horses, when they were fired upon from ambush. The two officers, revolvers in hand, galloped into the rocks under a hailstorm of bullets. Both officers were wounded, Scarborough so severely that he died two days later. His companion dismounted and built up a rock fortification, behind which, when darkness fell, he left Scarborough and finding his own horse, dashed away for help. Before daylight he was back from San Simon with a force of cowboys but the outlaws had left, headed for Mexico.

The outlaw band, which had five members, was met by two officers unexpectedly. It had come from the mountains near Saint Johns, Apache County, where on March 27, Frank Lesueur and Gus Gibbons, two young cowboys were ambushed and killed. The next day the five bandits successfully resisted an attempt toward arrest by Sheriff Beeler and a number of stockmen. Four of the murderers were known, namely, John Hunter, Ben Johnson, John Wilson and John Coley.

For about fifteen years the peace of Prescott was kept by Jim Dodson, an officer typical in all respects of the accepted melodrama type of the city marshal. Jim handled matters rather after his own ideas and petty misdemeanors interested him very little. He was always looking for large game and the carrying of a huge revolver in a belt where his hand could reach it quickest was not for ornament, for upon a silver-mounted belt that had been presented him by the citizens of Prescott, he had carefully cut eight nicks, the number standing for the men he had killed. Possibly on account of Jim Dodson, Prescott never was a disorderly town, however much the cowboys and miners might flock in from the hills. It was told that in the Civil War he had been a member of the Quantrill guerrilla band. In the course of time he retired from the office of Marshal and served as guard on the wall of the penitentiary at Yuma when his skill as a rifle proved valuable in at least one desperate attempt made by prisoners to escape. The latter part of his life was spent in Phoenix, where he died May 10, 1907 at the age of 67.

One of the historic shooting scrapes of Arizona was that between Peter Gabriel and Joe Phy on the main street of Florence, in June 1888. Each was considered worthy of a high place among the gunman of the day. Gabriel had been Sheriff and had done good work as a U.S. Deputy Marshal. Phy had had long service as an officer of the law and had been Deputy Sheriff under Gabriel. Bad blood had been developed between the two when Phy made an unsuccessful attempt to succeed his chief in office. For weeks it had been known that a meeting between the two would mean deadly work. The meeting came accidentally in Keating’s Saloon. There was a quick exchange of shots, each man claiming that the other had fired first and then the battle was continued outside. Each man emptied his revolver and every shot told.

Florence, Arizona Courthouse

Florence, Arizona Courthouse

Phy finally went down with a broken hip bone. Gabriel weakly stood above, to receive fierce summons from his foe, “Damn you. I can’t get up. Get down here and we’ll finish it up with knives.” Gabriel, shot through the kidneys answered, “I guess we both have plenty,” and tried to cross the street, reeled and fell. The only surgical attendance at hand was given Phy, who died in the night. Gabriel lay for hours in the office of Steven’s Corral till a surgeon could be brought from Sacaton. He recovered and later moved his residence to Yuma. Of the two, Gabriel was rather of higher type, yet was a hard drinker while Phy was an abstainer. Phy had gone to Florence from Phoenix where, while serving as a peace officer, he had been ambushed by Mexicans in an alleyway, just north of the present site of the Adams Hotel, repeatedly stabbed and left for dead. A few minutes later he was found with his head under water in a large ditch. When he was able to travel, he left Phoenix, which he said was a bit too tough a town for him.

Possibly the wildest time ever known to Saint Johns was San Juan’s Day, June 24, 1882, when Nat Greet and a band of Texas cowpunchers thought to provide themselves a little entertainment by shooting up the sleepy Mexican town. On the border they had been accustomed to seeing Mexicans run whenever the fusillade started. They were mistaken in the character of the population of Saint Johns, for the Mexicans there refused to be intimidated and returned the fire with interest, especially from an improvised fortress in the loft of Sol Barth’s home. The defense was under the charge of Perez Tomas, a Mexican Deputy Sheriff, who according to Charlie Banta, was as fine a man as ever lived. Only one Mexican was wounded, Tafolla, whose son afterward was killed while serving in the Arizona Rangers. Father Nathan C. Tenney, an elderly and beloved Mormon resident was accidentally killed while trying to act as peacemaker. One of the attacking party named Vaughn was killed and Harris Greer was wounded. The Texans were finally repulsed and rode away. Later they were arrested and brought back to Saint Johns for trial. For a time there was serious danger of lynching and the Mexican population even organized to storm the jail. Summary action of this sort was avoided through the influence of Sheriff E.S. Stover and of Barth and the raiders in the end escaped with light punishment.


Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated May, 2017.

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.

Legends' Photo Store

Also See:

Henry Garfias

Arizona Rangers

Arizona (main page)

Old West Lawmen

Lawmen and Gunfighters Photo Print Gallery



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *