Burton C. Mossman was a farmer, rancher, cattleman, and Arizona Ranger in the final days of the Old West.
Mossman was born on April 30, 1867, at a farmhouse near Aurora, Illinois. In 1873, he and his family moved to Missouri, and in 1882 they moved again, this time to New Mexico.
Sometime after 1884, he went to work as a cowboy for the Aztec Cattle Company, better known as the Hashknife Outfit in northern Arizona Territory. By the time he was 20 years old, he had been promoted to ranch foreman, and in 1897, he became the superintendent of the large cattle company.
During these years, Mossman fought cattle rustlers or pursued private business ventures. One of his main objectives was to stop the rampant cattle rustling that brought the outfit close to bankruptcy, and he fired 52 of the 84 cowboys suspected of being or helping the rustlers.
In addition to ranching, Mossman and a partner also operated a stagecoach line, and in 1898 he was elected sheriff of Navajo County. Later, he was also a partner in building an opera house in Winslow and a store in Douglas, Arizona.
By 1901, banditry was so widespread in Arizona that the territorial governor, Oakes Murphy, authorized the re-establishment of the Arizona Rangers and appointed Mossman as their first captain on August 30. A friend of Arizona Territorial Governor Murphy, Mossman had agreed to hold the post for only one year.
Speaking fluent Spanish, he was also known as a great storyteller. He selected his headquarters in Bisbee, Arizona, and began establishing a group of tough lawmen. Burt’s last capture was that of Augustine Chacon, a vicious killer who claimed to have killed some 52 people. Enlisting the help of outlaws Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles, Mossman was able to trap the killer, who was eventually hanged in Solomonville, Arizona.
After serving for just one year, his term was completed, and rumors circulated it was primarily because he did not want to work under a new governor. Afterward, Mossman returned to the cattle business and owned the large Diamond A ranch near Roswell, New Mexico. Known to be wild, restless, and quick-tempered, he was respected by all who worked with him. He died in Roswell on September 5, 1956, he is buried in the Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence, Missouri.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.