He attended public schools in St. Louis as a child and then attended Iowa College (later renamed Grinnell College).
In June 1864, he went to Cerro Colorado Mine, about 75 miles southwest of Tucson, where he worked as a silver miner for about a year.
In 1865, he was farming and ranching near Sonoita, Arizona, about 50 miles southeast of Tucson. While there he was attacked by Apache Indians and two or three of his men were killed. H moved to Tucson in 1867
In May 1865, he went to a place called Sonoita River about 30 miles south of Tubac, and remained there until the early part of 1867. He then applied to become a customs inspector at El Paso, Texas. He was accepted and retained the position until 1869.
He then kept the Desert Station, a stagecoach stop, 26 miles northwest of Tucson. In 1872, he resumed his work as a teamster traveling between Tucson and Yuma.
He was appointed deputy sheriff of Pima County, then elected Sheriff in 1876, a position he held until 1892.
On August 19, 1878, Shibell led a citizen posse tracking outlaw William Whitney Brazelton, who was suspected of robbing several stagecoaches in the Tucson area. The posse tracked him to a meeting place where they thought the robber was going to receive supplies from a confederate named David Nemitz. When they arrived Brazelton wasn’t there, but Nemitz warned them that Brazelton “would not be taken alive unless by artful strategy.”
The posse continued to track the outlaw with Shibell giving orders to shoot on sight if needed. When they found him in a mesquite bosque along the Santa Cruz River about three miles south of Tucson on August 22, 1878, Brazelton was shot and killed.
In 1880 Shibell promised a job as Deputy Sheriff to Wyatt Earp, but when Earp announced his support for Bob Paul as the next sheriff, Shibell appointed Earp’s antagonist John Behan to the position instead.
In his later years, he ran and owned the Palace and Occidental Hotels in Tucson and served again as a deputy sheriff. In 1888 he was elected as the Pima County Recorder, a position he held until 1902.
He died in Tucson on October 21, 1908, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson. During his life, he was married twice and bore six children.