Harvey Whitehill was a miner, rancher, lawman, and politician in the American West.
Harvey Howard Whitehill was born in Wayne County, Ohio on September 2, 1837. When he grew up, he made his way to Leadville, Colorado and was one of the first discoverers of gold in California Gulch. By 1860, he had taken some $15,000 in ore out of his claim and the following year, he moved to New Mexico.
There, he worked as a freighter and a miner and by 1870 had settled in Silver City. He built one of the first houses in town and mined for silver for a number of years. Somewhere along the line, he married a woman named Harriet Stevens, and the couple would eventually have nine children.
In 1874 he was elected Grant County Sheriff, at a time when the town and the area were extremely wild. One of his first “claims to fame” was Billy the Kid’s first arrest. When Billy, known as Henry McCarty at the time, was just 15 years-old, Whitehill arrested him for stealing several pounds of chee4se, but after Billy apologized and promised never break the law again, Whitehill, who had really only arrested the boy in order to ”scare him straight,” released him. But Whitehill’s tactics didn’t work, as he arrested the “Kid” again in September on a charge of stealing clothing from a local Chinese laundry. However, the young man wasn’t placed in a cell and escaped the next day.
The next year, Whitehall hired a Dan Tucker, who would go on to make a “name” for himself as a lawman — most notably — “Dangerous Dan.” Many people disagreed with his hiring, as Tucker had previously ridden with the outlaw John Kinney. However, the two were effective in taming the small town and were involved in numerous shootouts with outlaws and trouble-making miners. They also conducted several legal hangings following court convictions.
Whitehall continued to hold the office until 1882, when he was elected to the territorial legislature. However, by 1884, he was once again working as a lawman and assisted in capturing the Kit Joy band of train robbers.
In 1891, he was indicted for allowing a prisoner to escape, as well as embezzlement, ending his lawman career. He then turned to farming and cattle ranching. He died on September 7, 1906, in Deming, New Mexico and was buried at Silver City.
Although lesser known than many other lawmen of the Old West, Whitehill Whitehill is credited by many historians as having been more effective than many of the others and was called “one of the twelve most underrated gunmen of the Old West” by one author.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated January 2020.