John Heath and the Bisbee Massacre


Historical Text

February 24, 1884, New York Times

“How An Arizona Mob Disposed Of One Of The Bisbee Murderers: Tombstone, Arizona, Feb. 23. — At 9 o’clock on Thursday morning Judge Pinney sentenced John Heath to confinement in Yuma Penitentiary for life for complicity in the Bisbee murders. Twenty-four hours later the dead body of Heath dangled from the cross bar of a telegraph pole near the foot of Toughnut Street, where it was suspended by a rope. The following are the particulars of the occurrence as near as can be gathered: About 8:30 yesterday morning a crowd of men, mostly miners, numbering about 150, proceeded to the Courthouse. Arriving there they detailed seven of their number from Bisbee, who entered and demanded that John Heath be turned over to them. The seven men approached the door leading to the corridor of the jail and one of them knocked. Being about time for the Chinaman who brings food for the prisoners to arrive, Jailer Ward opened the door unsuspiciously, and was immediately covered by weapons and told to give up the keys of the jail.

Seeing any attempt at resistance would be useless he did as requested, and in a few minutes the deputation was in the presence of the sought-for man. The crowd, which by this time had filled the spacious hall, started for the street. At the door they were met by Sheriff Ward, who called on them in the name of the law to desist. The Sheriff was picked up and gently removed down the steps out of the way, while the crowd started down the street on a run. The rope had been placed around Heath’s body, and about 20 men had hold of it. It never became taut during the run, the prisoner keeping up with the crowd, and showing no signs of the white feather.

Arriving at the place selected for the hanging one of the party climbed a telegraph pole and passed the rope over the cross-bar. Heath pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and, placing it on his knee, coolly and deliberately folded it, and, placing it over his eyes, asked someone in the crowd to tie it. This being done, he informed the crowd they were hanging an innocent man, and would find it out when the others (meaning Dowd and his companions) were hanged. He told them he had faced death too often to be afraid, and had but one request to make, namely, that they would not shoot into his body. He was told his last wish would be respected and he told them he was ready. Countless hands grasped the rope. A run was made, and in a twinkling the man was suspended to the pole.

The news spread about town rapidly, and in a few minutes an immense crowd of men, women, and children congregated on the scene. The universal expression was, “Served him right.” That this opinion should be so prevalent is no doubt the result of the testimony at the trial, which was convincing to any mind of ordinary intelligence, that Heath was a guilty accessory to the Bisbee murders.

The Coroner’s jury found as a verdict that Heath came to his death from “emphysema, which might have been caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise.” A placard was posted on the telegraph pole where Heath was found suspended and dead with the following inscription: “John Heath was hanged to this pole by citizens of Cochise County for participation in the Bisbee massacre as a proved accessory at 8:20 A.M., Feb 22, 1884 to advance Arizona.”

February 28, 1884, The Kaufman Sun, Terrell, Texas

John Heath was taken by a mob from jail and hung in Tombstone.  His remains were brought to Terrell and interred yesterday. He was a notorious gambler, burglar, horse and cattle thief.”

Unknown Date, Report from Orson Pratt Brown who lived in Bisbee and Tombstone in the 1880’s

“I went to work for Morris & Cheers Mines, hauling lumber from the Chiricahua Mountains to Bisbee, Arizona. I stayed at this work for about a year.  It was during this time that I met Dan Dowd. He was a huge man about 25 years old, over 6 feet tall and weighed about 180 lbs. Dan Dowd was one of the drivers for the mine as I was, and we made several trips together through the mountains. We had to pass a little ranch on the White Water Creek located between the sawmill and Tombstone owned by a half breed named Milt Hall and his partner Frank Buckles. Another driver, William Delaney and Dowd became very good friends and often they would stop at this little ranch while on the road.

One day Dan Dowd declared himself. He said the world owed him a living and he’d be damned if he was going to work so hard any more. Then he quit his job and went away for about two weeks. When he returned to the Hall-Buckles Ranch he was accompanied by a chap named Johnny Heath, a dandy looking man who was well-dressed and riding a fine looking horse. He had two white-handled six shooters, a Winchester rifle and two belts of cartridges.

Heath stayed at the ranch for a couple of days and then went off to Bisbee while Dowd went north. When Dowd returned to the ranch a few days later he brought with him three hard looking men, Red, Tex, and Kelly. And soon after when Hall and I came to the ranch with our oxen and loads of lumber we found five men there. Dan Dowd, Red Sample, Tex Howard, Dan Kelly, and Billy DeLaney. I asked Hall what they were doing there and he said they were looking to buy a ranch.

We traveled on and about sundown the next day – December 8, 1883, the day of the murders – we saw five horsemen off to the east of us. We couldn’t recognize them but I knew the horses were from the Hall-Buckles Ranch. We made camp at the south of the Bisbee Canyon and the next morning as we were getting breakfast two men rode into camp. One was Heath. They drank a cup of coffee with us and told us there had been a hold up in Bisbee the night before. The bandits had robbed the Copper Queen Store and they had murdered two men and a woman. They said they were in a posse on their trail and that they had headed toward Tombstone.

My partner Walt was out rounding up the oxen and about an hour later five men approached. They had seen the smoke from our campfire and came over. It was Sheriff Daniels and his posse who had been following the trail of the bandits. They asked me whether I had seen any of them and I took Sheriff Daniels over to one side and told him what I knew. I said that I had recognized two horses as being from the Hall-Buckles Ranch among the five horsemen that we had seen the day before. And that I suspected that Buckles himself knew something about it since these hard looking men in company with Dan Dowd had been at the Hall-Buckles Ranch the week before. I also told him of the two horsemen who had just gone by. The sheriff thanked me and sent two men after the horsemen. He and the others went immediately to the Hall-Buckles Ranch and arrested Buckles. Buckles turned states evidence against the other men.”


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

Also See: 

Old West Gunfighter List

Old West Outlaw List

Tombstone – The Town Too Tough to Die

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