Lynchings In ArizonaNear Agua Caliente Hot Springs, in Southwestern Arizona, stands the ruin of an old adobe stage station, one in the link of stations constructed by the Overland Stage Company in about 1860. Its thick walls withstood many attacks of the renegade Apaches and later the white robbers.
Though primarily a stage station, the building was also used on occasion as a courthouse. Harsh frontier justice was dispensed without the usual pomp, formality and dignified procedure usually associated with a courtroom. The stage station agent was usually the judge. If he was busy, someone else could and did pass judgment.
Nearby stood a large mesquite tree, one limb of which reached horizontally more than twenty feet, thus making it ideal for the needs of those seeking a place to carry out "western justice." Indeed, this same limb was reputed to have accommodated the figures of no less than seven notables of the equine larceny profession at one time. Fittingly enough, this tree, still standing, is known as Hangman's Tree. It is said to be the largest mesquite tree in Arizona.
While court was in session the handyman held the defendant's horse by the door. When the verdict was rendered (guilty, of course) and the court adjourned—it usually didn't take long—the defendant was conducted to the door. Since his hands were tied behind him, there were always persons generous enough to help him mount his horse.
The horse was then led directly beneath the limb and the waiting noose. After the noose was put in place, the guest of honor at the "necktie social" was usually accorded the opportunity of making a last request.
On one particular occasion the convicted horse-thief was placed in position on his horse. With the rope in place, he was asked the usual, "Got any last request to make?"
"Shore," he rose to the occasion, "I'd like to take a walk."
"Yuh shore can—get to walking And the executioner led the horse from under the hapless victim.
The last request ritual was almost invariably tendered all who were about to be fitted with a hempen necktie. The most popular last request was—"roll me a smoke." A condemned man was in no position to do that for him-
self since his hands were tied behind him.
After such a going-out party, the court, its attaches and the hangers-on usually assembled in the courtroom to have a drink. Then a throw of dice or a hand of poker determined who had the legal right to claim the horse, saddle and other personal effects of the late guest. Though no records were kept by the "court" and no count was made of the number of cases summarily disposed of, several rustlers were known to have died of "rope burns" in the shade of the far-reaching limb of Hangman's Tree.
One murderer who was known to have adorned the end of a rope on either Hangman's Tree or another in the immediate vicinity was Ventura Nunez. The hanging, without benefit of legality, took place on July 9, 1874.
Nunez worked at Burke's Station, one of the way stations on the stage line running across the southern part of the territory. In an argument with his employer, George R. Whistler, the Mexican shot and killed Whistler and wounded W. M. Matlock, a stage driver. Matlock escaped and reached the next station to the east and reported the incident.
King S. Woolsey, who had a ranch at nearby Agua Caliente, organized a posse and immediately went to Burke's Station to investigate. It was discovered that Nunez had stolen two of the stage company's horses and, according to the tracks, had gone south toward Mexico.
Expert trackers, the posse took the trail. At the approach of the posse, sixty miles from the station, the fleeing man turned and attempted to shoot it out with them. A well-placed bullet in his left leg however changed his mind and he surrendered.
He was returned to the station where he was identified by the wounded stage driver. His guilt established, Nunez was promptly placed in the back end of a wagon and hauled several miles to a suitable tree, which might have been Hangman's Tree. It is definitely known that the man met his death in that locality.
Unable to stand on his wounded leg, Nunez was held up by some of the group and the rope was adjusted around his neck. Then he was left with nothing but thin air between his feet and the ground as the wagon was driven from under him. His last words, according to James M. Barney, pioneer historian, were, "Friends! I have nothing to say." If he had he would, no doubt, have had little; opportunity of saying it.
Even before the building of the old stage station, near Hangman's Tree, which dates back many years, that vicinity was the scene of tragedy. Nearby is the site of an old emigrant camping ground, used by overland travelers in
the California gold-rush days and even before. Large cotton wood trees surround the site. Names and dates, carved in the bark of these trees, record for posterity the whims and humor of many who paused there. One inscription reads:
"You who read this look around Across this God-forsaken ground Did you ever think that you'd roll From home to such a thundering hole. George Bylet—1845"
Immediately beneath those lines someone had appended this additional information, thus by a few strokes of a knife, transforming Bylet's idle humor into a grim epitaph:
"This man was lulled two miles from here. The Injins got him hide and hare."
So it was all over the West. Even amid stark tragedy some found humor.
King Woolsey was a power in Southern Arizona. He was one who had fought hard to gain and hold his possessions. Though not a duly appointed minion of the law his advice was sought and respected in a country where men made and, through necessity, enforced their own laws.
On one occasion Woolsey had in his employ a Mexican youth, who did odd jobs on and around the ranch. A Mexican bandit shot and killed the boy one day and drove off a herd of horses he had been guarding.
The irate cowboys at the ranch, headed by Woolsey, followed and soon caught the bandido and brought him back to the ranch where he was closely guarded. He readily admitted his guilt but nothing was done until after the boy had been given a burial. The killer was then led to the side of the grave of his victim. There, in compliance With the inevitable demands of frontier justice, he was shot.
Incredible as it may seem and in spite of the quick and impartial handling of horse and cow thieves, that line of endeavor was a very popular sport of the day.
Seven cow thieves (not the same seven previously mentioned) were apprehended near the New Mexico border in June, 1873. A Tucson paper, The Arizona Citizen, reported the incident briefly:
"A party of seven cattle thieves stole recently a large band of cattle from Maxwell's ranch on the Pecos. They were followed and taken prisoners. To save court costs to the county and to prevent other like occurrences by the same men, they were suspended between heaven and earth, and after remaining in this position for an hour or so, the attending physician gave the opinion that they would steal no more."
That about sums up the laconic attitude of the average person in the early days and the indifference with which he looked upon the rough treatment tendered rustlers and murderers. This callousness in carrying out justice was necessary. Otherwise the honest citizen would have been forced to move out. The only law they had was the law they themselves made.
Courts were notoriously lax and inefficient in their duties when they finally made a pretense of organizing to protect the people's rights in Tucson. For that reason a citizens' committee was maintained even after the coming of the courts of justice. In effect the committee operated much the same as the vigilante committees of California's and Nevada's gold camps.
In 1873, William Zeckendorf was the leader of the at that time almost inactivated committee. Even when one John Willis was apprehended for having perpetrated a particularly needless, cold-blooded murder in the Old Pueblo, the committee maintained a hands-off policy. Tucson was at last becoming civilized and the court could and should handle the case.
The court, upon conviction of Willis, did sentence him to be hanged. Then followed several legal delays in carrying out the sentence. As time wore on the citizens' committee became incensed at the seemingly soft-hearted court action. Finally in August of that year (1873), the bubble burst. Summary action of the angry citizens followed the perpetration of another brutal double-murder.
Vicente Hernandez operated a small store in Tucson. He and his wife had living quarters in the back of the building. When the store remained closed one morning in investigation was launched to discover the reason. The constable, followed by several townspeople, found the back door ajar and entered. A scene of unspeakable horror met their gaze.
Hernandez and his wife lay sprawled on the floor, dashed and mutilated almost beyond recognition. Blood was spattered on the floor and walls, even on the furniture. Bloody hand prints and footprints in the room and in the store accentuated the viciousness of the heinous and needless crime. The citizens' committee was spurred to immediate action, over-ruling the leisurely pace of the court.
About noon of that same day Jose Saguaripa, a renegade known to possess criminal tendencies, bought a round of drinks in a saloon paying for them with a blood-stained bill. The bartender, a member of the committee, immediately took the Mexican to jail and called the others of his group together.
Saguaripa soon confessed his part of the crime and named two accomplices, Pablo Lopez and a man named Cordova. They revealed a cache of jewelry and other items Mulen from the store. Lopez and Cordova were then placed in jail with their partner in crime.
Within an hour the committee was finished with the informal trial and the three men were condemned to die.
"How about Willis?" a voice in the crowd demanded.
The vote was unanimous that Willis should join Saguaripa, Lopez and Cordova in the going-out party. The courts, such as they were, had stalled long enough. It was time to do something toward discouraging slip-shod tactics in the almost farcical judicial system.
A scaffold was erected behind the jail to accommodate the four men. A wagon was driven under the framework and the four murderers, securely trussed, were placed in the wagon bed. Ropes, suspended from the crossarm, were fitted about their necks. The wagon was pulled from under them and, with nothing but four feet of thin air between their feet and the ground, they paid for their crimes.
The first instance of a lynching in Phoenix was said to have taken place at a corral, on Washington Street, owned by a man named Mayer. A Mexican was hanged from the cross-beam over the gate posts. His infatuation for the Stock of Others was said to have caused him this inconvenience.
On May 21, 1872, a Yaqui Indian, identified as Ramon Cordova, was lynched within the jail building in Phoenix.
On December 21st of the preceding year, a band of Mexican and Yaqui renegades raided a lonely stage station, called the Blue Water Station near the present site of Coolidge. John W. Baker, his wife and children were slain by the desperadoes in the raid. Arizona history records the incident as the Blue Water Massacre.
A few months later Judge John Anderson of Tucson visited the Woolsey ranch at Agua Caliente. Me recognized Cordova, who was then employed by Woolsey, as being one of the desperadoes who had hastily left the Blue Water station after the multiple murder. Anderson had been a passenger on a stage that was stopped at the station at that time.
Woolsey recalled that the Yaqui had a wound in his shoulder at the time he first came to work for him. And that time coincided closely with the time of the killings at the station. Several shots had been fired at the bandits by parties on the stage. Having no available saddle horses, the men at the station were unable to pursue the gang and they were not apprehended. The stage driver was certain he had wounded one of the gang as they rode away. Woolsey turned the Indian over to Sheriff Tom Warden of Maricopa County, who immediately took him to Phoenix and lodged him in jail. Two days later a mob stormed the little adobe jail and relieved the forces of law and order of any further worry concerning his welfare. They hanged him to a heavy ceiling beam within the building.
One night in 1877, a dance was being held on the outskirts of Phoenix in a dance hall in the vicinity of John Dennis' ranch, a widely known ranch of that area near where Thomas Road now intersects Seventh Avenue.
The dance hall was crowded. There wasn't much room to dance; one just had to land in one place and jump up and down to the accompaniment of the tunes being sawed out by the fiddlers in a corner.
A man, with more liquor in him than he could properly handle, stood around owl-eyed for a time watching the hoe-down. Finally he staggered up to a lady and asked if he might have the pleasure of dancing with her.
She promptly and firmly informed him that he certainly might not, whereat the man became very abusive and profane.
As rough as was the West, most men were gentlemen in the presence of ladies. Profanity was not tolerated. A gallant bystander hastily came to the rescue of the distressed lady. So gallant was this gentleman that he picked the drunk up bodily and, carrying him to the door, threw him out in the street.
That sort of thing happened often. As far as the crowd at the dance was concerned, the incident was soon forgotten. The irritated drunk however was considerably shaken and agitated as a result of his enforced exit from the dance. He went away grumbling to himself. Soon he again appeared armed with a shotgun, loaded with bird-shot. Not daring to show himself inside, and peered in through an open window. The night was warm and the windows were all open.
Meanwhile the dance had been progressing nicely. Everyone was having a good time. During intermissions the crowd stood around in small groups, talking. During one such intermission the lady who had recently been insulted by the evicted drunk stood idly toying with a large fan (fans were very fashionable then, and useful—probably the forerunner of present-day air-conditioning apparatus). Her gallant benefactor of a few moments before stood talking to her.
Suddenly the fan slipped from her fingers and fell to the floor. The man promptly stooped over, facing away from the window, to pick up the fan.
It was at that precise moment that the ousted drunk, from his vantage point outside in the dark, fired his shot- gun through the open window with a deafening blast.
The birdshot scattered. The intended victim, stooping over at the moment, received only a few scattered shot in the posterior. One or two shots struck the lady; however, she was not seriously hurt. The main body of the shot sped harmlessly over the heads of the crowd.
Needless to say, the crowd resented such behavior. If one person were permitted to get away with it others might form a habit of such a pastime. No, indeed, they couldn't tolerate that.
The course of action suggested by several and immediately seconded by the unanimous consent of the crowd, was to stage a "necktie party." The hue and cry arose to where the only dissenting vote was that of the "guest of honor." He had hardly moved out of his tracks before the crowd had him.
He was promptly escorted across the road and with no loss of time hanged to a convenient limb of a huge cotton-
A man, who had only recently moved to Phoenix, owned the property on which the impromptu hanging took place. In a few days he offered the place, consisting of 160 acres, for sale. A prospective buyer inquired as to his reason for selling, to which the owner replied, "Well, I've been in lots of places before, but this is the first place where the people have the nerve to hang a person on someone's property without first asking the owner's consent."
In giving a resume' of some of the "instances in which humanity has served as a weight to stretch hemp in our burg (Phoenix)," the November 26, 1880, issue of the Arizona Gazette stated briefly: "A cot ton wood near Dennis' ranch was the scene of a necktie party and was occasioned by a piqued man firing through the window into a crowded ballroom from which he had been ejected."
The next neck-stretching ordeal in Phoenix, of which there is any record, happened on August 25, 1879, with the double lynching of two men, named Keller and McCloskey. This double feature became known as the "plaza lynching."
On August I9th, Luke Monihon, a well known rancher near Phoenix, was ambushed and slain near his ranch. When the body was found, a posse, under the leadership of deputy sheriff Billy Blankenship, was formed to trail the murderer. Several Pima Indian trackers were in the posse. For some reason, unknown at the time, the murderer had been barefooted. His footprints, minus shoes, were followed to the doorstep of a neighboring rancher named Keller. From there the tracks led south.
Late the next afternoon the posse caught up with and captured Keller, at the eastern end of South Mountains. His boots were removed and the soles of his feet examined. They were found to bear such fresh abrasions as walking barefooted in the cactus-infested and rough country might produce.
Keller was questioned and he soon confessed the killing of Luke Monihon. His reason, he stated, was that he was desperately in love with Monihon's wife. By going to and from the scene of the murder barefooted he had hoped to implant the illusion that some wandering Indian had perpetrated the murder.
When Keller had been lodged in jail, a hue and cry arose about dealing om summary justice. "Lynch talk" was heard in saloons, in stores, on the street or wherever a group of people met. Perhaps for want of a leader no summary action was taken until five days later.
On August 24th, John LeBarr entered Jack Walters' saloon. LeBarr had been drinking heavily. He was a popular resident in Phoenix and one who, in the last day or two, had an active part in trying to incite mob violence against the apprehended murderer then in jail.
Walking up to the bar, LeBarr shouted so that all could hear, "All you blankety-blanks come up and have a drink." It was very apparent that he was well along in his cups.
Everyone in the room stepped up to the bar to take advantage of a "live one," except one customer. A small man with a heavy beard sat calmly in a chair reading a newspaper. His name was McCloskey.
"Hey you!" LeBarr yelled at him, "I invited you to have a drink."
"You didn't tell me." McCloskey looked up from his paper.
Yes, I did."
"You said, 'all you blankety-blanks,' and I don't drink with them."
LeBarr rushed over and grabbed McCloskey by the beard and, dragging him up to the bar, proceeded to bang his head on the bar.
McCloskey pulled a knife and stabbed LeBarr again .ind again and then, in the confusion, escaped. He was captured about a block from the saloon and lodged in jail, in the same cell with Keller.
The next day LeBarr died of the knife wounds. This incited the mob to renewed fever-pitch in demanding a "necktie party." The size of the mob rapidly increased as the news spread like wildfire.
Around noon of the 25th, the mob descended on the courthouse and jail. The jailer had no choice in the matter but to accede to the demands of the mob leaders. He turned the keys over to them.
Keller and McCloskey were led out, ropes already having been placed about their necks, to the northeast corner of the town plaza (near the present intersection of First and Washington Streets).
A large high-sided, high-wheeled freight wagon was pressed into service. It was driven under the branches of a large cottonwood tree on the corner, the first of a row of cottonwoods extending along Washington Street. A platform was improvised by placing boards across the top of the sideboards at the back end of the wagon.
Keller was placed on the platform with the aid of those nearest to him. He was held up while a man climbed the tree and tied the other end of the rope to a tree limb. Keller collapsed just as the wagon was driven from under him. As a result his neck wasn't broken and he died of strangulation.
The wagon was then driven under another tree and the same procedure took place; this time with McCloskey as the "piece de resistance." However, just as the wagon started from under his feet, McCloskey leaped high in the air. The fall broke his neck, saving him the agony of a slow death.
"He knew how it should be done," a witness later said. "He must have been hung before."
James M. Barney, pioneer and authority on early-day Arizona history, had this to say about the "plaza lynchings." "Expeditiously and with comparative order, the deaths of Luke Monihon and John LeBarr were avenged by the outraged public of Phoenix." Barney's accuracy in recording Arizona history has won him wide acclaim. He is perhaps the greatest living authority on the subject.
The Arizona Gazette had this to say: "A hanging bee was held on the Plaza on the 25th of August, 1879, when Keller, murderer of Luke Monihon, and McCloskey, murderer of John LeBarr, stepped into eternity from the tail end of a wagon."
In St. Johns, late in 1881, two men were taken from the small jail under the cover of darkness one night and hanged to the cross-arm above the gateposts of the court-house corral.
A trader named Blanchard owned and operated a trading post at the petrified forest that has since become part of the Petrified Forest National Monument. The trader was well known and liked by the white people of the area as well as by the Navajos with whom lie traded. Several of the latter lived in hogans nearby.
About noon one day, two travel-weary horsemen rode up to the trading post, dismounted and entered. The men were later described by the Indians as bad-looking characters. One was a very large man and the other of medium size. Both had several days' growth of black whiskers.
With the usual stoicism of a Navajo, the Indians reigned indifference. However their sharp eyes gathered in a complete description of the men. This was of invaluable aid to the officers later.
When the men came out of the trading post with bags of groceries, mounted their horses and rode hastily away, the Indians became suspicious. Blanchard, they noticed, had not come out of his store to wave a farewell as was his usual custom in that remote spot where visitors were scarce.
Investigation disclosed the reason. Blanchard was lying dead on the floor behind the counter. He had been shot in the back. The sound of the shot had been absorbed by the surrounding thick, adobe walls and could not be heard outside the building.
A Navajo rode to St. Johns, forty miles distant, and notified the sheriff, who soon had a posse organized and on the trail of the fugitives. Their trail led into New Mexico where the pair were soon captured at a small mining camp in the Magdalena Mountains.
On their return to St. Johns, the men were given a preliminary hearing and lodged in jail to await trial. Their forthcoming trial never materialized. Blanchard had been everyone's friend and his multitude of friends did what might have been expected of them.
Daylight the following morning found the bodies of both men hanging under the crossarm of the corral gate-posts.
In mid-August, 1883, two stage robbers, Len Redfield and Joe Tuttle, were hanged in the corridor of the Florence jail without due process of law by the outraged citizens of the town. They and two companions were identified as having held up a stage between Globe and Florence and in the holdup had shot and killed the express messenger, John Collins.
On the day after the lynchings deputy U. S. Marshal Joseph Evans arrived in Florence to transport the prisoners to Globe for trial. Instead, he took back the tidings that his intended prisoners had met their deaths "at the hands of parties unknown."
The territory was also saved the expense of a trial on the other two robbers. They, Charles Hensley and "Red Jack" Elmer, were not immediately apprehended. Two months later they were shot and killed by a sheriff's posse near Willcox while resisting arrest.
On the night of January 18, 1887, the usual crowd was gathered in John N. Berry's saloon in Flagstaff. The night started out no differently from any other in a frontier saloon. A few persons were drinking and talking at the bar. Others were gambling at the various tables with the usual onlookers watching over their shoulders.
The doors suddenly banged open and William Lamb, a cowboy, came in. Stupid from drinking too much, he hurled abuse at the crowd in general. He staggered up to a few men watching a monte game, jostling several of them as he did so. One of them, George Hawks, turned to him and told him to keep quiet.
An argument arose between them and ended only when Lamb left the saloon a few minutes later. Thirty minutes later he came back, the cold night air outside apparently sobering him but little. He tried to pick another argument with George Hawks then sauntered over to the bar to get a drink.
Hawks's brother, William, who was nearby, handed his brother a revolver and told him not to "take any abuse from that so-and-so."
Lamb finally turned from the bar and, after giving the crowd a baleful glare, started toward the front door. The Hawks brothers immediately fell in behind him, quickly closing the gap between them.
George Hawks suddenly swung his heavy gun, hitting Lamb on the side of his head. He then swung the gun again but before it descended the crowd closed in, pinning his arms to his side.
John Berry, who owned the saloon, ran up to try to quell the impending brawl. The gun in Hawks's hand was suddenly discharged. Whether it was accidentally discharged or not no one ever found out. The bullet hit Berry in the abdomen, just below the ribs and narrowly missed his spine where it came out in back.
George and William Hawks were immediately arrested and taken to the jail, where guards were posted to insure their staying there. Several persons had escaped on previous occasions and the building was considered far from escape-proof.
Feeling ran high. Berry was well liked in Flagstaff and was in a serious condition (he died eighteen hours later). For this reason mob violence was feared.
J. Y. Crothers and Bill West were standing the first watch as guards at the jail. It probably didn't surprise them greatly when, about two o'clock that morning, a group of from twenty to thirty masked men closed in on them from the darkness. They were quickly overpowered and the mob entered the jail.
Shortly thereafter three shots were heard, followed by a scream. Then three more shots were heard in rapid succession, above the noise of the mob.
The crowd quickly dispersed leaving the two guards alone at the jail. Investigation revealed that the cell door was open. George Hawks lay dead in the doorway. His brother lay dead inside the cell on the floor. Each of them had been shot three times.
Inside the front door of the building a rope was found lying on the corridor floor. A hangman's knot was tied to one end of it. Whether the crowd had planned to hang only one brother, then changed their plans and shot them both, will perhaps never be known.
A coroner's jury found that George and William Hawks came to their deaths by "pistol shots fired by parties unknown."
Early-day railroaders often had their anxious moments. Take the case of the train crew urging their iron steed down the rails near Ashfork early one morning about day-break in the 1890's.
The engineer spotted the engine at the waterspout. "Better fill the tender," he stated to the fireman.
"We've got a long pull ahead before we get to Seligman."
The fireman disappeared from the cab and headed for the water column. Shortly, he came back, his face an ashen hue. "I don't feel so good," he mumbled, "if you want water you'd better go put it in yourself."
The engineer gazed quizzically at his fireman, shrugged his shoulders and climbed down from his seat, then headed for the water column. He, too, shortly came back and climbed to his seat in the cab.
"I guess maybe we've got enough water to get us into Seligman," he said. "We'll take the chance."
Some thoughtless unknown persons, bent on frontier justice, had not let this treeless expanse foil their plans. They had hanged a man the night before, using the water spout as a gibbet. The body was still swaying in the half-light of dawn as the train pulled away from Ashfork on its way to Seligman.
Near Aztec Spring, approximately sixty miles south of Holbrook, three lonely graves bear mute testimony to the tragedy enacted there in August, 1888; the triple lynching of Jim Stott, Jim Scott and Billy Wilson. This lynching and the events leading up to it have never been satisfactorily solved. From such meager accounts as there are, it was perhaps the most uncalled for and cowardly lynching ever to disgrace the annals of frontier history.
No positive reason has ever been set forth as to why these three men's lives were snuffed out. Likewise, no person or persons have been definitely identified as having been connected with the affair.
If the large pine tree that served as a gallows and later stood, a silent sentinel, guarding the sanctity of the three graves at its base could but speak, one of the unexplained mysteries of the West would be cleared up. In lieu of that lost solution the lonely graves under the protecting canopy of the pine tree offer mute testimony that three more lives were needlessly forfeited to the expanding West.
About six months after this triple lynching a herd of longhorn cattle were being driven from near Holbrook to the Salt River Valley. Will C. Barnes, late pioneer writer and historian of Arizona, led the herd of more than 1,500 cattle and scouted out the trails, watering places and bedding-down grounds.
On the Tonto Rim, near Aztec Spring, the trail crew came across the three new graves. At the head of each grave an oak post had been driven into the ground. Small boards from an Arbuckle coffee box were nailed to the posts. On one side were the simple inscriptions: "Jim Stott, Jim Scott and Billy Wilson." Nothing more; no explanation as to how or when the men had met their deaths.
Close to the graves stood the large pine tree, one limb of which extended horizontally across the well-defined trail into Tonto Basin. Three fresh rope marks scarred the bark on the limb. Nailed to the trunk of the tree was a board with the inscription, in crude letters: "—Jim Stott—Jim Scott—Billy Wilson." Though the rope marks indicated the tree had been green at the time of the lynching, the tree was dying when the trail herd came by.
"Boys, the old tree just couldn't take it," said Barnes, shaking his head. Indeed, the tree seemed to have died of shame for having performed a part in carrying out so-called Western justice.
Conjecture among most old-timers of that area had it that Jim Houck, a deputy sheriff under Sheriff C. P. Owens, led the lynching party. Nobody has ever proven conclusively that he did, though the finger of suspicion strongly indicates that he probably knew more about it than he ever divulged.
It was believed by some that the lynchings had some connection with the Pleasant Valley War, then raging in earnest to the south. That is hardly likely, it having been fairly well established that none of the three victims were sympathetic to the cause of either faction in that vendetta.
Stott's ranch was forty miles from Pleasant Valley, airline, and much farther by trail. He was acquainted only casually with a few of those participating in that feud. He had never, as far as is known, been in Pleasant Valley.
Jim Scott was a Hashknife cowboy. If he had ever been in Pleasant Valley it was not to take any part in the feud. Billy Wilson was an itinerant prospector, drifting through the country. It is doubtful if he had ever heard of the fracas in Pleasant Valley.
There were those who believed a gang of horse-thieves had instigated and carried out the lynchings. It was known that Stott had purchased some "wet" horses from rustlers. The story went the rounds that when the sheriff (Owens) declared war on the rustler element, the rustlers, who sold the horses to Stott, were afraid he would identify them. Consequently the rustlers, headed by Houck, lynched Stott to keep him from talking. Their explanation was that Scott and Wilson were probably at Stott's ranch at the time and were eliminated so they would not be damaging witnesses. It was merely unfortunate for them that they happened to be there.
Whatever the real reason for the dastardly act is anyone's guess. The entire procedure remains shrouded in mystery—a mystery that will perhaps never be unraveled.
Jim Stott was a young rancher who came to Arizona from Texas, where he had spent two years learning the rudiments of the cattle- and horse-raising industry. His original home had been in Massachusetts.
Coming to Holbrook, he became well acquainted with Sam Brown, who owned a livery stable in the little town. Stott had some money and wanted to buy a ranch. It was at Brown's suggestion that Stott invested his money in the ranch site at Phoenix Park, near Aztec Spring.
For more than two years, or until the time of his tragic death, he did well on his ranch, often going into Holbrook for supplies. Building a cabin, barn and corrals, he soon had one of the most attractive ranches in the district.
Despite Brown's advice to buy sheep, Stott dealt mostly, if not altogether, in horses. Though there was more danger involved in buying and selling rustled horses, there was a quicker turnover in horse trade and more money.
Jim Scott worked as a cowboy for the Hashknife outfit Riding the range looking for strays, he often came to the vicinity of Stott's ranch and they became close friends.
Billy Wilson, besides being a roving prospector, was from all accounts, a soldier of fortune. He was a stranger to that area. Why he was there is still unexplained. He was seen in Holbrook a few days before the lynching took place and was seen leaving Holbrook in the company of Jim Stott.
The reason and the parties responsible for the act an presumably unknown. However, on that day in August, 1888, the bodies of all three were discovered swaying at the ends of ropes under the protective branches of that stately pine tree. The gruesome discovery was the subject of widely diversified theories. It adds another to the many similar unexplained tragedies that went into the hewing of an empire out of the raw, new frontier.
The story of lynchings in early-day Arizona is an almost endless tale. Murderers, horse and "cattle thieves, train-robbers—none of them were dealt with kindly. Few were given even a pretense of a trial by pioneers who caught them red-handed. They whose activities centered outside the pale of the law flirted with the looped end of a rope or a bullet from the uncompromising gun of the frontiers-man. Those who were innocent of crimes had little opportunity of proving it. Such was the way of the West. Many saddles were emptied first and questions asked later.
Source: Frontier Arizona by Thomas Way 1960