Phoenix and Tucson were growing up and becoming "civilized," the lack
of good roads kept most of the territory isolated. Large gangs of
rustlers were still operating in the remote mountains of eastern
Arizona, having been driven into the Blue River country by lawmen from
New Mexico. Cochise County was still pretty wild and wooly. The close
proximity to the Mexican border made that area a fairly safe haven for
obstreperous border riff-raff.
Cattle rustling, along with a series of train robberies in southern
Arizona, led to the creation of a ranger force that wouldn't be bound
by county lines. In 1901 the territorial assembly established the
Arizona Rangers. Modeled after the famed Texas Rangers, these
hard-riding young men sought to bring law and order to the border towns
and remote regions of the territory. Burt Mossman, a rawhide-rough
Scots-Irish- man, was picked as captain. Earlier, Mossman had been
brought in to run the famed Hashknife Outfit in northern Arizona.
Rustlers had nearly run the company out of business. Public support
seemed to be on the side of the rustlers as prosecutors had not gotten
a single conviction in 14 years. Much of the rustling was being done by
cowboys employed by the Hashknife. Mossman came in and whipped the
ranch into shape, and his success was the primary reason Governor
Nathan Oakes Murphy picked him first captain of the Arizona Rangers.
The force was small, numbering only 14 men. including a captain,
sergeant and 12 privates. Mossman had his men dress like cowboys,
keeping their badge out of sight until they were ready to make an
arrest. Each man was provided a six-shooter and a horse. Under
Mossman's regime, the Rangers operated mostly in secrecy as undercover
agents, hiring out for cattle outfits. During the first year, the
Rangers put 125 major criminals behind bars, killing only one man in
the process. Notorious gangs led by Bill Smith and George Musgrove were
chased out of the territory. During Mossman's tenure, only one Ranger.
Carlos Tafolla, lost his life. Tafolla died game in a fierce gunfight
when he and another officer made a desperate stand against members of
the Bill Smith gang in eastern Arizona.
Mossman was as fearless as they came, never asking one of his men to do
something he wouldn't. He climaxed his one- year appointment as captain
with a daring capture of the notorious Augustin Chacon below the
Mexican border. Chacon, mythically perceived as a borderland "Robin
Hood," had boasted of killing 15 Americans and 37 Mexicans. On one of
his crime sprees Chacon brutally murdered a shopkeeper in Morenci with
an ax and treacherously killed a deputy sheriff under a flag of truce.
He was sentenced to hang but managed to escape the gallows when a girl
friend sneaked a hacksaw blade concealed in the spine of a Bible into
jail. Mossman vowed to bring Chacon in. He slipped into Mexico in the
guise of a fugitive, managed a daring capture of
the outlaw and returned him to Solomonville. Chacon was hanged in 1901.
He was game to the end. As the hangman was preparing the noose, Chacon
looked out at the gathering and smiled, "adios todos amigos" (goodby
all my friends). Chacon's capture (or kidnapping) in Mexico was a
violation of international law, but it was not uncommon for peace
officers on both sides of the border to assist or cut the red tape in
the apprehension of some fugitive.
Tom Rynning, a former Rough Rider and frontier soldier, took over the
Rangers in 1902. Under Rynning the force was increased to 26 men, who
pinned five-pointed silver stars on their chests. In 1903 they were
used as strikebreakers at the mines at Morenci. Under Mossman, the
Rangers had been the darlings of the press and heroes to the general
public. These new duties, however, tarnished their image in the eyes of
many. Still they were colorful, tough and rode the hard country knowing
the times were a-changing and they were a vanishing breed of lawmen.
The Rangers had an interesting working arrangement with the notorious
Rurales of northern Mexico. Led by an almost-fictional ex-Russian naval
cadet named Emilio Koster-litzky. the Mexican soldier-police force
dealt ruthlessly with the criminal element, rarely giving a prisoner
the benefit of a trial. Cooperation between the Rangers and Rurales did
much to rid the border of the lawless element. As an example, a man
wanted by the Rangers might be sitting in a cantina in Cananea feeling
secure. He'd have a few drinks with a pretty-lady and next thing he
knew, he was staring at four walls in a Bisbee Jail. During the evening
the girl slipped him a mickey, then a couple of Rurales tucked a
gunnysack over his head, threw him over the back of a horse and
delivered him to a Ranger waiting at the border.
The Rangers were, according to their charter, supposed to headquarter
in the roughest town in the territory. Under Mossman they worked out of
Bisbee. When Rynning took over, they moved down the road to the new
town of Douglas. With its gambling halls, saloons and dance halls,
Douglas quickly became the gathering place for all nefarious scalawags
in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. Capt. Rynning
took a look at the place and noted: "I've been in many a rough town in
my day. but from Deadwood to Tombstone I've never met up with a harder
formation than Douglas was when we made the Arizona Rangers' home
corral there in 1902." Tom Rynning proved to be a capable and
resourceful captain of the Rangers. He cleverly broke up a family of
rustlers near Douglas by an unorthodox manner of crime detection. The
Taylor family had been branding their neighbor's cows and getting away
with it for quite some time until the Ranger captain got into the act.
He roped a bunch of their neighbor's calves, slit open their gullets
and inserted a Mexican silver coin. Then he stitched up each incision
and turned them loose. He waited about six months, then rode over to
Taylor's spread and. sure enough, all 13 calves had Taylor's brand.
Taylor was arrested and the calves impounded in Douglas. During the
trial a recess was called and the Jury was led to the corral where
Rynning explained what he'd done. Then he opened the gullets again and
removed a coin from each. Needless to say. the verdict was guilty and
the judge gave the Taylors Just 24 hours to sell their ranch and get
out of the territory.
The third arid last captain of the Rangers was a fast-shooting young
ex-soldier named Harry Wheeler. During his spectacular career. Wheeler
had been involved in several heroic deeds, including a regular old wild
west shootout in the Palace Saloon in Tucson. Late one night in 1904. a
masked bandit named Joe Bostwick walked in through the back door and
shouted, "hands up." The outlaw, wearing a long, faded coat and floppy
old Panama hat. had his face covered with a red bandana with two slits
for eye holes. One of the victims slipped out the front door where he
encountered Ranger Harry Wheeler. "Don't go in there," he warned,
"there's a holdup going on."
"All right, that's what I'm here for." Wheeler replied. Inside, the
customers were lined up against the wall with their arms fully
extended, the nervous outlaw urging them to "hold "em up higher" while
he edged towards the crap table money. Suddenly Wheeler stepped through
the swinging doors. Both men fired. Bostwick's big Colt .45 missed its
mark but the sure-shooting Ranger fired twice, hitting the outlaw both
times. The holdup man died the next day.
"I'm sorry that this happened." Wheeler told a reporter the next day.
"but it was either his life or mine, and if I hadn't been a little
quicker on the draw than he was. I might be in his position now."
Typically. Wheeler's remarks were made matter-of-factly and without any
bravado. The great Texas lawman Jeff Milton called young Wheeler the
best he'd ever seen — and in his long career, he'd seen a large number
of shootists. including the legendary John Wesley Hardin.
The old days were about over and the mostly-Democratic territorial
assembly was getting tired of funding what they considered a Republican
governor's personal police force. Moreover, counties that were not
besieged by rustlers and other desperados resented having to fund a
police force that spent most of its energy dealing with trouble along
the Mexican border. The Rangers were voted out of existence in
February. 1909. partly because the Old West was changing and partly, as
one historian put it. "because they were just too damn good and others
were jealous of their accomplishments."
Outlawry in Arizona was not without its lighter moments. A robber made
off with the payroll near Flagstaff and was pursued by irate workers.
During the chase he lost the saddlebags containing the loot. He was
caught without the payroll and the posse was so mad they decided to
hang him on the spot. They had a noose around his neck and were about
to string him up when lightning struck the tree. Fearing Divine
Intervention, the posse decided against taking justice in their own
hands and hauled the culprit off to jail.
Bill Downing was one of the most universally disliked desperados in
southern Arizona. He bullied men and beat up women. Even his fellow
outlaws couldn't stand him. Early one morning in 1908. an Arizona
Ranger stood outside a saloon in Willcox and ordered Downing to come
out with his hands up. The outlaw, who was drinking with friends at the
bar. turned and headed out the back door in hopes of bushwhacking the
Ranger. He came around the comer and went for his six gun, but it
wasn't there. While at the bar. one of his friends had pilfered his
gun. They planted Bill's carcass in Boot Hill but he did inspire an
axiom: Don't ever go fer yer six-shooter unless yer shore it's there.
At least one train robbery was directly responsible for a concerted
citizen's effort to clean up the desert. In 1895 two cowboys. Joe
George and Grant Wheeler, decided to up their station in life at the
expense of Wells Fargo. They robbed the Southern Pacific near Cochise
and tried to blow the safe open with dynamite. After two disappointing
attempts, they packed the rest of the explosives around the safe. Then
they took eight canvas sacks loaded with Mexican silver pesos, found in
the express car. and used them for ballast. They lit the fuse and ran
from the car. The explosion shook the mountains nearby and reduced the
express car to splinters. Silver pesos went flying in every direction.
Horrors, the safe was empty!! The only thing of value was some 800
Mexican pesos and they were scattered over half of Cochise County. The
discouraged train robbers rode away vowing to do better next time. The
train backed all the way to Willcox and informed the town. Legend has
it nobody volunteered to serve on the posse but instead grabbed their
rakes and headed for the scene of the crime to uncover buried treasure.
Legend also says that was the best-raked piece of
desert landscape this side of the mansions in Paradise Valley.
Contributed to Genealogy Trails by Friends For Free Genealogy