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Some history on OUTLAWS &

In 1872, what is now Cochise County was part of Pima County, Arizona Territory. The Chiracahua Apache controlled the area, and there were no outlaws or lawmen. With the silver discovery at Tombstone in 1877, that all changed. The mines in Tombstone brought in over 7,000 residents by 1881, and many lawmen and outlaws.

In 1879 Charles Shibell was Pima County Sheriff, and Wyatt Earp was appointed as undersheriff for eastern Pima County, which included Tombstone, on July 29, 1880. Meanwhile, Virgil Earp was appointed as Deputy U.S. Marshall for eastern Pima County with the specific task to help with the ongoing problems with the outlaw “Cowboys”. Virgil appointed his brother Morgan as an undersheriff. In 1880, as the result of a nasty election for sheriff, Wyatt resigned his position. John Behan was then appointed undersheriff. By this time the loosely associated outlaws known as The Cochise County Cowboys, which numbered between 200 and 300, were rustling cattle and horses, robbing stagecoaches, and fleecing travelers of their valuables. Murders were numerous.

Some of the more famous of the Cowboy Outlaws were Phin, Billy, and Ike Clanton; Tom and Frank McLaury; William "Curly Bill" Brocius; Johnny Ringo; Frank Stillwell and Pony Diehl. Pony Diehl was mentioned in the records of the events leading up to and after the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” The Earps had repeated conflicts with some of the Cowboys, particularly the Clantons and McLaurys. This tension eventually resulted in the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” on October 26, 1881. Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton were killed during that shootout. On December 28, Virgil Earp was ambushed on the streets of Tombstone by hidden assailants. As a result, he lost the use of his left arm. The main suspects were Ike and Phin Clanton, and Pony Diehl. Wyatt was appointed as Deputy U.S. Marshal to replace Virgil. On January 23, 1882, Wyatt Earp obtained arrest warrants for Ike and Phin Clanton and Pony Diehl, and led his posse after them. They were unsuccessful in finding them, and charges were dropped. On Saturday, March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was killed by a shot in the back while playing billiards. 

With the deaths of several Cowboy leaders and the departure of the Earp family, the dominance of the outlaw Cowboys waned. Arizona Territory Governor Frederick Tritle visited Tombstone on April 3, 1882, after which he telegraphed President Chester A. Arthur and asked For an appropriation of $150,000 from Congress to pay for the costs of rooting out the unlawful elements. General William T. Sherman, following a tour of Arizona's eastern and southern counties, recommended having the U.S. Army aid in restoring order by combating the depredations of the outlaw Cowboys. Based upon the recommendations of Sherman and Tritle, and following consultation with members of the U.S. Senate, President Arthur issued a May 3, 1882 decree threatening to use military force if the criminal element did not disperse. Use of the U.S. Army to enforce the law was not necessary as the outlaw Cowboy problem diminished over the next few months.

Although the “Cowboy” problem dissolved, thievery, murder, and train robberies continued to plague Cochise County. In 1886 John Slaughter was elected as the county’s sheriff. Ironically, Slaughter hired both Burt Alvord and Billy Stiles as deputies. Burt and Billy became co-conspirators in train robberies. Using their positions as deputies, they were able to hinder investigations into the robberies committed. Train robbery was very popular in Arizona, which was exemplified by the passing of a statute in 1889 that made it punishable by death. However, the law was never enforced and numerous train robberies occurred between 1889 and 1900.

Outlawry remained rampant, and Congress consequently refused to consider statehood. Arizona cattlemen, mine owners, railroad officials and newspaper editors pressured the Territorial Governor to combat lawlessness with a special force modeled after the famed Texas Rangers. In 1901 the Territorial Legislature passed the Ranger Act, and the Arizona Rangers were formed with Burt Mossman as its first Captain. The first Ranger headquarters were in Bisbee, but soon moved to Douglas. For almost eight years the Rangers pursued outlaws in order to restore law and order in the territory before the legislature disbanded them in 1909. Harry C. Wheeler was the third and final Captain of the Rangers. He was later elected as Sheriff of Cochise County. For over six years the rangers had persistently hounded and tracked down numerous outlaws. During the fiscal year of 1904–05 they made 1,052 arrests. But by late 1908 the Rangers had virtually achieved its goal of cleaning up the territory with the month of August 1908 having less than thirty arrests. That summer the last two “bad men” in Cochise County were shot and killed by lawmen. George Arnett, a cattle rustler, and who Sheriff Wheeler said was, “the worst man in Cochise County,” fell into a trap in a canyon outside of Bisbee. When confronted Arnett fired at Sheriff Wheeler and Deputy George Humm. Both returned fire and Arnett was found dead a quarter-mile away. Similarly, William Downing was a saloon owner and bully in Willcox. He carried a gun in his rear pocket. After hitting and gouging the eyes of a saloon girl, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Ranger Billy Speed was sent to get Downing. However, when Downing was confronted, he went for his gun that was not there. He continued his advance on the ranger, and was shot dead.

Harry Wheeler’s report for the month of August 1908 showed that the Rangers had made fewer than two dozen arrests. He reported, “The whole country seems remarkably quiet, and scarcely any crimes are being committed anywhere.” Arizona was on its way toward statehood.

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