Part III – Back to Cochise County


Everyone wanted a piece of the action.  They wanted their ‘fair share’.  They wanted the money.  Because the Apache were “under control” it was easier for Mexican merchants to cross the border along specific trade routes that had been established a thousand years previous (and are still in use today).  Tombstone had the money.  They could afford things.  They paid big money for things, at highly inflated rates.  The Mexican traders would make their way back into Sonora, rich, their pockets full of Tombstone gold.

Remember, we’re talking the 1881 equivalent of a TRILLION DOLLARS being bandied about the community.

Wells, Fargo, & Co. had the contract with the US government to transport the ore (specie) to the US mints.  Wells, Fargo & Co. employed shot-gun messengers and guards.  They also employed agents of the United States Secret Service.  The Secret Service was founded in 1865 to protect the integrity of the US currency and to prevent counterfeiting, which was threatening to destroy the fragile, post war economy.

“…At the time, the only other federal law enforcement agencies were the United States Park Police, U.S. Post Office Department – Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations, now known as the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Marshals Service. The Marshals did not have the manpower to investigate all crime under federal jurisdiction, so the Secret Service was used to investigate everything from murder to bank robbery to illegal gambling….”

Secret Service agents were ‘farmed’ out to Wells, Fargo, & Co. to go undercover.  We know of one official Secret Service agent in Tombstone at the time of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.  Then there was Fred Dodge, who was purported to a virtual double for Morgan Earp.  He was also an undercover agent.


Fortunately I did a Pink Flamingo entry awhile back that detailed the illegal activities going on in Tombstone during the Earp Era. The stage robberies began.  The most famous was the Philpot robbery, in August of 1881.  This is important because of the date and the possibility that the robbery was an assignation attempt against the next sheriff of Pima County, Bob Paul.  Instead of detailing every little incident I am going to leap ahead to the point where the depravations of the Cowboys (Ringo, Curly Bill, Clantons, McLaurys, etc) were so heinous that the government of Mexico was threatening to invade Cochise County and take them out if the US did not.  The Cowboys were in league with the officials in Cochise County, especially John Behan, the county sheriff.

Pgs. 11-12
Tombstone had been experiencing an epidemic of stage robberies, perpetrated  by the Cowboys, the most famous being the Bob Philpott robbery on Tuesday, March 15, 1881.  In order to understand the dynamics of the events surrounding the Shootout at the OK Corral, one needs to know about the stage robberies.

Parsons is an excellent source.  “ A most terrible affair of last evening.  First intimation I had of it was when Doc Goodfellow burst into room and asked for rifle.  Abbott finally let him have his upon Doc’s assurance he didn’t want to kill anyone….Men and horses were flying about in different directions, and I soon ascertained the cause.  A large posse started in pursuit – $26,000 specie reported on stage.  Bob Paul went as shot gun messenger and emptied both barrels of his gun at the robbers, probably wounding one. “I hold for no one,” he said and let drive.  Some 20 shots fired – close call for Paul.  Cat. Colby wished me to form one of another posse, to head the robbers off at San Simon if we could get necessary information upon arrival of stage, and we worked the thing up.  Got rifles and horses, and I got Clum and Abbott to go with us. …Bud Philpott, the driver was shot almost through the heart and the passenger, a miner, through the back…” Tenderfoot, p. 134.

About the same time Doc Holliday decides to visit friends of his.  Unfortunately they weren’t most reputable characters.  Wyatt Earp picks it up from there.  In a letter to Walter Noble Burns, “dated 15 March 1927 and ironically exactly forty-six years to the day, Wyatt Earp writes, “You know yourself that every and each man you talk to has a different tale to tell.  Holliday was a friend of Leonard’s, having known him in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Leonard was established in the jewelry business, and was considered at that time a respectable citizen.  And from Las Vegas he came to Tombstone with Harry Head, Jim Crane, also Luther King and himself.  All went batching in a house two miles north from town which was known as the Wells.  And all three remained there for several months.  Holiday [Wyatt spells it Holiday] would make them a visit from now and then, knowing Leonard so well, which many people knew they were.  Holiday went to the livery stable on that day hired a saddle horse which he did quite often to visit Leonard at the Wells.  The horse came from Dunbar’s stable and not Tribletts [sic], as Tribletts did not have any stable in Tombstone.  Holiday remained there until 4PM.  Old man Fuller was hauling water into Tombstone at that time and leaving the Wells with a load of water.   Holiday tied his horse behind the wagon and rode into town with Fuller.  And which many people knew.  After Holiday ate his dinner, he went to playing faro.  And he was still playing when the word came to Tombstone from Bob Paul to me that there had been a hold-up and the coach was stopped and held up.  And Doc’s enemies started the report that he was one of them because he was known to be friendly with Leonard.  There were four men in that hold up who were Billy Leonard, Harry Head, Jim Crane, and Luther King.  These were the four men who attacked the coach.  King was arrested the same day out and we (Earp’s posse) turned him over to Sheriff Behan.  He took King to Tombstone.  King then made his escape and was never heard from again.  Leonard and Head were both killed by the Haslett [sic] brothers.  Crane was killed by the Mexicans while in possession of a bunch of stolen cattle … Doc was not in on the Benson stage hold up.  And he never did such things as hold ups in his life.  He was his own worst enemy.  Comes from a very respectful family in the South.  Graduated as a dentist.  Slaughter did not know everything.  I am telling you right and I hope my information which you asked for helps you …” Reidhead, p. 273, n. 1047.

Doc Holliday was arrested for the robbery because his on/again off/again associate, Big Nose Kate is after revenge.   First she gets mad at Doc, gets drunk, then lies to Behan and gets Doc arrested for taking part in the stage robbery.  She retracts it.  She and Doc fight, she leaves him, may move back, may be in Tombstone on 26 Oct 1881 and may not.…The problem with Big Nose Kate Fisher, Elder, Hornsey, Cummings, et al is one never knows where to look for her in an index she had so many aliases.  She never told the same story the same way twice….” Reidhead, p. 275, n. 1056.

p. 223,225

“…It all began on 27 July 1881 when a group of Cowboys “estimated at fifty in strength attacked a group of Mexican traders, robbing them of $2500 in silver and bullion plus another estimated $1500 in mescal, merchandise and livestock.”  Four Mexicans were killed.  Joseph Bowyer, manager of the Texas Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company in Galeyville, heard the account, “One of the cow-boys in relating to me the circumstances said that it was the damndest lot of truck he ever saw; he showed me a piece of bullion, I should judge it looked half gold.  Upon my telling him that trouble would likely arise from this, he replied that it was a smuggling train and they would not dare say much.” Tefertiller, p. 92.   He was wrong.  Revenge occurred.In his diary entry of 17 Aug 1881, Parsons wrote, “Bad trouble on the border and this time looks more serious than anything yet.  Dick Gray, the lame one, was killed by some Mexicans, along with several others, among them the notorious Crane, and revenge seems the order of the day, a gang having started out to make trouble.  This killing by the Mexicans in my mind, was perfectly justifiable as it was in retaliation for killing of several of them and their robbery by cowboys recently, this same Crane being guilty of cattle stealing  they had no business to be found in such bad company.”  Bailey – 1, pp. 166-7.  Seven American cowboys were killed that morning including Old Man Clanton, Charlie Snow, Dick Gray, Jim Crane, and Billy Lang.  Bill Byers and Harry Earnshaw escaped. Bailey – 1, p. 167.   A copy of Billy Byers account in the Arizona Weekly Sun can be found on pp. 71-2 of Traywick’s The Clantons of Tombstone.”

“Report comes to us of a fresh outrage perpetrated by the cow-boys in Sonora.  Early last Monday morning a party of sixteen Mexicans from the interior of Sonora on their way to this Territory to purchase goods and carrying $4000 for that purpose stopped in a curve in the road at Los Animas, near Fronteras, to prepare their frugal breakfast.  While busy engaged in preparing their tortillas they were saluted with music of twenty rifles fired by cow-boys who lay in ambush awaiting them.  The Mexicans took this as an invitation to leave and did not stand upon the order of their going but left all their mules and pack saddles in which they carried their money for the purchase of goods.  When they stopped running they were at Fronteras and their party was four short…”  Tombstone Epitaph, 5 August 1881.  EBOT, p. 122”

P. 235
“…most Arizona cattlemen shared with him similar activities and profits.  In secret federal reports the names of such esteemed cattlemen as Henry C. Hooker and Walter Vail appear in reference to the illegal cattle trade.” Shillingberg, p. 202. “At first the Arizona cattlemen did not strenuously object to the rustlers, because the Sonora and Chihuahua ranchers were the principal sufferers; also, ‘wet’ steers could be purchased at nominal prices.”  When the Mexican ranchers fought back, the rustlers began to steal from Cochise county ranchers, the same ranchers who had previously turned a blind eye to the thefts from Mexico.  By the turn of the century the rustling problem was so bad, small ranchers in Arizona were “fast going out of business.” Wagoner,  pp. 105-6.  Many Tombstoners didn’t care about the theft of livestock from Mexico. Tefertiller, p. 43.  Slaughter’s wife wrote that “…the Clantons, they were thieves…” as were other ranchers who aided and abetted them. Barra, p. 107.  This is quite interesting since Slaughter had left New Mexico under a pardon from Governor Lew Wallace.  Was cattle rustling a problem in Southern Arizona before the arrival of John Slaughter?”

p. 281
The incursion and murders of  Old Man  Clanton, and others in Guadalupe Canyon on 13 Aug 1881 was, perpetrated by Mexican Federales in retaliation for a Cowboy attack on a Mexican caravan a few weeks earlier.

p. 285
Frank and Tom McLaury were born on the family farm near Oneonta, New York.  Like the Earps they grew up in Iowa.  Will McLaury, the attorney of the family, was something of a carpetbagger, heading to Fr. Worth at the end of the Civil War to set up what he hoped would be a lucrative law practice.  According to Stalwarts, V. 2, both Tom and Frank were in Pima County by 1877, even before Ed Schieffelin.  Stalwarts, V. 2.  p. 17.  Traywick  4, p. 26 puts the brothers in the Tombstone area in 1878, which is probably a more accurate time frame.  In late 1880, they sold their ranch on the San Pedro near Charleston, to John Slaughter.  They moved to a ranch near Soldier’s Hole in the Sulphur Springs Valley. Traywick  27.  According to Traywick, “With these moves, the Clantons and McLaurys, so strategically placed, could look after interests of the rustler gangs as they operated in New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico.” Traywick -4, p. 27.  Billy Breakenridge, a friend of the Clanton-McLaury faction wrote, “The Clantons looked after the rustlers’ interests on the San Pedro, as a lot of stolen stock was brought from Mexico down the river, and there was no one watching the line for smugglers.  The McLaurys looked after the stock brought up from Mexico through Aqua Prieta, where Douglas now stands, and to Sulphur Springs Valley.”  Erwin, p. 202.

p. 459
…”James Zabriskie, then United States district attorney for Arizona, outlined in 1885:  ‘Deputy Marshal Earp was very active in his efforts to suppress this ‘quasi’ insurrection and prevent the violation of United States law…He and his band killed quite a number of these cowboys…Mr. Earp finally resigned and left the Territory, and subsequently these discordant elements were suppressed, after great exertion, chiefly by United States Authorities.”   Shillingberg, p. 326.  Zabriskie was the attorney for Pete Spence and Frank Stilwell after their arrest for stage robbery in September 1881, and prosecuted Curly Bill in El Paso.  Young, p. 13.

My friend James is the one who started me thinking about the incident in Guadeloupe Canyon and the implications for today’s movement of Illegals.  Guadeloupe Canyon (Skeleton Canyon) is basically right on the border, over the border, around the border, under the border – I think you get the picture. It isn’t far from John Slaughter’s San Bernardino Ranch.   Today it a beautiful museum, well worth the time and effort it takes to get there from here so to speak.  You can stand on the porch and look directly into Mexico, it is that close.  In Douglas, AZ, take 15th Street West (toward dreaded Mexico, paralleling the border) which becomes Geronimo Trail.  If you keep following West for about 15 miles you can see the directions to the Sierra Bonita.  You also see where Guadeloupe Canyon branches off.  Keep looking until you see a dip in the road directly to the border.  It is just a few miles from the AZ/NM state line.  That’s where Old Man Clanton met his Waterloo on August 13, 1881.

That specific route has been used by humans since humans have occupied that part of the continent.  It was trading route for the Anasazi, the Aztec, and everyone before and after.  It is and was a known trail, today used by illegals and desecrated by the border fence.

The Mexican government was so furious with the depravations of the Cowboys they threatened to invade the US and take care of the matter themselves.  There are two versions of the story.  One version has the Earps, Fred Dodge, Doc Holiday, and a few others meeting up with the Mexican Army at Guadeloupe Canyon and taking out the Cowboys there.  The second, more logical version has the Mexican Army doing the job themselves, in cold blooded execution.  It was the beginning of the end.