Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Bisbee Massacre & The Lynching of John Heath 1884

The date was December 8th, 1883, and the location was Bisbee, Arizona Territory.

On that cold December day in 1883, five men robbed the Goldwater & Casteneda Store on Main Street that substituted for Bisbee’s only bank. 

They did so believing that the mining company’s payroll was locked inside the store’s safe. 

What started out as a quick and supposedly easy robbery ended in the death of almost a dozen people.

Everything went wrong when the the robbers soon discovered a problem in that the payroll which they were after had not yet arrived. 

Foolishly, the five robbers stuck around to steal what they could from the store, its owners, and customers. This took time. And frankly, time was not on their side.

To some the Bisbee Massacre was also known as the Bisbee Murders and the Bisbee Raid. And yes, it took place when a gang of bandits tried for a payroll and ended up robbing a general store and killing four people. 

Later five men were convicted and executed on March 28, 1884 for the crime. They were the first criminals to be legally hanged in the city of Tombstone which was then the county seat.

Surprising is that John Heath, the man who had supposedly organized the robbery, was tried separately and sentenced to life in prison. Of course that did not stop a lynch mob from getting taking Heath from the jail and hanging him on February 22, 1884. 

Today, the graves of the five bandits are a popular tourist attraction at the Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona.

So how did it end there?

Born in Texas in 1855 to John and Sarah, John T. Heath moved with his family to Louisiana when he was young. But then the Heath family eventually returned to Texas, and in 1875 John Heath married Virginia Tennessee “Jennie” Ferrell. 

During his time in Texas, Heath was indicted for several crimes including cattle rustling, robbery, burglary, and running a house of prostitution. 

In 1882, Heath left Texas, settling first in the town of Clifton, Arizona, where he opened a saloon. 

In November 1883, Heath pulled up stakes gain and headed to Bisbee in the company of James "Tex" Howard. 

Along the way Heath and Howard met up with some friends of Howard, Dan "Big Dan" Dowd, Omer W. "Red" Sample, and Daniel "York" Kelly. 

The three men accompanied Heath and Howard as far as Buckles' ranch, about 10 miles outside of Bisbee. 

Heath and Howard arrived in Bisbee on November 20, 1883. Heath immediately partnered with a local man named Nathan Waite and together they began preparing for the opening of a new saloon and dance hall. 

"Tex" Howard returned to his Buckles' ranch to meet up with the others. Heath and Waite's dance hall would open on December 8, 1883 -- the same evening as the robbery.

It was common knowledge that the payroll for the Copper Queen Mine was held at the Goldwater & Castaneda Mercantile store arriving just in advance of the company's payday on the 10th of each month. 

Daniel "Big Dan" Dowd, Comer W. "Red" Sample, Daniel "York" Kelly, William E. "Billy" Delaney, and James "Tex" Howard were aware of it as well, and decided that they would rob the store and take the money for themselves.

On the evening of December 8th, 1883, the five outlaws rode into Bisbee. They tied their horses near the Copper Queen Mine Smelter at the end of Main Street, and walked back down to Goldwater and Castaneda's. 

Upon arriving at the store, three of the bandit, including "Tex" Howard, who had neglected to wear a mask, entered the establishment while the other two remained outside. 

Finding that the payroll had not yet arrived, the bandits decided to empty the safe, in addition to robbing valuables from the employees and customers. 

As is the case when something like this takes place, some "facts" from the various accounts differ wildly. According to some, the robbers took between $900 and $3,000, as well as a gold watch and other articles of jewelry. Other accounts say it was more like between $1200 and $2000 that they took.

Either way, while their three compatriots were inside looting the safe, the two bandits outside, who were both armed with Winchester repeating rifles, began "shooting up the town." 

Why draw attention to themselves? Well, granted that some outlaws in the Old West used to try to scare the innocent into hiding while making off with the loot -- but frankly, who knows why the two outside started shooting and alerting the town to what they were doing.

Their first victim was assayer J. C. Tappenier, who had just exited the Bon Ton Saloon beside the mercantile. 

The bandits ordered him to go back in and, and when he refused -- they shot Mr Tappenier in the head. 

After hearing the shot, Cochise County Deputy Sheriff  D.Tom Smith, who was having dinner with his wife across the street at the Bisbee House, came running out on to the street. 

He too was told to go back inside. Smith refused to comply, saying he was a law officer. 

Believe it or not, one of the bandits was heard to say, "Then you are the one we want!" immediately before they opened fire on him. 

Yes, Deputy Smith was killed instantly and fell back beneath a freight wagon. And no the animals weren't done yet!

Moments later, Mrs. Annie Roberts, who was with child, came to the door of the restaurant which she owned with her husband. 

With child or not, these savages shot Mrs. Roberts once. The bullet that killed her passing through her body and shattering her spine.

John A. Nolly, a local freighter, was standing near his wagon when a bullet tore through his chest. Nolly would die later that evening. 

A local man simply known only as "Indian Joe" was wounded in the leg as he was trying to escape the killing spree.

The bandits exited the store and ran for their horses, firing wildly at anyone they saw. 

Deputy Sheriff William "Billy" Daniels, who had come from his saloon when he heard the shooting commence, emptied his revolver at the fleeing outlaws, but missed. 

Yes, unlike the movies, people missed. Even those who used a gun for a living.

The bandits are said to have made it to their horses, but then turned and rode back up Main Street, up and over Mule Pass and out into the desert night. 

In less than five minutes, the five outlaws had killed two people and wounded three others; Nolly died soon after of his wounds as did Mrs. Annie Roberts. 

Once at Soldier's Hole, a site east of Bisbee, the savages divided the money and went their separate ways.

One citizen jumped on his horse and headed north to Tombstone to notify Cochise County Sheriff Jerome L. Ward. Supposedly he made the 22-mile trip in less than two hours and along the way, and ironically he passed the stage carrying the Copper Queen payroll.

At the same time that evening, Deputy William Daniels formed two posses. 

The first posse, which left immediately after the robbery included John Heath, Nathan Waite, and Henry Frost who was a local gambler and acquaintance of John Heath. Waite and Heath were deputized by Deputy Daniels. 

Daniels formed a second posse, which took to the field after daybreak on December 9th. Daniels' posse soon caught up with Heath and the others. 

Once on the trail of the desperados, Heath did something that the deputy sheriff thought a bit odd.  Heath supposedly noticed that the outlaws' tracks separated with three horsemen going east and the two others going south. Deputy Daniels didn’t buy it.

Daniels' posse eventually lost the trail altogether and returned to Bisbee empty-handed. 

Heath, Waite, and Frost lost the trail of their quarry outside of Tombstone.  Supposedly exhausted, the three men spent the night in town and, after meeting with Under-Sheriff Wallace  -- Sheriff Jerome Ward being out of town -- they returned to Bisbee.

Daniels and his posse continued the pursuit south and eastward toward the Chiricahua Mountains. Eventually, Daniels tracked the robbers, found their exhausted horses and a rancher who said they had stolen five of his horses.

The posse continued tracking east, in the opponent direction of Tombstone, and came upon a prospector who had seen the robbers divvying up the stolen money and goods.

The miner told the deputy that he had seen the robbers a week earlier getting instruction from their leader -- John Heath. 

Daniels sent his posse back to Bisbee to arrest Heath, and he, Daniels, continued to pursue the five robbers alone.

Heath and Waite were arrested the following day. Waite was released, but Heath was held in jail as a suspected accomplice. At Heath's trial, Deputy Daniels would accuse Heath of trying to mislead the posse.

Because he had neglected to wear a mask. "Tex" Howard was quickly identified as one of the robbers. 

After further investigation, Deputy Daniels was able to determine the names of the other four men suspected of being involved. 

Suspicion feel upon Heath as he was acquainted with Howard and had been seen in the company of the other four men at Buckles' ranch.

The Copper Queen Mining Company was not an outfit to be trifled with. They posted a reward and printed thousands of handbills describing the bandits and the articles they had stolen: 

A reward of $2000.00 was offered for the arrest and conviction of the persons implicated in the crimes. As the desperadoes, with one exception, all wore masks, it was at first difficult to trace them.

They went to the considerable expense of distributing these handbills throughout the Southwest and Northern Mexico.

One robber was arrested in New Mexico when his barber recognized him from a handbill.

It's true, "Tex" Howard and "Red" Sample made the mistake of returning to their old haunts in Clifton, Arizona. While there, the outlaws paid a visit to a local bartender named Walter Bush. After they rode out, Bush went to the authorities. 

A posse was assembled and within a matter of days, Howard and Sample were captured and placed behind bars.
Soon the first of the outlaw savages to be apprehend was Daniel "York" Kelly. Kelly was caught near Deming, New Mexico.

He had a girlfriend. But unbeknownst to him, his girlfriend had in his absence replaced him with a new lover. 

The robber gave his lady a gold watch, an item mentioned on the handbill, and her new lover recognized it and told Deputy Daniels, who then tracked down the two robbers and arrested them.

Daniel W. Dowd and William E. Delaney had left the others outside of Bisbee and traveled down in to Sonora, Mexico. 

Daniels found them in Mexico, and with the cooperation of the Mexican authorities, Dowd was captured by Deputy Daniels across the international border in Corralitos, Sonora.

William Delaney was apprehended by Deputy Daniels with the aid of Deputy Sheriff Robert Hatch in the town of Minas Prietas, Sonora, where he had been detained after getting in a brawl with a local mine foreman.

Both were brought them back to Tombstone to stand trial.

On February 6th, the grand jury "found indictments against Dowd, Kelly, Sample, Howard and Delaney". 

The men appointed as their legal counsel included James B. Southard, Col. Stanford, Thomas J. Drum, F. V. Price, and Col. William Herring who was the father of Sarah Herring Sorin, on of Arizona's first female attorneys. 

On February 17th, 1884, the trial of the five suspected killers began in Tombstone, which as we stated was the county seat at the time. 

The evidence against the men was fairly conclusive. Four of the five of them had been recognized either during the robbery or as they ran from the mercantile. 

Additionally, there was a chain of physical and circumstantial evidence linking the men to the crime. 

The trial lasted only three days. And yes, after only an hour's deliberation the jury brought back a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder. 

On hearing the verdict, Daniel Kelly was reported to have remarked, "Well boys, hemp seems to be trumps". 

On February 18th, after their motions for a new trial were quashed by Judge Daniel Pinney, the five outlaws were sentenced to be hanged by the neck until they were dead.

At his request, John Heath was tried separately. His trial began on February 12th, 1884. He was represented by Colonel William Herring. 

The prosecutors could not produce a witness who could tie Heath to the robbery. Certainly he had known the outlaws previously, but proving that he had conspired with them was a problem for the prosecution. 

In the end, County Attorney Marcus Aurelius Smith called on Sergeant L. D. Lawrence of the 3rd Cavalry. Lawrence had been indicted for killing two men during a saloon brawl in Wilcox, Arizona, and had been incarcerated with Heath and the others since their arrest. 

Lawrence swore he had heard Heath and the outlaws discuss the robbery and how and why their plan had failed. 

Heath's attorney questioned Lawrence as to whether he had made a deal with the County Attorney Smith to testify against Heath in exchange for a lighter sentence in his own case. 

Lawrence swore he had not, but in May of 1884 when he came to trial for the murders of the two men in Wilcox, he was represented by Smith's private law firm and tried before Judge Pinney. 

He was found guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter and sentence to only two years in the Yuma Territorial Prison.

The jury ended up split several times over the verdict with some calling for a conviction while some calling for an acquittal. Finally they chose a "compromise verdict" and convicted Heath of second-degree murder, and Judge Pinney sentenced him to life at the Yuma Territorial Prison. 

The Lynching of John Heath

Tombstone only had a few "legal" hangings in its time, and of course there was the lynching of John Heath in 1884.

A lot of the men of Cochise County were not satisfied with the verdict in the case, and as was done took matters into their own hands. 

On February 22nd, 1884, a very large lynch mob of anywhere from 100 to 150 men, broke into the county jail in the bottom of the Tombstone Courthouse, where Heath was being held awaiting his appeal in the case. 

After disarming the guards, the mob took Heath at gunpoint from the jail and left unharmed his five convicted associates awaiting their executions in March. 

As the mob exited the courthouse with the prisoner, Sheriff Ward attempted to intervene. He was physically tossed aside.

The thirst of a lynch mob being what it is, the mob took Heath down Toughnut street and lynched him from a telegraph pole at the corner of First and Toughnut streets. 

Heath's last words were: "Boys, you are hanging an innocent man, and you will find it out before those other men are hung. I have one favor to ask, that you will not mutilate my body by shooting into it after I am hung." 

His executioners agreed. Heath was then blindfolded and the noose was placed around his neck. Members of the mob then pulled the rope until Heath was suspended beneath the pole, where he slowly strangled to death. 

When Heath's limp body finally came to rest, a placard was placed on the telegraph pole, bearing the following inscription:

JOHN HEITH
Was hanged to this pole by the
CITIZENS OF COCHISE COUNTY
for participating in the Bisbee massacre
as a proved accessory
AT 8:00 A.M., FEBRUARY 22, 1884
(Washington’s Birthday)
ADVANCE ARIZONA!

The lynching of John Heath on February 22, 1884. 
Photograph by C.S. Fly.

Yes, C.S. Fly took this famous picture. As most Old West history buffs know, in 1881, C.S. Fly was also a witness to the now famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. 

The gunfight actually took place in the small vacant lot right outside his photography studio. 

On October 26, 1881, during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral which occurred in the alley adjacent to his boarding house, Cochise County Sheriff John Behan took cover inside the boarding house and watched the gun battle play out.

Behan was joined by Ike Clanton who ran away from the gunfight, after telling Wyatt Earp that he was unarmed. 

Believe it or not, Fly, armed with a Henry rifle, ran out to disarm Billy Clanton as he lay dying against the house next door.

It is probably not really known, but Fly was actually responsible for taking the photograph of Geronimo before he surrendered. 

As for as another bit of trivia, C.S. Fly also served as Cochise County Sheriff from 1895 to 1897. 

As for John T. Heath, believe it or not, after being lynched, the verdict of the coroner's jury into the incident concluded: 

"We the undersigned, a jury of inquest, find that John Heath came to his death from emphysema of the lungs -- a disease common in high altitudes -- which might have been caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise".

Yes, the official record shows that Heath died from emphysema and self-inflicted strangulation. So who says they didn't have a sense of humor back in the day!

While a grave marker for John Heath is erected at the Boothill Graveyard, records document that his body was returned to his family in Terrell, Texas. 

There he was buried at the Oakland Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

The alleged grave of John Heath at the Boothill Graveyard, Tombstone, Arizona.

The lynching at Tombstone was covered nationally, reported by the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune as well as by western newspapers. 

A February 24, 1884, issue of the Times said:

"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."

As noted above, he declared his innocence. The mob left Heath "hanging for half an hour, when he was cut down".

After his death, John T. Heath was described as "a notorious gambler, burglar, horse and cattle thief" by The Kaufman Sun (Terrell, Texas) on February 28, 1884.

After the trial and conviction of the five bandits, residents celebrated the day of their execution in March 1884.

Sheriff Ward sent out invitations to a select number of people to view the hanging. In addition, a local businessman erected a grandstand of his own outside the jail yard and began selling tickets at $1.50 per seat. 

Disgusted when learning of these plans, Nellie Cashman, a local philanthropist, protested to Sheriff Ward, before chopping up the grandstand with friends the day before the executions.

During this row, seven persons were injured, one breaking a leg and another an arm.

According to the Tombstone Epitaph more than 1,000 people witnessed the hangings. 

A special gallows had been built for the occasion -- one which could accommodate all five of the outlaws.

On March 28th, 1884, the five killers, Red Sample, Bill Delaney, Dan Kelly, Dan Dowd, and Tex Howard, were waken for their legal hanging. 

On the morning of their execution, they were shaved and dressed in matching black suits. 

Sheriff Ward allowed them to walk unfettered to the gibbet and to wear their hats. Once on the platform, the men were bound again. 

Each of the bandits protested his innocence and that of Heath, who had been lynched a month earlier.

Having converted to Catholicism during their tenure in the county jail, the outlaws asked for their bodies to be delivered to the local Roman Catholic priest, Father Gallagher. 

Their hats were then taken from them and black hoods pulled down over their heads. The nooses were subsequently adjusted around their necks. 

It was then Daniel "York" Kelly, his voice muffled by the hood which covered his features, said, "Let her go!" 

On March 28, 1884, at 1:18 p.m. James "Tex" Howard, Dan "Big Dan" Dowd, William Delaney (or DeLaney), Omer W. "Red" Sample, and Kelly were executed. 

They were dropped together and, except for Dowd, died quickly. Dowd's body was seen to twitch and jerk for several minutes as he strangled to death. 

The bodies of the Bisbee bandits were allowed to hang there in the early spring air for a full half hour before they were officially pronounced to be dead. 

Then, at 1:45 p.m. the corpses were cut down and “placed in neat but plain coffins” and conveyed to the city morgue, where they were each identified in turn by Gallagher.

Learning that a medical school intended to exhume the bandits' corpses for research, Cashman intervened, hiring two miners to guard the graves of the bandits for ten days.

A joint gravestone marks the graves of the five legally executed bandits, which can still be seen in Tombstone.

Boothill Graveyard marker for the five outlaws who committed the Bisbee Massacre.


Today this plaque sits at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park listing the names of the men legally hanged in Tombstone.

Tom Correa


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