Monday, October 16, 2017

The Halderman Brothers -- Killers Or Not?

William Halderman was 21 years of age, and his brother Thomas was 18, when they were legally hanged on November 16th, 1900. Both brothers were working day wage cowboys just trying to get established on their own in Cochise County, Arizona. Yes, just two honest cowboys trying to start their own ranch by working for it.

Their parents were Jesse and Augusta Halderman. Their family, the Kokernot-Halderman family, were considered influential pioneers in Texas at the time. 

In 1898, the Halderman brothers began feuding with 18 year-old Teddy Moore over a pair of young women named Rena and Mary Wilson. According to later court findings, in November of 1898, Moore threatened to kill William. It was something he did a few times over a few month period.

On April 6th, 1899, Justice William Monmonier received a report from Buck Smith who was the owner of the Smith Ranch, accusing the Haldermans of rustling and killing his cattle. A warrant was issued and the job of arresting the Haldermans fell to Constable Chester Ainsworth who was the brother of Arizona Attorney General Charles F. Ainsworth.

Constable Ainsworth went from his office in Pearce to the Smith Ranch to ask the ranchers for assistance in apprehending the Haldermans. According to the later testimony of R. Michael Wilson, Buck Smith refused to help and told the constable to continue on to the Moore Ranch house less than a mile away to enlist the help of Teddy Moore. Constable Ainsworth did just that. Then after deputizing Moore, the two-men headed to the Halderman Ranch which was located a short distance away along Turkey Creek Canyon.

After finding the house empty, Ainsworth decided to check the Wilson Ranch, which was owned by John W. Wilson who lived there with his sons Johnny and Tol and his two daughters Rena and Mary.

So accused of shooting Buck Smith's cattle and selling the meat, Constable Chester Ainsworth and 18 year-old Teddy Moore tracked the Halderman brothers to the Southeast Arizona ranch of J. N. Wilson. The Constable and Moore arrived at the Wilson Ranch house on the morning of April 7th, 1899, sometime just after dawn.

The Halderman brothers were eating breakfast with J.W. Wilson their neighbor at his ranch when Ainsworth and Moore found them. The two "lawmen" were side-by-side and approximately forty feet from the front porch of the house when Ainsworth read the arrest warrant aloud. He demanded that the Halderman brothers come out peaceably.

When it seemed as though the two young men were going to surrender without resisting, Constable Ainsworth suggested that they finish eating breakfast before leaving, He advised them to pack some of their belongings for staying a few days in Pearce.

Some say that while inside the house, it became very evident to the Haldermans that Moore intended to do them harm instead of taking them to jail. So with that, the brothers armed themselves. And instead of going along peaceably, they reappeared at the two front doors of the house which were located at each end of the porch.

The Haldermans had only one rifle of their own and William armed himself with it. His brother Thomas took Mr. Wilson's rifle to use against the lawman and Moore. According to the Haldermans, as soon as they were seen with weapons in hand, both Ainsworth and Moore drew their side arms and began shooting into the house.

William responded by firing back. After emptying his weapon, he ran across the porch to his shocked brother to take up his rifle and continue shooting at Moore. Unfortunately, it was during this time that Ainsworth was shot off his horse and killed. Some say that he was struck in the heart and died almost instantly.

William later claimed that the death of Ainsworth was an accident and even said that he might have been killed by Moore. After Constable Chester Ainsworth fell dead off his horse, Teddy Moore turned his horse attempted to ride away as fast as he could. But it's said that he only went less than 100 yards when William Halderman fired again. That bullet struck young Moore in the bowels, but not off his horse.

Teddy Moore was mortally wounded when the Halderman brothers decided to flee to New Mexico. And believe it or not, though shot and dying, young 18 year old Teddy Moore was able to return home to the Moore Ranch. It's said that it was there where he actually bled to death in his mother's arms.

And even though that was the case, before he died, Teddy Moore was able to tell his family what had happened. Death-bed statements being what they are, and since he said that it was the Haldermans who fired on them first, everyone took his last words as truthful eyewitness testimony.

The following appeared in the newspaper the Pacific Reporter, Volume 60:

"It appears from the record that on April 6, 1899, a complaint was lodged before W. [William] M. Monmonier, a justice of the peace for the precinct of Pearce, Cochise county, charging the Haldermans with having unlawfully killed cattle. A warrant was issued by the justice upon this complaint, and placed in the hands of one C. [Chester] L. Ainsworth, constable of the precinct, and a deputy sheriff [Teddy Moore] of the county....

They then went to the house of a neighbor by the name of [John W.] Wilson, where they found the defendants. Ainsworth and Moore rode to the front of the Wilson house, dismounted from their horses, and called the Haldermans out, where upon Ainsworth read his warrant of arrest to them. Both Haldermans expressed a willingness to go with the officer, but before starting, upon suggestion of the latter [Ainsworth], went into the house to get their breakfast.

While they were inside, Ainsworth called to them, and told them, as they might be detained at Pierce [Pearce] for two or three days, to take with them such articles of wearing apparel [clothing] as they might need. Soon after, the Haldermans appeared, one at each of the two front doors of the house, armed with rifles, and at once opened fire, instantly killing Ainsworth, and mortally wounding Moore. As to the facts above stated, there is no substantial conflict in the evidence.

The testimony of the witness for the prosecution, supported by the dying declaration of Moore, as to the circumstances of the shooting, is to the effect that at the time the Haldermans appeared at the doors, Ainsworth and Moore were both mounted, and a short distance from the house; that the Haldermans, as soon as they appeared, called to Ainsworth and Moore to hold up their hands, but without waiting, at once fired; that Ainsworth immediately fell from his horse, shot through the heart; that Moore turned his horse, and started off, but was shot through the bowels as he rode away; that after the shooting the Haldermans immediately fled.

The story, as told by the defendants, was that between themselves and Moore had existed a deadly enmity; that, after the warrant had been read, they asked the constable how they were to be taken to Pierce; that they were then told that they would have to walk down to a neighboring ranch, where there was a conveyance of some sort; that; fearing that Moore might on some pretext seek occasion on the way down to the ranch to do them [the Halderman brothers] harm, they concluded while in the house to take their rifles with them; that, as soon as they appeared at the front of the house, Moore pulled his gun and fired; that William Halderman at once returned the fire, and continued shooting until he had emptied his gun, and, as Moore continued to shoot, he then ran to the other door, where his brother Thomas Halderman stood, and, seizing the latter's gun, fired again at Moore, but by accident killed Ainsworth; that, fearing [lynch] mob violence at the hands of the friends of Ainsworth, the two then left the country”.

-- end of article.

Cochise County Sheriff Scott White offered a $50 reward for the arrest and conviction of the Halderman brothers on the day after the shooting. Soon reward posters began circulating to lawmen throughout Arizona. Of course, in 1899, $50 was more than a cowboy made in a month. So no, it's not hard to understand how fast information started coming in.

The Haldermans were captured by Deputy Sid Mullen on April 12th while they were camped just across the border of New Mexico just East of the town of Duncan. They were first held in the jail at Pearce, and then were later transferred to Tombstone for their trial. 

All in all, it didn't take a jury long to decide on their fate. In fact a jury found the Haldermans guilty, and convicted them of first-degree murder on June 11th. They were sentenced to hang on August 10th, 1900.

Because Constable Chester Ainsworth was so liked by the folks there, there was a great deal of anger directed at the Halderman brothers even though a witness had testified that Teddy Moore had threatened both of the Haldermans before agreeing to help Constable Ainsworth.

The Halderman family was trying its best to influence the court's decision while awaiting the execution date. During that time, the Halderman family attempted to gather evidence to support their claim that the allegations of cattle rustling were fake and that the shootout was because of a feud between Teddy Moore. They asserted that it had nothing to do with cattle stealing since no stolen cattle were ever produced. And while all of their efforts were well intentioned, all in all, all they were able to achieve was a delay of the eventual execution.

The Haldermans claimed that Moore was responsible for the stealing and killing the cattle. They also claimed that Moore was trying to frame them so he could then be free to court Rena Wilson.

The Halderman family sent in an appeal in the Governor, but the application was sent directly to President McKinley because Governor Nathan O. Murphy was out of state at the time. President McKinley granted them a stay of execution until October 5th, 1900, so that they could gather more evidence for their defense.

When Governor Murphy returned from out of state, he extended their stay. But then when the Haldermans' could not produce any further evidence, the date of execution was set for November 16th, 1900.

It should be noted that initially, right after the shooting, the Wilson sisters substantiated Terry Moore deathbed claims. Supposedly they did so because their father, in fear of what his neighbors would do if the brothers were released, threatened to punish them if they did otherwise.

It's true, Wilson's daughters had sworn an affidavit that one of the arresting party had fired the first shot but their father had ordered the girls to testify to the contrary. Johnny Wilson, a son, witnessed the whole affair according to William but was not allowed to appear in court.

All in all, no evidence was introduced to convict Thomas Halderman. There was no testimony heard to convict Thomas. Fact is that the jury simply included him in the verdict, even though one juror admitted the jury did not fully understand the court's instructions.

Buck Smith later came into evidence that Teddy Moore was the one who had killed his cattle and that Moore wanted the brothers to take the blame. None of any of that mattered, There was simply no avoiding the hangman.

It was only after the Haldermans were sentenced to death that the Wilson sisters finally came forward and told the truth about what they had witnessed. It made no difference though. The Halderman family claimed that the trial was rigged and unfair. Especially since the prosecutor was none other than Arizona Attorney General Charles L. Ainsworth, who was Chester Ainsworth's brother. And also, the defense plea for a change of venue was denied. Some say that was because the jury wanted t hang the brothers before the trail started.

And yes, make no mistake about it, justice was swift. Back then there was none of the modern non-sense that takes place today where a convicted murderer can sit on Death Row until he dies of old age and natural causes. The shootout took place on April 7th, 1899, and they were captured shortly afterwards on April 12th. Within two months, by June 11th, they were convicted and ordered to hang on August 10th, 1899. Because of delays, the order to execute them was moved to November 16th, 1900, And yes, the execution was carried out on November 16th as ordered.

Although only 100 invitations were sent out, it's said that a large crowd gathered to witness the hanging. It's also said that those who couldn't be near the gallows actually watched from the windows of the Cochise County Courthouse.

Unlike many hangings where the person being hanged cries and squirms or faints, it's said that both of the brothers met their end as brave as could ever be expected. In fact, it's said that when the younger brother Thomas Halderman walked out of the jail, he said, "Hello Hombres! The sun's hot, ain't it?"

After climbing up the scaffold, older brother William is supposed to have said: "Nice looking crowd. Some of you fellers are shaking already." Then, as he turned to his brother, William was reported as to have said, "Those people look alright." And believe it or not, right after that Thomas actually placed his noose around his own neck. If you think that sounds strange, while Sheriff White read the execution order to the public in attendance, William Halderman talked with a deputy by the name of Bravin.

So imagine the scene, the Sheriff is reading the death warrant, William is chatting with a deputy while his younger brother Thomas puts his own hangman's noose around his own neck. Sounds almost insane!

When Sheriff White was finished, he finally got around to asking the Halderman brothers if they wanted to say any last words. With that William responded, "I have nothing to say and guess it would not do any good anyway. I forgive you all and hope you will forgive me."

Then after saying what he needed to say, William asked for a prayer to be read. With that Reverend Alexander Elliott stepped forward to help William with a prayer. After that black hoods were placed over their heads. And yes, it was reported that in unison the brother's called out, "Good-bye boys! Pray for us."

The trap door under their feet opened at 12:40 p.m.. It was reported that a full thirteen minutes passed when Thomas was pronounced dead. His older bother William died two minutes later. The doctor at the execution reported that Thomas had died of a broken neck. He reported that William's death was caused by "the violent shock, compression of a vital nerve, and by strangulation."

The Halderman brothers were buried together in Tombstone's Boothill Graveyard. And as for some of the witnesses, Rena Wilson later committed suicide because of her involvement in the case. Then in 1913, her sister Mary was placed in an insane asylum by her brother Tol.

As for Tol Wilson, he was killed shortly after that in what became known as the Cottonwood Canyon Murder. That was when on June 16th, 1913, Luther Price murdered his best friend Tol Wilson while they were camping in Cottonwood Canyon.

The story on that says that Price struck Wilson over the head with a pistol. After that Price threw Wilson down a 150 foot deep well. Price was arrested and sent to the state prison but he and two other prisoners escaped from a work-crew on May 23rd, 1917.

Price and the other two fled to Mexico, but Price contracted smallpox there. He then returned to his family's ranch in the Chiricahuas. Because he needed a doctor pretty badly, Luther Price turned himself in and was returned to prison where he died.

As for the gallows in Tombstone where the Halderman brothers were hanged? Well, on January 25th, 1912, The Tucson Citizen published the following article:

TOMBSTONE - The historic scaffold which has been stored in the county courtyard adjoining the courthouse is no more. The last of it was cut up to furnish kindling for the fire of the county jail. The scaffold was built in the early part of the year 1884 by C.J. Ulmer, who at present is a resident of Yuma. It was ordered built by the board of supervisors for the purpose of the hanging of the five Bisbee murderers and was built so as to accomodate them all at once.

It was used on the 27th of March, 1884, at which time Dan Dowd, James Delaney, Tex Howard, Red Sample and J. Kely were hung, the trap being sprung by Sheriff Ward.

It was then stored away and kept until Nov. 16, 1900, when it was erected under the direction of Sheriff Scott White and was used for the execution of William and Thomas Halderman, who were convicted of the murder of Constable Ainsworth in the Swisshelm mountains the month of June 1899.

The scaffold was erected twice for service since that time but was never used.

-- end article.

Today, a replica of the gallows that were used for the hanging of the Halderman brothers is on display at the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. The Old Cochise County Courthouse has also been restored so that it appears as it did in 1900 during the Haldermans' trial.

What became known as the "Shootout at Wilson Ranch" or "The Wilson Ranch Shootout", resulted in the final and most famous hanging in the history of Tombstone, Arizona.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. very good read. I have read a lot about tombstone, az. and surrounding area's but never read that interesting story.
    thank you.


Thank you for your comment.