Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Pre-Bosch, A Ricochet Rerun

 

I’m a bit tired of the Swamp, and I’ve been waiting for a new series of “Bosch” episodes on Amazon Prime. I’ll have to settle for a rerun of an essay that I wrote on Jim Roberts. Jim Roberts was not as famous as Wyatt Earp, but he may well have been the deadliest gunfighter and lawman in Arizona.

Jim Roberts was one of the last of the legendary gunfighters in Arizona. He survived the Pleasant Valley War, a range war between two families that began in 1882 and ended with one last killing in 1892.

The Pleasant Valley War is also known as the Tonto Basin War, Tonto Basin Feud, or the Tewksbury-Graham Feud. It was the longest-lasting and deadliest range war in the American West. Before it was over, 35 to 50 participants lost their lives in face-to-face shootouts and ambush killings. Some men just simply disappeared and were never seen again, in all likelihood ambushed in some lonely spot and buried where they died. By the time the war ended, there was only one man left in each of the feuding families.

The war involved other ranchers, cattle companies, sheep companies, and the hired assassin Tom Horn. The most notorious outside participants were the cowboys of the Hashknife Outfit:

The buckaroos of the outfit quickly gained the unsavory reputation of being the “thievinist, fightinest bunch of cowboys” in the United States. Gunfights soon escalated with the locals and the cowboys for various reasons. The cowboys fought what they perceived as rustlers and thieves preying on the company’s cattle, but they also targeted and harassed local ranches and farms that competed with the outfit. They also sided with the cattlemen during the war, harassing sheepherders in the region. On more than one occasion, Hashknife cowboys herded thousands of sheep into the Little Colorado River, where they drowned, or used horses to ride into a herd and scatter it. In 1886 there were twenty-six shooting deaths in Holbrook alone, which had a population of only about 250 people.

The Pleasant Valley War generated a great deal of publicity in the United States, and along with the Apache Wars in the Arizona Territory, played a part in delaying Arizona Statehood until Feb. 14, 1912.

Jim Roberts was raising horses west of Tonto Creek and one of his prize stallions was stolen. The Grahams were suspected of stealing the horse and he confronted them about the theft. They laughed at him so he sided with the Tewksburys. Before the war was over he shot and killed two of the Graham brothers and wounded three other men who had been fighting for the Graham family.

He was jailed in Prescott along with other participants in the range war but was released because no one was willing to come forward and testify against any of those involved in the feud. After the war had ended, the survivors on both sides of the fight considered him one of the deadliest gunfighters in a face-to-face confrontation.

Mining towns were looking for someone like Jim Roberts to maintain order where some problems could only be solved with gunplay:

Jerome was a typical western mining town with an abundance of boisterous, devil-may-care reprobates and dozens of saloons that remained open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Keeping the peace took a man with the bark still on.

One night three men escaped to the outskirts of town after killing a man over a card game. They sent a challenge to Roberts and a young deputy to come and get them. As the two lawmen approached the desperados Roberts said quietly, “You take the one in the middle and I’ll take the other two.”

When the youngster started to tremble, Roberts said in a kind but firm tone, “Step out of the way son; I’ll take ‘em all.”

A moment later all three killers were dead on the ground.

Jim Roberts took his last job as a lawman in the town of Clarkdale in 1927. He was 69 years old. He was a quiet man who didn’t drink or play cards. He never talked about his involvement in the Pleasant Valley War, and didn’t brag about his exploits as a lawman. A film company offered to pay him for his story; he refused the offer.

Youngsters around Clarkdale heard their father’s stories about Uncle Jim’s days as a famous gunfighter and lawman but all they knew about the Old West was gleaned from the western movies starring Buck Jones, Hoot Gibson, Ken Maynard and Tom Mix.

They asked questions such as, “Why doesn’t he dress like Tom Mix?” Why does he ride a mule instead of a horse? Why does Uncle Jim wear an old slouch hat instead of a wide-brimmed Stetson?

To all these questions Uncle Jim just smiled and went about his duty. In time they began to suspect the stories their parents told were just tall tales.

All those doubts were laid to rest on the morning of June 21st, 1928 when two Oklahoma bank robbers named Willard Forester and Earl Nelson held up the Bank of Arizona in downtown Clarkdale. They ran outside the bank with $40,000 and jumped into their getaway car. It was the largest robbery in Arizona history at the time.

They turned the corner just as Uncle Jim was making his rounds. Nelson spotted the old lawman and fired a shot that ricocheted off the sidewalk in front of him. As the car sped away Roberts drew his pistol from his hip pocket, took a deliberate aim and shot the driver through the head. The car careened off the road and into the school yard. Hollywood couldn’t have staged it any better if something spectacular was needed to show those youngsters the old gunfighter still had the right stuff.

Uncle Jim was late coming home to lunch that day and when Melia asked what kept him. True to his character, he simply said, “There was some trouble.” According to his son that’s all he ever said about the shootout.

Jim Roberts passed away from a heart attack on January 8, 1934, while makings his rounds.

A big tip of the hat to Marshall Trimble, the quotes about Jim Roberts as a lawman come from an article that Mr. Trimble wrote for True West magazine. Take the time to read Mr. Trimble’s biography by following the link that I provided for his website. His own story is interesting as an accomplished historian and storyteller.

If you’re interested in Arizona history, I highly recommend his book, Roadside History of Arizona. It is available from the Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT. His book is also available on Amazon; you will not be disappointed.

Published in History
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  1. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Like you, I am waiting for Bosch. It holds up well compared to the novels.

    In the meantime, Season 5 of Better Call Saul starts on Sunday!

    Thanks for the story. Marshall Trimble does some excellent stuff and I’m a subscriber to True West.

     

    • #1
    • February 20, 2020, at 8:32 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. JustmeinAZ Member

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):
    In the meantime, Season 5 of Better Call Saul starts on Sunday!

    Yay!

    Looks like Bosch will start in April; they’re already incorporating a newer book into the story – Dark Sacred Night.

    • #2
    • February 20, 2020, at 9:11 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. JennaStocker Member

    What a captivating story! Marshall Trimble sounds like a real life Tom Doniphon. I have a soft spot for the old west so I appreciate the tip about the book. Thanks for a good post!

    • #3
    • February 20, 2020, at 9:15 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  4. Ben Sears Member

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    Like you, I am waiting for Bosch. It holds up well compared to the novels.

    In the meantime, Season 5 of Better Call Saul starts on Sunday!

    Thanks for the story. Marshall Trimble does some excellent stuff and I’m a subscriber to True West.

     

    I’m waiting for Bosch too, but Better Call Saul is a total write off. If you make me wait more than a year between seasons I wait til you’re done and binge watch. Hope you keep enough viewers to keep going, but you lost me.

    • #4
    • February 21, 2020, at 10:59 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. MichaelKennedy Coolidge

    Tom Mix was killed in a single vehicle accident near Florence AZ. Florence is the town in the movie, “Murphy’s Romance.”

    https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/silent-film-star-tom-mix-dies-in-arizona-car-wreck-brained-by-suitcase-of-death

    He was headed home from Tucson.

    • #5
    • February 21, 2020, at 11:07 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. Old Bathos Moderator

    Many years ago while stationed at Ft. Huachuca (Somebody had to keep an eye on the Apaches while Vietnam raged–You’re welcome, America.) I became interested in local Arizona history. I found a book about Tombstone and the Earps written by a U of Chicago historian based largely on interviews with Morgan Earp’s widow who loathed Wyatt. According to her, the legend of Wyatt Earp was written by Wyatt Earp in his golden years and sent to San Francisco newspapers who ate it up, much to the amusement of Tombstone locals when those papers found their way to town weeks later.

    Ft. Huachuca was originally built as a cavalry outpost. Apaches stole their horse one night without being detected. A civilian rode a long way off to the nearest town with a telegraph office to inform the War Dept that more horses were needed. According to legend, instead of new horses, the unit was reclassified as infantry and ordered to get themselves 300 miles to Fort Bliss. (Must be a legend because the Army is never that spontaneously creative at problem-solving.)

    In the campaigns against the Apaches, the guys at Ft. Huachuca managed to miss out on virtually all of the combat conducted by Gen. Crook and others. “Well sir, gosh darn it, we looked all over for those sneaky Apaches but did not see a one.” Right. I regard this as self-preservational wisdom. Being ordered to ride around in the Arizona-Sonora desert until ambushed is the kind of order one would be highly incentivized to evade.

    The myths of Tombstone are clearly more fun than the facts. According to Wyatt’s sister-in-law, the Earps went to gun down the Clantons at the corral because they had pulled off a heist that Wyatt had considered doing himself. The myth of the showdown fair fight is more fun.

    • #6
    • February 21, 2020, at 12:15 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    Another Arizona history book on gunfights and law enforcement I’d recommend is Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight by Heidi Osselaer which I read last year. Oddly enough it took place during WWI and involved draft dodgers! Four men were killed; three law officers and the father of the draft dodgers, in the mountains 50 miles north of Tombstone and east of Tucson. Well-written with a lot of background about the settlers in that region of the state and issues around draft dodging (and the draconian steps the Wilson Administration took to stop it). Gives you a great feeling for the times.

    • #7
    • February 21, 2020, at 2:44 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Many years ago while stationed at Ft. Huachuca (Somebody had to keep an eye on the Apaches while Vietnam raged–You’re welcome, America.) I became interested in local Arizona history. I found a book about Tombstone and the Earps written by a U of Chicago historian based largely on interviews with Morgan Earp’s widow who loathed Wyatt. According to her, the legend of Wyatt Earp was written by Wyatt Earp in his golden years and sent to San Francisco newspapers who ate it up, much to the amusement of Tombstone locals when those papers found their way to town weeks later.

    Ft. Huachuca was originally built as a cavalry outpost. Apaches stole their horse one night without being detected. A civilian rode a long way off to the nearest town with a telegraph office to inform the War Dept that more horses were needed. According to legend, instead of new horses, the unit was reclassified as infantry and ordered to get themselves 300 miles to Fort Bliss. (Must be a legend because the Army is never that spontaneously creative at problem-solving.)

    In the campaigns against the Apaches, the guys at Ft. Huachuca managed to miss out on virtually all of the combat conducted by Gen. Crook and others. “Well sir, gosh darn it, we looked all over for those sneaky Apaches but did not see a one.” Right. I regard this as self-preservational wisdom. Being ordered to ride around in the Arizona-Sonora desert until ambushed is the kind of order one would be highly incentivized to evade.

    The myths of Tombstone are clearly more fun than the facts. According to Wyatt’s sister-in-law, the Earps went to gun down the Clantons at the corral because they had pulled off a heist that Wyatt had considered doing himself. The myth of the showdown fair fight is more fun.

    The Apache Wars started in 1849 and lasted until about 1886. Minor skirmishes went on into the early 1900’s. The last Apache raid in Arizona occurred in 1924. The Mexican government ended their Apache War in 1933. General Crook operated out of Fort Apache located in the White Mountain Apache Reservation located about 121 miles north of Tucson. White Mountain Apache’s acted as scouts for General Crook.

    When Fort Apache was decommissioned in 1922 the White Mountain Apache Scouts relocated to Fort Huachuca. The last four White Mountain Apache Scouts retired in 1947.

    In 1933, the Army built adobe huts for the Scouts and their families in an area that became known as “Apache Flats,” and installed plumbing, stoves, and shower facilities, but the Indians rarely used them, preferring to camp in their wickiups near the post cemetery. In 1947, the War Department ordered the retirement of the last four Scouts; one was Sgt. Sinew L. Riley.

    In his book, Fort Huachuca: Story of a Frontier Post, historian Cornelius Smith recorded Sgt. Riley’s moving words:

    We were recruited from the warriors of many famous nations. We are the last of the Army’s Indian scouts. In a few years we shall be gone to join our comrades in the great hunting grounds beyond the sunset, for our need here is no more. There we shall always remain very proud of our Indian people and of the United States Army, for we were truly the first Americans and you in the Army are now our warriors. To you who will keep the Army’s campfires bright, we extend our hands, and to you we will our fighting hearts.

    • #8
    • February 21, 2020, at 8:34 PM PST
    • 2 likes