A marker at the Boothill Graveyard for the five outlaws who committed the Bisbee Massacre.
|Date||December 8, 1883|
|Location||Bisbee, Arizona Territory, United States|
The Bisbee Massacre, also known as the Bisbee Murders, or the Bisbee Raid, occurred on December 8, 1883, when a gang of bandits robbed a general store in Bisbee, Arizona, and killed four people. Five men were later executed for the crime and they became the first criminals to be legally hanged in Tombstone. A sixth man was sentenced to life in prison, but he was killed by a lynch mob on February 22, 1884. Today, the graves of the bandits are a popular tourist attraction at the Boothill Graveyard in Tombstone.
Robbery and massacre
The Bisbee Massacre was committed by a group of outlaw Cowboys named Daniel "Big Dan" Dowd, Comer W. "Red" Sample, Daniel "York" Kelly, William E. "Billy" Delaney, and James "Tex" Howard. However, in the aftermath of the event, it was revealed that a saloon owner named John Wesley Heath was also involved, though he did not participate in the actual shooting. Heath was a Texas cattle rustler in his youth, but he later settled in Arizona and served as a deputy sheriff of Cochise County. The county paid little though so Heath opened a saloon and turned to banditry when the opportunity presented itself. The massacre took place at the Goldwater & Castaneda Mercantile, which was the largest in town. Heath learned that a $7,000 payroll for the Copper Queen Mine was being held there so he recruited some of his friends to steal it on the morning of December 8, 1883.
When they arrived in town, three of the bandits remained outside of the store with the horses while two others went inside for the money. They were disappointed though when they found that the payroll had not yet arrived. The bandits then decided to take whatever they could find in the safe and steal valuables from the employees and customers. According to differing accounts, between $900 and $3,000 was taken, as well as a gold watch and other articles of jewelry. Then, just as the two robbers were heading out the door to mount their horses, the three bandits outside began "shooting up the town" in the usual Western style. A customer inside the store, J. C. Tappenier, was the first to be killed; he was struck by a bullet that came through the front window. After hearing the first shot, Deputy Sheriff Tom Smith came running down the street and was himself killed. A few seconds later, one bullet passed through the wooden wall of a nearby boarding house and killed a pregnant woman, Mrs. R. H. Roberts. Another wounded a man named John A. Nolly as he stood outside the door of his office. One final bullet hit a bystander in the leg as he was running from the scene. In less than five minutes, four people were dead, including the woman and her child, and two others were wounded. The bandits then left town "at a leisurely pace," stopping to rob people along the way. At a place called Soldier's Hole, east of Bisbee, they divided the money and went their separate ways.
Posse captures suspects
The people of Bisbee quickly informed Sheriff Jerome L. Ward and he organized two posses. The first he led and the second was under the command of Deputy William Daniels. Daniels went to Bisbee to begin investigating and one of the men he questioned was John Heath, who hid in his saloon during the shooting. Heath told Deputy Daniels that he knew the wanted men and offered his help. However, Daniels knew that Heath had an "unsavory reputation" and later accused him of leading the posse on a false trail. All of the bandits were eventually caught though.
Daniel Dowd and William E. Delaney were captured by Deputy Daniels across the international border in Sonora, Mexico in January 1884. Kelly was caught in Deming, New Mexico and the final two were arrested in Clifton. During interrogation, the bandits indicated that John Heath had prior knowledge of the robbery so he was arrested accordingly. Heath later confessed to having organized the robbery, but he also said that the shooting was not part of his plan.
The trial for the five murderers began in Tombstone, the county seat, on February 17, 1884, and all were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang on March 28, despite protests from a local philanthropist, Nellie Cashman. Heath's trial began on February 20 and, because he was hiding in his saloon during the massacre, he was convicted of second-degree murder and received a life sentence at the Yuma Territorial Prison. The people of Cochise County were not happy with Heath's sentence though. On February 22, a large lynch mob broke into the county jail and kidnapped Heath at gunpoint, leaving the other five bandits unharmed. The mob attempted to hang Heath from the balustrade of the jail, but were stopped by Sheriff Ward. They then went to the corner of First and Toughnut Street and found a telegraph pole to use. Heath's last words were: "I have faced death too many times to be disturbed when it actually comes. ... Don't mutilate my body or shoot me full of holes!" Public approval of the hanging was reflected in the verdict of the coroner's jury: "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."
After the trial for the five murderers, the day of execution quickly transformed from one of punishment to a day of celebration. Sheriff Ward sent out invitations to a select number of people to view the hanging from a purpose-built bleacher, however, a local businessman erected a grandstand of his own and began selling tickets for the seats. Nellie Cashman was disgusted when she heard of the celebration so, after unsuccessfully protesting to Sheriff Ward, she and her friends chopped up the grandstand with axes on the day before the execution. Also, when she heard that a medical school intended to exhume the bandits' corpses for research, Cashman hired two miners to guard their graves.
Although there is a grave marker at the Boothill Graveyard for John Heath, records indicate that he was returned to his family in Terrell, Texas and buried at the Oakland Cemetery in an unmarked grave. The graves of the others can still be seen in Tombstone today.
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A February 24, 1884, edition of the New York Times said the following:
|“||At 9 o'clock on Thursday morning Judge [Daniel H.] Pinney sentenced John [Heath] to confinement in Yuma Penitentiary [Yuma Territorial Prison] for life for complicity in the Bisbee murders. Twenty-four hours later the dead body of Heath dangled from the cross bar of a telegraph pole near the foot of Toughnut Street, where it was suspended by a rope... The seven men approached the door leading to the corridor of the jail and ... Jailer Ward opened the door unsuspiciously, and was immediately covered by weapons and told to give up the keys of the jail. Seeing any attempt at resistance would be useless he did as requested, and in a few minutes the deputation was in the presence of the sought-for man... 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. This being done, he informed the crowd they were hanging an innocent man, and would find it out when the others (meaning Dowd and his companions) were hanged. He told them he had faced death too often to be afraid, and had but one request to make, namely, that they would not shoot into his body... The Coroner's jury found as a verdict that Heath came to his death from "emphysema, which might have been caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise."||”|
On March 29, 1884, the Tombstone Epitaph reported the following:
|“||O.W. Sample, Dan Dowd, James Delany, James Howard and Dan Kelly were hanged here at quarter past one this afternoon, for the Bisbee Murders. The five bandits marched up the steps of the scaffold without flinching, and all declared their innocence. Heith [Heath], who was lynched here on February 22, was, they stated also innocent. They bade their friends goodbye. They expressed faith in the Christian religion, and requested that their bodies be delivered to Father Gallagher. Nothing occurred to mar the sheriff's plans. The murderers were all dropped off together, and, with the exception of Dowd, died without a struggle. ... Over one thousand persons witnessed the execution. A large balcony had been erected outside of and overlooking the jail yard, the builder intending to charge a dollar and a half admission. The mob became indignant and tore the balcony down. In the row which followed seven persons were injured. One man had his leg broken and another his arm. The balcony would have seated five hundred persons. With this exception, everything passed off quietly. ... The residents of Tombstone were startled on the morning of the 9th of last December by the news that reached the city regarding the desperate work of a number of bandits, who had on the previous day entered Bisbee, a neighboring mining settlement, and robbed a number of citizens. The messengers who brought the news stated that on the afternoon of December 8 six men rode into the settlement. They dismounted in a quiet part of the place, and, leaving the horses in charge of one of their number, five visited the business portion of the settlement and commenced a series of robberies. Three of them entered the store of A.A. Castenado [Castenada] while two stood guard without. As they entered the door one of them immediately covered the book-keeper of the establishment with a revolver and commanded him to open the safe, which he did. They took from the safe about $800.00 and then robbed the attaches taking a gold watch and other valuables. Whole these scenes were being acted within, the watchmen on the outside when any one approached, cried out "Keep back, or we will kill you." and pointed a revolver at the head of the person so addressed. When they left the plundered store, they returned to their horses, stopping and robbing several citizens on the way. A number of people were soon in pursuit of the desperadoes, who, as they rode from the place, fatally shot Mrs. Roberts, D.T. Smith, J.A. Tappenier, and John A. Nolly. The highwaymen made their escape, carrying with them about $1200.00. 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. Clues soon developed that led to the arrest of six men. These were Daniel Dowd, James "alias "Tex" Delaney, Oscar W. Sample alias "Red" Daniel Kelly, James Howard and John Heith. The first five named men were tried at Tombstone and convicted of murder in the first degree. The trial of Heith was separate, and he was found guilty of murder in the second degree, and sentenced to life imprisonment. As Heith was believed to be the instigator of the crime, this so enraged the citizens of Tombstone that they determined to lynch him. On the morning of [George] Washington's birthday [February 22] about one hundred men, mostly miners armed themselves and a committee of seven appointed to enter the jail and secure the murderer. They knocked at the door, and as it was about the time that the Chinese servant brought in the breakfast for the prisoners, the jailer, thinking it was he, threw open the door, and the lynche[r]s marched in, and, under the muzzle of a revolver, they compelled the turnkey to open Heith's cell. This was done, and after putting the rope around Heith's neck, they started to leave jail with him. As they descended the stairs of the jail it was suggested that they hang him from the balustrade, but as Sheriff Ward and several others came on the scene, it was prevented. The sheriff was knocked down by some of the mob, who then dragged Heith through the streets for several blocks, until a telegraph pole was reached. He was then informed that his time had come. He made one request of the mob before he was lynched saying "Don't riddle my body with bullets, boys" A pocket handkerchief was put over his eyes and the rope thrown over one of the cross pieces of the telegraph pole. The mob, seizing the rope, drew him up, and he was left hanging for half an hour, when he was cut down.||”|
- "John Heath and the Bisbee Massacre". Retrieved June 5, 2012.
- "Arizona Trails: Cochise County, Arizona: The Bisbee Massacre". Retrieved June 5, 2012.
- Wilson, R. Michael (2007). Frontier Justice in the Wild West: Bungled, Bizarre, and Fascinating Executions. Globe Pequot. ISBN 978-0-7627-4389-6.
- McLoughlin, Denis (1977). The Encyclopedia of the Old West. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-7100-0963-0.
- "Arizona Geneaology Trails: Cochise County, Arizona Newspaper Articles: Murders". Retrieved June 5, 2012.