Robert H. Paul

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Robert H. Paul
Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul
Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul c 1890
Born (1831-06-12)June 12, 1831
Lowell, Massachusetts
Died March 26, 1901(1901-03-26) (aged 69)
Tucson, Arizona
Other names Bob Paul
Occupation seaman, miner, constable, sheriff
Known for Sheriff, Pima County, Arizona
Spouse(s) Margaret Coughlan

Robert H. Paul (June 12, 1830 – March 26, 1901) was a law enforcement officer in the American Southwest for more than 30 years. He was sheriff of Pima County, Arizona Territory from April 1881 to 1886 and a friend of Deputy U.S. Marshall Virgil Earp and his brother Wyatt Earp. At 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) and 240 pounds (110 kg), he was described as "larger than life".[1] Others described him as "powerful, fearless and very lucky".[2]

Early life[edit]

Bob Paul was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on June 12, 1830[3] and at age 12 (some reports say age 14[3]) went to sea from New Bedford, Massachusetts on the whaling ship Majestic with his older brother John. When the voyage ended two years later in the Sandwich Islands, the captain sold the cargo of whale oil and gave Paul his share, $250 (approximately $6,600 as of 2014). He shipped out as a merchant sailor for the next two years and when his ship put in at San Francisco on February 2, 1848, he left to try his luck in the California gold fields.[3]

Mining in California[edit]

He worked a placer mine in Hangtown for several months without success. He followed others to fresh discoveries of gold on the Yuba River and then to the Mokelumne River, where he found and worked a successful mining claim.[3] He was first elected constable in Campo Seco in 1854,[4] and a month later was appointed Calaveras County Deputy Sheriff for the next three years. In 1857 he was appointed undersherriff. He was responsible for breaking up the Tom Bell gang that was operating in Calaveras and Placer County.[4]

In 1862 he married Margaret Coughlan, a 17-year old Irish woman, in Mokelumne Hill. They had 10 children, only six of whom lived to adulthood.[4] He tried mining again but had no luck and in the 1870s took a job as a stagecoach shotgun messenger for Wells Fargo & Co. operating out of San Andreas and later Visalia, California[4]

He was so successful at his job with Wells Fargo that in 1878, Wells Fargo superintendent J.J. Valentine ordered Bob to Arizona to deal with a series of gold bullion robberies in Maricopa, Arizona. Bob was joined in 1879 by Al Sieber and Johnny Behan in a chase for the robber and murderer during the stage holdup near Gillette, Arizona (near present-day Tip Top, Arizona in Yavapai County).[1][4]

Election as Pima County Sheriff[edit]

With several years of experience as a sheriff in California, Paul ran as a Republican for the office of Pima County Sheriff against Democrat Charles A. Shibell. He was a large man, At 6 foot 6”, and weighed about 240 pounds.[1] Paul was expected to win, but on November 2, 1880, Shibell was unexpectedly reelected, and he immediately appointed Johnny Behan as the new deputy sheriff for the Tombstone region of Pima County. A week later Bob Paul accused Shibell and his Cowboy supporters Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, and Frank McLaury of ballot-stuffing and filed suit in the courts.

Stagecoach murder[edit]

While the election decision was being argued in the courts, Bob rejoined Wells Fargo as a shotgun messenger. On the evening of March 15, 1881, three Cowboys attempted to rob a Kinnear & Company stagecoach carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (about $635,000 in today's dollars) en route from Tombstone to Benson, Arizona, the nearest freight terminal.[5]:180 Near Drew's Station, just outside of Contention City, a man stepped into the road and commanded them to "Hold!"

When the driver had taken ill in Contention City, Paul took the reins and driver's seat. Paul fired his ever-present shotgun and emptied his revolver at the robbers, wounding a Cowboy later identified as Bill Leonard in the groin. The popular and well-known driver Eli 'Budd' Philpot was shot and killed as well as a passenger named Peter Roerig riding in the rear dickey seat. The horses spooked and Paul was unable to bring the stage under control for almost a mile, leaving the robbers with nothing. Paul said he thought the first shot killing Philpot in the shotgun messenger seat had been meant for him as he would normally have been seated there.[6][7] Paul returned to the attempted robbery site near Drews Station and joined in with the posse on an 18-day chase that proved fruitless.[4]

Court awards him office[edit]

The Arizona Territorial Supreme Court ruled on his election lawsuit in Paul's favor in February, but Shibell appealed, and the decision was not confirmed until April. Paul held the position through 1886.[4] On February 1, 1881 Cochise County was split off from Pima County, relieving him of a large and difficult territory.[1]

Ordered to arrest Wyatt Earp[edit]

After the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp and other deputies were accused of killing Frank Stilwell in the railyard at Tucson. Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued arrest warrants for five of the Earps' party.[8] Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan tried to serve the warrant on the men in Tombstone, telling Wyatt he wanted to see him. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt replied "Johnny, if you're not careful you'll see me once too often."[9][10] The Earps and other deputies formed a federal posse and sought revenge against the other Cowboys they held responsible for the maiming of Virgil and the assassination of Morgan Earp. In the next three days they killed Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz, Curly Bill Brocius, and Johnny Barnes. Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan organized a posse to pursue and arrest them, but Paul did not join in, or was not invited, due to his known friendly relations with the Earps.[2]

The Pima County Supervisors ordered him later that year to bring Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday back from Colorado. A friend of the Earps, he served a warrant on Doc Holliday, but Colorado Governor Frederick W. Pitkin was persuaded by Earp friend Bat Masterson to prevent Holliday's extradition,[2] and Paul returned empty handed.[4] Paul also knew of warrants for the Earp's arrest, but he never served the Earps.

Prevents lynching[edit]

In April 1883 in the Old Pueblo in Tucson, local citizens attempted to lynch Joseph Casey, who earlier that day had murdered the jailer. Bob Paul cleared the courthouse and almost single-handedly saved Casey’s life.[2] Bob served as Pima County sheriff until 1886[4] and later as a detective for the SPRR during 1888-90. On that job he was responsible for tracking down the robbers who held up the Stein's Pass railroad in Sonora, Mexico in 1888.

In 1890 he was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as U.S. Marshal for the entire Arizona Territory and held that post until 1893, after which he served as Justice of the Peace in Tucson. He died in 1901.[1][4]

Over the years, Paul’s courage, omnipresent shotgun and manhunts into Mexico drew national acclaim. Paul died of cancer on March 26, 1901,[11] in what his obituary called both “his first and last sickness”.[2] He was buried in Tucson's Court Street Cemetery.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kasulaitis, Mary (May 1, 2010). "Sheriffs and Rangers". Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Sheriff Robert Paul: He was physically powerful, fearless and very lucky". Tucson, AZ: Arizona Daily Star. February 13, 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d Long, James. "U.S. Marshal Bob Paul, Arizona Lawman". 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "U.S. Marshal for A.T. Bob Paul". 
  5. ^ O'Neal, Bill (1979). Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2335-6. Retrieved 2011-04-14. 
  6. ^ "Wyatt Earp Trial: 1881—A Mysterious Stage Coach Robbery—Clanton, Holliday, Told, Leonard, Doc, and Ike". Retrieved 2011-02-08. 
  7. ^ "History Raiders". Retrieved February 11, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Grand Jury Indictment for the Killing of Frank Stilwell". March 25, 1882. Retrieved February 26, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". January 29, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Earp Vendetta Ride". Legends of America. Retrieved May 11, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Sheriffs Then and Now". Paducah, KY: Pima County Sheriffs Office.