Robert H. Birch

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Robert H. "Three-Fingered" Birch (c. 1827 – c. 1866) was a 19th-century American adventurer, criminal, soldier and prospector. He was a member of the infamous "Banditti of the Prairie" in his youth, whose involvement in the torture-murder of George Davenport in 1845 led to his turning state's evidence against his co-conspirators. He was also the discoverer of the Pinos Altos gold mine with Jacob Snively and James W. Hicks and served with the Arizona Rangers during the American Civil War.


Although Birch himself claimed to have been born in New York, detective Edward Bonney alleged that Birch's father stated that Robert had been born in North Carolina. He had moved with his father and his two brothers to Illinois as a child. He became involved in crime as a teenager, being described by Bonney as "suspected of robbery and even of murder ever since he had attained the age of fifteen", and was considered a longtime member of the so-called Banditti of the Prairie. He was alleged by James Tevis of being involved in the torture and murder of George Davenport at his home on July 4, 1845. He was one of several members later identified by Edward Bonney who had infiltrated the gang as a counterfeiter. Birch was soon apprehended, in part to information from Bonney, and he soon agreed to testify against the others in exchange for a reduced sentence. Granville Young and brothers John and Aaron Long were later executed for the murder. After several court delays, Birch escaped from jail in Knoxville, Illinois on March 22, 1847.

Disappearing into the frontier of the Midwest United States, he resurfaced almost a decade later as an associate of Jacob Snively, founder of the Arizona Territory's first boom town Gila City, and became the first postmaster on December 24, 1858. Two years later, Birch followed Snively and James W. Hicks to the New Mexico Territory where they discovered gold deposits on Bear Creek. A mining camp soon sprang up around the claim, on the site of what is today the ghost town of Pinos Altos, and was originally named Birchville in his honor. When the Confederate Army invaded New Mexico at the start of the American Civil War, Birch volunteered for the Arizona Rangers. He initially served with Company A under 2nd Lieutenant James Tevis however, according to Tevis, Birch asked to be transferred to Colonel John Ford at the Rio Grande. He died shortly after the end of the war.[1]


  1. ^ Thrapp, Dan L. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: In Three Volumes, Volume I (A-F). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988. (pg. 114-115) ISBN 0-8032-9418-2

Further reading[edit]

  • Bonney, Edward. The Banditti of the Prairies. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.
  • Tevis, James H. Arizona in the '50's. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954.