Robert H. Birch

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Robert H. Birch
Born Robert Henry Birch
New York[clarification needed] or North Carolina
Died 1866 (aged 39)
Arizona Territory, present-day Arizona?
Nationality American
Other names Robert Birch, Henry Birch, "Three-Fingered" Birch, Robert Harris, R. Harris, R. Haris, Haris, Owin, Haines, Gains, Thomas Brown, Tom Brown, Robert Blecher, R.H. Blecher
Occupation bandit, burglar, postmaster, prospector, lawman, soldier
Known for Being an accomplice in the torture and murder of Colonel George Davenport and a member of the notorious Banditti of the Prairie
Parent(s) John "Old Coon" Birch, Sr.
Relatives John Birch, Jr. (brother), Timothy Birch (brother)

Robert H. "Three-Fingered" Birch, born Robert Henry Birch (c. 1827 – c. 1866), was a 19th-century American adventurer, criminal, soldier. lawman, postmaster, 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.

Early life[edit]

Although, Robert Birch, himself, claimed, to have been born in New York[clarification needed], amateur detective, Edward Bonney alleged, that Birch's father, John "Old Coon" Birch, Sr., stated, in their home, which was nine miles southwest of Marshall, in Clark County, Illinois, that Robert had been born in North Carolina. Birch had moved with his father and his two brothers, John, Jr. and Timothy, to Illinois, as a child.

Criminal pursuits[edit]

Robert Birch 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". Robert Birch was a close associate of bandit, William Fox, as both were considered notorious "prairie pirates" and longtime members of the so-called Banditti of the Prairie. Birch was a self-styled Mormon, who conveniently, used his church membership, as a Latter Day Saint, to gain protection in Nauvoo, Illinois, when the law was hot on his trail. He also, may have had ties to Tennessee outlaw, John A. Murrell and his Mystic Clan, using a number of criminal aliases including; Robert Harris, R. Harris, R. Haris, Haris, Owin, Haines, Gains, Thomas Brown, Tom Brown, Robert Blecher, R.H. Blecher. But, this claim does not hold up to scrutiny, as Birch would have been only seven years old, in 1834, when Murrell was arrested and began serving his ten-year prison sentence. Robert Birch, more likely, might of had older relatives, such as his father, uncles, or cousins, who were on the Mystic Clan's membership rolls in the U.S. Southern states or were connected to outlaws who were Murrell associates. After the demise of Murrell, many of the members of the future "Banditti" were driven out of "The South" and to avoid arrest, execution, or death at the hands of regulators and moved farther north, relocating their criminal activities in the still, lawless, frontier of the Middle West, mainly in the states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

Robert Birch, when he was 18 years old was alleged, by James Tevis, of being involved in the torture and murder of Colonel George Davenport, at his home, on July 4, 1845. Birch was one, of several members, later, identified by Edward Bonney, who had infiltrated the gang as a bogus counterfeiter. Ironically, three years earlier, Bonney had been arrested and charged with counterfeiting in Indiana but, escaped before his conviction. 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, Robert Birch broke out of jail, through outside help or bribery, in Knoxville, Illinois, March 22, 1847.

Honest pursuits, later years, and death[edit]

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, Or, The Murderer's Doom!!: A Tale of the Mississippi Valley. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, (1850) 1963.
  • Tevis, James H. Arizona in the '50's. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954.
  • Wellman, Paul L. Spawn of Evil. Doubleday and Company, 1964.