If you missed this historical potboiler, read on. This is the Bisbee Massacre, revisited.
The wild West is alive and well where we live. Tombstone is an easy drive for an afternoon of strolling the boardwalks, getting some BBQ, and chatting with cowboys, gunslingers, and "soiled doves." Every self-respecting American knows about the gunfight at the OK Corral. We've romanticized it in film for decades. Personally I enjoy the 1993 version with Val Kilmer and Kurt Russell. There are quite few tales of violence and western justice in our area that are not as well known as the OK Corral incident. Bisbee, which snatched the designation of county seat in Cochise County after the Tombstone silver ran out has some tales of its own. Since winter is upon us and a story is always good by the fire, sit a spell while I tell you the about the Bisbee Massacre.
On a cold December night in 1883, five outlaws rode into Bisbee and commenced robbing the largest mercantile in town with the goal of snagging the Copper Queen Mine's payroll of $7,000. The Phelps Dodge Mining Company's payroll, however hadn't yet arrived. Once they realized that their plan had been foiled due to bad timing, the scene turned downright ugly. The two outlaws in the store began robbing customers of jewelry, cash, and anything else of value. They forced one of the store owners to open up the safe and they grabbed what little cash was there. They also stole a watch and more cash from the other store owner before leaving. The three who stood guarding the entrance outside lost their cool and began shooting wildly-one shot going through the store's window and killing a customer, J.C. Tappenier. Deputy Tom Smith came charging up the street and was immediately shot dead in his tracks. Another shot took down a man entering his office, while another bullet went through the wall of a boarding house, killing a pregnant woman. The last victim was a man who was shot in the leg as he attempted to flee from the scene. It all happened in less than five minutes.
Amazingly the five outlaws rode leisurely out of town and quickly disappeared. Sheriff Ward in Tombstone was telegraphed and two posses formed to hunt down the killers. Deputy Sheriff William Daniels commenced questioning residents about the murderous rampage. John Heath, the unsavory owner of a sleazy saloon in Bisbee intimated that he probably knew the culprits and could give the lawman an assist. Weeks later the five outlaws were apprehended. Two were in Mexico, another in Deming, New Mexico, and two were still in Arizona. Once interrogations began, the murderers spilled the beans that John Heath had masterminded the robbery. Heath readily admitted his guilt under some intense questioning. It didn't take long for trials to begin. Mr. Heath insisted he be tried separately much to the dismay of Bisbee citizens. They were even angrier when he received a life sentence in Yuma prison rather than hanging. This was on February 20, 1884. An outraged mob of more than 50 decided to rectify the perceived miscarriage of justice and descended upon the Tombstone jail on the 22nd of February. They dragged the convicted murderer into the streets and quickly lynched him at the corner of Toughnut and First Streets, using a telegraph pole as the gallows. The coroner's jury verdict reflected the mood of the public at the time stating "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." As you might guess, the other five were convicted and promptly hanged.
There you have it. A rather gruesome story of the Old West that took place just a few miles away from Casa Wallace, and well over a century ago. Bisbee has reinvented itself into a place full of antique shops, art galleries, and great restaurants. It's a bit quirky and you might feel like you've stepped back into the 60s, but it's a good place to watch the world go by with an excellent cappuccino at the Bisbee Coffee Company or a fabulous breakfast at the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Although outlaws on horses are a thing of the past (maybe), that pervasive independent spirit remains, a true sign of a western town.