BISBEE MASSACRE By Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
January 31, 2014
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, killing four people. Five men were later executed for the crime, becoming the first criminals to be legally hanged in Tombstone. A sixth man was sentenced to live 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. 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. In the aftermath of the shooting, it was learned that a saloon owner named John Wesley Heath was also involved, although 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. Paid little through the county, Heath opened a saloon, and turned to banditry when the opportunity presented itself. The massacre took place at the Goldwater and Castaneda Mercantile, the largest in town. Heath had learned that a $7,000 payroll for the Copper Queen Mine was being held there, so he recruited his friends to steal it. Three bandits remained outside with the horses; two went inside for the money. They found that the payroll had not yet arrived. They then decided to take whatever they could find in the safe and steal the valuables from the employees and customers. As the two robbers were heading out the door, the three bandits outside began “shooting up the town” in the usual Western style. A customer inside the store was the first to be killed, struck by a bullet that came through the front window. Deputy Sheriff Tom Smith came running down the street after hearing the first shot and was also killed. A bullet passed through the wooden wall of a nearby boarding house, killing a pregnant woman. Another wounded a man as he stood outside the door of his office, and a final bullet hit a bystander in the leg. In less than five minutes, four people were dead, and two others wounded. The bandits then left town at a leisurely pace, stopping to rob people along the way. At a place called Soldiers Hole east of Bisbee they divided the money and went their separate ways. The people of Bisbee quickly formed 2 posses and by January 1884 all of the bandits had been rounded up. All of the bandits indicated that John Heath, the lawman, had prior knowledge of the robbery and he was arrested accordingly. February 17 was the trial for the five murderers, and all were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to hang on March 28. Heath was convicted of second degree murder, receiving a life sentence at the Yuma Territorial Prison. The people of Cochise County were not happy with his sentence, and on February 22, a lynch mob broke into the jail, kidnapped Heath at gunpoint, and hung him from a telegraph pole. The coroner’s jury reflected in their verdict that John Heath’s death came from emphysema of the lungs, a disease common in high altitudes, which might have been caused by strangulation, self inflicted or otherwise. Invitations were sent to the execution of the remaining five murderers and they were hanged on March 29, 1884 with over one thousand persons witnessing the execution.
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