Early Arizonans turned to mob justice at times
It is easy to understand why in 1859 the citizens of Yuma took the law into their own hands when they hanged Mateo, the killer of W. Sumner Dow. It would be another five years before Arizona Territory would come into existence. Then called "Arizona City," Yuma was legally in Dona Ana County of New Mexico whose officers seldom ventured as far west as the Colorado River. So when Cocopah Indians captured Dow's killer and turned him over to the people of the small river village, they hanged him without trial.
Another Yuma killing in 1866 resulted in mob justice, too, though there had been a semblance of legality with a proper trial. After gambler Jack Hewing brutally beat wagon master W.H. Wilson to death for borrowing his blankets and sleeping off a drunk in his corral, local residents gave Hewing a trial. Found guilty of murder, Hewing was sentenced to be hanged. When Yumans learned that the killer would appeal his conviction to a higher court at La Paz, which then was the county seat, they seized Hewing and hanged him from a nearby mesquite tree.
Even though the Yuma County seat and law officers were at La Paz until 1871, that town's residents were not adverse to administering their own concept of justice without a court. They felt they could justify what they did because the victims of their lawless response were Mohave Indians.
A Mohave band led by Cojackama was believed by La Paz residents to be responsible for the murder of William Brown in nearby Granite Wash earlier in 1868. Consisting of about two dozen warriors, the Indian group was camped near La Paz in October of 1868.
A resident of La Paz who described the massacre of the Mohaves wrote that citizens who attacked the Mohaves thought the Indians were planning to invade La Paz and murder the townsfolk. Determined to prevent what they believed to be a planned massacre, a group of La Paz men guided by Chemehuevi Indians attacked the Mohave encampment in the middle of the night.
They killed 10 of the Mohaves, but a dozen or so Indians managed to escape. The letter writer bragged, "All were undoubtedly wounded as pools of blood were found by the pursing party."
When Territorial Governor McCormick ordered the arrest of some of the La Paz men responsible for killing the Indians, the writer expressed outrage.
Yuma County wasn't the only place in the Territory where mobs administered justice when they felt the law wouldn't be effective. Milton Duffield was the United States marshal with his office in Tucson in 1873 when residents there took the law into their own hands despite his warnings. The Prescott Weekly Miner newspaper reported on Sept. 13 that a man named Willis was convicted in a court there, but was then seized by a mob which announced its intention to hang him. In spite of Marshal Duffield's warning that "anybody who tried to touch him would get hurt," they seized Willis and lynched him.
A Yuma killer who escaped the wrath of local citizens in 1872 met his maker at the hands of a Utah mob two years later. The killer, William Pickens, had made the mistake of inviting the chief clerk of the Fort Yuma Quartermaster Depot, Captain Albert Hahn, to have a drink with him in early November of 1872. A non-drinker, Hahn thanked Pickens, but refused the offer.
It so offended Pickens that he called Hahn a liar and punched him in the face. The blow floored Hahn, and Pickens then began kicking his grounded victim. When one of Hahn's friends intervened and stopped Pickens' attack on the downed man, Hahn got up and began hitting his assailant with the cane he was carrying. Angered, Pickens drew his gun and shot the Quartermaster clerk to death. Arrested, Pickens was freed on a claim of self-defense.
Two years later, Yuma's newspaper reported that Hahn's killer may have been the victim of mob justice in Utah. The news story announced that a local resident received a letter from Utah with this information: "All I know is that a man by the name of Pickens was hung by a vigilance committee for cheating at cards somewhere on the line of the railroad near Omaha or Ogden. This occurred some three months ago. I think it was the Pickens who murdered Captain Hahn..."
Phoenix was only nine years old in 1876 when it had an episode of mob justice after a New Year's Eve dance. When Young, one of the men at the affair insulted a woman, he was ejected from the building. Returning with a gun, he shot one of the men who helped remove him. Enraged, Phoenicians attending the dance seized the shooter and hanged him from a nearby tree.
Neither were the residents of the copper camp at Globe adverse to administering mob justice. Tucson's Star newspaper reported on Dec. 27, 1882 that the people of the mining town hanged a local killer on the day after Christmas.
According to the paper, Thomas Kerr, "without provocation," attacked a bar patron knocking him to the floor. When the victim tried to defend himself, Kerr shot him. It angered saloon customers who seized Kerr and hanged him from a sycamore tree.
The Star noted, "The popular opinion in Globe is that he should have been hanged long ago."
FRANK LOVE is a local historian.