As I've written before, Cochise County doesn't have a long history of law and order. From the early days of the Apache wars to wild times in Tombstone, there's a healthy supply of interesting tales. Cattle rustling was one enterprise that the Indians, Mexicans and Americans seemed to enjoy. The terrain is well-suited because of the multitude of canyons, arroyos, and undefined borders which benefited rustlers.
|Black Jack (Photo: Wikipedia)|
Curly Bill's gang (of the OK Corral shoot out fame) headed an active bunch of rustlers whose most famous exploit was killing a group of Mexican smugglers in Skeleton Canyon. After that awful deed, they proceeded to steal 300 head of cattle in Mexico and jubilantly returned to the Tombstone area with their catch. The Mexican vacqueros pursued the bovine bandits back into the U.S. and recovered the cattle and managed to rustle 200 more head on the way back across the Mexican border. This only escalated the whole affair with Curly Bill, who wasn't going to accept defeat. He rushed into Mexico and re-stole the cattle. The vacqueros followed them back into the U.S. and proceeded to kill the new "owner" who was "Old Man" Clanton. Several of his companions met the the same fate in Guadalupe Canyon.
Not all of the rustlers had such a violent reputation as Curly Bill. Black Jack Christian was well liked and known to help with round-ups and shoe horses. Mrs. Hunsaker who ran an outfit in Leslie Canyon was fond of the outlaws who would help with chores and leave their guns outside, unlike posse members who stomped into her house, spitting tobacco juice on the floor. Jacob Scherer, another rancher was willing to obstruct justice to give the rustlers a chance to get away. When questioned on Black Jack's whereabouts (the rustler had spent the night at the Scherer cabin) he denied ever seeing the man.
After the complex and bloody incidents in Skeleton and Guadalupe Canyons, things began to change. Law enforcement and the ranchers on both sides of the border took more precautions and reduced rustling significantly. American rustlers stayed on U.S. side for the most part and Mexican rustlers stayed on their side. When John Slaughter became sheriff in 1887, the whole rustling industry was pretty much shut down, although small ranchers were not adverse to appropriating random calves from the larger ranching enterprises. To avoid detection, the rustlers moved the unbranded little dogies up into secluded, natural mountain corrals where they were branded and allowed to heal before freed to the range. The Arizona Rangers were formed in 1901 and finally got a handle on this type of rustling. They made 1800 arrests in the first two years, which was pretty effective in discouraging any others who might consider this as a career or pastime.
Lest you think that we've outgrown stealing cattle, Cochise County still has some notoriety in that department. In 2007, cattle rustling charges were brought against a rancher in Willcox, AZ. In the modern age, DNA was used to prove ownership. Here's the link if you're interested in more information.
The pioneer time period was brief, albeit colorful in Cochise County. For photos and more information that may be of interest click the LINK.