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|Canyon Diablo Train Robbery||Buck O'Neil|
|Tombstone Epitaph Newspaper Vol. CXXII No. 1.|
"The worst trail town in Arizona-perhaps the entire West"..."the toughest Hellhole in the West"... and "the West's most deadly town" are only a few of the phrases used to describe the railroad town of Canyon Diablo, which came into existence in 1880, the town taking the name of the canyon.
Fred Volz's Indian Trading Post on "Hell Street" at Canyon Diablo in 1903. The front wall of Volz's stone building still stands today. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
In 1886, Fred Volz established an Indian trading post in Canyon Diablo, which was located on the southwestern boundary of the Navajo reservation. Volz and his wife stayed on until 1910, and played a role in documenting one of the most bizarre shootouts ever to take place in the West. This shootout lasted all of three seconds, as compared to Tombstone's famous gunfight at the OK Corral, which lasted around 30 seconds. All four combatants in Canyon Diablo emptied their six-guns in what eyewitnesses described as "a single explosion." Surprisingly, only one person was killed.
It all started shortly before midnight on April 7, 1905, when two well-dressed young men, later identified as John Shaw and William Smythe, walked into the Wig Wam Saloon in Winslow. Standing at the bar, they ordered a couple of whiskeys and looked around the room. One poker table, rimmed with stacks of silver dollars, caught their eye. Without saying a word or drinking their whiskey, they both moved toward the table, drawing their six-guns as they went. They proceeded to clean out the seven gamblers seated around the table of somewhere between $400 and $650 in silver dollars. Stuffing the coins into their coat and pants pockets and into their hats, Shaw and Smythe slowly backed out the door and disappeared.
Navajo County Deputy Sheriff Pete Pemberton was immediately notified. He, in turn, wired Navajo County Sheriff Chet Houck (younger brother of Jim Houck of Pleasant Valley War fame) in Holbrook. Pemberton and Winslow City Marshal Bob Giles found a trail of silver coins leading to the train tracks, and they assumed the robbers had hopped the westbound train to Flagstaff.
Houck and Pemberton boarded the next train to Flagstaff, hoping to join in the search now going on for the two robbers. No trace of them could be found in Flagstaff, so the lawman took the next train back to Winslow on the afternoon of April 8. While on the trip back, they learned that two men had been seen hiding in the brush near the right-of-way to Canyon Diablo. Stopping the train a couple of miles past Canyon Diablo, Houck and Pemberton went back toward the town on foot. The sun was just setting over the distant San Francisco Peaks when they reached Canyon Diablo.
There they met Fred Volz, former railroad telegrapher turned Indian trader to the Navajos and Hopis. Volz told Houck and Pemberton that he had noticed two suspicious-looking characters hanging around the trading post all day. At that moment, Houck and Pemberton spotted the two men and approached them after they rounded a building. as they came within six to eight feet of one another, the two lawmen asked to search them. One of the outlaws responded, "No one searches us!"
Immediately, all four men jerked their six-guns and began to firing in rapid succession.
To eyewitnesses, the shooting was so rapid that it sounded like one huge explosion. It was over in about three seconds, leaving one dead and one wounded. The dead man was John Shaw, and the wounded man was William Smythe, later identified as ex-convict William Evans.
Twenty-one shots were fired in this extremely short time span.
After Shaw was searched, his body was placed in a pine box donated by Fred Volz, and he was buried in a shallow grave (because of the extremely rocky soil) in the Canyon Diablo cemetery.
The same night following the shootout, some cowboys from Hashknife outfit were getting drunk in the Wig Wam Saloon and talking about how Shaw had not finished the whiskey he paid for the previous night. Intent on correcting this "injustice," they decided to go to Canyon Diablo, dig him up, and pour him the last drink of whiskey they figured was rightly his.
So 15 drunken cowboys, each with a bottle of whiskey, hitched a ride on the Santa Fe back to Canyon Diablo. Arriving there around dawn, they woke up Fred Volz, who gave them some shovels and a Kodak camera. While digging up Shaw and hauling him out of his coffin to pour his last drink, the cowboys noticed a slight smile on his face. This was enough to wipe the smiles from their faces and dissipate their own hilarity. The countenance of John Shaw brought tears to many of the onlookers eyes. Affected the most was the Hashknife cowboys, many of whom were on the run from the law in Texas and using assumed names. They probably saw their own wild past reflected in the blank eyes staring from the coffin.
Rigor mortis had already set in, so they propped Shaw up on a nearby fence, poured a plentiful gulp of whiskey between his clenched teeth, and took photographs while they did so.
As Shaw was replanted with the half-empty bottle of whiskey, the cowboys stood around with their hats off. This macabre event evidently sobered the cowboys, who, realizing what they had done, went home subdued.
Today, nothing much is left of canyon Diablo but fragments of buildings and heaps of silent stones to mark what was once a town named after and owned by the devil.
|The late John Shaw being prepared to receive " a plentiful gulp of whiskey" from the Hashknife cowboys. Images courtesy A.H.S.|
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|THE CANYON DIABLO TRAIN ROBBERY OF 1889|
The 1889 Canyon Diablo train robbery was a major topic of Arizona conversation in late March and early April of that year. The train had been stopped by four masked men in a rugged northern Arizona canyon at 1 a.m. on the morning of March 20. They took $1,500 from an express messenger. It wasn't a big haul by present-day standards.
Seriously concerned that train robbery might become a major problem, Arizona's Territorial Legislature had a month earlier passed a bill making train robbery punishable by death.
Despite the small sum the robbers got, train robbery was serious for railroads. The Santa Fe Railroad quickly offered a $500 reward for information leading to the capture of the robbers.
The crime provided a major challenge to the legendary sheriff of Yavapai County, Sheriff William "Buckey" O'Neill. He would later call the robbers "the worst desperadoes that ever operated in this western country." Forming a four-man posse when he learned about their haul the next day, Carl Bucky O'Neill, Ed St Clair, Carl Holton & Jas L. Black were quickly on their trail.
The robbers headed north into Utah after the robbery. Trailing them wasn't difficult because of tracks their horses left in the snow on the ground. With a posse of only five after four desperate outlaws determined to avoid capture, O'Neill's men faced a challenge.
When they finally caught up with them, the robbers quickly demonstrated they weren't going to give up easily. A running gun battle began and continued for five days. The gang was finally cornered in a rocky cedar covered mountain area on the edge of a cliff they had been using to try to spot the posse following them.
O'Neill's men caught the bandits by surprise, coming up behind them on the cliff. A desperate battle began at its edge. Tucson's Star newspaper reported on April 20 that Smith was present during the fight, and when his horse was shot from under him, he fell 50 feet down its side.
During the fight, Steiner fired two shots in the direction of O'Neill and missed. O'Neill then responded with two of his own that also missed. When Deputy St. Clair finally managed to put a bullet through the hat Steiner was wearing, all of the robbers decided to call it quits and surrender.
O'Neill described the battle to a Tucson Star reporter on April 16. Calling the outlaw band "the worse desperadoes that ever operated in this western country," he gave their names as Tony Quince, Billy Steiner, Charles Clark and James Smith. The truth was that Tony Quince was really John Halford while Charles Clark was actually D.M. Harvick. Only Smith and Steiner were using their real names.
Tried for participating in the train robbery, Smith denied his involvement. He said he had been on his way to Hamilton in Nevada at the time of the robbery. He claimed he was going there to be involved in mining.
Meeting the three accused men by chance at the Black Falls Crossing of the Little Colorado River, he said he knew Harvick and Halford from working with them on cattle ranches. When they asked him if he knew the country very well, he said he did. They asked him to accompany them to Canyonville, Utah, and he said he went along only to be arrested with them afterward.
O'Neill also told the reporter that Smith escaped from the train that was carrying the four back to Tucson for trial. Despite the shackles he was wearing and with the train moving at full speed on Ratoon Mountain, Smith managed to jump through a window at 1 a.m. and escape near Trinidad, Colo. Wells Fargo quickly offered a reward of $500 for his recapture, and Sheriff O'Neill put Detective Holton and Deputy Black on his trail.
Fleeing toward Texas, Smith met a girl who was hungry and lost. He let her join him, perhaps believing that it would mislead trackers who thought him alone. When he developed typhoid fever during his flight, a kindly Texan took him into his home to help him recover. What became of the girl he was with was never reported.
Upon regaining health, Smith thanked the family who had allowed him to use their home during his illness and continued east toward Vernon, Texas. Officers out looking for him captured him there and returned him to Arizona for trial.
Smith told the lawyer assigned to defend him that the three men already convicted of train robbery would say that he was innocent. Brought from their prison cells in Yuma to the trial, the judge refused to allow them to testify.
Quickly convicted, his earlier escape from the train made Smith's crimes worse in the eyes of the judge. While the other three accused of the robbery only got 25-year sentences, his was set at 30 years because of his escape from the train.
In the Yuma prison serving his sentence, Smith continued to proclaim his innocence. After having served nearly four years, he applied for a pardon in 1893. It included a statement by the other three bandits that Smith hadn't been one of the robbers.
His health had become poor due to several hemorrhages and a lung infection. Dr. Cotter, the prison physician, included in the pardon request an opinion that keeping Smith in prison would spread germs.
It seems likely that Territorial Gov. Hughes wasn't completely convinced of Smith's innocence. He insisted on personally talking to the other three train robbers. All told him that Smith hadn't been involved.
Finally believing him innocent, Hughes ordered Smith's release. He was set free from the Yuma prison on Aug. 12, 1893. Nothing is known about where he went upon release or his life afterward.
BY FRANK LOVE
Frank Love is a Yuma historian.
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|Early Life of Bucky O'Neil|
Bucky was born on February 2, 1860, either in St. Louis, Missouri, or Washington, D.C., although he sometimes listed Ireland as his birthplace. This last is doubtful since his parents had been in the United States since the 1850's. During the Civil War, his father, John, served as a captain in the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Irish Brigade, and was severely wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
In 1879, Bucky left home, heading for Arizona Territory.
TombstoneIn 1880, Bucky settled in Tombstone, Arizona. During this time the Earp Brothers, the city policemen, and the Clanton-McLaury Gang, a group of rustlers and murderers, were at war with each other. Bucky joined up with the Tombstone Epitaph, and being a pro-Earp newspaper, Bucky frequently talked with, and became a casual acquaintance of the Earps. On October 26, 1881 the war escalated. In the Gunfight at the O. K. Corral, Marshal Virgil Earp, and his deputies Wyatt Earp and Morgan Earp, along with their friend/gambler Doc Holliday, shot it out with Ike Clanton, Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, Tom McLaury, Billy Claibourne, and Wes Fuller. The shoot-out resulted in Billy Clanton and the McLaury's being killed, Virgil and Morgan receiving severe wounds, and Doc Holliday being nicked in the hip. Only Wyatt remained unharmed. Ike Clanton, Wes Fuller, and Billy Claibourne ran away from the battle.
Bucky O'Neill may have been the man to report on the scene, or he may not have. Bucky left Tombstone shortly after, heading for Prescott, Arizona.
Bucky O'Neill arrived in Prescott in the spring of 1882. There he rapidly progressed in his journalist career. Starting as`a court reporter, he soon founded his own newspaper called Hoof and Horn, a paper for the livestock industry.
Bucky became captain of the Prescott Grays, in 1886, and witnessed the hanging of murderer Dennis Dilda, which was an embarassing event for O'Neill. The Grays were the Prescott region unit of the Arizona militia, now known as the Arizona National Guard.
In April 1887, Bucky O'Neill married Pauline Schindler. They had a son, but he died shortly after being born premature.
The Hanging of Dennis Dilda
On February 5, 1886, Dennis Dilda, convicted murderer was hanged. Bucky O'Neill and the Prescott Grays stood honor guard for the event. When the trap dropped, Bucky fainted. He wouldn't get over the incident until 1891. Bucky wrote a story called ''The Horse of the Hash-Knife Brand." In it, a member of a posse admits to nearly fainting at the hanging of a horse thief.
Yavapai County Sheriff
In 1888, while serving as Yavapai County judge, Bucky was elected the sheriff, running on the Republican Ticket.
The most famous incident in O'Neill's lawman career happened on March 20, 1889. 4 masked men robbed the Atlantic and Pacific passenger train, in Diablo Canyon. A four man posse, made up of Bucky O'Neill, Jim Black, Carl Holton, and Ed St. Clair, was soon formed and they took off after robbers. On March 21, O'Neill and his posse caught up with the robbers. After exchanging rifle shots, the posse captured the 4 men. During the fight, no men were injured, but O'Neill's horse was killed.
The 4 men were William Sterin, John Halford, Daniel Harvick, and J. J. Smith. All 4 were sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison, but were pardoned 8 years later. In 1898, William Sterin enlisted in the Rough Riders under the name Henry Nash, posing as a school teacher from Strawberry, Arizona. Little did Bucky know, that one of his sergeants was an outlaw whom he had arrested.
After his term was up, Bucky was elected unanimously Mayor of Prescott.
In 1898, war broke out between the U. S. and Spain. Buckey soon enlisted as Captain of Troop A in the Rough Riders. Along with Alexander Brodie and James McClintock, Bucky tried to make an entire regiment made up of Arizona Cowboys. Eventually though, only 3 troops were authorized.
The Rough Riders landed at Daiquiri on June 22, 1898. Though there was no fighting that took place, Bucky showed his heroism by risking his life.
2 Buffalo Soldiers, of the 10th Cavalry, fell overboard. Upon seeing this, Bucky jumped in the water in full uniform, sabre and all. At a time when Negroes were disliked by white men, this was unheard of. None the less Bucky searched for the men for 2 minutes, before having to come up for breath.
On June 25, 1898, the Rough Riders saw their first action. Here, Bucky once again showed his bravery, leading his men at the front of the line in the Battle of Las Guasimas.
Bucky was, unfortunately, involved in an incident of friendly fire. Bucky saw several men, who he believed were Spaniards, across the road from him during the battle. He shouted "Hostiles on our right, fire at will!" Bucky learned after the firing ceased, that the men he exchanged shots with were Cuban rebels.
Bucky soon led his troop to the Spanish flank, and captured it. The victory gave the men all the hope they needed on winning the war.
On July 1, 1898, at about 10 o'clock in the morning, the Rough Riders and the 10th cavalry were stationed below Kettle Hill. The Spaniards, who were on top of the hill, poured down on the Americans with machine gun and Mauser fire. Buckey O'Neill was killed in action.
Teddy Roosevelt wrote about the death of O'Neill: "The most serious loss that I and the regiment could have suffered befell just before we charged. Bucky O'Neill was strolling up and down in front of his men, smoking his cigarette, for he was inveterately addicted to the habit. He had a theory that an officer ought never to take cover - a theory which was, of course, wrong, though in a volunteer organization the officers should certainly expose themselves very fully, simply for the effect on the men; our regimental toast on the transport running, " The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted." As O'Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said, " Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you." O'Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, " Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn't made that will kill me." A little later he discussed for a moment with one of the regular officers the direction from which the Spanish fire was coming. As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out at the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness."
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