The Bumbling Cowboys Messed Everything Up
Welcome to Bisbee, Arizona, where Big Jeep Tours invites you to delve into the historical and notorious events that unfolded in this charming old town. Today, we will take you on a captivating journey, retracing the chilling steps of the infamous Bisbee Massacre that shook the community in 1883.
At the heart of our story is John Heath, the owner of a dance hall on Main Street and a member of the Cochise County Cowboys gang, known for their clashes with Wyatt Earp in Tombstone. Heath, along with five other Cowboys, saw an opportunity to amass wealth by robbing the miners' payroll believed to be stored in the safe at the Goldwater & Castaneda Mercantile Store.
Our adventure begins at the old Copper Queen Mine smelter area, located at the end of Main Street, where the gang tied their horses. From there, they proceeded to the Goldwater and Castaneda store, only to discover that the payroll they sought was missing, complicating their plans.
Determined to leave with some form of loot, the gang resorted to robbing the store's patrons. However, the prolonged robbery attracted the attention of passersby, and the street gradually filled with curious onlookers questioning the armed guards stationed at the store's entrance. The mounting curiosity culminated in a dramatic gunfight on the street, right in front of what is now known as the Letson Block.
Regrettably, the violence escalated, resulting in the tragic deaths of five innocent individuals—a child, a pregnant woman, a policeman, and two bystanders. In a frantic attempt to escape the escalating chaos, the gang members hastily exited the store amidst a hail of gunfire, fleeing towards their waiting horses. Along the way, they fired indiscriminately at anyone in their path. Deputy Sheriff William "Billy" Daniels, who had hurriedly arrived from his saloon, tried to apprehend the outlaws but failed to hit his targets.
Mounting their horses, the bandits galloped up Main Street, crossing over Mule Pass, and swiftly rode out of town. They regrouped at Soldier's Hole, an area to the east of Bisbee, where they divided their ill-gotten gains and dispersed, each going their separate ways.
John Heath, the mastermind behind the plot, did not actively participate in the robbery. Instead, he cunningly played a double game, organizing the initial posse to search for his own gang while deliberately leading them astray across Arizona. However, as suspicions grew, the focus shifted onto him, eventually resulting in his indictment alongside the five perpetrators.
Following a trial in Tombstone, the evidence against the gang proved irrefutable, leading to the sentencing of all five members to hang. Heath faced a separate trial, during which the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, despite the lack of concrete evidence linking him directly to the robbery. Consequently, he received a life sentence in prison.
However, the townspeople were dissatisfied with this outcome. A large posse from Bisbee made their way to the Tombstone Courthouse and forcibly removed Heath from jail. They then proceeded to drag him down Toughnut Street, where they lynched him from a telegraph pole at the corner of First and Toughnut Streets. Today, a telegraph pole stump and a commemorative plaque stand as a somber reminder of this tragic event.
In his final moments, Heath pleaded with the mob not to mutilate his body. As a chilling conclusion to this tale, the lynch mob left a placard on the telegraph pole, featuring Heath's last words. This dark chapter has cast a long and haunting shadow over Bisbee, marking it as the site of one of the Old West's most notorious crimes.