Wagons West Chronicles October Issue 2016 October Issue - Page 19

Wagons West Chronicles Arizona’s Rustler King from page 18. everything he can loosen from the earth, regardless of prior rights. “Tombstone is usually considered to have been the roughest of camps,” said John Dunbar, editor of the Phoenix Gazette. He lived in Cochise County in 1880. “But Tombstone,” he continued, “wasn’t a marker to Charleston. It was simply awful. They didn’t begin their day down there till dark, and then they whooped it up. Election days were the richest of all. The townspeople never pretended to come out of their holes to vote. The cowboys, hundreds of them, would come in on their Sunday horses, tank up and then proceed to capture the ballot box and stuff it as they pleased. They rarely molested Tombstone. But they managed things along the San Pedro according to their own sweet wills. “There were some of the toughest men in those rustler gangs that ever stretched hemp,” mused Dunbar, “but every man seemed afraid of Burnett, and the toughest were in a band that knew him as leader. One was Billy Leonard, the toughest nut that ever carried a gun. He wasn’t originally a cowboy; had very little experience at it. He was a jeweler from New York City, a high-class workman. He had consumption, knew he had to die, and really would have preferred being killed. One of his feats was to chase the whole crowd off my racetrack at Tombstone one Sunday at the muzzles of two guns in his nervous little hands. He had a dozen or so helpers, but Billy himself did all the driving. I know, for I was in the crowd. Billy had lost on a race and felt bad. Curly Bill was a member of Burnett’s crowd and so were the Clinton boys, the Lowreys and Jack Ringgold. Ringgold was 6 feet 4 inches, the handsomest desperado that ever put a foot in stirrups. But the kingpin was Burnett, the Charleston Justice of the Peace.” “I was in Charleston in the early days, representing Zeckendorf & Co. of Tucson,” contributed Banker P. K. Hickey of Phoenix. “The first two days I was there I came very near death. Blacksmith Pete Hickey had been murdered the week before by one of Burnett’s pets and the rustlers eyed me apprehensively when I got my first mail at the post office. The way the postmaster did was to open the pouch, stand to the assembled crowd. The cowboys thought when they heard my name that I had come to avenge a relative. That night I went to bed in all apprehension, for I had been told that the cowboys every night shot out the lights in the saloon next door. About morning I was awakened by a terrific crash, but I lay still and did not go out to investigate. When I arose I learned that someone had blown in the front of the saloon with giant powder. The rustlers were sure I was the miscreant, but were diverted by Burnett from lynching me. Burnett and I got friendly after that, and I had October 2016 ample opportunity for investigating his peculiar methods of court procedure.” Burnett was a heavy set, blueeyed, jovial sort of citizen, with what the Irish call a winning way. When he died he was about 65 years old. He was elected to office almost unanimously, though known to possess few qualifications. Not a day passed without gun plays on the streets or in the drinking places of Charleston. No member of Burnett’s crowd was ever molested, but tr ibulation was upon the head of an outsider. Tenderfeet were hauled before the bar of justice and fined for being alive, much after the fashion of a lodge of Elks. Burnett made only one quarterly report to the Cochise County Board of Supervisors. He sent with it a bill for a fee balance of $380. The supervisors cut it down one half. Burnett thereafter pocketed all fees and fines, dividing up with his henchmen and constables as he saw fit. He defied the Sheriff, grand jury and supervisors, and calmly replied to all expostulations that “the Justice’s Court of Charleston precinct was amply able to look after itself.” Jack Schwartz, a saloon keeper, killed a man named Chambers, an assistant foreman in one of the mills. It was a cold-blooded murder. Yet Burnett, in the face of almost frantic objection from the district attorney, fined Schwartz $1,000, pocketed the coin and turned the prisoner loose. The district attorney was Lyttleton Price, now a district judge up in Washington. He sent a warrant from Tombstone, but Schwartz had disappeared. That was a sample of the justice dispensed by the burly magistrate, who kept order in court by means of a couple of revolvers in his belt and whose rifle was ready at hand behind the woolsack. He winked at the lark of a gang of his lambs that raided the Charleston office of the Toughnut mine and appropriated in broad daylight $16,000 of the company’s coin. Then they took the agent, a very tender Philadelphia tenderfoot, down town and fined him $160 in personal checks for being robbed. The agent stayed no more in Arizona. He had had enough. His name was John Gird, then Superintendent of the Toughnut, but now the sugar magnate of the Chino beet sugar plantation. The next day Burnett walked up to Jack Herrer, when that desperado was crazy with drink, pulled him from his horse, striking his pistols from his hands, and fined him on the spot twenty head of three yearold steers. In one year, 1881, Burnett’s personal share of the spoils was reputed to have been $40,000. For he was not simply a justice of the peace and manager of a great butchering establishment. He was especially a dealer in cattle on the hoof. His band would for a week operate in Mexico, bringing across the line, ignoring all revenue regu- lations, cattle of whatever brand happened to be loose. If the herders interfered they were foolish: they were killed. A fortnight later Burnett’s henchmen would be coolly taking in herds of fat Durhams from the Mormons on the Gila. The man who opposed them rarely survived. The cattle were always taken to headquarters, a beautiful section of Rucker Canyon, in the Chiricahua Mountains, thirty five miles east of Tombstone. The Mimbres Valley of New Mexico was occasionally tapped for livestock, and steady supplies were kept up by a habit Burnett had of fining a festive cowboy twenty head or so of cattle; it mattered not the brand of the stock turned over in settlement. It was through some such transaction that the Greene-Burnett feud arose. Only rarely did Burnett accompany his rascals on their raids. He was charged, however, with leading an expedition that left a half a dozen Mexican cowboys dead on their republic’s soil. His post was 19 to realize on the booty secured, whether in cattle or in bar silver. His generalship was admirable. He was respected as well as feared by his daredevil, outlaw raiders, for he dealt liberally with them and planned for them wisely. Not a slight evidence of his ability lies in the manner in which he escaped punishment for his misdeeds in later years, when Johnny Behan, as sheriff, and Mark Smith Gate congressman, as district attorney, succeeded in breaking up outlawry in Southeastern Arizona. Burnett did not emigrate as did the rustlers. He stayed about Tombstone and held his head high among his fellows. His taking off, according to Judge James Reilly, “was a deliberate, cold blooded, utterly unprovoked murder.” Yet the man who killed him did so with popular approval upon his deed. This was the life and this death of the man who bore the title “King of the Rustlers.” His career has never, perhaps, been paralleled in the Southwest.