Bisbee Massacre Hanging

Bisbee Massacre
1. March 28, 1884 Hanging Tombstone Courthouse Plaque

Just after 7 p.m. on December 8, 1883, an armed robbery occurred at the Goldwater and Castaneda Mercantile Store in Bisbee, Arizona. The five armed holdup men murdered four individuals and wounded another. The robbery, lasting a mere five minutes, caused enormous public outrage throughout the Bisbee and Tombstone area. The incident is known in history as the “Bisbee Massacre.”

Former Cochise County, Arizona Deputy Sheriff John Wesley Heath opened a saloon and dance hall in Bisbee. Heath, with a history of cattle rustling, knew the area outlaws well and those undesirables used his saloon as a hang out. One day Heath acquired information that a $7,000 payroll for the Copper Queen mine was coming to the Goldwater and Castaneda Mercantile Store. Heath devised a plan to steal the payroll and organized five cow-boys to do the job. The five were Daniel "Big Dan" Dowd, Comer W. "Red" Sample, Daniel "York" Kelly, William E. "Billy" Delaney, and James "Tex" Howard.

On December 8, 1883, the outlaws entered Bisbee and went directly to the store. Two of the outlaws remained outside as lookouts while three went inside. The outlaws discovered the payroll money was not there so they emptied the safe, held up employees, and customers netting $3,000 and two gold watches.

Five people were shot starting with J.C. Tappenier, Assayer at the Copper Queen Mine who was walking toward the the store with rancher D.T. Smith. Both men were killed. Next, an expectant mother Mrs. R.H. Roberts is killed when struck by a bullet while peering out of the her boarding house. The fourth fatality is John A. Nolly shot to death as he stood outside his office door. An innocent bystander was wounded in the leg as he fled the area.

Cochise County Sheriff J. L. Ward organized two posses one headed by himself and the second headed by Deputy Sheriff William Daniels. The sheriff sent the Daniels posse to Bisbee. The sheriff’s posse searched for the killers in other areas.

Upon arrival in Bisbee Deputy Daniels questioned John Heath who admitted he knew the outlaws involved in the Bisbee Massacre and offered his help. Daniels noted that Heath seemed to have a considerable amount of information about the killers. Despite his offer to help Heath provided Deputy Daniels with what appeared to be false information regarding the outlaw’s direction of travel.

Sheriff Ward and his men successfully located and apprehended the five outlaws responsible for the Bisbee Massacre. After their arrest, the outlaws informed the sheriff that John Heath had prior knowledge of the crime. When John Heath is arrested he confessed to organizing the robbery but stated he was at his saloon when the robbery and killing occurred.

The trial of the Bisbee Massacre defendants began in Tombstone on February 17, 1884. Dowd, Sample, Kelly, Delaney and Howard are found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang. The five killers were hung on March 28, 1884 and not March 8 as indicated on their grave marker.

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