When the cowboys wore black hats

By Marshall Trimble

On August 10, 1883, the Florence-Globe stagecoach was held up at the remote Riverside Station on the Gila River by the Red Jack Almer gang.

Wells Fargo messenger Johnny Collins declared the stage wasn’t carrying any gold. But a female passenger clad in a fancy dress, hat and dark veil stepped out of the coach and called him a liar.

The “lady” turned out to be Red Jack himself, disguised as a woman. He witnessed the gold being loaded at Florence, and near Riverside he signaled his cohorts at a prearranged spot and they proceeded to stop the stage.

Collins resisted and Almer raised his skirt, pulled his pistol and shot him. The gang got away with some $2,000 in silver and $500 in gold.

A posse led by Pinal County Sheriff A.J. Doran rode into Len Redfield’s ranch on the San Pedro River, a branch of the Gila, and discovered a Wells Fargo strongbox hidden in a pile of hay. Redfield, known for harboring desperadoes, was a “usual suspect.” 

Later, they found another box with more loot. They concluded that one had come from a robbery near Bisbee. They wrung a confession out of Joe Tuttle, who was at the ranch and had enough evidence to arrest Redfield, too. Robbery was one thing, and murder was quite another. Smart bandits avoided killing if possible. Redfield and Tuttle were taken to Florence and jailed. A mob of angry citizens came in through the back door and took Tuttle and Redfield out of their cells and hanged them from the rafters.

Another posse led by Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul ran down the other robbers one by one, and near Willcox on October 4,1883, he caught up with Red Jack, also known as Jack Averill. The outlaws chose to make a fight of it and, in the ensuing gunfight, Red Jack Almer and Charley Hensley were gunned down.

Redfield’s ranch was also where Luther King was arrested by the Earp posse following the attempted Benson stagecoach robbery on March 15,1881. Ironically, Paul was the shotgun messenger on the Benson stage. The attempted train robbery was thwarted when Paul grabbed the reins and left outlaws Jim Crane, Billy Leonard and Harry Head standing by the roadside. Stage driver Bud Philpot and passenger Pete Roerig were killed. Redfield also helped them evade the pursuing posse.

The ruthless murders at the Benson stage robbery quickly turned public opinion against the Cowboys, a loose-knit band of more than 200 rustlers who, up to then, were considered “popular, fun-loving, carefree cowboys” by the citizens who spent their ill-gotten money freely in towns like Tombstone.

During the next few months, Crane, Leonard and Head were all killed in gunfights.

Over the next several months, the leaders of the wild bunch and the ranchers who acted as clearing houses for stolen cattle—including Newman “Old Man” Clanton; his son, Billy; Tom and Frank McLaury; Curly Bill Brocius and Johnny Ringo—all “died with their boots on.”

Most of the Cowboys, with their leaders gone, high-tailed it to greener pastures. The long arm of the law eventually caught up with Ike Clanton, the man whose big mouth caused the “Gunfight Near the OK Corral.” He managed to avoid being brought to justice until 1887, when was shot and killed by lawmen in eastern Arizona.   

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