Tracking down the lonely graves of pioneers in Arizona's Rim Country can take us to some really isolated places. Three graves, side by side along a trace of the old Crook Trail tell an ugly story of local history. They are the graves of Jamie Stott, Jimmy Scott and Jeff Wilson, who were hanged during what historian James McClintock called "one of bloodiest features of Arizona's history," the Pleasant Valley War.
If you are following this circuit of graves, you may want to save this one for a special day's outing. From Al Fulton Point we drive east along State Highway 260 past Forest Lakes to where Forest Road 300 goes south, off to our right. The signs should point to Black Canyon Lake, and Black Canyon Rim Campground. We drive on gravel almost three miles, just past the campground, to find a trail sign on the north side of the road. From here it is a one-half mile hike of moderate difficulty to the graves in Gentry Canyon.
The story is a muddied one. Historian Jo Baeza paints a soulful beginning this way, "The only sound in Gentry Canyon is the sighing of wind through the canopy of ponderosa pines. In a clearing lie three graves, side by side. Simple stone markers commemorate the grisly events on Aug. 12, 1888, when three young cowboys who loved life were hanged before they had a chance to live it."
Their innocence is not as certain as that might imply. Those were days when Texas cowboys from the Hashknife Outfit, the Aztec Land and Cattle Company of Holbrook, were quite trigger-happy. When it came to horse thieves, every cowboy or rancher was ready to lynch the culprits as soon as the suspects were caught.
It does not seem likely that James Stott was actually a horse thief. Born in Massachusetts, his father owned stock in the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. It seems reasonable that the young Stott, upon graduating from high school, would want to become a cowboy and follow the romantic trail of the Hashknife Outfit. He found work on a horse ranch in Texas, where the outfit originated, and learned to break mustangs. However, he was not your typical Wild West cowboy. He was raised in a strict Baptist church, and wrote his sister, "There is nothing here to do except drink and go to dances around the country. As I never drink or dance I have not been away from the ranch yet."
The soft easterner toughened, and after two years of bronc busting and ranch work he had become a good shot and an expert rider. In the spring of 1885 he set out for Holbrook, Ariz. with a remuda of horses, hoping to be hired by the Hashknife Outfit. Upon arriving, he found they were not hiring youngsters with "family connections." At this point, his family back East sent Jamie Stott money with which he bought the squatter's rights to a 160-acre ranch on the Rim with a good spring on it. He named it Aztec Springs Ranch and set to work improving the land until the Federal survey would enable him to file for a homestead. His amiable nature quickly won him many friends, and neighbors helped him build a log cabin. He bought more horses and a small herd of cattle with additional money from his father. One of the horses had a brand that was easy to confuse with others, and someone stole that horse from Stott. Believing he knew who stole it, Stott and his friend Tom Tucker rode to Tonto Basin to recover the horse. It was a month later when Deputy Sheriff James Houck arrested Stott and Tucker on a charge of horse thieving.
Houck was deeply involved in the Pleasant Valley War, a Tewksbury partisan who had already killed Tom Graham and others. He saw Stott as a Graham partisan, and trumped up a horse stealing charge to arrest the cowboy along with his friend Tom Tucker. The justice of the peace in Globe ruled that there was not enough evidence to pursue the charge, and released the men. For someone of Houck's violent temperament, this was enough to put Stott on his black list. He publicly boasted he would run his sheep herd on Stott's cattle ranch one day.
Another cowboy against whom Houck had a grudge was Jimmy Scott, son of a prominent Texas family and a local ranch foreman. Like Stott, Scott had stood up to Houck one night in Holbrook when the deputy was "recklessly shooting off his head." The stage was set for a showdown.
On Aug. 5, 1888 three men ambushed and shot at Jack Lauffer, the original owner of Jamie Stott's stolen horse. Houck seized on this to accuse Stott, Scott and a Hashknife cook and prospector, Jeff Wilson, who was working at the Aztec Springs Ranch. On Aug. 12, Houck and two others rode to Stott's cabin and claimed they had a warrant for his arrest, though they could not produce it. The gentle cowboy invited them in for breakfast, feeling no sense of guilt, and said he would willingly go with them. Hard on Houck's trail were 20 other armed riders who arrived on the scene with Jimmy Scott as their prisoner. Stott cooked breakfast for everyone, though the vigilantes were all strangers to Stott and his cowhands Lamotte Clymer and Alfred Ingram.
The riders then took Stott, Scott and Wilson as prisoners about 20 miles along the old Crook military trail to its junction with the trail to Pleasant Valley. There they lynched the three men, hanging them from a large pine tree. Alfred Ingram, who had come to Arizona to fight a case of tuberculosis, made his way from the Stott ranch 60 miles to Holbrook to report the abduction. That same day, Aug. 13, Houck rode into Holbrook to broadcast the lie that while he had arrested Stott and Wilson at Aztec Springs, 40 armed men and taken them from him at gunpoint.
It was Aug. 15 when a posse drove a wagon from Holbrook to the site of the hanging. After four days in the sun, the hanging bodies were seriously decaying. The posse cut them down and buried the three bodies in a side canyon where the ground was soft. The grave markers, placed much later, erroneously give the date of death as Aug. 4. The next day, Jamie Stott's parents were notified and they left at once for Arizona. At the ranch they gathered their son's belongings, settled his affairs, and returned east. The family's relatives pleaded for justice, but as was true with all the murders of the Pleasant Valley War, any participants were sworn to secrecy.
Judge D. G. Harvey wrote the only opinion left to write, "I am fully convinced after a thorough inspection of Jamie's books and papers that he purchased and paid a good price for every head of stock on his range, but do think he was imposed on by designing parties and through his kindness he has had to suffer."
Following the hanging, Houck did run sheep on the Aztec Springs Ranch, as he had boasted. According to newspaper reports, he died in 1921 by his own hand, taking strychnine. For further reading on James Stott and the lynching, see several books on the subject by Rim Country historian Leland Hanchett Jr.
Next time we will take a short drive off Highway 260 to visit several graves alongside of Colcord Road.