A cold January night was closing in on cowboy Jack Lane as he rode up the Tonto Basin. The newcomer was heading for a job at the farm of former Payson Justice of the Peace J. O. Hill, west of the village. Ahead of him on the trail stood a youth, 16-year-old Elzie Brown, an orphan, who was also going to Payson to look for work. He had been staying in Roosevelt with his sister, Mrs. Charles Henderson, and he was surprised to see Lane. It happened that the two had worked together on a ranch in New Mexico, where Lane was breaking horses.
Later when called to testify before a coroner’s jury Elzie recalled how Lane would get drunk at the weekly dances and would get into fights. “When he drank he would get crazy,” testified the youth. Lane had told Elzie that he had a mother, brothers and sisters in Texas, but that he had drifted west.
“Climb on up,” said the cowboy, “I’ll give you a ride to town.”
Once in Payson the teenager went to work in Starr Valley and Lane settled in with J. O. Hill. On Saturday evening, Jan. 29, 1910, after Lane had worked for Hill four days, the boss said, “We don’t usually work on Sunday,” and handing him $3, suggested he go to town for the weekend and relax.
Lane buckled on his six-shooter with extra cartridges; put a change of clothes behind is saddle and headed for town. Curtis Neal remembered seeing him at the dance, and played a game of pool with the stranger. The next day “Curtie” Neal and Jack Lane met on the street and bet their horses against each other for a $10 race.
Sunday was always a busy time for visiting around Payson, and the saloons were kept busy. Sam Stewart saw Lane at the Hilligas family’s 16-to-1 saloon that morning, and later that afternoon at Pieper’s Saloon. Behind the saloon Pieper boarded the men’s horses. Bill Colcord came in and shook hands all around until he came to Lane. The stranger offered his hand, but Colcord held back. “You’ve got the best of me,” he said, acknowledging he did not shake the hand of someone he did not know.
“I saw Lane have at least six drinks,” Neal would testify, “but I couldn’t say exactly how many.”
Carrel Wilbanks saw Lane still at Pieper’s Saloon later that afternoon. After that Lane, obviously drunk, stumbled into Mart McDonald’s store and bought a pair of overalls. Leaving the store, he raced his horse wildly down Main Street to Judge Randall’s house where some children were playing croquet on a grassy court. They were 10-year-old Sieber James Armer, Julia Randall and Sarah Amanda McDonald who would soon turn 11. Lane ran his horse through the croquet court, knocking over some of the wickets and yelling, “Look out chiluns!”
The children scattered and the horseman raced east along Main. Then he turned, pulled his gun, and began shooting it in the air as he headed west back through the croquet court. It looked to observers that he might shoot the children, and Mrs. Ben Stewart had called to them to run into Judge Randall’s house. Lane pulled up his horse, turned and rode over to the hitching post in front of Hilligas’ 16-to-1 Saloon. Inside a pool game was interrupted by Dick Williams who rushed in to say a fellow was shooting up the town and ought to be put under arrest.
Back at McDonald’s store, Mart had gone in and gotten his shotgun. Now he reappeared ready for action along with Floyd Lockwood and Curtis Neal. Judge Randall emerged from the 16-to-1, along with Ben Franklin Butler, a miner, and the judge began talking with Lane. At the east end of the street, Sam Stewart and Bill Colcord heard the shooting and came out of Pieper’s Saloon to observe the action. They walked west toward Lane and the judge. Carrel Wilbanks followed them out of Pieper’s and watched from the front porch, as did blacksmith James Callaghen. What was about to happen was observed by citizens all up and down Payson’s Main Street.
As he walked, Colcord took his pistol out of his belt, holding it in his right hand. As they got within 30 feet of Lane it seemed the stranger was threatening Judge Randall, swinging his gun in the air. Mrs. Hilligas had come out of her house at the commotion, but when she saw Colcord and Stewart approach she realized she was in the line of fire and turned to run. Mrs. Marshall Brown (Inez) had been visiting Mrs. Herron at the Herron’s house when Lane first began shooting in the air. The women came out in time to see Lane ride up to the 16-to-1 and talk with Randall. When Colcord came up with drawn pistol, they too disappeared back into the house. Upstairs in the saloon, William Bright, a carpenter, was looking out the window and he overheard the conversation between the judge and Jack Lane. Judge Randall — or “Colonel” as he preferred to be called — was saying, “Lane, I want you to cut out this shooting. Put up your gun and keep it put up. We don’t stand for that kind of thing in this town.”
Lane answered that he agreed and put his gun into the saddle holster. Then he asked the judge, “What is the fine? How much is it?” As he said this he retrieved his gun from its holster and waved it in the direction of the judge, He said angrily, “How much is it? I’ll pay it.”
“Stranger, there is no fine now,” the judge was heard to say, “but if you do any more of this there will be.”
Later Colonel Randall would report, “I lived about an hour in a minute. I realized that I was in danger. I could tell from the man’s eyes how drunk he was.”
Colcord approached, gripping his pistol with both hands. He circled the rider so as not to aim at Randall and at first Lane did not see him. Suddenly Lane swung around in the saddle with his pistol pointed at Colcord. Witnesses believe they heard two to four shots in succession, and then two more as Lane’s horse bolted up the street toward Callaghen’s blacksmith shop. Lane sat erect at first, then leaned over his saddle horn and fell to the ground.
Stewart, Colcord and Randall went immediately to the spot where Lane laid breathing for about 30 seconds before expiring. Dr. J. F. Sweeney, a mine company doctor, came out of the saloon to pronounce the stranger dead. Judge Randall ordered Stewart to get up a coroner’s jury, and the body remained where it fell as night came on. Randall solicited Elwood Pyle to watch over it so that nothing was touched until morning.
On Monday, Jan. 31, the jury gathered. It consisted of J. W. Chilson, H. Williams, Arthur Neal, Floyd Lockwood, Fred Powers, E. F. Pyle, E. S. Tompkins, and N. W. Chilson. They proceeded to view the body and examine the scene of the killing. The doctor found Lane had been shot just above his left eye, and the bullet came out behind his left ear. There was a second wound in the right breast that also went on through. Both wounds were fatal. After the jury viewed the scene and the body, they buried Jack Lane in the cemetery. He was 25 years old.
The jury was dismissed for a couple of days to catch up on work and families, and then reconvened on Wednesday, Feb. 2. There were many witnesses, all with much the same story. When Lane’s pistol was examined it was empty, and the question remained as to whether Lane had fired at Colcord. No one could tell for sure, but Sam Stewart believed he saw smoke and a bullet come from Lane’s gun. He said he heard the whiz of the bullet go past him. Colcord also testified he was sure Lane shot at him at least once.
Lane’s personal effects were simple: a six-shooter (32-20 in a .45 frame), two packages of tobacco, an old pocket knife, nine cartridges for the pistol, a pair of handmade spurs, two silver dimes and a block of matches. The horse and saddle were given to J. O. Hill.
The jury unanimously agreed that Colcord had acted in self-defense and dismissed the case as justifiable homicide.
Word of Lane’s death reached his family in Texas, and four years later they came to Payson to exhume his body and take it home. The gravestone, however, remains in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery: “Jackson White Lane, 1884 – 1910.”
Sources: Oral History with Sarah McDonald Lockwood by Stan Brown; Transcript of the Coroner’s Jury from Arizona State Capitol, Department of Library, Archives and Public Records.