The Capture Of An Outlaw In Tonto Basin

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Back in the day, the Tonto Basin was a pretty wild place, with the area around Mount Reno (now known as Mount Ord) as wild as any. The rugged terrain and vast wilderness made the region an ideal hiding spot for those on the run from the law and in 1894, one of the more intriguing incidents happened.

In 1894, a group of robbers held up a Southern Pacific train near Roscoe, Calif., located in the northeastern part of California. The leader of this group was Kid Thompson and by fall of 1894, word came that the robbers might be headed to Arizona, specifically Tonto Basin. Billy Moore, Ivy Crabtree, Chub Watkins and Ed Keith were all Tonto Basin cowboys who resided in the Mount Reno area with Moore and Crabtree being particularly close to Reno. Sure enough, this group encountered this outlaw and helped bring him to justice.

Here’s the details on the story as it appeared in the Nov. 9, 1894 Arizona Republican.

“On Tuesday, two horsemen stopped at the house of Crabtree’s father for breakfast. When they left Crabtree’s, they rode in the direction of Tonto, passing Moore’s place. Moore recognized one of them as Kid Thompson by a description he had of the young outlaw. He rode back to Crabtree’s place and told him of his suspicions. The young men armed themselves with Winchesters and revolvers and started in pursuit. They followed on the trail of Thompson and his companion until the direction of it convinced them that the fugitives were traveling in the direction of a particular water hole, that necessary stopping point which makes escape from officers almost an impossibility in Arizona and which has made possible the capture of nearly every important criminal ever pursued in the territory. By a shorter route and hard riding, Moore and Crabtree reached the water hole first, but in a few minutes Thompson and Heppler rode in.

“They stopped, evidently suspicious of the men who were waiting for them. Waiting a short time, Moore and Crabtree rode toward them and called them to throw up their hands. The hands went up, but in each of them was a revolver, and a shot from Heppler’s gun told the pursuers that there would be a fight before a capture. A half dozen shots were exchanged and Thompson [illegible] horses, rode away in the direction of a rocky canyon not far from the point where the Apache Kid killed Horace Philley. They were hotly followed and reaching the mouth of the canyon, abandoned their horses and running up into the canyon took refuge behind rocks. Moore and Crabtree also dismounted, sought the shelter of rocks and the battle opened. Moore exposed his head to get a view of the outlaws and a bullet hit the rock not four inches from his face, and another bullet whistled by Crabtree, who was advancing for a better position. Another shot killed a dog at his side. After this the cowboys kept close to the rocks, and the firing was continued.

“In reply to calls to surrender, Thompson cried back that he would die first. Seeing the hopelessness of being unable to take any advantage of the fugitives’ sheltered position, and the equal hopelessness of their escape since he and Crabtree commanded the mouth and only way of egress from the canyon, Moore left Crabtree to guard it and went for help to an election precinct on the other side of the mountain. He met Kirk Miller, a prospector, who attended Crabtree in his vigil until Moore returned with Watkins, Kemp and Keith.

“All night they guarded the mouth till daylight. Neither of the fugitives was in sight, but the guarding party knew they were in the canyon. To warn them that the battle was to be resumed Crabtree sent a shot among the rocks. It struck so close to Thompson that he thought it was meant for him and called out that he was willing to discuss matters and he submitted a proposition. If the cowboys would allow him and Heppler to get out of the pocket so that they would have a chance to fight on equal terms or escape they would come. Moore answered that it should be only an unconditional surrender and added that they would not be hurt unless it became unavoidable. He advised them to leave their guns among the rocks and come out with their hands up. After a little more parleying they did so and were captured.”

The capture was big news across the state with a great deal of pride being felt for the local heroes. It was certainly a step forward in making the Tonto Basin area a safer place. Meanwhile, Thompson was tried in 1895 and found guilty and sentenced to hang. He appealed the decision and was eventually granted a new trial, at which time he was convicted again, but only given a life sentence. He would die in 1925 at the age of 54 while out on parole.

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