The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 8: Murder on the Crook Trail

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The Crook Military Road skirts the edge of the Mogollon Rim, and along this historic trail there are a number of isolated graves. Each one holds a fascinating story from the past, but none is more dramatic than the grave on Baker’s Butte.

Today Forest Road 300 follows the Crook Trail, often right on it and at other times paralleling the old trail. Baker’s Butte is the highest point on the Mogollon Rim, the remnant of a small volcano topped by a fire watch tower. A little over one mile east of State Highway 87, beside this forest road, one readily spots the upright marble military headstone that crowns a man-sized pile of basalt rocks mounded over a grave. The marker reads, “Andres Moreno, Company E, 1st Battalion, Arizona Infantry, July 1, 1840 - July 16, 1887.”

Moreno was born in Sonora, Mexico, of Spanish heritage. His complexion was fair, he had hazel eyes, and he stood about 5 feet, 7 inches tall. He was a vaquero (a cowboy) and while still in his teens his family moved north to Tubac to avoid the continuing Apache attacks on their ranch. While in Tubac, the Gadsden Purchase took territory south of the Gila River into the United States. At that point Moreno and his family became naturalized citizens.

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Stan Brown photo

The Moreno gravesite along the Crook Trail. 

In 1865, at the age of 25, Andres joined the Arizona Volunteer Infantry. This forerunner of the National Guard was recruited to replace regular army divisions that had been sent east to fight in the Civil War. They were needed to protect miners and settlers from the ravages of increasing Apache and Yavapai raids. As it turned out, very few Anglo men joined the Volunteers, but preferred to leave that dangerous task up to Mexicans and friendly Indians. Two companies from the Pima and Maricopa tribes operated out of Fort McDowell, and two companies of Mexican recruits operated out of Camp Lincoln (later named Camp Verde).

For one year Andres’ Company E bravely fought Apache bands under terrible odds. They had little food, no shoes except moccasins they made themselves from deer skins. They were not allowed to build shelters because they were ordered to be constantly in the field pursuing Indians. They had few guns, little ammunition, and nearly all of the men caught malaria. After their one-year enlistment they were mustered out of the army with praise from the Territorial Legislature and the governor, but they never received all the pay they were promised. Arizona Territory was new and broke and could not afford to renew their enlistment.

In August 1866 the Volunteers were dismissed unceremoniously, and Andres Moreno sought his future in New Mexico. At the advice of his friend and lieutenant, Manuel Gallegos, he went to the little town of Cebolleta, north of the Laguna Pueblo, to find work and hopefully a bride. There the 26-year-old Andres met, courted and married Delfina Mazon, a 14-year-old girl who would soon turn 15. His ranching background with livestock had prepared him to become a packer and mule train driver in the army, and this now became his vocation as a civilian.

Andres and Delfina had three children while in Cebolleta, and at the invitation of the freighter and developer Soloman Barth they moved to St. Johns, Ariz. to participate in the development of farms along the Little Colorado River. Andres continued to be a packer and freighter for Barth, assuming they had squatters’ rights on their property and could in time “prove up” on a homestead claim. However, although Barth had registered the squatters’ lots in their names, he signed the papers and claimed ownership of the properties. It was a sneaky way of expanding his land holdings. Disaster came for the Mexican settlers when Barth sold the squatters’ rights to the Mormons, who were settling the Little Colorado Valley. Now homeless, the Morenos moved to a silver mining town named MacMillen. He continued to work as a freighter, hauling ore to the smelter in Globe. After a few years the silver strike began to run out, and the family moved again, this time to Globe where there was a big demand for freighters.

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Stan Brown photo

The Moreno headstone provided by the Veterans Administration.

The Morenos’ seven children were educated in Globe schools, an advantage their parents never had, where the six girls and one boy grew up, were married, and became business and community leaders in the new state of Arizona. One daughter and her husband founded the town of Superior and were the original owners of the Magma Copper Mines. One granddaughter became a member of the Sedona City Council in later days, was a scholar and author of a number of books.

As we consider this grave and the stories it evokes, we turn in our imagination to July 1887. The freighter Andres Moreno had contracted with a physician and his family from Globe to move them and their household goods to Flagstaff where they would catch a train for California. There the doctor was to set up a new practice. In addition to Dr. Cook, the physician, Moreno had agreed to take an itinerant lawyer along who was going to a teaching position in Flagstaff. His name was Knox Lee, and from the outset of their trip Lee and Moreno had a disagreement over who was to provide their food for the trip. Lee thought Moreno was providing their food, and Moreno thought the agreement was for Lee to provide their food in exchange for his passage.

Their argument escalated during the week-long trip from Globe up the Tonto Basin, and through Pine and Strawberry. It climaxed on Saturday, July 16, 1887, at a temporary, mid-day camp by Baker’s Butte. They had stopped to repair a harness, and while Moreno was bent over the task Lee shot him in the back of the head. The physician, his family and another wagon master had gone on ahead and were waiting on the trail at the top of Baker’s Butte. Alone, Lee had the freedom to rearrange the murder scene to appear as if his fatal shot had been in self-defense.

There followed perhaps the only recorded occasion when a medical doctor was available to perform an autopsy along the trail on the victim of a wilderness murder. Dr. Cook made a critical judgment. The course of the bullet through Moreno’s head clearly indicated a cold-blooded murder from behind and not self-defense. A coroner’s jury, rounded up from Pine, made their report to a Grand Jury, which then indicted Lee for murder.

The murder trial, held at the county seat in Prescott, proved something of a farce as anti-Mexican sentiment was running high. The newspaper reports did not even care to give Andres Moreno a name, simply referring to him as “the old Mexican.” Old? He was 47 years old and left a wife with seven young children to raise. Instead of murder the jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter for Knox Lee, and he was given a light sentence in the Yuma Territorial Prison. The wily lawyer waged a political letter-writing campaign and obtained a pardon from the governor after only several months in prison.

The Moreno grave was unmarked for more than 60 years; it was simply a mound of stones beside the road known only to a few local residents. In 1964 a grandson, Frank Moreno of Florida, came through the area on a business trip and, with the help of Jess Fears of Payson, hunted up his grandfather’s grave. He then began a campaign to get the Veterans Administration to provide the gravestone, and forest rangers put it in place.

The young widow Moreno and her seven children had a difficult time. The girls learned to sew for an income, and they took boarders into their home in Globe. Delfina insisted that they continue their education, and by the time they had grown and were married, the widow Moreno had the support she needed.[1]

[1] Author Stan Brown has a forthcoming historical novel entitled Andres and Delfina that dramatizes the entire story of the Moreno family and their brave adventures in helping to settle central Arizona.

Next: Murder Near Woods Canyon — The Al Fulton Story.

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