The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 12: The Dark Side of Tonto Basin

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The good times of rodeos, dances and neighborly visits were interrupted for the residents of Tonto Basin in the spring of 1892 when a young mother was murdered by her husband, and her baby son was left parentless.

The story has often been told, but with so many versions one has to carefully sift them to discern how events really unfolded.

It begins with two families who emigrated from Missouri to Arizona’s Tonto Basin in the late 1880s. It is not known if they had known each other before coming west, but their lives were destined to become intertwined. John and Adis Narron brought their family to stake a claim near Grapevine, close to the junction of Tonto Creek and the Salt River. Their four children registered in the Catalpa School, Alice, 17, Annie, 16, William, 10, and Lillian, 9.i

John Shelby See and his wife, Louisa, brought their family and claimed their squatter’s rights on Spring Creek in the Sierra Ancha.ii With them were their four children, Lizzie, 16, Fannie, 13, Becca (Rebecca), 11, and Beulah, 7. They also had three older children, a daughter who had died and her child, named Julian Journigan, was taken into the See family as their own. He was age 6.iii There also was a son named Bob and another son, John Morgan See, who carried his father’s first name.

John, the son, soon had a reputation for being wild, and after shooting up a community dance he bragged about his disrespect for the law. For that incident he paid a fine and served time in jail. It was at one of those dances that John met Annie Narron.

John and Annie began courting, and her parents tried to discourage the relationship because of John’s reputation. Nevertheless, Annie ignored the warnings and the two were wed early in 1891.iv John was 22 and Annie was about 19.v In October or November of that year they had a son whom they named Charlie. John was a very abusive husband, so Annie left him and took her baby, fleeing to her sister Alice’s ranch near Grapevine. Alice had married W. F. Gann soon after finishing at the local school and they had staked their own claim near Alice’s parents. Now Annie See sought refuge at the Ganns’.

It happened that about this same time a Wells Fargo stage was robbed, and two bars of silver bullion worth $1,500 were missing.vi One of the silver bars had been recovered and Gila County Sheriff Henry “Rim Rock” Thompson was scouting for the bandit who had the other. He was convinced the culprit was John M. See and sought out See’s wife Annie. She denied knowing anything about the robbery, but the sheriff urged her to return to her husband to try and find out if he had the silver.

Shortly after the sheriff left, Annie went to the corral to milk the range cows. In those days ranchers did not have domestic milk cows, but got their milk from the range cows. The best report of what happened next is gleaned from the obituary for Annie Narron See that appeared in The Arizona Republic Saturday, May 21, 1892.

“Globe — The horrible murder committed on Salt River Wednesday evening has created great excitement here. All the men on the river have joined the pursuit and if captured, the murderer See will probably be lynched.

“Great indignation was felt when the news was brought to Globe of a terrible murder which was committed on Salt River. John M. See shot and killed his wife at the residence of her brother-in-law, Mr. Gann. See, who is a worthless scoundrel, has not lived happily with his wife and some time ago, exasperated by his cruelty she left him and at the time of her death was living with her sister, Mrs. Gann. See hung around the house all day trying to have her go back to live with him but she refused.

“About 6 o’clock she went to the corral to milk and while she was thus engaged See came up behind and shot her twice. The first bullet entered over the heart and the second entered at the pit of the stomach…”

Apparently she had not decided to follow the sheriff’s suggestion to spy on her husband, and according Julian Journigan, when Annie refused See’s plea that she return to him, he stormed into the house, took a pistol, and returned to shoot her. He fled the scene on the run, shouting to the Ganns and Narrons, who had observed the atrocity, “I have got all of this I want and I’m going home to die.”

His cryptic remark caused speculation later. Did he mean he was going back to his ranch in See Canyon, or was he going to flee to Missouri from where the family had migrated? A massive manhunt was launched and a reward of $150 offered for his capture, a very large sum in that time. John M. See was never apprehended, and his parents made a home for little Charlie, raising him along with Julian Journigan and their other children. Although there was seven years difference in their ages, the cousins Julian and Charlie became close friends, fellow prospectors, and honored citizens in Payson and the Tonto Basin.

Now for the rest of the story, as reported by Journigan.

After the murder, John raced to his parents’ ranch on Spring Creek and confessed, “I’ve just killed Annie and I’m going to Mexico.”

His mother insisted that his older brother Robert go with him. Robert did just that, and left his wife Caroline and their four-year-old son Jack to accompany his brother on the flight to Mexico. Of interest is this: in the Cline School record for 1904, Robert and Caroline are responsible for an 18-year-old girl named Candelana Hidalgo. It suggests he brought a 12-year-old girl back with him when he returned from escorting John to Mexico.

John M. See remained in Mexico for the rest of his life and changed his name to Juan Moreno. He married an aristocratic lady and raised a family, perhaps financing it all with the bar of silver bullion that was never recovered from the 1892 robbery.

It was a couple of decades later when Charlie See received a letter from a Mexican girl named Rosie, who was attending college in the States. She claimed to be Charlie’s half-sister. She was writing for their father who wanted to see his oldest son, and was asking him to come to Mexico for a visit. The visit was made, and Julian Journigan accompanied his cousin Charlie. They found that John See had become a prosperous landowner and rancher in Mexico, and had several children in his second family. The meeting was strained; John’s Mexican children would not warm up to Charlie, and the eldest stalked out of the room.

The two Americans returned to Payson. Charlie sought out his mother’s grave, located on what Marguerite Noble said had become “the Martin place.”vii This would place the grave in See Canyon. However, Jess Hayes claimed Annie had been buried about 100 yards from where she died, which would place the grave on the old Gann ranch near Grapevine. In any case, Charlie built a concrete curb around the grave and placed a headstone, which read, “Mother Annie See 1869-1892.”

Reports from some who knew the location of the grave indicate the marker went missing sometime in 1967, between Feb. 22 and March 1.

SOURCES: Public Records – The Great Register, Gila County School records; Sheriff’s Inquest report after the murder; “Sheriff Thompson’s Day: Turbulence In the Arizona Territory” by Jess G. Hayes; oral reports from Ira Murphy (Note - Murphy’s hearsay account of the See tragedy is very unreliable, as indicated by obvious errors in facts and names. Some of his information is worth adding to the account); oral report from Marguerite Noble from an article in Tonto Trails; the eye witness account of Julian Journigan (her cousin) given to Marguerite Noble; Arizona Republic Newspaper. May 21, 1892.

i The Great Register for Gila County, 1886; School records. Alice Narron finished school in 1887.

ii Marguerite Noble said she knew of two See ranches, the other one in See Canyon, named for the family. The obituary for Annie Narron in the Arizona Republic of May 21, 1892 makes it clear that when John Morgan See and his bride were married, John was abusive and Annie fled to her sister’s at Grapevine. John M. See had already staked his claim near Christopher Creek in what became known as See Canyon. That is where he took his bride to set up their home.

iii Much of the story comes from Julian Journigan’s reminiscence, as told to his cousin Marguerite Noble and passed on from her.

iv The date of their marriage is confusing, because Gila County marriage records indicate they were married October 1, 1886. This means they were married within months or a year of their family’s arrival. This would also raise the question whether they knew each other and courted back in Missouri.

v Birthdates are deduced from census and school records, and thus may vary by a year, depending on when the registration was taken.

vi In today’s market this would amount to $34,500 of purchasing power.

vii The 1900 Cline School record lists the See daughter Beulah with a last name of Martin, but the next year, 1901, her name is again given as See.

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