The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 10: Lynching in Gentry Canyon (Scott, Stott, and Wilson)

Advertisement

“A wave of lawlessness,” is how historian Joseph Fish portrayed life in the Rim Country during the 1880s and 1890s. “A wave of lawlessness marked the collision of livestock, railroad, and mining interests on that remote frontier. This wave took the forms of land-jumping, robberies, beatings, and murder.” [1]

Three men were lynched on an August day in 1888 and their murder has become the stuff of legend.

James (Jamie) Warren Stott was just short of his 25th birthday, and had come from Massachusetts to Texas where he learned to “cowboy” – to break horses, and to be a good shot. He came on to Arizona with a small herd of horses and applied for work with the Aztec Land and Cattle Company at Holbrook. However, his gentle, citified ways shown through and caused him to be turned down by the Hashknife cowboys. His family then sent him money with which to purchase a homestead with good water at Bear Springs, 40 miles south of Holbrook. He had plans to “prove up” on it and develop his own cattle ranch, and he named it the Aztec Springs Ranch.

Stott’s friend James Scott was a likeable drifter who hired here and there as a cowboy.

Then there was Billy (Jeff) Wilson, also a cowboy, who worked on ranches around the area and was a sometime cook with the Hashknife Outfit. Our story concerns the big questions that surround their lynching.

Since all three were cattlemen they were associated in the popular mind with the Grahams and the ongoing “Pleasant Valley War.” All three had garnered the wrath of Navajo County sheriff James Houck, who was a sheep rancher and allied with the Tewksburys in the range war. For one thing, Jamie Stott’s new homestead was an area where Houck wanted to graze his sheep. The two men had a confrontation in a Holbrook billiard parlor. Houck assailed Stott with a loud, reckless boast that he would run his sheep at Stott’s ranch some day. The young Jamie Stott stood up to him and “called his hand,” according to eyewitnesses.

Scott and Wilson both had worked for the Hashknife Outfit at one time or another, and thus were aligned with the cattle rancher faction of the range war. This meant alliance with the Grahams, deadly enemies of Houck and the Tewksburys.

Events began to come to a head when a horse disappeared from Stott’s ranch. He had come into possession of a gray horse whose brand was unclear, but a Tonto Basin rancher named Jake Lauffer claimed ownership and that Stott had stolen it. Stott and a cowboy friend Tom Tucker went to Tonto Basin to reclaim the horse, but were rebuffed and went home empty handed. Some weeks later Deputy Sheriff James Houck arrested Stott and Tucker for horse stealing, but the court in Globe released them saying, “There seems to be an entire lack of evidence to convict.” As rumors have it, Stott became identified in the suspicions of many as a horse thief.

The reporting of events during those days is so filled with variations and contradictory facts it is almost impossible to sort out the truth. For example, it was widely believed that Stott had rustled cattle to stock his own herd and that his friends Jim Scott and Billy Wilson had used his ranch to conceal cattle they too had

Then on Aug. 5, 1888, Jake Lauffer was ambushed and in Tonto Basin. Some reports are that he was wounded, his arm broken. Deputy Houck accused Jamie Stott, Jim Scott, and Jeff Wilson of the attack. Six days later Deputy Houck and a posse rode to the Aztec Springs Ranch, presumably with a warrant to arrest Stott, Scott and Wilson for the attempted murder of Jake Lauffer. As the day dawned on Aug. 12, Houck waited outside Stott’s cabin for him to emerge. When the door opened, Houck covered him with his rifle and said he was under arrest. Stott was calm, and invited Houck and his companions in for breakfast before they would all go to the arraignment. When Stott asked to see the warrant, Houck claimed to have left it at Bear Springs where he spent the night.

Some reports say that Scott was not present, but was soon brought in a prisoner of another large posse. In any case, the men all had breakfast and apparently there was much joking and laughter. Stott and his friends did not realize the seriousness of the moment and were prepared to ride to the jail in Holbrook confident they would be released.

Another person at the Stott ranch was Motte Clymer, a fellow with tuberculosis whom Stott had invited to stay while he recovered. He did chores and watched the stock in exchange for his board and room.



The posse led by Deputy Houck took the three men prisoner, leaving Clymer behind with the warning that he had better ride to Holbrook and catch a stage east, leaving the country. The procession took the Old Verde Road (today’s Forest Road 300) to its junction with the main trail to Pleasant Valley. There, according to Houck’s later testimony, a large group of masked men took the prisoners from them at gunpoint. In retrospect, it becomes obvious the entire charade was well planned by the Tewksbury allies, and Houck’s task was to deliver the three accused men to the mob.

Only bits and pieces that circulated after the hangings refer to what happened at the hands of the lynch mob. The three found themselves with nooses around their necks and sitting on their horses under a pine tree. The ropes were slung over a branch and tied securely. Scott and Wilson begged for mercy, but the vigilantes whacked their horses. The animals bolted leaving the men to strangle in the summer sun. Jamie Stott remained defiant and dared them to turn him loose so he could fight them man-to-man. As he was cursing his captors his horse bolted and Stott was “dancing the dead man’s jig,” as it was called.

Today one can visit the three graves in the quiet forest along a secluded trail between the road leading to the Gentry fire watchtower and State Route 260. It is not easy to find, and requires some hiking.

In 2008 local historian Richard Pierce accompanied historian Lee Hanchett Jr. to the fenced cemetery where three headstones seem to mark the graves. Hanchett’s research claims that Scott’s remains are under the head stone that bears his name, while other information states Scott’s remains are actually under Stott’s headstone. Lee said that no one is buried under the stone with Wilson’s name, but that Jamie Stott is actually buried in Stott Canyon, on the old Aztec Springs Ranch property. This is about three-quarters of a mile from the hanging site.

After receiving the sad news, Jamie Stott’s parents came to Arizona and were taken to the ranch to gather their son’s personal belongings. While here they settled his affairs, and it is likely they had his body disinterred and moved to his beloved ranch location.

No one was ever indicted or brought to justice for the hangings

[1] Cited by Jo Baeza in her article The Lynching of Stott, Scott, and Wilson.

Sources: The Crooked Trail To Holbrook by Leland Hanchett Jr. (Arrowhead Press, 1993); Pleasant Valley War by Jinx Pyle (Git A Rope publishing, 2009); Stott, Scott & Wilson Cemetery by Richard Pierce (Arizona Pioneer and Cemetery Research Association); The Lynching of Stott, Scott, and Wilson by Jo Baeza (White Mountains Online); James Warren Stott by Find A Grave Memorial; Arizona, The Youngest State by state historian McClintock (1913; page 484)

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.