The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 11: The Murder of Gila County’s First Sheriff

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Photo from Stan Brown Collection

Al Sieber

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Photo from Stan Brown Collection

The Apache Kid

In 1885, ranchers in Texas were going broke because the bottom dropped out of the market for sheep, wool and cattle. Among those selling out was cattleman Jesse Ellison. He brought his remaining herd to Arizona in hopes of starting over, and with him was fellow rancher Glenn Reynolds, who had thrown his small herd of cattle in with the Ellisons’.

Reynolds returned to Texas the next year for a second herd on behalf of his brothers. Upon reaching Holbrook, he was joined by his wife of 10 years, “Gustie,” and their four children, two sons and two daughters. The Ellison and Reynolds families established their ranching claims in the Rim Country. Just as the Reynolds family was settling down, the Pleasant Valley War broke out, and no one felt safe as sheep and cattle ranchers ambushed one another.

Glenn Reynolds determined to take his family to a more secure location, and moved to Globe.[1] In 1889, Gila County was expanded by the 15th Territorial Legislature to include the northern areas that had been Yavapai County. At this reorganization of the county, Glenn Reynolds ran for sheriff, and with the help of Rim Country ranchers like Jesse Ellison, he won. In his favor was the fact that he had held the office of sheriff for one year in Throckmorton County, Texas.

He had been in office only a few months when the 35-year-old family man was murdered while transporting a group of Apaches by stagecoach to the territorial prison in Yuma.

He had requested two guards to go with him on this mission, in addition to the stage driver, but was given only one guard, William A. “Hunkydory” Holmes.[2]

The first leg of the trip was to be two days from Globe, over the Pinal Mountains to Casa Grande, with an overnight stop at the Riverside Station on the Gila River, near the town of Kelvin. The convicts were in leg irons and handcuffs, but on the second day, approaching a steep grade, seven of them had to be unloaded to walk so the stage could make it up the hill. Inside was the Apache Kid, one of the prisoners, shackled to a another.

Sheriff Reynolds was walking and had buttoned his long coat so that it covered access to his pistol. He carried his shotgun over his arm as he and the prisoners followed the stage up the steep grade. As the stagecoach pulled out of sight, two the Apaches edged close enough to Reynolds that they were able hold him between them while they grabbed for his shotgun. In the same instant, two others turned on Holmes, knocking him to the ground, seizing his rifle and shooting him dead. Turning on Sheriff Reynolds, they shot and killed him also. They then stripped both men of their guns, money, watches and keys to the manacles.

Catching up with the stagecoach, they shot stage driver Eugene Middleton. The bullet went through his mouth and neck and barely missed his spinal cord. Temporarily paralyzed he fell to the ground. The Apaches thought him dead and left the scene. Middleton later recovered consciousness, was able to drag himself back to Riverside, and eventually healed, able to tell the story of the murders.

The bodies of Reynolds and Holmes were brought to Globe on Nov. 3, 1889, and were buried in Globe’s Masonic cemetery. Reynolds was laid to rest beside the grave of his infant son, George.

This saga had actually begun on June 1, 1887 at the San Carlos Reservation, where the Apache Kid was a trusted scout in the employ of Chief of Scouts Al Sieber. A group of drunken and rowdy Apaches had come into the agency and Sieber had ordered the Kid to take their guns from them. As the young scout was turning the weapons over to Sieber, a rifle shot blasted from the surrounding crowd of onlookers. The bullet struck Sieber in the ankle, a wound that would somewhat cripple him the rest of his life.

The Kid was falsely blamed for the deed, though he insisted an Apache named Curley had fired the shot. Immediately following the shot, Sieber took his own rifle and killed one of the Indians. This precipitated a stampede as the Apaches fled, accompanied by many of Sieber’s scouts including The Kid. The renegades bolted the reservation and left a trail of dead ranchers and stolen horses in their wake, as they headed for Mexico.

After months of running, the Apache Kid, believing himself innocent, surrendered, but was court marshaled by the Army, convicted of desertion, and sentenced to prison at Alcatraz. He became bitter, not understanding why his friend Sieber had turned on him, and why an unfair trial had convicted him of charges he did not comprehend. After 16 months, President Cleveland pardoned him, but civilians fearful of Apaches intervened to press the case in civil courts. There, the Apache Kid, along with eight others, was convicted and sentenced to seven years in the Yuma prison.

It was on the way to Yuma under this sentence that the prisoners escaped, Reynolds and Holmes were killed, and the Apache Kid began a reign of terror. Like a ghost, he would appear here or there to murder or to steal an Apache woman for himself. Military and civilian authorities launched a colossal manhunt for the escapees and by the summer of 1890 all the fugitives had been killed or captured — all except the Apache Kid. By 1892, the State of Arizona offered a $6,000 reward for The Kid, but no one ever claimed the reward.

With such a mystery man as the Apache Kid, it is inevitable that many legends would surround his memory. Apparently, he ranged from the Tonto Basin to deep in the Sierra Madre of Mexico. Tonto Apache matriarch Ola Smith related one of these stories in a 1970 interview at Payson. It seems Ola’s mother and some of her sisters were down along Rye Creek when a young Apache came riding up. They believed him to be the Apache Kid, and Ola’s mother ran and hid until she was sure he had gone. The Kid captured one of the sisters, tied her, and then stayed to help the other sister finish gathering the sticks for their wickiup. In a gentlemanly manner, he helped her pack the bundle and sent her on her way with the warning never to tell who he was or what he had done. If she did, he would kill her. He then took Ola’s other sister and rode off.

The sister who went home did not speak of it for several weeks, out of fear, though the men of the tribe were out looking for the missing girl. The abducted girl was never found nor heard from again.

Sources: The Apache Kid by Phyllis de la Garza (Article in True West Magazine), Interwoven: A Pioneer Chronicle, by Sallie Reynolds Matthews (University of Texas Press, 1936), Tonto Basin’s Early Settlers by Drusilla Hazelton, a document of reminiscences in the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson; an oral history with Ola Smith by Houser, 1970, at the Rim Country Museum, Payson.

[1] At this time Payson, Tonto Basin and Pleasant Valley were all in Yavapai County. Globe was the seat of Gila County, which had been formed in 1881 from parts of Maricopa and Pinal Counties.

[2] The nickname “Hunkydory” came from the character in a folk song Bill Holmes used to sing in the local saloons.

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