The Wild West In The Rim Country

Chapter 18: Shootout on Main Street

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There is a myth about “the Wild West” that leads one to believe shootouts occurred frequently in the frontier towns. Considering today’s murders per capita, the streets in Southwestern towns at the turn of the century were safer.

The shootings that did take place were long remembered and often glorified with retelling, like the one that occurred on Payson’s Main Street, Jan. 30, 1910. Many eyewitnesses recorded what they saw and provide us with what must be an accurate account.[1]

The newcomer was heading for a job at the farm of former Payson Justice of the Peace, J. O. Hill.[2] Along the trail he met a boy, 16-year-old Elzie Brown, also going to Payson to find work. The lad was an orphan and had been visiting his sister, Mrs. Charles Henderson, in Roosevelt. Elzie recognized the rider as Jack Lane, a man he had met in New Mexico, where Jack broke horses and the boy had worked on the ranch.

“Climb on up,” said Lane. “I’ll give you a ride to town.”

As they rode Elzie remembered he had seen Lane at the weekly dances, where he would get drunk and often ended up in a fight. The boy later testified, “When he would drink he would get crazy.” Lane had told Elzie that he had a mother, brothers and sisters in Texas, but left them and drifted north.

Once in Payson Elzie went to work in Starr Valley and Lane settled in at the Hill ranch. The year was 1910, and on Saturday evening, January 29th, after Lane had worked about four days, Mr. Hill said, “We don’t usually work on Sunday,” and handing the cowboy $3.00 suggested he go to town for the weekend and relax. Lane thanked him, buckled on his six-shooter with extra cartridges in the belt, put a change of clothes behind his saddle, and headed for the dance in town.

Sunday was always a busy time for visiting in Payson after a week on the far flung ranches. Folks were moving in and out of the saloons, stores and homes on Main Street.

Sam Stewart had seen Lane at the Hilligas family’s 16-to-1 saloon that morning, and again that afternoon in Pieper’s saloon. “Curtie” Neal met Lane on the street, and remembered seeing him at the dance the night before where they played a game of pool together. The two now began betting their horses against each other in proposed races, at $10 a race. Then after checking their horses at August Pieper’s stables, they went into Pieper’s saloon and began to drink.

Bill Colcord came in and shook hands all around until he came to Lane, who offered his hand to Colcord. To Colcord, Lane was a stranger, and he withheld his hand. “You’ve got the best of me,” he said. “I don’t shake hands with someone I don’t know.” Local cowboys and Payson residents were a close-knit fellowship who did not welcome outsiders easily.

The men left to saunter down the street to McDonald’s store, leaving Lane to continue his drinking.

“I saw Lane have at least six drinks,” said Neal, “but I couldn’t say how many more.”

Shunned by the local community, Lane continued to drink. Carrel Wilbanks saw him still at Pieper’s a little before 4 o’clock that afternoon. It was a little later that Lane, obviously very drunk, entered Mart McDonald’s store and bought a pair of overalls. When he left the store he got on his horse and raced wildly down to Judge Randall’s house, where some children were playing croquet on a grassy court. They were 10-year-old Sieber James Armer and Julia Randall, along with Sarah Amanda McDonald, who would soon turn 11. Lane ran his horse through the croquet court, knocking over some of the wickets and yelling, “Look out chilluns!”

The children scattered as the horseman went east along the street. Near Pieper’s he turned and pulled out his gun. Shooting it in the air, he raced back west through the croquet court. It looked to observers that he might shoot the children, and Mrs. Ben Stewart called to them to run into Judge Randall’s house.

Lane stopped his horse and turned to ride back to the hitching post in front of Hilligas’ 16-to-1 saloon. Inside Dick Williams had interrupted the pool game to say he thought the fellow shooting up the town ought to be put under arrest.

Back at McDonald’s store Mart had gotten his shotgun and went out onto the porch ready for action. With him were Floyd Lockwood and Curtis Neal. Further east, at Pieper’s, Sam Stewart and Bill Colcord left their drinks when they heard the shooting, and began to walk west toward the place where Lane was hitching his horse. Carrel Wilbanks and blacksmith James Callaghan emerged from Pieper’s right after them, and watched the activity from the front stoop.

What was about to happen was observed by citizens all up and down Main Street.

Judge Randall, or “Colonel” as he preferred to be called, had come out of his office as Lane fired his final shots in the air and stopped in front of the saloon. “Lane, I want you to cut out this shooting,” called Randall. “Put up your gun and keep it up. We don’t stand for that kind of thing in this town.”

Lane answered that he agreed, and put his gun into the saddle holster. Then he asked, “What is the fine? How much is it?” And with that he retrieved the gun from its holster, and waved it in the direction of the judge as he shouted again, “How much is it? I’ll pay it.”

The judge reiterated, “Lane, there is no fine now, but if you do any more of this there will be.”

Mrs. Hilligas came out of her house upon hearing the commotion. Seeing she would be in the line of any fire that took place, she ran back inside. Mrs. Marshall Brown (Inez) had been visiting at the Herron’s house, and with Mrs. Herron came out in time to see Lane ride up across the street, but seeing two other men with drawn guns coming toward them they disappeared into the house. Colcord and Stewart had continued toward the action. Seeing Lane pull out his gun, Colcord took his pistol out of his belt, holding it in his right hand. 

Upstairs in the 16-to-1, William Bright, a carpenter, was looking out the window and overheard the conversation between Judge Randall and Jack Lane. His testimony later agreed with Randall’s own version. The judge said of that moment, “I lived about an hour in a minute. I realized that I was in danger.” He said he could tell from Lane’s eyes how drunk he was.

Just then Colcord walked up, gripping his pistol with both hands, and went behind the rider so as not to be aiming at Randall. This placed him out of Lane’s sight. Suddenly Lane, sensing Colcord’s presence, swung around and pointed his pistol at Colcord. Colcord fired!

Witnesses said they heard two to four shots in quick succession. But the question remained: were some of those shots from Lane’s gun firing at Colcord?

TO BE CONTINUED

[1] Sources for this article include oral histories by Sara Lockwood, Ira Murphy’s interview with Teresa Boardman and other Murphy articles; also from the author’s interview with Charlie Chilson and Sarah “Babe” Lockwood; and an interview with Lena Chilson. Transcripts of the Coroner’s Jury were found in the Arizona State Capitol’s Department of Library, Archives, and Public Records.

[2] The Hill farm was in what today is Payson West subdivision.

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