Outlaws and Lawmen

The annals of Shakespeare's history have no tales of fearless lawmen stalking the streets in search of wrongdoers. According to old timers, there was no law here at all-just the agreed upon rule that "if you killed someone you had to dig the grave." This kept down indiscriminate shootings. During the days of the Silver Strike and the Diamond Swindle, the silver mining company from San Francisco had on their payroll some Texas boys whose job it was to keep order and to guard the company interests mainly by preventing independent miners from staking claims. Though the Company sometimes called these fellows "Vigilantes," others just called them "Hired Fighting Men."

Quite a few of these men are now referred to as outlaws by modern writers although the word "outlaw" should designate a man who is "outside the law," or wanted by the law. Many of the prominent so-called "outlaws" had no warrants out for their arrests and so cannot be technically considered outlaws at all though they may have been pretty hard characters.

A prime example of this type was Curly Bill Brocius. No one seems to know where Bill came from but it seems pretty certain that his roots were in Texas. Old timers said that he ran the "hired fighting men" at Ralston. With the end of the silver strike and diamond swindle and no mining company to pay his salary, Bill Brocius drifted south and west. Large herds of wild cattle roamed the Animas and San Simon valley and these Texas boys had a ready market for beef because the Army had to feed the Apaches on the reservations. When the cowboys depleted the wild cattle north of the Mexican border, they gathered herds south of the border. Soon retaliatory raids were made by Mexican ranchers and there was almost a state of war along the border between Texans and Mexicans. With Curly rode other men and according to old-timers some of these were Sandy King, the Clantons, Jack McKenzie, Milt Hicks, George Turner and later Zwing Hunt, Billy Grounds, John Ringo, Jim Hughes and Joe Hill. These men all considered Ralston-Shakespeare their home town, the place they came to for their supplies and to get their mail.

The new town of Tombstone started in 1879 and Curly Bill with some of his friends, drifted that way to look over the new town, to check out chances of making money, or of having a good time. On October 28, 1880, Curly Bill killed Marshall White of Tombstone, a shooting which was declared an accident. Curly stayed out of Tombstone after that but he freely rode the trails between Charleston, Galleyville, Shakespeare and the Mexican Border, dealing in cattle. Many accusations were thrown his way but no warrants were issued.

In 1881 Curly Billy disappeared from the southwestern scene. Wyatt Earp, claimed that he killed Curly Bill. There were no confirming witnesses except for a few of Wyatt's close friends and no body. Curly Bill's friends stoutly denied this ever happened. Neither side could produce Curly, either dead or alive. Some say that Curly Bill Brocius simply rode out of the country and became a respectable rancher in Mexico or Montana or somewhere else. Old timers here told another story. They said that Curly died from a case of measles combined with the effects of an old gunshot wound and that he was buried in the basement of the General Merchandise to keep his enemies from being able to gloat over his death.

Clanton is another name which is often numbered among the "outlaw" faction. While Newman Hays Clanton or some of his older boys may have been among the "hired fighting men" at Shakespeare and may have engaged in some shady cattle dealing with Curly Bill, they were much more settled citizens. Records show that N.H. Clanton was a farmer, a freighter and latter had a dairy at Charleston. His youngest son, Billy was killed in the famous OK Corral fight in Tombstone in 1881 and N.H. Clanton was killed with a group of respectable cattlemen who were moving a herd of cattle from the Animas to the San Simon Valley. People at Shakespeare were saddened by these killings because the Clantons had been well respected here.

John Ringo was a frequent visitor to Shakespeare because his friends, the Hughes family moved here when they left their ranch on the San Simon. The oldest Hughes Boy, Jim, was another member of the so-called outlaws and he and John often rode together. John Ringo bought his last pair of boots in the General Merchandise, the boots that he tied to his saddle horn before shooting himself in Turkey Creek Canyon in 1881.

Sandy King, one of the long-time members of the San Simon Cowboys and Russian Bill, (1880 Census) a romantic looking foreigner, were hanged to the timbers of the Grant House Dining Room on November 9, 1881. The next morning the Stage Keeper told the stage passengers that Russian Bill had stolen a horse and Sandy King was a damned nuisance. (thanks to Woody Campbell for the news article and census)

In the middle 1870's a skinny blond kid with a tendency to buck teeth, drifted into town looking for a job. He was too young and small for heavy work but he got employment washing dishes in the Stratford Hotel. After he left Shakespeare he headed for Arizona. From there he drifted to Lincoln County where he became known as the famous, "Billy the Kid."

During the 1890's some members of the Wild Bunch or Black Jack Ketchum's gang hung out in the hills south of town, camping in an old mine tunnel and probably buying supplies here.

Shakespeare was almost as lawless during the days of the third mining boom when the buildings were being rented by people working in the Eighty-Five Mine. There was a Deputy Sheriff at the Mine a mile south and a Deputy in Lordsburg, three miles north, but neither lawman spent much time enforcing law here at Shakespeare. Strange people came and went for this was the time of the revolutions in Mexico and this place is only a day's ride from the border. Some say Pancho Villa was here at least once on a horse buying trip.


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