The amazing story of the largest man hunt in Arizona history

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A short history of The Powers family ranch and Rattlesnake Canyon

The gold claims in Rattlesnake Canyon were first staked by a man known as Black Jack Gardner.  BlackJack discovered the gold by accident rather than scientific discovery. While prospecting in the Galiuro Mountains, he killed a steer and camped out at the top of Rattlesnake Canyon. Two days later, he noticed some cowboys coming his way. He grabbed as much meat as he could and took off into the canyon.

BlackJack found a good hiding spot near a natural dike. The next morning he decided to examine the embankment and discovered one gold stringer after another. He spent two days dressing and exposing the gold to prepare it for assaying. BlackJack took samples of his find to Tucson, where he met with Francis Hartman and Col. Randolph. They agreed to finance his operation, and $50,000 was spent. The Ranch and gold claims were later abandoned, and a caretaker took over the property.

John Powers
John Powers

Jeff Powers later purchased the ranch and gold claims from a caretaker after Black Jack Gardner abandoned it. The Powers family previously owned a cattle ranch near Klondike before they moved to Rattlesnake Canyon. Rattlesnake Canyon got its name from a den of rattlesnakes that caused the death of many of Powers cattle.

The Powers boys made many improvements to the place, including a new tunnel at the mine and a stamp mill. Many buildings were built, including one that caused the death of Jeff Powers’ mother when the cabin collapsed. The men made a wagon by hollowing the middle of a large tree. The wheels were slices of the tree trunk. In a tragic accident, Jeff Powers’ wife was killed by a runaway wagon. Crashing and throwing her from the carriage.

Wanted for the crime of “being a slacker.”

On February 10th, 1918, US Deputy Marshal Frank Haynes, Graham County Sheriff Frank McBride, Deputy Mark Kempton, and Deputy Kane Wootan went to the Powers place with a warrant for the Powers brothers for draft evasion and questions concerning mysterious circumstances surrounding the death to their sister Ola Powers. Ola Powers died after being assaulted and strangled by an unknown attacker at the ranch.

The officers reached the cabin near the mine. Jeff, Tom and John Powers, and a family friend Tom Sissons were inside the cabin. Sheriff McBride and his deputies took a position in front of the cabin while Deputy Marshal Haynes went to the rear. Old man Powers opened the door with rifle in hand, ordering the officers to put their hands up. Seconds later, one of the boys opened the door and started firing, killing Sheriff McBride and his deputies.

Old man Powers dropped to the ground, shot through the right shoulder just inches from his heart. Over 80 shots were fired in the gunfight. The Powers brothers and Tom Sissons took the guns and ammunition from the dead officers, mounted the officer’s horses, and headed down Rattlesnake Canyon.

About a mile down the canyon, they stopped at John Murdock’s Ranch and saw Murdock’s son, father, and a man named Henry Allen. They told the bunch about the gunfight, and they were heading in the direction of Reddington along the San Pedro River. They asked Henry to help, Jeff. Allan and a man named Murde found Jeff unconscious but still alive. They put old man Powers in a tunnel in the mine and lay him on a cot. Old man Powers eventually died later that afternoon. They immediately set out for Safford to alert authorities. Once Allan and Murde arrived in Safford and reported the news, a posse was quickly organized to recover the fallen officers’ bodies and capture the outlaws.

A colossal posse that stretched from Clifton to Mexico

Over 1000 men gathered from all over southeastern Arizona to capture the outlaws. Ranchers, miners, lawmen, and US and Mexico troops, as well as Apache trackers, stayed close on their tail. Tracking every step they made, they eventually caught up with the outlaws and surrounded them at Cochise Stronghold. Come nightfall; the outlaws made a break for it.

The Powers boys and Sisson rode all night to the Dragoon mountains than to the Chiricahua Mountains, where Sheriff Harry C. Wheeler of Cochise County and Sheriff Rye Miles of Pima county picked up their trail. They ditched their victim’s horses near Rock Creek Canyon and Turkey Creek.  In the meantime, Colonel Augustine Camou, Sonoran Commander of military forces, sent Mexican troops to guard the border.

“Tired and weary, unshaven and hungry, gaunt eyes from loss of sleep, but armed to the guards with enough artillery to capture and police Mexico. 100s of men from Bisbee, Douglas, Tombstone, New Mexico, and from Graham, Pinal and Pima counties are doing their best to capture the murderers and slackers.”

Reads an article from the February 19, 1918 edition of the Bisbee Daily Review.

The outlaws continued to a small town called Rodeo just about a mile over the New Mexico line, where the Powers boys previously owned a ranch. From there, they traveled south to Skeleton Canyon, where Sissons already owned a farm, and then finally into Mexico.

Unable to find water south of the border, they turned back to the vicinity of Hachita. Soon after, they were spotted by six soldiers approaching in the flank. Believing a larger group may be approaching from the other side, they decided to surrender without a fight.

Sheriff Stewart of Graham county was notified of the capture and immediately retrieved them by automobile. They were taken to Bisbee and locked in the county jail to await trial for the murders. Later a change of venue was granted, and the trial moved to Greenlee county in Clifton, and the prisoners were transferred there. The jury unanimously agreed on natural life in prison.

Weeks later, another brother Charles Powers arrived to take over the family’s ranch and immediately started negotiations to sell the place. After a publication in the Copper Era newspaper describing the beginning of negotiations, a lawsuit was filed. The fallen officers’ three wives filed a civil suit for $120,000 and the Powers gold claim. The judgment was awarded in their favor, and they took ownership of the Powers family ranch.

It was later discovered that the Powers brothers skipped the draft because the rich gold deposit required the help of the entire Powers clan, and they knew their father couldn’t do it alone. They were incredible marksmen and knew that only their rifles protected them from looters trying to take their riches. The officers never announced they were officers of the law and were immediately accepted as a threat.

As for Sisson, he was already on parole for stealing cattle from an Indian. He lost his left eye in the gunfight and later had it removed. Deputy Marshal Frank Haynes was never involved in the gunfight and escaped with no injuries. All accounts of the story suggest he hid in the mountains and rode to Klondike for help.

Sheriff Harry C Wheeler was later commissioned captain of the United States Army and was assigned to Arizona’s 308 cavalry regiment. He was highly praised for his accomplishments during the chase.

The Powers Children.
Left Ola Powers, Center Tom Powers,
Right John Powers


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