Bisbee grew rapidly from a raw mining camp to a thriving town that was rough around the edges. Like Tombstone, the county seat just 25 miles up the road, the flourishing copper mining berg had a rich mix of rowdy and refined and early residents were reminded regularly that it could be a rough place. A violent event on December 8, 1883 is still remembered as the most tragic episode in early Bisbee history.
It started as a robbery. The Castaneda and Goldwater General Merchandise Emporium stood between two saloons across Main Street from the Bisbee Hotel. It was Bisbee’s principal store serving as a kind of social center for the community. In its earliest years, Bisbee had no bank and the big safe in Castaneda and Goldwater’s served as a secure place for citizens to keep their money and valuables. It was also the place where the Copper Queen mine kept the monthly shipment of $7000 in gold coin, an amount sufficient to cash miners’ payroll checks. Pay day was the 10th of each month and the gold usually arrived by the 8th, though the exact schedule was kept secret—only the messenger who brought the gold on the stage and the store owners knew when it was to arrive.
The town was coming to life about 7pm on December 8 when five men rode in leaving their horses at Preston’s Lumberyard. It was already dark but lamps shining through windows and doors of stores and saloons illuminated the streets as the men, four masked and one bare faced, approached the Emporium.
Two of the bandits stayed outside as lookouts while the others entered the building, drew their pistols, ordered the six or seven customers to raise their hands and searched them for valuables. Castaneda was lying sick in a rear bedroom. Hidden under his pillow was $700 in gold which the robbers took. Out front, they ordered Goldwater to open the safe. They grabbed $120 in cash plus a $350 watch and chain belonging to Bisbee resident William Clancy who’d left it at the store for safekeeping. That plus other valuables in the safe and what they got from the customers was it. The payroll had not arrived. The total take was less than $3000.
Outside, things were heating up. Two men came out of the Bon Ton Saloon next door to the store, apparently oblivious to the danger in the street. An outlaw shouted, “You go back.” One of the men, Joseph Bright of Willcox ran up the street. The other, John Tappenier, a local assayer, must have thought it was a joke and replied, “I won’t.” He was shot in the head. Deputized stagecoach driver, D. Tom Smith, was having dinner in the Bisbee Hotel restaurant across the street and came out, gun drawn. He identified himself as a deputy and ordered the shooting to stop in the name of the law. The robbers ignored the command and fired. A shot wounded him and, as he fell, he was shot again and killed. J.A. “Tex” Nolly, standing with a wagon team in front of the store was shot through the body and later died. Just when it seemed things could not get worse, they did. Mrs. Annie Roberts was inside her restaurant. A stray shot through the open door mortally wounded her. She was expecting a child.
Others heard the shooting and began to converge on the scene. H.A. “Billy” Daniels, Bisbee’s deputy sheriff, came out of his nearby saloon unarmed. Fired upon, he ducked back inside, grabbed his gun and ran out the back door. James Krigbaum, armed with a six-gun, heard the shooting and took cover in an alley behind a big boulder. He fired twice at the two masked men waiting outside the store. One shot missed; the other grazed the back of the taller man but did not wound him. They returned fire and Krigbaum crouched behind the rock. Another bystander, known locally as Indian Joe, suffered a minor leg wound.
Krigbaum ran home, got a rifle and joined by his neighbor, H.C. Stillman headed back to Main Street. The three bandits, no doubt disappointed at missing the mine payroll, left the store and with their two partners walked back to Preston’s, got their horses and rode out of town shooting as they went.
Krigbaum and Stillman fired their rifles; Billy Daniels and another man, John Reynolds, ran down the gulch shooting at the departing gang. No one was hit and the robbers got away.
Behind them, there was chaos. Two men were dead; another man and a pregnant woman were mortally wounded and another man had suffered a leg wound. The outlaws clattered down Mule Pass into the dark night. Later, about 9 pm, they were seen passing “Milk Ranch” five miles away laughing and chatting as they rode. Back in town, the citizens were stunned by the brutality and swiftness of the crimes.
The drama continued. Annie Roberts’s husband Bob lent James Krigbaum a fast horse to ride to Tombstone for a priest and to notify Sheriff Jerome Ward. He shaved six miles off the ride by taking dangerous shortcuts arriving in the county seat a little after 10 pm. The priest reached Bisbee too late to administer last rights to Annie Roberts, a devout Catholic. The sheriff sent a five man posse to coordinate with Deputy Billy Daniels who was organizing his own posse in Bisbee.
The next morning, the heavily armed posse was ready to ride. One of the first to volunteer was John Heith who owned a newly opened dance hall conveniently located behind the Castaneda and Goldwater building. Curiously, he had continued to conduct business the evening before while the robbery and shooting took place just outside.
As the citizens of Bisbee mourned the victims and struggled to go on with their lives as miners, business owners and family members, lawmen and volunteers prepared to head out of town to track down the killers and bring them to justice. The story of the Bisbee Massacre was far from over.