After the shock of what became known as the Bisbee Massacre, events moved swiftly as townspeople and Cochise County lawmen organized to bring five robbers and murders to justice. The gang rode out of town in the darkness of December 8, 1883, leaving four people plus an unborn child dead or dying and taking almost $3000 in money and valuables from the hold up at the Castaneda and Goldwater store.
At 10 am the following morning, Deputy Sheriff Billy Daniels led his posse that included dance hall owner John Heith out to search for the gang by daylight. Shortly after they left Bisbee, Deputy Bob Hatch arrived with a posse dispatched from Tombstone by Sheriff Jerome Ward. Hatch sent his men on to catch up with the Daniels posse while he remained in town to gather evidence and assist the coroner. He returned to Tombstone that evening with Coroner Pat Holland and Dr. Porter with a full report for the Sheriff.
As the posse rode east, John Heith tried to mislead Daniels contending that the robbers must have headed for the Dragoon Mountains or Tombstone. After arguing for some time, Heith and at least one other posse member peeled off to follow the route to Tombstone. They eventually returned to Bisbee. Daniels was not fooled and tracked the bandits north through Sulphur Springs Valley toward the Chiricahua Mountains. Because tracking in the desert depended on knowing where water and horses could be found as well as reading trail signs, he determined that the gang had split up at Soldier Hole about twenty miles due east of Tombstone. Two of the outlaws had headed for the Mexican border while the other three went to the Frank Buckles ranch farther up the valley. There they obtained fresh horses and headed for the route along Turkey Creek that ran from Tombstone across the mountains to the eastern slope near the New Mexico border.
Daniels learned the name of the five bandits from a prospector named Pardee who had a cabin on the western foothills of the Chiricahuas. They were Red Sample, Tex Howard, Mick Kelly, Big Dan Dowd and Billy Delaney. He also discovered that they were part of a gang that had done some robbing north in the mining town of Clifton. The most important fact, however, was that the leader of the outfit was John Heith. The bandits had stayed at Pardee’s cabin before the Bisbee robbery where the prospector overheard Heith doing most of the planning.
What Daniels could not know was that a few days after the massacre and robbery, three of the bandits had been flushed out of hiding near Galeyville on the east side of the mountains and had split up even as their partners were still headed to Mexico. Bad weather and a cold trail forced Daniels and the posse to head back toward Bisbee. Sheriff Ward’s group split off and rode to Tombstone. Daniels kept two men and sent the others to Bisbee to arrest John Heith while he headed south to catch up with the two fugitives in Mexico.
The pursuit and arrest of the five outlaws over the next several weeks was a complex and challenging undertaking. A substantial reward was posted, almost $1500 per bandit and the Copper Queen mine produced handbills describing the wanted men and the stolen loot. Sheriff Ward distributed these throughout Arizona, neighboring states and northern Mexico. Telegrams were sent to Southern Pacific rail stations as far east as Deming, New Mexico.
Ward traced Red Sample and Tex Howard to Clifton, home of Sample’s girlfriend and they were arrested by the Graham County sheriff as they sat under a tree cleaning their weapons. Sample had given his girlfriend William Clancy’s distinctive gold watch and chain and had told her the details of the caper. She conveniently shared the story with her other boyfriend who eagerly ratted the robbers out. Mick Kelly, the talkative Irishman, was captured either in Lordsburg or Deming and returned to Tombstone on December 11.
Daniels and his deputies followed Big Dan Dowd and Billy Delaney into Sonora. Although cooperation was common in those days between law enforcement officers on both sides of the border, things speeded up due to the incentive of the hefty reward. Dowd was tracked to the town of Corralitos, arrested and smuggled on a rail car to El Paso with the tacit assistance of the Mexican authorities. Ward wired money to Daniels who returned the fugitive to Tombstone. That left Delaney, considered to be the most dangerous member of the gang. He had travelled almost 300 miles south to the mining area around Hermosillo. He disappeared and might have escaped except for a bar brawl that got him arrested. The Mexican authorities recognized him from the handbills. After Ward was notified, the Mexican police released him and looked the other way as Billy Daniel’s deputy spirited him across the border. By January 22, 1884, all six of the suspects were behind bars in Tombstone.
After that, things moved quickly. A special hearing on February 4 led to indictments and the trial began on February 9. Good evidence gathering by Sheriff Ward along with careful preparation by the county attorney assured a speedy trial and on February 11 the five bandits were found guilty of first-degree murder. On the twentieth, they were sentenced to death by hanging. An appeal was denied. The hanging was set for March 28.
John Heith, the ringleader of the gang, was tried separately but concurrently with the same judge presiding. His powerful personality was impressive. The rest of the gang resolutely maintained that he was innocent of the crime for which they were to be hanged. Even as the five subordinates awaited their fates at the end of a rope, a shocking surprise was in store for their leader and for the people of Bisbee. The Bisbee Massacre was to have yet another chapter.