Death of a cowman along the San Pedro

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A tractor rumbles down the road on the Carlink Ranch in Redington. The ranch is owned by the Smallhouse family. File Photo

Pinal Nugget

The lower San Pedro Valley that stretches from a point about 15 miles north of Benson to the Gila River near Winkelman has an interesting history. The fertile valley along the San Pedro River was the home to pre-historic Indian tribes before Mexican and American settlers began to homestead in the area after the Civil War. Redington would be settled in 1876. It wasn’t easy for the people that established ranches in the area. The Apaches were still a threat in the area until the late 1880s. Then there were cattle rustlers, bandits, outlaws, smugglers and feuding cowboys to contend with.

The Carlink Ranch near Redington is the oldest ranch in the area still owned and worked by the same family. It was established by William Henry Bayless in 1884. Bayless was from Kansas and his partner Jehiel W. Berkalew from New York. They set up the Bayless & Berkalew Company. In the 1880s, times were hard for ranchers especially during periods of drought. Bayless & Berkalew began buying up ranches at sale prices and sometimes just for back taxes from the ranchers that were leaving the area. Before they were done they would own over 200,000 acres with their land stretching from Redington up to the Oracle area.

The Redington and Carlink Ranch area has seen its share of history, some of it violent. It was there that Lem Redfield was arrested at his ranch and taken to Florence where he was lynched by vigilantes. He was accused of participating in the Riverside stagecoach robbery. The Earps made an arrest at the ranch of a suspect in the Tombstone to Benson stagecoach robbery that would be part of the Earp – Clanton feud. The Power brothers stopped at Redington while being pursued by the law after killing three lawmen in Graham County in what is known in history as the Power Shootout. Gunfights between drunken cowboys and ranchers fighting over cattle were not unusual. The Redington area was once considered one of the wildest and lawless areas in Pima County. The Galiuro and Rincon mountains were a haven for outlaws hiding from the law. One violent confrontation would involve employees of the Bayless & Berkalew Company.

William “Riley” Bennett was from California originally. He moved to Arizona and the San Pedro Valley in the late 1880s. In 1890 he filed a land claim to homestead near Redington. He became the foreman of the Bayless Ranch in 1892. A newspaper article in the Arizona Weekly Citizen in 1893 said that he had joined an expedition led by Captain Dick to hunt for the Apache Kid. Other members of the hunting party included Wallapai Clark, Billy Atchley, Tom Moore and Somboya. There was a $5,000 reward on the Kid which they hoped to collect. The expedition was formed in Mammoth. The group broke up shortly after it was organized. The Apache Kid was never captured.

In 1900, Bennett became the postmaster for the Redington Post Office. That year it was reported in the Weekly Citizen that Bennett had brought the news from the San Pedro that two cattlemen had shot each other to death fighting over cattle brands. He said it was a serious situation as now there was bad feeling among the cowboys employed by both of the dead ranchers. Monsoons in August of 1901 caused the San Pedro River to flood its banks. The newspaper Arizona Republican reported on August 15: “Riley Bennett’s house, better known as the Reddington Post Office was entirely washed away by the late flood. This was one of the finest houses on the lower San Pedro.” It was also reported that three people had been killed in the flooding near Benson.

Bennett was a Pima County Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Nabor Pacheco. The Republican candidate Pacheco was elected in 1904. He was the first Hispanic Sheriff in Pima County and the first native born Tucsonan to hold the position. Bennett continued to be the foreman for the Bayless & Berkalew outfit and the postmaster at the Redington Post Office while a deputy.

On Dec. 10, 1908, Riley Bennett was at the Bayless & Berkalew Ranch when he began arguing with two of the workers (described as cowpunchers by the newspapers) Ramon Mendoza and his son Ramon, Jr. What happened next was a matter of conjecture. The first story told was that the Mendozas were arguing with Bennett over money that they owed him. The argument became more heated and Bennett and the older Mendoza began fighting. Mendoza pulled a knife and began stabbing Bennett. In the mean time the younger Mendoza got a gun and shot Bennett in the hip. One newspaper said he snuck around behind Bennett and shot him. It was also reported by some mexican witnesses at the ranch that Bennett had gotten off two shots before falling seriously wounded. One shot grazed the elder Mendoza’s chin and the other one grazed the son’s abdomen.

Ramon Mendoza, Sr. told the sheriff that they had argued over the amount of money that he and his son owed Bennett. Mendoza said that Bennett drew his pistol and fired twice, one shot hitting him in the chin. He said his son then drew his gun and shot Bennett. Sheriff Pacheco escorted the Mendozas to Tucson where they were placed in the county jail. Bennett died on Dec. 15. Charles Bayless, the son of William drove the undertaker from Tucson and picked up Bennett’s body. It would later be shipped to Imperial, California for burial. He was survived by his wife, mother and 25-year-old son. Bennett was 46 years old. Charles Bayless would become the next postmaster of Redington.

Ramon Mendoza, Sr. was discharged by the grand jury with no charges filed. Ramon Jr. was tried in May 1909 for manslaughter. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in the Territorial Prison. In Sept. 1909 his sentence was commuted to time served due to his good behavior and for working to build the new Territorial Prison in Florence. Inmates who worked construction at the new prison received two days off their sentence for each day they worked. The quarrel between Bennett and the Mendozas was over a $70 debt.

John Hernandez (221 Posts)

John Hernandez lives in Oracle. He is retired and enjoys writing and traveling. He is active in the Oracle Historical Society. He covers numerous public events, researches historical features and writes business/artist profiles.


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