By John Hernandez
Between 1875 and 1903, at least 134 stagecoaches were robbed on the highways of Arizona. More than half the robberies were never solved. Eighty robbers were caught, indicted, tried, convicted and sent to prison. Some were legally hanged for murders committed during the robberies, some were killed during pursuit by law enforcement and a few were lynched. Some of these robberies and killings were committed along the Florence to Globe stage route which included the stage stop at Riverside (near present day Kelvin).
Johnny Collins was a Wells Fargo & Company messenger. A messenger or express messenger was a guard on a stagecoach or train that guarded a valuable private shipment. They were more commonly called shotgun messengers as they typically carried a 10 or 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot with them. The term “riding shotgun” came from the stagecoach guard who rode on the right hand side of the stagecoach next to the driver. Riding shotgun first appeared in fiction about the old west in 1905. Calling “shotgun” to sit in the front seat of the car next to the driver and by the passenger window became popular around 1954 when the term riding shotgun was used frequently in the popular western television series Gunsmoke.
Johnny Collins was riding shotgun on Friday, August 10, 1883, on the stagecoach from Riverside to Globe. Johnny was 23 years old and had come from Fairfax County, Virginia to Arizona only a few years before. He had started working on the Florence to Globe stage route in April when he took the place of a Mr. Miller who had resigned to go prospecting in the Papago mining district. Watson Humphrey an experienced driver handled the reins of the stagecoach. Felix LeBlanc of Evans & Leblanc, merchants at Riverside was the passenger. They left the Riverside station around 8:45 p.m. The stagecoach was carrying $2,000 in silver and 800 in gold plus some cash. The silver was destined for Pioneer to pay the workers and the gold was bound for parties in Globe. Collins was armed with a shotgun and a revolver.
The stage was about two miles outside of Riverside on its way to the mining town of Pioneer when it slowed down as it approached an upgrade. It was then that all heck broke loose! Collins was struck in the neck and chin by shotgun pellets and by two large caliber rifle balls in the neck. He slumped over dead in the boot of the stage. The shooting continued, killing one of the horses and wounding another. Bullets flew close by the driver Humphrey penetrating his clothing and nicking him right above one of his knees. His whip stock was shot in half. Humphrey threw up his hands and screamed out, “For God’s sake stop shooting, you have killed one man, what more do you want!” The shooting stopped and the robbers advanced towards the stagecoach from their hiding place. They had built breastworks on both sides of the road to catch the stagecoach in a cross fire. Humphrey would later resign his position as this had been the third time he had been robbed at gun point along this same road.
Felix LeBlanc was ordered out of the stage and told to drop all of his money on the ground. He was told to climb aboard the stage and help Humphrey retrieve the express box. Collin’s body was still slumped face down in the boot of the stage box and Humphrey and LeBlanc had to lift him up to get to the box. They were able to toss the heavy box off the wagon to the ground. LeBlanc was then ordered to open the box with a hatchet. It took him four solid hits before the lock broke. The gang of robbers then grabbed up the silver and gold and loaded it in a saddlebag. In their haste, they overlooked $620 cash. They also dropped a pair of leather saddlebags, a belt full of Winchester cartridges, some food and a custom made old fashioned dirk knife. The gang ordered LeBlanc and Humphrey to walk up the road towards Cane Springs and threatened to kill them if they tried to come back. The robbers then fled from the scene.
The two members of the “Red Jack” gang rode over the hills to the San Pedro Road, a few miles above Riverside. There they stopped and loaded the loot into two bags and placed it on one of the stagecoach horses they had stolen to use as a pack horse. Charley Hensley and Joe Tuttle were the shooters that ambushed and robbed the stage. They had been camping outside of Florence while their leader “Red Jack” Almer had been watching the stage line in town for nearly a week. He was also known by the aliases Jack Averill and Jack Elmer. The Red Jack gang was known for robbing stagecoaches in south eastern Arizona and around the Florence – Globe area. They were believed to hide out in the San Pedro Valley where they could flee into the nearby mountains and rugged country. Almer had been using the alias Jack Averill while staying in Florence. He was a drinker and gambler and had been seen in the local saloons. He had been watching the comings and goings of the stagecoaches. On the day of the robbery, he had watched as two Wells Fargo men had a hard time loading the express box which appeared to be heavy. Almer figured this would be the stage to rob so bought a ticket to Riverside. Two of his partners Charley Hensley and Joe Tuttle had been waiting outside of Florence and after seeing he was on the stage rode to the location where they had planned to ambush the stagecoach. Red Jack got off the stage in Riverside and had asked some of the people there if anyone had left him a horse. He had seemed angry when they told him no. He was last seen on foot walking away from Riverside.
Charley Hensley and Joe Tuttle followed the San Pedro Road and were seen passing through Dudleyville. As they rode by the Dudleyville store, some boys waved to them and shouted. “What’s your hurry?” They rode by the boys swiftly each man holding his pistol in his hand. They were last seen at the Perdue ranch a few miles outside of Dudleyville by Mrs. Perdue and Mrs. Pearson riding at a swift pace at around 5 a.m.
LeBlanc and Humphrey walked three miles up the road near Cane Springs when they ran into the down stage from Globe to Florence. They told the driver, a man named McKenny about the robbery and killing of Johnny Collins. McKenny and several of the passengers decided to camp out at the springs as it was dark and they did not want to run into the robbers. In the morning they headed into Riverside, stopping at the murder scene. John Jerman, a passenger on the stagecoach gave a deposition to the Coroner as to what he saw at the scene which later appeared in newspapers.
“On my way to Florence about 5 o’clock we came to an abandoned east-bound coach. One lead horse was dead. The young man Collins was lying across its body, dead face downward. We took him into Riverside.”
The news of the robbery and murder did not reach Florence until 10 a.m. Saturday morning. Sheriff A.J. Doran was in the town of Pinal near present day Superior when he received the news. He telegraphed deputies Scanland and Adams and told them to go to the robbery scene and follow the trail as far as they could. Doran said a posse would be formed and he would meet them at Riverside.
Former Pinal County Sheriff J.P. “Pete” Gabriel was at Riverside on mining business when he heard the news of the robbery and murder. He heard the story of Jack Averill inquiring about a horse and from the description witnesses gave him, he surmised that it was Red Jack and his gang who had robbed the stage. Gabriel began forming a posse. He went to Putnam’s store to secure arms and ammunition. While there the posse members ran into Sheriff Doran who had been investigating the robber’s camp in the mountains. Thomas F. Weedin, the Editor of the Arizona Weekly Newspaper out of Florence was also there. Doran asked him if he wanted to ride in the posse. He accepted and his newspaper coverage of the robbery would be a firsthand account.
At 10 p.m. the posse headed in the direction of the San Pedro River. They reached Dudleyville around midnight. There they learned that Red Jack had paid $15 to one of Mr. Finch’s sons to take him up the river as far as Captain Cage’s place. Red Jack had told the boy that he would reach the Redfield’s ranch that night even if he had to steal a horse. They borrowed two Winchester rifles and a six gun from Alex L. Pam owner of the Dudleyville store and then headed down the San Pedro Road towards the Redfield ranch. Around daylight they found the other posse members, Scanland, Adams and Harrington, camped at Mesaville, a small settlement along the San Pedro River near the Old Camp Grant site. Scanland and the others had been trailing the robbers. After a short rest, the posse resumed the pursuit of the Red Jack gang. Around noon they arrived at Frank Shields place along the San Pedro River. Mr. Shields furnished them with fresh horses. While there a young man named Huntley came up to them and told them he was the one who had taken Red Jack from Dudleyville down the San Pedro road. Huntley told the Sheriff that about a mile and a half above Frank Shield’s place they had met Jack Carpenter. Carpenter and Red Jack both dismounted and walked away from Huntley talking in low tones so Huntley could not hear them. They both came back and Carpenter gave Red Jack his horse and $10 to pay Huntley with. Red Jack then headed down the San Pedro road towards the Redfield Ranch while Carpenter and Huntley headed for Mesaville.
The Redfield Ranch had been started up by Leonard “Lem” (also referred to as Len in newspaper articles and books) and Henry “Hank” Redfield. They were New Yorkers who had settled near present day Redington in the San Pedro Valley. They were some of the first settlers in the area in 1875. Henry Redfield was the first postmaster for the town of Redington which the Redfields founded in 1879 and bears part of their name. They had wanted to name the area Redfield but the Postal Service turned that name down. Redfield Canyon still bears their name. They had both become successful ranchers although the Redfield Ranch was suspected of being a haven for organized robbers such as the Red Jack gang. In 1881 there was an attempted robbery of the Benson to Tombstone stage coach in which the driver of the stage and a passenger were killed. A posse which included Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt Earp as well as Bob Paul, the shotgun messenger of the stage, trailed the robbers down the San Pedro Valley. They arrested Luther King at Lem and Hank Redfield’s ranch. He had been working for the Redfields for a couple of weeks. King gave up the names of the other participants in the robbery attempt. King would disappear after allegedly escaping while under the care of Sheriff John Behan. This stage robbery and its aftermath helped inflame the Earp-Clanton feud which led to the gunfight at the OK Corral. The Redfields were not implicated in the robbery or as accomplices. One book about Wyatt Earp alleges that Hank Redfield rode away from his ranch after the posse left to warn the robbers that the posse was on their trail and knew who they were.
When Sheriff Doran’s posse arrived at the Redfield Ranch around 7 p.m., they were expecting a fight so approached cautiously. At the ranch they found Joe Tuttle and Lem Redfield who offered no resistance. Both men denied being involved in the robbery when questioned. Thomas Weedin wrote in his newspaper that both men were “as meek as doves and shook from head to foot” while being questioned. The posse spent the night at the ranch posting a guard to watch Redfield and Tuttle. In the morning Sheriff Doran and his men searched the Redfield property and found a U.S. mail bag of the same type carried by stagecoaches and a recently discharged shotgun hidden under a pile of manure. Redfield and Tuttle were arrested and handcuffed. It was decided that the Sheriff and the posse would take Tuttle and Redfield to Florence while Pete Gabriel would continue to look for the trail of Red Jack and anyone with him. Along the way to Florence, the posse stopped at Mesaville a small town on the San Pedro River near Old Camp Grant. While there they took Lem Redfield’s nephew Frank Carpenter into custody. Carpenter was suspected of being one of the gang members and an accessory to the stage robbery.
At the mouth of the Aravaipa River, the posse found a portion of the stage harness reins apparently dropped by the fleeing robbers. They continued up to Dudleyville. It was there that Carpenter gave his uncle Lem away. Deputy Sheriff Scanland had the saddlebags found at the robbery scene on his saddle. Carpenter pointed to them and said “Lem, those fellows have got your saddlebags.” Lem angrily retorted, “Shut up!” After arriving in Florence, Sheriff Doran brought his prisoners to Judge Thomas who ruled that there was enough evidence to hold them in jail. The prisoners were placed in the Florence Jail and Deputy Scanland was put in charge of them.
On Monday morning, Sept. 3, Deputy U.S. Marshal Evans along with Hank Redfield and a posse of seven men arrived in Florence at 5 a.m. Marshal Evans had a writ issued by Judge Pinney commanding him to take custody of Len Redfield and escort him to Phoenix. Word had reached Tucson and Redington that the sentiment in Florence was that the robbers of the stage coach should be quickly tried by a citizens committee and executed. Hank Redfield fearing his brother would be lynched went to the authorities in Tucson requesting their assistance. Joseph Wiley Evans was a well respected law man. He had worked as an express man for the Arizona Stage Company and later served as a special agent for Wells Fargo until his appointment as a U.S. Marshal in 1880. He was present in Tombstone during the gunfight at the OK Corral. The Earps were friends of his and it is alleged that he helped the Earps escape Tucson after they killed Frank Stillwell at the railroad station. He was considered one of the most capable lawmen in the western United States between 1877 and 1887. What was more astounding was that he had only one arm. While working for the stage company he got into a dispute with one of the drivers by the name of James Carroll. It lead to a gunfight where Evans killed Carroll but was wounded in the arm. His wound got infected and his left arm was amputated at the elbow.
The plan was for Marshal Evans and his posse to secure Lem Redfield and remove him from the jail and transport him to Phoenix that morning. Evans served the writ to Deputy Scanland and asked to take custody of Redfield immediately. Scanland stalled and asked for some time to contact Sheriff Doran to get his permission before letting Evans have his prisoner. Evans posted his posse members around the jail guarding the prisoners. Jesse Hardesty, a District Attorney for Pinal County protested the guards at the jail. He and Deputy Scanland told Evans that a U.S. Marshal had no authority to guard and control a county jail. Evans withdrew the guards and they left the jail. Hank Redfield rode to Picacho to wire for more cowboys to come to Florence. News of the marshal’s arrival stirred up the citizens of Florence. Rumors were spread that Evans was wiring for troops to come to town. Meetings were held by a citizen’s group and it was determined that Lem Redfield should not be permitted to leave Florence alive.
Check next month’s Nugget for the aftermath of the Riverside Stage Coach Robbery.