By John Hernandez
“Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” Honore de Balzac
On Jan. 1, 1908, P.P. Daggs received a telegram at his home just outside of Tempe from Florence, Arizona. The telegram read: “Your brother was killed at Superior, George Hunter, who was with him, is supposed to have been killed also, but has not been found. No clue as yet.” It was signed J.E. McGee, Sheriff Pinal County. P.P. Daggs telephoned one of his brothers R.E. Daggs who lived in Phoenix. R.E. told him that their brother A.J. Daggs had gone to Superior on mining business along with George Hunter who was employed by him.
On Jan. 4, 1908 the Arizona Republican reported details of the killings and the arrest of two suspects under a headline which read, “THE SUPERIOR MASSACRE BUTCHERS’ BLOODLUST.” Although some newspapers would have slightly different versions of the story and other information would come out before and during the trials as well as years later, the known story at the time was:
A few days earlier A.J. Daggs had visited his mining claims. The claims were in an area about two and a half miles south of the Superior mining camp. George Hunter and Byron Hoestadt had been doing assessment work at the claims for almost a year. Daggs had left his home in Phoenix on Dec. 30, 1907 and traveled to Superior with Hunter to make sure the assessment had gone well. On Jan. 1, Daggs and Hunter had left their camp and were on their way to visit another miner by the name of Brown who had claims nearby. Daggs, an attorney was representing a partner of Brown and wanted to talk with him. They stopped to open a gate near the cabin of Robert Stewart who was working claims in the area. As they reached the gate they were fired upon by unknown assailants that had been hiding behind large rocks and brush.
From the evidence at the scene, they were caught unaware by the ambush. Both men were probably hit with the first volley. A shotgun blast struck Hunter at the point of his chin blowing out the right side of his jaw. Daggs fell only a few feet away from where he was hit. Hunter ran in a large circle pursued by the killers. They caught up with him and finished him off at short range. Hunter’s body was found with a bullet hole on the right side of his face near the nose and an exit wound on the top of his head. He had also been shot in the leg and arm. His neck was broken probably from the fall after being thrown in a gully. The newspaper reported that Hunter was a Deputy Sheriff in Pinal County and always carried a gun in his coat pocket. His gun was not found at the scene.
The killers then returned to where Daggs lay and emptied their guns into him. Daggs’ body had a bullet wound in the center of his chest over the sternum, another wound a few inches to the left in his chest, one in his forehead by his hairline, a gunshot wound in the hip and arm, and he was shot behind the left ear. The autopsy reports showed that at least three weapons were used: a .30/30 caliber, .30/40 and buckshot. They dragged Daggs about 50 yards and tossed his body in an arroyo. Daggs’ horse and Hunter’s two dogs were also shot and killed.
When Daggs’ body was found laying in the arroyo, a pencil was found near the body. A few yards away from where Daggs first fell after being shot, a blood stained notebook was found in some bushes. On one of the pages the words “Bob Stewart killed me” were written. Hunter’s body discovered a few hours later was a few hundred yards from Daggs. Those at the scene theorized that Daggs had been badly wounded and fell immediately. Hunter, though badly wounded had attempted to run and had been chased by the shooters. Daggs had written in his notebook and thrown it into some bushes so his killers would not find it. The gunmen then returned to where the helpless Daggs lay and finished him off.
Back at the Daggs’ camp, Byron Hoestadt heard the gunshots. He climbed up a hill and looked towards where the sounds came from. He reported seeing two men, one big and one small, drag what looked like a body about 50 yards and then toss it in an arroyo. He then watched them walk towards Stewart’s cabin. Hoestadt, fearing that the killers would be coming for him, then mounted a horse and in a circuitous route, rode into Superior.
Pinal County Sheriff James McGee arrived at the mining camp and took over the investigation. Suspicion had immediately fallen on Robert Stewart and Ed Fondren. One report from Florence said that the arrest was made on the strength of threats made in Globe recently against Daggs. “Miners there are reported to have said they would kill him if he persisted in trying to hold certain claims near Superior.” After the body of Hunter was found, Sheriff McGee walked to the cabin that belonged to Stewart. A barking dog greeted him and he pushed past it and knocked on Stewart’s door. Stewart cautiously opened the door then jumped back and tried to slam the door on McGee who had his rifle pointed at Stewart. McGee stuck the muzzle of his rifle in the doorway still covering Stewart who surrendered. McGee then escorted Stewart to the body of Daggs and asked him whether he or “Big Ed” did the shooting. Stewart answered “that is for you to find out.” He then refused to answer any questions. Fondren was arrested later in Superior.
James McGee was the first Republican Sheriff elected in Pinal County. He was a former Deputy Sheriff and an Arizona Ranger. The Arizona Republic said of McGee after the arrest of Stewart, “The conduct of McGee in taking into custody Stewart indicated bravery of a pronounced character. There was no indecision on his part. He was after Stewart and went to the Stewart cabin alone and affected the capture without any difficulty.” McGee would be reelected during the 1908 elections.
It was also reported in the newspaper that a witness had been produced that on the night before the killing saw Ed Fondren leave for Stewart’s cabin carrying two guns. Other witnesses could testify to the threats that Fondren and Stewart were making towards Daggs. Fondren was a physically big man. Miners from the camp reported that he was a good natured liar and boaster although they had heard a story that twelve years ago, Fondren had killed two men in New Mexico. Stewart it was reported by the Republican “is a man of fierce disposition and it was generally predicted that his controversy with Daggs would sometime have such bloody denouement”.
The day after the killing, Daggs’ brother Robert (R.E.) was interviewed by a reporter and asked if he knew of anyone that his brother was having problems with. R.E. said that he had heard that Robert Stewart was “carrying a gun” for A.J. Earlier in the past year, A.J. Daggs and Robert Stewart had gone to court over the mining claims that were in Dagg’s possession. They had both accused each other of claim jumping. Daggs was representing the interests of Calumet Consolidated Mining and was given the title to the property by default as Bob Stewart and his partners failed to appear at the hearing.
Check later editions of the Nugget for the rest of the story.