Trouble in Alma

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By John Hernandez

Alma was a small settlement along the San Pedro River about two and a half miles above the old site of Mesaville which was near Old Camp Grant.

The post office was founded by Frank Doll on May 12, 1891. He would be the first and only postmaster for Alma.

It is not known how Alma got its name. Alma in Spanish can mean soul or spirit and there were Mexican settlers and workers in the area. It may also be likely that the name came from the Book of Alma which is in the Book of Mormon. Alma the Younger was a prophet and “chief judge” of the Nephites. There were Mormon settlements along the San Pedro River and other parts of Arizona including Mesa which has Alma School Road. The Spanish word may have been prophetic considering what happened to the town and Frank Doll.

Frank Doll’s place was a combination post office, general store and makeshift saloon. He was known to serve and sell liquor there which was against Federal regulations. Postal inspectors were few and far between in those times and some were known to look the other way.

Frank’s place was profitable for a few years but in January 1895 an event would take place that would lead to the end of Alma in1898. One evening when the Dolls sat down to dinner, a knock was heard at the door. Mrs. Doll got up to see who was calling. When she opened the door two gun shots were fired. The muzzle of the gun was so close to her head that her face was seriously burned by the powder flash. She fell unconscious as she was knocked to the floor. The shooters, later identified as two Mexicans, burst into the house.

Frank Doll rose from the table to help his wife and rushed both men. Before he could get past the dining table, he was shot in the heart by one of the bandits.

The Doll’s son John made it to a door and ran out of the house with the two Mexicans in pursuit. He almost made it to the road that passed by their place when he was hit multiple times in the back by the bullets from the Mexican’s guns. John Doll died on the spot.

In the house Mrs. Doll regained consciousness. She extinguished the oil lamps in the house and fled out the front door, hiding in some thick brush away from the house. The Mexicans returned to the house and when they could not find Mrs. Doll went outside and began searching for her. The Mexicans looked for Mrs. Doll for what seemed to her to be an hour, twice walking close enough to her that she could have reached out and touched them. A noise from a wagon coming down the road near where John Doll was killed startled the Mexicans. They stopped searching and mounted their horses. When the wagon passed, they left the area.

Mrs. Doll walked to John Brown’s ranch which was almost three miles away. Mr. Brown and some of his ranch hands rode to the Doll’s place while some of the cowboys rode to the nearest towns sounding the alarm along the San Pedro. At the Doll’s they found the bodies of Frank and John where they had fallen. The Globe newspaper, The Arizona Silverbelt, reported, “The dead bodies presented a sickening spectacle … The murderers had cut the throats of both men from ear to ear, and hacked their faces terribly … 50 cowboys are scouring the country in search of the murderers and if captured, their fate is likely to be as tragic as was that of their victims.”

On Jan. 31, Territorial Governor Hughes offered an award of $500 for the arrest and conviction of the murderers of the Dolls. On Feb. 3, the Arizona Star newspaper reported that two Mexicans were apprehended in Mammoth a few days prior. F. C. McKinney reported that one was released due to lack of evidence and the other taken to Florence. “Had it been positively shown that these men committed the terrible slaughter, they would soon have dangled at the end of the rope,” the Star reported.

Jesus Lares was the young man charged with the murder of the Dolls. In June 1895 Lares was convicted of the murders and sentenced to be hanged. During the trial Mrs. Doll positively identified him and a Mexican woman Mrs. Feliz testified that on the day of the robbery she heard Lares say, “Now would be a good time to rob the store.”

He was scheduled to hang August 2, 1895.

Lares was granted a reprieve by the appeals court until the following year. His conviction was upheld and he received an execution date of April 3, 1896. As one of his last official acts Territorial Governor Hughes granted him a stay of execution until June.

In June a large petition was filed on behalf of Lares by his attorneys asking for a commutation on the grounds that the convicting evidence was too slight and new evidence tended to show that Lares had nothing to do with the murder. Lares’ mother traveled to Phoenix to speak with the new Governor Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had been a lawyer prior to becoming governor. In July 1896, Franklin commuted Lares’ sentence to life in prison. Lares was escorted by Sheriff Truman to the Yuma Territorial Prison. It is not known if the other murderer was ever captured.

In February 1895, a few weeks after the Doll murder, John Roach had been in charge of the post office and store in Alma and had experienced another dangerous robbery attempt.

Three Mexicans had entered the store and tried to hold him up. Roach grabbed his pistol and opened fire hitting one of the Mexicans. The other two then fled. Fearing the Mexicans would return and seek vengeance on him, Roach fled to Mammoth where he sought assistance. When Roach returned to the store he found that the Mexicans had returned and taken $35 he had in the register. The wounded Mexican was reported to be receiving treatment in Mammoth for a serious but not a fatal wound.

Two other proprietors tried to make a go of the store and post office but in 1898 the post office was discontinued and the town died.

Some remains of Alma are said to be located on private property. Some of these remnants include wooden water tanks, a concrete ore chute and metal ore buckets.

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