The name Geronimo struck terror among the populace in Arizona and Mexico. Most people associated the name with the Apache warrior and leader who fought against the Americans and Mexicans until his final surrender in 1886. There were some other Geronimos that made life hard for the law abiding citizens along the Arizona/Mexico border. Geronimo was a Spanish form of the name Jerome. Mexican mothers sometimes named their sons after St. Jerome. In the southwest there were a few Mexican bandits known as Geronimo. One of these bandits became well known and feared on both sides of the border between Arizona and Sonora. He was known by a number of aliases but Geronimo Miranda was the most used and was often shortened to just Geronimo by some lawmen and newspapers.
Geronimo was a member of the Jack Taylor gang. Jack Taylor was a minor outlaw who had some experience in train robbing. He had been a blacksmith in Willcox and before that a freighter operating on the Willcox to Globe road. His gang was made up of Manuel Robles, Fred Federico, Nieves Deron, and Miranda. They operated in Arizona Territory and Sonora Mexico from 1884 to 1888 as a gang of highwaymen robbing travelers, stagecoaches, businesses and trains. The gang and Geronimo Miranda received notoriety following a train robbery in Mexico in 1888.
On May 11, 1888 at 10 p.m. a southbound train belonging to the Sonora Railway had just slowed to a stop at the station in Agua Zarca, Sonora about 14 miles south of Nogales, when four to six masked robbers attacked it. The bandits fired into the cab of the engine killing the fireman named Forbes. The engineer jumped through a cab window and dove under the engine. The robbers then fired a volley into the express car wounding Ike Hay a Wells Fargo messenger (guard). The conductor, Louis Atkinson, was shot as he was stepping down from the baggage car. He would die later from his wounds. A passenger W.H. French was also shot. Three of the robbers held the passengers and two custom guards at gunpoint while the others carried off the express box. The train robbers then mounted their horses and rode off. Eight Mexican customs line guards arrived shortly after and began pursuing the robbers.
The train headed north to Nogales where a posse was formed and brought back to Agua Zarca where they picked up the trail. While tracking the bandits, they came upon the express box. It had been broken into and the money and papers taken from it. The robbers only found $130 in Mexican pesos. They had been expecting a large payroll to be on the train but it had left on a train the previous day and delivered to a bank in Guaymas. Several posses were reported to be in pursuit including Mexican Rurales and American lawmen. The Sonora Railway offered a $1,000 reward for their capture.
The posses ended up losing the trail. The Taylor gang headed to Nogales on the American side of the border where Taylor had a house. The gang spent the night there. The next morning the gang left. After leaving town they split up except for Taylor who remained at his house. That would be a mistake. Taylor had dropped his hat at the train station as the gang was riding away. The hat was brought to Nogales where a Mexican who ran a business cleaning hats identified it as belonging to Taylor. Taylor was arrested and during questioning confessed and gave up the names of the other gang members saying they were the ones that shot everyone. He also implicated another American, Conrad Rohling who was involved in planning the robbery but did not participate in it. Taylor was probably cooperating with authorities to gain some leniency with Mexican authorities later on because the punishment in Mexico for the crime of train robbery in which someone was killed was the death sentence.
Taylor and Rohling were turned over to Mexican authorities in June and sent to Hermosillo to await their trial. Rohling was given a sentence of 10 years hard labor in the salt mines. Taylor was executed by firing squad in Guaymas on Dec. 9, 1889.
The other members of the gang after leaving Nogales split up, Manuel Robles and Nieves Deron going towards Tombstone and Federico and Geronimo into Mexico. Cochise County Sheriff John Slaughter received information that a brother of Robles was seen leaving the town of Contention with an unusually large load of provisions and heading into the Whetstone Mountains. Slaughter, Deputy Burt Alvord, and a Mexican informant headed into the mountains guided by the well known tracker and scout Cesario Lucero.
Lucero was one of Slaughter’s deputies and had the reputation of being a trusted guide and a man “known for his gameness in a fight”. Being a Mexican and bilingual Lucero could go into places to gather information where Anglos couldn’t or wouldn’t go. He tracked bad men on both sides of the border and helped lawmen bring them in. He had cultivated a number of informants and contacts among the Mexican population in southeastern Arizona and Sonora. He had also made many enemies as many Mexicans, especially those on the wrong side of the law viewed him as a traitor for helping the “gringo” lawmen track down fellow Mexicans. In 1883-84 he received some notoriety when he tracked and trailed “Big Dan” Dowd the leader of the Bisbee Bandits into Mexico.
The Bisbee Bandits robbed the Goldwater-Castaneda Store in Bisbee killing three men and a pregnant woman in what became known as the Bisbee Massacre. Lucero guided Deputy Sheriff Daniels of Graham County nearly 300 miles into Mexico. They entered the Sierra Madre Mountains and captured Dowd at Corralitos, Chihuahua. Dowd and his gang of four were tried, convicted and all hanged in Bisbee. The newspapers reported that 500 tickets of admission to the jail yard to witness the hangings were issued by Sheriff Ward. A sixth man, John Heath was given a life sentence but was lynched by Bisbee vigilantes before he could be moved to prison.
Lucero knew the men they were trailing. Deron, Federico and Geronimo had once worked on some of the ranches around the Willcox area. Guadalupe Robles the brother of Manuel was a wood cutter hauling wood to the mine and mill in Contention. He had not been a part of the train robbery but was helping out his brother. He was known to camp in Frenchy’s Canyon near B.J. McGrew’s ranch about 25 miles from Tombstone. Lucero’s informant came along to show them where the camp was. Just before daylight Lucero spotted the campsite. The posse halted their horses about 80 yards from the camp. They took off their boots to approach the robbers as silently as they could. They took cover on a hill overlooking the sleeping bandits and took aim at the men still under their covers next to a small fire.
Sheriff Slaughter yelled out to the bandits “hands up”! The bandits raised their hands all filled with pistols and firing from both sides began. Guadalupe was hit and killed with the first volley. Nieves Deron ran up a hill shooting as he ran. One of his shots took off a piece of John Slaughter’s right ear lobe. Deron was hit by gunfire and knocked down. Manuel Robles ran down the canyon pursued by Alvord and Slaughter. A blast from Slaughter’s shotgun knocked down Robles but he got up and ran again. Another shotgun blast clipped Robles again knocking him down but he got up and continued down the canyon. Alvord ran after Robles but could not keep up with him in his stocking feet. He finally gave up and went back to the campsite.
The posse followed a blood trail down the canyon for two miles looking for Robles but could not find him. Slaughter felt that Robles was wounded badly and would not last long. The wounded Deron was placed on a horse and taken to Fairbank. He died later from his wounds. The body of Guadalupe Robles was sent to Tombstone. Newspapers reported that two trackers had been placed on Robles’ trail and he would be found soon.
Manuel Robles although badly wounded was able to meet up with his two companions Federico and Miranda. They hid out for a while to let Robles’ wounds heal. Robles had recognized Cesario Lucero during the shootout in the Whetstone Mountains. He swore revenge against him for the loss of his brother.
In early August, Cesario Lucero had gone to the Mescal Ranch just over the border in Mexico near the town of Palomenas on the San Pedro River. He had gone there to inquire about going into the business of purchasing and selling mescal. Mescal is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the heart of the maguey cactus. The ranch grew maguey cactus and a distillery was located there. Lucero camped at the ranch and one morning he went to the creek located about 200 yards from the main ranch house to wash up. After washing himself he began to walk back towards the house. He had gone a few steps when he was struck by two bullets and knocked to the ground.
The sound of the two rifle shots was heard at the ranch. Some of the ranch hands looked towards the direction the shots came from. They saw a man’s body lying near the creek and two men standing nearby looking at the body. The men were identified as Geronimo Miranda and Federico. The two men mounted their horses and rode off. When the ranch workers went to the creek they found Lucero with two bullet holes in his head. Lucero had not expected any trouble and was unarmed. Unknown to him, Manuel Robles, Fred Federico and Geronimo Miranda had been hunting him. Lucero was buried on the ranch.
Posses were formed and the search began for Geronimo’s gang on both sides of the border. After killing Lucero the three murderers had gone to within a few miles of Willcox where they stole three fresh horses. They then headed back into Mexico. The reward for the men dead or alive was now $3,000. Slaughter took up the chase and followed the gang for hundreds of miles but the bandits continued to elude him. On Oct. 19, 1888, Slaughter received a letter from the governor of Sonora that Federico had been captured and was in the jail at Oposura. There was no word on Geronimo or Robles. A month later Slaughter received word that Federico had escaped. Before escaping, he had confessed to killing Lucero but said he had not robbed the train at Agua Zarca.
In June 1890, Sheriff Slaughter received news that Geronimo was seen in Bisbee. Slaughter and a deputy went to Bisbee and arrested a Mexican who had been seen with Geronimo. The Mexican then told Slaughter where Geronimo may be hiding. Just after dark, the scared Mexican led Slaughter and a deputy to an encampment just outside the town of Charleston. He pointed to a tent where he said Geronimo was camped. The three men then quietly approached the tent.
Slaughter stood outside the tent while Deputy Sheriff Pisher and the guide entered through the front entrance. Inside it was very dark. Pisher lit a match and saw two legs scrambling underneath the rear of the tent. He yelled, “There he is!” Slaughter ran to the back of the tent and saw a man jumping over a fence. He fired his trusty shotgun at the figure and was certain that he had hit him. Miranda had escaped once again. The Sheriff and deputy followed Geronimo in the darkness for a while but then called off the pursuit as they were unsure if the rest of Geronimo’s gang was around and they were not familiar with the terrain.
“Texas” John Slaughter did not seek reelection as sheriff in 1890. He decided to spend more time at his ranch with his family. Geronimo Miranda picked up some new members for his gang and continued his life in crime. Manuel Robles and Fred Federico were not heard of again although some unconfirmed stories say that they were killed by Rurales in Mexico.
The story will continue in the June 2014 issue of the Pinal Nugget.