The Oldest Lawman

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The Town of Superior’s history since the 1870s and even after its founding in 1902 has been unique. In the early days the Apaches roamed the area and miners, ranchers and army troops arrived and began to settle the places in and around what is now known as Superior. It has had some interesting characters pass through and some that lived there. People like Mattie Blaylock, General George Stoneman, William Boyce Thompson, Robert Taylor Jones, and lawman Pat Gorham.

  Superior can boast about once having the oldest active lawman in Arizona if not the country. That man was Alex Arnett. In 1969 when he died at the age of 89, Arnett was still the duly elected Constable of Superior. He had worn a badge for more than 50 years starting in the days Arizona was a Territory.

  Arnett was born on his parent’s ranch near San Simon, Arizona Territory in 1880. In 1906 after working different occupations including work as a cowboy, Arnett was hired as a deputy sheriff for Graham County. He was assigned as the deputy for the town of Metcalf. He worked in Metcalf and the rugged mining towns of Morenci and Clifton for the next 20 years.

  In those days, an officer’s salary was comprised of a “fee basis”. Officers were paid $2.25 for every arrest and 30 cents for every mile that they covered on horseback. In newspaper interviews conducted in the 1960s, Arnett spoke about his early career as a lawman. He remembered that the jail was a tunnel carved in the side of a mountain with steel bars placed at the entrance. Horse thievery was rampant in southern Arizona back then and deputies spent a lot of time in the saddle chasing them.

  “We had to know all the different ranches, who lived where, and where all the roads and trails went,” Arnett said in one interview.

   In January of 1916, Arnett and Deputy Adam Scheetz tracked and chased two horse thieves for two weeks before capturing them in Florence.

  Arnett was wounded three times, stabbed twice and shot once in his early law enforcement years. He said he saw seven officers that he worked with killed in the line of duty. He said he drew his gun on many and wounded three in self-defense.

  “In all these years, I never killed a man and I am thankful for this. A few were shot up pretty bad, though,” Arnett said.

  In May 1916, the Copper Era and Morenci Leader newspaper reported that Arnett shot and seriously wounded Gabriel de la Luz. Arnett had arrested two men at the B.B.B. Dance Hall and was taking them to jail when de la Luz, one of the prisoners, attacked Arnett with a knife, stabbing him in the shoulder. Arnett drew his gun and shot de la Luz in the hip stopping him in his tracks. 

  Around 1926, Arnett left law enforcement and tried his hand at other occupations. He moved to Superior and was working for the Arizona Edison Company, now Arizona Public Service. He ran for Constable in 1934 and was elected. He would also become a Pinal County deputy sheriff assigned to Superior. He would serve under Chief Deputy Pat Gorham. Gorham was a well known and respected officer in Superior. After retiring as a deputy in 1948, Pat Gorham ran against Arnett for Constable in 1950 but lost. Arnett would be Constable for the next 19 years defeating all opponents who ran against him.

  In June 1958, Arnett experienced one of the saddest crimes he would deal with. Tom Jorquez, a gardener and caretaker at Magma Hospital had gone home for lunch. He found his wife, Maxine with a rope around her neck. He then found his six year old son, Jimmy, dead and his four year old daughter, Patricia, semi-conscious. Arnett arrived at the scene and questioned the mother. She admitted to strangling Jimmy and attempting to do the same to Patricia. She had planned on killing her kids then herself. She was unable to give a reason for what she did. The mother had a history of mental illness and had been a former patient at the State Hospital.

  In 1961, Arnett was discharged by new Pinal County Sheriff Laurence White. Arnett had served 27 years as a deputy. The reason for the dismissal was his age. The county had a policy that all employees are retired at age 75 unless they receive letters from department heads that recommended they stay. Arnett was 81 but remained the Constable for Superior as that was an elected position.

  In May of 1961, Arnett along with Chief Deputy Adam Sheetz signed complaints charging Leroy Nowlin, proprietor of LaMina Bar, and Ben Avenenti, proprietor of the Top Hat Bar, with operating card games. John Monfard of Superior and Kenneth Wiarman of Claypool were charged with dealing the games. The deputies raided both bars along with three others in Superior. They found a card game in progress in a back room at LaMina and confiscated $67 in cash, chips and cards as evidence. Nowlin and Monford were arrested there. At a raid conducted in a building south of Main Street, Avenenti and Wiarman were arrested after finding a panguingue game being played. Panguingue is a gambling card game similar to rummy.

  In 1966, Arnett ran for re-election as constable for the last time. He ran against Ignacio Villaverde Sr., a miner and former boxer in the primary. They were both Democrats. This was Villaverde’s first time seeking a political post. Arnett had been Constable since 1934. The  winner would be unopposed in the general election. Arnett won the election.

  Alex Arnett, pioneer lawman and oldest active law enforcement officer in the country died April 30, 1969. Pinal County Sheriff, Coy DeArman, and five deputies were pall bearers. He is buried next to his wife, Lupe, in Fairview Cemetery in Superior.  

Author: John Hernandez

John Hernandez (783 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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