The nine hard cases of the Jeffries gang stood staring down upon the carnage they had wrought. Five men lay unmoving in the dust. Each one was horribly bullet ridden and very dead.
“This is something we didn’t need!” The speaker was Tom Jeffries, head of the band of evil no goods that had just committed the executions of the five Mormon men.
The five had been sent by their Church to investigate the intrusion of Jeffries band into their southern Utah territory. Numerous complaints of Jeffrie’s band causing harassment, rustling, rape, killings and worse of all, the recent kidnapping of twenty two young children of Mormon settlers had forced the Church leaders to send in the investigators. Wanting to settle the issue as peacefully and quietly as possible, the men were sent down unarmed. Not wanting to add to the nervous fear the latest Mormon settlers were already experiencing, the Church leaders had hoped to strike a monetary deal with the group of no goods if they would leave their territory. Jeffries and his no goods, not knowing of the buyout deal and fearing a surprise shoot out, had instead reacted by gunning them all down at the meeting even before any parley began.
“Them Mormons will be sure to send others, if not to find their missing brethren but to avenge their killers when they do discover ‘em. We need to hide these here bodies where they ain’t found. That way, even if they suspect us of foul play, they can’t prove it. Well take ‘em with us an’ bury ‘em a day’s ride from here along the bank of the Virgin River that cuts through upper Arizona. From there we head west to the Logan City area in Nevada until this all blows over.”
Nevada’s Logan City lay alongside the Muddy River just south of the foothills of the Mormon mountain range in the Nevada Territory. With multiple small mountain ranges surrounding the town, it was custom made for anybody on the run like this group was to hole up in.
“We gonna’ leave them Mormon kids back at the hideout in Arizona then?” The question was asked Toto, a dark, smelly and underfed looking Mexican greaser sporting a heavy bow mustache and large sombrero.
The hard case leader, calling himself Tom Jeffries replied, “It’s our best bet Toto, with the rest of my boys watchin’ them kids, they’ll be fine where they’s at. When this here killin’ calms back down, we’ll head back into the Rim area, get ‘em and head ‘em south into Mexico an’ sell ‘em off. No Mormon’s gonna’ find our hideout that far from Utah.”
“Suites me,” replied Toto, “but I’m still wondering how we’s gonna’ get them little shits into Mexico without bein’ seen along the way.”
“That’s the beauty of it all. We’ll take em into Squaw Creek near the Utah Arizona border and from there float em by barge down the Colorado, all the way into Mexico. They’ll be under a canvas tarp so folks will just think its cargo. Don’t worry none, I got it all figured out.”
Jeffries men dismounted and began loading the five shot up bodies onto the horses they had rode up on. “Johnny, you stay behind a bit an’ clean up our trail. I don’t want no Mormon tracker following a dripping blood trail. We can’t do much about these horses leavin’ a trail but with so many prints, if they find ‘em, they’ll most likely disregard ‘em as a bunch of Nester’s lookin’ for land to squat on.”
After 3 weeks, the Mormon Elders sent out a search party looking for the five men and any word of the missing children. While some suspected foul play fell upon the searchers, nothing could be proved since no bodies were ever found. The Mormon’s had gone as far as hiring an Apache tracker to no avail. Stumped, they returned to the Church Elders up in Salt Lake City with their findings. The wives and families of the missing men were cared for then assimilated back within the community through given marriages and adoptions. The missing children were all assumed to be gone forever, being either dead or sold off. The incident would soon forgotten and for the present, the Church showed no more interest in continuing their original investigation as other immediate concerns had to be dealt with. Besides, the harassment seemed to have stopped.
Meanwhile, Logan City had about had it with the rowdy group that from time to time came in from the hills to restock their dwindling supplies. After each visit, the saloons and whore houses would end up making repairs to the buildings and beat on whores. The Sheriff of Logan City, Jeffery Deloy, under the threat of the saloon owner packing up and leaving town, threw Toto and two of the other gang members in jail after shooting off their irons inside the saloon. A whore was grazed, legally allowing the arrest. Disturbing the peace with gunfire wasn’t on the towns list of offenses yet, but shooting folks was.
On the day their hearing was set, the Bakery and Dry Goods store suspiciously burnt to the ground. They were across the street from each other. Sheriff Deloy knew he was being threatened by Jeffries. Deloy was no dime novel hero and after meeting with the vigilante committee, they decided there was not enough evidence of intent to kill to hold the three anymore. They were released with a warning.
Tom Jeffries, sitting at a table in the saloon with some of his hard cases looked up when he saw the three walk in. “I see you’re out.” He calmly said to the three, “Next time you go and put your faces in a public display of stupidity, I’ll hang the three of you over a fire and burn you as complete as that bakery was burnt. You get my drift boys? Toto? You understand what I’m sayin?”
“Sure boss,” Toto said nonchalantly, “ no more trouble. Can I get me a drink now?”
Jeffries slid the bottle toward Toto. “I’m serious boys, I’m pissed. Next time I’ll kill you without thought or concern. Take that bottle, get your horses out of the livery and pay the stable boy real good and don’t make a fuss while you’re there. Be real nice like. Then ride back to the camp and tell the others we’ll be heading out to get those brats we got stored in Arizona. I got word from Durant that a river scow’s been bought and will be waiting for us at Squaw Creek. I figure in a month we’ll be loaded and headin’ south on the Colorado.”
After the three left, Jeffries turned to the man next to him who went by the name of Billy Wilde. Jeffries referred to Billy as his Segundo. Billy Wilde was a killer, but he only killed when he had the drop. When called out, Billy had no qualm in sneaking out of town. He never stood face to face, he killed readily but was too slow on the draw to be a real shootist. But as far as back shooting and dry gulching went, he was the best.
“Billy, you take these two sittin’ here and head over to the mercantile. We got us a ways to go in the next month so get enough stores to last us a good month, then stop at the livery for me. Check up on Toto and the other two to make sure they ain’t caused anymore grief, then see if the livery will you sell a couple mules. If they will, buy ‘em and head on out back to the camp with the supplies.” Slipping Billy two hundred dollars in gold double eagles he continued speaking, “ The three of you do me a favor. Them two that were in jail with Toto, I want ‘em gone. They’s a loose cannon and they disobeyed my order about makin’ a public scene. After all, we was supposed to be in hiding, not lettin’ folks know of our presence in Nevada by bein arrested.
As far as Toto goes, leave him be, I’ll handle Toto when the times right, but for now I need him. I want you three to immediately head out immediately after loading up. I’ll follow in a couple of days, that should give you time to get rid of them two idiots.” Jeffries thoughts returned to the dark haired nineteen year old whore waiting for him upstairs. “Go on now an’ git!”
Two days later and to the relief of everyone in town, Jeffries rode out of Logan for the last time and headed back to the gangs hideout in the mountains overlooking the small town of Show Low Arizona .
Sheriff Danny Vance of Globe had taken a leave and was up visiting his twin brother Davy, the Sheriff of Show Low. Those who rode the Owl hoot trail stayed away from the White Mountains that lay between the two towns. It was common talk that the twins had some sort of spooky psychic type connection. Each could finish the others sentence or mirror the others movements. Most folk got a kick out of it when the two brothers were together but others, especially ones on the Owl Hoot trail, feared it. Rustlers and hard cases couldn’t hide well enough for the two. No matter how clever or meticulous was their hiding, the brothers seemed to magically sniff them out.
Opening the door as quietly as he could to his brothers office, Dan peaked in to see his brother napping with his feet up on table he used as a desk.
“Step on inside Bro, you outa know by now you cain’t sneak up on me, never could, never will!”
Danny closed the door smiling, “There’s gotta be a first time.”
“So what brings you to my beautiful burg of Show Low anyway? I Know it ain’t rustlers ‘cause I chased ‘em all down south towards that dung heap you reign over.”
Chuckling, Danny replied “Dung heap? Talk about dung, why the folks in this here town of Show Low just discovered how to use the outhouse!”
“I love you too brother! How’s about some coffee to go with your insults, Paco just fresh brewed a pot.”
Foregoing any more insults, the two brothers sat relaxing at the table. Poco, the one eyed deputy had poured coffee and returned to delicing the jail cells with powdered quick lime.
Pointing his thumb over his shoulder in Poco’s direction Davy explained Poco’s actions to his brother. “Last week we had Roberto Villa and his bunch enjoying the hospitality of our jail after they was caught rustling the Double H’s cattle. They ain’t here no more but they left their lice behind to be remembered by.”
“Did you send them up to Holbrook for trial?”
“Nah, they was caught red handed, no need for a trial. They was hung the next morning out back. I shoulda’ just strung ‘em up when I got ‘em back here that afternoon and I would’ve if I’d known how much lice they had on ‘em. Oh well, it gives Poco something to do besides sweep an’ make coffee.”
“Well, he does make a fine coffee, that’s for sure.”
The two brothers returned to their relaxed coffee drinking, neither saying a word. Finally, after a good ten minutes of quiet, Davy grunted, “Ee-yup.” Then went quiet again.
It was during moments like this that folks would swear the twins were talking to each other, only not with their mouths.
“So what you think, Danny, wanna’ ride out with me an check out a story old Vern the prospector told me?”
“Sure, why not? What’s his tale this time? Chiloe Creeks loaded with lost Inca gold? Flying canoes again?”
“I only wish it sounded as kooky, then I could dismiss it as another ‘buy me a drink an’ I’ll tell you a tale’ story. No, this one caused him to come high tailin’ it in here all panicky like. He seemed pretty shook up.”
“Well as much as I know about the man, I can’t say I ever heard of anything that would surprise the old coot, I think he’s seen it all. He prospected in my jurisdiction years ago when I first Sheriff’d in Globe and he while he seemed a bit eccentric I’d say he never outright made any stories up. What’d he tell you?”
“C’mon, let’s saddle up an’ I’ll fill you in on the way.”
Grabbing some traveling grub and a noon meal at Davy’s girlfriends house,they headed west out of town towards the Rim at an easy trot.
“so what’s the story Davy, where we headin’ to an’ why?”
Davy sidled up closer to his brother and rode knee to knee down the trail and started talking.
“I didn’t want to tell you in town because they’s so many excitable folks there. I told Vern not to say a word about it as it might get back to whoever is holden’ them kids that we’s a comin’. Old Vern came hoofin’ it mighty quick into town yesterday on that mule of his. I was at Jane’s Diner, eatin’ but saw him out the window arrive an’ head straight to the jail. Poco come out a minute later an’ come runnin’ an’ got me. When I got to the jail, Vern was in a stitch. Finally I got Vern calmed down enough to talk by pouring him a whiskey. He told me he was out prospecting the Mogollon Rim near where Cherry and Tonto creek come together when he saw what looked like a small child trying to run away from two men wearin’ guns tied low. It seems they caught up with the tyke and dragged him off into hidden box canyon kicking and screaming. “
Danny looked skeptical and said, “We grew up knowing those canyons pretty well Davy, I don’t recall any hidden box canyon around there. Besides, it’s probably just a family issue of some sort.”
“That ain’t the all of it Danny. Vern said he followed ‘em and found the small opening to the box canyon. It was just big enough for a man on a horse to get inside. When he snuck in, he saw not just the kid who was bein’ chased, but a whole passel of ‘em bein’ held by a group of no goods!”
“What? You tellin’ me they’s a bunch of children inside a box canyon bein’ held by gunmen? What the Sam Hill is that all about? ”
“That’s what we’re doin’ right now bro, findin’ out.”
“Dang, I knew there was somethin’ ticklin’ the back of my neck tellin’ me to git on up here. Couldn’t we been born just normal like? Next thing ya’ know, you’re gonna’ tell me what a great time I had at Mabel’s whore house!”
“I don’t need no psychic abilities for that brother, I just look at that dumb grin plastered on your face to tell me all I need to know!”
“Ha! An’ I suppose Mary Jane’s Pa ain’t noticin’ the one on your mug?”
Dave winked at his brother, “Come next payday, I’m buyin’ a ring, I figure The towns startin’ to wonder if I’m just getting the milk for free or if I’m gonna’ buy the cow? I figure I better buy the cow before she dries up or someone else buys her!”
Danny smirked, “Wait till I tell Mary Jane you compared her to a milk cow.”
“You do an I’ll go an tell your favorite whore you got the geebees down there, that’ll fix ya!”
“I ain’t got no gee… Hey, look! Up ahead, is that smoke?”
Ahead, maybe a good fifteen miles into the Rim a thin trail of smoke contrasted itself against the evening western sky. In the past four hours, they had traveled over halfway to where Vern had said he saw the box canyon and children.
“Kinda’ mark that spot if you will Danny. According to my figuring that might be about where Vern was talkin’ about. When we make camp tonight, let’s put a rise between our cook fire and them. Tomorrow we’ll have to travel on foot the last few miles to stay hid.”
“I can kinda’ see a formation of outcropping just before the smoke. I think we should use that as our marker. “
As night fell the Arizona sky lit up with a million stars. The brothers relaxed after they had enjoyed a meal of bacon and beans with fresh biscuits and an apple pie Mary Jane had packed for the two. Using their horses as sentries, they talked over coffee into the night.
As dusk turned into dark, four riders consisting of Billy Wilde, Toto and the two gunslingers from the saloon reached area where the Rim held the secret canyons entrance. With just enough light to make out the outline of the opening, they single file slipped inside, leaving the fully loaded wagon outside to be unloaded by hand.
Toto was still upset over the gunning down of the two he had been in jail with. He felt there was no call to murder them just for letting loose in the saloon. The three were only two days out of Logan City when the other three, led by Billy Wilde hollered the familiar greeting heard when entering another’s camp.
“Hellooo, the camp!” Billy shouted. “It’s just us Toto, Billy Wilde.”
An answering shout greeted them. “Light on down Billy, coffee’s on!”
As Billy and his two companions entered the camp site they saw the three other gang members relaxing in the firelight drinking coffee. None appeared alarmed at the presence of the three armed men. Toto rose to greet the three when all hell broke loose.
Billy and his two companions drew and fired onto the two men sitting by the fire. Saving a few cartridges in case Toto got into the act, the three pretty much emptied their revolvers into the two men.
Toto stepped back stunned. “Wh- what the hell’d you go ‘an do that for?” He stammered.
“Boss said to. Them two pissed him off, you did too but he said to just clear them two outa the gang. You know dang well the boss’ll shoot you just as well as shake your hand. By the way, he still wants us to head on to the camp with these here supplies and git ready to ride on out with them kids.
The morning light unveiled the box canyon camp making ready to pack up and leave.
Hours earlier, Davy and Danny had traveled in the morning darkness reaching the outcropping they had seen the day before. They had left their horses loosely tied in the grease wood a mile back. Having let them feed on the grass around their camp during the night, they had let them drink their fill in a small creek near the hitched grease wood. The brothers had inched along the cliffs wall looking for any sign of the box canyons opening.
The two had nearly passed by the opening but Danny stopped his brother and silently pointed to the rocky ground under their feet. In the dawns early light, scrape marks from iron shod shoes were visible on a smooth portion of the trail.
Whispering quietly Danny leaned into Davy’s ear. “Up ahead, ten feet or so. I see a shadow that I bet is on opening. I’m gonna crawl hands an’ knees style an’ take a peak. Cover my butt just in case I disturb the hornets inside.”
Slowly Danny disappeared into the shadow. Five minutes later a small scraping sound alerted Davy of Danny’s return. Putting his finger to his lips, Danny tilted his head towards the direction they had come from.
Once out of earshot of the opening, Danny relayed what he saw.
“Damn, Vern got it straight. There’s maybe ten armed men and a passel of kids inside. To our luck though, no one posted a sentry. If we can keep ‘em inside the box canyon, we stand a chance of takin’ ‘em on. But, if any git on out, we’d be fight’n on two fronts. With just the two of us, we’d be sittin’ ducks to them cross shootin’ rifles. I wish we had brought Poco, he could hold the opening here shut while we circled on around ‘em.”
“Then it’s a good thing I followed you Senior Davy!”
At the sound of the unexpected voice, even though it was in a whisper, the two brothers nearly jumped out of their skins.
“What the hell? Poco? What in God’s name????”
Holding his finger against his lips, Poco shushed them with a whisper. “Shhhh, Senior. After you left, Senior Vernon came looking for you. He was upset and afraid for you so he told me all about what he had told you. Senior Davy, I do not say you are not one to defeat those inside using just your brother, but my father always told me three make a better gang than two!”
After re swallowing their hearts, the two bothers and Poco nodded and made their plans.
Poco positioned himself high along the ridge top alongside the canyons narrow opening. From that vantage point he could unload his rifle freely without much fear of having accurate fire returned.
Davy took the ridge line and traveled east while Danny took to the west. From high atop the ridge line, the three could reign their deadly fire onto those below.
All of the children had been gathered and roped one to another around their necks. Billy Wilde was busy giving orders when Toto was sent out of the canyon to bring the wagon and mules back to the hidden entrance.
Danny signaled Poco of Toto’s movement and was rewarded by a tilt of his sombrero.
Waiting for Toto to exit the opening, Poco waited above him holding a heavy stone above his head. It was a chance Poco had to take but with Toto about to exit the canon he had to take the risk.
Suddenly a hat appeared twenty feet directly below him at the entrance opening. With a short prayer to the Virgin Mary, Poco heaved the stone downward.
Danny and Davy waited in both fear and trepidation for Poco’s silent attack to go amiss. Poco stood in place transfixed looking down to where he had thrown the heavy boulder.
Slowly Poco turned seeking ghe faces of the two brothers. A look of horror was glued to his face. Davy, being a bit closer and the leader of the three raised his hands palm up in a question and mouthed, “So?”
Poco silently lifted his hands to his head then abruptly expanded his fingers as if they had exploded. Davy understood the implications and signaled back with a circled finger OK. Then pointed at his own rifle and back at Poco. Poco understood but turned and took a quick glance back down upon the gory mess below. Toto would be no more of a problem.
The crack of gun fire brought Poco back to the present and he again positioned himself to guard the entranced of the canyon.
The rifle s of Davy and Danny bucked hard against their shoulders as the 45 caliber cartridges exploded within their barrels sending their deadly lead projectiles into the bodies of the men below. Taken by surprise the men below holding the children fought the three angled attack poorly. Their return shots were futile as shooting at an upward angle was useless. While some bullets ricocheted against the rocky ridge, none even came close to hitting the three lawmen.
Within a minute of starting, Ten men lay in bloody heaps below and one lay without a head at the canyons narrow opening.
The children sat in stunned silence, not moving for the ropes around their necks denied them much movement. Suddenly a young girl began to cry, then another and another until the children as a group howled like baby calves being separated from their mama’s.
Trying their best not to tumble down the steep canyon walls, the three climbed down as fast as they could to the crying children below. Poco was the first to reach them and immediately began cutting away the ropes that half strangled them. Danny helped at the finish after making sure none of the men were moving and Davy arrived shortly thereafter, bruised and bleeding from a tumble he took near the bottom.
The two brothers went back to the bodies for final count and conformation of their deaths. None had moved but one began moaning.
Stepping over a bullet riddled body, Davy Knelt beside a dying man in his early twenties. “ Mister, could you get me a Doctor? I hurt somethin’ fierce in my gut.”
Looking at the boys belly, he saw a large blood stain covering his gut and privates. “Son, ain’t no Doctor gonna make it in time to help you none. Besides, you only got a few minutes left so you may want to make peace with the Lord for all your ills.”
“You got me wrong Mister, I’m not a bad ‘un. My Mama brought me up believing in the lord an’ his Book. I was just settin’ these here children ‘cause they paid me well. It was just a job. Please, go an’ find me a Doctor Mister, when I get better I’ll help you in any way I can, I promise.”
Knowing the boy would never see the next hour, Davy agreed to the boys request. “If I get the Doctor, will you tell me if this is all there is to the group of kidnapping bastards. Who was their leader? Is he lyin’ here dead now?”
The boy let out a long painful moan and closed his eyes. Davy thought he had passed but after a bit the boy opened his eyes again and replied. “They’s one more missin’, Jeffries. Tom Jeffries, he’s the leader here. He’s supposed to show up in a couple of days.” The boy went painfully on hoping Davy would see the truth in his words and get a Doctor to ease his pain. He explained the scow the children would be shipped down to Mexico in waiting at Squaw Creek by a man he called Durant.
Davy repeated the information the boy gave to Danny and Poco. When Poco heard the deal Davy made with the boy he asked, “Senior Davy, how will a Doctor be found in time to save this boy, He’s about to die?”
Looking down at the boy, who now looked more a child than a boy, Davy said, “No, he’s not about to die Poco, he died already.”
“What do we do now Senior Davy? I count twenty two children.”
“First things first, let’s break out some grub and get somethin’ inside the bellies of these kids before we make ‘em go anywhere.”
Breaking out the provisions the wagon had been holding, the children were fed, the dead men buried and a plan had been made.
By night fall, Poco had taken the children a good fifteen miles. Much of the provisions had been removed from the wagon and the children would take turns riding in the wagon back to Show Low. From there the children would try to be reunited with their families in Utah. Poco would speak to the Priest at the mission there about housing them. A telegram would be sent to the Church Elders in Salt Lake City informing them of the children’s where abouts.
Meanwhile the two brothers laid in wait for Tom Jeffries to show up.
On the third day a speck was seen on the trail leading to the Mogollon Rim from the west. It was also the same day twenty two exhausted children walked into the sleepy town of Show low.
Davy figured if there were no one to greet Tom Jeffries, he’d get suspicious and skedaddle on out and get away. To give the impression of an active hideout, Danny made a large fire, tossed a few pounds of bacon on it and made a giant pot of aromatic coffee. From the outside, it might be enough for Jeffries to think breakfast was going on. Meanwhile, Davy placed himself at the spot Poco had taken and dressed himself in Billy wilds hat and jacket… after cleaning up the mess Toto’s exploding head had made at the entrance.
By the time all was in place, it smelled so good that it made the brothers stomach rumble. Jeffries was a half mile out now.
“Git ready Danny, I’d like to take him a live if possible but don’t take no chances.
Minutes later Jeffries yelled the familiar “Helloooo Camp” Greeting. Davy stood waving his rifle but kept his eyes hidden under the large brim of Billy Wilde’s Stetson.
“Billy!” Jeffries shouted, “We all set to haul outa here?”
Pretending to cough and try and speak to disguise his voice as much as he could, Davy shouted back, “Sure thing Boss, Grub’s just put up. C’mon and get a plate load!”
With Davy turning the conversation to food, any skepticism Jefferies had disappeared and he hungrily walked through the narrow opening. It was when he exited the opening and stepped into the box canyon that Jeffrie’s met Danny’s 45 caliber Golden Boy rifle aimed between his eyes.
“Put your hands up Jeffrie’s, we been waitin’ on ya’!”
It was a hanging that everyone who could make it enjoyed watching. The tale of Jeffries ghastly deed of kidnapping children to sell into Mexico spread like wild fire, far and wide. Even the twenty two children were given candy and popcorn balls as treats and little flags to wave when the trap door was sprung. The band played and a magician did magic tricks on the hangman’s platform before the hanging. Once hung, Jeffrie’s dangled for a while and soiled himself. When his neck could no longer bare the weight of his body, his head came off with a popping sound. Volunteers cleaned up the mess and the gala continued unabated. After Jeffrie’s body and head were carted off by the undertaker, fried chicken dinners were sold by the Baptist Women’s building fund for twenty five cents. So many dinners were sold that two new Outhouses were included in the churches building plans. The event drew such applause at its finale of fireworks and the town council was so moved by the crowds appreciation, that they made the decision to hold “The annual Show Low hangman’s Day” each year on the same date .
In later years, the State court ordered Show Low to cease and desist the celebrating of their little holiday. Not for reasons of any hanging sensibility mind you but it was suspected criminals were being sentenced unjustly just so the town had someone to hang on that day.