Wagons West Chronicles October Issue 2016 October Issue - Page 18

October 2016 18 ARIZONA’S RUSTLER KING ACQUITTAL OF THE MAN WHO KILLED HIM IN COLD BLOOD. Charleston’s Toughest Days–Justice Dispensed by Jim Barnett With A Couple of Revolvers in His Belt and a Ride Behind Him. April 30, 1899, Post-Intelligencer, Seattle, Washington Territory — On July last Jim Burnett was shot down on the main street of Tombstone. In the district court of Cochise County William Greene, his slayer, was acquitted the other day with all honor and all Tombstone congratulated him as he stepped free, from the prisoners’ dock. Greene is a plain, ordinary farmer with a ranch on the San Pedro River. To him little interest attaches. He was simply the instrument that ended the career of one of the most noted characters of the Southwest in the days that were bloodiest. When the deed was done he stood over his work with yet smoking pistol, and, with uplifted hand and utter lack of self-consciousness, intoned the Rustler King Jim Burnett. words: “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord; I will repay.” Burnett’s appropriate fate had overtaken him. “The King of the Rustlers” he had been called; he was a border chief of outlaws. He had met his death by the violence he had so often dealt out to others. Yet Greene had a personal motive to kill him. He was not wholly one called to make return for community wrongs. Last summer his daughter, a girl of 18, was fishing in the San Pedro, near her 1945 Click To Watch home. With her was a young girl friend from Bisbee. They did not return at the appointed time and a search found their lifeless bodies on a sandbar far down the stream. Further investigation disclosed the fact that Greene’s dam, thrown across the river at the point where he diverted the water for his farm, had been blo wn out with dynamite. In the rush of water the girls had been caught and drowned. Burnett’s farm was just below Greene’s. There had for years been enmity between the men. The father, who had been absent, soon reached home. He satisfied himself that his neighbor had struck the blow. He saddled his horse, rode to Tombstone and rested not until the corpse of his enemy lay at his feet. And he has been acquitted, though it was shown that if Burnett blew up the dam it was by proxy, and, further, that Burnett accidentally happened, when he met Greene in Tombstone, to be temporarily destitute of his shooting tackle. But what was the difference? Greene was recognized by public and jury alike, as simply an agent of Providence, even if he did have to use up all the chambers of a big revolver in dispatching his mission. Burnett came to Arizona from Texas about 1877. He was a New Yorker of fair education and good mental ability. He located at Charleston, on the San Pedro, just about the time that Tombstone, a dozen miles away, was started, the mining excitement bringing to the Wagons West Chronicles region miners and adventures, to score thousands of them. But Burnett was not a miner; he found, it more profitable to be a butcher. He owned hardly one head of stock, yet his business grew and immense were his dealings. Then he was elected Justice of the Peace, and in that office, between the years 1829 and 1882, attained the wealth of his fame. But no delineation of Burnett would be complete without more than a passing reference to his home. Tombstone at the start had very little water, so the ores were freighted down to Charleston for reduction. Around the mills grew up a town that had 2,500 inhabitants and, by actual count, sixty saloons. It had the usual crowd of red-shirted miners, who made it lively when fortune favored them, but the crowning glory of the place was in its cowboys. They called themselves cowboys, the bespurred fraternity who rode their horses through the streets and filled the gambling halls at night. It is probable that most of them, at one time or other, had been cattlemen, but at the time with which this article deals there were few long-horns in Southeastern Arizona, and the grassy meadows and deeply turfed valleys gave no warning of the droughts of later years. A cowboy of the class referred to was locally called a rustler, which, in Western parlance, means a mounted individual who makes a living by picking up Continued on page 19