Saturday, October 13, 2007

Henry Tanner and the Hashknife Gang

Henry Tanner did not care for farming but he enjoyed working with cattle. In 1880 Henry became superintendent of the stock herd for the United Order in St. Joseph (Joseph City). Under his care the herd increased and was the only profitable business in the St. Joseph United Order.

When the United Order was "reconfigured," the herd was left intact under the direction of Henry Tanner. He received a share of the cattle in return for his work. This went on profitably until the Aztec Land and Cattle Company came to the Little Colorado Region in the mid 1880s. You can read elsewhere about the Aztec Land and Cattle Company, also known as the Hashknife Gang, but in short, it almost killed the settlements along the Little Colorado. Besides the impact on the grazing land, the off-duty cowboys were known to prey upon the horses and cattle of the settlers.

John Bushman, long-time bishop of Joseph City, kept a diary. He records that, "For sometime there was a great deal of stealing of horses and the thieves were very bold and threatened the lives of some of the brethren."

The United Order Minutes of December 9, 1886, record, "H.M Tanner desired a price put on the labor he did in going after horse thieves. Various opinions were given and on motion of J. Bushman he received $10.00 for the trip."

In February 1887, Bushman "lost" four horses. He hunted for the horses for two weeks without success. In April, Brother W. J. Flake was in Phoenix and he recognized the horses. He telegraphed Bushman and the other men to come to Phoenix where they found 27 horses belonging to the Little Colorado settlers. They pursued a law suit to recover the horses and finally got them back.

Ray Tanner (Roy's brother) remembered that when news came of thieves operating in the area, work horses would be put under armed guard.

Pinedale and Showlow were even harder hit. George Tanner tells the story of Bishop Neils Peterson of Pinedale. An Aztec employee named John Payne wanted to drive Peterson off his land. Payne waylaid Peterson and beat him almost unconscious. Peterson fetched his gun from home and laid in wait at Payne's cabin, but Payne had gone into hiding and when Peterson cooled down, he went to Snowflake to counsel with Stake President Jesse N. Smith. Smith told him to wait and their enemies would take care of everything within their own ranks. The wicked would slay the wicked.

The settlers could not appeal to law enforcement since many times the officials had been bought out by the gangs or were actually members of the gangs. So both Mormons and non-Mormons resorted to vigilante justice. According to George Tanner, the St. Johns committee was so formidable that the town enjoyed some measure of peace. Another notable committee was in non-Mormon Pleasant Valley. The following story was told by George Tanner.
It was during the period of the Pleasant Valley vigilante days that a near tragedy occurred for a number of the Mormon brethren. They were following the tracks of a bunch of thieves who had stolen their horses and this led them into Pleasant Valley. They camped for the night out in some heavy brush and timber as they did not know how near they were to the thieves whom they were following. One of the vigilantes of the Pleasant Valley group detected them and notified his men. They suspicioned  [sic] they were thieves and came to investigate. The Mormons had built a small fire and were gathered round it talking in subdued tones. Two scouts of the vigilantes crawled in close, guns in hand, to make sure that they were the thieves before they attacked them. They listened for sometime but could not get enough of their conversation to make any decisions but they could tell they were talking about stolen horses. They were about to return to their men to report what they had heard when one of the brethren said, "Well, it's about time to go to bed. Brother ________ will you offer prayer." They all knelt in a circle while prayer was being said. The brother prayed for the success of their mission and that the work of the thieves would come to nought. That God would prosper the colonists in their work in building up the Kingdom of God and that the honest and law abiding citizens of Pleasant Valley would be successful in eradicating the lawless element. When he had finished his prayer, there was no longer any doubt in the minds of the scouts about the identity of the little party they were watching. They slipped away quietly and it was many years later that they related to Preston Bushman how close they came to attacking the Mormon party. The Mormon custom of prayer before retiring had saved the little band.

One year Henry Tanner and Charlie Burke sold a herd of cattle and were paid in gold. They were returning home and planned on spending the night in Springerville. That evening a stranger tried to make their acquaintance and find out all about them. Henry Tanner and Charlie Burke became suspicious and decided to leave town that night. They left as quietly as possible and rode out of town. They left the main trail in a rocky area so as to not leave tracks and and doubled back to camp in some thick timber. During the night they heard riders pass and realized they were being hunted. In the morning they saw the tracks of five horses. They left the main road and rode quickly for home. Henry always believed that the riders were the same men who had bought the cattle and therefore knew that they were carrying gold.

When Henry left on his mission to England in 1887 he owned about a hundred cows and several bulls. He branded them and turned them out onto the range. He did not send his sons out onto the range since "he would rather lose his cattle and keep his boys." Due to the heavy criminal element, it would not only endanger their lives, but expose them to the rougher element. When he returned from his mission, he could not find any of the cattle. Presumably most had been "rustled." All they had left were the cows they kept home for milking.

The thievery was a matter of much prayer by the Saints. They held council meetings and prayed frequently over the situation. "Word went around that the brethren were praying for their enemies but they probably were not too charitable in what they were asking for them."

In the next few years, many of the criminals met their deaths. In 1886, Holbrook, Arizona (population 250) had 26 shooting deaths. John Payne, mentioned above, was one of the first to fall in the Pleasant Valley (Graham-Tewksbury) War. About this time, Commodore Perry Owens was hired as Apache County Sheriff. He quickly drove out much of the lawless element. Sheriff Owens was beloved by the Mormon settlers. After Owens' death, the sheriff's bondsman, Mark Kartchner, went to the temple to be baptized for Owens and John Bushman stood proxy for the other ordinances.

Although the Aztec Cattle Company had as many as 60,000 cattle at one time, it was subject to heavy losses from drought, erosion, and other causes, and it declared bankruptcy by 1900.

George S. Tanner. Henry Martin Tanner, Joseph City Arizona Pioneer. 1964.
Abruzzi, W. S. 1995. "The Social and Ecological Consequences of Early Cattle Ranching in the Little Colorado River Basin." Human Ecology 23: 75-98.

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