Ask the Marshall

What is the Bisbee Massacre?

What is the Bisbee Massacre?

Victoria Clark
Sedona, Arizona

On December 8, 1883, in the southeast Arizona town of Bisbee, five bad boys—Dan Dowd, Omer “Red” Sample, Dan Kelly, Billy Delaney and James “Tex” Howard—robbed the Goldwater-Castañeda store/bank. In the shoot-out that followed, dubbed the “Bisbee Massacre,” they killed four people, including a pregnant woman named Annie Roberts.

After the outlaws got away, a local saloonkeeper, John Heath, claimed he knew the men and offered to lead the posse to their hideout. Instead he led them the wrong way. Then a rancher tied the outlaws to Heath, who confessed to planning the robbery, paving the way for the posse to track down the outlaws.

Heath, who demanded and got a separate trial, was given life in prison, while his five peers were sentenced to hang on March 8, 1884. Angry that Heath had gotten off so lightly, Bisbee citizens broke into the Tombstone jail, took Heath out and hanged him from a telegraph pole on February 22.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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