Henry Wheeler

One of the West’s most unusual gunfights occurred on the streets of Benson, Arizona on February 27th, 1907. It was between Arizona Ranger Lieutenant Harry Wheeler and a stalker named J.A. Tracy and ended in a rock fight. Although his name isn’t as well-known as some, Wheeler was as good as they come with both pistol and rifle. Turns out he wasn’t bad with rocks also.

Trouble began when a man named Silverton arrived on the Southern Pacific Railroad with his wife, a tall, pretty lady with a questionable past. Apparently part of that past had something to do with Tracy, whom she referred to as a “jealous crazy” suitor who had been threatening her in Tucson.

Mr. and Mrs. Silverton decided it might be a good time to take a trip, so they boarded an eastbound train. At Vail Station, east of Tucson, she saw Tracy standing on the platform. When she pointed him out to her new husband he jumped off the train and the two men got into a brief argument. When the train left the station Tracy attempted (unsuccessfully) to climb on board. That night he jumped a freight and headed for Benson.

Armed with a .45 Colt, Tracy announced he’d come to town to get the pair who were staying at a nearby hotel. As luck would have it, Arizona Ranger Lieutenant Harry Wheeler was also in town. Silverton told him about Tracy’s threats and the Ranger headed towards the station where Tracy was waiting for the couple to appear. About that time they emerged from the hotel. Tracy drew his pistol and resumed his threats.

“Hold on there,” Wheeler yelled as he moved towards the gunman. “I arrest you. Give me that gun!”

Tracy then fired a shot that went through Wheeler’s coat. Wheeler drew his weapon and both men commenced firing. Tracy shot three times, his last one hitting the Ranger in the upper thigh. Wheeler, an excellent marksman, fired five bullets, hitting Tracy four times.

Tracy lowered his weapon “I’m all in. My gun is empty.” Wheeler’s pistol was empty but as he approached, Tracy fired twice more, one round hit Wheeler in the foot.

Having no other weapon at his disposal Wheeler grabbed a handful of rocks and began hurling them at his adversary. Tracy must have been distracted as he ducked and dodged the stone-throwing Ranger. Tracy’s arm dropped and Wheeler came over and relieved him of his weapon. Someone brought Wheeler a chair. “Give it to him,” he said. “He needs it more than me.”

Wheeler turned his prisoner over to a local police officer then extended his hand, “Well,” he said it was a great fight while it lasted, wasn’t it, old man?”

The two men shook hands. They put Tracy on a train to Tucson but he died on the way. It turned out he was wanted for a couple of murders in Nevada and there was a $500 reward. Wheeler refused the money saying he was a “poor man” but didn’t want money for killing a man. Instead he gave the reward money to the widow of one of Tracy’s victims.

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