atm-logoI’ve read that Sheriff John Behan was a scoundrel in Tombstone during the trouble years. Is that the case?

Chuck Sawyer
Phoenix, Arizona

I’ve never been a big fan of John Harris Behan, mainly because of his role in the Cochise County War, but he was an interesting character. Like his nemesis Wyatt Earp, he came West as a young man. He joined the California Column during the Civil War and fought with the Union volunteers at Apache Pass in 1862. A year later, he was in Tucson as a freighter, before he moved up to the Prescott area where he was a bullwhacker, prospector and Indian fighter. In early 1866, he and some friends were out prospecting when a band of about 30 Yavapai jumped them. They managed to fight their way out of that one.

When Behan became undersheriff in Yavapai County, he joined numerous Indian-fighting expeditions. The Prescott Journal Miner called him brave and intelligent. In 1871-72, during the height of the Indian Wars in the area, he served as county sheriff. Arizona was pretty wild, and a man had to have bark to be a lawman. That was Behan’s life prior to his checkered career as sheriff of Cochise County.

Then he got into territorial politics with the legislature. Maybe that’s where he learned his bad habits. Sometime around 1879, he moved to Tombstone and became involved in that mining town’s crazy politics.

I can’t help but wonder if he and Wyatt might have gotten along had one not been a Republican and the other a Democrat.

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


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