billy breckinridge cochise county zwing hunt true west magazine
Billy Breckinridge.

According to Cochise County Deputy Sheriff, Billy Breakenridge, Zwing Hunt was one of the worst outlaws in that hell-for-leather county. He came from Texas and was from a good family but somewhere along the way he went bad.

He arrived in Arizona with another hellion named Billy Grounds. For a spell Hunt worked as a cowboy for the Chiricahua Cattle Company but soon turned to outlawry. He and Billy began by rustling cattle but got into more serious crime when they ambushed a party of Mexicans who were smuggling silver bullion and silver dollars out of Mexico. They killed everyone in the party and left them in what is known today as Skeleton Canyon. They buried the spoils somewhere in the canyon and today it remains one of Arizona’s illustrious lost treasure stories.

Apparently, Zwing and Billy had some other escapades into Mexico. An alleged deathbed tale by Zwing claimed they rode out of Mexico following a three-month raid with two four-horse wagons loaded with plunder.

They hung out with a rough and tumble crowd that included, Johnny Ringo, Curly Bill Brocius, Tom and Frank McLaury, and the notorious Clanton’s.

In the fall of 1881, some thirty head of cattle were stolen in the Sulphur Springs Valley and the tracks let to a corral where they had been sold to a local butcher in the town of Charleston on the San Pedro River. The description of the rustlers matched that of Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds. The pair escaped arrest by hightailing it into Mexico.

The following spring, two masked men with rifles entered the office of the Tombstone Mining Company and without saying a word, shot and killed chief engineer, M. R. Peel, then disappeared into the darkness. It was believed they were planning a robbery but one fired his weapon accidentally.

A few days later word reached the sheriff’s office in Tombstone that the two suspects, Zwing Hunt and Billy Grounds were holed up at the Chandler Ranch, some nine miles outside of Town.

Sheriff John Behan was out with another posse at the time so deputy Billy Breakenridge had the responsibility of going after the bandits. He gathered a small posse of five men to join him and they rode to the ranch, arriving just before daylight on the morning of March 29, 1882.

Breakenridge placed two possemen, Jack Young and John Gillespie watching the back door of the ranch house while he and Hugh Allen guarded the front. Gillespie, aspiring to be a hero, walked up and pounded on the door, shouting, “It’s me: the sheriff.”

The door opened and Gillespie was shot dead. Another bullet shot Young through the

Then the front door opened and a shot rang out hitting Allen in the neck, knocking him to the ground. Breakenridge grabbed Allen by the shirt and drug him to safety then jumped behind a tree just as another shot hit nearby. Just then the shooter, Billy Grounds, stepped into the doorway to fire another round. Breakenridge raided his shotgun and fired, hitting Billy in the face. The outlaw fell, mortally wounded.

In the meantime, Allen had regained consciousness and grabbed a rifle just as Zwing Hunt came around the side of the house. Both Breakenridge and Allen opened fire hitting the outlaw in the chest. The battle had lasted only two minutes and during that time two men were killed and three wounded.

The dead and wounded were loaded up on a milk wagon and hauled into Tombstone.

Zwing Hunt, while recovering from his wounds managed to escape, with the help of his brother, Hugh, who came over from Texas. Hugh would later claim that Zwing was killed by Apache but others swore he escaped back to Texas where, on his death-bed drew a map leading to the buried outlaw treasure. Folks are still looking for it but so
far it’s still out there…somewhere.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen; The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or email him at

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