Most of the lawmen in the Old West weren’t flamboyant, tight-lipped, tight-trousered puppets as portrayed in the movies, nor were they shady politicians. Mostly they were family men dedicated to community service. People remember Carl Hayden for serving Arizona well in both the House and Senate for 56 years. At the time it was longer than any other. Few know he first gained fame as a peace officer and that was the reason he was first elected to Congress in 1912.
The Old West was still pretty new in 1877, when Carl Hayden was born in a mud adobe house on the banks of the Salt River, where Monti’s La Casa Vieja is today. The old village of San Pablo and Hayden’s ferry would soon change its name to Tempe.
Carl Hayden, like his father, felt it was important to serve the community, so in 1906, the 30-year-old threw his hat in the ring and ran for sheriff of Maricopa County. Phoenix, had a population of about 10,000.
The sheriff’s wages depended on fees collected from the brothels, saloon’s and gambling halls along Washington St. By tradition, the sheriff collected his fees on Saturday afternoon. Freeloaders lined up and frequently the sheriff went home with empty pockets. Carl Hayden started a new tradition. He made his rounds early on Sunday morning when the barflies were still sleeping it off Saturday night’s imbibing.
On May 11, 1910, two young wannabe train robbers from Oklahoma, Oscar and Ernie Woodson, later dubbed by the press as the “Beardless Boy Bandits,” decided to rob the Phoenix and Eastern RR, a short branch line running from the Southern Pacific mainline at Maricopa to Phoenix. They rented guns and horses in Phoenix and rode south to the Gila River where they picketed their horses then went back to Phoenix and caught the train heading for Maricopa. When the conductor asked for their tickets they jerked their guns and robbed the passengers of some $300. They pulled the bell to stop the train then jumped off at the Gila Crossing, where they mounted their horses and headed for the Mexican border. The sheriff’s posse loaded on a stock car and headed for Maricopa where they quickly picked up their trail.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Hayden went to Maricopa, and “drafted” J.F. McCarthy and his $3,000 Dayton-Stoddard touring car into service. They caught up with the posse at the village of Cuckelbur, had them climb into the back seat of the touring car and off they went. It would be the first time in Arizona history bandits were chased in a car.
There were no roads so across the desert they flew, over arroyos and dodging cactus, following the trail.
Meanwhile, the Woodson’s horses had played out too. They were hunkered down in the shade of a mesquite and thinking the car was hauling mining engineers, flagged it down. The possemen jumped out with rifles ready. One of the brothers threw down his weapon but the other refused to surrender.
Sheriff Hayden told the officers to back off. He walked towards the youth his pistol drawn but unloaded. “Son,” he said calmly, “You need put down that gun.” The kid thought for a moment, then dropped his gun.
The sheriff’s fame for coolness in a tense situation spread far and wide in the territory and 2 years later when Arizona became a state he was well-known enough to run for congress and win. And he kept winning until he retired in 1969.