Masked Stage Robber: Bill Brazelton
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    Masked Stage Robber: Bill Brazelton

    How about a little sketch of another "Old West" badman? [The crowd roars its approval.] Okay, okay. . . here we go.

    Tonight's subject will be about a rather BRAZEN fellow, known to rob stagecoaches. He was no "Black Bart" or Bill Miner. Had a bit more of the bark on than those fellows.





    Stay tuned. We are going to discuss Bill Brazelton. I'm actually flipping through a "Tombstone Epitaph" article on the subject. It's from Jan. 1982. It's, of course, not the newspaper but a tabloid type paper that was published monthly as a medium for stories of the "Old West".
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    William Whitney Brazelton drifted into the Tucson area (the Old Pueblo) in September of 1877, via California and claimed he was a native Missourian by birth. There is little doubt that he had already pulled off multiple stagecoach robberies in New Mexico Territory and in Northern Arizona in the 1870s. He worked alone and had by this time become sort of trademarked by the linen mask he wore. He was a pretty darn good at keeping a low profile and he practiced the notion of keeping secrets by telling no one. But then he slipped up. . .

    He was a large framed man for his day. He stood slightly over six feet tall and went just over 200 pounds.

    Most historians characterize him as a jovial man and not given to violence for its own sake. Not so sure. We have an account by a friend of his while in Tucson, Ben Williams, who while attending a dance at which Brazelton was also present:

    ". . . got into a little trouble with a man who drew a knife." Brazelton seeing it, came over immediately, yanked a sixgun, and put the knife wielder to route with a threat of death. Williams went on to write that Brazelton had definitely saved his life. Later, he claimed Brazelton told him he wanted "to die with his boots on." Indeed Bill always went about well armed. He was suspected by authorities to be an army veteran because of his arms and spurs (?). Here is a quote from an internet site about Bill, give it your own truth value:

    ". . . fast, deadly gun hand and reports indicate he feared no man. He usually wore his pants tucked in his boots. Authorities assumed he might have been in the military at one time because his pistols were Colt army issue and he wore small brass spurs, also used by the army. His arsenal also included a Spencer Carbine."





    The images are meant to be representative of stagecoaches per se. Here is a backdrop on Tucson area stagecoaches and why they appealed to road agents:

    "Transporting Valuables

    In 1877, in response to increased mining activity in southern Arizona, Wells-Fargo
    Express Company, transporter of valuables, reestablished its Tucson office that had been
    briefly operational in 1860 for the Butterfield Overland Mail. Wells Fargo began leasing
    space on stagecoaches to carry “treasure boxes,” a good source of income for stage lines
    but somewhat risky.

    According to the fascinating book, Encyclopedia of Stage Robbery in Arizona, there were
    129 stagecoach robberies in Arizona between 1875 and 1903. Eleven of these occurred
    in Pima County, including two robberies near present day Marana, single robberies near
    Patagonia and present day Green Valley, and a robbery of the Tucson-Quijotoa stage.
    The Marana robberies in 1878 were committed by highwayman Bill Brazelton, who
    supposedly turned his horse’s shoes around to confuse trackers, but was later shot dead
    by a pursuing posse."

    We shall get to Old Bill's backwards horseshoe trick shortly. . .

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    Brazelton had almost immediately gotten a job at Bill Leatherwood's livery stable, upon his arrival. It was a job that suited him nicely. It worked well with his other profession, road agent. He could leave and be gone for days and take up where he left off as the job was not so much in demand. Shortly after his death, "The Arizona Star" would report that, "He worked faithfully,was kind and courteous to all, and no one would have taken him at the time for the man he proved to be."

    It was during his stay in Tucson that he met and befriended a German immigrant named David Nemitz. He had a ranch near Lee's Mill.

    His first known stage holdup was not long after his arrival (hubpages.com Brazen-Bill-Brazelton):

    "His first known holdup was a stagecoach that left from Prescott, Arizona at 6 o'clock a.m. on September 27, 1877 bound for California. Brazelton stopped the coach in broad daylight about eight miles west of Antelope Station, Arizona.

    With his shotgun pointed at the driver, he commanded him to throw down the express box and break it open with an axe. The passengers were ordered to toss out the mail bags. Little did Bill know he was robbing Arizona’s Honorable E. G. Peck and family who happened to be aboard.

    The express box yielded one package of gold dust and bars valued at $1,700, some which belonged to Peck. There were also letters valued at $250. It’s not known why but Bill, upon learning of his distinguished passenger, returned two gold bars valued at $4,000 to Peck and told the driver to continue on. When the stage reached Wickenburg, the authorities as well as Wells, Fargo and Company were notified. Rewards were posted but Bill had made good his escape."

    Now look back at the first image I posted, a line drawing. Notice how his handgun is held close to his shotgun. This is because eyewitness reports state that it appeared to be tethered to it. Odd. I have no idea how anyone viewing a 'scatter' pointed anywhere near them would ever note the revolver and the detail about it being tethered. . . perhaps it was noted by someone out of the line of fire so to speak. He was indeed odd. He sported a mask that was unique as well. It was a white bag pulled over the bandit's head, with cut-in eye holes, a puffed nose and a grinning mouth fashioned by a strip of red flannel.

    His massive haul from September of 1877 satisfied him for a long while. But by July 31, 1878 he was back at it. It was 5 o'clock and misting rain when, "At a site known as Point of Mountain, about 18 miles from Tucson, a tall form wearing a mask ordered the stage to halt", in classic old west fashion. He was carrying a "Spencer rifle" and a Colt's revolver was again held tight to the rifle barrel. There was an interesting passenger riding the coach. John P. Clum, the father of the "Tombstone Epitaph", was aboard (he was planing on moving his newspaper, "The Citizen", from Florence to Tucson, shortly), along with a "Chinaman", and one, "Dr. Wheatley", a veterinarian. The strongbox was surrendered but was empty. The passengers were ordered to, "pungle up", then robbed. Clum had 3 dollars (he would later sarcastically refer to this 3 dollars as the net profits from "The Citizen" office since it's location in Florence), the "Chinaman" had 6 dollars, and "Dr. Wheatley" has 28 dollars. A whopping haul of 37 dollars. Brazelton looked over his victims and speaking of someone in the group, told them they, "looked like a sick man." As they drove away Brazelton yelled at the men, "to come back and fight as soon as they felt disposed to."

    Stay tuned.



    One wonders about the firearm leaning against his leg. It is identified in the papers as a "Spencer" but someone on "cascity.com" says it appears to him to be a "Remington Rolling Block Carbine".
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    Clum shortly thereafter wrote, in the "Tucson Citizen":

    "This editor has frequently read of the daring deeds of fierce highwaymen and several times within the last six months it has been necessary for us to describe the bold operations of these desperadoes, but never until day before yesterday have we had the good fortune to witness the modus operandi by which these members of the shotgun gentry extract the valuables from a stagecoach and passengers by the simple but magical persuasive power of cold lead."

    In another piece he closed by saying: "(The bandit) will no doubt feel it necessary to rob another coach soon. Passengers and officers should be correspondingly careful." The man was a seer. . . Nine days after Clum wrote this, on August 14, his prophecy was fulfilled.

    Stage driver Arthur Hill was queried about the spot where the earlier robbery had occurred, by a passenger. John Miller had no sooner asked than they were upon Point of Mountain, and Hill leaned forward to point out the exact place when viola! Hill yells, "And there he is again!".

    Same mask, same odd way of holding his weapons, same man. The lone horseman cried out toward the coach, "Yes, here I am again. Throw up your hands." Miller's robber sighting cost him 226 dollars, they total was only a bit more, ~230 dollars.

    The Sheriff, Charles Shibell, a good officer was castigated by Clum in his paper for being a coward or dumb or both, as he alleged that the sheriff and his posse had stopped a lone and suspicious horseman but had allowed them to ride on. He immediately retracted his slander the next day. It was false.

    The rash of highwaymen robbing and plundering had citizens well up in arms and they demanded action. Sheriff Shibell would would run one to ground very soon.

    Sheriff Charles Shibell:

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    The public outcry had reached a fever pitch due to numerous coach robberies in the area. The Army was even contacted but declined stating a recently passed bit of legislation that prohibited the use of troops as a "posse comitatus". The robbers were about to be less one.

    From Great Stagecoach Robberies of the Old West:

    "The next morning the Sheriff's posse took the robber's track, but failed to find him. The strangest bit of evidence from these two robberies was that two horses appeared to leave Tucson toward the scene of the crime but none returned. Finally a tracker named Juan Elias was put on the track. It happened on this second occasion that the robber's horse threw a shoe, creating the odd impression of an animal with three hoofs traveling in one direction and the fourth unshod hoof in the opposite direction. Elias back-tracked the hoof prints to their source and found the robber's horse in the corral of David Nemitz. Elias examined the animal and found that the robber had developed a way to turn the horse's shoes around. The shoes had been made especially for this purpose, with four nail holes on each side of each shoe so accurately spaced that when the shoes were reversed nails could be pushed through the holes in the horse's hoof. All that remained was to turn the nails down and cut the clinchers."

    David Nemitz would be Brazelton's downfall.

    Officers went immediately to Nemitz's place and arrested him. He was charged as an accomplice to the robbery and was jailed under 2,500 dollar bond. Newspapers of the day demanded lawmen get the information on the stage robber any way that they could as it was obvious Nemitz knew the answer. Funny thing, it actually appears that Brazelton's boss at the livery stable, Bob Leatherwood, got him to talk. (Others claimed a group of citizens and a rope convinced him.)

    All up Nemitz told a self serving tale of how he would only talk if he could be protected from the "real" robber. He went on to tell them that Brazelton was the man they sought and that he was hiding out near Nemitz's ranch, and how that he kept him in food and supplies. He then said something interesting, he said he "was aiding the bandit out of fear for his own life, and that Brazelton referred to himself as 'a hard game' and had talked of his stage robberies." Nemitz was released for the set-up.

    Nemitz went to Brazelton and then rolled back in immediately with the following:

    "He said he would deliver supplies to Brazelton the next evening, following which, he said, Brazelton would:

    1) Hold up the outbound Tucson Stage

    2) Return to Tucson and kill Town Marshal Butner, and then

    3) Kill Sheriff Shibell.

    Nemitz also told the Sheriff Brazelton would not be taken alive, 'unless by artful strategy'"

    (There are a bit different accounts that have this seeming to occur in a single day, as opposed to the following day.)

    Funny, Brazelton had made it clear to his Judas that the only reason he would kill the two lawmen was to eliminate them as witnesses against Nemitz.

    Great Stagecoach Robberies, relates the rest quite well:

    "From all that Nemitz had told Pima County Sheriff Charles A. Shibell, the sheriff deemed it necessary to shoot Brazelton on sight, and so instructed his deputies. Shibell summoned Marshall Buttner, R. N. Leatherwood, Charles O. Brown, Charles T. Etchells, Jim Lee and Ika O. Brokaw as his posse. The plan was for the posse members to sneak out of town and assemble near the mesquite log where Brazelton was to meet Nemitz, who had agreed to provide the road agent with supplies for the evening's work.
    Nemitz disclosed that Brazelton was preparing to commit another robbery that night and would be weighted-down with all his arms. When the robber arrived at the log he had upon his person two belts full of cartridges, two six-shooters and a Spencer rifle.
    Brazelton approached the log cautiously and gave the signal, a cough, which was returned by a posse member. He then placed his hat on the log to signal Nemitz to come to him. Something alarmed Brazelton and he leaned over the log as if to look on the other side, where one of the posse members was concealed, and the silence was broken by the blast from a shotgun. A fusillade of pistol shots followed immediately and Brazelton exclaimed, "You S** of a B****," as he fell. He lay still in the darkness and the posse heard him gasp, "I die brave, my God! I'll pray till I die."
    The posse remained silent, listening carefully in the dark for any sign that there was fight left in Brazelton. Firally they lighted matches and counted ten holes deposited in his chest between the robber's shoulders in the area of his heart and lungs. The ambush had been so sudden that Bill Brazelton had been captured and mortally wounded without the opportunity to fire a single shot.
    The Sheriff searched the robber's body and discovered the hood, with red mouth sewn on as described in previous robberies, and in his pockets was some of the loot, including a pair of distinctive earrings and a gold watch. The remainder of the plunder was believed to be buried somewhere south of town but was never recovered.

    Ika Brokaw went to town and procured a wagon. "Brazen Bill" Brazelton's body was then taken into Tucson and tied upright in a chair and displayed at the courthouse until the inquest."

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    Another good story. Thanks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hogbear View Post
    Another good story. Thanks.
    Appreciate the kind words, hogbear.

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    Wow,that's a good one. Folks sure had a way with words then, I like to see that period stuff. Thanks, Gibson!

    Yeah, that's a roller alright....maybe some posse member kept the Spencer, and the photographer put in a ringer?

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    Thanks for another great story.

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    Thanks Mr Gibson... Sure do like the history lessons...
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