For thousands of years before the modern era, the land of present-day Arizona was home to several Indian civilizations. The first European to establish contact with Arizona Indians was Marcos de Niza in 1539. Several other historically significant Spaniards followed Niza, including Francisco Vásquez de Coronado y Luján and José Romo de Vivar. Eusebio Francisco Kino (also Father Kino), a Jesuit missionary, was a trained geographer, explorer, cartographer, and astronomer who spent the last 24 years of his life in the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and Southern Arizona. After Mexican independence from Spain in 1821, Arizona became part of Nuevo California. By this time, the primary residents of Arizona were descendants of ethnic Spaniards, mestizos, and Indians.
Following the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), the United States gained land encompassing present-day New Mexico, Utah, Western Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California, and Texas. In Mexico, it is known as La Venta de La Mesilla. Americans know it simply as the Gadsden Purchase. It was a 29,670 square-mile region of present-day Arizona and southwestern New Mexico purchased by the United States from Mexico through the Treaty of Mesilla in 1854. The purchase price was $10 million, which was in addition to the $15 million the United States paid for the former Mexican territories (identified above). In 1854, $25 million was a massive amount of money. Arizona became a United States Territory in 1863.
As they had done (almost from the beginning in the early 17th century), Anglo settlers began moving westward — this time into the Arizona Territory. They did this at great risk to themselves because the native population of Arizona resisted white encroachment at every opportunity. Many of these whites were members of the Mormon Church headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Of course, there was a border separating Mexico from the United States, but the word porous in describing it would be a gross understatement. People moved back and forth between Mexico and the United States at their leisure. The predominant language of Arizona remained Spanish for many years (and is still widely spoken) by Americans of Hispanic heritage.
The Chacón Family
To the south of Arizona lies the Sonoran Desert, an area of approximately 100,000 square miles. Despite its inhospitable climate and weather pattern, Sonora is home to 17 native Indian tribes and various settlements of Mexicans and Americans in Mexico, California, and Arizona. The two largest cities in the Sonoran Desert are Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona. In 1870, around 100,000 people of Hispanic descent lived in the vast Sonoran region of Mexico. One of these areas, known as Sierra del Tigre, is a mountain range in northeastern Sonora, Mexico, with several of its ranges extending into Arizona. La Familia Chacón lived in Sierra del Tigre for several generations, each one struggling to provide bare necessities for a decent life. Augustine Chacón was born there in 1861. As a child, he and his older brother Vincente may have dreamt of a better life, knowing that they wouldn’t realize any such aspirations in Mexico. The boys swore that they would go north to the United States to make their fortunes one day. Both did go to the United States, but they traveled on different paths.
By the time Augustine was 19-20 years old, he was known for his rugged good looks. He was taller than most Mexicans, had dark features, and had an abundance of visible head and facial hair. From this, his friends called him El Peludo. For a time, he served with the rurales in Sierra del Tigre. He had an easy-going personality and had won the respect of his superiors and fellow soldiers alike. It was because of his character that his superiors appointed him to serve as a town peace officer — but his penchant for treating everyone fairly ran afoul of the upper-class citizens, and they began to make his life very difficult. The class warfare was what finally prompted Chacón to relocate to Arizona.
There are a few stories about a murdering Augustine Chacón in Arizona, but some don’t add up. In one fairy tale, Chacón began his murder spree by killing a rancher named Ben Ollney over a question of back wages. The problem with that particular account is the Olney family (brothers George, Sam, Dan, and Joe) arrived in Arizona from Texas in 1879. In that year, the Olney brothers were known as the brothers Hill — all taking on an assumed name because Joe Greaves Olney was wanted for murder and other charges in Texas. There was a Ben Olney, the eldest son of Joe (Olney) Hill, born in 1870 and passed away in Los Angeles in 1935. If Chacón killed anyone in Arizona, it wasn’t Ben Olney.
We cannot allow the Olney/Hill connection to fade away as regards Augustine Chacón, however, because there is an even more interesting connection. To explore this further, it will be necessary to “back up” a few years.
Joe Greaves was the eldest of the brothers Olney (Hill), born in 1849 in Burleson County, Texas. He served in the Texas Rangers between 1871 – 1873. In the following year, Joe became involved in a cattle dispute, the result of which named Joe as the man wanted in connection with theft and assault in Llano County.
In 1874, Joe involved himself in the Texas Hoodoo War (Mason County War) (1874 – 1876). Some claim that Joe Olney shot and killed Moses Baird in 1875, but that is unlikely since Moses Baird was aligned with Scott Cooley, John Ringo, and Joe Olney in the Hoodoo War. Joe undoubtedly did a fair bit of shooting in Mason County, Texas, but it was a time when everyone was shooting at everyone else.
However, after his involvement in a shooting with two county deputies in 1876, Joe Olney bolted for New Mexico. Joe was the only family member named on an arrest warrant, so it is unclear why brothers George, Sam, and Daniel changed their names from Olney to Hill. Perhaps they were concerned that they could be charged with aiding and abetting the escape of the wanted shootist. When the brothers learned that New Mexico had joined Texas in seeking the arrest of Joe Olney, they all removed themselves to southeast Arizona, reigning up in Pima County, at a silver mining town, someone named Tombstone.
In Tombstone, Joe (Olney) Hill and his brothers became good friends with an outlaw group calling themselves The Cowboys, including the Clanton’s, Lowrey’s, Billy Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and everyone who hated the Earps.
The so-called Cowboys were an outlaw cartel, heavily involved in stealing horses, rustling cattle, holding up stagecoaches, fixing elections, stealing county tax proceeds, intimidating territorial judges, and murder. Joe Hill rode with Sheriff Johnny Behan’s posse during the hunt for the Earps after someone dusted Frank Stillwell in Tucson. Joe (Olney) Hill decided to settle down when Wyatt Earp began his now-famous Vendetta Ride.
By the time Augustine Chacón arrived in Tombstone (c. 1884), the cattle liberation program was in full swing. Chacón was looking for work, and he found it as an experienced vaquero. Legal title to cattle didn’t matter to a cowboy. He was either stealing cattle from Arizona and moving them into Mexico or stealing cattle and horses from Mexican haciendas and moving it into Arizona. It was a robust trade arrangement for all concerned. Eventually, however, all good things come to an end — so when the cattle rustling business became too hot, Chacón relocated to Morenci, Arizona.
Petty Crime to Murder
Morenci, Arizona, started as a prospecting camp simply called Joey’s Camp. Sitting at an altitude of 1,436 meters, the town itself became a hazard because of the steep incline of streets and foundations. There were no wheeled vehicles inside the town for many years, so resupplying town merchants required a never-ending stream of pack mules. The town’s mining interests generated wealth for some, but most had to be content with dreams of wealth. There was not much opportunity for Mexicans, but they had their hopes along with everyone else. Working inside the mines was not Chacón’s cup of tea. Instead, he arranged to provide firewood for the steam engine, placing it in certain places along the train route. While Chacón saw to the firewood, he and his friends rustled cattle, butchered them, and sold the meat at a premium price to the butchers of Morenci.
Chacón had a growing reputation among the local Mexicans as someone to look up to — and fear. His friends called him Peludo. He was still personable, but he’d become dangerous to anyone outside his immediate circle. Inside Morenci, El Peludo and his friends had taken to rolling drunks for pocket money; and robbed them while they worked in the mines.
Thus far in our investigation, we’ve discovered that Augustine Chacón was an accomplished horseman and vaquero. We know (or suspect) that he became involved in horse stealing and cattle rustling as part of the Pima/Cochise County Cowboy operation. We aren’t sure what else he was up to — but whatever it was, it was enough to set the tongues of local citizens (Mexican and Anglo) wagging. If you believed everything spoken about El Peludo, you thought he was as dangerous (or more so) than any Clanton’s, Johnny Ringo, or Wild Bill Brocius. Some claim Chacón was directly responsible for multiple murders, rapes, robberies, and horse thieving. But was it true? Maybe.
There was even a story about how Chacón outwitted the famed gunfighter/lawman John Slaughter. According to this story, El Peludo openly bragged that he intended to kill Slaughter on sight. When Slaughter heard about it, he, and his deputy (Burt Alvord) began looking for Chacón. It was one of those “I’ll be your huckleberry” stories. Slaughter and Alvord learned that Chacón was located out in a mining tent. That night, they surrounded the tent and called Chacón out.
When Chacón heard his name called with instructions to surrender to the law, he rushed out the back of the tent, and just as Slaughter pulled the trigger on his shotgun, Chacón tripped over a tent stake and rolled down an embankment. Slaughter’s shot went over Chacón’s head, and he managed to escape certain death.
It was a good story — and an even better one, if true.
That wasn’t all, though. Chacón and his gang were often blamed for unexplained events, such as the wanton murder of two hunters along Eagle Creek in 1894. Missing cattle was almost always laid at Chacón’s feet. When the body of an old prospector was found concealed in an abandoned mine shaft, Augustine was blamed for that, too. He may have had a part in these incidents, but there was never any evidence. Anyone could have done these things. Oh sure, he was capable of it — and it was always the little things that made folks think of Chacón whenever something mysterious happened.
Another story claimed that he and his boys knocked over a casino in Jerome, killing four gamblers in the process. According to witnesses, this was a Chacon murder/robbery — but if there were witnesses, it is odd that El Peludo was never charged with the crimes. Another time, witnesses claimed that the Chacon gang held up a stagecoach just outside Phoenix, and then after that, someone murdered a group of several sheep-shearers at their encampment.
Once more, though — Augustin Chacón was never charged with such heinous crimes. Then, on 18 December 1895, Chacón (or one of his cohorts, Pilar Luna, or Leonardo Morales) came up with the audacious plan to knock over McCormick’s General Store. After midnight, the three bandits climbed through the store’s back window and hid until Paul Becker, the storekeeper, returned to the store, where he slept in a side room. The three robbers grabbed Becker, took him to the safe, and ordered him to open it. He initially refused, but after receiving a few whacks on the head and a few stab wounds to his torso, Chacón warned him, “Open it, or we’ll kill you.”
Despite his wounds and Chacón’s ominous threats, Becker broke away and stumbled down to Salcido’s Saloon, where town constable and deputy sheriff Alex Davis rushed to his aid. Wise medically or not, Davis pulled the knife from Becker’s stomach.
Becker was alert enough to tell what happened. At first light, Davis investigated the robbery scene and noticed a small blood trail leading out the back of the store and up the hill. The red blotches led to the home of Santiago Contreras. As Davis and his small posse approached the house, three men ran out the back door. One of the men, Pilar Luna, took a shot at deputy Davis. Along with Justice of the Peace Albert Brewer, Davis returned fire, striking Chacón in the arm. Chacón and his boys kept climbing the steep hill and took refuge behind some large boulders.
Deputy Davis returned to the base of the hill to reload, where he encountered Pablo Salcido, brother to the saloonkeeper. Pablo owned his own business in town and wanted to help catch the robbers. He told Davis that he knew Chacón, that he was a friend of Chacón, and, as such, he thought he could talk the men into surrendering. Davis didn’t like the plan. He wanted to flank the fugitives and force them into surrendering. Señor Salcido waved Davis off and started up the hill on his own. After Salcido told the bandits that he wanted to parley, a shot rang out, hitting Pablo in the forehead.
Davis’ flanking maneuver resulted in the killing of Luna and Morales and Chacón’s eventual surrender. Nearly 300 rounds had been fired during the gunfight.
Davis and Brewer charged Chacón with the murder of Pablo Salcido and transported him to the jail over in Solomonville before residents could form a lynch mob. Chacon’s jailbreak was remarkable for its lack of excitement. He simply walked out of jail one evening and hid in a nearby ditch. He was only discovered when one of the searchers fell on top of him accidentally. Graham County Sheriff Birchfield was not a happy man.
Señor Chacón’s trial was set to begin in April but was delayed until 26 May. A jury found Chacón guilty, and he appealed his trial to the Territorial appellate court. While awaiting the court’s decision, Chacón was transported to Tucson. It was at the Tucson jail that Chacón’s only picture was taken. He was shackled to another prisoner. One will note how tall Chacón was.
He was held in Tucson until the Supreme Court affirmed the guilty decision of the lower court. Upon Chacon’s return to Solomonville, on the train, the deputy discovered that the leg irons were cut almost completely through. Chacon’s new date for hanging was set for June 18, 1898, and work on the scaffold began.
Augustin Chacon was many things, including enterprising — so, having convinced himself that he did not wish to hang, he escaped from jail on 9 June. This was no easy feat because the walls of the jail were ten inches thick of adobe material and had a double layer of two-inch pine board fastened with five-inch nails. It was said that Chacon could never have excavated his way out of that cell without totally deaf guards — so the guards became suspects of complicity in Chacon’s escape. It was also claimed that a Mexican woman distracted the jailer by seducing him. Chacon made a beeline for Sonora, Mexico, whatever the truth of the matter.
Enter Burt Mossman
Burt Mossman (1867-1956) was raised on a farm near Aurora, Illinois. Following the Civil War, in 1873, his family picked up and moved to Missouri, and in 1882, further west to New Mexico. In 1884, Burt worked as a cowhand for the Hash Knife Outfit in northern Arizona. By the time he was 20-years-old, Mossman was working as the ranch foreman and as a ranch superintendent by the time he was thirty.
Burt Mossman was gutsy in keeping cattle rustlers at bay and sharply focused on learning the cattle business. Meanwhile, Mossman and a business partner operated a successful stage line. While it was true that Mossman was making good money from his business ventures, he also gave back to the community. In 1897-98, Mossman and his business associates built a lovely opera house in Winslow, Arizona. In 1898, the people of Navajo County elected him as their sheriff. By 1901, outlawry was rampant in Arizona, which prompted the Territorial governor to re-authorize the establishment of the Arizona Rangers. Mossman was appointed to serve as a captain of the rangers.
Burt Mossman was no stranger to armed violence. As a ranch foreman and superintendent, and later as a lawman, he was involved in at least five separate shootings — the first occurring in 1896.
Leading up to the first incident, Aztec Land & Cattle Company began experiencing financial problems, which prompted Mossman to drive cattle south to Mazatlán, Mexico, where it could be sold. While in Mexico, at a cantina, Burt Mossman quarreled with a Mexican army officer. Insulted, the Mexican challenged him to a duel. Mossman accepted the challenge, and the two men met on the following morning, loaded their weapons with a single bullet, and stepped away from each other fifteen paces. The Mexican officer missed his mark; Mossman did not, striking the man in his shoulder. Mexican authorities promptly arrested Burt and kept him in jail for a month. Eventually, with the help of a friend, Mossman escaped confinement and returned to the United States.
In 1902, Sheriff Mossman turned his attention toward the apprehension of the dastardly murderer Augustine Chacon. Mossman planned to assume the role of an American outlaw, befriend the train robber Burt Alvord (a friend of Chacon’s), and use him to entice Chacon back to the United States. Mossman thought that Alvord would be a willing accomplice if (a) he was promised a light sentence in exchange for helping capture Chacón and (b) he was offered the reward money for the capture of El Peludo.
On 22 April, after traveling for several days, Mossman discovered Alvord’s hideout, a small hut located some distance away from San Jose de Pima in Sonora. As the unarmed Mossman approached the hut, he found Alvord standing alone outside (the rest of the gang were playing cards inside). After Mossman introduced himself, he reassured Alvord that he was in no danger and then made the outlaw a deal he couldn’t refuse. The two men agreed to cooperate. Billy Stiles (Alvord’s partner in crime, who was also known to Chacon as an outlaw) agreed to act as their go-between — necessary because it would take Alvord some time to locate Chacon and convince him to cross over into Arizona.
It took Burt Alvord three months to find Chacon. Chacon agreed to help Alvord in his escapade but first required Burt to help him dispense with some stolen horses. Meanwhile, Alvord sent Stiles to tell Mossman to meet them just south of the border, at the Socorro Mountain Springs, in Sonora.
Although Mossman and Stiles failed to meet Alvord and Chacon in the Socorro Mountains, they found the bandits at Alvord’s wife’s home. After exchanging names, Mossman and the others agreed to a plan to cross the border back into Arizona on the next day — to steal horses from the Greene Ranch. However, it was too dark to steal horses that night, so they returned to their camp. Before daybreak, on 4 September, Alvord decided to leave camp. He gave Mossman a parting word of caution: “I brought Chacon to you. If you aren’t careful, he’ll kill you. So long, Amigo.”
When Chacon awoke later that morning, his suspicions were aroused when he found that Alvord was no longer in camp. After breakfast, Stiles suggested that they steal the horses in daylight, but Chacon was uninterested and said he was going back to Sonora. Mossman knew his time to act was now. Chacon and Stiles were sitting on the ground when Mossman stood up and asked Chacon for a cigarette. As Chacon offered the tobacco, Mossman pulled out his revolver and aimed it at the Mexican outlaw: “Throw up your hands, Chacon, or you’re a dead man.”
The final disposition of Augustine Chacon proved to be anticlimactic. At Benson, Mossman delivered Chacon to Jim Parks, the new sheriff of Graham County, and from there, he was returned to Solomonville. Because he had already been sentenced to hang, Chacon’s appearance in the Solomonville courthouse was a mere formality to set a new date for the execution. The first day chosen was 14 November 1902, but a group of local citizens filed a petition to have Chacon’s sentence reduced to life in prison. That effort failed, and the court decided to hang Chacon on 21 November.
While awaiting execution, Chacon was held in a specially built steel cage kept under heavy guard. The scaffold on which Chacon was to hang had also been created specifically for him in 1897, though he had escaped before it could be used. A large fourteen-foot adobe wall was built around the scaffold so only people with invitations could view the hanging. When execution day came, Chacon had a good breakfast and was permitted to see two of his friends: Señor Jesus Bustos y Sisto Molino. He was also allowed to see a priest several times that day, and after lunch, he was given a shave and a new black suit to wear.
Chacon was delivered to the scaffold at 2:00 p.m., where fifty people waited to greet him and wish him well. The bandit chief, who had for over a decade eluded the law, asked for a cigarette and a cup of coffee before death and then began an unprepared thirty-minute speech to the crowd. Speaking in Spanish with an English interpreter, Chacon maintained his innocence in the death of Salcido (or, for that matter, anyone else), but he did apologize for stealing things.
After a second cigarette and cup of coffee, Chacon requested that he be allowed to live until 3:00 p.m., but his request was denied. While walking up the steps of the scaffold, Chacon shook the hands of his friends and admirers. When the rope was in place and the executioner was ready, Chacon’s final words were, “Adios, todos amigos.” Augustine Chacon was hanged in Arizona on 21 November 1902.
On the day after the execution, the Arizona Bulletin reported: “[A] nervier man than Augustine Chacon never walked to the gallows, and his hanging was a melodramatic spectacle that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.”
There are a number of works with titles approximating “The True Story of Arizona’s Worst Desperado …” and each one of them tells a different story about Augustine Chacón. That Señor Chacón was present and involved in a gunfight with lawmen at the time and place where Pedro Salcido was shot and killed, there can be no doubt. What remains unproven is that Chacón is the individual who killed Salcido. One-hundred twenty years later, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because justice has always taken a backseat to retribution in this country.
 Stiles association with the Arizona Rangers led to his service with the Rangers for a few years. After traveling to the Orient for several years, Stiles returned to the American west and served as a deputy sheriff in Humboldt County, Nevada. In this capacity, he was killed in the line of duty while attempting to serve a court summons.
It seems that Augustine Chacon started out as a decent citizen, but eventually turned to a life of crime. The cause of this transition may be unknown, but greed may have had a hand in it. Tales of his life of crimes, whether all true or not, made for exciting reading. As his end neared, Chacon approached the eternal with the same aplomb that had accompanied him through life.
An excellent bio, my friend. Keep up the good work.
It’s a sad story, IMO. I think a lot of people turned to crime back then — not having many alternatives. Thanks for stopping by, Andy. Be well, Amigo.