Robbing the U. S. Army:
Facts and Folklore Behind the Wham Paymaster Robbery

Larry T. Upton

Presentation to the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson, Arizona
As part of the 1999 Fall Lecture Series entitled
"Murder and Mayhem in the Wild, Wild West"
October 20, 1999

I am going to tell you a story about one of the least known, least written about, yet most unbelievable crimes in Arizona territorial history. It is the proverbial skeleton in the closet. The accuseds were charged only with armed robbery, yet eight men, all U. S. soldiers, suffered gunshot wounds of varying severity. Shortly after midday on Saturday, May 11, 1889, a band of robbers ambushed U. S. Army Paymaster Major Joseph W. Wham and his military escort along the Fort Grant - Fort Thomas Road about 15 miles west of Pima in the Gila River Valley. Following a hard-fought gun battle, the bandits made off with more than $28,000 in gold and silver coins. The daring robbery and the subsequent manhunt and trial of suspects in the heist created a sensation throughout the Southwest. Questions of guilt and innocence, and of what happened to the money, still linger more than a century later.(1)

Within days of the robbery, U. S. Marshal William Kidder Meade, with the assistance of soldiers and the Graham County Sheriff, had 11 men under arrest, most of whom were residents of the nearby village of Pima. After a hearing, seven of the prisoners were bound over for trial at the fall session of United States District Court for the First Judicial District Court, in Tucson. The defendants included Gilbert Webb and his son, Wilfred, Lyman and Warren Follett (brothers), David Rogers, Thomas Lamb, and Mark Cunningham.

If this event had happened in Tombstone it would be an old story, told and retold in numerous books, memoirs, and movies. But it did not happen in Tombstone! It happened in the most unlikely of places, Pima, Arizona, a community established by the Mormons in 1879 under the authorization of stake President Jesse N. Smith of Snowflake, who admonished his brethren " comply strictly with the law in their claims, to be honest in their dealings with the outside brethren...."(2) To compare Tombstone and Pima in 1879 is akin to comparing Sodom and Gomorrah and the Garden of Eden. Tombstone was a boomtown fueled by silver mining and defined by gambling, gunplay, loose women, and whiskey. The Sabbath was merely a day to sleep off a hangover. Pima, on the other hand, viewed itself as the Jewel of the Gila Valley, a place where treasures are laid up in Heaven, and Sundays are dedicated to the Lord. For such a community to be forever branded as the home of the Wham robbers must be the definition of irony! Is it any wonder that the town preferred to keep this skeleton in the closet?

The Mormons, persecuted from their beginnings in 1830, wanted to live down the negative reputation being promulgated by the national and territorial press. They wanted to be good neighbors. After several years in Graham County, the Valley Bulletin, published in Solomonville, had this to say about the local Mormons: "The Mormons, who have occupied a large portion of Graham County, are a thriving, industrious, law-abiding race, thoroughly alive to the education of their children...and they have brought with them from their former homes, good habits..."(3) Accusations of armed robbery against a number of their citizens did not fit well with the reputation that they had established nor with the image that they had of themselves as a pious people dedicated to serving the Lord.

There is no doubt the town's reputation suffered following the robbery. A sense of the public feeling against Pima is evidenced from a letter from Moses Cluff to the editor of the Valley Bulletin on October 17, 1890, over a year after the robbery. Cluff was writing to complain about a resolution adopted by the Republican Party at its convention in August 1890 wherein Mormons were described as Un-American, disloyal and should be excluded from elections. Cluff said, "...It is true that I live in Pima, which has as bad a name as the city of Nazareth had in the days of Christ, and it is now political dog days. Everything and everybody looks alike among the Mormons, and are branded the same by the Republican Party...they say no good thing can come out of Pima. No doubt the Citizen (Arizona Daily Citizen) will now say the U. S. Government was robbed of thousands of dollars not many miles from Pima, and that the robbers were tracked to this place. I will here state what I said, as well as others living in Pima. When we first heard of the robbery, we hoped the U. S. Officers would capture the whole band, and if there was any among them professing to be Mormons and citizens of the United States that they would be hung for treason....The Mormon Brotherhood of Arizona is not responsible for the acts of cowboys and robbers, only so far as they hold them in fellowship, when it is shown that they are men of that class."(4)

Unlike Tombstone where people were constantly coming and going, the people in Pima were there to stay. Perhaps speaking out to defend their good name served only to keep people remembering. Perhaps silence was the best antidote for a poisoned reputation. There was no conspiracy to keep silent by the Church. Church leaders went public on several occasions to show their support for the law. They also pointed out that only one of the seven accused men was a Mormon. To my surprise I discovered that that was true. Only W. T. Webb was on the Church's rolls. However, only Mark Cunningham was truly outside the Mormon influence. The others were part of the Mormon colony, but for whatever reason were not listed as Church members. It was not long, however, that people were discouraged from speaking publicly about the robbery. First, it was embarrassing to the town. Second, people were concerned about offending family and friends as the town was completely bound together by religion and family relationships. Nobody could talk about the robbery without offending someone. For example, W. T. Webb was married to Sarah Burns, a sister to Peter McBride'' wife. Peter McBride was the uncle of Tom Lamb's wife. Hite Crockett, a witness for the prosecution, was a brother to the wife of Robert Ferrin, a witness for the defense, who was a brother to the wife of Tom Lamb. It goes on and on. I think you get the picture. Eventually, discussion of the robbery was confined to whispered gossip in town and to cowboys around campfires on the range. Outside curiosity died quickly. While two of Wham's escort, Sgt. Benjamin Brown and Cpl. Isaiah Mays, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery during the gunfight, they represented the unpopular federal government and they were black men. Not good in the Arizona of 1889. In essence, there were no heroes; there was no Wyatt Earp. So the story died.

Ironically, Otto Marshall, a son of Louella and Sheriff Marshall, was really the person who dragged the Wham skeleton from Pima's closet with the publication of his book in 1967. He wrote it to fulfill a promise to his mother that he would someday exonerate his family from the taint of the robbery. Next, the Pima Chamber of Commerce, using Marshall's book as its basis, put on a reenactment of the Wham robbery at the place it actually occurred. I'm sure the Chamber hoped to capitalize on the most infamous event in the town's history but feelings still ran high among many old-timers and the project collapsed after two years.

I did not learn about the Wham robbery until 1974 when I was living in Clifton, Arizona. One day I was in Riley's Drug Store waiting for a prescription so I whiled away the time at the magazine rack. I picked up the June 1974 issue of "Great Robberies of the Old West."(5) My interest perked up when I noticed a reference to Pima. Then I noticed a reference to Tom Lamb, including his picture, whom I knew was my wife's great-grandfather. I bought the magazine and could hardly wait to get home, read it carefully, and ask my wife about it. She was as amazed as I was as she had never heard anything about the Wham robbery. I suggested she call her mother, who lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, and ask her about it. Her mother knew nothing about it. So we decided that the coming weekend we would make a trip to Pima to visit my wife's grandmother, Velva Long, who was Tom Lamb's daughter. And that is when the story became really interesting.

Velva Long, whom I always called, "Granny," took one look at my magazine, threw it across the room like a strong-armed quarterback, and said, "Get that damn pack of lies out of my house!" I was stunned. She would not talk about the story. Somehow, in my naiveté, I thought Granny would get a kick out of a magazine story that painted her father as an outlaw. However, one family member did, Grandpa. Earl Long was the son-in-law and a non-Mormon. Later, out of the line of fire of Granny, he delighted in giving me his version of the story. This incident was the catalyst that stirred my curiosity. I knew that I had discovered a skeleton in Granny's closet, and I was determined to smoke it out in spite of her.

The first person I went to see was the late Ryder Ridgway. He was the "mother-lode" of Graham County history. Sure enough he provided me with the outlines of the story and some leads for interviews. Interestingly, Ridgway interviewed Ed Follett, one of the accused who was released for lack of evidence, when Ryder was in his twenties and Follett was an elderly man. Ridgway's intent was to ask him for the true story of the Wham robbery. He found Follett, a heavy-set man in bib-overalls, in his front yard at his home in Pima. Follett was a typical ole-time cowboy, gruff in speech and manner. Ridgway did not immediately ask about the robbery, but stuck to typical themes of early day Pima and Arizona history. When he finally brought up the Wham robbery, Follett hesitated, looked him directly in the eye and said, "Young man, do you think you are going to make some money off me?" Follett's directness completely unnerved Ridgway and he backed away from the topic and never returned to it. He told me that Follett totally intimidated him. He said he regretted that he never had the nerve to try again to get the story.(6) And there went our best last chance for a firsthand account of the robbery.

Ridgway had gathered a lot of information over the years about the robbery; however, he was reluctant to write about it because he knew that many local people were still very sensitive about the story. What I discovered during my interviews was that even though people recognized that the event was ancient history and that all the alleged participants had passed on long ago, there was still an underlying concern about offending family and friends. One of the most interesting interviews was with Milton Rogers, son of Dave Rogers. Milt lived in Globe so I tried to interview him by phone. He was not comfortable talking about it over the phone but promised he would tell me all he knew if I would come to his home. I went in with my tape recorder and note pad and asked him if I could record our conversation. "Sure," he told me. It was a great interview; the only problem was that every time I asked a direct question relating to the robbery, he would motion for me to turn off the recorder. After I did so he would provide a full answer. When I returned home my tape recording had nothing on it but a lot of meaningless conversation and not one word about the robbery. I encountered this problem in several interviews. I could make notes, but I think they did not want a record of their voices making statements about the robbery. I guess they figured they could always deny my notes if anyone criticized them for what i wrote.

It wasn't until 1983 that I finally interviewed Velva Long. I guess she decided that since I had been working on the story since 1974 that I was probably going to stay with it, so she agreed to tell me what she know of the Wham story. Actually, I interviewed Velva and her older sister, Elda Johnson, on the same days. Velva and Elda were born after the robbery so all of their information had been obtained from family, friends, and town gossip. Their father, Tom Lamb, the best source of information, consistently refused to discuss the case, at least with family members. Velva and Elda described their parents as quiet people who did not engage in idle chatter. If you wanted information from them you had to ask the right questions because nothing was volunteered.

As a young lady Velva asked Melissa Johnson Foster, one of the defense witnesses in the case, to tell her the story. Melissa refused, saying that too many people had already been hurt by it. Velva then asked, "Well, will you at least tell me if my father was involved in it?" Melissa replied, "No, Tom Lamb was not one of the robber." Velva's belief that her father was innocent of the crime was very strong, as you might expect. I asked her if her father was the type of man who might have become involved in such an event given the right set of circumstances. Her answer was an emphatic, "No, of course not!" Then she added, "At any rate, we never enjoyed any of the money. My family was as poor as church mice."(7)

If Velva never heard anything from her parents, at least Elda did from their mother. She told her the story of how the robbers implicated Tom Lamb and Wall Follett because their innocence could be proved by witnesses and therefore would help get them all off. Also, that one of the Folletts had badgered Lamb to sell him his old government rifle, which he supposedly did, and it was used in the robber. He had worked as a cowboy with the robbers (Elda's characterization) from time to time and was a friend to all of them. Elda also said that Wilfred T. Webb got his ear lobe shot off during the robbery although I could never substantiate this statement.(8)

Here is the story as I have pieced it together from the historical record and fleshed out with many of the local stories that have been told and retold in Pima over the past century. It really begins with Gilbert Webb, the most enterprising man in the village of Pima. Gilbert's father, Chauncey, was a pioneer Latter-Day Saint who had joined the church in Kirtland, Ohio in the 1830's. Some of the Webbs were among the earliest migrants to Salt Lake in 1847. At 52 years of age in 1889, Gilbert was still a rugged, powerful man. With his thick, gray-streaked black beard, receding hairline, and authoritative manner, he looked every bit the nineteenth-century Mormon patriarch. He provided jobs for many of his struggling neighbors through his freight, stagecoach, mercantile, and cattle operations. He went out of his way to help people and was generous in extending credit to his neighbors. If a family's cow died, it would not be unusual for Webb to show up with a replacement. If a family was down and out, he might provision them out of his store, telling them to "pay me back when you get on your feet." To many Mormons, Webb was a latter-day Robin Hood, and that is what many old-timers called him. One old-timer said, "If not for Gilbert Webb the colony of Pima would have been starved out." At the time of the robbery, he was mayor of Pima and a leading Graham County Democrat.

Gentile neighbors took issue with this generous assessment of Gilbert Webb and his sons. In 1879, Gilbert had fled Utah to avoid indictment for grand larceny. Now, 10 years later, some people complained that their property began to disappear wherever the Webbs resided. The Silver City Enterprise recalled that this much-traveled family of Saints had earned a reputation as "hold-ups" while working on New Mexico railroads. Major Wham himself later charged that Gilbert Webb had served as one of Brigham Young's Avenging Angels. In the spring of 1889, his son Wilfred was facing an indictment for stealing cattle from the Leitch ranch. Even some of Gilbert Webb's friends around Pima suspected that anything he did for others was done cunningly and with the idea that every favor was to be paid back someday with interest.(9)

Some local families say that Gilbert Webb was also a hard-driving, ambitious man who was overextended and desperately needed cash. He was feeling pressure from his creditors, and his finances were stretched to the limit. Webb had recently won government contracts to deliver 300,000 pounds of straw at San Carlos and 50,000 pounds of barley at Fort Thomas. He expected to gross $3,280 in gold, but he lacked the working capital to carry out the jobs. According to some sources, Webb's financial crisis was the impetus for one of the most daring crimes in Arizona history---the robbery of a U. S. Army paymaster.(10)

Gilbert Webb's gang, according to common knowledge around Pima, contained as many as a dozen persons. Prominent among the alleged participants was three of Webb's sons---Wilfred T., Leslie, and Milo. Others implicated in the heist included brothers Warren (Wall), Joseph Edward (Ed), and Lyman (Lyme) Follett; Marcus E. Cunningham, a friend of the Webbs and Folletts; at least two of Gilbert Webb's cowboys, Thomas Lamb and David Rogers; and Joe Foster, Jr., who was engaged to one of the Follett sisters. Siebert H. (Bud) Henderson, a frontier tough who had fled a shooting scrape in Lincoln County, New Mexico, was a suspect, as was a Mormon friend of Gilbert Webb's with the unlikely name of Sheriff Marshall. Like Gilbert Webb, Marshall was wanted in Utah for some previous criminal activity. Andy Carlson, only 13 at the time, later bragged to a friend that he held the horses at the robbery. Cunningham, and possibly Henderson, were the only real gentiles in the gang. With the exception of Gilbert Webb at 52 and Wall Follett at 41 years of age, these were young men, ranging in age from the teens to the late 20's.(11)

Milton Rogers, who admitted that his father, Dave, had helped plan the holdup, insisted that the elder Rogers later had second thought. On the appointed day, the three Follett brothers came by to get Dave, who, with Siebert Henderson, was cleaning an irrigation ditch. "You boys go on," Dave exclaimed, "I've decided to stay out of it; but I'll keep my mouth shut." One of the Folletts pulled his six-shooter and told Dave to get saddled. It was too late to back out.(12)

Some of the robbers were in the Cedar Springs country as early as Wednesday, May 8, building fortifications along the top of a defile through which the military road passed. The defile was formed by a perpendicular wall of rock rising 60 feet above the roadbed on the east and a somewhat lower ledge west of the road. Just beyond the lower ledge, the ground sloped rather steeply down to the dry creek bed of Cottonwood Creek. Brush piled around the rock breastworks hid them from view of anyone passing on the road. The location was just three miles north of Wiley Holladay's house on Underwood Wash. Although the road carried little traffic, the men were careful to stay out of sight of passersby. Nevertheless, Sgt. Charles Roper, who was working on the military telegraph line, claimed to have seen Gilbert Webb and two other men from a distance. They immediately ducked out of sight.(13)

The robber's camp was hidden in a deep draw a ½ mile due east of the rocky defile. A final breastwork commanded the ridge overlooking the hideout. This would be used as a retreat position if the fight went against the gang. The elaborate defensive positions, however, may have been intended only as ruses to alarm the paymaster's escort. To make them appear more formidable, Webb and his gang fashioned yucca stalks to look like rifle barrels and stuck them over the breastworks. Contemptuous of the black soldier's fighting abilities, the desperadoes apparently intended to quickly disarm them and send them walking back to Cedar Springs.

At daybreak on Saturday, May 11, the cowboys breakfasted on sardines and deviled ham before breaking camp in the hidden draw. They knew Wham's approximate time of arrival because one of the men, allegedly Tom Lamb, a young rancher who lived near Pima, had spend Thursday evening at Fort Grant, where he inquired about the paymaster's schedule. The robbers were so confident about their preparations that none of them wore masks. Finally, if you believe Andy Carlson's youthful braggadocio, the cowboys helped him tie rags around the mouths of the horses to stifle any noise as the Wham party approached. Carlson stayed with the animals. Back at the main breastwork, which rested against a lone cedar tree, the men rolled a large boulder onto the road, blocking the narrowest part of the defile.(14) Then they waited.

Earlier that Saturday morning at about 7:00 a.m., Major Wham and his entourage climbed into two conveyances for the 46 mile trip to Fort Thomas. The day before he had paid the soldiers at Fort Grant. Now he was on his way to pay the men at Fort Thomas, Camp San Carlos, and Fort Apache. Wham, William Gibbon, his clerk, and Pvt. Caldwell, his servant and mule tender, rode in a dougherty, a canopied ambulance, driven by Pvt. Hamilton Lewis, 24th Infantry. The payroll, exactly $28,345.10, in gold and silver coins weighing about 250 pounds, was locked in an oak strongbox and stowed in the ambulance. The remainder of the escort, consisting of Sgt. Benjamin Brown, Cpl. Isaiah Mays, and Pvts. George Arrington, Benjamin Burge, Julius Harrison, Squire Williams, James Young, George H. Short, and Oscar Fox of the 24th Infantry, and Pvts. Thornton Hams and James Wheeler of the 10th Cavalry, occupied an open wagon driven by Charles Mermairt, a civilian employee of the Quartermaster Dept. Six mules drew each vehicle. James LaRoy Saline, a civilian teamster, and a Mormon from Pima, was originally scheduled to drive the escort wagon. For reasons that have never been explained, Mermairt replaced him at the last minute. Sgt. Brown and Cpl. Mays were armed with .38 caliber revolvers, while the two cavalrymen held carbines and the seven infantrymen carried single-shot Springfield rifles. Wham, Gibbon, and the two drivers were unarmed.(15)

As the wagons rolled out, Frankie Campbell, a black female gambler mounted on a big bay horse, joined them. Wearing a bright yellow, tight-waisted blouse, a billowing wine-colored skirt, and a large floppy straw hat decorated with a red paper rose and red velvet streamers, she was headed to Ft. Thomas so she could be on hand when the soldiers got paid.

By the time the wagons rumbled through Bonita, a saloon-filled settlement near Ft. Grant's southern boundary, Frankie Campbell's big bay horse had outdistanced the soldiers, and she disappeared from view. The wagons next passed by Eureka

Springs, headquarters of the Leitch Cattle Company, and then began the climb through Eagle Pass to Cedar Springs, 25 miles from Ft. Grant. Knowing the ascent would strain the mules, Major Wham had arranged for relay teams to be sent to the springs the day before.

Cedar Springs, headquarters for Barney Norton's NN ranch, is located high on the base of Mt. Graham at the south entrance to Eagle Pass, which connects the Sulfur Springs Valley to the Gila Valley to the north. The adobe ranch house, vacant that quiet morning, stood in a clearing on the west side of the road, surrounded by mesquite bushes, scrub oaks, and stunted cedars. The corrals, holding Major Wham's relay teams, were opposite the house, on the other side of the road; the springs trickled from the ground just a few rods north of the ranch building. At almost exactly noon, Wham's party broke the silence as the wagons rolled to a stop in the clearing. Within 20 minutes, the soldiers changed teams, ate their lunch, and moved out. During the stop, Sgt. Benjamin Brown climbed out of the escort wagon and took a seat alongside Wham's driver.

Three miles from the springs, at about 12:45 p.m., Wham's party passed by Wiley Holladay's adobe house, amidst a stand of tall cottonwood trees, on the north bank of Underwood Wash. Holladay, a young Mormon polygamist, had resided there with his wives, Harriet and her younger sister, Eliza, and their families since he obtained the stage and mail contract between Fort Grant and Fort Thomas a year earlier. Wiley's brother-in-law-, 13 year old John Daniel Colvin, also lived with the Holladays while he cowboyed for neighbor Barney Norton.(16)

At this point, Frankie Campbell rejoined the soldiers. She had stopped at Holladays to rest until the paymaster caught up with her; and Harriet Holladay, who was home alone with the children, invited Frankie to join them for lunch.

Apparently Wiley Holladay was deliberately away from home that Saturday. The previous day he had been doing assessment work on a nearby mining claim when Wilfred T. Webb, the 25 year old son of Gilbert, rode up. Wilfred told him in no uncertain terms, "Wiley, I want you to go down in the valley and do some work on the farm; just don't be here tomorrow." Wiley later surmised that Webb wanted him out of the vicinity on May 11 so that he would have an alibi. Frankie Campbell also suspected something was in the wind. On one of her rest stops a Mexican laborer cautioned her not to go through to Fort Thomas or she might be killed.(17)

The toughest part of the journey was over; there were only 18 miles to go, and Wham expected to be in Ft. Thomas by mid-afternoon.

A few minutes before 1:00 p.m., Frankie Campbell, who had again outdistanced Wham's wagons, rode over the crest of a hill and slowly guided her horse down the steep, winding road toward the rocky ledges of the ambush site. Then Major Wham's ambulance came easing down the sloping hill. The escort wagon was running about 50 yards behind the ambulance. As it reached the crest of the hill, driver Charlie Mermairt stopped and asked the soldiers to get out of the wagon and walk. The lighter load allowed his to better manage the handbrake as the wagon descended the steep incline. Cpl. Mays took a position behind the wagon to help steady it, while the other men of the escort preceded the wagon down the hill.(18)

In the meantime, Frankie Campbell had stopped between two rocky ledges bordering the road and was maneuvering her horse around a large boulder in the middle of the road when Pvt. Lewis brought Major Wham's ambulance to a sudden stop because of the boulder. Major Wham, who could not see ahead from inside the coach, asked, "What is the matter, driver?" From his position on the front seat, Sergeant Brown called out, "There's a rock in the road, sir." Then, Brown climbed down from the box to examine the situation. Wham asked the driver if he could negotiate the mules and ambulance around the obstacle. Failing that, Sgt. Brown called for his soldiers to remove the rock from the road. Not anticipating trouble, the men lay their guns down along the roadside and moved forward to dislodge the boulder. Pvt. Harrison stooped down to inspect the rock and noticed that it was blocked in place. Suddenly, he cried out, "Boys, that rock was rolled here by human hands!" The men looked up the rocky slope to the east, trying to spy the path of the large stone. Their eyes quickly focused on the lone cedar tree growing out of the top of the ledge about 60 feet directly above them. Suddenly, two men, whom they later identified as Wilfred T. Webb and Mark E. Cunningham, rose up from a stone breastwork built around the cedar tree. Cunningham was holding a Winchester rifle and standing to the left of the tree. Webb, wearing a buckskin coat with fancy trimming on the sleeves, brandished two six-shooters in his hands, yelled, "Get out, you black sons of bitches!" and fired both his weapons at the men below. A tight volley of rifle fire followed from several positions to the right and left of the tree. The lead mule drawing the ambulance and two mules in the front of the escort wagon dropped dead, while the roar of guns panicked the remaining animals. Trapped behind the boulder, the frenzied mules pulled both vehicles off the west side of the road, entangling their harness as they reared and pawed the air, trying to climb the hill.

Surprised and confused, the members of the Wham party scrambled for cover, as the gunfire became continuous. Charlie Mermairt, the civilian driver of the escort wagon, abandoned his vehicle at the first shot and fled the scene. Pvt. Lewis, the ambulance driver, was not so lucky. The initial volley knocked him from the box with a bullet in his side. Although bleeding, he got up and ran around the rocky ledge west of the road, down a dry ravine, and wandered off in the direction of Norton's ranch. A mere 170 feet from the bandits' main fort, the rocky ledge provided the soldiers their only immediate protection. As the fight continued, most of the soldiers eventually made their way to this shelter.

Frankie Campbell was just a few yards beyond the roadblock at the first roar of the guns. Her horse became unmanageable, bucking and rearing until she fell off. With reins dangling, the spooked animal bolted back past the boulder, through the melee, and headed toward Cedar Springs. The bandits shouted Frankie's name as they took a few shots at her. She spotted Gilbert Webb and Thomas Lamb on top of the ridge east of the road. She knew Webb from seeing him around Fort Thomas; just the day before she had seen Lamb, the cowboy, at Fort Grant. Then, with their attention turned back toward the soldiers, Frankie crawled under a bush in the rocks about 50 feet from the coach and watched the fight from start to finish.

Considering the murderous situation in which the two sides were engaged, the conduct of the robbers was brazen in that they wore no masks; and bizarre in that they fought with such enthusiasm, yelling and shouting as if they were on a hunting trip. They appeared unconscious of danger and jumped and scampered from position to position in plain view of the troopers. They impressed some of the soldiers that they were young cowboys out on a lark.(19)

Although the soldiers distinguished themselves with their stiff defense of the payroll, two of them stood out for special commendation. Sgt. Benjamin Brown, although dropped with a slug in his side early in the fight, continued to fire his revolver from an exposed position in the middle of the road until he was out of ammunition. Borrowing a rifle he continued to fire. Finally, Brown was disabled when a slug tore through his left forearm. As he lay in the open, two more bullets ripped through his clothing. At this point, according to a story told years later by a fellow soldier, Pvt. Young came back up the hill and carried Brown about 100 yards to the creek bed. Although a bullet supposedly smashed Young's belt buckle, tearing away three cartridges, he escaped unhurt. With Brown out of action, Cpl. Mays took command of the escort and maintained the defense of the gold until most of his men were out of action with wounds.

By this time, at least 30 minutes has passed since the opening salvo of the battle for the paymaster's money. The smell of sulfur permeated the air and a haze of gunsmoke covered the field. The gunfight had gradually become uneven as one soldier after another was knocked out of action. The robber's gunfire now converged from three sides as they gradually tightened the noose around the rocky ledge. Finally, over Wham's protests, Cpl. Mays ordered a retreat beyond the creek bed about 300 yards away. Although Wham was ballyhooed after the robbery as a coward for losing his money, the record shows that he did not panic, and he made a valiant effort to defend his payroll. When all was over Wham's eight of the men in Wham's 11 man escort were wounded. Besides Pvt. Lewis's gunshot in the side and Sgt. Brown's shots in the abdomen and arm, Pvt. Williams took a bullet in the leg, Arrington was shot in the shoulder, Wheeler in the arm, Burge had leg and arm wounds, Hams was shot in the arm, and Harrison was shot through the ear. It was a very bloody affair. Frankly, after being on the actual scene, it seems remarkable that no one was killed. Local folklore was that the robbers thought the black troops would panic and run. The fight became bitter only after the soldiers put up unexpected and determined resistance.

After the soldiers retreat to the creek bed, the robbers moved out of hiding to retrieve the strongbox. One story has it that Wilfred Webb yelled out in his distinctive, rapid-fire, tat-a-tat cadence to Lyme Follett on the west side of the road, ordering him to get the loot. "Not yet," said Follett, "they can still hit me." "Damn you, Lyme," Webb barked, "go get that strongbox, because I can damn sure hit you from here!" From Frankie Campbell's close-up vantage point, she reported that the robbers "very near quit shooting and their heads was up [above the stone forts] looking at the money..." She saw five men gathered around the strongbox. One outlaw called "Bill" asked "Tom" for an axe to open break open the oak box. She saw the men place the U. S. Treasury sacks of money into a "bigger sack or apron or tick or something." She was surprised at the nonchalant conduct of the bandits, who "didn't act excited a bit."(20) As the robbers departed Frankie heard them "laughing about what an easy 'go' they had in holding up the Paymaster." Some of them walked eastward to the hidden draw to get their horses while a few other kept the soldiers pinned down with continuing rifle fire. The robbers left in two groups, one about 15 minutes before the second headed toward Fort Thomas while the remainder went toward Norton's ranch and Mt. Graham. The leisurely departure enabled Sgt. Brown and Pvt. Young to count 12 outlaws. It was about 2:30 p.m. Finally, about 3:00 p.m. Wham and the able-bodied members of his escort wearily climbed to the road and surveyed the broken strongbox.

Meanwhile, back at the Wiley Holladay house, Harriet Holladay had listened to the sounds of the battle. When Frankie Campbell's riderless appeared on the road, she harnessed up a buckboard and rode toward the trouble. She pulled up just as Wham's men reached the Major's ambulance. Harriet and Frankie administered first aid to the bloody soldiers. Harriet later marveled at the bravery of Sgt. Brown, who "had a bullet hole clean through his middle but he acted as if it didn't bother him at all." She also recalled that Major Wham seemed somewhat mystified at the course of events. He remarked, "I thought that these cowboys were just out to have some fun by rolling the rock in the road."(21)

Also about this time, teamster Lewis had run into a group of cowboys led by Barney Norton about 2 ½ miles from the scene of the ambush. They, too, rode toward the sound of the gunfire, but arrived too late to help. Norton had heard the sounds of battle but thought it was just cowboys celebrating the roundup.

A survey of the ambush site testified to the intensity of the battle. Three mules, still in their traces, were dead; the others stampeded, and the harness cut into pieces. Along with the shattered strongbox, Wham's valise had been cut open. The valise containing the payroll vouchers was gone. In the main fort by the cedar tree Wham found over 200 expended cartridges, the metallic type used in breech-loading rifles. Finally, the men rounded up four mules, spliced some harness together, and made their way to Fort Thomas about 5:30 p.m. Sgt. Brown was left in the field with Frankie Campbell and brought in later.


1 Larry T. Upton and Larry D. Ball, "Who Robbed Major Wham? Facts and Folklore Behind Arizona's Great Paymaster Robbery," Journal of Arizona History 38 (Summer 1997): 99.


2 LaRoy DeVar Saline, "Historical Survey of the St. Joseph Stake Academy, Pioneering Antecedent of Gila Junior College of Graham County" (Unpublished Thesis, Arizona State College at Tempe, Arizona, 1947), p. 23.


3 Otto Miller Marshall, "The Wham Paymaster Robbery: Boldest in Arizona History" (Pima: Pima Chamber of Commerce, 1967), p. 18.


4 Moses Cluff, The Valley Bulletin, 17 October 1890, Letters to the editor.


5 Donald M. Bentz, "The Wham Robbery," Great Robberies of the Old West (June 1974): 14-17, 51-53.


6 W. R. Ridgway, interview with Larry T. Upton, Thatcher, Arizona, January 7, 1984.


7 Velva Lamb Long, interview with Larry T. Upton, Pima, Arizona , July 9, 1983.


8 Elda Lamb Johnson, interivew with Larry T. Upton, Pima, Arizona, July 9, 1983.


9 Otto Miller Marshall, "The Wham Paymaster Robbery: Boldest in Arizona History" (Pima: Pima Chamber of Commerce, 1967), p. 21; W. R. Ridgway, interview with Upton, Safford, Arizona, January 7, 1984; Silver City Enterprise (New Mexico), November 29, 1889.


10 Howard Webb, interview with Upton, Safford, January 14, 1984; Valley Bulletin, July 5, 1889. As a result of Webb's arrest, the contract eventually was awarded to I. E. Solomon. In 1899, Solomon was one of the organizers of the Valley National Bank of Arizona, now Bank One Arizona.


11 Ridgway, interview; Webb, interview; Dudley Welker, interview with Upton, Safford, July 9, 1983. For Siebert Henderson, see Arizona Silver Belt, May 25, July 13, 1889. The case of Sheriff Marshall generated quite a bit of correspondence. See especially W. K. Meade to W. H. H. Miller, December 23, 1889, Letters Received, Arizona, Year File 1889-4265, Records of the Department of Justice, RG 60, NA.


12 Rogers interview.


13 Valley Bulletin, November 29, 1889.


14 Arizona Daily Star, November 20, 1889; Webb, interview; Welker, interview.


15 LaRoy LaVar Saline, interview by Melanie Farnsworth, Snowflake, June 6, 1984; Robert H. Hall to Assistant Adjutant General, Department of Arizona, May 18, 1889, Letters Received by the Adjutant General's Office, 1881-1889, Main Series, Microcopy 689, Roll 684, 2556-2702, Records of the Adjutant General's Office (RAGO), Record Group (RG) 94, National Archives (NA).


16 Holladay, "Holladay Family," pp.5-6; D. W. "Doc" Colvin, interview with Upton, Eden, January 15, 1984.


17 Holladay, "Holladay Family," p. 7. Campbell testimony, Arizona Daily Citizen, November 19, 1889.


18 The little knob of a hill just to the west of where the old military road crested, before going down the long slope tothe rocky defile above Cottonwood Creek, has been called "Wham's Hill" by locals ever since the robbery. Modern mapmakers, misunderstanding the pronunciation of Wham's name, have labeled it "Juan's Hill.:


19 Wham testimony, U. S. v Cunningham, vol. 1, pp.110-217.


20 Frankie Campbell testimony, U. S. v Cunningham, vol. 2,pp. 196-262.


21 Holladay, "Holladay Family," p. 8.