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Shoot-out at Canyon Diablo
by Statia Button Dougherty
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   It was the year of 1905. The wild west as it had been known was rapidly changing. Horses were being replaced by cars that drove an average of ten miles per hour, and the United States claimed a whopping one hundred and forty four miles of paved road. People were using telephones, and fourteen percent of all homes had bath tubs. There were forty five stars on the American flag, and the country was becoming modernized. The days of bad guys pinning on a star and hiding their true colors behind the law were over…almost. There was but one more shoot-out yet to be executed in the colorful railroad town called Canyon Diablo.

In the year of 1880, when the Earp clan and the cowboys were cultivating their infamous rivalry in Tombstone Arizona, the Atlantic and Pacific railroad began construction of a bridge over the canyon for a train route from Winslow to California. The temporary town attracted the surliest sort of transients imaginable. Many were on the run and used aliases. Law enforcement was scarce, and town marshals didn't last long. The first marshal survived less than five hours before being murdered, and his successors all met with a similar fate, some lasting a few days, some a few weeks. It was difficult to fill the position with the history and town's reputation, and often weeks passed with no law enforcement at all. Unsuspecting travelers were almost always robbed of their possessions, and murders were an everyday occurrence. The town soon earned the distinction of being "the toughest hell-hole in the west". The main street was named Hell Street, and was home to fourteen saloons, ten gambling dens, four houses of prostitution, two dance pavilions, several mediocre restaurants. A handful of honest businesses to accommodate the population of approximately two thousand people were nestled in between.

When the railroad had completed construction and left town, many of the town's seedy residents followed suit, leaving mostly cowboys and drifters, and of course those few honest proprietors. The town's reputation maintained its bad image. On the night of April 7th, 1905, somewhere around midnight, two cowboys wandered into Winslow's Wigwam Saloon and ordered whiskey at the bar. The cow-punchers, William Smith, AKA William Smythe, AKA William Evans, and John Shaw never did get around to drinking that whiskey. Their attention was captured instead by a game of dice (or poker) in session. On the gambling table lay stacks of silver coins and the two outlaws decided very quickly to claim those coins for their own. Without tasting their whiskey or saying a word, they sauntered over to the table and drew their guns. The bootie is said to have been worth anywhere from $271.00 to $600.00, but whatever it was, it must have been bountiful, as the hasty roughnecks left an obvious trail of coins along their getaway route. Law enforcement was summoned and Navajo County Sheriff, Chet Houck, and Deputy Pete Pemberton, along with Winslow's City Marshal, Bob Giles were quick to respond. Giles found the trail of silver coins along the tracks, and the lawmen figured that the fugitives had jumped a westbound train. They headed west to Canyon Diablo where they interrogated a long time resident and store owner by the name of Fred Volz. They asked Volz if he had seen the outlaws, and Volz told them that he'd seen two suspicious characters hanging around his trading post all day. About that time, the two desperados rounded a building and came face to face with the lawmen. What happened next might be described as a mini reenactment of the shoot-out at the OK Corral. Shaw drew and fired at very close range, and in a matter of a few seconds, twenty one shots had been fired, and one bad guy lay dead. Houck killed Shaw with his final round, sending the bullet through the side of his head. The other three shooters all suffered wounds, though none proved to be serious. Shop owner Volz provided a simple pine box for the burial of the outlaw which was performed before taking Smith to the hospital for treatment to his wounds.

John ShawMeanwhile, comrades and cowboys back in Winslow got wind of the fateful shootout. The drunken men were outraged that poor John Shaw was murdered before being allowed to enjoy the whiskey that he purchased at the Wigwam Saloon. Fifteen angry drunks decided to take their whiskey, board a train to Canyon Diablo, and give John Shaw is due drink. When they arrived they woke up Volz and demanded shovels. The shop-keeper was outraged, but did not dare to take on the drunk and angry crowd. He acquiesced to their demands, and even gave them a Kodak box camera instructing them to take photos for identifying purposes. The cowboys obliged. They disinterred John Shaw from his shallow rocky grave. The look on the dead cowboy seemed to say that he was pleased, and the clean wound left little evidence of what had transpired. In short, the dead man looked very life-like. Two of the men pulled Shaw out of his pine box, and propped the stiff corpse against the picket fence of a nearby grave. They poured whiskey through his tight lips and clenched teeth, and commenced to take a few photos before reburying their buddy. They took off their hats and said a few words in respect of their dead friend. Apparently nobody wanted to drink after the dead man, as they buried the half consumed bottle of whiskey along with Shaw.

Today, not much is left of the town of Canyon Diablo, the town so tough that the dead will rise for a drink. The grave of John Shaw has been lost to history, but his legend remains.

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from Cindy Hayostek
Connections: The Life and Times of B.A. Packard in 1880s Tombstone and on the Arizona-Sonora Borderlands .
Well researched with many images!
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