Murders at the Mowry Mine

In 1860 Sylvester Mowry purchased the Patagonia Mine and renamed it the Mowry Mine. A number of Apache attacks and killings occurred at or near this mine. J. Ross Browne visited there in 1864 and included the description of several of these attacks in his book, Adventures in the Apache Country. He added interest to his account by providing sketches of "the scene of the crime."

Murder on the trail to Mowry
by J. Ross Browne

Mr. Yerkes gave us the only detailed and reliable account we had yet received of the assassination by the Apaches of Mr. J.B. Mills and Mr. Edwin Stevens, which had recently taken place in a canyon about three miles from the hacienda [of the San Antonio Mine], on the trail to the Patagonia or Mowry Mine.

At an early hour on the morning of the 29th of December, while Mr. Yerkes was preparing breakfast in his cabin, Mr. Mills and Mr. Stevens rode up and stopped on their way from Santa Cruz to the Mowry Mine. Mills was in the employ of Sylvester Mowry, Esq., the proprietor of the mine, and was about to turn over the management to Stevens, who had just arrived from Guyamas in company with Mr. Samuel F. Butterworth, President of the Arizona Mining Company. The distance from Santa Cruz to the Patagonia (as it is commonly called by the Mexicans) is about fifteen miles, the hacienda of the San Antonio being a little less than halfway.

Some conversation ensued when they rode up, Yerkes pressing them to stop awhile and take some breakfast before riding any further. They said they were anxious to get on; but finally concluded to take breakfast. Both were in excellent spirits, and full of life and hope. After staying about an hour they mounted their horses and rode off toward the canyon. This was the last Mr. Yerkes ever saw of them alive. A short time after two Mexican boys came running in, breathless and panic-stricken, stating that while on the way to the mine, a little beyond the entrance into the canyon, they saw on the top of the ridge, which they had taken for safety, a large number of fresh Apache tracks, forming a trail into the canyon. They immediately turned back, but had no proceeded far when they saw two Americans on horseback rapidly enter the canyon. Suspecting that an ambush was prepared in advance, they shouted, "Apaches! Los Apaches!" but owing to the distance, or noise of the horses' hoofs, failed to make themselves heard. They then waited awhile till they heard the firing of many guns in rapid succession, by which they knew that the Indians had attacked the two horsemen. Mr. Yerkes and three American employees at his house immediately seized their arms and rode out to the canyon. It was quite silent. The dead bodies of the two young men lay by the roadside, naked and disfigured with wounds. Arrows were scattered around them, and many were found sticking in their bodies. Stevens was doubtless killed at the first fire. He lay close to a little arroya that intersects the trail, and seemed to have fallen directly from his horse at the point of attack. They body of Mills was found thirty yards to the left, on the slope of the canyon, close by a tree behind which he had evidently made a stand and fought for some time. Marks of a desperate struggle were seen all over the ground. Both bodies were entirely stripped, with the exception of a portion of the boots, which the savages in their hurry could not pull off. Stevens's body was lanced in several places, but he had evidently received his death wound from a rifle ball at the first fire. That of Mills was pierced with balls, arrows, and lances, showing seventeen distinct wounds, most of them mortal.

A month had just elapsed, when we visited the spot. Mr. Yerkes accompanied us, and pointed out each scene of the disaster. Abundant signs of the struggle were still visible. We picked up several broken arrows which had been pulled out of the bodies, some of them still bearing the marks of blood.

The place was peculiarly adapted to an ambush of this kind. A thick growth of bunchgrass and oak timbers, with patches of brushwood, covers the sides of the canyon, which are rocky and precipitous. The road winds through the bottom, coming suddenly upon a small arroya about four feet deep, fringed with sacatone, and crosses nearly at right angles. In this arroya, shielded from observation by the banks and grassy tufts, the Apaches lay concealed, so that upon the approach of their victims the muzzles of their guns could not have been more than a few paces from the bodies of the unsuspecting horsemen.

Hacienda of the Mowry Mine, drawing by J. Ross Browne

It is characteristic of life in Arizona that both of these young men were well acquainted with the dangers of the country. Stevens had served on the Overland Mail route, and was universally esteemed as a brave, sagacious, and intelligent man. Mills had lived and traveled in Arizona for several years, and had seen many tragic examples of the cunning and cruelty of these Indians; but like all who have lost their lives in a similar manner, had become accustomed to such scenes. Men of this kind are too apt to rely upon their courage and firearms; when it is a noted fact that in most cases they are murdered without a chance of defense. It was still more characteristic of the country, as showing the recklessness acquired by habit, that scarcely two years had elapsed since Dr. Titus, of the Mowry Mine, lost his life in a similar manner at this very place. He was passing through the canyon with a Delaware Indian, when they were waylaid and fired upon by the Apaches. The Delaware was killed at the first fire. Titus dismounted from his horse, and fought his way on foot about two hundred yards up the canyon. He would doubtless have effected his escape had not one of the Indians crept upon him from the rear and shot him through the hip. Although the wound was not mortal, he was satisfied that he could not get away, surrounded as he was by savages who were shooting their arrows at him from every bush. To avoid the tortures which they usually inflict upon their prisoners he ended his own life by shooting himself in the head. The Apaches afterward, in describing the fight at Fronteras, said they were about to give it up when Titus received the wound in the hip. They knew they had him then. The Chief said he was a brave man, and would not permit his body to be mutilated. When it is considered that the common practice of these wretches is to hang their victims by the heels to a tree and put a slow fire under their heads, few men of generous feelings will be disposed to pronounce judgment upon the manner in which Dr. Titus ended his life. Under all circumstances, I believe it is best that we should live as long as we can, for while there is life there is hope; but no man really knows what he would do in such a case as this.

Grave on the Santa Cruz Road, drawing by J. Ross Browne, 1864I visited the burial place of these young men at the Mowry Mines. On the rise of a hill, overlooking the valley of the Hacienda, surrounded by mountains clothed with the verdure of oak groves, with an almost perpetual summer sky overhead, far isolated from the busy haunts of the civilized world, lie the remains of seventeen white men. Fifteen of the number are the victims of violence. Only two of them died from ordinary causes. Three graves, close in a row, prominently mark the ground -- one the grave of Dr. Titus; the last two, covered with freshly-spaded earth, with a board at the head of each, bearing respectively the simple inscriptions:

J.B. Mills, Jr, December 29th, 1863

E.C. Stevens, December 29th, 1863

This account is an excerpt from Ross Browne's Adventures in the Apache Country which is available as a free e-book. Download it Illustrated or Not Illustrated. Check the Free E-books page for a list of other books on early Arizona history in e-book form.

Note:
If you visit the ghost town of Mowry, use extreme caution in the mining district since the ground is often filled with hidden pits, shafts, rusty nails and broken glass. Do not trespass, and NEVER enter a tunnel in a mining district.