October 8, 2017

May 9, 1911: Two Capital Murders in One Afternoon

As the 20th century dawned, Prescott was much more of a "law and order" town than her early years. However, May 9th, 1911 would see two unrelated, shocking, cold-blooded murders on the same afternoon!

Both suspects would face the gallows as the newborn State of Arizona grappled with the question of the death penalty.

The Murder of Louis D Yeager:
It was the late afternoon of that fateful day. "LD Yeager, one of the largest wool growers in northern Arizona and widely known throughout the west, was shot and instantly killed...at Bowle's watering place on the Aqua Fria a half mile south of Humboldt by Alexander Deyardo, a Mexican sheepherder." (Although the newspaper first reported the murderer's name as "Alexander Deyardo," it was later learned that his name was actually "Alejandro Gallegos.") (*1)

"The murder of Mr. Yeager was most cold-blooded and unprovoked," the paper complained. He arrived at "Bowie's watering place where he found one band of his sheep mixed with a band belonging to CC Hutchinson." LD noticed Gallegos, "one of the herders of the Hutchinson flock intoxicated and armed with a rifle." (*1)

"(Yeager) took the rifle from Gallegos and unloaded it. Later he returned it to (him) and started with others to separate the mixed flocks." Gallegos objected to helping, however. (*1)

A short time afterward, Gallegos "reloaded the gun with cartridges he had in his pocket and shot and killed Mr. Yeager." (*2)

The foreman of the Hutchinson interests was present and a witness to the murder. Gallegos fled immediately.  (*1)

True tale of how a former Prescott marshall saved a gold shipment with a clever ruse in 1894.

Soon "almost every man owning a rifle started in pursuit of the murderer." It didn't take long to catch-ip with him. Ninty minutes later he was captured in the vicinity of the bridge over the Aqua Fria river at Dewey. (*1)

As he was being taken to jail Gallegos said: "I don't know why I killed Mr. Yeager, he was my best friend." (*1)

That night the residents of Dewey surrounded the jail--not to see Gallegos hanged immediately, but rather as a guard letting the prisoner know that if he were to try to escape, "he would be summarily dealt with." (*1)

Yeager "was one of the most popular men in the entire West enjoying the highest standing in business and social circles. He was 34 years old and had a wife and three daughters "of tender age." (*1)

Justice was swift for Gallegos. Perhaps hoping to spare his neck, he pleaded guilty to first degree murder. Still, the jury wanted to hear the evidence and after doing so, sentenced him to hang. (*1)

This was not the first time Gallegos' temper got the best of him. Once he chased Louis Yeager's father, Henry C, into his house when Gallegos attempted to assault him with an axe. (*2)

In light of that and the fact that Gallegos also murdered his son, people were astounded at Henry Yeager's strong showing of principle. All throughout the ordeal the dead man's father made a "strenuous effort...to have the sentence of Gallegos commuted to life imprisonment (even) after he had killed his son and made an attempt on his own life."(*2)

Had Gallegos made any attempt to delay his execution on July 18, 1911, he probably would have cheated the hangman's noose as will be demonstrated in the second story. Instead sentence was carried out as planned in Florence, Arizona.

True story of "Uncle Jim" Roberts; the last of the old-time shooting sheriffs in Yavapai county. Although his exploits would be perfect for a movie, his appearance was far from it.

The Murder of Kid Kirby:
A mere two hours prior to Yeager's murder, shots rang out in the middle of the afternoon in the heart of downtown Prescott.

"Walking north on Montezuma St. at 2:45pm Ernest Cresti known as 'Kid Kirby' was assassinated" by a man the 1911 newspaper incessantly refered to as "William Campbell, negro." (*3)

Trouble started three nights previous at the Union Saloon where "Kid" was tending bar and where Campbell lost money in a blackjack game. Campbell was "fleeced" out of $20 and wrote Kirby a check. But when the bank opened the next morning, Campbell stopped payment. "Chagrined because payment of the check was stopped, Kirby...approached Campbell from behind...and struck (him) under the ear with a pair of 'knucks,' escaping into a saloon." (*3)

Campbell went to the police and demanded the arrest of Kirby. Kirby countered that Campbell should be arrested for the bad check. The officer told them both to quit fighting and deal with the warrants in the morning. Although the fighting ended for the night, neither man apparently got a warrant. (*3)

A day or two later Campbell, a bootblack at the Palace, got drunk and bought a gun telling his employer, LN Bailey, that he intended to use it on Kirby. Bailey felt he talked Campbell out of it warning him that "his neck would be stretched for it." (*3)

"A few moments before he was murdered, Kirby was standing in front of Ed Block's establishment conversing with Mr. Block...about a suit of clothes in the display window. He left and before he reached the Palace hotel Mr. Block noticed Campbell run rapidly in the same direction. Campbell was less than 15 feet of Kirby and immediately in front of the Palace barbershop when he crouched low and fired at Kirby without warning." (*3)

"He fired two shots in rapid succession, the first finding its mark and the second going wild. Kirby shouted and jumped to the street followed by (his assailant). Kirby ran about 30 yards and fell before reaching the curb on the plaza side. He attempted to rise and (Campbell) again raised his Iver-Johnson .38 caliber to fire, but desisted on shouts from the crowd attracted by the shooting." (*3)

"Seeing that Kirby was helpless he turned the weapon on men coming across the street and while threatening them to stand back, Officer Hudgens arrived on the scene and with pistol drawn ordered (him) to throw up his hands. Campbell did so, still holding the smoking weapon in his right hand. 'Drop the gun quick,' said Hudgens calmly, looking along the barrel of his cocked weapon. Seeing sure death staring him right in the face, (Campbell) dropped his pistol surrendering to (him)." (*3)

Early traffic laws showed how the transition from animals to automobiles was problematic and at times humorous.

"Eyewitnesses pronounced the shooting among the most cold blooded in the history of Northern Arizona. Kirby was shot in the back without warning, dying less than 3 minutes later without uttering a word. The bullet entered under the left shoulder blade and coming out in front penetrated the muscles of the left forearm. (Campbell) was locked in the county jail and appear(ed) unconcerned as to the enormity of his crime." (*3)

Kid Kirby was a former middleweight boxer. He was shot and wounded seriously the year previous in Tucson. He was arrested in Prescott a short time before his death and fined $75 for beating a "female habitue" of the red light district where Kirby was employed. (*3)

The trial was held before the end of the month and it took a jury just 15 minutes to render a verdict of guilty and the penalty of death. (*4)

Campbell appealed all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court and delayed his execution until statehood was granted and Governor Hunt took office. From here Campbell's case, along with three other death penalty cases, became a political football.

In July, 1912, Gov. Hunt floated the idea of commuting Campbell's and the 3 other condemned murders to life imprisonment. This brought outrage and a petition signed by a multitude of people insisting that Campbell be hanged. The petition was headed by county attorney PW O'Sullivan. (*5)

In October 1912, Hunt decided to delay his decision about commuting the sentences until April the following year. Hunt wrote: "Arizona is so grateful for Statehood that it does not want to stain its hands with blood; that capital punishment is not a deterrent of crime, and is a ghastly error of ancient judgment and a dictum of the dark ages; that he intends to again ask the legislature, which he will convene in a special session in a few months to pass a law abolishing the death penalty; that the will of the people 'of whom he is the honored servant' would not dictate or sanction the deliberate hanging of the four men in the state penitentiary in transgression of the law of God and in defiance of the teachings of Christianity; that if the legislature refuses to do his bidding on this subject he will circulate a petition under the initiative clause of of the constitution for the abolition of the death penalty." (*6)

Although Henry Yeager may have agreed with Hunt, there is little evidence that anyone else did. Rather than outlawing the death penalty, the Legislature instead passed a bill curbing the Governor's power to pardon and commute. This Hunt vetoed. Come November, the ballot initiative to outlaw capital punishment also failed. Still, Hunt would not be moved. (*7)

Time and again when the day approached for Campbell's execution, Hunt delayed it in spite of strong public sentiment to the contrary. (*6)

Finally, in December, 1914, 31 months after the crime, Hunt commuted William Campbell's and several other's death sentences to life imprisonment. (*7)

Had Alejandro Gallegos been able to delay his execution eight short months until Gov. Hunt took office, he no doubt would have cheated the hangman's noose as well.


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(*1) Weekly Journal Miner,  5/17/1911 Pg. 3 Col. 1

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