August 2, 2020

Deadly Revenge Over $78

The Arizona Republican wrote in 1890: “The murder was one of the most cold-blooded ever committed in this territory, and is universally condemned.”

In January of that year, George Johnson, a respected cowboy, sued John Chart, who used to be a rancher in Thompson Valley, for $78 in unpaid back-wages. Nine months later, it cost Johnson his life.

On October 20, Johnson spent the evening in Prescott with three friends, including Rob Miller, when the hour was becoming late. The four men began walking to SC Miller’s house where they planned to spend the night. “When near the old Prescott feed yard, the report of a shotgun was heard from behind, when all of them started to run,” the Journal-Miner reported. Two of the ambushed men looked back and saw John Chart armed with a shotgun. “Another flash and another report, and still another, when Johnson dropped, limp and bleeding on the door steps of the house in the corner of the corral.” The resident of the house, a Mr. Jones, “came to the assistance of Johnson's comrades, and carried the wounded man into the house, and medical aid was summoned at once.” 

Yavapai County Sheriff Buckey O’Neill also arrived on the scene and would investigate the incident personally. After interviewing Johnson’s companions, Buckey went to the Tragic [Meat] Market where Chart now worked and lived in a room on the second floor. Buckey found Chart in bed. “He expressed surprise and being arrested, and claimed to know nothing of the shooting, although it is alleged that two of the parties with Johnson claimed to have recognized him,” the paper revealed. 

“Johnson died at about 4 o'clock this morning, although up to within a short time of his death, he was cheerful and thought he would recover.” Fifty-four buckshot wounds and one shot from a revolver were counted on Johnson’s back and the back of his legs. His funeral “was attended by a large concourse of citizens,” the paper reported. 

Chart, still insisting he knew nothing of the crime, “employed Herndon and Hawkins and Judge Wright for his defense, and by their advice [refused] to discuss the tragedy or his troubles with Johnson further than to deny any connection with the former.”

Eight days later, on October 28, the preliminary examination of John Chart was held, “resulting in his being held without bail to appear before the grand jury.”

At the first trial, which concluded just prior to Christmas, the jury was deadlocked and evenly split. Six believed the account of the witnesses who recognized Chart and six who believe his story of being asleep in bed. However, Chart did win the ability to meet bail, which was set at $5000, while he awaited retrial.

That would occur eight months later in July, 1891. Chart’s defense immediately made two motions. One “to quash [the] indictment” and another for a plea in abatement. The first was denied and the second was overruled. Chart then pleaded not guilty. However, this time the jury was convinced by the eye witness testimony. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in Yuma.

Chart appealed the decision all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court, when things became complicated. The Yavapai County attorney who prosecuted the case, Mr. Brown, had died and State Attorney General Haring “had waited for Mr. Brown's successor to prepare the briefs for the territory,” the Republican reported. But the man selected to replace Brown was Mr. Herndon, who was employed by Chart for his defense.

It was suggested that the matter be sent to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors for them “to employ counsel to argue the case.” The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court while expressing concern at how long the case was taking. It had been 20 months since the crime was committed. Little did they know it would take 34 more months before the final decision on the case was made.

True crime story about Fred Marshall, who murdered two men after losing a $2 bet in Humboldt, AZ.

During this time Chart’s wife divorced him and he attempted another try at ranching when he purchased a 160 acre from John Lawler. Five weeks prior to his final verdict in the Johnson case, he was indicted for trying to supplement his ranching assets by “branding stock [that was] not his own.” He was found not guilty, however.

It took until July, 1895 for a judge to be found to hear the case and it seemed anticlimactic when the jury found him not guilty. If ever a case demonstrated the fickleness of juries, it was this one. The same crime was tried before three different juries with each one reaching a different conclusion. But John Chart was now a free man.

He continued ranching, and in 1919 sued his son, daughters and son-in-law over “title to certain tracts of land on the Verde” Other than that oddity, he lived a relatively private and quiet life.



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Arizona Republican, 10/29/1890; Pg. 1, Col. 5

Weekly Journal-Miner, 1/15/1890; Pg. 3, Col. 4

Weekly Journal-Miner, 5/14/1890; Pg. 3, Col. 1

Weekly Journal-Miner, 10/22/1890; Pg. 3, Col. 7

Arizona Silver Belt 11/1/1890; Pg. 2, Col. 3

Arizona Republican, 10/29/1890; Pg. 3, Col. 4

Arizona Republican, 12/22/1890; Pg. 1, Col. 4

Arizona Republican, 7/15/1891; Pg. 4, Col. 3

Mohave County Miner 7/18/1891; Pg. 4, Col. 4

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/5/1891; Pg. 4, Col. 2

Arizona Republican, 9/28/1892; Pg. 1, Col. 6

Weekly Journal-Miner, 6/17/1891; Pg. 4, Col. 1

Weekly Journal-Miner, 8/19/1891; Pg. 3, Col. 2

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/28/1894; Pg. 3, Col. 6

Weekly Journal-Miner, 4/10/1895; Pg. 1, Col. 5

St John’s Herald 6/18/1885; Pg. 3, Col. 2

Weekly Journal-Miner, 6/23/1897; Pg. 3, Col. 4

Weekly Journal-Miner, 9/10/1919; Pg. 1, Col. 6

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