October 11, 2020

1910: A Killing Near Thumb Butte

Miss Virginia Hite, a popular school teacher, arrived at the Plaza with her horse in a lather. She had come from the Sweeney and Anderson mining camp near Thumb Butte. The ride “of over seven long miles, on dangerous ground,” was made in a “record-breaking 30 minutes,” the newspaper reported. She had rode her horse “at almost full speed the entire distance, never drawing rein until she reached the Courthouse Plaza.” 

There had been a shooting at the camp and the sheriff and a doctor were needed immediately.

It all started when the mine’s co-owner, Sam Anderson, had fallen into debt. One of his creditors was John Bryant, who was owed $98 (about $2600 in today’s money.) Bryant was becoming angry over the debt and for several days had been looking for Anderson, uttering threats toward him to anyone who would listen.

February 4, 1910 was just such a day. Like the day previous, and earlier that morning, Bryant carried a shotgun as he came to the mining camp seeking Anderson. Being told that the latter was in Prescott, but was expected back soon, Bryant again left the scene, but would return once more.

He was not seen again until two shots rang out around 4 pm. They were heard by R. Variola, who opened the door of his cabin and “met Bryant face to face, preparing to reload his gun, as he was retreating from the Anderson cabin,” the paper related. 

“Do you want to shoot me too?" Variola asked.

“No. Do you see powder burns on my face?” was Bryant's reply. Variola answered no. Then, “with the most remarkable coolness, Bryant asked for a piece of paper, on which he wrote…the following:

‘J. Smith: Come up. Sam Anderson is badly hurt. —JOHN BRYANT.’” J Smith was Sheriff of Yavapai County.

Variola gave the note to Miss Virgie Hite. “This nervy little school teacher…is an expert horsewoman,” the paper stated. “She has been a popular teacher of public schools in this county for many years, teaching school at Groom Creek and other points adjacent. With a modest little laugh, [she] looked upon the incident of her swift flight from the camp to the city as nothing noteworthy, remarking: ‘I wanted to get a doctor there as soon as possible, to alleviate the suffering of this good man.’”

Unfortunately, a few minutes after Miss Hite began her epic ride, Sam Anderson was already dead.

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“When the sheriff reached the cabin of Anderson, he found the body cold in death, lying in the doorway,” the paper reported. “An examination of the body by the sheriff showed that Anderson received the contents of a load of buckshot in his side, covering a space as large as one's hand. It [was] believed that the shot was fired at close range.” 

Anderson’s body would remain undisturbed in his cabin’s doorway for 17 hours until the coroner’s jury convened at that location the following morning!

Meanwhile, Sheriff Smith then went to Bryant’s cabin to arrest him, but instead found a second note “pinned to the door.” It read: “I have gone to Prescott. —BRYANT.” 

When Miss Hite first arrived at the Plaza, she gave word that Bryant was the shooter. So when he first appeared on the streets of the city, he was arrested immediately before the sheriff returned. When he was taken to the county jail, “his only concern seemed to be that he desired to know if the sheriff got his note,” the paper described. “Otherwise he was non-communicative and entered his cell without in any way showing any apparent feeling.”

The coroner’s jury found that Bryant “had threatened several times [over several weeks,] that he would sooner or later get Anderson,” the paper reported.

The saddest testimony came from Anderson’s business partner Sweeney. He explained “that Anderson left Prescott, Friday, for their camp, with the money to pay the Bryant debt, and Anderson was expected to do so immediately after seeing him.”

It was found that two shots were fired, one from Bryant’s shotgun, and one from Anderson’s .38 caliber pistol. There were no witnesses to the shooting, other than the accused, and testimony was in conflict as to the sounds and order of the gunshots. Although the pistol should have produced a lighter “bang,” some testified to the pistol shooting first; others to the shotgun firing first; and many thought the two explosions sounded alike.

There was no debate that Bryant caused Anderson’s death, but he might be justified had Anderson shot first. Ultimately, this would be Bryant’s defense and he was held in jail in lieu of a $10,000 bond until a grand jury could rule on his case. They ruled that the case should proceed.

Bryant’s trial offered little new information. He claimed self-defense. However, the small spread of the shotgun blast proved the two were only a few feet apart. If Anderson shot first, how could he have missed? Why would he fire first when he was prepared to pay the debt? With many testifying to the threats Bryant made, It seemed more likely that Bryant fired first and Anderson fired his pistol in desperation after he was wounded.

It took the jury three hours to find Bryant guilty of murder in the second degree. He would be sentenced a week later. 

Bryant’s dismay and distress would quickly develop into despondency. To his friends who visited him after the verdict, he seemed “gloomy and disheartened, and in leaving said to each: ‘It's all off with me.’" Two days before his sentencing, the 55 year-old wept openly and bitterly.

That evening the jailer turned out the lights at the usual time of 9 pm and went outside for some fresh air on the Plaza before retiring to bed. The next morning he went through his usual routine when he went upstairs to the second tier of cells. “His attention was attracted by the gestures and the talking of a Mexican,” the paper described, attempting “to inform him that something was wrong, [and] at the same time pointing toward the cell occupied by Bryant.” The jailor rushed over to behold a grim sight.

Bryant had ripped a 36 inch towel in two and tied them together to make a noose. He attached one end to the highest bar in the cell and the other around his neck. Although this did not offer enough height for his body to hang above the floor, he instead thrusted his body forward so hard that he broke his neck and died.

He left three letters on his bunk. The one to the jailer and one to his attorney offered thanks. The one to Judge McLane was filled with vilifying remarks about the witnesses and jury which the newspaper refused to print.

Judge McLane revealed that he was prepared to sentence Bryant to 20 years.



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Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/9/1910; Pg. 2, Cols. 1-2.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/16/1910; Pg. 3, Cols. 1-2.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 2/9/1910; Pg. 4, Col. 4.

Arizona Journal-Miner, 5/18/1910; Pg. 4, Col. 3.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 5/25/1910; Pg. 3, Cols. 5-6.

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