July 25, 2021

1878: Blood Flows in the New Town of Gillett

Ad for the saloon where the trouble started. 

It all started with a good old-fashioned bar-fight. It was midday, June 12, 1878. Deputy Sheriff James C Burnett heard a commotion inside Frank Smith’s saloon. He entered and found that a man only known as Setwright was arguing with another named Tom Farrell. As Burnett entered, Setwright twice struck Farrell over the head with a bottle, shattering it in the process. Burnett quickly broke up the fight, and arrested Setwright.

However, the incident would grow into two murders and a lynching and, at one point, 75 Gillette citizens were blamed for the killing of a peace officer.

Upon Setwright’s arrest, Burnett disarmed him, “finding a small pistol…which carried a large ball,” the Weekly Arizona Miner related. Burnett kept the prisoner that afternoon until around sunset, when he was approached by Sam Weir, a well-respected freighting man who had a camp six miles outside of Gillette. It seems that Weir was going to Prescott the next day and asked if he could take Setwright with him. The newspaper reported that Weir wished to befriend the man. Burnett consulted with the prisoner and he agreed to go with Weir and turn himself in once they got to the county seat.

Burnett also allowed Setwright to take care of some business errands before the pair left. At some point, however, Setwright secretly got ahold of another gun.

The next morning, Weir and Setwright mounted their mules and began to head to Prescott, but only 15 minutes later, Setwright was back inside of Smith’s saloon “remarking, ‘they thought to murder me but I got my man,’” the paper related. Most found Setwright’s declaration to be perplexing. Who’s they? What was he talking about?

Just then Tom Ferrell entered the saloon, noticed Setwright, and immediately charged him. Burnett again broke up the brawl and arrested Farrell. As he finished with Farrell, Burnett turned to re-arrest Setwright, only to see him jump “on his mule and started a fast gait from town,” headed towards “Phenix.”

As Burnett started to make plans to apprehend Setwright, three men from the livery yard rushed up and informed the lawman “that Weir’s mule came up without a rider.” Everyone began to fear the worst. The first order of business was to locate Sam Weir—he might well be injured and require medical attention. Burnett and others started down the trail Weir and Setwright took, and found Weir’s corpse just 200 yards down. He had been shot through the head.

Weir had been well-regarded by everyone in the village, and the desire for revenge began to grow. Burnett ordered “all the horses available to be saddled,” and soon had a posse of several men. They travelled only a mile and a half when they found Setwright’s mule at Moore’s station. One man told the group that Setwright “had fell [sic] from the mule and then went down the road.” He was not found there. Another man thought that he had escaped into the nearby willow patch. He was not there either. 

Burnett and his men headed back to Moore’s station and were just about to enter, when they “heard a cough in the brush immediately in the rear of the house.” Moments later, Setwright was discovered. Burnett arrested him and returned with him to Gillette where he was held in a house since there was no jail.

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By then it was 9pm. Burnett told the paper: “I found the whole populace very much excited and bent on dealing out some summary punishment, and I found it necessary to clear the house of all persons except those selected by me to assist in guarding the prisoner.” Burnett chose two: EP Raines and Col. Taylor. “From 9 o’clock in the evening until 3 o’clock in the morning, the citizens who had formed themselves into [an armed] company…made numerous demands for the prisoner,” Burnett continued. “At each time they made a demand I warned them to desist, promising to take him to Prescott, where he could be dealt with in accordance to law and justice.” The crowd, however, already procured a rope and picked out a particular cottonwood tree to hang Setwright from.

For six hours the armed crowd grew larger and angrier until they reached about 75 strong—more than enough to overrun the three guards. The angry crowd knew it, and offered the guards a chance to leave before they stormed the building.

Col. Taylor remarked “that he had had enough of this, turned the key, opened the door and stepped out saying to the crowd, ‘I have a double-barreled shotgun, and this thing has to stop.’” Taylor was answered by three shots being fired from the crowd with Taylor falling-down dead. Burnett yelled that they had just committed murder and to desist.

Instead, the crowd reiterated their offer to allow Burnett and Raines to leave with their lives in exchange for the prisoner. Burnett decided that it was “impossible to withstand the excited numbers,” and told Raines to tell the crowd that they “would surrender if promised no harm.” Raines immediately shouted: “The sheriff surrenders,” and the two walked out of the building safely leaving Setwright, still bound inside, to his fate.

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Several prominent Gillette citizens who were seen in the crowd were arrested in connection with the shooting of Taylor and the lynching of Setwright. However, according to the paper, “The hanging of Setwright, so far as we have heard…meets with common assent from all sorts of people.” The chances of finding a jury that would convict those guilty were thought to be nearly impossible. “He killed a good, useful and inoffensive citizen without the least cause or provocation,” the paper stated, “and the general verdict of those who heard that he was hung, was, ‘Served him right.’”

Taylor was not as well thought of. “He was evidently seeking the reputation of a “Chief,” the paper stated, “and sought to impress the people of Gillett[e] [with] the idea that he was a terror, a master mind, and that a wave of his hand was enough to quiet almost any kind of tumult.”

“When nearly the whole population was enraged and exasperated at the killing of their friend without cause,” the paper opined, “Taylor stepped out and defiled them all with a shotgun in his hand,” in the course of what could best be described as a “riot.” “It does seem to [the newspaper] a useless expenditure of time and money to undertake to prosecute the whole village of Gillett[e] for murder…”

Upon further investigation, four men were charged with Taylor’s shooting, but District Attorney Paul Weber was plagued with “uneasiness and trouble.” He had no doubt that murder had been committed, “but inasmuch as it appeared that almost the entire population were engaged in the mob, and he found that it would be exceedingly difficult to obtain testimony that would convict any designated number of them.” Additionally, the cost to the county was estimated at $15,000-$20,000. 

After consulting with Gov. Hoyt, Weber asked the court to discharge the prisoners and life went went back to normal in Gillette. Such was western justice in mining boomtowns.



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Weekly Arizona Miner, 6/21/1878; Pg. 2, Col. 2.
Weekly Arizona Miner, 6/14/1878
; Pg. 2, Col. 4.

Weekly Arizona Republic, 6/22/1878; Pg. , Col. 3.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 6/21/1878; Pg. 2, Col. 3.

Weekly Arizona Miner, 6/21/1878; Pg. 3, Col. 3.

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