April 24, 2022

Gun Fight at the Independence Mine

James S McClure, age 36, arrived home unexpectedly from a month-long business trip to Colorado. When he came upon his surprised wife, who was on her way to the post office, he was “out-of-sorts,” the Prescott Evening Courier reported. When she returned to their ranch that surrounded Tussock Springs, her husband was still in a sour mood. She was on her way to take the mule out to pasture, when “he asked her to wait a minute,” which she did.

What would transpire in the next few minutes would decide whether Mrs. McClure would live or die.

With his loaded shotgun at the ready, Mr. McClure started up the hill toward the cabin. Shortly after he crested the top and moved out of sight from his wife, she heard the shotgun fire, quickly followed by three shots from a revolver. Then there was complete silence. “She hurried back up the path and saw [two] men lying on the ground about six feet apart,” the paper related. 

The man with the revolver was William S Bourne, age 59, who was superintendent of the Independence Mines company and a resident of Mrs. McClure’s boarding house. He expired after twenty minutes from the shotgun blast which entered just above his heart. Mr. McClure was shot through the right eye with the bullet exiting below the left eye. He was hanging on, but neither of the men would ever speak another word.

This started an epic relay to get help from Prescott. The scene of the tragedy has always been in the wilderness of the forest and Mother Nature has been erasing all signs of human industry there. Today even off-road adventurers recommend a SMALL four wheel drive vehicle (or perhaps a horse,) to gain access to this region.

First Mrs. McClure rounded-up her mule as well as her two daughters, age 15 and 17. She instructed them to head to HI Caulkins’ camp. There the two related the story, and Caulkins ordered a cowboy to saddle-up and head to Wagoner with the news. The cowboy “rode through the storm and rain of [the] night, getting in shortly after midnight, where he met CC Stukey, who drove on in to Kirkland where he telegraphed the message to Prescott,” the paper delineated.

It was 4:30am when the dispatcher’s office at the Santa Fe depot got the wire from Kirkland. “Send sheriff, coroner and doctor to Wagoner... One man killed; another badly shot,” the message read. A second telegraph soon followed: “Come to Wagoner, 14 miles south, will meet you with horses.” 

The true crime story of the murder of Sam Anderson by John Bryant in Prescott, AZ in 1910.

A tide of help was soon on the way. At 5 am, two deputy sheriffs headed to the site. Dr. RN Looney left at 7 am, and the coroner, Lester Ruffner, and a coroner’s jury left a half-out after that. Unfortunately, Mr. McClure died six hours after he was shot in the face.

To the residents of Prescott, this was a shock. The two men had been firm friends for five years preceding the shooting,” the paper stated,  “during which time they worked together in developing the Independence mine workings… The friendship of the two men had been long and apparently deep, the two living in the same camp without a break, except for a year when McClure was away [serving in WW1].” Unfortunately, their five years of back-breaking work was “altogether vain.”

However, “neighbors [said] an end of the friendship of the two men was bound to come, due to the relations of Mrs. McClure and Bourne,” the paper revealed. Mrs. McClure vehemently denied this accusation and insisted that she knew of no reason for a motive to the shooting whatsoever.

However, she also confided to the deputy that she believed that if Bourne had not shot her husband down, he would have returned to kill her as well.

“Suggested motives for the killing...aside from possible jealousy by McClure,” the paper pondered, were: “disgust at the long and vain search for gold or other precious metal, weariness with life in the hills, insanity, [or] moodiness over some perhaps fancied wrong.”

At Mrs. McClure's request, the two men were buried side by side at the location of the shooting. 

Interestingly, the angel of death had previously brought tragedy to the same site. McClure and Bourne were buried “in the same grave plot…[as] that of Pete Donnelly…who killed himself years [before] in the same cabin on the doorstep of which Bourne was shot. Donnelly mined for years in that region, and either became disgusted with mining or insane from the lonely life in the hills,” the paper noted.

Despite her denials, many would always hold to the belief that the "eternal love triangle" was the cause of this sad event.

The complete, colorful history of the gold mining  "town" of Wagoner, AZ.



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Prescott Evening Courier, 8/23/1922, Pg. 1, Col. 1.

Prescott Evening Courier, 8/24/1922, Pg. 1, Col. 1.

IBID. Pg. 3, Col. 1.


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