Two years after Arizona Deputy Sheriff William Daniels apprehended three of the five outlaws responsible for the Bisbee Massacre, Apache Indians kill him.
Billy Daniels was typical of the thousands of courageous young men and women who helped tame the Wild West but whose names and stories have since been largely forgotten. For every Wild Bill Hickok or Wyatt Earp immortalized by the dramatic exaggerations of dime novelists and sensationalistic journalists, the West had dozens of men like Billy Daniels, who quietly did their duty with little fanfare, celebration, or thanks.
On December 8, 1883, five desperadoes rode into the booming mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. Their leader, Daniel “Big Dan” Dowd, had heard that the $7,000 payroll of the Copper Queen Mine would be in the vault at the Bisbee General Store. The outlaws barged into the store with their guns drawn and demanded the payroll. To Big Dan’s disappointment, they discovered they were too early–the payroll had not yet arrived. The outlaws quickly gathered up what money there was (reports vary between $900 to $3,000)), and took valuable rings and watches from the unlucky customers.
For reasons that are unclear, the robbery then turned into a slaughter. When the five desperadoes rode away, they left behind four dead or dying people, including Deputy Sheriff Tom Smith and a Bisbee woman named Anna Roberts.
The people of Arizona were shocked by the senseless brutality of the killings. The newspapers called it the “Bisbee Massacre.” The sheriff quickly organized citizen posses to track down the killers, placing Deputy Sheriff Billy Daniels at the head of one. The posses, though, soon ran out of clues and the trail grew cold. Most of the citizen members gave up. Daniels, however, stubbornly continued the pursuit alone. He eventually learned the identities of the five men from area ranchers and began to track them down one by one.
Daniels found one of the killers in Deming, New Mexico, and arrested him. He then learned from a Mexican informant that the gang leader, Big Dan Dowd, had fled south of the border to a hideout at Sabinal, Chihuahua. Disguising himself as an ore buyer, Daniels tricked Dowd into a meeting and took him prisoner. A few weeks later, Daniels returned to Mexico and arrested another of the outlaws. Other law officers apprehended the remaining two members of the gang. A Tombstone, Arizona, jury quickly convicted all five men and sentenced them to be hanged simultaneously. As the noose was fitted around his neck on the five-man gallows, Big Dan reportedly muttered, “This is a regular killing machine.”
The next year, Daniels ran for sheriff but lost. He found a new position as an inspector of customs that required him to travel all around the vast and often isolated Arizona countryside, where various bands of hostile Apache Indians were a serious danger. Early on the morning of this day in 1885, Daniels and two companions were riding up a narrow canyon trail in the Mule Mountains east of Bisbee. Daniels, who was in the lead, rode into an Apache ambush. The first bullets killed his horse, and the animal collapsed, pinning Daniels to the ground. Trapped, Daniels used his rifle to defend himself as best he could, but the Apache quickly overwhelmed him and cut his throat.
His two companions escaped with their lives and returned the next day with a posse. They found Daniel’s badly mutilated corpse but were unable to track the Apache Indians who murdered him.