April 30

This Day in History

Old West

Apr 30, 1867:

Arizona Ranger Burton Mossman is born

Burton C. Mossman, a rancher turned lawman, is born in Aurora, Illinois.

Little is known about Mossman's childhood in Illinois, though he apparently learned to be self-reliant and resourceful at a young age. When he was 21, Mossman left home and moved to Mexico, where he quickly began proving himself one of the most canny and successful ranchers in the territory. By age 30, he not only had his own spread in New Mexico, but was also the superintendent of a two-million-acre ranch in northern Arizona running 60,000 cattle.

As the size of the southwestern cattle industry increased, cattle rustlers began to take advantage of the lack of surveillance on the isolated ranges to steal stock. In 1901, the territory of Arizona responded by organizing a ranger force to rid the region of rustlers and other outlaws. The governor of Arizona convinced Mossman to sign on as the first captain of the Arizona Rangers.

Mossman was suited to the task. Courageous and skilled with a pistol, he had a knack for surprising rustlers while they were still in possession of stolen cattle, freshly butchered beef, green hides, and other incriminating evidence. Though he could use violence to good effect when needed, Mossman preferred to trick his quarry into giving up peacefully when possible. In one instance, Mossman rode south alone in pursuit of the multiple-murderer Agostine Chacon, who had fled to Mexico. Clearly out of his jurisdiction, Mossman had to act with finesse. With the assistance of Burt Alvard, an outlaw turned lawman, Mossman convinced Chacon that he and Alvard were also outlaws and would help him steal several top horses from a ranch in southern Arizona. When the men crossed the border into Arizona, Mossman revealed his true identity and arrested Chacon, who was later hanged.

The Chacon arrest was a typical example of Mossman's approach to dealing with Arizona rustlers and outlaws. "If they come along easy, everything will be all right," he once explained. "If they don't, well, I just guess we can make pretty short work of them... Some of them will object, of course. They'll probably try a little gunplay as a bluff, but I shoot fairly well myself, and the boys who back me up are handy enough with guns. Any rustler who wants to yank on the rope and kick up trouble will find he's up against it."

After a long and adventurous career with the Arizona Rangers, Mossman eventually returned to the more peaceful life of a rancher. By the time he retired from ranching in 1944, he had business interests in cattle operations from Mexico to Montana, and more than a million cattle wore his brand. He lived out the remainder of his life at his comfortable ranch in Roswell, New Mexico, and died in 1956 at the age of 89.

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