Arizona Album: Western justice in Yuma

2012-05-06T00:00:00Z Arizona Album: Western justice in YumaGeorge H. Smalley Tucson Citizen Arizona Daily Star
May 06, 2012 12:00 am  • 

This piece was published on May 12, 1954.

In his book, "Wrangling The Past," Frank King tells of the killing of his sister Mary near Yuma, leaving to the imagination of the reader how this tragedy was avenged.

I wrote the story at the time for my newspapers. Frank and Sam King were in Yuma attending the trial of Alexander, the man who had killed their sister, anxious that the court and jury would pronounce the death penalty.

When the judge sentenced Alexander to life imprisonment, and the prisoner was being led from the courthouse to the penitentiary in Yuma between two officers, a rifle bullet struck the prisoner in his heart and he fell dead at the feet of the officers.

Frank and Sam King were arrested. The jurors scattered away from the town, and the judge went into hiding until his train left for Phoenix. Telegrams came to Frank King from every part of the range country, offering assistance. Jeff Milton, old-time peace officer, wired:

"On my way to you. Good right shooting arm and $5,000 cash."

Col. Randolph, superintendent of the Tucson division of the Southern Pacific wired:

"I'm sending best lawyer here. Draw on me for all the money you need."

John Rhodes, a brother-in-law of Ed Tewksbury of the Graham-Tewksbury feud in Gila County, wired that he was on his way to Yuma with 10 of his best cowboys, well armed.

During those turbulent Territorial days when killings were common, men would ride long trails to help a friend. Friendships were so loyal that no matter what the friend did, it was justified and not only excused but defended.

Yuma was soon filled with friends of the King boys, and they were in the crowded justice of the peace court room glaring menacingly at the county attorney as he questioned the witnesses for the territory.

No evidence was adduced to justify the Kings in being held for trial in the territorial court. None knew from whence the shot was fired that killed Alexander. Their attendance during the trial of the killer, and the reputation the King family had for avenging the killing of a member of their family, was advanced by the prosecutor and quickly quashed by the court.

The verdict exonerating Frank and Sam King was heralded throughout the territory with universal approval. Friends of Alexander rode out of town hurriedly, but the King boys remained to give anyone a chance who disapproved of the killing.

Pioneers recalled how the father of the King boys rode several thousand miles pursuing a man who had killed his brother Frank in the King-Carlisle gun battle in Los Angeles in 1865. In his book, "Wrangling The Past," Frank King wrote that "it was always the custom of our family to kill anyone who killed one of our kin."

These stories were part of a column, Pioneer Anecdotes, written by George H. Smalley, editor of the Tucson Citizen from 1898 to 1901.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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