This is the story of Joe Pearce, an Arizona Ranger at the turn of the 19th century.
Joe was born in Utah in 1873, the third of eventually 11 children. He moved to Taylor, Arizona, in the White Mountains, with his parents when he was four. Joe grew up as a farmer and a rancher, got a fair education and attended Brigham Young University for one year before contracting measles, diphtheria, and influenza, which interrupted his schooling. In 1897, at the age of 24, he taught school in Silver Creek and had 23 students, all Mexicans.
Over time, Joe became an expert tracker and at the age of 30, in 1903, he enlisted as one of the original Arizona Rangers. He resigned in 1906 after a distinguished career and spent the next 6 years as a Line Rider (a forest ranger), then became Chief of Apache Police at the Fort Apache Reservation.
He married Minnie Lund in 1906 and they raised 9 children together. They owned a ranch near Mt. Baldy in Eager, Apache County, Arizona that included a 9-room house, some cultivated acreage, and a hundred head of cattle.
LINE RIDER: An Arizona Ranger’s True Story of Indians, Outlaws, Gamblers, and Stampedes is Joe’s autobiography, and a classic it is. It is a first-person account of one man’s adventures as he attempts to rid Arizona Territory of bad hombres, of which there were many in the old days.
One such bad man Joe met was Geronimo, the Chiricahua Apache shaman responsible for a great deal of killing and raiding in Southern Arizona. Joe tells the story.
“The six Indians walked right into the house without being asked and without saying a word. That was their way. Several of them took seats on the boxes we used for chairs, and one of them sat on the floor. Father put a big coffee pot onto the table and slid some tin cups toward them. They filled the cups and drank our coffee, helped themselves to the bacon already in a tin plate on the table.”
“The Mexican herders sat frozen. But we boys, trying to act indifferent the way Father did, slouched across the room to the head of the bed where we had hung on gun belts. We got hold of our guns and poked them inside our shirts. Father put the fresh cooked biscuits on the table and shoved another batch in the stove. The Indians ate the hot biscuits and still didn’t do any talking. “Keep your eyes open boys,” said Father. “ This is a bad bunch. Be ready for anything.”
After breakfast, the Indians and Joe’s Father smoked some tobacco. “When they were all through, one of the Indians who seemed to be the leader stood up and spoke in Spanish, “You good to Apaches.”
“I don’t want trouble with Apaches,” Father said. “I am Mormon – you see that.”
“The chief nodded. He was stocky built and very dark. “I know Mormon.” We don’t want trouble. We want peace.”
“Again the chief nodded. “The Mormon do not make trouble for my people. Not put cattle on Indian land. Not want to kill us. I am friend for you.”
“Same here,” said Father. Solemnly he shook hands with the chief. Then they smoked a while longer.
“You know me?” said the Indian.
Father didn’t know him.
“I am Geronimo.”
“Out of their talk, Jim and I caught that dreadful name – the most feared, the cruelest, the best known of all Apache chiefs. That man had desolated the southern part of the Territory and had led government troops into unsuccessful chase after chase…”
“Here he stood talking to Father. I may have seen him before or since, but this is the only time I am positive of.”
This is merely one example of many about Joe’s adventures. Another one records the time Joe met the Apache Kid, who had stolen a girl from the reservation. Yet another is Joe’s telling of the troubles between the sheepherders and cattlemen, particularly the Hash Knife outfit and the Pleasant Valley War. Joe tells about the coming of the railroad and the changes it brought to the territory, including the transportation of Chiricahua Apaches to prison in Florida. And what he did when he met famed trackers and scouts Tom Horn and Al Sieber. Mostly Joe reveals life on the Arizona frontier, with its hardships and hopes.
LINE RIDER: An Arizona Ranger’s True Story of Indians, Outlaws, Gamblers, and Stampedes is a wonderful telling on Arizona’s pioneer days by a cowboy who lived it to the fullest. I highly recommend it to you.