In the 1880’s through the early 1890’s, Tucson was still a rough, often violent town. Geronimo had surrendered in 1886 and his Chiricahua Apaches hauled off to exile in Florida. But even after the Apache threat was largely history, Tucson and all of Southern Arizona continued to be known for its train robbers, horse thieves, rustlers, card sharks, burglars, ruffians, assorted ne’er-do-wells, rapists, and murderers.
Gentlemen still carried pistols and were not hesitant to use them in self-defense … or in a duel to settle a point of honor. Tucson saloonkeeper George Hand kept a diary and often recorded beatings, robberies and murders at a time when Tucson’s population was between 5,000 to 7,000.
Here’s a sample of Mr. Hand’s diary over the course of 30 days in 1882.
- • October 9. Fine morning. Two men dead. One natural death, the other named Hewitt, beaten until he died.
- • October 18. A Mexican named Torres, who was during the last term of court acquitted of stealing a lot of clothing, was last night arrested for stealing a trunk of clothes from Jack Ennis. He is now in jail.
- • November 1. Man killed last night.
- • November 2. Chinaman got a bad beating this morning.
- • “Nov. 7. Day passed off quiet until night – a row occurred at the Park Theater. Alex Levin (owner of the Park Brewery & Beer Gardens) in trying to stop it got 2 bad cuts on his head. John Dobbs got knocked under a table. Several others beaten by the railroaders. No one killed.
When Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp killed Frank Stilwell at the Tucson train depot in March 1883, Mr. Hand wrote:
- • “Worst shot up man I ever saw.”
Looking back on Tucson history, the early 1890’s were nearly as bad. One incident in particular stands out. It was a fight between two of Tucson’s most prominent professional men at the corner of Pennington and Church streets in the heart of the business district.
Francis Heney was a skilled trial lawyer who had come to Arizona Territory hoping to cure his tuberculosis.
Dr. John Handy was a well-respected physician who had been named future chancellor of the University of Arizona. He was also chief surgeon for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He had a well-deserved reputation as a doctor to the poor who could pay little or nothing for his services. He also had a reputation as someone with a hair-trigger temper.
Handy had been a contract surgeon for the U.S. Army at Camp Thomas where he married an Apache woman. During an argument with the post trader, Handy killed him, but was acquitted of all charges. At some point, he left his Indian bride.
When he moved to Tucson, he married a woman named Mary Page. He severely abused his wife, chaining her to a bed in their home for days and administering morphine to her until she was addicted. Some years later he was having an affair and filed for divorce, accusing her of being “a morphine fiend and a common slut.”
He let it be known that he would kill any lawyer who dared to represent her.
Although the doctor was a larger, more powerful man than lawyer Heney, Heney agreed to represent Mrs. Handy. Dr. Handy was enraged. At one point, doc Handy tried to run over Mr. Heney with this team and buggy.
In the divorce trial, Dr. Handy won custody of their children, whom he sent to live with his mother. He then tried to evict Mary Page from the home the court had awarded her.
It was not long before the two met on Church Street in the shadow of the Pima County Courthouse. Some angry words were exchanged. Although Handy carried his own pistol, he did not use it. Instead, he physically attacked the smaller man, who was also armed. One might assume that he was so enraged that he intended to beat Heney to death.
Dr. Handy tried to grab Mr. Heney’s sidearm. They wrestled to the ground. The lawyer got off one shot, but that was all that was necessary. The doctor had a bullet hole through his intestines.
In those days, a gut-shot was almost always fatal. There was only one surgeon in the Territory who was even willing to operate on such a wound, Dr. George Goodfellow of Tombstone.
Dr. Handy’s friends sent a telegram to Dr. Goodfellow, Handy’s friend and colleague. Goodfellow immediately got in his buggy and headed for Benson where he hopped on a train into Tucson. At one point he took the throttle because the engineer wasn’t going fast enough.
Dr. Goodfellow eventually went on to an illustrious career in San Francisco. But he could not save Dr. Handy.
As to lawyer Heney, he was arrested. But the law decided he had killed Dr. Handy in self-defense.
For more interesting Local History, see our pages in the Upper Menu under Local History.