Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sheep Camp Murders

By Stan Brown

    The prolonged range war between sheep ranchers and cattle or goat ranchers raged in the Rim Country until after the turn of the 19th century.
    As many as 400,000 sheep were driven over the Heber-Reno sheep driveway twice a year. This was a traditional route that had been followed for decades. However, there were no boundaries marking the limits where the sheep were to be kept and flocks often strayed onto rangeland claimed by cattle ranchers. The sheep moved very slowly and consumed much valuable grass when they moved south in the fall and north in the spring.
    Furthermore, sheep pulled the grass up by its roots, while cattle merely clipped it, leaving the roots. This provoked repeated violent encounters between the two interests, all too often resulting in murder. Such was the case when John and Zechariah Booth, goat ranchers from Gisela, took the lives of two young herders. [1]
    The Booth brothers were bad hombres in the eyes of Gila County law officers. John and Zech, together with their brother Nick, had all served time in the Territorial Prison at Yuma for robbery and perjury. The records at the courthouse in Globe indicate they had 18 different indictments between them for everything from switching brands on neighbors’ cattle to assault with deadly weapons. The Booth brothers strongly objected to the sheep drives that crossed near or on range they claimed for their goats, and their anger came to a boil three days before Christmas in 1903...

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