We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Desert Lawmen

The High Sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona Territories, 1846-1912

Larry D. Ball

Publication Year: 1996

Elected for two-year terms, frontier sheriffs were the principal peace-keepers in counties that were often larger than New England states. As officers of the court, they defended settlers and protected their property from the ever-present violence on the frontier. Their duties ranged from tracking down stagecoach robbers and serving court warrants to locking up drunks and quelling domestic disputes.The reality of their job embraced such mandane duties as being jail keepers, tax collectors, quarantine inspectors, court-appointed executioners, and dogcatchers.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF (258.7 KB)

Maps and Illustrations

pdf iconDownload PDF (128.0 KB)
pp. vii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (139.6 KB)
pp. ix-x

On 15 July 1881, a New Mexico sheriff informed the governor that he had shot and killed a notorious badman in Fort Sumner on the previous evening. The confrontation had taken place in the bedroom of rancher Pete Maxwell when the fugitive unwittingly walked in upon...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (154.5 KB)
pp. xi-xii

Among the institutions that provided assistance were the National Archives and the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; the Special Collections Department, Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico Albuquerque; the Museum of New Mexico Historical Library...

read more

1. The Origins of the Sheriff's Office in New Mexico and Arizona Territories

pdf iconDownload PDF (451.0 KB)
pp. 1-18

The office of sheriff originated in ninth-century Anglo-Saxon England as a representative of the Crown in local government. The sheriff (shire-reeve) exercised many duties, including peacekeeping, holding court, collecting taxes, and commanding the militia. For some time...

read more

2. Organization of the Sheriff's Office

pdf iconDownload PDF (435.1 KB)
pp. 19-37

To set up and maintain a regime in the sheriff's office in frontier New Mexico or Arizona required considerable effort. The period between election and entry into the office was filled with intense activity. In addition to obtaining qualified bondsmen, the sheriff-elect had to select deputies...

read more

3. The Sheriff and the Law Enforcement System

pdf iconDownload PDF (481.1 KB)
pp. 38-54

The county sheriff was only a part—though a critical part—of a large and very complex law enforcement and judicial system in New Mexico and Arizona territories. Although Congress refused to give these frontier districts all the judicial fineries of the East, the territories supported numerous...

read more

4. Getting in Office: Seeking Preferment to the Shrievalty [Includes Image Plates]

pdf iconDownload PDF (1006.1 KB)
pp. 55-88

Aspiring politicians of Arizona and New Mexico eagerly sought the shrievalty. Within the limited spoils system of poor territories, this position was a plum. Political infighting began at the first inkling that the assembly contemplated the creation of a new county. If the aspirants lacked money...

read more

5. Servant of the Court [Includes Image Plates]

pdf iconDownload PDF (450.5 KB)
pp. 89-107

Sheriffs were routinely called upon to cooperate with many public officials. One of the closest associations was with the personnel of the court system. Like most tasks of the sheriffs, service to the bar of justice presented many difficulties. Since the lawmen performed many duties in the field...

read more

6. Keeper of the Keys: The Sheriff as Jailer

pdf iconDownload PDF (446.2 KB)
pp. 108-127

The care of the county jails and their inmates proved to be one of the most vexatious of the sheriff's tasks. Not only were the impoverished counties of New Mexico and Arizona unable to afford secure jails, but the Hispanic and Indian populations were generally unaccustomed to imprisonment...

read more

7. The Sheriff and Extralegal Justice

pdf iconDownload PDF (469.0 KB)
pp. 128-146

The county jails of New Mexico and Arizona were the focus of much public attention in the territorial era. The pioneers often expressed concern about the fragility of this important public facility, and they betrayed this feeling by spending ever-increasing amounts of hard-to-find public revenues...

read more

8. Deathwatch [Includes Image Plates]

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 147-178

Of his many duties, the sheriff disliked most the task of hanging condemned men. This grim chore included more than the brief stay on the scaffold. It entailed the tense days of the deathwatch in the jail. The physical and mental stress imposed upon the sheriff and his staff sometimes became...

read more

9. Conservator Pacis

pdf iconDownload PDF (532.4 KB)
pp. 179-201

This was a formidable, sometimes impossible, assignment in the frontier communities of the Southwest. The number and degree of disturbances often exceeded the capacity of the sheriff's personnel to cope with them. Many lawbreakers were comparatively harmless, and one night in jail...

read more

10. Fugitives from Justice

pdf iconDownload PDF (617.2 KB)
pp. 202-224

Arizona and New Mexico territories attracted an unusual number of desperate outlaw bands in the post-Civil War era. This unsavory element had always accompanied the westward movement of productive Americans, but Arizona and New Mexico territories were peculiarly susceptible to...

read more

11. Sheriffs in Times of Crisis

pdf iconDownload PDF (472.7 KB)
pp. 225-245

If long-range manhunts taxed the resources of the sheriffs, feuds and other larger scale disturbances often exceeded their capabilities and forced the county lawmen to call upon outside assistance. The post-Civil War years were troubled times in New Mexico and Arizona territories. Political...

read more

12. Ex-Officio Collector

pdf iconDownload PDF (456.7 KB)
pp. 246-264

Besides their law enforcement duties, the sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona territories performed an additional task—tax collecting. Although seemingly unrelated to their primary responsibility, the lawmen had gathered public revenues for centuries in England and, later, in the eastern...

read more

13. Handyman

pdf iconDownload PDF (463.6 KB)
pp. 265-278

In addition to the dangerous duties of arresting badmen and pursuing highwaymen, the sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona territories performed many tasks which appeared unrelated to their official position. The sheriff might be called the local public "handyman," a characterization...

read more

14. The Shrievalty Enters the Twentieth Century

pdf iconDownload PDF (549.8 KB)
pp. 279-300

The office of the county sheriff somehow endured the turbulent territorial era and began to experience significant positive changes as statehood approached in 1912. This is not to imply that a mood of optimism was always apparent, as many problems still existed in law enforcement. But considerable...

read more

15. Conclusion

pdf iconDownload PDF (267.7 KB)
pp. 301-307

In March 1908, former Sheriff Patrick Floyd Garrett was shot and killed near Las Cruces, New Mexico. His death took place under very tragic circumstances and caused many pioneers to pause and reflect upon the contributions of the sheriffs to law and order on the Southwestern frontier...


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.2 MB)
pp. 309-344

Appendix A: List of Sheriffs

pdf iconDownload PDF (714.5 KB)
pp. 345-372

Appendix B: Legal Hangings

pdf iconDownload PDF (198.6 KB)
pp. 373-377

Appendix C: Lynchings

pdf iconDownload PDF (173.3 KB)
pp. 378-382


pdf iconDownload PDF (519.9 KB)
pp. 383-398


pdf iconDownload PDF (1.1 MB)
pp. 399-414

E-ISBN-13: 9780826325013
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826317001

Page Count: 428
Publication Year: 1996