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The Hanging Tree

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James Stott
James Stott (Photo from "The Crooked Trail to Holbrook" by Leland J. Hanchett, Jr.

On the morning of August 11, 1888, 25 to 27 men converged upon the Aztec Spring Ranch of James Warren Stott from five different locations: Tonto Basin, Pleasant Valley/Young, Heber, Snowflake/Taylor and Holbrook. With substandard or no telegraph, newspaper or post office, service to coordinate this specific date, it had to be a well-planned conspiracy to commit the triple homicide which was about to take place. Deputy Sheriff J.D. Houck of the Black Canyon Sheep Ranch was the leader and had no warrants whatsoever for any of the three young men who were 24 years old each. Jamie and Jeff fixed them all breakfast and hot coffee not knowing this would be their last. Little did they know within hours these men would be murdering them 19 miles away.

In a Holbrook eatery, Houck swore publicly that he would be grazing his sheep on Jamie Stott’s Aztec Springs Cattle Ranch at T11N-R18E-Sec. 22 and, for the next 12 to 15 years he did exactly that. Ranch hand James Scott was brought from Young, AZ by Houck and had spent the night of Aug. 10, 1888 at Jamie Stott’s Bear Springs Camp two miles away; a former homestead consideration, newcomer cowboy Jeff Wilson from Texas had only been working for Jamie Stott a few days but he would also be murdered. A Prescott newspaper stated that the quarter section homestead would be granting legal title to the Aztec Springs Ranch in a couple months as Jamie Stott had “proved it up” with work accomplished during the three previous years.

Aztec Springs Ranch
Aztec Springs Ranch

Everyone wanted this ranch. James Scott and Jeff Wilson were begging for their lives and crying out for their mothers as they were being hung from the Ponderosa pine tree at FR 300 and FR 86 at Hangman’s trail. Jamie, the third to be hung, challenged the cowards by stating that if they would untie him he would fight them all with fists, clubs or guns.

Houck ordered masked guards to keep the bodies hanging in the hot August sun at the junction of the three trails until the 15th. Meanwhile there were two eye witnesses, Lamotte Clymer and Alfred Ingham, who both suffered from tuberculosis. Ingham walked 47 miles to Holbrook from the Aztec ranch to report the abductions. The first responding deputies to the scene were not allowed access to the hanging scene because of the guards. The second group of responders from Snowflake were able to “cut the bodies down, squashing them onto blankets” that they then drug by saddle horses a half mile down the mountainside to the present gravesites in the Black Canyon middle fork of the west fork at T10 ½ -R15E-Sec. 27. The Snowflake responders were led by Deputy Sheriff Sam Brown who stated that Jamie was wearing the gold ring of James Stott, Sr. when he was buried. See ring in photograph on pg 1.* Even though these kids’ bodies were in an extreme state of decomposition, they were identifiable. James Scott had one blue eye and one brown eye and was 5’2”; Jamie Stott was 6’2” and always had the gold ring on his left hand; Jeff Wilson was of medium build.

Heber, AZ history
Leland J. Hanchet, Jr. and his wife standing over Jamie Stott’s “true” gravesite.

Now it gets confusing: Why is Jeff Wilson buried in Jamie Stott’s mock gravesite and no one is in Jeff Wilson’s grave? Why is the author of “The Crooked Trail to Holbrook” Leland J. Hanchett, Jr. and his wife (see photo) standing over Jamie Stott’s true gravesite 1 ¾ miles away by car in a different canyon close to the gravesite of a sheepherder who previously worked for Deputy Sheriff Houck? The gravesites are within mere feet of each other. Serial killers usually keep a trophy from each victim. It’s been printed that Houck had 31 notches in his pistol grip (not counting Native American killings) and Apache County Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens allegedly bragged having about the same.
See more in the June issue of the Mogollon Rim News as the story continues…

Robert Hutchison and Ruthie Yeats are amateur sleuths who did the research and composition of this story. Please send your comments to them at P.O. Box 2002, Overgaard, AZ 85933.

Sources: “The Crooked Trail to Holbrook”, by Leland J. Hanchett, Jr. and Associated Photographs; “Black Mesa The Hanging of Jamie Stott”, Edited by Leland J. Hanchett, Jr.; “They Shot Billy Today”, by Leland J. Hanchett, Jr.; “The Pleasant Valley War”, by Jinx Pyle