In May of 1889, U.S. Marshal W.K. Meade reported that “Major Wham Paymaster U.S. army was attacked on the eleventh about thirty miles north of Fort Grant,” where he and ten buffalo soldiers were pinned down by armed robbers. After the firefight, Meade was horrified to find eight soldiers wounded and $28,345 (over half a million dollars today) of the army’s payroll stolen.
From his base in Tucson’s federal courthouse, Meade makes it his personal mission to bring the outlaws to justice. Meade has a reputation as the most relentless of lawmen, but his requests for more men, more time, and more money from Washington D.C. seem incredible for a case that boasts seven eyewitnesses, each of whom have clearly seen the bandits’ faces. Now that these desperadoes have been captured, their conviction seems certain.
Major Wham, however, is not so sure. He cautions that his “courageous escort is again discredited by the fact that they are negroes.” He worries, “is a democratic judge likely to give full weight to the testimony of these noble fellows?” Indeed, in 1889, the Democrats are the party of the old Confederate states and often resist the interests of the federal government.
This series crawls the complex web of rumor surrounding the lawmen, the military, the newspapers, the suspects, the nearby Mormon town of Pima, and the Arizona territory when it was on the fragile cusp of statehood.