Another of the more prominent citizens of Courtland was James (Jim) Herron. He owned several business, kept the city in a good supply of prime cuts of meats, donated a couple of his lots for a school, and was just an all-around nice guy. Except for one thing...
...he did all this while he was a fugitive....
Depending on what you read, life for Jim Herron began in Ellis County, Texas in 1864, 1865 or 1866. Herron claimed he was born in 1866, and his headstone gives the year as 1865. He claimed to know neither the month nor the day. In later years he would adopt December 25 as the anniversary of his birth.
Jim Herron held many different jobs…cattle driver, herd owner, saloon keeper, saloon owner, first sheriff of Beaver County, Oklahoma, cattle rustler, farrier, hotel/saloon owner, partner of the Gold Queen mine, and a property owner in an Arizona boom town named Courtland. He accomplished most of this while he was a fugitive.
Jim Herron really didn’t do anything wrong, but he just couldn’t seem to get things quite right with the cattle business when he lived and worked on various cattle ranches in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. At the time in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma, cowboys working for cattle ranchers were not allowed to own their own herd and Jim had “acquired” a herd of about 400 cattle. Oh…they all had his brand, and he had bills of sale, but yet other brands and ear notches on his cattle told other folks a different story. He was arrested and put on trial in Meade County, Kansas, on Thursday, September 7, 1893. The trial lasted a week. Before the guilty verdict could be read, Jim Herron skipped town and began his adventure on “The Owl Hoot Trail.”
He made his way to Arizona, settling in Payson and Globe first, and living quietly in Gila County until his reputation caught up with him. Pearce, Arizona, was being “boomed” at the time and the saloon business beckoned Herron. Jim and his family lived in Pearce for about a year until his past again caught up to him and they moved into Mexico, about eight miles south of the border.
Jim acquired a ranch in the area as well as a hotel and a saloon, called the Cow Ranch, just across the border in Naco, Arizona. Once again, he began brokering cattle—buying them in Mexico and selling them in Arizona.
In 1903, Herron and his family moved to Tombstone, Arizona, bought the Nobles Hotel, renamed it the La Rita Hotel, and opened a saloon two doors west of the Crystal Palace. Jim also continued in his cattle business. Within a year, Jim’s wife May died, and in 1906 Jim married his third wife, Mary Valencia. One child was born to Jim and Mary, Millie on April 15, 1908. (In later years Jim and Mary divorced.)
Somewhere in that time-frame, Herron bought some land, and became a partner in a gold mine over on the east side of the Dragoon Mountains in what would soon become the boom town of Courtland.
The family moved to Courtland, AZ, in 1910, after business in Tombstone slowed enough to make further operations there unprofitable. In Courtland, Herron sold off some of his property in lots to investors who wanted a piece of the boom town action. The small subdivision on the north end of Courtland was called Herron. Jim also opened the Pastime Pool Hall, owned a two story brick hotel, ranched, and opened a slaughter house and butcher shop (Courtland Market) with a branch in nearby Pearce. The slaughter house would be the cause of his final run-in with the law.
The sheriff’s office had become suspicious of Herron’s operations at the slaughter house, suspecting Jim was slaughtering rustled beef. The place was staked out for several days. On the evening of Sunday, June 2, 1912, Deputy John Bright and two assistants, Charles L. McKinney and John Parrish, discovered several hides in an old assessment hole near the slaughter house. At the same time they observed Herron drive two cows into the corral and immediately head back to town. The deputies slipped up to the corral and inspected the two cows. The lawmen set a trap.
Within a short time, Herron returned with John Oldham, and Tom Maloney and the trap was sprung. The lawmen gave Herron, Oldham and Maloney enough time to get the cows inside, and then stormed into the slaughter house with guns drawn, catching the three butchering the cows. One cow had already been skinned and Herron displayed another hide as the one that had been removed from the one animal, but the ruse did not work.
Herron said the cattle had gotten mixed in with a bunch he’d bought from the Sulphur Springs Valley Cattle Company. He said that when such mix ups had occurred before, he’d found the owner and made restitution. He never explained why he didn’t notify the rightful owners before the cattle were slaughtered.
One count of larceny was filed against Jim Herron, John Oldham, and T. W. Maloney. Maloney was subsequently released from custody and the charges dropped. Another count of larceny was filed against Jim Herron only. On August 19, 1912, John Oldham plead guilty in the first case, and was sentenced to five years in prison. Herron was found not guilty in that particular case on August 31. However, Jim still had one count against him for stealing one heifer branded \ on the left hip and belonging to the Sulphur Springs Valley Cattle Company.
Oldham, who had testified on behalf of Jim at the earlier trial, now changed his story and implicated Herron. Jim took the stand in his own defense but failed to convince the jury of his innocence. He was sentenced to five years in the prison at Florence, AZ. He was remanded to the prison’s custody on October 9, 1912. One year later, on October 5, 1913, Jim Herron was paroled and restored to citizenship.
Jim returned to Courtland where he again engaged in the cattle trading business, buying cheap cattle in Mexico and bringing them into Arizona for resale. More than once did Herron encounter difficulties, not only with the Mexican government, but with rustlers and factions opposing each other during the Mexican Revolution.
Jim Herron returned to Beaver County in 1935, hoping to get a new trial up in Meade County, Kansas, on the old 1893 charge. No action was ever taken but, also, Jim was never extradited back to Kansas. The matter was simply forgotten.
Jim Herron, the first sheriff of Beaver County, Oklahoma, died September 4, 1949, and is buried in Newman, California.
This article was condensed from “Jim Herron, He Eluded the Law for Fifty Years” By Roger Meyers, with additional information from the book, “Fifty Years on the Owl Hoot Trail” by Harry E. Chrisman, and news articles from the “Courtland Arizonan.”