BURT ALVORD—FROM LAWMAN TO OUTLAW MAN
Albert “Burt” W. Alvord was born in Plumas County, California on September 11, 1867. His father, a native of New York, worked as prospector and as a mechanic for mining companies, but he eventually came to hold the public offices such as constable and justice of the peace in several of the places that the family lived. The family moved often throughout Burt’s childhood, following the mining business from boomtown to boomtown. In 1879 the family settled in Pima County, Arizona, but soon moved to Tombstone. Alvord never went to school, but he likely learned a lot from his father’s cases about local disputes. He also spent much time working at the O.K. Corral where he got to know the townspeople very well. While in Tombstone, Alvord may have witnessed the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Whether he did or not, the happenings in Tombstone made the town famous probably made a big impression on young Alvord.
Despite Alvord’s reputation for frequenting saloons and his participating in several bar altercations, Sheriff John Slaughter recruited Alvord as a deputy in 1886. The same year, Alvord’s mother died. Alvord served mostly as a muscle man behind Slaughter's operations. His lack of experience and finesse in law enforcement resulted in Alvord making several bad decisions. He was reportedly “not noble, temperate, far seeing, or unselfish”. He did assist Slaughter in capturing or killing several rustlers and other outlaws between 1886 and 1889, but his image suffered when his alcoholism became increasingly apparent. Alvord continued to frequent saloons, and even worse he began to associate with gamblers and suspected outlaws. When Sheriff Slaughter reprimanded him for his actions, he turned in his badge.
Alvord next worked as a lawman in several Arizona towns in the 1890s, including Willcox, Fairbank and Pearce.
During the late 1890s Burt was serving as constable of the town of Willcox during which he planned and staged a train robbery on the Southern Pacific. Burt’s plan was to use his job as a lawman to screen his moonlighting as leader of a gang of train robbers. The plan included his drinking cronies, Billy Stiles, Matt Burts and Bill Downing. His alibi was cleverly planned. The four would be playing poker in the back room at Schwertner’s Saloon when the robbery occurred.
On the night of the robbery the boys were sitting in the back room of the saloon playing poker. Every few minutes a porter would carry a round of drinks into the room and emerge with a tray of empty glasses and announce to the local imbibers that Burt and the boys were having a serious game of poker behind those closed doors and didn’t want to be disturbed.
Meanwhile, Burt and his friends exited a side window, mounted their horses and vanished into the night. They robbed the train while it was stopped in Cochise, stashed the loot and re-entered the back room of the saloon through the side window.
After the train robbers vanished into the night, the engineer backed the train into Willcox and gave the alarm. Someone suggested they alert the town marshal, who was playing poker at Schwertner’s Saloon.
Burt was noticeably shocked when told of the robbery. “Great Scott” he shouted pointing at his three fellow robbers, “I need volunteers for a posse, you, you, and you.” Announcing to all within earshot, Burt declared, “We’ve got to run down those nefarious skalawag’s,” and the posse rode off into the night.
Next morning, they arrived back into town weary, claiming they’d lost the trail. There were a few eyebrows raised and rumors floating around town. Some of those rumors pointed to the constable as the ringleader. Burt tried to defuse on the gossip by claiming everyone knew he was too dumb to pull off such a clever caper.
Burt was feeling pretty good about himself. For now, it looked like he’d planned and executed the perfect crime. In all the annals of train robberies in the Old West it was the only time the robbers and the posse that chased them were one and the same.
In 1896, Burt Alvord married Lola Ochoa, bought a ranch near Pearce, and settled down. Once again, he became a sheriff’s deputy. Unfortunately, his life took a turn for the worse just two years later, when his father died. In late December 1899, Alvord suddenly and inexplicably resigned his post of deputy sheriff.
Almost immediately after turning in his badge, Alvord left his wife and returned to crime. He formed a gang with outlaws Billy Stiles and "Three Fingered Jack" Dunlop, men he had once pursued during his career as a law officer. Alvord's gang committed several armed robberies in Cochise County. When he and Stiles were both captured, they somehow managed to escape.
On February 15, 1900, during a bungled train robbery in Fairbank, lawman Jeff Milton peppered gang member, Bravo Juan Yoas’ backside with a round from his shotgun, and killed “Three Fingers Jack Dunlap.” Later that year, Alvord was again captured and taken to Tombstone. Billy Stiles rode to Tombstone and wounded the deputy on duty, allowing Alvord and 24 other prisoners to escape.
In 1902, Alvord made a deal with Arizona Rangers Captain Burton C. Mossman: If Alvord assisted in capturing the notorious Mexican bandit Augustine Chacon, Alvord would receive a share of the reward money and a reduced sentence in exchange. When Chacon was convicted of murder and hanged at Solomonville, Alvord decided it was wiser not to surrender after all, and again went into hiding. Alvord and Billy Stiles returned to crime, now pursued by the Arizona Rangers. They were captured in December 1903, but again managed to escape. Alvord even made a crude attempt at faking their deaths, using the bodies of two unknown Mexicans. Alvord sent the bodies to Tombstone, claiming they were himself and Stiles. However, an examination quickly showed the dead men were not the two "gringos".
The irritated Arizona Rangers finally pursued the outlaws across the international border into Mexico, trapping them near Naco in February 1904. The outlaws resisted, but they surrendered after they both had been wounded. Alvord would spend two years in Yuma prison. Following his release, he announced he was going by ship to start anew in Central America. He was last seen in 1910 working as a canal employee. Alvord's last years are unknown.
References: True West Magazine, Wikipedia, Legends of America, ArizonaOddities
The photo above is one of many in the collection inside the Cochise Hotel.