Starting in 2006, I began research into the family history on my mother’s side---her maiden name was Virginia Cora Gray. Prior to her death, she provided little if any information about the Gray family, which I discovered (through pure chance) had indeed a rich history in Texas going back to the 1830’s when my great, great, great grandfather, Pleasant Gray, founded the City of Huntsville, Texas, and was a good friend of the legendary Sam Houston. Some early research concerning Pleasant, and his family, is included in Appendix 1 to this publication. The Gray family tree is located on the Pleasant Gray website (www.pleasantgray.com). One other source of family history and my research, the Pleasant Gray family bible, is held in the historical archives section of the library at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas.
In 2008, my brother Eric visited the Gray Ranch in southwestern New Mexico which was owned in the early 1880s by our great, great uncle Michael (“Mike”) Gray, son of Pleasant Gray, and brother of my great, great grandfather, John A.W. Gray (also known as “Jack”).
Jack Gray enlisted in the Confederate Army in Texas. From 1862 to 1865, he engaged in minor skirmishes during the Civil War in Arkansas (some sites of which I have visited). After the war, he returned to Terrell, Texas, was married and had three children---but died at the age of 44. He is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery in Terrell Texas, with a headstone I placed in 2007. His son, George Gray, is my great grandfather and was a prominent citizen in Terrell, Texas---including being fire chief, assistant post-master, printer, and a dry goods store owner. Their house at 601 Johnson Street, Terrell, Texas still stands, and there are photos of George Gray, his son Glenn (my grandfather) and my mother, Virginia, in front of that house from the 1920s. George Gray and his wife, Vernie Cora Sommers, are buried in the Oakwood Cemetery in Terrell, Texas.
About the time Eric returned from his initial visit to the Gray Ranch in 2008, I also discovered the memoirs of one of Mike Gray’s sons, John Plesent Gray, and that started the search for more information about Mike and his family who were indeed first hand witnesses and participants in one of the richest parts of Old West history---the late 1800s in and around Tombstone, Arizona.
Prior to his death, Eric and I made one trip together to the Gray Ranch as part of this research, and thereafter I made several more to Arizona and New Mexico---acquiring more information each time, meeting some very knowledgeable people, local historians and general “characters”. I reviewed old archives, and visited some places that few people have been able to access---both because of their remoteness and the fact that certain properties relating to the family history, most notably the Gray Ranch and the Guadalupe Canyon Ranch, are now in private ownership.
The available information concerning Mike Gray and his family could probably be compiled into a more scholarly biographical format than the compilation that I have chosen herein, but some of the source material to my research is so thorough and well-written that I have elected to include those materials in various appendices to this publication and post them to the Pleasant Gray website, rather than do the disservice of trying to summarize them. A failure to read them will unquestionably result in overlooking an enormous amount of rich history---not only of the Gray family, but of the places and times in which they lived. Most notably, these materials include the above-referenced memoirs of John Plesent Gray (Appendix 2 on the Gray family website), which were written in the 1940 and effectively “lost” for almost 60 years until they were unearthed in the 1990s by historian W. Lane Rogers. Rogers took those memoirs and annotated them with photos and footnotes that put John’s accounts into greater factual perspective. But, in addition to John Gray’s memoirs, other notable Old West historians, such as Lynn Bailey, Ben Traywick and Roy Young, have published materials that describe aspects of Mike Gray’s interesting life. There are also some unpublished materials about Mike Gray that are posted on the Pleasant Gray website.
Using those materials, and interviews with a number of knowledgeable people over the past few years, I have sought to uncover information not previously documented (or in some cases photographed) which complements the published material and adds to the Mike Gray family history. That is what follows. It focuses heavily on the tragic murder of Mike’s nineteen year old son, Richard “Dixie Lee” Gray, at what has become famously known as the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre in August 1881, as well as on other events relating to the Gray family cattle operations in the Chiricahua Mountains at a former Army camp known as Fort Rucker--- which Mike Gray acquired after it was abandoned by the Army in 1882.
A. BACKGROUND ON MIKE GRAY
Born in Tennessee in 1827, Mike was the oldest son of Pleasant and Hannah Gray. Pleasant arrived in southern Texas in 1830 and soon became a friend of Sam Houston. Pleasant reportedly gave Houston the land on which he built a home near Huntsville, Texas out of a seven square mile land grant that Pleasant received from the Mexican government in 1835. As the recognized founder of Huntsville, Texas, Pleasant laid out the design of the city and sold a large portion of his land to other earlier settlers in the Huntsville area. (A replica of Pleasant’s first home sits on the original Gray homesite on the Huntsville City downtown square across from the courthouse. A historical marker designates this site as well as a nearby site where Pleasant met with local Indians in his efforts to settle the area.)
Mike Gray enlisted in Sam Houston’s Texas Rangers at age 14, rising to the level of lieutenant and is believed to have fought against the Mexican army in the early days of the Texas Republic.
Despite his relative prominence and some prosperity in Texas, Pleasant was intrigued with the opportunities presented by the California Gold Rush, and he decided to move the family to California in 1849. However, he tragically died on the journey west from cholera (although family lore attributes the death to an Indian attack.) The family was obviously devastated, but
Mike Gray met his future wife on that same wagon train trip to California, marrying Sarah Ann Robinson in 1853 while serving as sheriff of Yuba County, California. Thereafter, he moved to Sacramento and served as Sergeant of Arms for the California Assembly, the lower body of the state legislature. He was offered a commission by the California Volunteers to support the Union army in 1861, but declined due to his Confederate allegiance. (As part of my research, I also discovered a sales receipt evidencing that Mike Gray owned a female slave with two children in Texas and sold all three for $1000 to a William Reeves apparently before departing to California..)
While Mike declined his commission with the California Volunteers, in the process he nonetheless acquired the unofficial title of “Colonel”. In California, Mike’s oldest son, John Plesent Gray was born in 1860.
During the Civil War, Mike Gray moved the family to Mexico to pursue mining interests. In Guaymas, Sonora, he operated a mine as well as a hotel. His youngest son, Richard, was born in Mexico in 1862 and dubbed “Dixie Lee” to reflect Mike’s support to the Confederacy and its most famous general. After the Mexican mining efforts failed, the Gray family returned to California.
The discovery of silver by Ed Schieffelin in Southeastern Arizona in 1877 had the adventuresome Mike Gray on the move again, and in June 1879 he moved to Tombstone with his wife, Dixie Lee and daughter Maggie. John followed soon thereafter in 1880 after graduating from the University of California earlier that same year.
In 1879, Mike acquired an interest in the Way Up mine, adjacent to the Good Enough Mine which was owned, in part, by Ed Schieffelin. A significant lawsuit ensued between the owners of the Way up Mine and the Good Enough Mine, which alleged that Gray was illegally removing ore from the Good Enough Mine. Not to be intimidated by Schieffelin, Gray counterclaimed and engaged an expensive San Francisco law firm, at significant expense, to handle the lawsuit which Gray and his co-owners of the Way Up eventually won. (In 2011, using an old map of Tombstone mine locations, I believe I located the closed up entry to the Way Up Mine.)
Colonel Mike Gray has been referred to as a Tombstone “mover and shaker” and “fearless” by one prominent historian who cited his service as a justice of the peace (Gray administered the oath to Wyatt Earp as a deputy sheriff in July 1880). Besides being a mine operator, he was a boarding house owner, secretary to the town council, and staunch Democrat who was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 1886, 1892, 1898 and 1900. Another prominent historian called him “selfish and dishonest”, and “a most slippery customer”--- linking him the murders of Ike and Bill Heslett in June, 1881. Yet another author disparages him as a key figure in the Tombstone Townsite land fraud scandal, and yet another speculates that he was the “silent leader of the Cowboys.”
In 1881, recognizing the value of the then rich grasslands that could support large herds of cattle with burgeoning markets in the northern and western portions of the United States, Mike Gray
acquired the “rights“ to a large tract of land (now approximately 300,000 acres) in the Animas Valley, located in the “bootheel” (southwestern corner) of New Mexico from outlaw Curly Bill Brocius. He paid Curly Bill the grand sum of $300 for his “rights”, and then set about to establish his legal title to this land under the New Mexico preemption law, which he ultimately did. He and his family established this ranching operation, called the Gray Ranch, while maintaining their business interests in Tombstone. Trips back and forth to Tombstone were frequent for Mike and the two sons, John and Dixie Lee, who helped their father with the cattle operations. According to John’s memoirs, the modest ranch house built at the Gray Ranch saw frequent visitors---Army personnel on patrol searching for renegade Apaches, various lawmen, and some of the most wanted and notorious outlaws of the time. All were welcome for a meal.
(The tract purchased by Mike Gray for $300 in 1881 was sold a couple years later to the Hearst family from San Francisco for $12,000. A nice profit--- but in 1990 essentially the same tract was purchased for $18 million.)
Mike Gray, with his constant travelling back and forth from Tombstone to the Gray Ranch, cleverly managed relationships with the likes of Wyatt Earp and his brothers, as well as with the respected and law abiding elements of the Tombstone community (Judge William Stillwell, Sherriff John Behan, and others). But he also befriended outlaws like Curly Bill Brocius and Jim Crane, as well as members of the Clanton and McLaury families, both of which suffered at the hands of the Earps and Doc Holliday at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral in October 1881, only two months after the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre where Dixie Lee Gray was murdered. Mike Gray’s instinct for self-preservation was as keen as anyone who understood the power centers and inherent risks of life in the Old West.
The life of Curly Bill Brocius is the subject of two well-researched books: Curly Bill by Steve Gatto (2003) and Curly Bill, Horse Thief, Cattle Dealer, Murderer and Lawman: 1858-1909 by Randolph Farmer (2013). An interesting controversy remains as to whether Curly Bill was killed in 1882 by Wyatt Earp, as Earp claimed, or whether he returned to Texas and transformed himself into a respectable citizen and lawman.
As noted above, while no single comprehensive biography of Mike Gray has been written, there is a rich source of documentation concerning his life in Tombstone, the operation of the Gray Ranch, and the subsequent acquisition of Camp Rucker in the Chiricahua Mountains where he ran a cattle operation from 1882 to 1896. All of this documentation should be read carefully and includes:
When All Roads Led to Tombstone: A Memoir by John Plesent Gray (edited by W. Lane Rogers in 1998). Appendix 2. This is a must read. A slightly annotated version of John
P. Gray’s original memoirs, published by Neil B. Carmony, is included at Appendix 3 on the Gray website. Carmony’s version does not include the post 1882 section of the John Gray memoirs.
Cochise County Stalwarts (pages 154-56) by Lynn R. Bailey and Don Chaput (2000). See Appendix 4 at the Gray family website. This publication is hailed as the best researched summary of prominent Arizona figures in the late 1800s.
Chapter 18, The Murder of Robert Hardie, from Judge William Stillwell, Bench And Bar In Arizona Territory by Roy B. Young (2011). See Appendix 5 at the Gray family website. This is a richly detailed account of the murder of a prominent Los Angeles attorney visiting Mike Gray at Fort Rucker.
Chapter 11, Tombstone Mill & Mining Company v Way Up, from Judge William Stillwell, Bench and Bar In Arizona Territory by Roy B. Young (2011). See Appendix 6 at the Gray family website. This account of litigation instituted by Mike Gray against prominent adjacent mine owners in Tombstone reveals his determination to protect his interests at great cost.
A Hundred Years of Horse Tracks, The Story of the Gray Ranch by George Hilliard (1996) pp. 1-35. See Appendix 7 at the Gray family website. This is a good summary of the early days of the Gray Ranch.
The History of Camp John A Rucker . See Appendix 8 at the Gray family website. An unpublished historical account of the history of Fort Rucker with many references to Mike Gray; includes documents found in Army archives at nearby Fort Bowie which is another preserved historical Army Camp with a museum.
Arizona Land Fraud: Model 1880 The Tombstone Townsite Company by Henry P. Walker, published in Arizona and The West, 1979 Volume 21, pp 5-36. See Appendix 9 at the Gray family website. The Townsite scandal reveals the real entrepreneurial side of Mike Gray, whose efforts to sell contested land in Tombstone is probably drawn from the experiences of his father, Pleasant Gray, who was very much the land developer in Huntsville, Texas in the 1830s, when he quite legitimately advertised for the sale of lots in Huntsville in publications back east and even on Mississippi river boats. A poster of such river boat promotions still exists in Huntsville archives. Mike Gray took heavy criticism for his attempts to sell contested lots in Tombstone. Despite this notoriety, Mike Gray should also be remembered for giving land away in Tombstone, including to the Catholic Church---again somewhat reminiscent of the generosity of his father, who once reportedly gave a plot of land to Sam Houston to build his first home in Huntsville.
Archeology and History of Rucker Canyon, Coronado National Forest by William B. Gillespie and Mary M. Ferrell March, 1994. See Appendix 10 at the Gray family website. Discussed in more detail below, I discovered this unpublished article in a visit to Cave Creek Canyon with Eric where we met a local author who had a copy. It is an extraordinary document that recounts archeological discoveries over many centuries and maps the Fort Rucker area in wonderful detail. Time spent with Bill Gillespie was particularly fruitful.
Wyatt Earp, Angel of Death by Ben. T Traywick, (2007) pp.172-215. Traywick’s account of the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre is particularly worth reading since it introduces a theory that a posse led by Wyatt Earp (which included Earp’s brothers and Doc Holliday) was also present with the Rurales--- and that Earp’s posse was primarily responsible for the murders. See Appendix 11 at the Gray family website. Traywick is generally recognized as the official “historian” of Tombstone, and is the author of numerous well researched books and articles. He offers unique theories and views, which he unabashedly and entertainingly shared in our two personal meetings in Tombstone at his bookstore. If Traywick’s theory is true, it would be tragically ironic that Earp killed the son of Mike Gray who administered an oath of office to Earp in his early days as a lawman in Tombstone.
Roy Young has also written a very well researched article that touches on Mike Gray relative to the murder of the Heslet Brothers (Ike and Billy) in 1881, at a time when Mike Gray was seeking to acquire the Heslet Ranch to expand his own Gray Ranch holdings. Young’s account provides a vivid description of events leading up to the murders, which were apparently committed by outlaw Jim Crane (a Gray family acquaintance) and a gang of 15-20 other men. The article provides insight into the “claim” process surrounding acquisition of grazing lands in southern New Mexico, including the process by which Mike Gray acquired and perfected his claim to the land that became the Gray Ranch. While Roy’s article repeats the speculation of others as to Mike Gray’s involvement in the killing of the Heslet brothers, no clear proof exists. His excellent article (See Exhibit 12 at the Gray family website) appears in the December 23, 2009 edition of Western Outlaw, and is entitled The Heslet Brothers in Grant County, New Mexico. Roy also shared some additional material with me regarding Mike Gray, following our initial meeting in Tombstone in 2012.
From these materials, the following general timeline of key Gray family activities in Southeastern Arizona and Southern New Mexico can be developed:
1879 Mike Gray’s arrival in Tombstone. His wife Sarah, and children John, Richard (“Dixie Lee”) and Maggie arrived slightly later starting likely in 1880.
1880 Mike became Justice of the Peace in Tombstone.
1880 Mike became active in Democratic Party in Tombstone (clerk of Tombstone’s Common Council).
Part owner and operator of Way Up mine. Participation in Tombstone Town Site controversy.
1881 Purchase of land from Curly Bill Brocius (now known as the Gray Ranch); construction of ranch house.
1881 Murder of Dixie Lee Gray at Guadalupe Canyon.
1883 Sale of Gray Ranch to the Hearst family of San Francisco for $12,000.
Purchase of abandoned Army camp Fort Rucker in the Chiricahua mountains. Start of cattle operations at Fort Rucker and surrounding open grazing lands.
1890 Murder of Robert Hardie by The Apache Kid while Hardie was a guest of Mike Gary at the Fort Rucker house.
1893 Death of daughter Maggie. 1894 Death of wife Sarah.
1896 Sale of Fort Rucker property to the Hampe family. 1896 Move to ranch in nearby Pearce, Arizona.
1906 Death of Mike Gray at age 79 (buried Greenlawn Cemetery, Colina, California).
1943 Death of son John Plesent Gray at age 82 (Inglewood Cemetery, Los Angeles, Ca. cremated).
THE GRAVES OF THE MEN MURDERED AT THE GUADALUPE CANYON MASSACRE
On August 13, 1881, seven men were ambushed in the Peloncillo Mountain range in Southwest New Mexico in what has long been referred to as to Guadalupe Canyon Massacre. Five were killed, presumably by an element of the Mexican country police known as the “Rurales” who had likely been dispatched to avenge an earlier attack on Mexicans in Skeleton Canyon, New Mexico. This was part of the then ongoing cycle of cattle rustling and murders involving Mexican and American outlaws, the latter often referred to in Old West lore as the “Cowboys”. The five murdered men included outlaw Jim Crane, rancher Billy Lang, reputed cattle rustlers Charlie Snow and Newman “Old Man Clanton”, and Richard “Dixie Lee” Gray, the 19 year old son of Colonel Mike Gray. (Many believe that the “Colonel” designation came from Mike’s affiliation with Sam Houston’s Texas Rangers when the Gray family lived in Texas prior to moving to California in 1849. In fact, as noted above, it was a title bestowed unofficially on him in California when his service into the Confederate Army was unsuccessfully solicited during the Civil War.)
All five men were killed early in the morning of August 13th, some (including Dixie Lee) before
they escaped their bedrolls, while camped in preparation for a cattle drive to Tombstone. Ironically, Dixie Lee had joined the group, at his father’s exhortation, simply for the safety of not travelling alone to Tombstone through the Guadalupe Canyon, which was one of the more dangerous routes in that border area because of the constant violence surrounding cattle rustling
--- and related murders and robberies. This same part of southwestern part of New Mexico also served as an “out of state” refuge for outlaw Cowboys from nearby Arizona towns like Tombstone, Charleston, and Galleyville, and other surrounding areas in Arizona where the Cowboys engaged in illegal activities. Outlaw Jim Crane and the Clanton family both had small ranch hideouts in New Mexico near the Gray Ranch which was just north of Guadalupe Canyon. (During my research trips, I visited Tombstone on several occasions, as well as Charleston and Galleyville, Arizona, which were favorite hangouts of the outlaw element---filled with bars and brothels---and long ago abandoned,. I also visited the Clanton family hideout location off the Geronimo Trail near the Gray Ranch.)
Without question, of all that has been written about the Gray family, the most comprehensive history of the Grays from 1879 to 1900 is found in the memoirs of Mike’s son, John Plesent Gray. It is often acclaimed as one of the finest firsthand accounts of life in and around Tombstone in its heyday. John’s memoirs vividly describe many events and personal interactions of the Gray family with prominent and notorious men, and include John’s personal account of the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre.
Information from John’s memoirs, and some recent detective work, has solved one of the mysteries for our family---where exactly is the grave of Dixie Lee Gray? We now know the answer to that question, and in the process we have likely established where all the other four murder victims of the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre are buried. Until the recent discovery of the graves of Jim Crane, Billy Lang and Charlie Snow, only the grave site of Newman “Old Man” Clanton in the Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone had been confirmed. So here is how the mystery as to the location of those graves was solved.
John Gray’s memoirs reflect the following information, which includes his own account of recovering the bodies and their burial, as well as that of one of the two survivors, Billy Byers.
Byers’ own report of the attack is published in various newspaper articles in 1881, including an article from The Arizona Weekly Star, August 25, 1881 with the following account:
PLACE HOLDER MORE BORDER TROUBLES
Thus, according to John Gray’s memoirs and the published accounts in 1881, the body of Charlie Snow was buried near the site of the massacre and the other four bodies returned to the Gray Ranch and buried on a knoll near the old ranch house.
In 2010, I visited the ranch which is now privately held but still referred to by some as the “Gray Ranch”. It now comprises some 350,000 acres (having been enlarged through acquisition of adjacent ranches in the years since Mike Gray owned it in the early 1880s. My guide for the visit in 2010 was Mary Moore, a long time employee at the Gray Ranch, who had actually grown up in the area and for over 50 years had travelled the Gray Ranch and surrounding areas in the bootheel area of New Mexico. When I asked her if she knew the site of the old ranch house, she took me to a location where remnants of an original outbuilding near the ranch house remained partially intact. I then inquired if she knew anything about any graves on a “knoll” near the ranch house site, and she said she vaguely recalled seeing such on a knoll a short distance from the original ranch site many years ago, but knew nothing of who was buried there. She thought she could find them. After scouring several knolls near the old ranch house site, we found three markers made of a mortar type material. One marker was significantly larger than the other two--- and the other two took the form of small mortar crosses embedded in the ground. The larger marker, which certainly had to be that of Dixie Lee, had a hollowed out section which apparently served as a holder for a wooden cross, remnants of which still existed but which had fragmented and weathered over the past 129 years. I now possess those remnants.
Near Dixie Lee’s grave is a clear depression in the ground about the size of a coffin---possibly the original site of Old Man Clanton’s grave before his sons removed the body in 1882 and re- interred it at Boot Hill in Tombstone. In 2013, I marked Dixie Lee’s with a granite headstone with an additional notation that the bodies of Jim Crane and Billy Lang also reside in the same spot.
While the family mystery of where Dixie Lee was buried was solved----and evidence of the graves of Crane and Lang likely established, I began to wonder about the grave of Charley Snow, the fifth murder victim of the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre whose body was so badly riddled with bullets that John Gray decided to bury Charley where they found his body in the Canyon.
Over the years, there have been differing speculations as to the exact site of the massacre----with the only two written contemporaneous accounts about the event--- those of John Gray and Billy Byers --- and neither identified an exact location in the Canyon. The Guadalupe Canyon is now home to a single ranch----several others having been subsumed over the years into ownership by a single family---and this ranch in the Guadalupe Canyon, like the Gray Ranch, has no public access. But in my communications with the owners in recent years, it was clear that they had developed an understanding as to the location of the massacre site, in large part based on the accounts passed down by the McDonald family whose members had lived in the area well back into the late 1800s and early 1900s. The McDonald family information was purportedly derived from a family member discussion with the driver of the wagon that went to Guadalupe Canyon to pick up the bodies----in fact, John’s memoirs specifically refer to a wagon being driven from the Gray Ranch to the massacre site. That information, from the wagon driver to the McDonalds, placed the massacre site at a place in the Canyon subsequently marked by an old schoolhouse site and near an old gate and corral that still stand, and near a stream which would have been a natural overnight site for a cattle drive.
Armed with this information, and Byers’ reference to three nearby low hills, I requested access to the site, primarily thinking that I might be able to identify where Dixie Lee had been shot. Locating Charley Snow’s grave some 132 years later seemed remote until a remark was made by the ranch owner a few months before he granted me permission, along with my friend Art Hobbs,
to enter Guadalupe Canyon. The owner somewhat matter-of-factly mentioned that there had been a brush fire a couple years earlier --- near what they had believed was the massacre site--- and the fire had uncovered what appeared to be a grave. While the ranch owner was aware with the general history of the massacre, he was not familiar with John Gray’s account describing that Charley Snow was buried where his body was found --- so the potential significance of the grave he had discovered had not been apparent until I mentioned John’s account. Now arrangements for the trip to the Guadalupe Canyon took on even greater importance----I might not only be able to stand where Dixie Lee and the others were ambushed, but the discovery of the exact location of Charley Snow’s grave became more than a remote possibility.
In 1881, and even for decades thereafter, Guadalupe Canyon was largely open range, not unlike the Gray Ranch just to the north. But unlike the Gray Ranch which still has vast areas of open grassland areas, much of the Guadalupe Canyon grazing areas have become overgrown with an assortment of trees and brush. Our entry into Guadalupe Canyon, over what must have been the original path of any cattle drive in or out of the canyon, was over rugged terrain, marked on each side with interesting rock formations and along an old creek bed. Our escorts took us to the fence and corral that earmarked the location passed down in the McDonald family accounts, and it was easy to see the higher vantage points in the sloping hills near that site where the Rurales likely laid in ambush. These appeared to be the hills describe by Byers. Not far away was a pile of rocks that had been carefully and in a configuration that would match that of a likely grave. Some rusted metal materials lie under a portion of the rocks. This seemed to be the likely site of Charley Snow’s burial.
THE GRAY FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE COWBOYS
While some might simply attribute coincidence or circumstance to the fact that Dixie Lee was ambushed with the outlaw and murderer Jim Crane, and that John buried Crane near Dixie Lee as a matter of convenience, I think more can be read into these events in terms of the relationship between the Gray family and Jim Crane, and other criminals of the time like Curly Bill Brocius and Billy Leonard. Furthermore, the Gray family relationships with the Clantons, who like Crane had a nearby “hideout” ranch in New Mexico, as well as with the McLaury brothers, underscores what John said in his memoirs when he noted that on the “frontier in those pioneer times, if you hoped to survive you had to be a good neighbor to all”. He repeatedly comments in his memoirs that the Grays knew and befriended a large number of rustlers, observing “(t)he rustlers were not wholly a bad set” --- and that “(t)hey were young men and boys hardly out of their teens who fell into this life in search of adventure.” But he also clearly acknowledged that the Grays knew that there were certain men among these rustlers who “knew crime as a business”. These men were not just adventuresome, and Crane was one such man whose violence is fairly well documented and was known to the Grays.
As a justice of the peace in Tombstone, Mike Gray definitely knew which men had adopted violent crime as a business. Besides Crane, whose path crossed frequently with the Grays prior to Dixie Lee’s murder, Gray had known Curly Bill Brocius prior to his acquisition of Brocius’ squatter rights for $300 for the land that would become the Gray Ranch. In early November 1880, Curly Bill had in fact appeared before Mike Gray in his justice of the peace capacity following Curly Bill’s arrest for the fatal shooting of Marshal Fred White, although Curly Bill was never charged with a crime. Although Mike Gray had nothing to do with the ultimate decision not to charge Brocius, the Gray acquisition of Curly Bill’s squatter’s rights to the land in nearby New Mexico occurred coincidentally soon thereafter in the following few months.
Perhaps most revealing in terms of the Gray’s familiarity with outlaws and rustlers are the some of the events involving Crane and Billy Leonard. Consider the following:
After acquiring Curly Bill’s rights to what would become the Gray Ranch (with Curly Bill’s “guarantee” that his rights were valid), the Grays were confronted one day at the ranch by a mysterious character named George Washington Jones. Jones gave the Grays a letter challenging the Gray’s rights to the ranch and demanded that they abandon the ranch. A short while later, the Grays mentioned this threat to Jim Crane who knew that Curly Bill had sold his interest to the Grays and effectively guaranteed whatever his rights were. In response, Crane stated that he knew know who Jones was, although that was not his true name. (No surprise there.) Whether it was in deference to protecting the integrity of Curly Bill’s transaction or out of respect to Mike Gray (or possibly both), Crane subsequently reported to the Grays that they would have no further problems with Jones and that Crane had “fixed him good and plenty”. The Grays never saw Jones again and believed Crane had enforced Curly Bill’s guarantee which was recognized by all involved as “the law.” Was Jones murdered by Crane under his brand of the law? Quite possibly.
Crane, Bill Leonard and Harry Head are generally regarded as the three men who attempted to rob the Tombstone to Benson stage on March 15, 1881. Two men were killed---although nothing was taken due to the evasive actions taken by stage coach driver Bob Paul. A $3,600 reward was offered for the killers (“dead or alive”). The brothers Ike and Bill Heslet shot Leonard and Head in early June 1881, apparently in an effort to claim the reward. A few days later, having learned of the killing of his two partners, Crane (and possibly others at his behest) reportedly shot and killed the Heslet brothers in a saloon in Eureka, New Mexico (later renamed Hachita). Mike Gray’s name is often injected into this series of events, and particularly the Heslet brother killings because, at the time of the Heslet brother murders, Gray had apparently negotiated the purchase of their 320 acre ranch which was close to the Gray ranch. With the killings, the sale was never finalized and the Heslet brothers left the property to their family back
in Kansas. With such a clear motive of his own, Crane seemingly needed no encouragement from Mike Gray to kill the Heslets---but some have so speculated. It is odd though that the reported amount of Gray’s planned purchase was $4,000---a relatively substantial sum compared to the $300 paid to Curly Bill’s rights to a much larger tract of land. Was there a better opportunity for Mike Gray with the Heslets dead? That certainly did not turn out to be the case since he did not ever acquire their 320 acres.
According to John Gray’s memoirs, Crane confessed to the Grays his involvement in the March, 1881 attempted Benson stage coach robbery and killings. Such a confession certainly suggests a level of confidence amongst these men. Crane further claimed that the Earps were behind the planned holdup which had gone awry, and John indicates in his memoirs that the Grays urged Crane to turn himself in (presumably to someone other than the Earps) in hopes that he might receive “a light sentence.” (There is no proof that Crane ever took this advice to heart but John Gray theorizes that, when Crane joined the cattle drive in the Guadalupe Canyon in August 1881 headed to Tombstone, he did so with the intent to turn himself in upon his arrival in Tombstone where he was clearly a wanted man. It seems unlikely that Crane planned to turn himself in, unless he truly feared that the Earps might otherwise find him first and kill him. If, however, it was Crane’s intent to surrender, it demonstrates some degree of respect for the urgings of the Grays.)
While the destination of the men who fled the scene of the Benson stage coach killings was not known at the time, John recounts that one day thereafter he came upon Crane, Leonard and Head near the Gray ranch “well armed, but their clothing was almost in tatters and they looked wild, wooly and hungry.” John concluded that they must have been the three involved in the Benson stage coach robbery, but invited them to the ranch nonetheless to be fed and outfitted with “what clothing we could spare.”
John’s memoirs contain a number of references to occasions when known rustlers would show up to be fed at the Gray Ranch----on one occasion he says 60 of them were there at one time. That the Grays regularly hosted rustlers was apparently not a secret since a bystander in Lordsburg once commented to others, when he saw John in town, that there’s “the fellow who feeds all the rustlers.” In the John’s memoirs, Crane is specifically mentioned as a regular lunch time visitor.
John also refers to an incident when rustlers showed up for lunch one day but also began to steal ammunition at the ranch. Billy Leonard appeared on the scene, admonished the rustlers to return the stolen ammunition, and told them to never steal from the Grays.
This occurred shortly before Leonard was killed by the Heslets---and certainly the Grays could not have been happy with the loss of their protector, Billy Leonard.
John’s memoirs also contain references to the others with certain notoriety. For example, he discusses the Ringo and Clanton ranches near the Gray ranch, and Mike’s acquisition of them through the same squatter’s claim he exercised through Curly Bill. Another person mentioned in the memoirs, and a man of questionable character, was Frank Leslie. Leslie was also a lunch guest of the Grays, coincidentally once when Crane had also shown up for lunch and while Leslie held a warrant for Crane in his pocket. He decided not to arrest Crane. Whether this was out of fear of Crane or in deference to the Grays, it is hard to know----but Leslie said in a low voice outside of Crane’s earshot as he rode off “Tell Jim, if they want him, someone else will have to serve the warrant.”
Finally, the Gray family views of the Earps are clearly stated by John when he characterizes the killing of Ike Clanton and the McLaury brothers as “engineered” by the Earps, and his personal conclusion that Wyatt Earp was a “gunman” hired to be a lawman.
So, when John Gray discovered Jim Crane’s body lying near to Dixie Lee’s, was he just being decent in returning the body to the Gray ranch for burial? The same question can likely be asked as to Old Man Clanton given his somewhat questionable (but probably less violent) reputation. The place selected by Mike and John Gray for Dixie Lee’s grave overlooks a special place---it is quite close, I believe, to the spot where the Grays first arrived in the Animas Valley in early 1881 and which John describes as a “big green meadow … covered with red-top clover and watered with numerous springs”. Fittingly, of all the springs that once dotted the ranch, only one is still obvious near the old ranch house site and it is visible from the top of the knoll where Dixie Lee is buried. I also think Jim Crane, in particular, was buried in such a place of family relevance because, despite all his flaws, Crane had a mutual friendship with the Grays, developed during his frequent visits to the Gray Ranch. And Crane had performed an enormous service to the Grays by ensuring its future when Jones threatened the Grays. One can almost conclude that “but for” Crane’s intervention with Jones, the Gray Ranch may have never become reality.
In his memoirs, John explains that the burial on the knoll “render(ed) an equal and honorable reverence to all.” The Grays were not fooled by who Crane really was, and as John said in his memoits, “Jim Crane, the outlaw, had gone before a Higher Court, and we were no more his judges.” The great irony is that Dixie Lee’s murder was part of the revenge taken out by the Mexican Rurales against the very outlaws and rustlers that the Gray family befriended and, on that tragic day in the Guadalupe Canyon, Jim Crane could not save Dixie Lee from that revenge.
The anguish of Dixie Lee’s murder, and the constant reminder of the grave on the knoll near the ranch house, proved too much for Mike Gray and he sold the Gray Ranch in 1883. It is
remarkable that, despite his short ownership and the fact that several successor owners have operated the ranch under different names, it remains to this day commonly referred to as the Gray Ranch. That in itself says something about the Mike Gray, and I am grateful that John’s words in his memoirs enabled the discovery and marking of Dixie Lee’s grave some 132 years later.
I do not believe Mike Gray was the “silent leader of the Cowboys” as one author has postulated. Certainly direct evidence in any complicity in the crimes of Crane, Curly Bill and others does not exist. The circumstantial evidence supports the more benign view that he was a clever pragmatist and opportunist living in a dangerous place and time. Perhaps more out of necessity, his respect for loyalty and friendship transcended his view of any man, regardless of his crimes, if those traits were shown to the Gray family. Perhaps as much as any person in the Tombstone era, he found a reason to value many different sorts of men---including any who contributed to his survival or enabled his ranching dream in the Animas Valley. Mike Gray knew violence and killing; in fact, he had killed in self-defense while serving as a sheriff in California. But there is no evidence that violence was part of his survival techniques.
His sale of the Gray Ranch did not end Mike Gray’s quest to own a successful cattle operation --- he just moved it west for next 14 years to Fort Rucker in the Chiricahua Mountains. While devoid of the likes of Jim Crane and Curly Bill Brocius, life at Rucker was very eventful.
MORE GRAVES AND A SECRET ESCAPE TUNNEL
In researching information about Mike Gray and his family, the later aspects of their lives from 1882 to 1896 at Fort Rucker are often overshadowed by those associated with the pre-1882 period since that earlier period included Mike’s prominence in Tombstone politics, the Townsite land controversy, the Way-Up mine litigation, the Guadalupe Canyon massacre, and his “Cowboy” and outlaw affiliations. But the cattle operations at Fort Rucker and the surrounding free range land were a successful and eventful aspect of Gray family life. It was not without great adventure and some controversy---as John Gray points out in his memoirs. He recounts many events---such as his observation of Army soldiers passing the Fort Rucker home site as they travelled back to Fort Bowie with Geronimo and his braves after their final capture by the Army in 1886, and the 1890 murder of prominent Los Angeles attorney Robert Hardie who was killed by the Apache Kid while Hardie was a guest of Mike Gray at Fort Rucker. Before confirmation that the Apache Kid was responsible for Hardie’s murder, there was a great controversy which involved a personal request for a federal investigation to President Benjamin Harrison, as well as senior Army officials and District Attorneys in California and Arizona, based on an assertion by Hardie’s widow that her husband was killed by his brother-in-law. Mike Gray’s Fort Rucker operations became closely scrutinized before evidence of the Apache Kid responsibility was established.
In 1882, Mike Gray initially purchased (for $150) the small closed general store just across the creek from Fort Rucker, and then laid claimed to the entire fort and all its buildings since they had been abandoned by the Army. The Fort Rucker Army site was comprised of about 50 acres, but because Mike Gray had access to surrounding free range grazing lands, his cattle operations in the Chiricahua mountains effectively involved thousands of acres.
Coincidentally, earlier in August 1880, while serving as a Justice of the Peace in Tombstone, Mike Gray had issued a summons to the owner of that same general store in connection with a lawsuit pending in Tombstone. A copy of that summons was discovered in 2013 during my research.
Several of the Army buildings originally claimed and acquired by Mike Gray, and used thereafter until 1896 to support his mountain cattle operation, fell into disrepair following the sale of the property by the last private owner to the U.S. Forest Service in 1970. Following Mike Gray’s ownership, there were three private owners of the Fort Rucker property prior to 1970---the Hempe family, the Rak family and Mrs. Dana. In the 1970s, as a result of the tireless efforts and dedication of one Forest Service employee, Ralph Velasco, Fort Rucker was partially restored and some of its buildings remain standing in varying conditions. It is filled with historical markers explaining the usage of the buildings, and the history of the Fort, including during the period when the Gray family occupied it. The former Army building that served as the house for the Gray family burned many years ago, but Velasco was prominent in maintaining its foundation. Ralph Velasco, now retired near Douglas, Arizona, is a rich and fascinating source of information concerning Fort Rucker and the surrounding area. Two personal meetings with him in 2012 and 2013, as well as numerous phone calls and various pieces of correspondence, were particularly productive. He provided me with a copy of the History of Camp John A. Rucker, Appendix 8 at the Gray family website. (Among other accomplishments, Ralph was also involved in the construction of the monument that marks the grave of John Ringo near West Turkey Creek on the western edge of the Chiricahua Mountains.)
Clearly the most definitive work relating to Fort Rucker and the surrounding area, however, is the highly documented paper written in 1994 by William Gillespie and Mary Farrell, archeologists with the U.S. Park Service. (See Appendix 10 at the Gray family website.) It is entitled Archeology and History of Canyon Rucker, and has an astounding amount of detail concerning the site dating back to pre-historic times through the 1970s. Remarkably, it was never published and few have likely ever read it, let alone appreciated it for its rich history. This work and some of the related information provided to me by Bill Gillespie have allowed a focus on some areas of historical interest near Fort Rucker which few have closely studied since the article. Most notably, the Gillespie/Farrell article includes various historic notations of the area both in and around Fort Rucker---including the first exact location of the site of the famous Battle of Chiricahua Pass in 1869 (well before Fort Rucker was built by the Army). These battles involved the Chiricahua Apaches, led by Cochise, and U.S. Army soldiers dispatched from Fort Bowie. While Cochise suffered some serious losses at this battle, he was not captured. However, the battle is often cited as a turning point in the demise of Cochise’s prominence. Almost incredibly (and now just a lost footnote on the history of the U.S. Army in the Old West), 30 Medals of Honor were awarded to Army soldiers involved in this 1869 battle---far more than any other single engagement of the Army on the western frontier. The best personal account of a key part of this battle is found in the personal account of L.L. Dorr, M.D.--- an Army doctor assigned to the Army battle group and who was present for a key portion of the battle. His account was edited by Marian Valputic and Harold Longfellow in an article entitled The Fight at Chiricahua Pass in 1869, Arizona and The West, Volume 13, pp. 369-378. (See Appendix 13 at the Gray family website.)
Following my first visit with Art Hobbs to the Chiricahua Pass battle site utilizing the Gillespie materials, I mentioned my observations and the history of the battle to Ralph Velasco. While Ralph knew of Bill Gillespie’s research and article, he had himself not studied the history of the battle, even though it was only a short distance (less than one mile) from what would later become the site of Fort Rucker---the site of Ralph’s intent preservation efforts. Bill Gillespie and Ralph Velasco, however, were both independently aware of a settler’s house site that existed in an area between the Chiricahua Battle site and the Fort Rucker site. Bill had noted it in his 1996 article, and Ralph had visited the same site, largely prompted by an article written by Mary Rak in 1945, entitled The Hermit of The Chiricahuas , Arizona Quarterly Volume 1, pp. 38-43. (See Appendix 14 at the Gray family website.) The Rak family had purchased the Fort Rucker property in 1918 and owned it until 1943. Mary Rak was a prolific writer, with three published books that focus on her “pioneer” type life in the early 1900s. Her 1945 article concerning the settler’s site includes a remarkable account of a hermit who lived nearby named “Monroe”. Apparently well educated, Monroe was also known as “Doctor Monroe” and served unofficially in that capacity for Army soldiers during their occupation of Fort Rucker from 1880-82, treating them regularly for minor ailments. Also, mindful of the risk of Apache attack in his remote location, the hermit Monroe, a prospector of sorts, dug a secret tunnel through a small hill behind his one room hut built of “juniper pickets, chinked with mud and rocks and roofed with a thick thatch of bear grass”, according to Mary Rak. In the event of approaching Apaches, he could slip out undetected from the rear of his hut, enter the concealed entrance and exit a couple hundred yards away on the other side of the hill outside of sight of approaching Indians.
When Ralph Velasco read Mary Rak’s 1945 account of the hermit Monroe, he was determined to find the secret tunnel. He did so in the 1970s, and in 2013 gave directions to me and my friend, Art Hobbs. Ralph described a tunnel with a partially concealed entrance with tunnel dimensions of about three feet wide, six feet high and about 200 feet in length. It had a “jog” in the middle of the tunnel so that no one firing a gun from one end could get a direct shot all the way through to the opening at the other end. Ralph provided me with some 1970s photos of himself and his son standing in the tunnel. Using Ralph’s hand-drawn map, and with some difficulty, we nonetheless located both the entrance and exit to this man-made tunnel. The sheer magnitude of the tunneling effort of Monroe, using timbers for shoring, is remarkable to see. We also found clear evidence of the stone base to Monroe’s one room hut, and the nearby spring described in Mary Rak’s article.
Ralph Velasco also told me that, during his search in the 1970s for the secret tunnel of the hermit Monroe, he came across some grave sites marked with small crosses (no names) and piled with stones. Since Ralph was unaware of the history of the Battle of Chiricahua Pass, I told him that in the written account (Dr. Dorr’s edited version at Appendix 13 at the Gray family website) of the Battle of Chiricahua Pass in 1869, there is mention that two Army soldiers were killed by Cochise’s braves. They were Sergeant Stephen Fuller, 8th Cavalry, Troop G and Private Thomas Collins, 1st Cavalry, Troop G). According to the account of the battle, they were buried near the battle site, but that account provided no details as to location. (There are also no records in the Fort Bowie archives indicating the bodies were returned to Bowie for burial.)
Based on a hand drawn map provided to us by Ralph in 2013, Art Hobbs and I found the rock piles that Ralph Velasco described as the grave sites he discovered in the 1970s. Interestingly, these apparent graves lie within a short distance to the west of the Chiricahua Pass battle site--- in the same direction from which the Army would have entered and left the battle site and within fifty yards of what appeared to be an old camp site. We found tin artifacts and materials which indicated that it could have possibly been used as the base camp area while the Army was engaged with Cochise in 1869. While the information gathered remains circumstantial since we have no absolute confirmation as to who is buried in the graves discovered by Ralph Velasco, the facts do seem to confirm that two soldiers were buried in the immediate area and grave sites do exist.
The Gillespie-Farrell article also identifies three graves to the west of Fort Rucker. Ralph Velasco was also familiar with these three markers which are side by side. We located these grave markers which were erected by the CCC in the 1930s; there are no names on the markers.
Gillespie-Farrell speculate that those buried there could include two soldiers (Corporal George Himrod and Sergeant Charles Adams) who died in the summer of 1880 while stationed with the Army at Fort Rucker. Alternatively, they speculate that these could be the two bodies of the
soldiers (Fuller and Collins) killed in the Battle of Chiricahua Pass in 1869. If this site contains the remains of any soldiers at all (as opposed to pioneers or others who died in the area), it appears far more likely that they would include the two soldiers who died in 1880 at Fort Rucker since the graves are quite proximate to Fort Rucker and very near the old road that crossed passed the Fort. On the other hand, the site of the Battle of Chiricahua Pass was appreciably more distant from the CCC grave markers.
Ralph Velasco also has identified what appear to be three more grave markers about a quarter mile from the markers referenced above. We found these markers, now partially desecrated, and they are located very close to the actual CCC camp that served this area of the Chiricahua Mountains during the Depression. Many examples of small dams and retaining walls remain evident to this day---most of which seem to have erosion control as their purpose. Several of these small dams are very close to the desecrated grave site shown below. There is no record of who lies there, although it would be a likely site for any deceased CCC workers.
Photos of the following places related to the Gray family are located on the Gray family website: Tombstone home of the Grays
The Gray Ranch
Gray Ranch artifacts
Grave of Dixie Lee Gray, Jim Crane and Billy Lang
Grave of Newman “Old Man” Clanton in Tombstone, AZ (Boot Hill) Grave of Charlie Snow in Guadalupe Canyon
Guadalupe Canyon Massacre site Fort Rucker
Remains of Mike Gray home at Fort Rucker
Hermit Monroe’s home (foundation) and secret Indian escape tunnel Graves near Chiricahua Battle site
Three grave monuments near Fort Rucker (deceased unknown)
Three damaged grave sites near CCC camp west of Fort Rucker (deceased unknown)
Photos of Mike Gray
John Plesant Gray (by noted Old west photographer C.S. Fly) (son of Mike Gray) Photo of Jack Gray (brother of Mike Gray)
During my five trips to Arizona and New Mexico researching the Gray family, I also had side
excursions to four other places of note. Pictured on the Gray family website are photos of:
Grave site of outlaw John Ringo, allegedly killed by Wyatt Earp
Council Rock---secret site of the Apaches
Cochise Stronghold---another remote Apache site where Cochise is buried The Chiricahua Monument
Prepared by Michael C. Eberhardt 2014
6006 Club Oaks Drive Dallas, Texas 75248
Written by Michael C. Eberhardt (2014)
Copyright 2013. Gray decendants. All rights reserved.