Robert H. Paul

Robert "Bob" H. Paul (June 12, 1830 March 26, 1901) was a law enforcement officer in the American Southwest for more than 30 years. He was sheriff of Pima County, Arizona Territory from April 1881 to 1886 and a friend of Deputy U.S. Marshall Virgil Earp and his brother Wyatt Earp. At 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) and 240 pounds (110 kg), he was described as "larger than life".[1] Others described him as "powerful, fearless and very lucky".[2]

Robert H. Paul
Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul c 1890
Born(1831-06-12)June 12, 1831
DiedMarch 26, 1901(1901-03-26) (aged 69)
Other namesBob Paul
Occupationseaman, miner, constable, sheriff
Known forSheriff, Pima County, Arizona
Spouse(s)Margaret Coughlan

Early life

Bob Paul was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on June 12, 1830[3] and at age 12 (some reports say age 14[3]) went to sea from New Bedford, Massachusetts on the whaling ship Majestic with his older brother John. When the voyage ended two years later in the Sandwich Islands, the captain sold the cargo of whale oil and gave Paul his share, $250 (approximately $7,000 as of 2019). He shipped out as a merchant sailor for the next two years and when his ship put in at San Francisco on February 2, 1848, he left to try his luck in the California gold fields.[3]

Mining in California

He worked a placer mine in Hangtown for several months without success. He followed others to fresh discoveries of gold on the Yuba River and then to the Mokelumne River, where he found and worked a successful mining claim.[3] He was first elected constable in Campo Seco in 1854,[4] and a month later was appointed Calaveras County Deputy Sheriff for the next three years. In 1857 he was appointed undersheriff. He was responsible for breaking up the Tom Bell gang that was operating in Calaveras and Placer County.[4]

In 1862 he married Margaret Coughlan, a 17-year-old Irish woman, in Mokelumne Hill. They had 10 children, only six of whom lived to adulthood.[4] He tried mining again but had no luck and in the 1870s took a job as a stagecoach shotgun messenger for Wells Fargo & Co. operating out of San Andreas and later Visalia, California[4]

He was so successful at his job with Wells Fargo that in 1878, Wells Fargo superintendent J.J. Valentine ordered Bob to Arizona to deal with a series of gold bullion robberies in Maricopa, Arizona. Bob was joined in 1879 by Al Sieber and Johnny Behan in a chase for the robber and murderer during the stage holdup near Gillette, Arizona (near present-day Tip Top, Arizona in Yavapai County).[1][4]

Election as Pima County Sheriff

With several years of experience as a sheriff in California, Paul ran as a Republican for the office of Pima County Sheriff against Democrat Charles A. Shibell. He was a large man, at 6 foot 6", and weighed about 240 pounds.[1] Paul was expected to win, but on November 2, 1880, Shibell was unexpectedly reelected, and he immediately appointed Johnny Behan as the new deputy sheriff for the Tombstone region of Pima County. A week later Bob Paul accused Shibell and his Cowboy supporters Ike Clanton, Curly Bill Brocius, and Frank McLaury of ballot-stuffing and filed suit in the courts.

Stagecoach murder

While the election decision was being argued in the courts, Bob rejoined Wells Fargo as a shotgun messenger. On the evening of March 15, 1881, the driver of the Kinnear & Company stagecoach carrying US$26,000 in silver bullion (about $675,000 in today's dollars) en route from Tombstone to Benson, Arizona took ill in Contention City and Paul took the reins and the driver's seat. Three Cowboys: Jim Crane, Harry Head & Bill Leonard; attempted to rob the stagecoach near Drew's Station, just outside Contention City, by first stepping into the road and commanding them to "Hold!"[5]

Immediately, Crane fired at the guard's seat killing the popular and well-known driver Eli 'Budd' Philpot.[5] Paul believed that this shot was meant for him because Philpot was in the shotgun messenger seat that he would normally have occupied.[6][7] This would lead to theories of an assassination attempt. Paul fired his shotgun and emptied his revolver at the robbers, wounding a Cowboy later identified as Bill Leonard in the groin. In the exchange a miner named Peter Roerig, riding in the rear dickey seat, was also killed.[5]

Philpot's body lurched forward onto the horses and they spooked running off. Paul was able to bring the stage under control after a mile by jumping onto the tongue at which point they had lost the robbers. Paul returned to the attempted robbery site near Drews Station and joined in with the posse on an 18-day chase that produced Leonard King. King was holding the horses for the robbers and identified them by name.[4][5]

Court awards him office

The Arizona Territorial Supreme Court ruled on his election lawsuit in Paul's favor in February, but Shibell appealed, and the decision was not confirmed until April. Paul held the position through 1886.[4] On February 1, 1881 Cochise County was split off from Pima County, relieving him of a large and difficult territory.[1]

Ordered to arrest Wyatt Earp

Two months after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, on December 28, 1881, three men ambushed Virgil Earp as he walked from Schieffelin Hall back to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, where the Earps had moved for mutual support and protection.[8] Wyatt, believing that Virgil was dying, telegraphed U.S. Marshal Crawley Dake and asked to be named as Virgil's replacement as Deputy U.S. Marshal. Dake agreed. On February 2, the Clantons were put on trial before Judge Stilwell. Ike's hat had been found at the scene and McMaster testified that he had been in Charleston the evening of the shooting. He said that when Ike learned that Virgil had survived the shooting, Ike said he "would have to go back and do the job over."[9]:240 However, Charleston constable George McKelvey, saloon owner J. B. Ayers and five others testified that Ike Clanton had been in Charleston and could not have taken part in the shooting. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.[10]

On Saturday evening, March 18, 1882, Morgan Earp was waiting for saloon owner Bob Hatch to line up a billiards shot when two bullets were fired through the window of the back door of the saloon. Morgan was shot through the spine and died within the hour.[11] While escorting the maimed Virgil and Morgan's remains to the train in Tucson, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp, Warren Earp and other deputies found Frank Stilwell lying in wait in the railyard and killed him. Tucson Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued arrest warrants for five of the Earps' party.[12] The federal posse returned to Tombstone.[13]

Meyer sent a telegram to Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan instructing him to arrest them. The telegraph office manager, a friend of the Earps, delayed its delivery long enough to allow the Earps and their associates to make ready to leave town Tuesday evening.[12] Behan got the telegram in the early evening[12] and told Wyatt he wanted to see him. Wyatt replied "Johnny, if you're not careful you'll see me once too often."[14][15] Ignoring Behan, the well-armed Earp posse rode out of town the same evening of Tuesday, March 21.[16]:63 They headed for the woodcutting camp of Pete Spence in the South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains.[15]

When the Cowboys suspected of maiming Virgil and assassinating Morgan Earp went free on the strength of their confederates' alibis, and due to legal technicalities, Wyatt Earp decided he had to take matters into his own hands. He formed a federal posse and sought revenge against those they held responsible.

In the next three days they killed Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz, Curly Bill Brocius, and Johnny Barnes. Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan organized a posse to pursue and arrest them, but Paul did not join in.[2] Paul said that the posse led by Behan was mostly hostile to the Earps and that a meeting would mean bloodshed. He stated that the Earps would return to Tucson and turn themselves in.[17] Tucson, where the Earps had killed Stilwell, was in Paul's jurisdiction, but Paul was a friend of the Earps and failed to execute the warrant.[2]

The Pima County Supervisors ordered Paul later that year to bring Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday back from Colorado. Paul knew of warrants for the Earp's arrest, but he only served a warrant on Doc Holliday. Colorado Governor Frederick W. Pitkin was persuaded by Earp friend Bat Masterson to prevent Holliday's extradition,[2] and Paul returned empty handed.[4]

On May 16, 1882, the sheriff of Arapahoe County, Colorado notified Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan that he had Wyatt and Warren Earp in his custody, along with Doc Holliday. Behan applied to the governor for money to go to Colorado to bring the Earps back, but Governor Fremont instead gave the funds to Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul. Paul had received word on the same day from Denver that the sheriff there had five of the Earp party in custody.[18] When Paul arrived in Denver, he served a warrant for Doc Holiday's arrest on charges that he killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson. Wyatt Earp, also in Denver, feared for Holiday's life if he was returned to Tombstone. He asked his friend and Trinidad, Colorado Sheriff Bat Masterson to help get Holiday released. Sheriff Masterson appealed to Governor Frederick W. Pitkin and succeeded in getting Holiday released from jail.[9] Paul also knew of warrants for the Earp's arrest, but he was a friend of the men and never served the warrants.[2]

Prevents lynching

In April 1883 in the Old Pueblo in Tucson, local citizens attempted to lynch Joseph Casey, who earlier that day had murdered the jailer Deputy Sheriff Andrew Holbrook.[19] Bob Paul cleared the courthouse and almost single-handedly saved Casey's life.[2] Bob served as Pima County sheriff until 1886[4] and later as a detective for the SPRR during 1888-90. On that job he was responsible for tracking down the robbers who held up the Stein's Pass railroad in Sonora, Mexico in 1888.

In 1890 he was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison as U.S. Marshal for the entire Arizona Territory and held that post until 1893, after which he served as Justice of the Peace in Tucson. He died in 1901.[1][4]

Over the years, Paul's courage, omnipresent shotgun and manhunts into Mexico drew national acclaim. Paul died of cancer on March 26, 1901,[20] in what his obituary called both "his first and last sickness".[2] He was buried in Tucson's Court Street Cemetery.[4]

For further reading

John Boessenecker, When Law Was in the Holster: The Frontier Life of Bob Paul (University of Oklahoma Press, 2012)


  1. Kasulaitis, Mary (May 1, 2010). "Sheriffs and Rangers". Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  2. "Sheriff Robert Paul: He was physically powerful, fearless and very lucky". Tucson, AZ: Arizona Daily Star. February 13, 2011. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 30 April 2011.
  3. Long, James. "U.S. Marshal Bob Paul, Arizona Lawman".
  4. "U.S. Marshal for A.T. Bob Paul".
  5. O'Neal, Bill (1942). Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 76, 180. ISBN 0-8061-1508-4.
  6. "Wyatt Earp Trial: 1881—A Mysterious Stage Coach Robbery—Clanton, Holliday, Told, Leonard, Doc, and Ike". Retrieved 2011-02-08.
  7. "History Raiders". Archived from the original on February 8, 2011. Retrieved February 11, 2011.
  8. Rose, John. "Wyatt's House". Retrieved February 11, 2011.
  9. Roberts, Gary Boyd (August 13, 2007). Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. Wiley. p. 544. ISBN 978-0-470-12822-0.
  10. "Decision of Judge Wells Spicer after the Preliminary Hearing in the Earp-Holliday Case". November 30, 1881. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  11. WGBH American Experience: Wyatt Earp, Complete Program Transcript. January 25, 2010.
  12. "Grand Jury Indictment for the Killing of Frank Stilwell". March 25, 1882. Retrieved February 26, 2011.
  13. "Late Telegrams". Los Angeles Herald. 23 March 1882. Retrieved 2 October 2014.
  14. "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". January 29, 2007. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
  15. "Earp Vendetta Ride". Legends of America. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
  16. Woog, Adam (2010). Wyatt Ear. New York: Chelsea House. p. 110. ISBN 978-1-60413-597-8.
  17. "Grand Lodge Officers—Indictments". The Tombstone Epitaph. April 3, 1882. p. e. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  18. "Arizona The Capture of the Earps". Sacramento Daily Union. 17 May 1882. Retrieved 30 Sep 2014.
  19. ODMP memorial for Andrew Holbrook
  20. "Sheriffs Then and Now" (PDF). Paducah, KY: Pima County Sheriffs Office. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-23.
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