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Pima County Sheriff Ed Echols

Edward Franklin Echols served as Pima County sheriff five times.

Five-time Pima County Sheriff Edward Franklin Echols, born in Stockton, Texas, had little formal education. Echols, a giant of a man with a big smile and a soft lazy drawl, personified the image of the Western sheriff.
Echols recalled when first leaving Texas with his brother Art, “we didn’t have any idea where we was going so we took our time getting there.” Art stayed in New Mexico, and Ed got a job with the Denton and Wolfe ranch in Arizona’s Texas Canyon, drawing $35 a week. He practiced roping and he got so good he “could just about catch his own horse most of the time.”
In 1907, Echols joined the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West show, but after bouts of typhoid fever and malaria, Echols got fed up and returned to Tucson, the “new cactus patch.” Five years later, after learning that the Dominion Bank of Canada guaranteed payment of the prize money at a rodeo, Echols traveled to Calgary to do some roping.
At the Calgary Stampede, Echols met the actor Tom Mix and left Calgary with $1,500.
In 1924, Echols traveled to London with Tex Austin who put on the first rodeo “them bluddy gawd-blawsted Englishmuns had ever seen.” The event drew 116,000 paid admissions, including royalty. Echols didn’t like England much –“too far east, too much rain, too much tay (sic), and not enough coffee,” he said of the experience.
Not all Englishmen appreciated a Western rodeo. The London Humane Society got the police or “bobbies” as they are known, to throw all of the cowboys in jail after a contestant accidentally broke a steer’s leg. Echols needed money to get out of jail, so he sold Ribbon, his horse. Eventually the British returned Ribbon and the cowboys to the United States.
Although Echols did not become sheriff until 1936, the Tucson Daily Citizen supported his bid in 1930. Echols announced that he would not tolerate professional gambling. When asked how he got into politics, Echols said, “I went out and drank a little white mule with the boys one night, and the next morning before I got straightened out they had me in the (sheriff’s) race.”
Echols met Will Rogers at a roping contest on the rodeo circuit and the two men developed a lifelong friendship. When Echols ran for sheriff in 1934, Rogers agreed to stump for him. Echols’ ranch straddled Pima and Cochise Counties, so Rogers’ plane landed in what he thought was a likely spot. He attracted a crowd and made a speech in support of Echols. After Echols lost, he wrote Rogers saying, “The hell of it was Will, they throwed out all them votes you corralled for me. You landed in Cochise County instead of here in Pima County. Anyway them Cochise County folks did their damndest.”
Echols ran successfully for Pima County Sheriff in 1936 while working as Pima County cattle inspector. During his first term, Echols had to capture a lion which had escaped from a small menagerie owned by the University of Arizona. Echols and his deputies put their cowboy skills to the test and lassoed the animal.
In 1939, Echols reported that his staff had recovered $30,408 worth of stolen property, recovered 53 out of 159 stolen vehicles and processed 1,924 prisoners into the Pima County jail. The first thing Echols did after his re-election in 1940 was install an enclosure to separate deputies and records from the public. He told the press that “too many loafers and politicians are sitting around doing nothing. The public gets the idea that they’re deputies of mine.”
That year Echols hurled a challenge to all sheriffs across the United States to compete with him in a steer-roping contest during Tucson’s La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo.
Maricopa County Sheriff Lon Jordan immediately announced that “he was happy to oblige.” The winner had to tie three steers single-handed in the fastest time. Other Arizona sheriff contestants who accepted the invitation included Pinal County Sheriff Jimmy Herron, Cochise County Sheriff I. V. Pruitt, Yuma County Sheriff Pete Newman, Greenlee County Sheriff Harvey Grady, Graham County Sheriff Emmert Kempton, and Apache County Sheriff John Nunn. Two “foreigners” who participated were Sheriff Howell Gray from Carlsbad, New Mexico and Sheriff Ted Schaeffer from Ft. Collins, Colorado.
Echols asked Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York to provide at least one “dude” sheriff but no one came from outside of the 11 western states. Jordan retained the “super colossal trophy,” as World Champion Steer Tying Sheriff for the third consecutive year by beating out Echols by six seconds.
After Echols’ fifth term as sheriff, he lost the subsequent election to Jerome P. Martin. He made a gracious farewell speech, and recalled that he never had a jail break and never had to shoot anyone. His budget always balanced and usually he returned some of the money to the taxpayers. Echols was appointed as Tucson precinct constable, a post he held for five terms until Jan. 1, 1963, when he retired at the age of 83. He donated his saddle, a beaver Stetson and a piggin’ string to the Arizona Historical Society, and stated he could still make good baking-powder bread in a Dutch oven.
Echols always rode horse back in Tucson’s La Fiesta de los Vaqueros parade, until 1965, when he began riding in a carriage. Echols finished out his last lonely days at a nursing home with plenty of good stories, but he regretted that he had no listeners. Edward Franklin Echols, cowboy, rodeo performer, and Pima County Sheriff, died on Jan. 26, 1969 at age 89.
— Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy of Art Solano.

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