Robert Paul was born in Massachusetts on June 12, 1830. At the age of 12, he boarded a whaling ship and spent the next several years traveling around the world. In 1849, he arrived in San Francisco — just in time to participate in the gold rush. Then from 1859 to 1864, he served as sheriff of California’s Calaveras County. After several financial setbacks, Paul began riding shotgun for Wells Fargo.
In 1877, Wells Fargo transferred Paul to Arizona, where he made friends with Pima County Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp. Three years later, Paul, who was a U.S. deputy marshal at the time, decided to run for Pima County sheriff on the Republican ticket. On Election Day, he appeared to be well ahead of his Democratic opponent, Charlie Shibell. However, the Democrats kept saying, “Wait until the returns from San Simon get here.” and the Tucson Citizen commented that “a few of our New Mexico neighbors came across the line to aid their Arizona brethren.”
Joseph Isaac “Ike” Clanton (who a year later would take part in the gunfight at the OK Corral) was the election inspector at the San Simon precinct; John Ringo, a notorious gunfighter, and A.H. Thompson were the election judges. Another man, who signed his name “Henry Johnson,” certified the votes and sent them to the Pima County Board of Supervisors. Only 10 or 12 registered voters resided in San Simon, but the election officials certified 103 Democrat votes for Shibell and only one Republican vote for Paul.
On Nov. 15, 1880, the Pima County Board of Supervisors certified Charles A. Shibell as sheriff. Four days later, Paul requested copies of the poll lists from the San Simon, Solomonville, Turkey Creek and the Benson precincts, so that he could compare them with the Pima County voter registration lists. At the same time, Shibell asked for the poll lists from Tombstone, Willcox, Camp Grant and Pajarita, implying that Paul partisans had perpetrated voter fraud in those precincts.
A platoon of lawyers participated in the election dispute. Attorneys Warner Earll, F.M. Smith, G.W. Spaulding, Alexander C. Campbell, James F. Robinson and John Haynes appeared as counsel for Paul. Shibell secured the services of James C. Perry, Benjamin Morgan, Lyttleton Price, Charles Silent, Benjamin Hereford and James A. Zabriskie.
On Dec. 18, Paul’s attorneys contested the election in district court, arguing that the name Henry Johnson was an alias and therefore all of the San Simon votes should be declared invalid. Since Paul was a U.S. deputy marshal, he was able to subpoena several men who were named on the San Simon voting list. He found out that Henry Johnson was really James Johnson.
Johnson claimed that the election judges rejected one voter whose name was not on the list in the presence of a Republican observer, R.B. Kelly, just to make him believe they were being honest. He thought three or four legal votes had been cast, but the Arizona Daily Star acknowledged, “It looks to us like a very plain case that out of the 104 votes cast at San Simon, about 100 were fraudulent…”
Lester F. Blackburn, a Tombstone poll observer, had a different take on the election. He testified that when ballots were called off with Shibell’s name, they were counted for Paul. But Paul’s attorney claimed that Blackburn’s testimony was probably false, and was only his way of getting back at Paul after Paul refused to appoint him to a deputy sheriff commission.
Shibell denied the allegation of voter fraud and requested the Tombstone ballot box be introduced into evidence. Marshall Williams, Tombstone’s Wells Fargo agent, determined that the box was in the same condition as when it left his charge.
The court examined the ballots and turned up almost 40 erased votes for Paul. The judge ruled that all of the San Simon votes were fraudulent and invalid, making Paul the new Pima County sheriff by a vote of 1,684 to 1,628. But Shibell wouldn’t back down; he appealed the decision to the Arizona Supreme Court and refused to give up the Sheriff’s Office until the appeal was decided.
Until the courts determined Paul’s fate, he continued riding shotgun for Wells Fargo. On March 15, 1881, while aboard a Tombstone stagecoach, Paul was accosted by bandits. They hollered, “Hold!” and fired shots at Paul and the other men on the stagecoach. Eli “Bud” Philpot, one of the best drivers in the West, was shot and killed. Another bullet hit passenger Peter Roering, wounding him. Paul fired back yelling, “I don’t hold for nobody!” He quickly drove to Benson to telephone Wyatt Earp about the attack.
The next day, Earp, Cochise County Sheriff John H. Behan, Paul and 30 armed men began looking for the men who had murdered Philpot. They captured Luther King, who named Jim Crane, Harry Head and William Leonard as accomplices. It is unknown whether the accomplices were ever captured, but King was taken to the Tombstone jail, only to escape out the back door while the undersheriff was otherwise occupied.
Shortly after the stagecoach hit, the Territorial Supreme Court officially designated Paul as Pima County sheriff. In 1886, Paul left the office after another disputed election. Five years later, on March 26, Paul died at his Tucson home. He was survived by his wife and five children. His son, John V. Paul, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a U.S. marshal.
— Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy Arizona Historical Society.
Sources: John Goff, Arizona Territorial Officials, pp 120-121; Tombstone Epitaph July 31, 1880, March 16, 1881, October 28, 1880; Tombstone Nugget November 12, 1880; Tucson Citizen October 16, 1880; Arizona Gazette July 18, 1881.