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Lawman and Thief

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This big and burley fellow with the hard eyes is Burt Alvord, a well-liked lawman, who midway through his career, decided better money could be made by holding up trains.

Not much is known about Burt Alvord’s origins. His parents followed the mining boom to Tombstone in the early 1880s. He got his education such as it was, in pool halls and gambling joints. He was about 20 years old when John Horton Slaughter, sheriff of Cochise County – who admired the young man’s prowess with a six-shooter – made him a deputy.

As his star rose, he was appointed constable at Pearce, a mining camp south of Willcox. Later he became sheriff of Willcox. It was there Alvord befriended the likes of Billy Stiles, Matt Burts, Bill Downing and other men of dubious character.

Late on the night of September 11, 1899, four men held up a train at Cochise, a watering stop on the Southern Pacific railroad a few miles southwest of Willcox. An estimated $30,000 was taken from the express car.

When the alarm was sounded in Willcox, Alvord was found playing poker in the back room of a saloon. He deputized Downing, and the two rode off to Cochise to track the bandits. The trail, of course, was cold.

What no one knew is that on the night of the robbery Alvord had bribed a waiter to bring drinks every few minutes to the back room of the saloon, to foster the ruse that a poker game was in progress. In reality, he had participated in the hold up, then ridden at a fast clip back to Willcox.

On February 16, at Fairbank on the rail line from Benson to Tombstone, Alvord’s gang held up another train. That robbery was a failure, netting the men just $34, and leaving gang member Jack Dunlap mortally wounded.

Dunlap lived long enough, however, to make a full confession and to name Alvord as the gang’s mastermind.

Alvord loudly proclaimed his innocence, but Stiles turned state’s evidence on a promise of immunity and testified against him.

Then, for reasons known only to him, on April 8, 1900, Stiles walked into the Cochise County Jail at Tombstone, shot the jailer in the leg and set Alvord free.

The two escaped to Mexico, but later surrendered in exchange for the promise of light sentences.

The men were jailed – a condition they found unpleasant. In December 1903, they escaped again, digging their way out of the jail.

Three months later, Alvord was again arrested and sent to the penitentiary at Yuma for a two-year stint. Upon his release, he left the U.S. altogether, traveling to Alberta, Canada, then to Central and South America. He was sighted in Venezuela and Panama. It is said that he married, settled in Honduras and died there about 1910.

Stiles fled to Nevada, took an alias and was killed in a gunfight in 1905.

Photo and research W. Lane Rogers. ©Arizona Capitol Times

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