The Power Shootout

Guest Opinion//January 9, 2012

The Power Shootout

Guest Opinion//January 9, 2012

John Power was a member of a reclusive Graham County family that was involved in one of the most notorious shootouts in Arizona history.

The Power family — Thomas Jefferson Power Sr., sons Charlie, John, Tom Jr., and daughter Ola May settled in Kielburg Canyon deep in the Galiuro Mountains of Graham County in 1907. The men ranched, but also gained a controlling interest in a mining claim variously known as the Jinx Mine, the Abandoned Claims and the Power Mine.

For 10 years the family was content with ranching and mining. Then in 1917, the U.S. entered World War I and all young males were required to register for the draft. Power did not allow his sons to register. Charlie decided to return to New Mexico.

That December, an incident occurred that has never been fully explained.

According to the Powers, Ola May, who lived apart from her brothers in a separate cabin, shouted the word “poison” and then suddenly died. Tom Sisson, a hired hand and former horse thief, was sent to Safford for a casket. The authorities became suspicious, and an autopsy of the body was ordered. No trace of poison was found, but foul play was suspected, and some claimed that Ola May’s neck had been broken — possibly in a fight with her brothers.

On Feb. 9, 1918, U. S. Deputy Marshal Frank Haynes, Graham County Sheriff Frank McBride and two deputies set out from Safford to bring in the Power boys for questioning. Haynes later testified he had a warrant for Tom Jr. and John for draft evasion. McBride had a warrant for Tom Sr. and Sisson for questioning in the death of Ola May.

The lawmen arrived early in the morning and posted themselves around the Power cabin. Tom Sr. came out, and both sides started shooting. When the dust settled, McBride and his two deputies were dead and Tom Sr. was mortally wounded. Haynes escaped and went for help. Sisson, John and Tom Jr. headed for Mexico.

The fugitives were followed by the largest posse in Arizona history — 3,000 men from Arizona and New Mexico. They hid out for a while in the Chiricahuas, but on

March 8 surrendered to the 12th Cavalry at Hachita, N.M., rather than risk a lynching at the hands of the posse.

They were brought back for trial and were found guilty of murder, but were sentenced to life in prison rather than death, because Arizona had no death penalty at the time. They were sent to the state prison at Florence.

Over the years, families of the murdered lawmen fought any attempts at parole. Sisson died in prison on Jan. 23, 1957, at the age of 86. In the late 1950s, several people took up the Power cause. In 1960, after relatives of the lawmen decided to “let matters take their course,” Gov. Jack Williams pardoned the brothers. Tom died in 1970; John died six years later at Klondyke near the family mine.

— Jane Eppinga. Photo courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson.