This dirt road is the main street of Lowell, Arizona, one of Bisbee’s suburbs. On April 7, 1913, a deputy and his prisoner died and a bystander was wounded in Lowell’s worst street battle. On the left in the photograph are the saloons where the troublemakers were drinking. Lowell Justice Court where they were first taken is about where the viewer is standing.
The tragedy can be blamed on a drunken Cananea miner named Frank McKenna. He was a large man with huge hands who became belligerent when drunk and seemed to enjoy kicking and stomping his victim. He got in trouble in Cananea, and his younger brother, Pat, persuaded him to flee to Bisbee while things cooled off.
When they got to Bisbee’s Warren District, the two brothers went into a Lowell saloon and began drinking. Frank beat up an unidentified Mexican who was drinking at the saloon and promptly was arrested. He posted bond, however, and was released in less than an hour.
His brother then convinced him to move on to Bisbee, and the two spent a Saturday night and Sunday drinking. It wasn’t long before they had become unpopular in that part of the town also.
Frank sobered a bit and convinced Pat they should return to Lowell, where they continued their binge at the Bonanza Saloon. Completely drunk, Frank picked a fight with another man and began to beat him with his giant fists. The police intervened and arrested him.
The arresting officer, Harry Rafferty, had first to take his prisoner to the Lowell Justice Court to secure the keys to the jail. Pat McKenna and the man Frank assaulted followed the deputy and his prisoner.
A chaotic scene ensued at the Justice Court. A crowd gathered and watched as Pat McKenna harangued the police for arresting his brother, so they arrested him, too.
At that point, Rafferty and another deputy had to get the McKenna brothers in jail. They started down Main Street from the Justice Court with the two brothers in tow. Part way to the jail, the McKennas broke free and attacked the officers.
Deputy Sheriff Rafferty ended his struggle with Pat by hitting him over the head with the butt of his revolver. Deputy John Rooney tried to subdue Frank but failed.
The Bisbee Daily Review reported: “Rooney and Frank McKenna had arrived at about the center of the street and the two were fighting fiercely when Rooney’s revolver, with which he had been attempting to quiet his man, was discharged, striking McKenna at the base of his abdomen. Fighting fiercely, though wounded, McKenna attempted to wrestle the revolver from Rooney’s hand. He seized the officer’s hand and turned the revolver inward. I saw it pressed against Rooney’s stomach for a moment and then there was a report. Rooney half sank to the street, crying, ‘I’m shot.’
“The wounded officer dragged himself to the hitching post and with the blood flowing freely from his wound, fired twice at McKenna, who had moved to about the center of the street. Both bullets struck McKenna, who fell to the street dead.”
Officer Rooney was rushed to the Copper Queen Hospital but died an hour later from his wounds.
The coroner’s jury met, interviewed many witnesses and concluded: “Officer Rooney, killed by Frank McKenna while in the discharge of his duty; Frank McKenna, killed by officer John Rooney while resisting arrest.”
(This Times Past article was first published on March 30, 2001).
Photo courtesy Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum; research by Tom Vaughan. ©Arizona Capitol Times.