Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

U.S. Marshal Duffield no stranger to violence

Citizen Staff Writer


Citizen Staff Writer

If you didn’t like U.S. Marshal Milton B. Duffield back in Arizona’s territorial days, you were well advised to try to hide your feelings because Duffield had several attributes that could be construed as – how shall we say? – problematic.

He was described variously as quarrelsome, “ruffianly,” violent, possessed of a withering temper, belligerent and disputatious – and he had killed several men.

And those were some of his better qualities.

He was a large man, “well over” 6 feet 3 inches tall, powerful, muscular, finely knit, possessing exceptionally broad shoulders, and his fist (which came into play with some regularity) was described by his friend John Bourke in his book, “On the Border With Crook,” as being “as big as any two fists to be seen in the course of a day.”

Duffield had black hair, a dark complexion and black eyes. When he spoke, people – whether or not they agreed with him – listened.

He was born in 1810 in Wheeling, Va., what is now West Virginia, according to Dan Thrapp’s “Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography.” Duffield married Ohio native Mary Norris, with whom he had four children.

Not particularly suited to domesticity, apparently, he left his family in 1851 and headed to new frontiers and new adventures in Texas and later California. Whether he remained in contact with his wife and children is not known, but it appears they never were reunited.

Duffield settled in Tuolumne County, Calif., where he remained for nearly a decade, working as a rancher and prospector. During that time, Thrapp said, he acquired land and mining claims by “dubious means,” and in 1854, foiled three would-be assassins by wounding two of them and routing the third.

While in California, Duffield moved in with a mulatto mistress, who may later have become his second wife. Whether he ever bothered to divorce his first wife isn’t clear.

He was rarely without a firearm (usually carrying several), and was said to be a remarkably good shot.

His appointment as U.S. marshal came from none other than President Lincoln, according to reports, who was said to have been impressed with Duffield’s interceding on behalf of at least one black person being harassed by a mob in New York City during the early part of the Civil War.

There are indications Duffield may have been dispatched by the federal government to Central America to seek an appropriate site for a colony for blacks, as well, but details are not available.

Duffield was appointed U.S. marshal on March 6, 1863, and reached Tucson in mid-January 1864. He acquired a house on North Main Avenue, just north of the historic Hiram Stevens House (now part of the Tucson Museum of Art complex).

One of his first duties was to conduct a census of the territory. He enlisted the aid of several soldiers and interpreters, and tallied 4,573 inhabitants. American Indians were not included.

He found Tucson the largest community in the territory, with 1,568 residents.

The imposing lawman was said to have been thorough in his census assignment, visiting such communities as Apache Wide West (three residents), Scottie Mine (four), Salizar Mine (five), and San Pedro (six).

Duffield held the marshal’s position until Nov. 25, 1865, when he resigned. Lincoln was assassinated in April of that year, and with a change of administrations came the usual change in political patronage appointments.

The former marshal did manage to secure appointment in 1869 as special postal agent for Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, a post he held until March 1870.

Among anecdotes circulated about Duffield:

• As postal inspector, he became aware of thievery in one of the smallest stations. He approached the postmaster, whom he suspected of being the culprit, and in a congenial tone, informed the man that, “As I’ve looked into the whole thing and feel satisfied that you’re the thief, I think you’d better be piling out of here without any more nonsense.” The postmaster was packed and gone within 12 hours.

• A rough customer who called himself “Waco Bill” arrived with a wagon train bound for Los Angeles, and had gone to a local watering hole to wet his whistle. Liberally liquored up, he demanded to meet the legendary Duffield, vowing to put him in his place. The words had hardly left his mouth when a huge fist smashed him to the ground. The downed man reached for his revolver, only to be shot in the groin. Duffield then bowed, with exaggerated flourish, and introduced himself to the would-be tough writhing on the ground.

• Author Bourke recalled sitting with Duffield and a half-dozen friends in the back room of a saloon where a dance was in progress, when Duffield, who had partaken generously in the liquid refreshments, was asked to display the firepower he had on him. He withdrew handguns from the armholes of his waistcoat, boot legs, hip pockets, even one from the back of his neck – 11 in all, mostly small Derringers, and a knife thrown in for good measure.

Duffield tried to stop the 1873 lynching of four people here, three of whom had participated in the killing of a well-liked pawnbroker and his pregnant wife, but was outnumbered and reportedly bound and placed under guard in the courthouse while the lynching proceeded.

The former marshal was said to have mellowed to some degree later in his life, though his reputation as a ruffian persisted.

Duffield was shot and killed June 4, 1874, near Tombstone by James T. Holmes, with whom he had a disagreement over ownership of a mining claim there. Holmes said he leveled his shotgun at the larger man who was threatening him, warning him to stop his advance. Duffield ignored the order and continued, only to be struck and killed by a load of buckshot, Holmes said.

C.E. Duffield, a nephew of Duffield, later said that account was not entirely accurate, and that Holmes had admitted being paid $2,000 to kill Duffield by several men who disliked him. One account indicates Holmes escaped jail and was not recaptured. Another indicates he was not indicted because of the general dislike of Duffield and his methods.

At any rate, the incident marked the violent end of a man to whom violence had been a lifelong companion.

Paul L. Allen can be reached at 573-4588 or pallen@tucsoncitizen.com.

Our Digital Archive

This blog page archives the entire digital archive of the Tucson Citizen from 1993 to 2009. It was gleaned from a database that was not intended to be displayed as a public web archive. Therefore, some of the text in some stories displays a little oddly. Also, this database did not contain any links to photos, so though the archive contains numerous captions for photos, there are no links to any of those photos.

There are more than 230,000 articles in this archive.

In TucsonCitizen.com Morgue, Part 1, we have preserved the Tucson Citizen newspaper's web archive from 2006 to 2009. To view those stories (all of which are duplicated here) go to Morgue Part 1

Search site | Terms of service