Hang Em’ High

Hang Em’ High

Left is the original Mohave County Courthouse in Kingman, Arizona. With completion of the new courthouse it was relocated and converted to the Commercial Hotel. The jail was built between 1909 and 1910. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts.

At 2:00 in the afternoon of January 19, 1907, C.C. Leigh was hung in the yard of the Mohave County Jail in Kingman, Arizona. This marked the final chapter in a story that had started on a hot evening on September 8, 1905 when Leigh murdered Jennie Bauters, his mistress and a purported prostitute, in Goldroad. This was a mining camp in the Black Mountains west of Kingman that is now just scattered ruins along old Route 66 in Sitgreaves Pass.

Throughout his trial and the subsequent appeals Leigh had played the tough guy and shown no remorse. When appeals had been exhausted and the date of execution was set, his mother sent a wire to President Theodore Roosevelt and Territorial Governor Kibbey seeking clemency or a stay of execution. Only Kibbey responded and he refused to intervene.

On the day of his execution Leigh spent the morning writing letters to family and friends. But when the death warrant was read to him in the corridor of the jail, his bravado vanished like a snowflake on a hot summers day in Arizona. It was reported that when the jailer bound him, Leigh fainted and struck his head on the cell. The gash bled profusely but he was led to the scaffold in a nearly unconscious state. He had to be held up as the cap and noose were adjusted.

To the best of my knowledge this was the only hanging on the grounds of the Mohave County Courthouse. This was but one of the stories uncovered in my research for the self guided, narrated historic district walking tour project that is being spearheaded by Kingman Main Street.

At the time I was working on the point of interest file for the old jail. Built between 1909 and 1910, the old Mohave County Jail is a rare tangible link to the closing years of the territorial era in Arizona. It is one of the last free-standing jails built before statehood. It remained in use until 1965 when a new jail in the courthouse basement was completed. Currently the building is used for storage.

The Pauly Jail Building Company of Missouri was awarded the construction contract for the cells. As an interesting historic footnote, established in 1856, this is the oldest single family-owned correctional facilities contractor in the United States.

The history of prior jails in Kingman, and former county seats in Cerbat, Mineral Park, and Hardyville is vague. One of the earliest references is in a published article dated January 1884 that noted funding approval in the amount of $1,400 for jail construction in Mineral Park.

There is ample evidence that incarceration in the Mohave County Jail after the dawn of the 20th century was considered a joke by outlaws. And it was an absolute embarrassment for the county.

Published in the fall of 1907 was a particularly comedic story. “Because all the prisoners in the Mohave County Jail, grown tired of the sameness of the menu, and their surroundings, walked away a short time ago. All of the fugitives face additional charges for the jail break. None of the escapees have yet been caught.”

An article published in September 1908 noted that, quote, “Sometime yesterday afternoon two prisoners slipped through one of the jail gratings and made their escape. They were two boys held for robbing the section house at Berry. The continual escapes are similar to the early days of Yuma when prisoners were wont to take a dinner knife and fork and carve their way to freedom through the adobe walls. Anytime a husky fellow wishes to desert the Mohave County Jail all he has to do is put his back to one of the cages and shove a hole through the walls of the buildings. But most of the prisoners are more considerate and only pull out the frame of one of the gratings and squeeze themselves through.”

On May 15, 1909, the county published an announcement that John Mulligan had taken the contract for the concrete work on the new jail, and that the expected date of completion for the project was September 1910. Mulligan had been the primary contractor for the Brunswick Hotel and Hotel Beale.

In July 1909 an article published about the project noted that Mulligan and Pendergast was commencing work on the foundation, and that construction of the jail was to begin within sixty days. Interestingly, the article noted that a covered bridge was to be built between the jail and courthouse.

It is not known if the bridge was built. If so, it was removed when the courthouse was moved to the west as construction on the new courthouse began. With completion of the new courthouse, the old building was moved to Front Street across from the railroad depot, renovated and operated as the Commercial Hotel until the early 1950s.

By the end of January 1910, the walls were complete, and the forms removed. On October 27th of that year the structure was inspected by the county’s special committee. Except for a lack of gratings on the lower windows of the sheriff’s office and main entrance, and the need for a steel door between the main corridor and the sheriff’s office and residence, they approved the project and it opened for business a few weeks later.

Needless to say, the walking tour project has quite excited. It is a new opportunity for Jim Hinckley’s America to blur the line between past and present, to bring history to life, and tell people where to go. And if you would like to read more from Jim Hinckley’s America, may I suggest you become a follower of the blog that is written for the Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce.