By Mick Woodcock

Murder was never an everyday occurrence in territorial Arizona, despite what one might gather from the violence during the Pleasant Valley War and the shootings in Tombstone during its heyday.  Thus, the headline of an article in the July 30, 1887, Globe (Arizona) newspaper, the Arizona Silver Belt, announcing “A HOMICIDE AT BAKER’S BUTTE” is worthy of note as it resulted in a murder trial in the Yavapai County Courthouse in Prescott.  It also may have been the first time a crime scene was ever photographed in Arizona.

Baker’s Butte, on the road between Globe and Flagstaff, just north of Payson, was a well-known stopping point used by travelers as an overnight camp.  Andres Moreno and Knox Lee, traveling together, stopped there on July 16, 1887.  Mr. Moreno was hauling a load of household goods from Globe to Flagstaff; a trunk belonging to Mr. Lee was also in the load.  Reportedly, the men had been quarreling.  Exactly what happened on that day will never be known for sure, as there were no eyewitnesses.

Andres Moreno was killed by a gunshot.  Knox Lee claimed to have shot him in self defense. 

One of the first people on the scene was Dr. Edgar A. Mearns, the post surgeon at Fort Verde.  In his spare time, Dr. Mearns was studying Arizona’s wildlife -- birds in particular.  He was camping near Baker’s Butte on the day in question, and happened to have a camera with him for photographing birds.  He came along shortly after the shooting and took four photographs of Moreno’s body and the crime scene.  Photographs of such an event were rare in those days. 

Soon after the killing, the Arizona Silver Belt reported that, “A letter dated Baker’s Butte, July 20, says that coroner’s jury found that Moreno’s death was the result of a gunshot wound inflicted from a pistol in the hands of Knox Lee, and recommended that he be held for further examination.  Lee was taken to Prescott and incarcerated there to await further proceedings.”

The Arizona Weekly Journal Miner reprinted another article from the Arizona Silver Belt’s August 31, 1887, edition, introducing comments by Army surgeon C. Anderson. “The Doctor was present and participated in the postmortem during the session of the inquest over Moreno’s remains.  He exhibited to us four photographic views illustrating the scene of the killing, position of the deceased when he fell, position of the gun resting in his hand, and the place where Moreno fell.  The explanation given by the Doctor leads to the belief that [Moreno’s] gun was placed in position as shown in the photograph, after the shooting, there being no mark on the ground showing where it struck, at the time Moreno pitched forward after being shot.”  The Doctor reported that the examination showed Moreno was shot in the back of the head.

Knox Lee was brought to trial on December 7, 1887.  Dr. Mearns testified in the case, and his four photographs were introduced into evidence.  Presumably, the Doctor’s testimony and the photographic evidence countered Mr. Lee’s claim of self defense.  As reported in the Arizona Weekly Journal Miner, when the jury came back with its first verdict, the judge asked if the verdict was unanimous, whereupon one of the jurors said it was as long as the judge would not impose too harsh as sentence.  The judge sent them back to deliberate until they had a verdict they could agree on, with no conditions tied to it. They soon returned with the verdict of involuntary manslaughter.

On December 14, 1887, the Arizona Weekly Journal Miner reported, “Knox Lee, whom a jury found guilty of INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER, in the killing of a Mexican, with whom he was traveling, looked pale and care worn, and was told by the Judge, that his failing and delicate health had been taken into consideration and his sentence on that account was proportionately lighter than it otherwise would have been, and the penalty fixed at six years, an extremely light one in face of all the circumstances connected with this crime.”

In April 1889, Territorial Governor Conrad Zulick pardoned six men then incarcerated at the penitentiary at Yuma.  Among them was Knox Lee.  So far as is known, this is the last mention of him in the territorial historical record.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.sharlot.org/library-archives/days-past. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at dayspastshmcourier@gmail.com for information.