© By Brad Courtney

Part one of this article told of the rise of Prescott’s first effective lawman, night-watchman William Jennings.  His downfall would be more rapid than his ascension.

All heroes have an Achilles’ heel, and Jennings was no exception.  When equipped with an adequate amount of financing, he would inveterately be found “bucking the tiger” at a faro table.  That’s exactly what he was doing well into the early morning of November 23, 1877.  What transpired toward the end of his faro games that morning is unknown, but at some point, something went amiss.

After leaving the gambling establishment—not identified by the Miner—Jennings took a walk down a Prescott street with village marshal, Frank Murray.  Suddenly, charging toward Jennings came the faro dealer, Larry Tullock.  Tullock began to vehemently chastise Jennings for some perceived offense.  So belligerent was Tullock that Murray seized, cuffed and arrested him.  Then the unthinkable happened.  Murray was taking Tullock to jail when Jennings drew his knife and lunged at Tullock, intending to stab him in the stomach.  Murray swung Tullock away, but Jennings’ follow-through landed his knife deep into one of Tullock’s thighs.

This changed everything.  Tullock was sent to get medical help; Jennings was arrested.  He was immediately relieved from his night-watchman duties, and for several years that challenging position proved difficult to keep filled.  Even Virgil Earp gave the job a shot but resigned after a short stint.

By January, Jennings was sentenced to six months of prison.  When released, Jennings didn’t stay out of the news for long when he joined forces with L. Bashford & Co. in a mining venture.  He headed for the Hassayampa District and soon discovered that his knack for ore-hunting was even greater than that of his exceptional talent for Wild West law-enforcement.

A second Achilles’ heel soon surfaced, however: whiskey.

In early April 1879, after picking up supplies at the Bashford general store, Jennings left with the intention of returning to his mine, but “was detained at several points” along Whiskey Row.  Nightfall arrived, and an inebriated Jennings finally guided his two burros south down Montezuma Street.  A mile or two from town, he passed out in the middle of the road.  The next morning, he discovered that while his burros were still with him, he’d been robbed of everything else.  The Miner joked that perhaps the robbers had “administered . . . chloroform or some other stupefying drug . . .”

Yet, by early July, the Miner happily reported that Jennings was a true “bonanza king”; his operations were so successful that he was described as having “[m]ineral in front of him and mineral in the rear of him . . .”  Time after time, the Miner gave reports akin to the following: “Jennings is in from his Hassayampa bonanzas, which are numerous and rich.”  It was predicted that if his luck continued, Jennings would become the richest man in the Territory.

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After showing signs of mental illness, William Jennings was taken to the insane asylum in Stockton, California, pictured here.

Jennings, however, showed signs of mental illness, which surfaced most visibly in September 1882.  The Courier reported that he was “now a little ‘off’ in his mind,” describing him as “the insane man from the Hassayampa . . .”  Paranoia caused him to believe enemies were trying to poison him.  When one neighbor visited Jennings’ well for water, he drunkenly tried to shoot him.  Jennings was soon arrested and, within a week, carted off to the insane asylum in Stockton, California.

Jennings didn’t return to his mines until sometime in 1884, but when he did his “bonanza” ways continued for another eight years.  As time went by, however, he became more reclusive.  So when he had not been seen in Prescott for two weeks, there was no immediate cause for concern.  His neighbors, however, became worried and decided to pay him a visit.  One of them later rode into town and reported that he’d seen a body at the bottom of a 110 foot deep mine owned by Jennings.  His best friend, Dan Hatz, rode out to recover Jennings’ body, which he found sitting upright on the mine’s deepest bench.

Thus ended the life of William Jennings, one of Prescott’s first heroes who became “the well known and eccentric miner of the Hassayampa . . .”

(“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). The public is encouraged to submit ideas for articles to dayspastprescott@gmail.com.)