Book Review: Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight

By HistoryNet Staff
5/23/2019 • Wild West

Arizona’s Deadliest Gunfight: Draft Resistance and Tragedy at the Power Cabin, 1918, by Heidi J. Osselaer, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2018, $29.95

Renowned Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s samurai movies have inspired such classic Westerns as The Magnificent Seven and A Fistful of Dollars. While Hollywood has yet to film a Western based on Kurosawa’s first crossover classic, Rashomon, its plot—centered on multiple conflicting testimonies that leave the truth about a crime maddeningly unresolved—could well have been inspired by the aftermath of the bloodiest shootout in Arizona history.

On the morning of Feb. 10, 1918, four lawmen surrounded the cabin of miner Thomas Jefferson Power in the Galiuro Mountains northeast of Tucson. They had warrants for Jeff Power’s sons, John and Tom, and hired hand Tom Sisson, for violating the Selective Service Act. The lead lawman, Sheriff Frank McBride, was a devout Mormon and patriot with zero patience for “slackers” who failed to register for the draft, especially on the eve of the United States’ entry into World War I. Jeff Power had reportedly made it known he needed his boys at home to work the family mine and didn’t want anything to do with “their war.”

The shootout began after Jeff Power, hearing noises outside his cabin, opened the door, rifle in hand, only to face three lawmen and an order to throw up his hands. Within moments Power was mortally wounded, McBride, Undersheriff Martin Kempton and Special Deputy Thomas Kane Wootan lay dead, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Frank Haynes was in full retreat.

During the manhunt, arrest and trial conflicting testimonies piled up. Did Jeff Power fire first? Or was he, as Tom Power claimed, dropping his weapon when Wootan fired the first shot? Were the Power boys victims of circumstance or plain victims? With the United States mobilizing for war, the scale of justice weighed heavily against the Power clan. Author Heidi Osselaer considers whether justice was fairly served, and she invites the reader to follow along in search of what might be the truth.

—Jon Guttman

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