Harry Wheeler, Sheriff of Cochise County

Harry Wheeler, Sheriff of Cochise County

Portrait courtesy of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum

Born July 26, 1875, in Jacksonville, Florida. Died December 17, 1925.

The son of a military man, Harry Wheeler grew up on a series of army posts on the western frontier. He enlisted in the army, fought in the Spanish American War as a Rough Rider, and was transferred to the Arizona Territory where he received a medical discharge after being kicked by a horse. He worked briefly as a miner in Tombstone, then signed on with the Arizona Rangers. Lauded for his marksmanship, dedication, leadership and administrative capabilities, he quickly ascended through the ranks, becoming captain in 1907. During the 1907 Bisbee strike, he protected striking workers from company thugs, earning the reputation as a friend of labor. Two years later, the Rangers were abolished and Wheeler was appointed Deputy Sheriff of Cochise County; he then ran successfully for Sheriff and served three successive terms.

In 1917, during another strike at the Bisbee mines, he deputized and armed two thousand citizens, and sent them out at dawn to arrest striking miners and sympathizers, and march them to the Warren ballpark. He supervised the proceedings with a loaded 7.62 mm. machine gun in an open touring car. 1,185 miners were loaded into cattle cars and taken to the New Mexico desert where they were abandoned. Wheeler took responsibility for the deportation, although he was acting on instructions from the mine operators, and was later indicted along with 224 others on state kidnapping charges; those charges were dropped.

When World War I broke out, he was commissioned captain, resigned as sheriff, and was sent to France. He was then called back to answer charges arising from the deportation, which were later dropped. He ran for sheriff again in 1922 and was defeated. He died of pneumonia and is buried in Bisbee.

[Sources: James W. Byrkit. Forging the copper collar: Arizona's labor management war of 1901-1921. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1982; John S. Goff, Arizona Biographical Dictionary. Cave Creek, AZ: Black Mountain Press, 1983; Bill O'Neal, "Captain Harry Wheeler, Arizona Lawman," The Journal of Arizona History 27 no. 3 (1986): 297-314.]