Originally Published: June 22, 2014 6 a.m.
On Feb. 10, 1918, four men died in a gun battle between lawmen and the Power family living in Rattlesnake Canyon in the Galiuro Mountains of Southeastern Arizona. This was not only the deadliest single gunfight in Arizona; it was probably the deadliest slacker battle during World War I. At the time the Bisbee Daily Review called it the "only armed resistance in Arizona to the military draft."
During World War I, there were numerous skirmishes between draft resisters, or slackers as they were called, and law enforcement officials. When America first entered the war in April 1917, most Americans were apathetic and some even protested. President Woodrow Wilson knew this war was a public relations nightmare with the American public, so his administration worked with Congress to pass stringent measures to silence dissent and assure a peaceful military draft. They did not want a repeat of the draft riots that plagued the Civil War.
For Jeff Power, the Selective Service Act of 1917 threatened to take away his draft-age sons who did most of the backbreaking labor at his gold mine in Rattlesnake Canyon. Living in an isolated location, 26 miles over rugged terrain from the nearest town of Klondyke, he probably had no clue the federal government was taking a hard line against draft evaders, with military officials even threatening to execute slackers.
Jeff Power's sons, Tom and John, and hired man Tom Sisson were still asleep in their cabin when Jeff got up at dawn to cook breakfast on that snowy morning in February 1918. He heard an unfamiliar noise and stepped outside the cabin with rifle in hand and quickly found himself face-to-face with well-armed men. As the Bisbee newspaper put it: "There was no parley between the mountaineers and the officers. The latter advanced boldly into the opening toward the cabin." Jeff was the first man down and died later that day. Three of the four officers - Graham County Sheriff Robert Frank McBride, Undersheriff Martin Kempton and Deputy T. Kane Wootan - also were killed. The only lawman to survive was Deputy U.S. Marshal Frank Haynes, who carried the federal draft evasion warrants for the arrest of John and Tom Power.
Patriotic emotions had been whipped up by wartime propaganda, and during the 26-day manhunt that followed the shootout the three fugitives were branded in the newspapers as German sympathizers, outlaws and anarchists. By time the case came to trial in May of 1918, most Americans took a dim view of anyone unwilling to fight for their country, especially those who killed officers.
Deputy U.S. Marshal Haynes claimed the first shots came from inside the cabin. John Power testified that they did not know who was outside and that the lawmen shot first. He later explained, "They was out to kill us. They weren't trying to arrest us. Hell we didn't even know they wanted us. They just started shooting, shot down our daddy in the doorway. You'd fight back too, wouldn't you, if they shot down your Pa?" Although there was little evidence that the Powers had been lying in wait to kill the officers, the jury quickly returned a guilty verdict of premeditated murder for all three men.
The three men were sentenced to life terms to be served in the Arizona State Prison at Florence. Tom Sisson died there in 1957 at age 87, and after his death, public opinion of the case began to change. Tom and John Power were finally paroled in 1960 due largely to newspaper columns written by Don Dedera. Unsatisfied, the brothers spent nine years seeking redemption and finally were pardoned by Governor Jack Williams at a time when the public began to question why the federal government had authorized officials to use deadly force to bring in draft evaders.
Heidi Osselaer is the historical consultant for the documentary film, "Power's War," scheduled for release in February 2015. This article is a summary of a presentation she will make at the eleventh annual Western History Symposium to be held at the Hassayampa Inn on Aug. 2. The Symposium is co-sponsored by the Prescott Corral of Westerners and the Sharlot Hall Museum and is open to the public free of charge. For more details, visit the Corral's website at www.precottscorral.org or call Fred Veil (443-5580).
"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 articles for consideration. Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.