Days Past: Apprehending draft dodgers not always peaceful
When Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917, it was in response to an enlistment of 73,000 men when the need was for 10 times that amount. The low enlistment rate might have provided a clue as to the popularity of President Wilson’s war, but once the law was enacted, many men enlisted in the branch of their choice rather than waiting to be called up.
Not all men were interested in registering for the draft. Enough problems arose that the Department of Justice issued an opinion that men failing to report for examination to be drafted would be classified as deserters from the Army. They could be arrested and turned over to the Army. Those who did not report for induction were termed “slackers.”
The Oct. 3, 1917, edition of Prescott’s newspaper, the Weekly Journal-Miner, reported on a letter outlining the action to be taken for those failing to register for the draft.
“A reward of $50 is payable for the delivery to the nearest army camp or post of a deserter. . . A person who fails to report to his local board for military service at the time specified in his order to report, is a deserter. . . It is thought that if the fact of reward is given the widest publicity we shall have a great force of police officers and even of individuals interested in bringing such delinquents under military control.”
That article also went on to state, “The members of the local board announced to the Journal-Miner last night that a list containing the names and descriptions of 20 men who had failed to respond to the board’s call to appear for military duty, was being prepared, and would be posted about the various towns and camps of the county within the next few days. . .”
Failing to register for the draft got George Taylor of Clarkdale a trip to the Yavapai County Jail and the dubious honor of being the first man in the county to be arrested as a slacker. The Oct. 15, 1917, issue of the Weekly Journal-Miner reported that when Taylor showed up in Prescott and mentioned that he had not registered for the draft, he was told that he was in big trouble and needed to report to the local draft board. This he did and found out he was headed for jail.
The Oct. 22, 1917, edition of the Weekly Journal-Miner had a list of Yavapai County men, by name, who were called in the first draft but did not report for examination. Seven hundred ninety-four were called; two hundred twenty-four did not report. Of these, 70 were believed to be citizens and thus were reported to be in violation of the law.
While the apprehension of most men who failed to register, or registered but failed to report, was generally peaceful, one in southern Arizona turned violent. Such was the attempted arrest on Feb. 10, 1918, of Tom and John Power by Graham County Sheriff Robert McBride for draft evasion. McBride had Deputy Marshal Frank Haynes and two deputies, Martin Kempton and T. K. “Kane” Wootan, as a posse. They surrounded the Powers’ cabin at night and the next morning called on the men to surrender.
There are two different versions of what happened. One was from Deputy Haynes and the other from the Power brothers. What is known is that gunfire broke out; McBride, Kempton and Wootan were killed as well as the Power brothers’ father, Jeff Power.
The brothers and a man who was staying with them, Tom Sisson, fled to Mexico. A number of posses were raised, but finally a U. S. Army contingent was sent after them and they surrendered without incident. All three men were tried for murder. They were convicted and sent to the State Prison at Florence.
Tom Sisson died there at the age of 86. Both Tom and John Power lived until the 1970s. Both were paroled in 1960 and eventually pardoned by Governor Jack Williams. In this instance, draft evasion had dire consequences.
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