About John Harris "Johnny" Behan
John Harris Behan (October 24, 1844 – June 7, 1912) was from April 1881 to November 1882 sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona Territory. Behan was appointed the first sheriff of the newly-created county in February 1881. The mining boomtown of Tombstone was the new county seat and Behan's headquarters. Immediately before taking office as sheriff, Behan had served five months as undersheriff for the southern area of Pima County, which included Tombstone, succeeding Wyatt Earp in this position. Behan married and had two children, but his wife divorced him, accusing him of consorting with prostitutes. Sadie Marcus was his mistress beginning as early as 1875, and certainly from 1880 until she, too, was upset by his liaisons with other women, and she left him in 1881.
Behan was sheriff during the events leading up to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He testified at length after the shooting in support of the Cowboy's position that the Earps had precipitated the shootout and murdered three Cowboys. After the Earps were exonerated, Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp was maimed in an ambush on December 28, 1881, and assistant deputy Morgan Earp was killed by assassins on March 19. The outlaw Cowboys named as suspects in both shootings were either let go on a technicality or were provided alibis by fellow Cowboys. Wyatt Earp killed one of the suspects, Frank Stilwell, in Tucson. Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt and his federal posse set out after other suspects, pursued by Behan and his county posse composed mostly of Cowboys.
Behan's posse never caught up with the federal posse, and Behan failed to win reelection as Sheriff. The Earps left Tombstone under a cloud of suspicion. Sadie left Tombstone for San Francisco in early 1882, and Wyatt Earp, who Behan had testified murdered the Cowboys in the O.K. Corral shootout, went to San Francisco, where Earp and Sadie began a relationship that lasted 46 years. Behan later ran the Yuma Territorial Prison and had various other government jobs until his death in 1912.
Johnny H. Behan was born in October 24, 1844 in Westport, Missouri in what is now Kansas City, the third of nine children of carpenter Peter Behan from County Kildare, Ireland, and his wife Sarah. Peter Behan, from County Kildare, Ireland, married Sarah Ann Harris, a native of Madison County, Kentucky, in Jackson County, Missouri on March 16, 1837. John Harris Behan was named for his mother's family and his maternal grandfather.
Behan moved west to San Francisco, working as a miner and a freighter. During the American Civil War Behan was a 19-year-old civilian employee of Carleton's Column of Union Volunteers in California. He fought in the Battle of Apache Pass on July 14–15, 1862 and in 1863 settled in Tucson, where he found work delivering freight to military installations. In 1864 he served as a clerk to the First Arizona Legislative Assembly in Prescott, the territorial seat.
In 1865 he moved to Prescott, the new capital of the Arizona Territory, where he speculated in real estate and prospected for minerals. While prospecting along the Verde River February 28, 1866, he and a five other men were attacked by Indians. Behan helped fight them off and gained a reputation as a brave man. He also operated a sawmill. He was hired as an undersheriff by Yavapai County Sheriff John P. Bourke in 1866. Bourke had married German immigrant and widow Harriet Zaff in 1860, and her daughter, then 14 year old Victoria caught Behan's eye, and he married her three years later. He resigned as undersheriff to run for Yavapai County Recorder and won that office in 1868. Whenever he wasn't holding office he worked in various saloons or mines.
Marriage, family and divorce
In March 1869, Behan married Bourke's 17-year-old daughter Victoria Zaff in San Francisco, the girl's home town. The couple moved back to Prescott, Arizona Territory, where John had been working, and less than 9 months later, on June 15, 1869, they had their first child, Henrietta. Victoria and Johhny had their first child, a son named Albert Price Behan (d. January 27, 1949) in Prescott on July 7, 1872. Behan was elected to the 7th Arizona Territorial Legislature, which met in Tucson on January 8, 1873, for a six- to eight-week legislative session.
Relationship with Josephine Sadie Marcus
Some accounts state that Sadie Marcus ran away from her parent's home in San Francisco in 1874 and traveled to Prescott, Arizona. She and her friend Dora Hurst and other passengers on a stage coach had been forced to hole up in a ranch house near Cave Creek by Apache Indians who had escaped the Cave Creek reservation. Indian fighter Al Sieber was tracking the Apaches. Sadie said the famous Indian scout led them to safety. According to Sadie, she first met "John Harris" here, who she described as, "young and darkly handsome, with merry black eyes and an engaging smile".
While living in Prescott with this wife and children, Behan served as sheriff of Yavapai County 1871–73. He was elected to the Seventh Arizona Legislative Assembly, representing Yavapai Country, in 1873. Henrietta died at age four on March 6, 1877, of scarletina at age seven.
On September 28, 1874, Behan was nominated as Sheriff at the Democratic convention in Yavapai County. The Prescott Miner reported on October 6, 1874 that "J.H. Behan left on an 'electioneering' tour toward Black Canyon, Wickenburg and other places" north and east of present-day Phoenix. and may have met Sadie Marcus during this trip. Behan was gone for 35 days campaigning for the Sheriff's office. She said "my heart was stirred by his attentions as would the heart of any girl (would) have been under such romantic circumstances. The affair was at least a diversion in my homesickness though I cannot say I was in love with him." Behan returned on November 11 but lost the election.
In 1875, Behan's wife Victoria filed for divorce, complaining that Behan "at divers times and places openly and notoriously visited houses of ill-fame and prostitution at said town of Prescott." Victoria cited liaisons with several woman, but specifically mentioned a "Sadie or Sada Mansfield", a 14 year old "woman of prostitution and ill-fame" as correspondent in the divorce action. The divorce also cited Behan's threats of violence and unrelenting verbal abuse.
Behan and his wife were divorced in June 1875. Behan moved for a time to the northwest Arizona Territory, where he served as the Mohave County Recorder in 1877, and then deputy sheriff of Mohave County in Gillet in 1879. In November 1879, Behan had a saloon in Tip Top, a then fast-growing silver mining town in central Arizona. He represented Mohave County at the Tenth Arizona Legislative Assembly, which met beginning January 6, 1879, in Prescott.
Behan was counted in the 1880 census in Tip Top, Arizona as a saloon keeper. Nineteen year old Sadie Mansfield, whose occupation was given as "Courtesan", the same person that his former wife Victoria had named in their divorce five years earlier, was also living in Tip Top. Sadie Mansfield and Sadie Marcus also were both 19 years old, were born in New York, and their parents were from Prussia.
Johnny Behan remained in Prescott through at least 1880, when the U.S. census recorded him in Tip Top, Arizona Territory. When Sadie returned to San Francisco Johnny followed her and persuaded her parents to approve their engagement. Some modern researchers question the likelihood that her father, a Reform Jew, would approve her union with Behan, an unemployed office-seeker, 34, a Gentile, and a divorced father.
Behan said he could not leave his livery stable business for a wedding in San Francisco. Sadie thought Johnny’s marriage proposal was a good excuse to leave home. She wrote, "life was dull for me in San Francisco. In spite of my bad experience of a few years ago the call to adventure still stirred my blood."
Sadie was listed in the 1880 census as his wife, and she may have been as a prostitute in Tombstone. Depending on which version of events is correct, she may have arrived in Tombstone as part of the Pauline Markham troupe on December 1, 1879, for a one-week engagement. The Pauline Markham troupe put on more than a dozen performances of H.M.S. Pinafore from December 24, 1879 through February 20, 1880. Sadie, possibly using the stage name May Bell, may have played Cousin Hebe. The city of Prescott, Arizona, fell in love with her and her troupe, and they stayed for nearly six months.
Behan moves to Tombstone
Behan arrived in Tombstone in September 1880.:19 Sadie arrived from San Francisco in October and when he did set a wedding date, she was ready to end the relationship, but Johnny persuaded her to continue. They lived together as husband and wife, although Sadie later said she lived with a lawyer and his wife during this time period. Josephine Marcus signed her name as Josephine Behan for a period of time, but no marriage document has ever been located.
When Behan first arrived in Tombstone, he worked as bartender in the Grand Hotel, a favorite of the outlaw Cowboys. He also bought part interest in the Dexter Livery Stable with John Dunbar. The Dunbars through their home town in Bangor, Maine, were "close family friends" of the powerful Senator James G. Blaine, one of the most powerful Republican congressmen of his time. The Dunbars used their influence to help Behan get appointed Sheriff of the new Cochise County, in February 1881. Behan had already served two terms in the Territorial Legislature and was more politically connected than Earp. When the state created Cochise County, Governor John C. Frémont appointed and the territorial legislature approved Behan as Sheriff on February 10, 1881.
Undersheriff and sheriff
Wyatt Earp had been appointed undersheriff for the eastern section of Pima County by Pima County Sheriff Charles Shibell on July 29, 1880. The Cowboys, mostly Southerners, supported the Democratic ticket and Shibell. Elections were held on November 2, and it was expected that Democrat Shibell would be defeated by Republican Bob Paul, who Wyatt had supported during the campaign.
Shibell won the election by a 46-vote margin. Opponent Bob Paul filed suit on November 19 alleging ballot box stuffing in the San Simon Cienega precinct, since the precinct delivered a 103 to 1 vote for Shibell in a precinct estimated to contain only 15 eligible voters. James Johnson later testified for Bud Paul in the election hearing and said that the ballots had been left in the care of Democrat Phin Clanton. Meanwhile, a week after the election on November 9, 1880, Earp resigned. The position of undersheriff was now open, and Shibell immediately selected Democrat Johnny Behan to serve as Tombstone area undersheriff.
In February 1881, the San Simon results were thrown out by the election commissioners, but Shibell filed an appeal. He was finally removed from office in April and replaced by Bob Paul. On February 1, 1881, during the vote counting investigation, the eastern area of Pima County containing Tombstone had been split off to form the new Cochise County. Behan used his political connections from his prior service in the territorial legislature to win appointment by Governor John C. Frémont and the legislature to the new Cochise County sheriff position on February 10, 1881. In a back room deal, he promised Wyatt Earp a position as Cochise County undersheriff, if Earp (the only other previous undersheriff for Tombstone) would not oppose Behan's appointment. Behan took office in the new position in April, with his offices in the county seat, Tombstone, but reneged on the deal with Earp, appointing prominent Democrat Harry Woods instead.
Later that year, Behan gave a contrived explanation of his actions during the hearings after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. He said he broke his promise to appoint Earp because of an incident shortly before his appointment. Searching for a stolen horse belonging to him, Wyatt learned in late 1880 that the horse was in nearby Charleston. Wyatt spotted Billy Clanton attempting to leave town with the horse and, hand on his gun, persuaded Billy to release it. Behan was in Charleston to serve a subpoena on Ike Clanton. Billy carried the subpoena from Behan to Ike using Wyatt's horse. Ike was hopping mad when Behan finally found him, for Earp had told Clanton that Behan "had taken a posse of nine men down there to arrest him." Behan took offense at Wyatt's tactics and changed his mind about appointing Wyatt. Holliday reported in an interview in 1882 that "from that time a coolness grew up between the two men."
As Cochise County sheriff, one of Behan's duties was collecting prostitution, gambling, liquor, and theater fees, taxes for which he received 10% of all proceeds. He developed a reputation for graft and was seen as the head of the "Ten Percent Ring." Rumors of graft and corruption followed him during his tenure as sheriff.
His son Albert in Tombstone
Behan's ex-wife Victoria remarried hardware merchant Charles A. Randall in Prescott, Arizona Territory on September 15, 1881. Behan's eight year-old son Albert, who had a hearing impairment, was living with his mother, grandmother and his uncle John Bourke Jr. in Prescott in 1880. His mother sent Albert to live with his father in Tombstone sometime afterward. Behan was already living with Sadie in 1880, and Albert grew close to her. This relationship lasted for much of the rest of their lives.
Beginnings of friction with Wyatt Earp
Wyatt Earp testified later saying that he had promised not to publicly campaign to the governor against the appointment (not election) of Behan, in return for an appointment by Behan as Behan's own undersheriff. But after being appointed, Behan appointed another man, Southern Democrat Harry Woods, to the position that Wyatt thought would go to him.
At the preliminary hearing into Ike's murder charges against the Earps after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Behan explained that he appointed Woods rather than Earp due to an incident involving a stolen horse of Virgil Earp's, which was recovered by Wyatt from Billy Clanton. This happened sometime after Behan had been appointed undersheriff in November 1880, and his move to Cochise Country Sheriff the next spring. At the time, Wyatt was not a law officer, but had used the threat of Behan riding out to the Clanton's ranch as a bluff to get Clanton to turn over the horse. As it happened, Behan was riding to the ranch to serve a subpoena related to the ballot-box stuffing incident, not to recover the horse, and the incident embarrassed the Cowboys and also Behan who for a time had been made to look like he was supporting Earp against the Cowboys.
Split from Sadie
Sometime during early 1881, Sadie arrived home to find Behan in bed with the wife of a friend of theirs, and she kicked Behan out of the home they had built with her father's money. One version of the story is that Sadie had taken Albert, who had a hearing impairment, to San Francisco for treatment. Upon their return, they arrived late in the evening and a day earlier than expected. They found Behan in bed with another woman. Behan was embarrassed by the public breakup. Most Tombstone residents thought that Marcus and Behan were legally married. Her breakup with Behan was publicized by the The Tombstone Epitaph.
Tombstone diarist George W. Parsons never mentioned seeing Wyatt and Sadie together and neither did John Clum in his memoirs.
Earp had been in a common-law marriage with Mattie Blaylock since about 1873 and she was listed as his wife in the 1880 census. It is not known when Earp and Blaylock ended their relationship, except that after the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, she went to Colton, California, where the rest of the Earp family lived. She waited for Earp to come get her there and when he didn't, she resumed a life of prostitution in Pinal, Arizona, where on July 3, 1888, she took a lethal dose of laudanum together with alcohol. Her death was officially ruled as "suicide by opium poisoning".
Affiliation with the Cowboys
The records show evidence that Cochise County Marshall Behan was sympathetic to the interests of and a friend to Ike Clanton, "Curly Bill" Brocius, Johnny Ringo, and a group of cattle rustlers and ranchers, loosely known as "Cowboys." Some of the Cowboys were also active as rustlers in the U.S. side of the border after the Mexicans lowered tariffs and stepped up military patrols after 1882. Frank Stilwell was an assistant Deputy under Behan for several months until shortly before he was a suspect in the Bisbee stage holdup. Behan employed several of the outlaws as sheriff's deputies during their pursuit of Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp's posse after he was alleged to have killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson.
Sometime during early 1881, Josephine arrived home in Tombstone from a trip to San Francisco. One version of the story is that Sadie had taken Behan's son Albert, who was hearing impaired, to San Francisco for treatment. Upon their return, they arrived late in the evening and a day earlier than expected. She found Behan in the home they had built with her father's money and in bed with the wife of a friend of theirs, and she kicked him out. Josie formed a close bond with Behan's 9-year-old son Albert, and remained in contact with him throughout the rest of her life. It's unknown when Josephine and Earp began a romantic relationship. They met in San Francisco after Earp left Tombstone.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
In August 1881, Behan fired deputy Frank Stilwell for "accounting irregularities". Stilwell was arrested by a combined federal and sheriff's posse a month later for a Bisbee stage robbery, an action that would indirectly lead to the O.K. Corral gunfight.
Behan was a key player in the events immediately preceding shootout at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. Behan went down to try to disarm the Cowboys carrying weapons in violation of city ordinance. Behan attempted to persuade Frank McLaury to give up his weapons, but Frank insisted that he would only give up his guns after City Marshal Virgil Earp and his brothers were disarmed. While Ike Clanton was planning to leave town, Frank McLaury said he had decided to remain behind to take care of some business. A letter written afterward by their older brother, William McLaury, a judge in Fort Worth, Texas, claimed that both Frank and Tom were planning to conduct business before leaving town to visit him in Fort Worth. Billy Clanton, who had arrived on horseback with Frank, intended to go with the McLaurys to Fort Worth.
After Behan talked to the Cowboys, he saw the Earps and Holliday walking down Fremont Street. He walked about "22 or 23 steps" and intercepted them at Bauer's Butcher Shop. Wyatt said he gave them conflicting information. First, he told Virgil, "For God's sake don't go down there or you will get murdered." When Virgil replied, "I am going to disarm them," Behan said, "I have disarmed them." Later on Behan insisted he had said he went to see the Cowboys only "for the purpose of arresting and disarming them."
Ike Clanton filed murder charges against the four lawmen. Behan testified for the prosecution during the preliminary hearing, supporting the Clanton's version of events. According to the prosecution, the Cowboys had offered no resistance. Behan gave strong testimony that the Cowboys had not resisted but either thrown up their hands and turned out their coats to show they were not armed. He told the court that he heard Billy Clanton say, "Don't shoot me. I don't want to fight." He also testified that Tom McLaury threw open his coat to show that he was not armed and that the first two shots were fired by the Earp party.
Behan testified that from the time the Earps passed him by to confront the Cowboys, he had watched them closely. Under cross-examination by attorney Thomas Fitch, he admitted seeing Holliday carrying the messenger shotgun towards the confrontation. All the witnesses testified that Holliday had been seen with a shotgun. Behan also testified he was concentrating on the Earps during the gun fight, but he did not see the shotgun used. He insisted that Holliday fired the first shot from a nickel-plated revolver. But the coroner had already testified that Tom McLaury was killed by a shotgun blast. For Behan's "testimony to make any sense, the court would have to believe that Holliday marched down Fremont Street carrying a shotgun; put it aside in order to pull out his pistol; fired the first shot, presumably at Billy Clanton; and then picked up the shotgun in order to kill Tom McLaury—all in the space of a few seconds."
Behan's sympathy to the Cowboy was well known, and documents were located in 1997 that showed Behan served as guarantor for a loan to Ike Clanton during the Spicer hearing that followed.
Three defense witnesses gave key evidence that discredited Behan's testimony. One of the most notable witness was H. F. Sills, an AT&SF RR engineer who had just arrived in town and knew none off the parties involved. The second key witness was Addie Bourland, a dressmaker whose shop was across the street from the gunfight, and the third was Judge J.H. Lucas of the Cochise County Probate Court, who corroborated Addie Bourland's testimony. Justice Wells Spicer ruled on November 30 that there was not enough evidence to indict the men.
Seeks Earps' arrest
On December 28, 1881, Virgil Earp was ambushed and maimed. On March 18, assassins shot through a window and killed Morgan Earp. The Cowboys who were identified as suspects in both cases got off on either legal technicalities or were provided alibis by men who said they were in Charleston at the time Morgan was shot. Wyatt felt he had no choice but to take the law into his own hands.
On March 20, while escorting Virgil and his wife Addie through Tucson to catch a train, new Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and Warren Earp, Doc Holliday, Johnson and Sherman McMasters shot Frank Stilwell as he was lying in wait in the train yard. Justice of the Peace Charles Meyer issued arrest warrants for the Earp posse. He sent a telegram to Tombstone telling Behan they were wanted in Tucson for killing Stilwell. The telegraph office manager was a friend to the Earps and delayed delivery long enough to allow the Earps and their associates to get ready to leave town Tuesday evening. Behan got the telegram in the early evening. He found the men in the lobby of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, heavily armed. He told Wyatt he wanted to see him. Wyatt replied, "Johnny, if you're not careful, you'll see me once too often."
In September 1882, after the Earp Vendetta Ride, Behan had a feud with his own deputy, Billy Breakenridge. An investigation found that Behan had somehow set aside $5,000 in funds while he was sheriff from unknown sources. Due to public and legislative unhappiness with Behan's performance, he was last on the Democratic Party's list of nominees for sheriff, an unusual result for a seated sheriff. Behan failed to gain the nomination and thus left office at the end of his term, in November 1882.
Behan lived primarily in Tombstone through 1886. In 1887, he moved to Yuma, where he became the assistant superintendent of the Yuma Penitentiary. He killed one of several prisoners who died during a large escape attempt, saving a guard's life. On April 7, 1888, he was promoted to prison superintendent, serving until July 1890. His management of the prison was marked by prison disorder and mismanagement of public funds, generating complaints by the press. The Arizona Republic noted that $50,000 had passed through prison official's hands without any accounting. He faced censure for misuse of public funds and for running the prison in a "coarse and brutal manner" in 1890. The complaint against him specifically cited the prison conditions afforded Manuela Fimbres, a woman incarcerated in the Yuma Prison. She was allowed to roam free within the prison, and she became pregnant, delivered a child, and got pregnant again while he was warden. Former Tombstone resident and writer George W. Parsons commented that he thought Behan was "on the wrong side of the bars".
After 27 years in Arizona, Behan moved east, and in 1891 was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and by 1892 was in a commission business in Washington, D.C. He worked in various government and commissary capacities to the end of his life.
On July 3, 1893, he became an Inspector at Port of Customs at El Paso, Texas. On March 12, 1894 he received a 50% pay increase and was elevated to the position of Chinese Exclusion Inspector. (Behan had been a founding member of the "Anti Chinese League" in Tombstone). For the next several years he traveled throughout the southwest arresting illegal Chinese immigrants. In 1897 he worked in the U.S. Patent Office, until at the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, Behan volunteered for and became corral-master or quartermaster at Tampa, Florida. When this conflict ended, trouble in the Far East began, and in 1900 he served overseas during the Boxer Rebellion.
In 1901, after the war ended, he returned to Tucson, where he became the Business manager for the Tucson Citizen. He moved to El Paso, Texas, where he worked as a purchasing agent for Texas Bitulithic, a paving company. While in El Paso during 1908, he campaigned for sheriff but lost. On December 14, 1910, the acting governor of Arizona Territory gave him a commission as a Railroad policeman in Mexico. He followed that with work supervising survey parties repairing levee breaks on the lower Colorado River. During 1911–12, he was head of the commissary for the Arizona Eastern Railroad.
Death and burial
Behan died at St. Mary's Catholic Hospital in Tucson, Arizona on June 7, 1912. While some sources state that Behan died of Bright's disease (immune-related renal failure), his death certificate states that Behan died primarily of "arterial sclerosis" (a term used at the time for heart disease), and noted that Behan had been suffering with this problem for 5 years. The secondary cause of death listed on the same death certificate states Behan also had syphilis, and states that he had contracted it thirty years earlier (which would coincide with his time in Tombstone). The source of some of the information on the death certificate was Behan's son, Albert.
John Behan was buried on the day after his death in Tucson's Holy Hope Cemetery, in a grave whose exact location has since been lost. Enthusiasts of old west history placed a commemorative plaque near the site in 1990.
Behan has been depicted in most films involving the Earps and the OK Corral gunfight - most notably in Tombstone (1993) by Jon Tenney, and in Wyatt Earp (1994), by Mark Harmon. In the 1967 film, Hour of the Gun, a character obviously inspired by Behan is portrayed as a corrupt county sheriff named "Jimmy Bryan".
Behan appears as a saloon owner in Tip Top, Arizona in The Nightjar Women in the weird western anthology Merkabah Rider: Tales of a High Planes Drifter by Edward M. Erdelac.