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Burton C. Mossman - A Hall-of-Fame Lawman

Burton C. Mossman - A Hall-of-Fame Lawman
Courageous and skilled with a gun, Burton C. Mossman had a knack for surprising rustlers while they were still in possession of stolen cattle, freshly butchered beef, green hides, and other incriminating evidence. Though he used violence to good effect when necessary, Mossman preferred to trick his quarry into giving up peacefully when possible.
Last month I told you about the killer Augustine Chacon, a.k.a. El Peludo. This month I’m going to write about the man who brought El Peludo to justice. He is Burton C. Mossman, but capturing Chacon wasn’t his only claim to fame.

Mossman was born near Aurora, Illinois, on April 30, 1867. Mossman’s family moved to Missouri in 1873 and then pushed on to New Mexico in 1882. By 1884 Mossman was working as a cowboy, and by age 21 he had become the foreman of the Aztec Land & Cattle Co., also known as the Hashknife Outfit, in Arizona Territory. Mossman earned a reputation for being wild, restless, and quick of temper, but he was very good at the job, cleaned out the riff raff, and was credited with turning the outfit from a failing enterprise to a thriving ranch. He was especially good at curbing an epidemic of cattle rustling during his time with the Outfit and in 1897 was made superintendent of the ranch. In 1898 Mossman was elected sheriff of Navajo County, and in 1901 he was enticed to become the first captain of the newly formed Arizona Rangers. He stipulated it would be for just one year.

During his career as a rancher and a lawman, Mossman was involved in at least five shootouts. The first occurred in the summer of 1896. At the time, Mossman had driven a herd of cattle to Mexico to be sold. While stopping at a cantina, Mossman quarreled with a Mexican Army captain, who challenged him to a duel. Mossman accepted. The next morning they met, loaded their handguns with a single cartridge, stepped off 15 paces, turned, and fired. The captain’s shot missed; Mossman’s didn’t.

In the spring of 1898, Mossman was shot at from ambush. The ambush occurred while Mossman, a deputy, and a guide were searching for a band of cattle rustlers in Walter Canyon. As it turned out, the guide was no friend to Mossman and tried to sabotage him. Mossman knocked the guide off his horse, and as he dismounted, three of the guide’s outlaw compadres opened fire from 100 yards away. One bullet grazed Mossman’s nose, one took off his saddle horn, and one cut his reins. Mossman and the deputy apprehended the guide and made it to cover. After a brief skirmish, the bandits retreated, and the lawmen took their prisoner to jail.

In the fall of 1898, Mossman was fired upon while undressing in a second-floor room of a hotel in Springer, New Mexico. The shot came from the bar below and passed through the floor near Mossman’s chair. A second shot came through the floor as Mossman went for his rifle and returned fire through the floor. Mossman’s bullets put a hole through one fellow’s hat and smashed a glass in another man’s hand.


Two more shootouts occurred in 1901. The first happened when Mossman was chasing an outlaw named Salivaras in the Paradise Valley; the second involved six suspected train robbers.

Mossman was hot on Salivaras’s trail as he cautiously approached a watering hole. Salivaras sprung an ambush on the lawman, opened fire, and grazed his leg. Mossman instinctively pulled up his rifle, immediately identified where Salivaras’s shot had originated, and fired a single round. After carefully making his way to Salivaras’s hidden position, Mossman discovered that his shot had taken off the top of the bandit’s head.

Sometime later that year, Mossman received confidential information on those six suspected train robbers. After he and three of his men found the outlaws in a remote adobe house along the Colorado River, they proceeded to blow it up with dynamite. The outlaws attempted to shoot their way out, and the rangers shot five of them. The sixth man escaped on horseback.

With Mossman at the helm, the Arizona Rangers put 125 men behind bars in their first year. After retiring from the Rangers, Mossman returned to ranching and lived a long, quiet life. He died on September 5, 1956, at the age of 89. In 1960 Burton C. Mossman was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners, one of three Halls of Fame administered by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.

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