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"Brazen Bill" Brazelton

Updated on March 22, 2012

William Whitney Brazelton, AKA "Brazen Bill," was a gun slinging outlaw known to have robbed at least nine Arizona and New Mexico stagecoaches singlehandedly during the latter half of the 1870s. He was born in San Francisco, date unknown, and orphaned at an early age.

Bill grew up on the Barbary Coast living among the thieves, ruffians and hoodlums who roamed about the seedier part of the city. He made his home in the wreckage of a derelict ship and was said to have killed his first man in an argument at 15. Newspapers of the day described Bill as "the most successful ‘single-handed' highway robber of his time."

Bill’s trademark was a white muslin mask with openings for his eyes and a red mouth sewn on which he always wore when committing a hold up. Although his targets didn’t know the masked bandit’s real identity, there was no doubt they had been robbed by "Brazen Bill."

Descriptions of Brazelton varied slightly. But most agreed the outlaw stood about six feet tall, was a well built fast, deadly gun hand and reports indicate he feared no man. He usually wore his pants tucked in his boots. Authorities assumed he might have been in the military at one time because his pistols were Colt army issue and he wore small brass spurs, also used by the army. His arsenal also included a Spencer Carbine.

His first known holdup was a stagecoach that left from Prescott, Arizona at 6 o'clock a.m. on September 27, 1877 bound for California. Brazelton stopped the coach in broad daylight about eight miles west of Antelope Station, Arizona.

With his shotgun pointed at the driver, he commanded him to throw down the express box and break it open with an axe. The passengers were ordered to toss out the mail bags. Little did Bill know he was robbing Arizona’s Honorable E. G. Peck and family who happened to be aboard.

The express box yielded one package of gold dust and bars valued at $1,700, some which belonged to Peck. There were also letters valued at $250. It’s not known why but Bill, upon learning of his distinguished passenger, returned two gold bars valued at $4,000 to Peck and told the driver to continue on. When the stage reached Wickenburg, the authorities as well as Wells, Fargo and Company were notified. Rewards were posted but Bill had made good his escape.

Apparently Bill was set for a while, as his next hold ups weren’t until July and August of 1878. The first was a stage out of Tucson which he held up about eighteen miles northwest from the town near Point of Mountain. A light rain was falling. There were only two passengers, a veterinary surgeon and a Chinaman.

At about 5 o'clock p.m., Brazelton stepped from hiding and commanded the driver to halt. The masked bandit, brandishing a six-shooter and carbine, robbed the driver and passengers. The express box was empty and all the job netted Bill was $37. As the coach departed Bill was heard to challenge anyone who felt so inclined to come back and fight him.

J. P. Clum, a reporter for Tucson's Citizen, figured since the take was so little, it wouldn’t be long before he struck again. He was right. Brazelton appeared two weeks later on August 14 at the same spot. Once again the take was poor, amounting to about $230.

The robber ordered the driver to proceed and when the stage reached Desert Station just about dark, authorities in Tucson were notified. The next morning a Sheriff's posse found the outlaw’s tracks but failed to find Brazen Bill.

The posse reading sign were baffled. It appeared two horses had left in the direction of the holdup, but none returned. And on this particular occasion it looked like one had been traveling in one direction and the other appeared to have only one leg which was unshod. This one legged horse was headed in the opposite direction. The mystery was cleared up after they discovered the robber’s horse at the David Nemitz ranch. It so happened, the robber's horse had thrown a shoe and Brazelton had devised a method to turn the horse’s shoes around. However, Brazelton wasn’t around. Since no one knew the robber’s identity the lawmen naturally assumed Nemitz was their man and arrested him.

However, Nemitz wasn’t the culprit they were after. Nemitz was willing to talk on the condition they protect him from the masked robber. He had met the man several times, not knowing of whose presence he stood in. On one such occasion, Brazelton bragged to Nemitz about all of his exploits. Then he coerced him into letting him stable his mount in the Nemitz corral. Nemitz could hardly refuse, now knowing who Bill was.

From what Nemitz told Pima County investigators, it was determined Brazen Bill should be shot on sight. Sheriff Charles A. Shibell was told to do so. Shibell gathered his six deputies and laid plans to sneak out of town to a prearranged location where Nemitz was to meet Bill and give him supplies.

The posse had learned from Nemitz, Brazelton was planning another robbery that night. As the posse lay in wait they heard Brazelton cough and saw him lay his hat on a log…a secret signal for Nemitz. Something must have tipped Bill off and as he peeked out to see what was up, a shotgun blast followed by a volley of pistol shots peppered his hiding place. It was fortunate the posse didn’t have sensitive ears as Bill filled the air with cursing that would have made Satan blush. Then there was silence. The posse waited a few moments, making sure the outlaw was dead. When they were confident he was, they approached, lit some matches and found Brazelton’s lifeless body with ten bullet holes in his chest.

One of the deputies went back to town to get a wagon. "Brazen Bill" Brazelton's body was then taken to Tucson. As was the custom of the day his body was tied upright in a chair and put on display. It’s believed Bill was buried in the Old Tucson cemetery downtown and later moved to a mass grave in Evergreen cemetery.

One would think that would have ended the entire affair. Not so. To this day, some Indians, Mexicans and old timers won’t pass the spot where Bill met his tragic fate. Late night travelers along the old coach trail have reported seeing a ghostly phantom there. Perhaps he’s waiting for another stagecoach.


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