Mystery of the Black Jake Gang
For two and a half years the “Black Jake” Gang robbed, and murdered in various parts of the Southwestern territories around the turn of the century. The Southern Pacific Railroad took it upon themselves to hire the best professionals available to put a stop to the marauding bandits, but they all failed miserably. Arizona and New Mexico marshals fared little better as did United States troops in spite of the $5,000 reward being offered for Black Jake’s capture dead or alive.
Black Jake was a former United States scout named Jacob Emmons who formed the outlaw gang in August of 1896. Emmons hailed from somewhere around Vineland, NJ. Very little is known about his early years except he had been a cowboy in the Territories for eleven years before he enlisted at Fort Whipple, near Prescott, Arizona.
He was described as tough and reckless. At the age of 20 he shot and killed a bartender in Williams, Arizona and narrowly escaped being hung for it. Similar actions caused his peers to consider him a failure as far as his profession of scout was concerned. They lacked confidence in him and were reluctant to place their trust in such a man.
In 1893 he inherited the sum of $1,500 from a relative just prior to his discharge from military service. He took the money and splurged it all in less than a month in Phoenix and Yuma. It’s said he then headed down to Sonora, Mexico. After a while the few who knew him figured he must have died there. But, they would soon learn otherwise.
In early August of 1896, several clerks in the Hualipi Mining Company general merchandise store, about two miles north of Kingman, Arizona, got a surprise. Four cowboys walked in under the pretense of wanting to buy some saddles. One of the clerks started upstairs to show them what they had in stock. It was then the Black Jake Gang pulled out their pistols and demanded the store money. Since there were very few banks around the gang collected about $1,400. While the employees were being held at bay one of the robbers, who had large stars tattooed on one hand, scoured the store for any valuables they could carry.
In order to keep the store clerks from raising an alarm they were bound and gagged…except for one would-be-hero-who resisted and was stabbed to death during the struggle. The bandits were soon making tracks across the desert. Before any of the store clerks could get loose the bandits were miles away.
Authorities were about to go after the gang when a report came in the Resolute Mining Company, close to Ash Fork, had been held up in a similar manner. The take there was about 30 ounces of gold and $100.
Later the following month “Black Jake” and his gang robbed the bank at the cattle and mining town of Nogales. Three of the gang entered the bank while one covered the president who was standing outside.
Once inside another ordered the frightened teller to reach for the sky…which he promptly did. The third man went behind the teller’s window to get the cash. As he did he spotted several men in the office doing business. He immediately covered them with his pistol. Now all four bandits were engaged, leaving no one to put the loot into a bag. The third robber slammed the office door and during that fraction of a second the teller went for a gun stashed under the counter and began shooting.
Accounts of the story say over 100 shots were fired inside of three minutes before the gang took to their horses and fled for shelter among the rocks in the Los Animos cañon. Every man who had a gun and a horse were soon in hot pursuit. Holed up in the rocks a gun battle ensued between the posse and outlaws. During the fray Black Jake lost his horse, but was able to replace it with the Pima County sheriff’s mount. With their ammunition almost exhausted they high tailed into Sonora, Mexico.
After about three months and nothing had been heard about the Black Jake Gang, people began to hope they had decided to remain in Mexico. Actually, they were just laying low until things cooled off a little.
Late one night, in January, 1897, five masked men barged in on a faro game at Denning, N.M. While four covered a group of eleven players, the other demanded money from the cashier. The cashier went for his gun but was too slow. He was shot in the face and killed. The robbers took the money and quickly disappeared into the darkness.
In 1898 three more murders were attributed to the now infamous outlaw gang band. It’s thought they were responsible for holding up a passenger stage on its way from Tombstone to Grant Springs, in Arizona. One passenger was shot and killed during the robbery.
Another was the murder of a switchman for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad Company at Navajo. Probably because the gang suspected he recognized them. The third was the killing of an express messenger for the Santa Fe west-bound overland Stage during another holdup.
A sheriff’s posse pursued the gang for nearly two weeks before being forced to abandon the chase because of torrential rains which washed out all traces of the elusive bunch. A few more petty robberies were committed by the Black Jake Gang during the next few months. But after that they simply disappeared into history.