John BehanJohn Behan was the sheriff of Cochise County, the county that contained Tombstone, at the time Wyatt Earp was there. He was a friend of the cowboys, the political power at the time. We know of him as a foe of Wyatt. And, the result of movies about the O. K. Corral shootout, we know him as a corrupt lawman. But, just who was John Behan?
John Harris Behan was born in Missouri in 1845. As a young man he went to California, and then to Prescott, Arizona where he became the sheriff of Yavapai County. And, according to locals was trustworthy, brave and intelligent. He even served a couple of terms in the state assembly.
 
When Tombstone was founded Behan moved there. Then in 1881 Tombstone was made the county seat of the newly formed Cochise County, and Behan was appointed the county sheriff. The conflict between Behan and Wyatt Earp was probably more the result of two men displaying their testosterone than a conflict between good and bad.
 
After being voted out of office, Behan became the superintendent of the Territorial State Prison at Yuma, Arizona, the most severe federal prison in the southwest. Later Behan served as a U. S. agent along the Mexican border fighting smuggling. He joined the military during the Mexican-American War. And continuing his service to his country, served as a “secret agent” for the United States in China during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1901, he was living in Willard’s Hotel at 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C.. The census gave his occupation as “Promoter”.
Finally, at the age of 67, on June 7, 1912, after spending most of his life in service to his government, he died in Tucson, Arizona.
 
I believe you can agree John Harris Behan was much more than just a corrupt sheriff who opposed Wyatt Earp.

Filed under: Old West News

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