Commodore Perry Owens

Owens was born in Tennessee on September 10, 1853.  This date happened to be the 40th anniversary of Commodore Perry's victory over the British on Lake Erie during the War of 1812. His father named him after the legendary war hero.    He gained a reputation as a fine shot and an outstanding racer of horses.  He was also quite popular with some of the local girls.  Girl trouble evidently sent him to Texas, when he was about 18.  He had no trouble finding a job as a cowboy with the many Texas cattle barons.  He learned how to rope and brand cattle.  He spent his spare time practicing with his six-shooter and Winchester rifle.

It is unknown what he was doing after he left Texas, but he spent the next two or three years roaming the western states.  One story goes that he worked as a buffalo hunter, supplying railroad crews.  He arrived in Apache County, Arizona, in 1881.  There he was hired as an enforcer for a cattle rancher.  He was to prevent the Navajo from stealing the white man's cattle.  One day, he saw some Navajo cut some steers from the herd.  He figured they would head for Navajo Springs to water the cattle.  He could easily catch up with them there.  Though surprised, the Indians saw his long hair and pale complexion and thought he was one of the many half-breeds in the area.  They made gestures of friendship and held out a pipe for smoking.  Instead of smoking, Owens reached for his gun and quickly shot two of the three men dead.  The third rode away without the stolen cattle.

Owens was about 35, when he came to Holbrook, Arizona in the Fall of 1887. He was appointed the Apache County Sheriff and many thought him eccentric. The ladies thought he was quiet and mannerly. He was laughed at for his name, but also because of his appearance. He wore a fringed buckskin jacket and silver-studded leather chaps and a wide-brimmed felt top hat. By that time he was wearing his hair quite long, quite out of fashion by that time.  The men thought he was too girly looking. He also had a strange habit of taking a bath once a week!

He also had a habit of wearing either a long-barreled pistol or two six-shooters around his waist. He was a dead shot with either weapon from either hand. He needed them, for rustling was rampant in the area. He was also famous for using the cross-draw, drawing with the right hand from the left hip and vice versa.  It gained him a fraction of a second on his enemies.  The most notorious gang was led by Andy Cooper, also known as Andy Blevins. Cooper and his Blevins, half brothers, stole livestock throughout the county and killed anyone who got in their way. Cooper bragged that no sheriff was stupid enough to arrest him.

A range war was in full swing that became known as the Pleasant Valley War.  The Blevins' and Grahams', though notorious outlaws, were at war with the Tewksburys, who'd had the nerve to bring sheep into cattle country. Though there was an outstanding warrant against Andy Blevins, Owens did nothing about serving it.  This was possibly because he stood on the side of the cattlemen.  But it was more likely that he just didn't want to stand in the cross-fire.  Things came to a head on September 2, when Blevins killed John Tewksbury and William Jacobs.  The citizens demanded that Owens do something or he would be removed from office.  

On a September Sunday in 1887, Owens came to town with a warrant for Blevins in his pocket. The outlaws heard he was in town and hid out in their father's home. Twelve people, including friends of the family, were getting ready for Sunday dinner.  But Owens accosted him there. Blevins refused to come out. His half brother John Blevins opened the door to take a shot at Owens. Owens proved the sureness of the cross-draw, drawing both weapons at once and shooting both brothers.  John Blevins was wounded, while Andy Blevins was fatally shot.  He also shot Mote Roberts and Sam Houston Blevins, a mere 15-year-old, who ran out the front door, shooting at Owens. The whole confrontation lasted less than a minute.

Unfortunately, instead of being seen as a hero, the incident made people fear Owens.  It would have been different if they had confronted the man out on the range.  But instead he fired into a house with women and children.  He had also killed a boy.  County commissioners refused to pay him, though on his way out of town, he held a gun on the courthouse officials until they gave him his back pay.

From Holbrook, he went on to Seligman, Arizona, where he ran a saloon for a short time.  In 1902, he married for the first time, a woman named Elizabeth Barrett.  Owens died of a brain disorder at 66 years old, on May 10, 1919. In his final days he hallucinated that the Blevins were after him. He is buried at a Flagstaff, Arizona cemetery, next to a soldier named Blevins.

A poem was written by John S. Fuller about Owens:

Commodore Owens was the "Law of the West."
When outlaws defied him, they went to their rest.
He carried a forty-four by each side.
When he went after outlaws, they surrendered or died.

Copyright 2002 by Beth Gibson