It was some three years or so ago that I received a call from my friend and cousin, Don Smith. At the time, he was doing some restoration to a building in the middle of the block on the north side of Main Street, between 5th and 6th avenues.
He had removed a very heavy steel door from this building at the location of the first Safford jail. It would be unjustified for me to say that this door was actually the original jail cell door on the building used by Safford to lock up everyone from undesirables to thieves and murderers. This was until the county seat was moved to Solomonville, but this was in the same location cemented into a wall that enclosed an area behind the cement building.
In early Safford maps, there appeared to be a solid poured cement structure at this location being used for storage. The earliest map was in 1901, long after this would have been utilized as a jail. It would make sense to use the jail door as a passage into the open area behind the cement jail after the first adobe jail was abandoned and then cemented up in the enclosing wall.
From Ryder Ridgway’s writings, I learned of the lynching of Oliver P. McCoy by the very small number of Safford men after McCoy shot and killed Jenkins “Jenks” Lewis on Aug. 3, 1877, over an irrigation dispute. Lewis was one of the first Mormons to live in Safford and left behind a wife and five children.
McCoy, who was a deserter from the Army and bragged of the many thefts he had accomplished, was lodged in the first Safford jail that was located where the parking lot of the post office is now situated.
The men who took part in the lynching were most probably those in the 1876 territorial census for Safford but listed as living in Pueblo Viejo. They included men such as David Cauffman, A. Roberts, Alfred Fry, Anthony Wade, George Driver, John Cain, Josh Bailey, P.H. Quackenbush, J.W. Clark, J. Vance, William Kirkland, William Grey, Daniel Pugh, John Glasby, Edward Tuttle and Hirum Kennedy, along with a few scattered farm family men. Some of these names are recognizable as those who stayed in the town and were responsible for our growth.
In any case, the hanging party probably met at Josh Bailey’s saloon and, after a few drinks and a lot of banter about the dirty rotten S.O.B. housed less than a block away, some in the group decided to overpower the guard at the jail and take care of Mr. McCoy without the trouble of transporting him to Tucson and the trips back and forth to testify about him being guilty.
They took McCoy across the street to where Green’s Furniture now operates and hanged him atop a large barrel with a block and tackle. None of them faced criminal charges.
I have digressed from the jail door. As far as I can determine, this jail was open up until the late 1880s and possibly longer. Safford went to two single standing metal cells situated near Josh Bailey’s original store facing Highway 70 and behind what is now Richards Music Store. They were eventually sold to the Solomonville courthouse to replace the adobe and wood holding cells.
We hope to display and utilize the metal door in our new Historical Society Museum and explain its possible journey through time in Safford.