News Reports Brings Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce Enduring Fame!
Jan. 15, 1881 edition of “The Citizen” of Tucson Arizona headline: ANOTHER MURDER
Called P. Rourke there. He shot popular mining Engineer P. Schneider in a Charleston saloon. The official version was given & then the version by a reporter interview of “Rourke.”
As seems a common error in newspapers of the day, names are inaccurate. The shooter’s true name was Mike O’Rourke. He was nicknamed “Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce” – his favorite Faro bet was on the 2-card. The news article called him a “petty gambler.” He was only 18 years old. Even California newspapers carried this story.
Official Version Telegraphed to Tucson 1/15/1881
Very early morning, just after midnight, Engineer P. Schneider had dinner at the hotel, when he & Johnny “had a few words.” Johnny went out, got a gun, returned & said he’d “fix him when he came out.” He re-emphasized that again & went out, waiting by the corral.
Schneider finished eating, then exited. He saw Johnny, who pointed his revolver. Schneider said “…let me alone. I…wasn’t even talking to you at the table.” Johnny stepped forward & fired a head shot. It killed Schneider straight away.
Johnny ran toward the San Pedro River, but Constable McKelvey got him. Constable Bell got a spring wagon & a shot-gun rider. The 3 of them transported Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce to Tombstone.
He said he worked as a miner & barely knew Schneider. Johnny was in the restaurant, had lunch, a few beers & went over by the fireplace. He heard Schneider say sarcastically “It must be cold.” When Johnny replied affirmatively, Schneider said “I ain’t talking to you.” Johnny came back: “You’re a little too smart, anyhow.” He started for the doorway, but Schneider followed.
Johnny felt Schneider was about to hit him, but he cursed at Johnny. Then Bob Petty restrained Schneider. Johnny said Schneider should go outside to fight, in respect of the ladies in the restaurant. Johnny went out & started walking away. He turned & saw Schneider was following.
Johnny turned & retorted: stop the insults! Schneider again said it wasn’t directed at him. Johnny said OK, & Schneider replied, getting more & more mad: what if it was? And he kept getting closer.
Johnny said he then could see a knife’s handle in his hand. Schneider continued pushing at him, & Johnny panicked & pulled the trigger. He “ran a little ways….I didn’t hardly know what I was doing, I guess.”
Over To Tombstone
In Johnny’s interview he noticed after he shot Schneider that “all the men rushed over from the mill and there was a terrible excitement.” The news article mentioned a few times that Schneider was well liked & respected in Charleston.
These men followed the Constables taking O’Rourke to Tombstone. They almost overtook them, but managed to get to town. He was secured in Jim Vogan’s Saloon with a guard. The mob followed & wanted immediate justice on their own terms.
Marshal Sippy took charge, with the help of his deputies. Afterwards Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce was taken to Benson, protected by a posse of armed guards that included Sheriff John Behan. There put on a train to Tucson for imprisonment, awaiting trial.
CONTROVERSY: Who defended the prisoner from the lynch-mob? Many, including stories from himself – want you to believe it was Wyatt Earp. Even single-handedly. Wouldn’t it seem the accounts of the time would be most accurate? None mention Wyatt. Only years later are these memories jogged – Hmmm??
The descriptions do mention “deputies, themselves gambling men, to help” – from Parson’s 1881 diary. Likely speaking of yes – the Earps, possibly including Wyatt, & Doc Holliday. But no specific documentation in 1881 can place Wyatt or Doc in Tombstone on 1/14/1881. So it’s just conjecture. Virgil is specifically mentioned in accounts.
Now Wyatt may very well have been among those protecting Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce from a lynch-mob. But exceedingly unlikely that he was the starring hero of the day. Just one of the deputies involved in the team action.
Trial – Prison – Then What?
O’Rourke was remanded to Pima County Jail without bail on Jan. 15 – under Cochise County jurisdiction. The jail in Tombstone was under construction, where Johnny would be transferred eventually. The preliminary hearing brought 10 witnesses. Justice Neugass charged him with murder on February 1, 1881.
Johnny wasn’t looking forward to the April trial. He took matters into his own hands. Believing in his own innocence – his plea of self-defense, he made an escape. April 18, 1881 during a prison yard respite before bedtime, he got over the 16 ft. wall.
In early a.m., Sheriff Shibell, with three Papago Indian (Tohono O’Odham Nation) scouts set out to find him. They didn’t, & many theories try to figure what happened to him. Once more he was sighted, then never again. It was even said he might be the one to have Killed Johnny Ringo? Highly doubtful!
For a really good discussion of Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce, well researched, watch for Roy B. Young’s soft-cover book: “Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce” Guilty Until Proven Innocent. If you can find it, well worth it! Sometimes available, sometimes not. Keep watching – keep a look-out.
There are often historical remembrance events that make one want to know what were the true facts for people who roamed Tombstone & the Old West. What was their true story? And what happened to them – do we even know?
And we enjoy sharing what we find with you.
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