Arizona Rangers of Globe: Eugene Shute, part 2

Library of Congress/Chronicling America In 1939 Eugene Shute was warden at the Florence, Arizona state prison (photo from Aug. 12, 1939 Nogales International).

In mid-October 1912, 28-year-old Eugene Shute was a pallbearer at Globe’s first “cowboy funeral.” Thirty-six mounted cowboys – some riding as far as 50 miles to attend – came to pay their respects to a late comrade named Wilson Hicks. On October 13 Hicks had been shot down a few miles outside Globe, over what newspapers called “an alleged infatuation” with the killer’s wife. The shooter promptly turned himself in and was later convicted of manslaughter.

When Shute went to the funeral – he also knew Hicks, as a fellow Fraternal Order of Eagles member - he was serving as a Gila County sheriff’s deputy. It was part of his job to track criminal suspects, like the two horse thieves he and Sheriff Frank Haynes searched for in March 1912. His first taste of such pursuit was about seven years earlier, when he ventured across northern Mexico as a 22-year-old Arizona Ranger.

A Sonoran odyssey

Toward the end of 1905 Eugene Shute, who had just joined the Arizona Rangers, and three others were in Sonora, Mexico on the trail of a pair of murderers. That July the pair had killed two men at a ranch near Roosevelt. One of the victims was Shute’s brother-in-law, ranch owner Sam Plunkett; the other, a worker named Ed Kennedy. With no sign of the suspects – two of Plunkett’s Mexican workers - at their first stop, the town of Magdalena, Ranger Lieutenant Harry Wheeler decided to call on local Rural (border police) commander Colonel Emilio Kosterlitzky. The colonel and the Rangers had worked together before; Rangers helped Rurales patrol the border, and he assisted the Rangers with Arizona fugitives.

This time Kosterlitzky was unable to help. It turned out the Rangers had entered Mexico during a flare-up of its ongoing conflict with Sonora’s Yaqui Indians, a cycle of repression and uprisings, and the colonel had no men to spare. He could only warn them to be careful. Wheeler’s band rode a train to the town of Santa Ana, then a stagecoach to one of the mining camps. Having no luck, they took another train to the town of Ortiz 150 miles to the south. Next on their itinerary was a town called La Dura, which they planned to reach by wagon. Before they could leave, a Mexican army officer warned that a Yaqui war party was nearby and promised the Rangers a military escort. After passing a day in Ortiz with no sign of the escort, Shute and the others slipped out quietly that night.

On their way to La Dura, they met another officer who said his men had lost heavily in a fight the day before. He tried to persuade them against going into Yaqui country, but the Rangers were determined not to turn back. The officer saluted them in parting, but after a freezing night – afraid to draw unwelcome attention, they did not light a fire – the Rangers met a more insistent group of soldiers. A cavalry troop took them into “protective custody” for the next four days, until higher authorities ordered them released. Finally reaching La Dura, this time with an army escort, they failed again to find their quarry. Nor could the killers be found in the cities of Guaymas or Empalme.

The Rangers decided to look for them along a railroad then under construction. This course, taking them into one of Sonora’s more deserted stretches, would prove the hardest part of their quest.

Shute and his companions took a train 20 miles to the end of the finished tracks, then proceeded on foot. The next morning they ate the last of their food and rationed their water. “We knew we could not go back and we knew not how far it was to the first gang of workmen,” Wheeler said in 1910. By the next day the footsore men had slung their shoes around their necks, and their canteens were empty. On the third day they stumbled ahead speechless, stopping every 10 minutes to rest. Pushing on, they spotted the light of a house that night. All that was left was convincing the terrified inhabitants the Rangers were not a Yaqui band out to kill them, which took some doing. Persuaded at last, the people gave them food, water and a place to rest. They also said the railroad crew was 10 miles away and would return in several days.

Once again, however, the search came up empty; the killers were not among the workmen. After three days spent recovering from their ordeal, the Rangers tried again at the town of Minas Prietas. There they learned that two men matching the suspects had recently headed north toward Nogales. They were not there either, but Wheeler alerted other Rangers that they were probably back in Arizona. Having survived their experience in the Sonora desert, Wheeler’s band – Shute, Sgt. Billy Old and another new recruit, Marion “Dick” Hickey - parted ways in Nogales. Shute would not see the end of the chase; he resigned as a Ranger at the end of January 1906, 11 days after Hickey did the same.

The capture

After the Mexican adventure, Harry Wheeler went back to duty in Willcox – and it was there he found the killers of Sam Plunkett and Ed Kennedy. One rainy night, he was told two Mexican men were sitting on the railroad tracks. The pair started moving away as he approached; Wheeler announced they were under arrest. Both pulled knives, but Wheeler drew his gun and took them into custody. The younger suspect, named Ascension, later said his partner committed the murders and they divided the loot (around $100, a gold watch and a revolver). Ascension was ultimately released; the other man managed to escape from jail but then took his own life.

After the Rangers

As for Eugene Shute, he returned to the University of Southern California where he excelled on the football and track teams. However, he was hardly through with law enforcement. By August 1909 he was a Gila County deputy sheriff – a post he held until April 30, 1911 when he was appointed city marshal of Globe. Shute replaced another ex-Ranger, R.M. “Bob” Anderson, who was dismissed after the fatal shooting of a friend. His tenure would be short. In January 1912 Shute resigned after “a dispute with the councilmen over discharging a member of the constabulary,” returning to work as a deputy. The Bis bee Daily Review reported that he “decided to quit if he could not boss.”

In 1918 Shute was elected Gila County Sheriff, serving one two-year term. From there he went on to become chief of the Globe Police Department, serving 20 years, and warden of the Arizona State Prison at Florence. Passing away in 1963, this former Arizona Ranger is now at rest in Globe Cemetery.

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