October 5, 2009

Soapy Smith in Phoenix, Arizona, 1883-1884.

Correction: June 5, 2010. De'de' Porter Meyer contacted me to let me know that the photograph below that I have identified as "Marshal Henry Garfias" is actually Phoenix Mayor DeForest Porter as well as Meyer's great grandfather. Thank you very much for correcting my mistake.

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Soapy "sells prize soap on the street"
Phoenix, Arizona, 1883
Jeff Smith collection

Above is a receipt from the city of Phoenix, Arizona allowing Soapy to "sell prize soap on the street" for one month beginning December 26, 1883 and ending January 27, 1884 for the sum of $4.00. The document is signed by Mayor De Forest Porter, Recorder Knapp and Marshal Henry Garfia.

At this current time there is no information or hint from the newspapers as to what Soapy was doing in Phoenix. Obviously he operated the prize package soap swindle but no record of arrest or other activity has been found yet.

Mayor Porter served as elected mayor between 1883 and 1884 and again between 1886 and 1888. Nothing is known of Knapp, however Marshal Garfias is a different story.

This is actually Phoenix Mayor DeForest Porter
and not Marshal Henry Garfias.
Police archivists and local historians agree that an overlooked and untold story is that of Henry Garfias, the first town marshal of the fledgling town of Phoenix.

“Henry’s deeds are the stuff that legends are made of, but for some reason history seems to have forgotten this remarkable man,” says Rob Settembre, a lieutenant and history buff with the Phoenix Police Department.

“Although history may have forgotten Henry, his exploits rival and in most cases surpass some of the more famous lawmen of the old West,” Settembre continues. “Henry Garfias remains a colorful part of our police history.”

It would not be until Ruben B. Ortega was appointed police chief on Feb. 25, 1980 that another Latino would head Phoenix’s police authority.

It could be argued that Garfias, originally a Californian of Spanish descent, was an illustrious lawman on par with Tombstone lawmen Vigil and Wyatt Earp, but the Latino lawman needed a better publicist. While the Earps and several amigos killed three enemies at the OK Corral, Garfias once singlehandedly outdrew and killed four cowboys in one gunfight, according to Settembre.


Henry Garfias was born in 1851 in what now is Anaheim, Calif. He was the son of a Mexican army general and Spanish was his first language. He came to Arizona in 1871 and settled in Wickenburg, according to historical sources.

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Phoenix, AZ. 1880s

By 1874, Garfias moved to Phoenix and at age 23, pinned on the badge of a county deputy sheriff. Phoenix, in 1874, was a settlement of about 1,600 people. “Whiskey Row” was on the north side of Washington between Center and First streets. It was there that Garfias established a reputation as lightning-fast and deadly with a pistol.

A large free-for-all fight had erupted at the Capital Saloon. He pushed his way into the crowd and announced his presence to the combatants. At 5’9’’, with a slender but muscular build, Garfias was taunted by a large man: “Look who’s here. You start dancing and you’d better cut some fancy steps ahead of this lead.”

When he made a motion for his gun Henry warned: “Don’t do it.” The man’s draw had just started when a gunshot exploded in the saloon. Witnesses reported Garfias was so fast on the draw, they barely saw his gun leave the holster. The large man stumbled and toppled to the floor, dead.

From that day forward, Garfias set out to tame Phoenix. He would swing into action to quell disturbances and roust rowdy ranchers and miners visiting town on Saturday nights. In those days, the military garrison stationed at Fort McDowell was the only true authority in the region, so the Latino lawman provided a sorely needed service.


By 1881, Phoenix had incorporated into a town. Garfias was appointed as the town marshal. He was officially the first Phoenix police officer. The town marshal was one of the most important men in the early history of Phoenix. He also was the first town marshal elected at the first municipal election and re-elected annually until 1886.

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Washington Street, late 1880s-1890s

Garfias was sometimes referred to as a “government in himself.” During his 22 years of law enforcement service, Henry served in several official duties, including town marshal, assessor, tax collector and pound master. Some sources say that Garfias started a newspaper with his brother-in-law. From 1881 to 1886, he received $100 a month for his lawman duties, a good salary for the day, and a $3 bonus for every conviction he obtained.

Danger was always present on the frontier. One local newspaper reported that Garfias was “brave and conscientious and never failed in his duty no matter how much danger menaced him.” In 1881, a couple of cowboys shot up the town until the Hispanic lawman winged one of them. Another time Garfias was confronted by four cowboys shooting at him, from horseback and on foot. He killed them all.

On April 13, 1883, he was married in a Phoenix Catholic church to Elena Redondo. He and Elena had a daughter and a son. In addition ot his official duties, he ran a successful cattle ranch in Castle Springs. Between the cattle ranch and his salary, Garfias prospered and should have died a wealthy man. But he was very generous. He never turned anyone away and gave away most of his earnings, sources say.

On May 2, 1896, Garfias was riding one of his favorite horses when it threw him and rolled over on him. At the time, he was suffering from tuberculosis and old wounds. He died seven days later. He was praised in papers of the day. On May 9, 1896, the Saturday morning edition of the Arizona Republican carried a story with the headline, “A Brave Officer Gone.” Other headlines announced: “He was one who knew no fear” and “Some of his deeds won for him Southwestern renown.”

The Republican also reported, “Arizona has had many brave men, but for cool determined nerve, coupled with a modest unassuming manner. Henry Garfias stood at the head.” The Phoenix Herald praised his bravery and reported what has been stated repeatedly, that Henry Garfias, “had the reputation of never going after a man that did not return with him, dead or alive.”

A special display has been dedicated to Henry Garfias at the Phoenix Police Museum, 101 S. Central Ave., in the Barrister Place Building.

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Phoenix Square and Queen Street, ca. 1885. City Hall is at the extreme left and the Normal School is beside it. These fine brick buildings were built in 1876 and 1877. The fountain in front of City Hall was built in the summer of 1885. Beyond the Normal School in the distance is the military compound. On the south side of Queen Street is the business district of Fredericton. The Fisher Building on the corner of Queen and York Streets, at the right of the photo, housed the Davis & Staples Drugstore ("Pure Drugs & Medicines"), Moses S. Hall's bookstore, the New Brunswick Reporter, Fisher & Fisher law firm, and other businesses. It was built in 1877. Beside it is Edgecombe's Dry Goods store. The absence of telephone poles and electric lights dates this picture to before 1895. Photograph by George T. Taylor. Credit: Provincial Archives.

* Latino Perspectives
* John Goff, Department of History, Phoenix College
* Ruben Hernandez, Henry Garfias Màs hombre de los hombres (Fearless Hispanic lawman tamed wild Phoenix)


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