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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Franks, Proprietor, The Shady Victorian

The Crabtree Boys in Arizona Territory

This 1908 photograph depicts Ivy and Albert Crabtree with their father, James C. Crabtree at their cabin in the area of Tonto Basin when Arizona was still a territory. Avid hunters, trappers and miners, their rustic, and humble abode was located on Long Creek, at the entrance of Hell's Hip Pocket in Brown's Basin, between Four Peaks and the Salt River. This beautiful image was produced by Walter Lubken, whose photographs are quite rare today.

Ivy, Albert and James Crabtree, Arizona Territory ©2020 The Shady Victorian

Interestingly, in my research, I learned recently that Ivy Crabtree (pictured left) was only 22 years old when he assisted in the 1894 capture of "Kid Thompson," who robbed and wrecked a train at 10 o'clock on the night of February 15, 1894, at the Roscoe depot near Sunland, California, which reportedly resulted in the death of at least two individuals. Wells Fargo & Co. and the Southern Pacific Railroad set the reward or bounty for the capture of Kid Thompson (W. H. Thompson) at $1,600 (a whole heap of money back then). After the robbery, Kid Thompson fled and ended up in Arizona's Tonto Basin where he met up with his long-time friend, Col. L. Tupper and the two went on the run.

Hearing that the train robbers might be in the area of Tonto Basin, Ivy Crabtree was recruited to assist Billy Moore, the Tonto Basin cattleman, in the pursuit and capture of the two outlaws. [William W. “Billy” Moore, was a pioneer cattleman who came to Arizona in 1885 and ran the Fort Reno Ranch during the period of the Tonto Basin feud.]

When Billy Moore and Ivy Crabtree caught sight of Kid Thompson and his sidekick, they had turned into a narrow and very rough canyon to the south of Reno Pass where it became necessary to abandon the horses. Moore and Crabtree jumping from one rock to another, exchanging occasional shots with the outlaws soon ran their men into a rock fortress where Moore, Crabtree, and two other cattlemen that joined them, one named, Chulub Watkins, prepared for a siege.

Moore shouted to the criminals hidden by the rocks that they were surrounded and to come out. The only response was several shots that narrowly escaped Moore's head. This warfare proceeded all afternoon and into the night.

Kid Thompson shouted in response to one of the many commands by Moore and Crabtree to surrender: "We'll die first!" With that, Kid Thompson fired and killed Moore's dog.

That November night on the mountain was bitterly cold, but Moore and Crabtree and the two cowboys with them kept their vigil, the criminals making no attempt to escape.

At daybreak, as a summons to come out and surrender brought only a defiant answer, Moore, Crabtree and the stockmen commenced a systematic fire into the rocks, though only the rifles of the two men could be seen.

At last Kid Thompson shouted that he had had enough and with assurances of being given a "square deal," the two outlaws left their retreat holding their hands above their heads.

In their fort were found the revolvers, 44-calibre Colts, with which the men had been armed, dozens of expired cartridges and at least 200 rounds of unused ammunition.

The 80-mile journey back to Phoenix where they were taken was accomplished without incident until nearing Phoenix where the two outlaws attempted an escape, but failed.

Detective Breckenridge of the Southern Pacific force, was planning to leave Phoenix with Kid Thompson bound for Los Angeles the following day. Col. L. Tupper claimed he was only along for the ride and was innocent of any train robbery. But the captors, Moore and Crabtree wanted to be assured of the $1,600 reward money before Kid Thompson was taken back to Los Angeles for trial. They would have to wait two years for the money as Lawson's Detective Agency had claimed that it was they that had secured the evidence that led to the capture of Kid Thompson, and that the reward money rightfully belonged to them. A struggle for the reward money followed and it was Judge Van Dyke that ruled in favor of Moore, Crabtree and the other Tonto Basin cattlemen in January 1896.

Kid Thompson's trial would commence on May 1, 1895, in Los Angeles, six months after his capture in November 1894. His accomplice, Alva Johnson, was tried prior to Kid Thompson's trial, and refused to testify against the Kid. Alva was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

Kid Thompson was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in 1896. After his conviction and sentencing he was removed from the Los Angeles County jail and sent to San Quentin, waiting to be executed, but his lawyer was able to secure a new trial. On January 7, 1897, he was sent back to Los Angeles County jail to be retried. This time, however, his former partner in crime, Alva Johnson, testified against him and Kid Thompson was convicted and sentenced to life at Folsom prison. Alva Johnson was ultimately pardoned in 1907, never to be heard from again.

Kid Thompson was paroled in 1909, but violated his parole and returned to prison. He was paroled a second time in 1916. He had no money and no place to go and eventually ended up at the gates of Folsom prison in 1921 begging for assistance. He died in 1923.

Ivy Elmer Crabtree was born on April 18, 1872 and died in Mesa, Arizona, on October 30, 1946.

Another great story of an unknown (until now) Arizona Territory miner and prospector resurrected from the dustbin of history and brought back to life in this story. Who knew Ivy was a hero?

Well done, Ivy! Rest in peace.


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