By Kristen Kauffman


John P. Bourke (sometimes John T.) served as Yavapai County Sheriff from January 24, 1866, until July 1, 1867. Bourke collected taxes, oversaw the building of a new jail, appointed undersheriffs and oversaw elections. A few times he organized Sheriff’sSales—auctions on the Plaza with proceeds benefiting private owners who couldn’t themselves organize the sale. But some of his other activities read like action-packed westerns.


The most exciting is a story from the January 26, 1867 Arizona Miner: “BURGLARY—Man Shot—Served Him Right. On Thursday night, about 9 o’clock, two men, John Kennedy and Wm. James, attempted to enter the store of John Lansberger by forcing a plank from the rear of the premises. As they were in the act of removing the second board, Kennedy received a shot from within which passed entirely through his leg about at the knee, inflicting a terrible wound, from the effect of which the man instantly fell to the ground. The character of the charge fired renders amputation of the limb indispensable. The proprietor of the store was absent at the moment attending the Ranger meeting at the Council Hall, but for some reason left in the store a couple of very shrewd, hawk-eyed gentlemen known as our Sheriff and his Deputy, who it appears gave the robbers a reception they little expected. Kennedy is a teamster from Los Angeles lately in the employ of Postmaster White. James is a blacksmith employed at Reese’s establishment, where he instantly fled on the sound of the gun and was found a few minutes after –fast asleep. DEAD–since the above was typed, we learned Kennedy has died from the effects of the terrible wound received while in the act of committing a crime. Should be a shocking lesson to the wrong-doer.” There is no backstory or explanation for how Lansberger knew Kennedy and James would be there, but Bourke obviously knew what to expect that night.


Other times that year, the Arizona Miner reported on Bourke chasing after horse thieves or after shooters who’d fled. In 1866 he is reported to have been thrown from a wagon in Verde where he walked away “as easy as could be expected.” When he was thrown from his own horse in 1867, the newspaper reported that he was bruised but “he can stand more hard knocks than any man in town” and “will be all right in a day or two.” The newspaper was nothing if not confidently supportive.


John P. Bourke was born in Ireland in 1827. His family immigrated to the United States and settled in Maine. He moved to New York, then to California where he met his wife, and then to Arizona in 1863. After his stellar term as Yavapai County Sheriff, he didn’t seek reelection and instead was elected Yavapai County Recorder in 1867. He died the following March. His wife, Harriet, hosted the funeral at their home on Granite Street, after which mourners walked to the gravesite at the Citizens Cemetery. Leading the walk was the Arizona Pioneer and Historical Society followed by, according to the Arizona Miner, 14th of March 1868, “nearly all the citizens of Prescott.” The Arizona Miner, also reported that this was no small task: “The day was a cheerless one, the weather being very bad, the mud almost knee deep and the snow descending in large flakes; yet our people faltered not in doing their last sad duty to the honored dead.” His obituary spoke just as well of him as at any other time he was featured in the newspaper: “[We] shall ever respect his memory for his noble, generous, and manly traits of character.”


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