William G. Poindexter, Justice of the Peace

by Mary Kasulaitis

Once upon a time Arivaca had resident law enforcement in the person of William G. Poindexter, who was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1878. Village organization was in its infancy, but understandably in that era, this post was significant and it was a mark of respect for Poindexter that he was elected to the position. Poindexter was a man of many abilities.

William Gentry Poindexter had come to Arizona from California in 1862, after having spent a number of years in the U.S. military fighting in the Mexican War. Originally from Tennessee, he had joined up in Texas at the age of 22. After the War he went on to California, where he reportedly was sheriff of San Joaquin County. Upon his move to Arizona he took up freighting and carried the mail between Prescott and the Colorado River. He had a stage station and ranch at Fort Rock in Yavapai County, which was attacked by Walapai Indians more than once. He served as Sergeant at Arms in the House of Representatives in the Second Arizona Territorial Legislature at Prescott in December of 1865. Later in that decade he lived in Yuma County where he married Rosa Aros Morales in 1868. He was appointed by the Governor as a Yuma County Supervisor in 1870. In 1874 he and his family moved to Cababi (now on the O’Odham reservation) in Pima County, where they stayed for a short while, digging a well, as he said, through solid rock a distance of thirty feet.

By February of 1876, Poindexter and family had arrived in the Arivaca area and he was building arrastras at a mining camp in the Guijas Mountains, making him one of the first miners in the little mining revival that resulted in the town of Arivaca. He located the Morning Star claim. In March of 1877 he was noted as having put in a claim on the Northwest Extension of the Yellow Jacket mine, but he was also making other claims in the Guijas Mountains, northwest of Arivaca, including the Buena Vista lode. Soon after that he was part of the committee of five that organized the Arivaca Mining District and Military Company. He served as Recorder of the mining district and Captain of the Military Company. In the latter capacity, “Captain Poindexter was presented with a sword, in a speech appropriate to the occasion, which brought tears to the eyes and made every man in the company wish for a chance to make Apaches feel for that day when Bunker Hill will be at a discount.” (as eloquently reported by the Tucson Citizen, 5/5/1877)

As the mining camp grew, Arivaca began to need more organization, and W.G. Poindexter was at the forefront of the organizing citizenry. As reported in the Weekly Star (10/17/1878) “At a caucus meeting of the citizens of Arivaca township…W.G. Poindexter was called to the Chair and Mr. Lee was chosen Secretary. The following nominations were made: For Supervisor, Prof. John P. Arey; Justice of the Peace, W.G. Poindexter; Constable, James Elliott. A committee of three consisting of M.S.S. Snyder, Arey and John Bogan were appointed to inquire into the boundaries of the township and the jurisdiction of the officials.” As Justice of the Peace, Poindexter would have collected a few fees, welcome to a 54-year-old who was probably feeling the effects of years of hard rock mining. In the absence of his logbook, a look at Oro Blanco’s comparable journal reveals the kind of tasks a JP faced. Performing marriages, swearing in deputy sheriffs, issuing arrest warrents, hearing civil and criminal complaints, and holding court and making legal decisions were some of the duties he performed. Poindexter spoke Spanish fluently, as we know he was used as an official interpreter in the Oro Blanco precinct where they had moved in the early 1880s, settling near the Tonkins. This would have been a necessity as the town grew to a population of 300, a high percentage of whom were mine workers and their families from Mexico. There were some incidents in which the JP would be involved. In February 1880 an Arizona Daily Star reporter (T.H.J.) mentioned that a little disturbance originating from a football match between Mexicans and Americans was actually encouraged by the deputy sheriff, instead of being quelled. In the next issue of the paper, one J.H. Hersey advised T.H.J. “to emigrate to some congenial clime where he can rest in fancied security,” since he had misrepresented the actions of the deputy sheriff and other officers and then screened himself under an assumed name. He said the Arivaca sheriff and other officers would do the best they can to preserve the peace and are sober and competent to do their duties on all occasions. W.G. Poindexter would have done so.

By late 1879 W.G. Poindexter had built a ranch and stage stop on the Sopori Road (El Rancho de Poindexter) but the exact location is unknown. His earlier experience as a stage stop owner was valuable in this latter enterprise, which became more necessary as Poston began asserting a claim on land in the Arivaca valley in the late 1870s. In 1880 Poindexter joined with other Arivacans in protesting Poston’s claim, saying that when he came to Arivaca in the mid-1870s there was no evidence of any prior ownership by Poston, and according to the resolutions which he helped write, “That we believe it (the claim) to be a vile speculation to steal our possessions on these lands from us.” By 1881, these legal questions had brought about a serious slowdown to the mining boom, leaving only the more tenacious residents. Poindexter was out of the contested area. He and Rosa had three children, Martha, Jennie and William, all probably born in or near Arivaca. In 1884, W.G. joined the Society of Arizona Pioneers in Tucson, as one of the “Old Pioneers.” William G. Poindexter passed away on September 23, 1887, the victim of injuries received in a wagon accident some time before his death. Obituaries in the Tucson papers called him “a quiet, honest, conscientious old gentleman, respected by all that knew him” and “one of Pima County’s landmarks.” Rosa raised their children in Tucson, where she lived to see her grandchildren and passed away in 1925 at the age of 77. Most of the family moved to California.

References: Poindexter family newsletter, courtesy of Wally Poindexter; Tucson newspaper articles; U.S. historical census data. A descendant of the Poindexters found his way to Arivaca in the early 2000s and was able to see the “old homestead,” The family shared many pictures and stories with me. After the Poindexters left the Oro Blanco area, his location was homesteaded by William B. Perry in 1892 and then later became part of the Clarke Ranch, which it still is, to this day.

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