The calmness before the storm broke in 1901 when Collector of Customs Will M. Hoey was arrested on embezzlement charges for smuggling in Chinese citizens and his assistant was found dead. It seems that Hoey had been letting Chinese citizens pass across the border as long as their certificates were marked with a letter A while other people of Chinese descent were being denied passage. In order to get the A on the certificate, people had to pay between $50 and $500 to Hoey. When the United States Secret Service got wind of the scheme, possibly through Hoey’s assistant, the man was relieved of his post. Hoey was sent back to Washington D.C. where he was severely reprimanded.
Nonetheless, after being recognized as the county seat in 1899, the first court cases were heard in Santa Cruz County. Nogales’ community theater was used as a courtroom for the promissory note trials that were tried by Willis P. Harlow in 1901. This trial was so famous that it got coverage across the United States as Harlow had been a prominent business person before settling in Nogales.
Soon, county commissioners laid out plans to build the first courthouse and the first county jail in the same building. On January 5, 1902, Congress authorized the building of a county courthouse in Nogales. The commissioners debated about the location of the building before finally agreeing to purchase a lot at the intersection of Morley Avenue and Court Street for $2,000 from Anton Proto.
The first plans were drawn up before a suitable building site was established. The county commissioners denied all the bids after a building site was finally located, and Trost & Rust was given the nod to start building the new building containing the courthouse and four jail cells on November 17, 1902. The only difference between their original denied plans and the final accepted ones was that a half-basement was added after the commissioners found and agreed on a suitable site. While many agreed that the extra space would be nice, the main reason for the change was that the site sat on a hill and adding the half-basement eliminated the need to make the site level before work could proceed.
The two-story building that can still be viewed at 21 East Court Street is built in a Neoclassical style. James Vandervort served as the main contractor of the stone building project. In the beginning, Charles E. Perkins oversaw the construction work. Shortly after the work began, however, Perkins got very sick, and he was replaced by Charles Spraker. After completing work on the courthouse, Spraker went on to be instrumental in the operation of the nearby El Copeta Mines.
This original stone courthouse building that faces west is constructed of rusticated tufa stone that was mined locally, and the building has a flat roof with a silver-colored dome. A figure sits on top of the building intended to represent justice. The building was completed in 1904 with the county spending $28,200 on its construction. Amazingly for a building that has lasted more than 114 years, there were apparently no blueprints ever developed to lead the building’s contractors. At the time of its completion in 1904, many considered the courthouse the finest courthouse in the entire country.
The county used the building for more than 84 years before Cochise College moved into the facility. In 2013, the college moved to a new location in Nogales leaving the building empty for a short while. The location served as the starting point of the Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail that over 240 settlers followed in 1775 and 1776 that resulted in the founding of San Francisco, California. As of 2018, the building is used to house the Arizona Rangers Museum that is open to the public on Saturdays. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The area surrounding the courthouse has also been nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike most of Nogales where people of different ethnicities and income levels lived next door to each other, the homes surrounding the courthouse were intended for wealthy families. George F. Marsh laid out the streets in the area and was responsible for the construction of many of the homes. He created a land plot in 1907 with the construction of many of the homes beginning in 1909. The hilltop setting was designed so that the homes would be built around a central square. Visitors to the area can still view many of the homes along with the original layout.
Santa Cruz County Arizona County Sheriff
As of 2018, the sheriff in Santa Cruz County is 74-year-old Tony Espirada. This Spanish-speaking sheriff has overseen the county’s law enforcement efforts since 1991. He has been re-elected six times by the citizens of the county that are 80 percent Hispanic.
Expirada is credited with many many positive changes in the county. He firmly believes that families should be kept together if possible. Yet, he works closely with federal immigration officers to detain people who are illegal immigrants and choose to break the law within his jurisdiction. He is an active participant in many local organizations including the Boys and Girls Club. He is also responsible for the creation of one of the earliest school resource officers programs in the country.
The sheriff first entered the United States after being born in Mexico in 1944. He was brought into the county by his mother along with his three brothers. His father was already living in the United States and had obtained legal permission for his family to join him.
Since 1899, there have only been 17 sheriffs in Santa Cruz County in Arizona. The first one was William H. Barnett who was appointed to the office by Arizona Governor Murphy. William H. Barnett apparently did not get along well with the county commissioners because he resigned after only about nine months in office. The local newspaper reported that while tendering his resignation he said that here was what the county supervisors had been gunning for while throwing his letter of resignation on the table.
Following Barnett’s resignation, Thomas F. Brodrick served in the office for one year. Brodrick had entered law enforcement as a town marshall, then worked as a deputy under Barnett. After quitting as Santa Cruz sheriff, he went on to become a deputy United States marshall. He is reported to have told a state promoter that some desperados should be imported from the Eastern United States to liven up the place as he had too much time on his hands. Therefore, he says that he kept dreaming up how he could run for new offices as he loved campaigning.
The first election for sheriff was held in 1902 with Tommy Turner winning. During the three year tenure of Turner, trouble heated up a little bit in Santa Cruz County. One night when the sheriff was headed to investigate cattle rustlers, a young boy ran up to the sheriff telling him that a woman was being killed near the Nogales Cemetery. The sheriff and his deputy arrived on the scene to find Andres Espiridion beating a Native American woman. When Andres refused to stop, Sheriff Turner fired on him. His horse spooked, so Turner got off and fired again. This time he fatally struck the man causing the first death by a law enforcement officer in Santa Cruz County.
Turner’s deputy Dan Sheeby also had an interesting run-in with cattle rustler Fernando Valenzuela. After chasing him for about 10 miles during which time more than 25 shots were exchanged between the two men, Dan Sheeby was able to shoot Valenzuela’s horse out from under him. Valenzuela hid behind the dead animal and was able to shoot off part of Sheeby’s hat before he could get the man tied up. When he bought the man to Sheriff Turner and the town’s citizens found out what had happened, Sheeby was made the town’s first deputy sheriff.
The appointment did not last long, however, because Sheeby got into a fight with Richard W. Harrison. After punches were exchanged, Harrison was shot by Sheeby. Then, cowboys brought Sheeby to Turner who locked him up for manslaughter. While Turner was able to stand off the cowboy lynch mob who insisted Sheeby was to be killed on the spot, Turner eventually transported his deputy-turned-murderer to Tucson where he was convicted. He was sentenced to ten years but had his sentence pardoned after serving nine years.
In 1905, Turner left office to be replaced by Harry J. Jackson who served for three years. Jackson was replaced by William S. McKnight in 1911. McKnight was born in Illinois but had made his way to the Nogales area as a young adult working for several mining companies before becoming a butcher. He rotated between being a miner and a butcher until he was finally appointed a mounted custom house inspector. Since these were political appointments, it was not unusual for men to lose their jobs if the other political party took control of Washington D.C. After losing his appointment, he received a contract to furnish beef to the men residing at Fort Huachuca during which time he saved up enough money to open a general mercantile in Tubac, Arizona. He was working there when he was elected sheriff, and he moved to Nogales.
In 1917, Raymond R. Earhardt was elected sheriff of Santa Cruz County. He was born in Ohio, but like McKnight had moved to Arizona as a young man to work in the mines. He was extremely popular with residents of the county who elected him twice as sheriff, then elected him twice as mayor. Then, he went on to serve a term in the House of Representatives in Arizona before becoming the state’s treasurer.
The only sheriff to die in the line of duty in Santa Cruz County was George J. White who was elected to the office in 1921. On August 21, 1921, a store in Ruby, Arizona, belonging to Frank and Myrtle Phearson was robbed. White and a deputy were able to apprehend Placido Silvas and Manuel Martinez after a year of hard detective work. The two were arrested and tried. They were sentenced to time in the state penitentiary in Arizona. While White and a deputy were transporting the prisoners, White lost control of the car. The accident instantly killed him and left his deputy seriously injured.
Several other men have served as sheriff in the county, but a woman has yet to be elected to the office. The sheriff is elected every four years. Since Tony Espirada says that he does not intend to seek another term, Santa Cruz County will soon have a new sheriff in town. Yet, it will be a long time before Expirada’s service is forgotten because the detention center is named in honor of his legendary service.
Nogales Police Department
Marshal JK Wright was the first person to serve as chief of the Nogales, Arizona, police department. He took office in 1912, but he was arrested by the United States Border Patrol just a few months later along with two other men for being in violation of the United States neutrality law. The three men were tried and found guilty of bribery and selling United States guns and ammunition to Mexico in support of their president and against President Woodrow Wilson. The Battle of Nogales soon happened on March 13, 1913. Wright, however, did not give up his position until 1914.
The second chief was Marshal A. Dumbauld who served from 1915 to 1917. Dumbauld was born in Illinois, and he made his way to Nogales where he was a rancher. After serving the department, he went on to serve on the Board of Supervisors, became the Santa Cruz County Treasurer and the Arizona State Examiner.
While Charles Fowler served from 1917 to 1919, J.J. Lowe was elected in 1919 and held the position for 21 years. Cattle rustling in the area was a real problem with the police force often being sent to assist sheriff’s officers.
Unlike the sheriff’s office where only 17 men have served during the county’s history, the city has had 28 police chiefs. In fact, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada has served as interim police chief on three different occasions before moving to the county side in 1991. In recent years, the department has encountered many conflicts between city officials and the department’s chief law enforcement official. Therefore, a new official has been appointed frequently.
The current police chief is Roy Bermudez. He worked for the Nogales Police Department for 33 years before being appointed to oversee its operations beginning in 2017. In making the announcement, City Manager Carlos Rivera said that Roy had shown tremendous growth during his time with the city. Roy is a 1984 graduate of Nogales High School, and he started his law enforcement career just three weeks after his graduation. He was promoted to assistant chief in 2007, but when the top position came open in 2012, he was not considered because he did not have a college degree. Roy has since earned his bachelor’s degree from Capella University. He hopes the police department becomes known for its ability to use technology, its community policing initiatives and its ability to be innovative.
There is no doubt that the department has their hands full, but they are committed to being successful for the sake of the citizens who proudly call Nogales home. One of the initiatives that Bermudez proposes is involving more citizens in police work. Therefore, you can take an active part in building a positive community now and far into the future.
Santa Cruz County Jail
The first building used as a jail in Santa Cruz County was leased from Edward Marsh. It contained 12 rooms. After the courthouse was completed in 1904, the Pauley Jail Building Company of Saint Louis, Missouri, installed four cells.
A lot has passed between then and now when the Santa Cruz Arizona Detention Center located at the Tony Estrada Law Enforcement Center opened. This facility opening in 2011 has both wings for men and for women. It is considered a medium-security facility. Citizens of Santa Cruz county continue to finance the detention center through a half-cent local sales tax. Often, inmates from Tucson, Arizona, are housed here when their county jail reaches capacity.
In the past, inmates at the county jail had a special reason to be good while behind bars. While officers first attempt taking away privileges and other means to get someone to behave, they can resort to feeding them meatloaf. The inmates often have other names for this loaf made of meat and vegetables as they often call it disciplinary diet loaf, prison loaf or management loaf. Officials say that it only takes serving it once or twice a year to bring inmates back in line. The meatloaf resembling particle board is served with water to wash down the carrots and other vegetables that often fall out of its sides. The version served in Santa Cruz County is made of ground beef. It can only be served for three days in a row without special approval from the jail’s warden. Prisoners who follow the rule are often treated with special food like ham and sweet potatoes on special occasions.
Getting from Santa Cruz to Phoenix
Phoenix is located 180 miles north of Santa Cruz. If you are going to drive from Santa Cruz to Phoenix, then the easiest way to do it is to simply get on AZ-82 East and AZ-83 North until you reach Interstate 10 in Vail, Arizona. Then, take Interstate 10 until you reach Phoenix passing through Tucson, Marana and Ejoy, Arizona. The entire trip will take you about three hours to complete.
It is possible to fly from Santa Cruz to Phoenix. American, Alaska, United and Southwest all service this route from Nogales International Airport. If you have a choice, however, driving is usually preferred as it takes about five hours to hop on a plane to get between the two cities.
The Tufesa Bus Line also services a route between the two cities with frequent stops along the way. One of the advantages of taking the bus is that you can often find cheap tickets, so if money is a problem, then this may be the perfect solution for getting between the two cities.
Santa Cruz County and Nogales, Arizona, have a colorful past filled with many interesting characters. Most families are firmly committed to seeing life on both sides of the border get better in the future. There are many reasons to believe that the future of Arizona’s smallest county with the largest international border crossing will be bright. Just like the first settlers who saw promise in their new surroundings, a positive mental attitude will help make the future even brighter. The area is constantly changing from being filled with ranchers and mining activities to being a major international city. You can be part of the change.