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Thursday, May 7, 2015
The Power Brothers by Max McNabb
Old man Power didn’t want his sons to be cannon fodder in the First World War. Jeff Power told his boys, John and Tom, not to register for the draft. The rich man’s war had nothing to do with them. In 1918, the Power family, originally from West Texas, had a gold mine to work in Arizona’s Gila Valley.
“They reacted the way Texans would react,” historian Jeff Robenalt says in the documentary Power’s War. “They didn’t cause the war… they didn’t make the draft. Why should they register for it?”
The young brothers planned to remain in the Galiuro Mountains until the war ended, then everything would blow over. But the US government had other plans. On February 9, 1918, Deputy US Marshal Haynes, Sheriff McBride, and Deputy Kempton met with volunteer Deputy Kane Wootan. The lawmen rode up into the mountains to arrest John and Tom Power for failing to register for the selective draft.
All four of the lawmen were members of the Mormon Church. Writer Roderick Roberts notes the Gila Valley was heavily Mormon and the Power family’s status as non-Mormon newcomers caused some of their neighbors to view them with hostility. The Powers claimed the Wootans wanted their gold mine and were willing to use the WWI conscription to take it. Sheriff McBride served as chairman of the county draft board. If John and Tom were drafted, their father couldn’t work the mine alone and would have to sell.
Just before dawn, the sound of startled horses woke Jeff Power in the family cabin. He stepped to the door and opened it. A voice in the darkness shouted, “Throw up your hands!”
Jeff Power raised his hands. Three shots cracked and the old man fell, shot down in his own doorway.
The gunfight that followed was the deadliest in Arizona history. The posse fired into the cabin. John and Tom Power grabbed Winchesters and fought back. The family’s hired hand, an ex-Army scout named Tom Sisson, took cover. When the smoke cleared, Jeff Power and three lawmen were dead, a fourth escaped, and the Power brothers had suffered wounded eyes from flying splinters and glass. The attackers never identified themselves as lawmen. Only after standing over the bodies did the Powers realize the dead men wore badges.