During the early years when Apache County was first established, Commodore Perry Owens served as the county sheriff in the late 1880s. He was a legend in the Old West as a gunfighter. Before becoming a renowned name in gun-fighting, he ran away from his home back when he was only 13. He went West and was hired as a buffalo hunter in which he had to kill buffalo every day whose meat was food to the railroad workers.
With his experience, he became an excellent shooter with the ability to shoot a rifle from the hip without missing and while closing his eyes. Owens can use both his hands and his ambidexterity allowed him to wear two pistols. He would shoot cans from a distance while alternating the gun from his left and right hands to entertain his friends.
When he got a little bit older, he worked as a cowboy on the ranches of New Mexico and Oklahoma. At 28, he worked as a ranch foreman in Navajo Springs in 1881. Two years later, he was arrested for the murder of a Navajo boy whom he shot but he was acquitted by the Apache County jury.
Due to his incredible shooting skills, it was not long until the people around him noticed him. He was an established gunfighter and the People’s Party later nominated him for Sheriff of Apache County in Arizona. The Apache County Stock Growers Associations supported him, along with the Mexicans and the Mormons.
In 1886, he officially became the sheriff of the county against his Democratic opponent Tomas Perez by 91 votes. At that time, Apache County was still divided into two counties until 1895. The western part later became Navajo County. Owens was responsible for more than 21,000 square miles of territory, which is larger than the combined area of Vermont and New Hampshire.
Owens was quite well-liked during his time as the county sheriff. He was described as a quiet and unassuming man with immense popularity mainly because of his honest and honorable dealings.
One of the most famous gunfights happened in Arizona and it involved the county sheriff. It took place in September of 1887 near the city of Holbrook in Navajo County. While serving a warrant on Andy Blevins who was also known as Andy Cooper, Perry Owens wounded one man and killed three. Blevins was a participant in a range war that was later called the Pleasant Valley War.
Andy Blevins was a Mason County Texas native, a region west of Austin. He arrived in Arizona in 1885, along with Charlie Blevins who was his brother. They committed several crimes in their state, including murder and they planned to escape arrest by heading to Arizona. He changed his name to Andy Cooper so the authorities would not catch him.
Eventually, their mother, younger brothers, and other relatives joined them in Arizona. Blevins was reported to have murdered three Navajo men and was later accused of rustling horses from the protected Navajo reservation. Rumors also spread about him killing two lawmen as they were trying to track him down.
A range war was brewing in the nearby Yavapai County where the Tewksbury and Graham families were involved. This war is now called the Pleasant Valley War. During this period, the Blevins brothers sided with the Grahams who were famous as cattlemen. Meanwhile, the Tewksbury family was originally cattle ranchers but would have herds of sheep around 1885.
Some historians think that that part of the feud was about racial prejudice because the Tewksbury family had Indian blood in them. The fight would sometimes spill over Apache County where Owens presided but he remained neutral.
Andy’s father disappeared in 1887 and was suspected to have been killed by the family of Tewksbury. It prompted the brothers to search for the old man. During their search, two of his brothers were killed by the faction. About three months later, Andy Blevins ambushed and killed two members of the Tewksbury family. He and his group returned to Holbrook where he bragged about his killings.
An old warrant was already out for Andy Cooper and Owens inherited it but the sheriff did not go after him. Some thought that Blevins and Owens were friends and spent some time as cowboys together. Meanwhile, other people believe that Owens was scared of Blevins since the latter was known to be an excellent shooter and could kill without mercy.
This warrant for Andy was for stealing about 25 horses whose owner was a Mormon and positively identified Blevins as the person who was driving his horses. On September 4, 1887, Owens learned that Blevins was in Holbrook so he went to his cottage to serve the warrant for rustling horses.
During that afternoon, there were 12 people in that house, including the oldest of the Blevins brothers and two more younger brothers. Their mother was also present, along with a couple and their infant son. Several children, a family friend, and a house guest were around as well.
Sheriff Owens brought his Winchester rifle with him as he knocked on Andy Blevins’ door. The latter carried a pistol with him when he answered. Owens told Andy to go out of the house because he had an arrest warrant for him. Blevins did not want to comply so he tried to close the door. The lawman was forced to fire a shot through the door, hitting Andy in his stomach. The other people in the house tried to run to Andy’s aid, including his half-brother who tried to shoot the sheriff. He did not hit his target and instead killed his brother’s saddle horse. Owens took the opportunity while the other Blevins was confused and fired at him, leaving the brother wounded in the arm.
Owens found a place where he would get cover but could still see the sides of the house. He saw Andy moving inside and he fired through the front wall, hitting Blevins in the right hip. The house guest, Mose Roberts, went out of the window and tried to run but Owens shot him in the back. Some accounts say that Roberts was unarmed but the jury report from the coroner found a pistol covered in blood near where Roberts reentered the cottage. Also, the doctor who cared for Roberts testified that there was a pistol with his patient.
After Roberts, the younger brother of Andy, Samuel, who was only 15 years old, took his revolver to shoot the lawman. His mother tried to stop him but Samuel was able to set himself free from her grip. Owens immediately shot and killed him where he died in his mother’s arms. The whole shootout only lasted for less than a minute and it made the sheriff a legend.
Today, the Apache County Sheriff is Joseph Dedman Jr. who has the responsibility to uphold the law in all 11,000+ square miles of the region. Apache is larger than a few states in the country and is placed at the third spot among the 15 counties in the state.
The sheriff grew up in Nazlini, Arizona, a Navajo community which is about 15 miles north of Ganado, located in the northeastern portion of the state. He lost his mother at a young age and took care of various responsibilities since then. He has three sisters and a brother whom he would plant corn and take care of horses with during the summers.
As a young man, Dedman Jr. already knew about the value of working hard and caring for his family. He went to high school where he also managed to earn money not only for himself but for his siblings. He later pursued a career in law enforcement in which he stayed for almost 30 years. His job allowed him to serve US President Bill Clinton, Vice President Albert Gore and US Senator John McCain. He supervised their safety whenever they would visit the Navajo Nation.
Sheriff Joseph Dedman Jr. is responsible for the duties of law enforcement in Apache County, including the housing subdivisions and unincorporated towns. Currently, the sheriff’s office staff is comprised of 80 people, including communication specialists, detention officers, and administrative and maintenance staff. There are also 28 deputies who serve the office. Sheriff Dedman also allows volunteer assistance through the Reserve Deputy program, as well as with the help of both Northern and Southern Apache County Posses.
A few organized citizen groups help the sheriff’s office, too. It is also where the prisoners from all the county courts are housed, along with three incorporated police departments. The county jail has inmates who come from the Federal Bureau of Prisons while some prisoners are from the Arizona Department of Corrections.
A part of the Northern Apache County is made of Navajo Nation but the county still has the jurisdiction for the non-native Americans who live in the area. The sheriff’s office has its own communication center, which receives and dispatches routine calls, as well as 911 calls for every part of the county. The communication center is also responsible for receiving calls for three police departments in Apache, seven fire departments, and ambulance companies. It also assists the Arizona Game and Fish Officers and the United States Forest Service in taking calls and dispatching help.