Town of Greaterville, 1898. Photo by Edward L. Vail. Courtesy of Empire Ranch Foundation

The mining town of Greaterville was established around 1874 when placer gold deposits were discovered by A. Smith. Located in Pima County, about 45 miles south of Tucson, the Greaterville precinct’s population in the 1910 Census was 129; the majority of the residents were of Mexican descent. Although mining was the primary industry, residents also worked on nearby cattle ranches such as the Empire Ranch. In 1915 a disturbing case of police brutality took place when two Pima County deputies used hanging as a method of interrogation.

The seeds of the tragedy were first scattered at a wedding feast in Greaterville on Saturday, Sept. 12, 1914. Francisco Casanova shot Eulalio Yanez after announcing that he was “going to get even with him.” Yanez died and Casanova escaped to Mexico. [Arizona Daily Star, 9/15/1914]. Six months later Pima County Ranger Robert Fenter spent a week searching for Mrs. Loretta Yanez, Mr. Yanez’s widow, who was reported missing by family members about March 13, 1915. He found no trace of her but suspected that Antonio Encinas was responsible for her abduction. [Arizona Daily Star, 4/ 10/ 1915, 4/14/1915]. Encinas had produced a signed bill of sale for Mrs. Yanez’ cattle, and since she could not read or write that document was deemed suspicious. [Arizona Republic 4/23/1915].

An arrest warrant was issued for Antonio Encinas but he managed to escape to Mexico. Deputies staked out the area near his home in Greaterville and on April 13 he returned and engaged in a gun battle with the deputies. Encinas was wounded but managed to escape again. On Monday April 19, Robert Fenter and deputy Frank B. Moore returned to Greaterville, determined to find Encinas. They went to the Leon family home in the early evening to question the Leon brothers, Hilario, José Maria, and Francisco, who were brothers-in-law of Encinas. The three men were arrested and removed from the home. The deputies then took them to an “oak thicket near Greaterville Canyon,” tied their hands behind their backs, and proceeded to hang them, one by one, from an oak tree, to persuade them to talk. [Arizona Republic, 4/23/1915].

When the brothers did not return home, family members went to a neighbor’s home the next morning and a search party was organized. They found Hilario dead and José “sitting bent under a tree, in a delirious condition.” Francisco was missing. Fenter and Moore had returned to Tucson Tuesday morning to report the “killing of the Mexicans” and “intimate[d] it was done in self-defense.” [Arizona Republic, 4/23/1915]

The Pima County Attorney and sheriff immediately went to Greaterville to investigate the matter and arrested Fenter and Moore once evidence of hanging was found on José Maria and Hilario’s body.

On Monday April 26 Fenter and Moore pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder by hanging of Hilario Leon. José Maria was in critical condition and expected to die. Francisco Leon had turned up and told the county attorney “that he was the first man hung by the deputies and that he lost consciousness the third time he was raised from the ground. When he came to he was at a little distance. The body of his brother was thrown beside him he said and finally the ropes cut off of them the deputies remarking that they were dead. When Moore and Fenter had gone Francisco says he ran away.” [Tucson Citizen, 4/26/1915].

After a lengthy and contentious trial Fenter and Moore were found guilty of second-degree murder of Hilario Leon on July 16. The jury deliberated less than three hours. The county attorney announced that he was ready to proceed with a case against Fenter and Moore for the murder of José Maria Leon. [Arizona Daily Star, 7/15/1915]. Fenter and Moore decided to accept the verdict and were sentenced to a minimum of ten years in the Florence prison. [Arizona Daily Star, 7/18/1915]. 

By the end of the year Fenter was considered an “honor” prisoner and was allowed to spend Christmas with his family in Tucson. [Arizona Daily Star 12/25/1915]. Both Moore and Fenter were pardoned by Governor Hunt and released from prison in January 1917. [Bisbee Daily Review, 1/23/1917].