• Dennis McCaslin

Chronicle of the Old West: Sometimes you just hang on to the reins and ride into history


Robert Leatherwood

There's a saying that goes something like "Circumstances make heroes." For the subject of today's story, that saying was very appropriate.

Not a big man, Robert Leatherwood stood only 5’ 5” tall, and weighed about 130 pounds ringing wet. Born in North Carolina, he was a Confederate during the Civil War, and eventually migrated to Tucson, Arizona where he became a lawman. Because of his size and fearlessness, Leatherwood became known as the “Little Giant.”

His greatest contribution was serving the public, both as a lawman and as a politician. He served two terms as county sheriff, on the Tucson city council, as Tucson’s mayor and three terms in the territorial legislature. He was responsible for bringing the railroad to Tucson.

Leatherwood was an almost illiterate, blustery man. The story is told of him betting a fellow poker player $20 that he didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer. The other man took him up on the bet, and started “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” Leatherwood interrupted him, saying “OK. OK. You win,” and threw him a twenty dollar gold piece.

The heroic deed that started Leatherwood off on his political career took place on May 22, 1886. He and two other lawmen were chasing Geronimo and 14 Apache, with a white captive.


The three lawmen accidentally stumbled into the camp of the Apache. Leatherwood’s two companions pulled on their horse’s reins and turned to run. But Leatherwood charged into the Apache camp, sending Geronimo and the others running. For weeks Leatherwood was hailed a hero.


Then, finally he confessed that he had also tried to turn his horse, but the gunfire spooked the horse and it ran out of control through the camp.


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