Tombstone Silver

James Burnett's Death

James Burnett was killed in cold blood in front of the OK Corral. This post tells why.


Jim Burnett was shot and killed in front of the O.K. Corral on July 1, 1897. At that time of his death, he was the Justice of the Peace in Pearce, Arizona. He had lived in the Charleston area for about 25 years and had been a rancher, butcher, livery operator, and several other occupations. He frequently held contracts with the nearby Fort Huachuca to provide beef and had erected a cold storage facility there. 

Burnett was killed by William Greene, his neighbor just upstream on the San Pedro river. Greene had blamed Burnett for the death of his daughter, who had drowned while swimming in the river. After burying his little girl, Greene found Burdett sitting in a chair in front of the OK Corral and shot him in cold blood. This page includes the articles published in the Tombstone Epitaph regarding Burnett's death.

A Tragedy

Wm C Greene Kills James Burnett

And He Dies Instantly

Greene in Custody and Makes a Statement to the Reporter of the "Prespector."
The Coroner's Inquest

Once more has Tombstone asserted herseslf as a sensation producer. This time the sensation involved another human life. W. C. Greene shot and killed James C. Burnett on Allen street.

This afternoon about one o'clock the total quiet of the city was disturbed by the report of a shot followed by three more, apparently in the same direction on Allen Street.

A Prospector reporter was on the ground within a few second and in the midst of a crowd of excited spectators lay the body of James C. Burnett face downward, in a pool of blood. When the body was turned over the last heaving of the lungs caused gouts of blood to spent from a ghastly wound in the breast.

All was excitement and confusion. At this moment Sheriff Scott White appeared and Chief of Police Wiser, to whom Greene had surrendered, delivered the prisoner to him and he was conducted to jail.

Coroner Jas. Dancea impaneled a jury who, after examining the body retired to the city hall to hear the evidence in the case.

The origin of the tragedy dates immediately from the destruction of the dam of Greene which caused the death by drowning of his little daughter and her playmate, Edna Cochran.

Subsequent to the destruction of Greene's dam, the dam of Burnett was also destroyed and when Burnett came to the city yesterday it was with the intention of going to his ranch to investigate.

Greene left the city yesterday evering in his buggy accompanied by Sheriff White bound for the ranch. He returned again this morning and nothing unusual was observed in his demeanor before the shooting occurred.

Greene's Statement

A Prospector reporter visited Greene in the sheriff's office a few minutes after the shooting and asked him if he had any statement to make. He said: "I have no statement to make other than that man was the cause of my child being drowned. I ascertained beyond the shadow of a doubt that he was the guilty man and when I thought of my little girl as she put her arms around my neck on the day she was drowned, I could think of nothing but vengeance on the man that caused her death. I have lived in this territory twenty-five years and have always been a peaceable law-abiding man. I held no animosity and have no regret for anything except the death of my little girl, and the little Cochran girl and the grief of my poor wife." He added, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."

Mr. Green came into the Prospector office on the 28th and had notice inserted in the paper offering a reward of $1000 for proof of the identity of the person who destroyed his dam and thereby caused the death by drowning of his daughter and her little companion. He said very little at the at the time but seemed deeply affected and showed signs of grief.

Both men are well known throughout the county, having been pioneers before the creation of Cochise county. Barnett, at the time of his death was Justice of the Peace at Pearce and owned a ranch on the San Pedro near the ranch of W.C. Greene. A chance word revealed the fact that the relations of the two men have not been of the most friendly character for a long time past, Greene accusing Barnett of baving tried to injure him in different ways.

Coroner's Inquest

The most important witness sworn was John Montgomery who testifed that when Mr. Greene came into town with Mr. Scott White, he came to his stable and asked that his team be put up and also left his pistol with him. "I locked it up, and later, just before the shooting, probably two hours later he asked me if there was any one working in Hart's old shop, I told him there was; he intimated to me his pistol needed repairs and he wanted to have it repaired. I started to get it for him as the room was occupied at that time, and I told him he would have to wait a few minutes before I could get it. He talked of the weather a few minutes, about rain, then I got a chair for him to sit down until I could get the pistol; he sat down. Perhape five or ten minutes after he spoke about the pistol, I went and got it for him. I gave it to him and he had apparently started, as I supposed, for the shop; but he did not put it in his pocket as far I saw; he turned around by the corner of the ofice and accused Jim Burnett of having his (Greene's) dam blown up; the words I don't remember. Burnett made denial in words which I do not remember, and just then there were three shots fired one immediately following another by Wm. Greene. I saw him with his pistol in his hand. I saw him elevate the pistol and three shots immediately followed. The was another I think alter Burnett fell. Burnett came through the front door of the office, apparently very badly wounded, and went on the sidewalk probably forty feet, more or less, and then fell. Burnett had been sitting for some time in the inside of the office. I heard no words of Burnett except the disclaimer to the accusation of Greene.

The jury of inquest found that the deceased came to his death by pistol shot wounds inflicted by William C. Greene.

The funeral of James C. Burnett who was the victim of the tragedy of yesterday at the hands of W.C. Greene took place this afternoon from the undertaking parlors of C. B. Tarbell and was largely attended by courses of relatives and friends. The deceased was 67 years of age and at the date of his unfortunate end was Justice of the Peace at Pearce. His family and immediate relatives consisting of Mrs. Burnett and two daughter, Mrs. Marks and Mrs. Frankie Bauer, also Geo. Hand and wife, the latter a granddaughter of the deceased, arrived early this morning and were present to consign the last mortal remains to their resting place. The sympathy of the community is extended to the family in their bereavement.


The shooting took place in front of the OK Corral, located at 326 E. Allen Street. Because the business is on a part of Allen Street that is closed to traffic, the Goodenough Historic Trolley Tour does not pass the location, but I tell the story of Burnett's death as we leave the City Cemetery area.