1913 · Helvetia and Tucson, Az.; Hatchita, N.M.; Dayton, Oh.; and Washington, D.C.
The archive consists of letters and telegrams sent between William K. Foster, his brothers, James C. Foster and Bertram G. Foster, U.S. Marshal B.F. Daniels, J.L. Tremaine, and others, detailing the life, western experiences, murder, and burial of William K. Foster in Arizona Territory. From the nature of the correspondence, including the fact that all of the letters sent to Bertram Foster are present here in manuscript copies, the archive was likely retained by Foster's brother, James.
William K. "Will" Foster, born in Cleveland, New York in 1868, moved to Arizona Territory around 1906 in an attempt to find his fortune in copper mining in the Pima County town of Helvetia. On the night of March 23, 1908, Foster was shot and stabbed in a dispute at a Mexican restaurant, and another man presumed to be his attacker was shot and killed. Foster was buried the next day in the Helvetia cemetery at the direction of the local U.S. Marshal, B.F. Daniels.
When William Foster's brothers, James C. Foster of Dayton, Ohio, and Bertram Foster of Washington. D.C., learned of his death, they began to suspect that there was more to the story than a drunken brawl. Will Foster had worked on occasion for Marshal Daniels in Tucson, and the mine that Foster and his partner, J.L. Tremaine, were digging was partly owned by Daniels. Over the course of the letters here, the great majority of which emanate from March, April, and May, 1908, Tremaine and Daniels tell the surviving Foster brothers that on the night of his murder, Will was intoxicated and provoked an attack from the owner of the restaurant. Then, when attacked, Foster drew his gun and killed the restaurant owner in self-defense, but accidentally shot himself in the leg in the process, which eventually resulted in his death.
The archive includes five letters written by William Foster, the last written two days before his death, all addressed to his brother, James C. Foster. The first, dated February 20, 1906, finds Foster in New Mexico, where he writes about big game hunting and the health benefits of living out west. In his second letter, dated in October 1907, Foster tells James that he will accompany Marshal Daniels to Ardmore, Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma) to take "a murderer back to that country to answer for his crime...." Foster posted this letter from the Foster & Tremaine mining camp. In his next letter, again from the Foster & Tremaine mining camp, William Foster reports that he has accepted a position as a Deputy U.S. Marshal, and will likely serve in Nogales or Tucson. Here again he touts the benefits of the western life ("I could not live elsewhere") after his trip to Ardmore the previous year, where he also traveled through El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, and Gainesville, Texas. In his penultimate letter, dated February 27, 1908, Foster reports that he has been "down in the Yaqui Country since Dec 12th doing some mining assessments," where he "saw but 2 white faces in over 2 months." He writes that he is now back in his mining camp, where he will live for the foreseeable future, which sadly for him was about another month. Foster's last letter, written two days before he was killed, is eerily prophetic. Foster writes that he plans to go to town in Helvetia to stock up on supplies, and that he recently planted various fruit trees. Then he closes with the following passage:
"We have a fine camp and if I don't make it I will lay my weary bones down in Arizona or elsewhere in the West some Day & it cannot be long now. I think I have lived through the worst of it & there has been very little brightness in it all, but as long as there's life there's hope & I have never given up yet & never will."
The "worst of it" came two days later, when Will Foster was stabbed and shot in Helvetia. James Foster received the news in a letter dated March 28 from his brother's mining partner, J.L. Tremaine. Here Tremaine tells James that Will was "shot and stabbed to death by Mexicans in a Mexican Restaurant at Helvetia." Tremaine writes that since he was not present at the crime, and since the coroner did not have James' address, the decision was made that the burial take place immediately. The Foster brothers successfully commissioned Arizona authorities to have Will's body returned to New York, and hired a Tucson undertaker named O.C. Parker to handle the exhumation and shipment of Will's body; some letters and all of the telegrams relate to this process and to Will's eventual funeral in Cleveland, New York.
James and Bertram Foster's doubts about their brother's death began immediately after hearing the news. In Bertram Foster's first letter here, dated April 4, 1908, he calls the circumstances surrounding his brother's death "to say the least very peculiar." Bertram does, on the other hand, concede that "the Mexicans have been down on him because of his past activities as deputy marshal and more than likely have been awaiting the opportunity they at last secured."
Still, their doubts persisted. In James' first letter here, he writes to the governor of Arizona about the mysterious swiftness of his brother's burial and conjectures on the reasons some information is being withheld: "...either for some personal reasons, because the parties concerned expect to appropriate his effects and property, or because it is a crime involving parties the officials do not desire to or are afraid to bring to justice and no man is fit for or deserving of an officer's pay who is too great a coward to enforce the laws he is paid and under oath to enforce."
Bertram continues to doubt in his next letter, dated April 6:
"I cannot doubt the main fact - Will's murder - for all the surrounding circumstances are in direct accord, but as you state, the character of the inquest and the other circumstances, including the sending of the news and the lack of detail are very peculiar...the indications are that the deed was premeditated and hushed up as soon as possible."
In his first letter here, dated April 8 and written on Justice Department, Office of United States Marshal stationery, Marshal B.F. Daniels lays out his understanding of the events in three pages. This is the first time anyone mentions that the mining partnership of Foster and Tremaine was actually a three-way partnership, with Daniels being a co-owner as well. Daniels details Foster's trouble "about one year ago with some Mexicans" and that Foster had actually been "indicted for the trouble." After being cleared in court in Tucson, Foster returned to Helvetia. According to Daniels:
"Mr. Foster was shot and stabbed to death, and he shot one Mexican to death and shot one other through the hand....It was an old grudge, and by what I can hear, they were all drunk, and had been drinking for two or three days. He was shot about 4:00 o'clock in the morning and died about six o'clock."
The next letter, also dated April 8, and written by George Kruge, a fellow Mason in Tucson, to Bertram Foster, relates further details about the murder. Through the undertaker, O.C. Parker, Kruge learned that "while your brother was in the restaurant the Mexican came out of the kitchen with a carving knife and proceeded to cut your Bro. who drew his pistol shot the Mexican and accidentally shot himself severing a large vein from which he bled to death & the Mexican is also dead."
Two days later, Bertram Foster is ready to "stir them up" in Arizona over the investigation of his brother's death. It is at this time that the first three letters from Foster's partner, J.L. Tremaine, appear, two in response to previous letters from James Foster and one from Bertram. In those letters Tremaine details the rather extensive mining interests owned with Will Foster, and the myriad of current and future costs associated with their claims. Tremaine also assures James Foster that the body recently transported from Helvetia "is your brother."
In his letter to Bertram, Tremaine reports his understanding of the incident in the Mexican restaurant, providing a few additional details, namely that Will Foster was with a man named W.P. Scott at the time of the attack in the restaurant. After the incident Scott ended up with the knife that allegedly belonged to Foster's attacker, giving it to another man named C.R. Childs, telling him that "that was what he was killed with." Childs found Foster "on the ground in front of the Mexican Restaurant where the trouble occurred - he was not dead but very weak from loss of blood and died about an hour later on the operating table." Tremaine promises to "get at the bottom of things and see that full justice is done."
A two-page letter from P.J. Neilly, the coroner, to Bertram Foster, dated April 13, relates the fullest account of the incident in the present archive, which pieces together and reinforces some of the accounts given up to this point, but differs slightly from others. Neilly provides more details about the firearms carried by both Foster and his friend, W.P. Scott. He also adds that Foster and the proprietor of the Mexican restaurant (who was also "drinking pretty fully") were having an argument about guns. Scott then went outside to "obey a call of nature," which is when the shooting occurred. Upon re- entering the restaurant, Scott saw Foster "sitting down with a bread knife in his hand and was covered with Blood."
Another letter from the undertaker, O.C. Parker, and dated May 11 further contextualizes the incident and provides more details. Parker claims that Will Foster "had no one to blame for his misfortune but himself as he had trouble with the Mexican restaurant keeper of Helvetia" before. Parker claims that Foster was considered "the bully of the camp about one year ago wounding him [the Mexican restaurant owner] with a gun...." According to Parker, Foster's murder was precipitated when he started drinking and "remained for a Mexican dance that was to take place in the restaurant of his foe."
James and Bertram Foster continued to doubt the veracity of the story being related to them piecemeal through these various sources. James writes to the governor of Arizona on May 11, calling the inquest a "farce" and the evidence "contradictory" and "underdeveloped." The governor's secretary replies that the matter has been referred to the district attorney of Pima County.
The surviving Foster brothers were not happy with Marshal Daniels' next response, sent on May 18. Here Daniels reiterates that Will Foster was drunk at the time he was killed; further, Daniels claims that Foster was drunk "every time he got hold of any money." The marshal details other instances of Foster's drunkenness, and then ends his letter with his understanding of the timing of Foster's arrival in Helvetia on the trip that ended his life. Daniels claims Foster arrived on March 20 around noon, and proceeded to get drunk and stay drunk until the "fatal moment" in the early morning of March 23. This cannot be so, as the present archive contains a letter from the deceased himself dated March 21 from his mining camp, which states he plans to travel to Helvetia the next day, March 22. James Foster raises this point with the governor of Arizona in a letter dated May 27. In this letter James also questions how Will could have wielded a gun to shoot the Mexican restaurant owner if he was blistering drunk, and raises numerous other questions about the incident. Here James basically blames the entire community around Helvetia for "covering up the facts" of his brother's murder.
No doubt that James and Bertram's suspicions were further inflamed by a letter from William Foster's business partner, J.L. Tremaine, on May 27, in which he states, "In regard to the statement that your brother Will had been drinking for two or three days, that is entirely wrong...." Tremaine writes that Will was only in Helvetia for "eleven or twelve hours all told" before he was killed. Then, rather shockingly, Tremaine relates an entirely new and completely different scenario surrounding the incident. His account reads, in part:
"In my opinion Scott knows all that transpired that night if there was any way to force him to tell it, but you can see by his evidence that he was so drunk that he could not remember (a most convenient memory that). It has been told among the Mexicans that Scott really was the cause of the trouble. They say, so I am told, that when Scott and Will went into the house Scott accused the Mexicans of stealing a bottle of whiskey and started for his gun. Niconor Riviera, who owns the house where the dance was in progress, took exception and grabbed at the gun and Will stopped him. The trouble was supposed to be all over when Riviera claimed he was cold and went into another part of the house and threw a blanket around himself and came back into the room. He had a knife in each hand concealed under the blanket and walked over to where Will was sitting on a bench and attacked him. Will shot twice in self defence. Scott was standing outside the door when the trouble came up the second time and stepped inside the door and fired two or three shots and then ran. He did not return for some time so the Mexicans claim but finally came back and took Will out side. He laid him down about 20 ft. from the door and that is when he called Childs and told him that Will was killed...."
This starkly different story did not seem to make a difference in solving the mystery of the circumstances surrounding William Foster's murder. The governor of Arizona referred the case to the Pima County district attorney, and that is where matters seem to end. In the last letter in the archive, however, dated May 26, 1913 in Denver, Bertram Foster relates overhearing a story in which Marshal Daniels greatly benefited from the sale of the same mining claims he had once owned with Will Foster. Bertram's letter ends with continued suspicion of Daniels' and Tremaine's complicity in the murder: "...the outcome, when taken with the other incidents leading up to and following his death at least leads one to the theory that his death might indeed have been the result of a plot."
The whole William Foster affair is a tale filled with characters right from central casting of a classic Hollywood western: the Yankee out west prospecting for gold killed by a Mexican restaurant owner and his own bad aim; his mysterious partner who claims he wasn't there to see any of the crime but lays the blame at the feet of another man; a local U.S. Marshal who claims a third ownership share of the victim's mining business, though the deceased never mentions the marshal in any of the five surviving letters he sent from Arizona; the brothers back East who don't trust or believe the western authorities about their brother's murder, and are receiving conflicting reports from everyone they correspond with; the governor of Arizona who largely stays out of the affair; and the undertaker who finally lays down the truth about the murder...or does he?
A fascinating Wild West archive detailing a case involving murder, mining, intrigue, and subterfuge. (Inventory #: WRCAM55332)