by Jeannette Reed
(As a researcher for the Phoenix Police Museum, I often find myself keeping a vigilant eye and ear out to learn more of our early police history. Much of the information is minute and sketchy at best, lacking substantial details and facts. But with a little luck and with a lot of time, I was able to compile information on yet another pioneer in our police history.)
If you look closely within the museum will find a group photo on display of Phoenix Police officers from the 1913 period. A closer examination reveals that one of the officers, H. C. McDonald, appears much older than the others. It is hard to miss this robust man with white hair and sporting a very pronounced handlebar mustache. This photo of H. C. McDonald had been on display in the museum for many years until one day when an exciting turn of events occurred.
On September 15, 2000, a young woman entered the museum and was drawn to the photo. There was excitement in her voice as she explained to me that she was the great-great grand daughter of H.C. McDonald. Although she would not recall many details of him, she assisted us in contacting her grandmother. Fortunately for us, the grandmother had saved numerous articles about H.C. McDonald. Finally, another colorful character in our history was coming to light.
H.C. McDonald or Hiram “Hi” C. McDonald was born in Texas in 1847. His family migrated to California by wagon train when he was just a baby. During the journey to California Indians had attacked the wagon train. His father was killed leaving him an orphan. When McDonald turned 19 years old he married his wife in Millerton, California. In 1875, H.C. and his wife migrated to Arizona. The wagon rolled across the Colorado River at Ehrenberg on June 1, 1875. A month and a half later they reached a little camp known as “Phoenix” and settled down. H.C. often commented that they crossed the desert and plains in a wagon just to reach the paradise.
H.C. McDonald choose to make his living as a lawman. This was especially dangerous since Arizona was a territory lacking law and order or any type of civilized conditions. It was a place where stagecoach robberies and train holdups were almost a daily occurrence.
McDonald first went to work as a guard for the Wells Fargo Company. They were looking for men who were fearless, knew the territory and were reliable. H.C. McDonald soon became “the young man who was the central figure who exterminated the robberies and fighting men. He had a never failing aim and became a terror to this human vermin as his reckless bravery.”
McDonald served as a Well Fargo guard for several years, then went on to be a Deputy Sheriff, Deputy U.S. Marshal and finally as a Phoenix Police Officer. Old timers agreed that in their estimation, “Hi” McDonald was “the bravest daredevil of them all.” There was one instance when the Sheriff and his deputy had more than just prisoners to control. All alone the young McDonald held the jail from an angry mob for over 24 hours. In the end however, the mob was successful and was able to take his prisoners and lynch them for two murders.
Later McDonald served as a captain for five years of the Five Points Police Station in 1916, setting many law enforcement records. The local residents referred to him as the “Mayor of Five Points”. Stories of McDonald’s adventures rang throughout the department. One such story was that of a large McDonald both in height and girth. His flowing silver hair was rumored to be a memento of one of his famous manhunts. It was said that three robbers had robbed the stagecoach and fled into the White Tank Mountains. The Sheriff and H.C. McDonald went immediately after them and captured them. Unfortunately upon their return they were disorientated in the terrain and became lost. They had wondered for three days without water in the desert mountains. The sheriff had become mad from the sun and lack of water, but McDonald was able to bring the three outlaws and sheriff to safety. The only ill effect of the trip was that McDonald’s once hair had now turned completely gray.
McDonald retired in early 1924. Chief Brisbois proudly declared on May 21, 1924 that “Hi” McDonald was “the oldest living police officer in Arizona”. Until his death on May 30, 1924, he had served as an officer in the Phoenix area nearly one half of a century, most of that time as a Phoenix Police officer. At the time of his death he had been married nearly 58 years.