Friday, January 31, 2014

Walter Darling - Colonel, Bartender, Race Horse Owner, Man of the Wild West

St. Johns Herald Newspaper
4 June 1885
As I have been researching old Apache County Newspapers I kept seeing advertisements for the "Monarch Saloon" in St. Johns.  Over the years it changed hands several times - but the name that kept jumping out at me was one Walter Darling.  Once again a name that I had not really heard about in any of the regular 'pioneer' stories of St. Johns.  So I set off on another adventure and the hunt was on - I HAD to find out who this Walter Darling fellow was!

 With just the information I have been able to find it appears that Walter Darling lived in St. Johns and was the proprietor of the Monarch Saloon during the decade of the 1880s.  I have not yet discovered when he first came to St. Johns, but know that he left in the early 1890s.

He seemed to be well-liked and respected (except by a certain Barry Matthews - we'll get to that in a moment) and was involved in many aspects of the community such as participating in Democratic Conventions, feeding and sometimes housing Apache County Prisoners, and more.  He and Dr. Dalby were several times mentioned on forays together indicating that they were somewhat friends.

St. Johns Herald
10 September 1885

"The Monarch saloon has all at once become animated by crowds of people from all parts of the territory.  Darling has provided for the town every sort of amusement, all sorts of eatables and drinkables, every kind of game known in the west from wild turkeys, John Donkey rabbits, stud-horse poker, sage hens from Nevada, monte, little draw, wild pigeons from Stover's preserves, billards in every variety, antelope, grizzly and cinnamon bear to chuck-a-luck, and if you don't see what you want call for it.  This is Darling's lay-out for the festival season."

 I am assuming that "John Donkey rabbits" are jack rabbits - however I have not been able to find out for sure.  This above snippet from 1885 sounds like Walter Darling was providing an amazing array of entertainment and feasting in his little saloon in St. Johns, Arizona Territory.

In1885 he almost suffered a tragic loss as well:
St Johns Herald
11 November 1885

"The Monarch Saloon of Walter Darling narrowly escaped destruction by fire on Tuesday morning.  A bundle of straw in the second story, became ignited from the stove-pipe and threatened a serious conflagration.  It was finally extinguished without further damage than a thorough drenching of the building."

However 1885 also held some fun for Darling and St. Johns residents who enjoyed horse races.  July 1885 - Horse Race between Darling's mare "Kate" and Tomas Perez's mare "Dolly".  (Tomas Perez later served as one of Apache County's Sheriffs.)

St. Johns Herald Newspaper
23 July 1885

St. Johns Herald
30 July 1885

And the results: 

"About five hundred people were at the race track Sunday afternoon to witness the running race between Walter Darling's mare, Kate, and Thos. Perez's Dolly.  The race was a 250 yards dash for a purse of $500, Chas. Franklin and Roman Lopez acting as judges...Both horses exhibited speed beyond expectation, and done some fine running, and until within sixty yards of the wire it was difficult to determine which had the advantage, at this point, however, Kate rapidly drew away from her rival and came under the wire about three lengths in the lead.  About $2000 changed hands on the result, besides a large amount of stock."

The biggest drama for the Monarch and Darling ran from October of 1888 through July of 1889, during what appears an ongoing dispute between Walter Darling and a man named Barry Matthews.  Barry Matthews was one-time editor of the St. Johns Herald & it also appears by the following ad found in the newspaper that he was an Attorney:

St. Johns Herald Newspaper
30 June 1887

But from the articles on the several encounters between Matthews and Darling - it is quite apparent that while Darling was well-liked and respected by the townsfolk - Matthews was not, and was apparently doing everything he could to alienate the population and gain a reputation as a "bad man".  It didn't end well for him...

St. Johns Herald Newspaper
4 October 1888
The first encounter I found was in the October 1888 issue of the St. Johns Herald - transcribed here in its entirety:

"We were surprised and shocked to learn that Monday afternoon late, Barry Matthews had seriously, possibly fatally stabbed Walter Darling in front of the restaurant.  As we gathered it, Matthews sometime since, in payment of a long deferred board bill, had sold Darling among other things, a horse for $60.  Darling agreed to take the horse, allow Matthews to use him whenever he chose, and if within six months, he wished it, to see it back for $25.  Recently Matthews took the horse back at the latter price.  On Monday, Matthews being under the influence of liquor, was discussing the matter, and when Darling supposed the discussion over, Matthews called him a liar, stabbed him twice once in the arm and once between the ribs, before he awakened to the situation.  Matthews was arrested on charge of assault with intent to commit murder, and on giving bond in the sum of $1,000 was released.  His examination will be postponed to await the result of Darling's wounds.

Dr. Dalby thinks the cuts are very serious, but not necessarily fatal.  Walter Darling's hosts of friends, of all races and stations, will anxiously await the announcement that he is out of danger.  The situation may be summed up in the language of a common friend of both parties, and that is, 'no man can have a row with Walter Darling and not be in the wrong.'

Matthews, since his residence in St. Johns, has been engaged in several broils.  On one occasion he used his six-shooter as club on Sol Barth - on another he used the same weapon on Harry Silver, and quite recently he was dodging around corners, with Winchester in hand, with the avowed intention of cutting one of our townsmen in two.  It appears to be his ambition to get up a reputation as a 'bad man', and we think that in his endeavor to attain that distinction, he has put himself in a fair way to become a ward of the Territory, and change his place of residence to Yuma..

Since the above was in type we learn that Matthews' bond was placed at fifteen hundred dollars, and that not having given it he is in jail."

St. Johns Herald Newspaper
9 May 1889
Darling did recover from his injuries and it appears that Matthews didn't serve much time for the assault because another encounter occurred just a few short months later that resulted in Matthews' death.  Barry Matthews was once again in the Monarch (having drank to much, which seemed the norm for him) when Walter Darling entered the Saloon and the drunk Matthews started shooting at him.  Darling drew on him, firing back, three shots in rapid succession, each one hitting its target, and killing Matthews.

By July of 1889 the trial was over and Darling was acquitted of the crime (of murder) since he acted in self-defense.  Taken from the St. Johns Herald, 11 of July 1889 edition:

"No case probably in Apache county's judicial history has been more talked of than the indictment of Walter Darling for killing Barry Matthews...the case took one and a half days to try it.  The jury reached a verdict of acquittal on the second ballot, in about one-half hour after retiring...the conclusion generally reached, and often expressed [in the public mind] was, that while it was a misfortune that a man had been killed, yet , the chief source of regret was, that as good a man as Walter Darling should have had the unfortunate necessity forced upon him."

Darling enjoyed more success in St. Johns and took an extended trip back east.  However by 1891 he had sold the Monarch, moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and in 1892 it was reported he was opening a saloon in his new home town.

St. Johns Herald
21 July 1892

Monarch Saloon (pictured here when owned by Darling)
From the collection of Barbara Jaramillo as portrayed in the book
 "Images of America - St. Johns" - by Cameron Udall
Monarch Saloon (pictured here in the 1890s when owned by Jake Armijo)
Jake Armijo behind the counter & Capt. John T. Hogue at the counter.
From the collection of Barbara Jaramillo as portrayed in the book
 "Images of America - St. Johns" - by Cameron Udall
NOTE:  All newspapers articles quoted and included in this article were gleaned online through the Arizona Digital Newspaper Program - you should check it out! 


  1. Not a comment so much as a question put to anyone who might hazard an answer or opinion. It was my understanding that the Monarch had been purchased about 1890 by Juan R. Armijo. He later served as a Republican County Supervisor,County Recorder; later a homesteader and sheep rancher at Oak Creek Canyon along with his son Ambrosio Armijo. Post Civil War registres of homesteaders in the AZ territory list both a Jacob and a Juan Armijo. My father referred to Gabriel and Jacob Armijo as uncles-- in census of the times I see listed as Juan Armijo's brother's a Gabriel, an Ambrosio, but no Jacob. So Jacob might be a brother, a nephew, but Jacob and Juan cannot be one and the same. The two photos of Juan I have show a middle aged man and the other a man in his sixties. Jake or Jacob in the blogger's 1890's photo shows a young man, anyway younger than 47. It might be that the Monarch had been purchased by Juan Armijo as investment and the keeper was a male relative, or even an unrelated Armijo. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    richard r armijo

  2. Richard, I am really not sure of the answer - but I could possibly try to find out - there might be somebody I know who could answer this. I'll see what I can find out. Dolly