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Ambushed in the Cipriano Pass — The Murder of Peter Bernard Hodges
Published on Oct 13, 2017

How well do you know your Yuma history? Did you know that the Johnson Mortuary and elementary school were named after the same man who arrived here from Los Angeles back in 1898? How about the name Peter Hodges? A loving family man who lived around the turn of the century, he was a successful entrepreneur, miner and county treasurer and father. Well respected by everyone in town, it would be unimaginable that someone would do him harm; yet, such was the case on a warm summer day in June of 1909 when he was murdered in the Cipriano Pass of the Fortuna Mountains.

One of eleven children, Peter was born in Tucson, Arizona on September 18, 1869 to Francis Marion and Francisca Ferrá Hodges. Around the latter part of the late 1870s, his father moved the family to Yuma where he served as sheriff from 1880-1881. Unfortunately, the sudden death of his father on December 18, 1888 left the Hodges family without a patriarch. Luckily, however, there were more than enough family members, including Peter, who helped keep the family farm up and running.

  The Hodges' Family Home at 209 Orange Avenue in Yuma

In addition to his work on the family farm, Peter was also a miner. He ran the steam pump at the Laguna placer mine in April of 1891 and, in February of 1892, he was given a lease to the Arkansaw Mine located in the Castle Dome District. By May of 1894, he was appointed as the acting deputy sheriff and, a year later in 1895, he served as Yuma’s constable. That same year, the Hodge’s brothers opened the Yuma Meat Market located on Main Street where they offered fresh beef, mutton, pork and sausages.

Aside from his job at the market, the duties that came with being a constable kept Peter very busy. In November of 1895, he was sent a telegram from Indio, California informing him of a tramp who had stolen a gold watch. Notified to search all incoming Yuma trains, Peter caught the thief red-handed with the missing gold watch as well as two stolen gold rings.

In August of 1896, the brothers sold their meat market. Around that same time, Peter met a lovely young lady who lived in town. Her name was Agnes Virginia Polhamus. Petite and well refined, she had soft curls and beautiful brown eyes. They married on Wednesday evening December 23, 1896 and, after their nuptials, they set up housekeeping in a brick building located at the corner of First and Madison Avenue. Soon after, however, they moved just outside of town where Peter owned and operated a large cattle ranch. By June of 1897, Peter went back to work at his old Yuma Meat Market and, around 1898, he bought it back. He offered only the best cuts of meat fresh off his cattle ranch while fresh cheese and butter were always on hand in cold storage.

Hodges Meat Market

While Peter was busy with his market and cattle ranch, Agnes was busy being a mother to their first child named Hazel. Life was well and good; but, unfortunately, that December he sustained approximately $1,000 worth of damage in stock and fixtures after a swift moving fire that began in the Vienna Bakery nearly wiped out the entire Yuma business section. It took nearly eight months, but after rebuilding he moved his business back to the Gandolfo block in August of 1899 and resumed his business.

The turn of the century brought many changes. Peter and his brothers invested heavily in mining where they formed the Hodges Mining district located up the Colorado about 35 miles from Picacho. During those years his little family grew as well with the births of Isabel (Belle) in 1901 followed by Peter in 1902 and Agnes in 1904.

Peter Hodges sitting with Belle and Hazel

Around 1905 he was elected as county treasurer. Proficient in his job, he served the county for two years; however, an unfortunate situation in March of 1906 nearly marred his good name. A discrepancy of $1,000 appeared in the books. W.C. Foster Territorial Examiner approached Peter and told him to pay back the shortage from the coffer. Peter strongly protested and said that the missing money must have been an error in bookkeeping. Mr. Foster refused to budge and with no other option Peter mortgaged his home. Determined to find the discrepancy and clear his name as he believed the error was "... due to the oversight of some entry," he hired accountant R.H. Irwin to examine the books. The mistake was found and reported to Mr. Foster who returned Peter’s money.

Although a very busy man, Peter always found time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. A member of the Elks Minstrels, he and several others performed in April of 1906 to raise money for the earthquake victims in San Francisco, California. It was standing room only at the Southern Pacific Hotel on Monday and Tuesday night. Along with his role as Captain Cook in "Johnny Riley’s Party," Peter along with Jack Dunne, John Gandolfo Jr., and L.W Alexander sang "You’re the Flower of My Heart" and "Sweet Adaline." Everyone enjoyed themselves and, at the end of the evening, they raised a generous $350.00.

In 1907, Agnes had another baby named Edna and, in March of 1909, she found herself expecting once again. It was a joyful time as they would soon be adding two more feet to their ever-growing family. Three months after the happy announcement an acquaintance of Peter’s named Francisco Marquez talked him into heading out toward the Fortuna Mountains to look at a gold claim that he wanted Peter to buy from him. Peter agreed. So, on June 15, they headed out along with a friend named Manuel Arviso.

After making camp near Ligurta some 15 miles northeast of Fortuna, the trio spent several hours looking over the area. Finding nothing of value, Francisco then asked to borrow Peter’s Winchester rifle as he said he had seen two sheep earlier that day. He hiked up the pass and a short while later a shot echoed. Peeking from around the boulders he called to Peter for help. Peter hiked up the pass and, soon after, two shots in rapid succession followed. Appearing from the boulders, Francisco called to Manuel for help.

The dirt and rocks slid under his feet as Manuel began his ascent. Halfway up the pass, a fourth shot sounded. An excruciating pain dropped him to his knees. Shot across the breast, Manuel gripped his chest as he ran down the mountain calling Peter’s name the entire way. He ran to the wagon, grabbed a revolver and continued to call for Peter. Hearing no response, he took one of the horses and rode to Dome where he contacted Sheriff Walter Riley. They went back to Yuma and, along with Peter’s brother Albert, they formed a posse and headed out at first light the next morning. At the top of the pass Albert found Peter dead from a gunshot wound through the heart.

       A Young Peter Hodges

His funeral was one of the largest ever attended as family and friends mourned the loss of a "genial, warmhearted, whole-souled man, a respected citizen and a loving husband, father and brother."

Five days later Francisco was found in a cabin owned by Joe Balsz. He did not resist arrest as he was asleep at the time of the capture. He admitted to killing Peter in self-defense, giving an excuse that Peter and Manuel had "threatened to roll him down the mountain." At first, the motive was believed to be fraud against Peter for money advanced on the fake mining claim. The day after his murder, however, 16-year-old Barbara Hartley, the daughter of a woman who lived with Francisco, told officials that Francisco had attempted to "establish illicit relations with her."

Afraid for her life, Barbara had approached Peter and asked him to help her institute "legal action" against Francisco — a conversation held in Francisco’s presence. Because Spanish was always spoken between the two, Peter assumed Francisco did not understand. That assumption was an unfortunate mistake. Francisco understood just enough to give him a reason for murder.

On a Monday night at 8:15 p.m. on December 6, 1909, Agnes gave birth to Peter’s child — a baby boy named Isaac Polhamus Hodges. Although Issac or “Buster” (as he was affectionately known) never knew his father, he was a chip off the old block. An entrepreneur, much like his father, Buster owned Jenny’s Market in town along with several bowling alleys located in California. A man who put family before anything else, he left upon his death in 2007 a wife, two children, two stepchildren, 14 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and three great-great grandchildren. Peter would have been proud.

Article written by Karen Mazzeo. Gratitude for this article is extended to Terry Polhamus Mendoza.


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