Born on August 2, 1859, Jim Roberts spent the early years of his life in Bevier, Macon County, Missouri. Despite being one of the last living cowboys from America’s Wild West, details about his family and upbringing remain a mystery to this day.
Jim Roberts made history when he headed West as a young man and settled in the untamed Arizona territory to raise horses. But what began as a quiet existence where no one knew his name, quickly turned into a life of violence where his name would bring fear to the toughest men. When an ordeal over a missing horse caused bad blood between him and the local Graham family, Jim joined forces with their enemies—the Tewksbury clan. The explosive feud between the Grahams and the Tewksburys led to the longest and deadliest range war in American history—The Pleasant Valley War. With his calm demeanor under pressure, unwavering grit, and eagle-eye shot, Jim rose to “Top Gun” among the Tewksbury family. When the violent war ended, Jim and the surviving Tewksbury gang members were thrown in jail for their crimes. But they didn’t stay there long, as no one would testify against them.
Jim took his newfound freedom as a fresh start. Turning away from the life of a gunslinger, he ventured to the other side of the law. In 1889, Sheriff “Bucky” O’Neil appointed him deputy of Congress, Arizona, giving him a second chance with the hope that he would use his bullseye shot to do good. While in Congress, Jim fell in love with Melia Kirkland, the daughter of a pioneer rancher. By 1891, the couple married, and relocated to Jerome, Arizona, to start their life together.
Jerome was an unruly, restless, copper-mining town riddled with chaos and crime. Jim’s high-regarded reputation followed him and in 1892, he became the constable. During the years he spent in Jerome, he brought order to the community and became a master at taming the West. Following his stint as Jerome’s constable, the family jumped from town-to-town, with Jim seeing that law and order prevailed—until the days of the Wild West were a thing of the past.
In 1927, Jim returned to the Pleasant Valley area to serve as constable of Clarkdale. Now, in his late sixties, he found himself in a new modern era. The once feared cowboy became known as “Uncle Jim,” and stories of his legendary escapades in the Old West seemed more like folklore than fact. Jim was not one to talk about his past, but the community soon got to see the master gunslinger in action for themselves when robbers from Oklahoma held up the local bank. As the criminals made their escape with $40,000 in tow—an amount exceeding any other robbery in history—Jim took a single shot at their getaway car, killing the driver.
On January 8, 1934, Jim suffered a heart attack and passed away while on the job. To the day he died, whenever questioned about his past or involvement in The Pleasant Valley War, he honored the code of silence and never spoke a word about it—even turning down a big Hollywood offer for his wild tales of the west.