Josephus Phy

Josephus Phy

Sedalia, Pettis County, Missouri, USA
Death 1 Jun 1888 (aged 44)
Florence, Pinal County, Arizona, USA
Burial Florence, Pinal County, Arizona, USA
Memorial ID 26629286 · View Source
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Parents: Aquilla Phy and Martha Ann Gentry

Spouse: Christina "Tiny" Cavaness m: October 04, 1876
Spouse:Jesusita Rabago m: September 16, 1882

View Online Arizona Death Certificate

Josephus was sworn in as a Deputy US Marshal on 4 Sep 1878 (see attached photograph)

Respected Lawman Josephus Phy was hired by the equally respected Sheriff Peter Gabriel to be his deputy in the town of Florence, Arizona. By 1888, politics and personality differences had produced animosity between the two that erupted in a gunfight at the Tunnel Saloon. Both men were critically wounded; Phy died while Gabriel survived. Told more often as legand than fact, the story does illustrate the wild and fierce climate of boomtown Florence (Courtesy Arizona Historical Society, No. 249)

This is one of the most famous gun battles in the history of Arizona: Story taken from

The enmity between the two had been brewing for more than two years, probably ever since Gabriel dismissed Phy for severely beating a suspect he had been sent to arrest. Gabriel reportedly also was angered by any attention Phy paid to Gabriel's young wife.

Gabriel and Phy met in Casa Grande one day, and harsh words led to a fistfight on the street. Gabriel arrested Phy and hauled him to jail in Florence, no doubt further humiliating Phy and adding to his thirst for revenge.

Gabriel left the office of sheriff at the end of his term in 1886. He spent much of his time at his mine in the Dripping Springs Mountains, only occasionally coming to town to buy supplies and conduct business, according to John Swearengin in his book of local history, Good Men Bad Men Law Men.

It was during such a trip to Florence that Phy waited for Gabriel outside the Tunnel Saloon. At about 8 p.m., Phy decided that he had waited long enough. He went inside and both men began to fire. The first exchange blew out the tavern's lights, but each man's bullets still found their mark.

Phy fell backward out the door onto the walkway. Gabriel then emerged from the front door, stepping over Phy. He continued walking down the street, trailing blood, until he fell in the street in front of the OK Livery Stable.

Phy had been hit at close range by three bullets from Gabriel's .45, and shortly after midnight, he was dead.

Gabriel had been hit by four bullets, including one that struck what was his only good lung. He refused the services of the local physician, Dr. Harvey, because Harvey had attended to Phy first.

Another doctor was fetched from the Sacaton Indian Agency but didn't arrive until 4 a.m. He told Gabriel he surely would be dead within 24 hours. But Gabriel recovered and lived 10 more years before dying at his mine.

Family Members



Farewell dear brother we mourn your loss

We shall sleep but not forever
There will be a glorious dawn
We shall meet to part no never
In the resurrected morn

The Lord is our Shepherd; Psalm 25:1


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  • Created by: Michael Malone
  • Added: 5 May 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 26629286
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Josephus Phy (22 May 1844–1 Jun 1888), Find A Grave Memorial no. 26629286, citing Florence Cemetery, Florence, Pinal County, Arizona, USA ; Maintained by Michael Malone (contributor 46811147) .