Death and Faro

THE WINNING HAND

When  Yavapai County Sheriff George C. Ruffner walked into his Prescott, Arizona, office on the morning of January 4, 1903, he couldn’t help but smile. Ruffner spent the previous evening playing cards at the Palace Saloon and came away the winner of an unusual bet.

During a fast-moving game of FARO, Prescott undertaker Frank Nevins wagered his funeral home on a turn of the cards.

He lost.    Ruffner won.

“Just think, George,” said one of the other players, “if you have to shoot any outlaws that ride in here, you can also embalm, and bury ’em.”

“He has a good point,” said another man. “Sheriff, executioner, and undertaker, all rolled into one.”

 

Ruffner, born November 16, 1862, in Mason, Illinois, helped his father run the family farm during his younger years before leaving at age 16.

 



He traveled to Stillwater, Minnesota, where he found work as a teamster.

In 1880, Ruffner made his way to Prescott, Arizona Territory. 

After spending the next seven years working at a cattle ranch, Ruffner won an appointment as  deputy sheriff under J.R. Lowery.

He did such a good job, Ruffner decided to run for county sheriff and won in 1894 and 1896. He also won elections in 1904, 1906, 1922, 1926, 1928,1 930,and 1932.

 

After his second term, Ruffner focused his attention on business projects.

Among his priorities: to own the “finest horse in the territory,” a goal he fulfilled by finding a horse he named, Sure Shot.   

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Sure Shot

He also wanted to own the biggest livery stable in Prescott.

Ruffner fulfilled this particular goal when he built a 50-head stable that he called the “Horse Hotel.”

Most people admired his courage because. according to one account, he never wore a handgun while serving as sheriff.

 

Ruffner established himself as a cool and courageous enforcer of law and order, known to act his calmest in moments of danger.

A year after his last election, Ruffner died on July 23, 1933, in Prescott.

In 1958, he was named to the Hall of the Great Westerners in Oklahoma City.

Walt Coburn, an authority on western lore, once described Ruffner as “a typical example of what a truly genuine western sheriff was all about.”

Ironically, the funeral home Sheriff Ruffner won in that Faro game—now called the Ruffner Wakelin Funeral Home—still operates today as the oldest continuing business in Prescott.


Thanks to….

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                                                                     © Michelle Young 2012