History Features

The Outrageous Climax Jim

The notorious escapologist, rustler and rascal rode hard.

climax-jim-potrait_formal-dress

Climax Jim was the darling of the Arizona press during the late 1890s. He rose to fame thanks to the fertile imaginations of the old-timers who knew him and the newspaper reporters who embellished and enlivened the activities of this likable street-wise kid from the East Coast who had matured into a notorious escapologist, rustler and rascal. The outlaw’s suggestive sobriquet also made him something of a public curiosity.

His colorful confrontations with the law weren’t exactly the stuff of legends, but they kept readers thoroughly entertained.

His real name was Rufus Nephew, and, contrary to what some readers might be thinking, he picked up the nickname Climax Jim because his favorite chew was the popular Climax Chewing Tobacco.

His reputation for using a chaw resourcefully reached new heights after he was arrested for altering a check and trying to cash it. When his 1907 trial came up, the check was placed on a table in the courtroom as Exhibit A for the prosecution. During the trial, his lawyer got into a nose-to-nose argument with the prosecutor. Climax Jim, with a chaw of tobacco creating a round bulge in his cheek, ambled over to the table and stuffed the check into his mouth.

The judge finally restored order and directed the prosecutor to present Exhibit A. When the prosecutor reached for his primary evidence, it was nowhere to be found.  A few feet away, Climax Jim sat in his chair, chewing his cud with an air of innocence that would have done a choir boy proud.

The case was dismissed for lack of evidence. As he was leaving, Climax Jim, with all the aplomb of a muleskinner, spit Exhibit A into the judge’s personal spittoon.

On an earlier occasion, Climax Jim was indicted for stealing cows in Graham County in 1899. When that trial came up, the outlaw produced witnesses who swore the crime had been committed in Apache County. He was acquitted and immediately arrested in Apache County for stealing the same cattle. He produced witnesses who swore the crime had been committed in Graham County, and he was acquitted again.

Cattle rustling was actually how he first attracted the attention of the law. Climax Jim had been only 17 when he was arrested for the first time, in 1894, after he sold a dozen stolen steers to a slaughterhouse in Winslow.

Lawmen learned their first lesson that capturing him was a lot easier than keeping him in jail. That night, using a pocketknife, Climax Jim tunneled his way out of the adobe building and said “adios” to Winslow.

A few months later, on July 4, he celebrated the holiday by stealing a horse in Gila County. County Sheriff John “Rim Rock” Thompson caught up with him in Pleasant Valley and headed for Globe with his prisoner. They camped along the way, and Thompson chained his prisoner to a post. During the night, Climax Jim busted a link and fled on foot. After a long chase, he was captured a few miles south of Globe and hauled into jail.

A couple of months passed, and then he escaped again. He had used a spoon to dig through...

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