Cochise County: DEVER, the Life and Death of America’s Sheriff–and Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Scalia comes later. DEVER, the Life and Death of America’s Sheriff, a Cochise County book of national importance, comes first. Coauthored by William R. Daniel and Larry Dempster, this volume is as absolutely gripping as anything I’ve read in all of my seventy-two years on the planet. Not even halfway through the book, I realize that trying to explain either the paperback book or the essence of Larry Dever himself would be like…like…okay, picture this. You have been assigned the task of explaining Founding Father and First President of the United States George Washington to a group of readers who have never heard of him.

No way am I up to a task like that, no way to do justice to the subject at hand. So I’ll try a different tack. Write in the present tense, as DEVER is presented by Daniel and Dempster, to keep a smooth flow between my text and included quotes. I’ve got over 50 of those marked; obviously, that list will have to be trimmed en route. And most importantly, I will not tell you about the DEVER book but about how the book impacts me. Yeah. Hopefully, that I can do.

First, though, let’s take a look back….

April, 2009. Pam and I arrive in southern Cochise County after my oil patch truck driving job in Colorado has been Obamified. We land on four acres of bare land, one mile from the Mexican border. We are neither naïve nor uninformed; we simply prefer to be off grid with as few neighbors as possible and we know we can survive the tsunami of illegal border crossers flooding the area. She is no stranger to the area, having raised her children fifteen miles up the road from our new homestead, though that was before she and I met in Tonopah, Nevada, in 1996.

We have no immediate plans to build; our cash on hand adds up to exactly $800. But we do own a battered 1984 model camp trailer, once occupied by her son, and he delivers it to the property we’ve cheerfully dubbed New Moon Ranch. Pam, disabled yet still feisty redhead that she is, sleeps in that. I office and take my meals there but sleep in an 8′ x 12′ steel Rent To Own storage shed. Each of us has a cat for company, and I’m always writing on the computer until the wee hours of the morning.

Initial efforts at seeking employment flame out due to my unwillingness to leave the redhead alone on the border after dark. Until I can catch a leprechaun and steal his pot of gold, there is plenty of time to explore the acreage. One thing I do is dig holes with a shovel. The first attempt uncovers an old shirt. We don’t know why it was buried there, but a multitude of tracks make one thing clear: We have plunked our butts down right smack dab in the middle of a northbound Chisholm Trail for illegal immigrants.

No big; we expected nothing less.

One afternoon, I take a stroll around what we call the “back forty”, covering a total of forty acres (including the twenty we will eventually own) between our dirt access street and John Ladd’s ranch fence. Along the way, I think, If it were me running north and my old route was suddenly blocked, where would I go now? Looping down near the Ladd fence, I scan the terrain, noting the various buildings and Paloma Trail, deciding, This way. Here, slide left here for the best traveling while keeping close to cover…. And I hit their new Chisholm Trail within minutes, dead center.

The hard clay soil is literally churned. This is not the passageway of a few stray Souls. Thousands of human feet have done this.

Their new route takes them right past our well head, roughly two hundred yards from our camp trailer and designed for a five parcel mini-development that will never happen, but screened by mesquite trees for most of the way. I backtrack the Exodus, finding the forty foot square “assembly point” where the border crossers gather after hustling over the border fence and across John Ladd’s land each night. Border Patrol agents sometimes rake the assembly point nicely, which lets them see on their next patrol what sort of activity has taken place in the interim.

Larry Dever is Cochise County’s Sheriff at the time. We hear nothing but good things about him, and when Larry and I meet at a political rally on the border in 2010, I recognize a kindred Soul immediately.

But that is still in the future. For now, we simply need to survive. By mid-August of 2009, we are still current on our bills and our vehicles are free and clear, but we haven’t just scraped the bottom of the barrel. We’ve melted the barrel down and sold it for scrap. I have no idea how we’re going to get through September. Then comes a miracle call from my sister in Montana. She had handled our father’s estate. Somebody from an oil company in Denver is looking for me, trying to track down the owner of mineral rights in North Dakota that I’d inherited from Dad. Worthless mineral rights. Always worthless. Dad couldn’t find a buyer at any price when he had them, and he tried. But the U.S. has figured out how to profitably pull oil out of shale, and suddenly those worthless mineral rights are worth something.

The resulting leases yield enough cash that we can eat again. Additionally, I tell Pam, “Looks to me like we have enough I can build us a house as long as I don’t get carried away with the design or materials and do every lick of the work myself.”

And so it is. On October 15, I begin construction of the Border Fort, “the earthbag house” as neighbors refer to it, center walls up to six feet of height with heavy applications of concrete stucco on the outside and a separate insulated 2″x4″ stud wall inside. Every feature is designed with defense in mind. The thick walls will stop ordinary small arms fire. Windows are small, just two feet square sliders, starting four feet off the ground. The roof is steel. Even the interior walls are strong, OSB strand board rather than sheetrock.

We do not take the border issue lightly.

Nor should we. From April 2009 through the summer of 2010, the flow of northbound illegals is unceasing. Only rarely do we see a quick flicker of a flashlight, but Pam’s ears put a bat’s sonar to shame. She can hear them. Sometimes even I can hear them.

And of course there are the tracks. Occasional bits of trash left behind, wood gathered for a warming fire (though thankfully not lit since our arrival), water jugs either abandoned or placed in advance. But mostly the tracks. I add my own to the mix often, checking on them.

Once, I explain the exact Chisholm Trail route to a Border Patrol agent who is on our land, following other tracks that belong to a neighbor who goes out for regular walks. I offer to walk him through the Chisholm Trail. He’s courteous, thanks me for the information, but I get no sense that he considers me, shall we say, a “reliable informant”. He does not take me up on the offer.

During those eighteen months, every one of those northbound trekkers cross our land without incident…except once. I roll out at 6:00 a.m. one morning in April of 2010 and join Pam in the trailer. BP choppers are coming in over our homesite almost low enough to clip the TV antenna. The action is focused on a clear area a few hundred yards southeast of us, just beyond the heaviest mesquite and bunchgrass growth.

Later that day, I go out to read the trail. Plenty of BP vehicles and boot tracks plus a couple of horse mounted officers. A group of 30 to 40 illegal immigrants has gotten caught out in daylight, presumably because they’d gotten a late start across the border fence. They scatter like quail, mostly following three forks that all go on past us on the east side, the usual direction but breaking entirely new trails. Two people, one man and either a child or a small woman, split in a different direction, pounding west to the old barbed wire fence. Instead of crossing the fence, they let it herd them, which takes them past the incomplete Border Fort building’s backside with an eighty foot margin.

We never know how many are caught and how many are not, but five years later, Pam will discover a Gen 1 night vision monocular that has been out in the weather a long time. We conclude that it was most likely dropped by the coyote leading the immigrants as a way to prevent his easy identification by arresting officers.

The unit is old and rusted in places, the scope itself destroyed, but when I clean the terminals and replace the batteries, the IR still lights up.

In May of 2010, we move into the Border Fort, breathing a sigh of relief. The building is far from complete, with dirt floors in everything but one bedroom, but it is a heck of a lot more secure than the tinny old camp trailer. My wife’s life is no longer at risk. I become active in the Palominas Tea Party and work to support selected Republican candidates as I can. This activism brings me in contact with Sheriff Larry Dever and/or his wife, Nancy, a fair number of times.

At one point, there is a Tribute to Sheriff Larry Dever event in Sierra Vista. I attend, snapping pictures, and write a post about the tribute. During the early stages of his 2012 campaign for reelection, I take photos during a speaking event in Benson and publish a post. When the memorial service open to the public is scheduled, I attend that too, and write that up as well. All three posts are reluctantly deleted when I leave the HubPages writing site and set up my own. Much later, I will find myself regretting that; Nancy Dever might well have appreciated copies of those pictures. But I have to let go. I can’t even look at a Larry Dever picture I’ve taken without getting my heart grabbed. Time to let go and let God.

And I do know something about needing to let go, having gone through six divorces before meeting Pam twenty years ago.

February 25, 2016. Pam does not get out much, so whenever I go to Sierra Vista, she tells me what she wants. “Go to Hastings”, she tells me. “I want a copy of Daddy’s Hands.” I will return home without the CD, mostly because I’ve long been mistaken. It’s not by Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton. Later in the evening, online research will clue me in: Holly Dunn recorded that.

But there are no coincidences. I am meant to walk into the bookstore. When I do, I stop in midstride, startled in a good way. There is a table, topped by copies of DEVER, the Life and Death of America’s Sheriff, and a hand scrawled notice about a book signing at 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. tomorrow. Stepping up to the table, I pick up a copy of the book. Check out the Table of Contents. Chapter 26 is titled Tampering. And I know instantly, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Sheriff was murdered; the crash was no accident.

The number 26 crashes around inside my skull. On August 26, 1989, I joined a sales organization in which I would earn more than two million dollars in the ensuing 20 years, obliterating my fear of success. Tampering is Chapter 26. Tomorrow is February 26.

Get the message much, cowboy?

It’s as clear to Pam as it is to me. She sends me off to the book signing on Saturday with her blessing. William R. Daniel is not there, but Nancy Dever is, and Larry Dempster. It does my heart good to see Nancy and to meet the others at the table.

Larry Dever and I probably had a few more things in common than we knew, one of those things being that we both married California girls. True, he got it right the first time and it took me seven tries, but still.

I visit for a while, buy the book, get it signed by all present, and also hand out a few promo copies of my own western fiction book, Tam the Tall Tale Teller, as “something a bit lighter”. DEVER rides in the passenger seat of my 1996 GMC pickup truck on the way home. I can’t wait to read it, but I’m nervous, knowing even before I crack the covers that doing justice to Larry in this post will be a daunting task.

The front cover of DEVER, showing blue in this photo because it was taken outside, under the blue Arizona sky.

The front cover of DEVER, showing blue in this photo because it was taken outside, under the blue Arizona sky.

Dever is humble, but charismatic. He is a man who combines wit, wisdom, and straight talk in a succinct manner. Dever once observed that Nancy Pelosi’s famous quote that she “would drain the swamp” was odd since she “was the Swamp Queen”.
____DEVER, p. 192

DEVER is a masterpiece. Daniel and Dempster have produced other “Larry Dever related” volumes, all of them fine pieces of journalism, but in The Life and Death of America’s Sheriff they are transported. Inspired. The final published result is more than a biography, more than “everything you need to know to understand the border crisis in America”, more than even the absolutely awesome love story that brought Larry and Nancy together to produce six stalwart sons of whom any parent could be proud. It is in fact, yes, a masterpiece, spiritually inspired and as powerful as nuclear fission.

Doubt me? Read it and see.

Before I forget, I’ll even tell you how to purchase a copy if you’re so inclined. If you have enough cash on hand for just one book and were thinking of buying Tam the Tall Tale Teller, don’t! Buy the Larry Dever story. My literary twiddling might entertain you briefly; the Daniel-Dempster work will permeate your bones.

Here’s a photo of Larry Dempster’s business card, complete with blue sky coloring courtesy of my camera.


As a young boy, Larry accompanies his Dad and brothers on hunting trips even before he can carry a gun. His father will shoot the quail, and the boys are his retrievers. According to Larry’s son Brad, “Grandma tells a story of a time when Larry was holding a wounded quail, saying, ‘poor little quail, why didn’t you fly so my daddy wouldn’t shoot you?'” Larry’s sympathy for quail changes as he becomes older.
____DEVER, p. 12

The consideration shown by a young Larry Dever for a wounded quail would later shine through in his everyday dealings with the citizens of Cochise County. After Larry’s death, my stepson and I happen to be chatting one evening about the loss of the Sheriff. “We lost a good one,” I say, and he agrees wholeheartedly, adding his bit to the conversation.

“Larry Dever stopped me once for speeding. But he never gave me a ticket. Just talked to me. Said he’d been there, done that, explained why I shouldn’t do it again, and let me go with a warning.”

On the other hand, there is no back down in the man when he knows he is in the right and something needs to be done. The book explains that in electrifying detail, leading the reader through the many steps along the way as Larry eventually finds himself on a collision course with the sorts of powerful people who don’t hesitate to assassinate people who cross them.

Not personally, of course. There are lackeys for that.

Not that it necessarily takes a whole lot of political power to terminate a life. When I was twenty years old, stationed at a U.S. Army base in Germany, I once got a letter from my mother explaining that my father’s uncle Claude had been found face down in the pine needles on his ranch in eastern Montana, a bullet through his back. The case was never solved. Uncle Claude was 60 years old, the same age Larry Dever was at his time of death.

Another example: I was in my teens when we heard about an incident in Dillon, Montana. A man had been killed in a bar for fifteen cents, an argument about money for a pay phone.

In Cochise County, Arizona, Sheriff Larry Dever has, by the summer of 2012, seriously irritated people who have a lot more expendable assets than a rifle cartridge or a few nickels for the phone. Finding out that they finally got him is no surprise to me…although I’m not sure of that until I walk into Hastings Bookstore on February 25, 2016.

What is a surprise comes a bit more than halfway through the book. I am reading a chapter that explains Sheriff Dever’s involvement in the defense of SB 1070 before the Supreme Court. Only now do I realize that it was Larry who wrote a powerful brief as a friend of the court, a brief that made all the difference…and that the recently dead Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was the one who understood Dever’s message immediately. SB 1070 was passed by the Arizona state legislature in 2010, giving law enforcement personnel the mandate to ask anybody they stopped for papers to prove their right to be in the United States if there was reason to believe the stoppee might not be entirely kosher.

Or words to that effect. I paraphrase. And then I flash back, remembering.

The Obama administration, through its attack dog, Attorney General Eric Holder, sues Arizona with intent to smash SB 1070 to smithereens. We borderlanders all understand the stakes and are relieved the core provision is upheld in the Supreme Court. What I do not consider at the time is the fact that two people in particular have pissed off the Obama administration royally by taking on the Emperor With No Clothes…and worst of all, winning.

Those two people are Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, both now dead…and not from natural causes.

Or so I believe instantly, the moment I read the following passage.

Sheriff Dever sits next to Senator John McCain in the Supreme Court chamber listening to the case–it is clear that Dever’s amicus brief has influenced the questioning by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia begins questioning the Solicitor General who is presenting the government’s case against the State of Arizona.

Justice Scalia focuses on the argument in the amicus brief that resulted from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s concern about upsetting foreign powers. Dever argues that “local law enforcement will be deprived of a vital tool by virtue of a flawed conclusion that states are wholly preempted from taking any action within the realm of immigration for fear that such steps might ruffle foreign feathers.”

Justice Scalia asks the Solicitor General, “Why should we care what you hear from the Mexican Consulate regarding SB 1070? Isn’t it appropriate for the State of Arizona to prefer the interests of its own citizens over those of the citizens of Mexico?” Sheriff Larry Dever leaves the Supreme Court feeling optimistic and hopeful–believing the system has worked.
____DEVER, pp. 160-161

There may never be any proof that Scalia’s death was not by natural causes, but I question you this: Who died first, unexpectedly? And, who would be the easier and safer target for an assassin (or team of assassins) to take out first, a rural county Sheriff who often travels remote roads alone or a Justice of the Supreme Court with a bodyguard?

Beyond that, I see yet another connection: Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Huh? Say what, Willis?

Seriously. Without the efforts of the late Cochise County Sheriff, our wide open and totally destructive southern border with Mexico would not have received major national media attention. Anyone who’s ever read The Art of the Deal knows that Donald Trump’s routine is to read a bunch of newspapers before starting the rest of his day. Thus, directly or indirectly, Larry Dever influences the future Presidential candidate.

When the wall is built–and with Donald Trump in charge, it will be–rancher John Ladd and many other borderlanders will, I suspect, gaze at it with love. The Wall will not only be the beginning of Making America Great Again; it will also be a massive monument and memorial to the man who turned the tide single handed before they got him.

At least, I know that my wife and I will always think of it as the Sheriff Larry Dever Memorial Wall.

In the meantime, please…read the book.