by Sheila Polk, Yavapai County Attorney
The day was June 9, 1969. The scene was a furious shootout on the Four Winds Ranch near Chino Valley. Dead were a lawman, 31-year-old Paul Edward Marston, and a notorious outlaw, 29-year-old Danny Lee Eckard.
Marston worked as an Arizona highway patrolman. When killed, he left behind his wife and two young children. Surviving the gunfight was Patrolman Ron Mayes, who today serves as an historian with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office.
Over the years, Yavapai County Sheriff Scott Mascher has heard Mayes retell the story of that fateful afternoon. It is a true-life story of honor, dedication to duty, and sacrifice of self for others. It is also a story that has motivated Mascher to advocate for a proper memorial for the fallen officers who gave their lives to protect the residents of Yavapai County.
“Every single morning,” says Mascher, “law enforcement officers across this county don their uniforms, prepared to walk toward danger to keep our public safe. Let us never forget those officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.”
Marston is one of 18 officers whose lives will be remembered on the Fallen Officers Memorial. His killer, Danny Lee Eckard, was a rapist, an escaped convict, a former Marine, and a man skilled in desert survival. Eckard twice escaped from state prison in less than a year.
On May 24, 1969, Eckard again escaped, this time scaling a 12-foot fence around an athletic yard at the Florence prison. With Eckard on the run for 17 days, the state was on high alert. In early June, Eckard was nearly caught in Phoenix by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Velasquez. Instead, Eckard handcuffed the deputy to his patrol car, stole his .357 magnum service revolver and escaped once again.
Witnesses next put Eckard in Groom Creek. There, he tied up Pat and Dennis Hill in their cabin and stole their pickup truck. Pat was able to escape her ties; she called authorities to report her belief the man who had captured them was Eckard. Soon, a truck matching the description of the Hills’ stolen pickup was spotted heading north on Highway 89 to Chino Valley.
Marston, with Mayes in the passenger seat, pursued Eckard east on Perkinsville Road. Arriving at the Four Winds Ranch, Eckard jumped from his vehicle and ran inside a barn. Marston leaped from his vehicle to give chase and was immediately shot in the hip by Eckard.
Seconds later, using a horse as his shield, Eckard emerged from the barn, firing the .357 in one hand and a .45 caliber pistol in the other, shooting Marston in the chest and killing him. Eckard then grabbed Marston’s shotgun and fired and wounded Arizona Game and Fish Officer Harley Shaw, who had taken cover next to a Four Winds Ranch pickup truck. Eckard next turned his gun on Sheriff’s Lt. Jack Findlay, who had begun to approach, wounding him as well.
Mayes, meanwhile, crouched down between the driver’s side door and his vehicle and fired four shots with his service revolver. Eckard, just a few feet away, took aim at Mayes with the shotgun, pulled the trigger — but nothing happened. The gun was empty. Mayes fired again, this time killing Eckard with a shot to the head.
Fallen Officers Memorial — ‘Lest We Forget’
The memorial has been designed by renowned Western bronze artist and Prescott resident Bill Nebeker. It features an officer of the territorial era with hat in hand, looking down in honor at an empty pair of boots signifying the deceased officers. All law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in Yavapai County will have their names engraved on a plaque next to the empty boots. The base of the memorial will bear the words: Lest We Forget.
Those wishing to contribute to the Fallen Officers Memorial Fund can visit the Gofundme website https://gf.me/u/x4wifg. Alternatively, checks may be made out to the Law Enforcement Memorial Fund and mailed to the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office, 255 E. Gurley St., Prescott, Arizona 86301.
As expected, one of the many volunteers you will find working hard to make this dream a reality is Ron Mayes in, perhaps, his final salute to his friend and partner Paul Marston.