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4. Will, Laura, and Ben; The Course of True Love?

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF




Tom Green and the counties surrounding it were big range country in the 1890s. The 23-acre section (13,720 acre) pasture, with nearly two thousand cattle which the Ellis Brothers of Schleicher County sold to Godfrey Miller for $20,000, was a pocket-handkerchief size compared with some of the other spreads. John Loomis, whose ranch headquarters were eight miles west of Paint Rock,

Concho County, could offer to rent out “130,000 acres in a body,” and men like

Charles B. Metcalfe, of the XQZ, with enough of a home range near San Angelo to support several thousand head, could take up the lease. Loomis could also lease out the “pecan privilege”—the right to collect the product of every pecan tree in a twenty-seven mile belt alongside the Concho River.1

West of Loomis’s headquarters were the holdings of J. Willis Johnson. With his

Crows’ Nest and Door Key ranches, located respectively to the east and south of San

Angelo and embracing between them well over 100,000 acres, and with a variety of interests elsewhere, Johnson would become the county’s leading landowner before the end of the decade. Unlike some of his neighbors, he had come to Tom Green

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21. Off with His Head

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF

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Twenty months and a few days spanned Tom Ketchum’s arrest and his dispatch into the hereafter. The interval allowed him ample time for reflection, but he never yielded to repentance. He regretted nothing, except for being caught and failing to kill Harrington or Kirchgrabber. He felt sour towards his fellow train robbers Bronco Bill and Elzy Lay because they were merely serving out prison terms—yet he would declare that he would rather be hanged than die of old age in a cell.1

Now and then, news would come through of his former associates; first, the arrest of Bud Upshaw, then the surrender and disappearance of Dave Atkins, and finally, near the end of the time left to him, the deaths of Will Carver and Red Weaver.

In Tom Green County, about the first item on the criminal calendar for 1901 was a motion of the district attorney to dismiss a charge against Jose Ma Perez and Tom

Ketchum.2 No prior reference to this case has been found, nor any clue as to its nature, but its removal from the docket of a Texas court could have done nothing to lighten Ketchum’s predicament in New Mexico.

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6. Easy Money and Hard Riding

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF




Before he left Arizona late in 1896, Will Carver told Leonard

Alverson that he was going to put a monument over the grave of his wife and did not know what he would do afterwards.1 It would have chafed him that Viana’s parents had already marked her resting place with a stone from which his family name was conspicuously absent. Perhaps, therefore, he really intended to plant his own token of remembrance at the graveside, though nothing survives to show that he did it. He also intended to visit his mother and her family in Bandera County, and did.2

But Carver’s homeward journey was more than a sentimental one. Before he pulled out of the Chiricahuas, he struck a deal with Tom Ketchum. He would sit through the winter in Texas and wait for Tom to join him. When spring came they, with the help of one or two other fortune-hunters, would rob a train.

Through choice or circumstance, Sam Ketchum took no part in the episode that set the pattern for the remainder of all their lives. The two brothers left Arizona together in February 1897, but parted in southern New Mexico, where Sam remained for at least some of the spring and summer. Tom went on to his fateful meeting with

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23. Myth, Mistake, and Muddle

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF

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(I) One Dead Mexican

Among the drolleries beloved of “western” hacks whose tiresome penchant was to array historical personalities in the garb of fiction, is the story of how Tom Ketchum, keen to try out his new rifle, and bent on settling a wager with another of the gang as to which way a man would fall from his horse after being shot, wantonly picked off a Mexican who was riding some distance away.

This jolly little tale, with painstakingly “recreated” conversation, was first committed to cold print in Albert Thompson’s book They Were Open Range Days.1

Thompson says that the shooting took place in “the Big Hatchet Mountains, southwestern New Mexico,” and that Ketchum admitted it to Jerry Leahy.2

Is it not strange that Ketchum should choose as his confidant a man who felt fully at ease with the role of putting a rope around his neck? And must we accept the authority Thompson confers upon himself on the strength of statements he attributes to others? Thompson says that he first interviewed Ketchum through the good offices of his friend, Sheriff Salome Garcia, just before Tom went to trial.

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11. Separate Ways

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF

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On or about May 3, 1899, one of the three men was seen on the TX pastures, some thirty miles east of Roswell. His partners must have been close at hand for, barely a day later, three mounts were stolen from the nearby LFD horse camp, and the three Erie animals left in their place. Then, on May 6, the outlaws swapped the LFD horses for three from the—V (Bar V) ranch of the Cass Land and Cattle

Company, north of Roswell. W.G. Urton, manager and part owner of the company and a former employer of the Ketchums, was particularly incensed because the thieves had killed one of his horses: when caught, it broke away with the rope and the outlaw, in a fit of irrational fury, had shot the animal. Sheriff Fred Higgins and his deputy, Will Rainbolt, were reported to have trailed the thieves closely; but they were never close enough to be seen by them.1

This is the last occasion on which the three outlaws were together. Very soon afterwards Tom Ketchum was either thrown out or deserted by the others. His sullen moods, charged with sudden paroxysms of savage rage, had become intolerable to them; even to Sam, who knew him best. Will Carver and Sam Ketchum were outlaws and desperadoes; if either of them were pressed to the point where he felt he had to kill a man, he would kill him and suffer few qualms or none. But neither would kill upon impulse, and neither was inclined to destructive tantrums. Dave Atkins had quit the gang because he could take no more of Tom Ketchum’s brutal and quarrelsome nature. When Carver spoke to Axford some months afterwards, he explained his and Sam’s decision to “divide blankets” with Tom in the same terms.2

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