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21. Off with His Head

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF

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OFF WITH HIS HEAD

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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19. Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid . . . and Will Carver

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BUTCH CASSIDY, THE SUNDANCE

KID . . . AND WILL CARVER

alias Frank

Roberts, alias Frank Jones, with a future paved with fresh aliases a-plenty, but already nicknamed “the Sundance Kid,” had been a fugitive for ten years. His story, like that of most of his companions, could be told in three words: cowboy, pilferer, outlaw. He came West from Pennsylvania as a fifteen year old in 1882, and worked on various ranches, beginning with his uncle’s.1 In 1887 he pleaded guilty to horse theft and was sentenced to eighteen months at hard labor in the new Crook County Jail at

Sundance, in the northeast corner of Wyoming.2 Early in the summer of 1892, he may have been one of a hard riding trio who plundered five stage coaches in the

Mussel Shell country of central Montana within a period of fifteen days.3 On

November 29 of that year he took part in the train robbery at Malta, Montana, on the recently constructed Great Northern line, acquiring little loot and only a splash of short-lived notoriety.4

After staying out of trouble for almost five years he was arrested with Harvey

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13. Bullets in Turkey Creek Canyon

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BULLETS IN TURKEY

CREEK CANYON

Posses led by Sheriff Saturnino Pinard and Special

Officer Reno were in the saddle by mid-afternoon on the 12th. From the spot along the railroad right-of-way where the robbers had tethered their four horses, the posses followed the gang’s westerly line of retreat. For a while the trail was blotted out because “there had been sheep all over the country,” but when it reappeared it was still pointing “pretty due west.” The posses had followed it for more than fifteen miles when, at 6 p.m., a driving rain extinguished all sign and forced them to seek shelter.

Reno and the men with him passed the night in a ranch house.

There, or nearby, they learned that on Monday evening the gang had set up camp at Daugherty Spring. In the morning the officers inspected the campsite; then, having found “nothing of consequence,” they moved on towards Johnson Mesa, a further ten miles west.

The downpour that had washed out the robbers’ original trail now ensured that the softened ground would preserve the tracks they made on the morning after the rainfall. Farr and two other Colorado men—probably Reno and Titsworth—ran onto the tracks and were approaching Stockbridge’s camp when the trail vanished under a chaos of XL hoofmarks.

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22. Empty Saddles and Lonely Graves

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EMPTY SADDLES AND

LONELY GRAVES

It was far more a sign of social and economic transition than an argument for the deterrent effect of capital punishment that there was no really serious outbreak of outlawry in New Mexico after the execution of Tom Ketchum. An unforeseen result of the Territory’s anti-train robbery legislation was that its enforcement acted as a deterrent against its future use. Public unease at the harshness of the statute was magnified into disgust by the Clayton carnival of blood and bungle.

“Such acts perpetrated in the name of justice are sad commentaries upon Twentieth

Century Civilization,” lamented the Raton Range. “The more we observe the ways of men and dogs, the more respect we have for dogs.”

Whatever else he had done at other times, Ketchum was sent to the gibbet merely—to quote some of his own words—for “stopping an engine.” He had behaved recklessly and viciously in doing it, but decapitation was a grossly disproportionate penalty. The case, and the attendant publicity, was of no service to New Mexico’s campaign for Statehood.

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15. Dead to Rights

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DEAD TO RIGHTS

The removal of Thomas Edward Ketchum from

Union County, New Mexico, to the most easily accessible hospital—which happened to be in Colorado—did not spring spontaneously from the exercise of plain common sense.

Sheriff Pinard had understood that the southbound special from Trinidad would be at his disposal; he would put himself and his prisoner aboard, and the train would continue south to Clayton. But when the northbound freight reached Folsom, soon after the special from Trinidad, Webb and Reno pounced on the wounded desperado. They exhibited a piece of paper which gave them authority to take the prisoner to Trinidad for interrogation. It also stated that a deputy U.S. marshal was on his way from Albuquerque to take official charge of the outlaw (though, in the event, the marshal had decided to send himself). This order was signed by Jeremiah Leahy, district attorney of Colfax and Union counties, and Chief Justice Mills, in his capacity as justice of the Fourth Judicial District. Pinard, disgusted by the palaver, had then led several newly-arrived Colorado deputies across country in search of the bandit’s horses, dynamite, and presumed companions. Marshal Foraker was obliged to travel into Colorado to question a man who had been arrested in New Mexico. But at least the would-be train robber had been given the best chance to pull through and so become available for disposal by the courts.1

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