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3. Vagrant Years

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF



Among the pertinacious but unsubstantiated stories about Tom

Ketchum is the one in which he is said to have gone to Arizona and gambled away an inheritance of $1500. One form of this yarn would have it that Ketchum hailed from

New Jersey and came into the money upon the death of a relative there.1 Since this is palpably absurd the rest of the tale scarcely commands heed. What may have happened with the Ketchums is that Sam and Tom arrived at some sort of a settlement with Berry. But this is no better than a reasoned conjecture, and it would be vain to attempt to fit it into a chronological framework. All we know is that the definitive break between Berry and Tom occurred in 1889, four years after their departure from

San Saba County.

Probably, too, Sam and Tom spent most of that period in and around Tom Green

County, with one or two sorties into New Mexico and possibly as far afield as Arizona and Colorado. But the tale that they operated a so-called “ranch”—in reality, a thieves’ holdout—in Snake Valley, a tract of desert forty miles west of Milford, in southwestern Utah, during the late 1880s, can now be seen as a canard. A Sam

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2. “I Could Kill a Buzzard a-Flying”

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF




If the early direction of a life is resolved by the character-shap-

ing coalescence of ancestry, environment, and upbringing, its ultimate course must still depend upon choice, subject only to the random interference of mere chance. The actions of maturity are not ruled by the lottery of heredity and childhood. Somewhere a choice has to be made and, like all who reach their middle years, Sam and Tom Ketchum made theirs. A study of what is known of their formative influences furnishes some insight into the character of these men without explaining what it was that led them, in their prime years, to stake their lives on their six-shooters.

They came of old Anglo-American stock. The first of the line is believed to have been Edward Ketcham, from Cambridge, England, who brought his wife, the former

Mary Hall, and their four children to Ipswich, Massachusetts, circa 1630. It is definitely known that an Edward Ketchum, who was born in 1758 and lived in North Carolina, where he married Mary Reasor in 1791, was a direct ancestor of the outlaw brothers.

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17. Atkins Saddles the Ocean

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF

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at Chimney Wlls, Tom Capehart rode hard across country until he reached the WS ranch in western Socorro County.

At the horse camp, twenty miles from the ranch headquarters, he met Butch Cassidy, who was still in the employ of the WS. Red Weaver was also in the locality, having reappeared in Alma shortly after parting from Marshal Foraker.

For this phase of the story, we are entirely in the hands of William French, uncorroborated but uncontradicted. Since what he has to say is not inherently unlikely, we may reasonably accept it as true in outline.

French states that he left Cimarron to return to Alma several days after the

Turkey Canyon affray. Some three or four weeks afterwards—not quite French’s

“more than a month later”—Cassidy and Capehart came to him with the news that

“Mac” was a prisoner. Capehart gave French a quite extensive but purposely incomplete account of the capture, which the rancher related in his memoirs thirty years after hearing it. Whether errors in French’s version came from failings of memory, or from misunderstanding or misstatement on Capehart’s part, becomes unimportant once we have elected to believe that some such conversation did take place.

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1. Meet the Gang

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF



and ballad was fading in Tom

Ketchum’s own lifetime. He will never be one of those folklore villains whose violent and lawless ways have been burnished with an illusive romance. If he is remembered at all, it is mostly for the peculiar circumstances that attended the curtailment of his earthly career. Yet, as a man much noted in his day, who stood out above most others in his profession, he deserves more than passing mention. He and his companions were the boldest and deadliest outlaws ever to ride the Southwest.

Tom Ketchum and his older brother Sam were on the dodge in Texas, New

Mexico, and Arizona for less than four years, and their career in serious outlawry lasted only from the spring of 1897 to the summer of 1899. When it ended, the gang had notched up seven killings—five of them murders in cold blood—and seven train holdups, five of which yielded a dividend. Their story did not end with the death of

Sam and the capture of Tom, for their associates continued to ride, rob, and kill for several years more, usually in the company of some of the principal outlaws from the

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8. The Steins Pass Imbroglio

Jeffrey Burton University of North Texas Press PDF



A widely publicized statement by Tom Ketchum, in which Ed

Cullen’s surname was sometimes printed as “Bullin” or “Bullen,” gave rise to a belief in some quarters that he was Ed Bullion, a brother of Laura. This theory ought not to have reached the printed page. Recent research has shown that Laura Bullion’s only brother was named Daniel, and that he was living in Brewster County, Texas in 1900, more than two years after Ed Cullen’s premature demise, and in Lincoln County, New

Mexico, when he registered for military service in 1917.1

This much is known. Edwin H. Cullen’s parents, Theodore J. and Nancy Cullen, had been neighbors of Sam and Tom Ketchum in San Saba County, where Ed was born on December 4, 1872. By 1880, the family had moved to Bandera County, close to the farm on which Will and Frances Carver were living with their mother and stepfather. The Cullen household then comprised Theodore, (51); Nancy (36): James O.

(9): Edwin H. (6); Lucy (5): Nellie (4); and Callie (2).2

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