Train Robber - Black Jack
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Edward "Black Jack" Ketchum was born on October 31, 1863 in San Saba
County, Texas. His father, Green Berry Ketchum, Sr. died at the age of 48 when Tom
was only five years old. His mother, Temperance Katherine Wydick
Ketchum, suffered from blindness before she died when Thomas
was just ten. Both are buried at China Creek Cemetery in San Saba
County, Texas. Thomas
was the youngest of eight children -- six boys and two girls.
older brother, Green Berry Jr., became a wealthy and noted cowman and
horse breeder. Another older brother,
Samuel married and had two children, but left his wife when their son
was only three.
and Sam worked as
on ranches throughout west Texas and
northern and eastern
New Mexico. On
their many cattle drives, they quickly learned the territory as well as the
settlers and ranchers in the area.
In 1892, Tom (Black Jack), his
brother, Sam, and several other
outlaws learned that an
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was on route to Deming,
with a large payroll. The gang set up to rob the train just outside
Nutt, New Mexico,
a water station about 20 miles north of Deming.
The gang stopped the train, holding it
up at gunpoint, and made off with about $20,000. During the robbery,
the conductor had sneaked away, making his way to Nutt, where he
telegraphed for help. Soon, a posse from Lake Valley, 18 miles to the
north was on its way. However, by the time the posse arrived, the gang
was well hidden in their safe house, and Black Jack soon slipped into
$20,000 was never found.
On December 12, 1895, Tom and several
other men shot and killed John N. "Jap" Powers, a neighbor in Tom
Green County, Texas.
later admitted he took part in the murder, but claimed he was paid to
do it. After this episode, Tom and Samhigh-tailed it out of
back to New Mexico.
While in New Mexico,
Ketchum Gang were well known at many of the dances, social
in northeast New Mexico.
These well-mannered young men, riding good horses, flashing plenty of
money, and claiming to be
cowboys, would arrive at the local functions where the women were
enraptured by their manners. They were known to have frequented
several establishments in
Elizabethtown as well as
Cimarron, specifically Lambert's Inn (now the
St. James Hotel.) Not until later, when they were captured, did
townspeople learn these young men were actually members of Black Jack
Ketchum's outlaw gang.
After leaving Texas
in late 1895, the brothers worked at the Bell Ranch until sometime in
early June 1896, when they quit, stealing supplies from the ranch
before they left. On June 10th, they showed up at the small settlement
of Liberty, New Mexico,
north of present-day
During the night, they robbed a local
store and post office, which was operated by Levi and Morris Herstein.
The Ketchum brothers rode hard to the Pecos River after the robbery,
with Levi Herstein and several other men chasing after them. A gun
battle ensued at the Pecos River, leaving most of the posse dead. The
brothers then headed west to Arizona,
were they sometimes rode with
Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch.
Ketchum Gang felt confident in robbing trains in this specific area of
Folsom and Des Moines. The area was the point where the old
wagon road crossed the
and Southern Rail tracks near Twin Mountain.
Their habit was to stop the train and uncouple the mail and express
cars, which were then taken about a mile and a half down the track and
looted. On September 3, 1897 Black
Jack and his gang were back at it, robbing another train, making off
with about $20,000 in gold and $40,000 in silver. They escaped after
the robbery, hiding in a cave south of Folsom, New Mexico where they remained until the next day.
July 11, 1899, the gang struck again, this time without the help of Black
Jack. After camping at the head of Dry Canyon in northeast New Mexico, Sam
Bill Carver, and
Elza Lay, a.k.a. William McGinnis, made off with some $50,000 from the train in
Folsom, New Mexico. They were soon pursued by a posse to a hideout near
outlaws were better armed with high-powered rifles and smokeless
powder, while the posse had conventional black powder guns, the smoke of
which, gave away their positions.
Sam Ketchum and McGinnis were both wounded in the gun battle and
captured. The posse faired even worse, with two of its members,
including Sheriff Edward Farr, killed and another posse man injured. Sam
was taken into custody, but developed gangrene from his wound. On July 24, 1899 he died in the
penitentiary and was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery.
On August 16th,
Elza Lay was arrested and was later tried and convicted for the
murder of Ed Farr and sentenced to life in prison.
Carver escaped to ride with the
the meantime, Thomas
"Black Jack" Ketchum, unaware of the fate of his brother, Sam, made a final solitary attempt at train robbery on August 16,
1899. Waiting in a in a cave south of Folsom until after dark, he rode to the location where he
intended to rob the train. Boarding the train from the blind side of the
baggage car, he planned to force the train to stop, where he could
disconnect the mail and express cars from the rest of the train.
Black Jack's best-laid plans were doomed to fail eventually. He
crawled into the engine and drew his pistol on the engineer and fireman,
forcing them to stop the train. However, he had miscalculated the
stopping point, which was on a curve, leaving the train in a cramped
position where it was impossible to uncouple the cars.
Conductor Frank Harrington, whose train
was being held up for the third time, had finally had it. He took his
shotgun to the baggage car and carefully opened the door, pointing the
gun at Black Jack. However, Tom
was too quick for him and shot at the conductor, just barely missing
Harrington. Harrington also shot at about the same time, hitting
Black Jack in the right elbow,
almost severing the arm. Tom
fell backwards out of the train and down the bank. Harrington ordered
the engineer and fireman to get the train moving as fast as possible.
Resuming the run, the train stopped at
each station, reporting the would-be robbery and sending word for law
officers to look out for a badly wounded man near the scene of the
Ketchum later reported, "I tried a dozen times to mount my horse
but was too weak to do it." Weary and dizzy from the pain, he sat down
to wait for the posse. Early the next morning as the sun was coming
up, a freight train heading from Folsom passed by the robbery scene. A man was seen about 100 yards
from the train, waving his hat on the end of his gun, as a signal.
When the train was stopped and the conductor and brakeman approached,
drew a gun on them. The conductor said, "We just came
to help you but if this is the way you feel, we will go and leave
Black Jack responded, "No boys, I am all done, take me in." (In
other accounts, Sheriff Saturinino Pinard is credited with the
Black Jack was carried to the train, placed in the caboose and
taken into Folsom.
Black Jack stated that his name was George Stevens and that the
would-be robbery was his first attempt at a hold up and a mighty poor
one. He was taken on the first passenger train to Trinidad,
and placed in San Rafael Hospital, where his arm was amputated. When
he was able to travel, he was taken to
for safekeeping. Later, he was transferred to Clayton, New Mexico
for trial, where he pled innocent, but the judge found him guilty and
sentenced him to death by hanging.
The hanging was delayed several times
until lawmen heard rumors that the old gang was going to attempt to
free Tom. Therefore,
a decision was finally made and the hanging was scheduled on April 26,
1901 at 8:00 a.m. The hanging was a big attraction with stores closing
and saloons remaining open, doing a brisk business. People came from
all over the area to see the big event, where the local lawmen were
selling tickets to view the hanging, as well as little dolls of Tom
hanging on a stick.
Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum fixin' to get hanged. This is a copy of a postcard this
was actually sold after the hanging.
However, the town of Clayton had no experience in hanging a man and
there was a debate concerning the length of rope. The night before the
scheduled hanging, the rope was tested by attaching a 200-pound
sandbag to the noose and dropping it through the trap. Finally, at
1:13 p.m. Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum was taken to the scaffold. While they were
adjusting the hood, Ketchum stated, "Hurry up boys, get this over
with." Finally, Sheriff Garcia took two blows with a hatchet, cutting
the rope and Tom fell through the trap.
Unfortunately, the inexperienced hangmen had forgotten about the sandbag
they had used to test the rope and the weight of it caused the rope to be
as rigid as wire. When
Black Jack fell through the drop, he was immediately decapitated. The
black hood pinned to his shirt was the only thing that kept his head from
rolling away. A few minutes later the doctor pronounced him dead,
then sewed his head to his torso prior to the burial at the Clayton's Boothill at 2:30 P.M. In the 1930's his body was moved to the new
cemetery in Clayton, where it remains today.
Black Jack Ketchum was the only person ever hanged in Union County,
New Mexico. He was also the only person who suffered capital punishment for the
offence of "felonious assault upon a railway train" in the State of
New Mexico. Later, the law was found to be unconstitutional, but way too late for
Thomas Ketchum. According the annals of American Jurisprudence at the time, he was
the only criminal decapitated during a judicial hanging in the U.S. The only
other recorded example was in England in 1601. Later, the same thing
occurred at the hanging of
Dugan at the Pinal County, Arizona
prison in 1930.
© Kathy Weiser/Legends
of America, updated June, 2017.
about the Ghost of Black Jack Ketchum Next Page
Jack Ketchum After Hanging -- This is a copy of a
that was actually sold after the hanging. Before
clicking to see a bigger picture, beware, this
Click here to see a bigger picture.
and his gang often hid here in what is now called Black Jack
New Mexico. Photo submitted by Sheri Verrett
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From Legends' General Store
Lynchings, Hangings & Vigilante Groups - By
Owner/Editor of Legends of America
Execution by hanging was the most
popular legal and extralegal form of putting criminals to death in the
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It also made a good public spectacle, considered important during those
times, as viewers looked above them to the gallows or tree to watch the
punishment. Legal hangings, practiced by the early American colonists,
were readily accepted by the public as a proper form of punishment for
serious crimes like theft, rape, and murder. It was also readily practiced
for activities that are not considered crimes at all today, such as
witchcraft, sodomy and concealing a birth.
Autographed. 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.2 inches, paperback -- 78 pages. Published by
Roundabout Publications, 1st edition, January 2014.
Made in the USA.