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Black Jack Confesses That Innocent Men Suffer. Train Robber Writes Letter to President McKinley.

Oakland Tribune / April 26, 1901

CLAYTON, N.M. April 26 — Thos. E. Ketchum, alias “Black Jack,” the train robber, was hanged at 1:21 today. The rope broke but his head was jerked off.

The execution took place inside a stockade built for the purpose. The inclosure was crowded, 150 spectators having been admitted.

When Ketchum mounted the platform at 1:17 his face was very pale, but his eyes swept over the crowd boldly, as if he had no fear. A priest stood by his side as the rope was put around his neck. The condemned man had consented to this at the last moment.


Ketchum declined to make a speech before the noose was put around his neck. He merely muttered “Good-bye,” then said, “Please dig my grave very deep,” and finally, “All right, hurry up.” His legs trembled but he kept his nerve.

When the body dropped through the trap the half-inch rope severed the head as cleanly as if a knife had cut it. The body pitched forward with blood spurting from the headless trunk. The head remained in the black sack and flew down into the pit.


Some men groaned and others turned away, unable to endure the sight. For a few seconds the body was allowed to lie there half-doubled up on its right side, with the blood issuing in an intermittent stream from the severed neck as the heart kept on with its mechanical beating. Then with cries of consternation the officers rushed down from the scaffold and lifted the body from the ground. It was only then apparent exactly what happened.

The drop of the body was seven feet and the noose was made so it slipped easily. Ketchum was a heavy man, and the weight of the body, with the easy-running noose, caused the rope to cut the head cleanly off. Dr. Slack pronounced life extinct a little over five minutes from the time the body dropped through the trap. It is stated too much of a drop was given for so heavy a man. Sheriff Salome Garcia superintended the execution and himself let the trap drop.


DENVER, Col.. April 26. — A special to the Denver Post from Clayton, N.M., says Thomas E. Ketchum, who was hanged there today, mailed the following letter to President McKinley this morning.

Clayton, N.M., April 26, 1901.

To His Excellency, the President of the United States, Washington, D.C. — Sir: Being now at the town of Clayton, N.M., awaiting my execution, which is set for this day, and realizing the importance to the liberty of other men, and the duty which I conceive to be incumbent upon myself, standing in the presence of death, where no human aid can reach me, I desire to communicate to you by means of this letter, some facts which I deem would be of interest to people through their President and perhaps be the means of liberating innocent men.

There are now in the Santa Fe penitentiary serving sentences for robbery of the United States mail at Stein’s Pass, Ariz., in 1897, viz: Leonard Albertson. Waller Huffman and Bill Waterman, and they are innocent of the crime as an unborn babe. The names of the men who committed the crime are Dave Atkins, Ed Fullin, Will Carver, Sam Ketchum, Broncho Bill and myself. I have given to my attorney in Clayton means by which articles taken in said robbery may be found where we hid them, and also the names of witnesses who live in that vicinity who will testify that myself and gang wore In that neighborhood both immediately before and after the robbery. The fact that these men are innocent and suffering impels me to make this confession. While you cannot help me, and while I realize that all efforts to secure to me a commutation of my sentence have signally failed, I wish to do this much in the interest of these innocent men, who, so far as I know, never committed a crime in their lives. I make this statement, fully realizing that my end is fast approaching and that I must very soon meet my Maker.

Very respectfully, your servant,


Thomas E. Ketchum, alias “Black Jack,” was the most noted desperado of the Southwest. Although he was credited with having taken the lives of some of his fellow beings, he finally paid the forfeit with his own life for an attempted train robbery in which nobody was killed.

The crime was committed near Folsom, N M., August 16, 1899. Single-handed, “Black Jack” held up a Colorado and Southern passenger train. He ordered the engineer and fireman to uncouple the engine and leave the train. The conductor and mail agent opened fire on him, which he promptly returned. He received the contents of a double-barrelled shotgun in his right arm, but quickly changing the rifle to his left shoulder, he succeeded in wounding both conductor and mail agent. He then escaped in the darkness, but was captured next day. He was tried for assault upon a United States mail agent and sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary. Then in September, 1900, he was tried on the more serious charge of assault upon a railroad train with intent to commit a felony. He was also convicted on this charge and was sentenced to be hanged in November last.


The execution was stayed until March by an appeal to the Territorial Supreme Court, which affirmed the finding of the lower court, and in March a reprieve was granted until April 26th.

“Black Jack” was said to have been the leader of a band of outlaws who committed many train robberies and other raids in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. This band has been scattered since his arrest.

Seven or eight have been killed, three are in jail and the others have been driven into the mountains.


CLAYTON, N.M., April 26. — Twenty armed deputies were on guard at the jail here in anticipation of an attempt to rescue Thomas E. Ketchum, the train robber under sentence to be hanged today, but if any friends of the bandit were here they made no demonstration. Hundreds of armed men, many of them cowboys from the surrounding country, thronged the streets today.

Ketchum received the ministrations of a priest this morning. He ate a hearty breakfast, took a bath and said he was ready to die at any hour. At 11:30 a.m. he called for music. A violin and guitar were sent for. Ketchum talked for over an hour with visitors today, cooler than any who met him. He declared death preferable to imprisonment. Ketchum told of robberies in which he was concerned, but declared he had never killed a man and only shot three. He said that he was not “Black Jack” and that that bandit still lived. Ketchum refused to give the names of friends still at liberty.

Besides giving a full account of the Stein’s Pass robbery, exonerating the men who were convicted of that crime, Ketchum said that Bud Upshaw was innocent of the murder of A.P. Powers in Texas, of which he is accused. This killing, Ketchum said, was the result of a conspiracy to which he was a party.



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