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State Executions


Johnson To Hang

Murderer of John Fox Pays Penalty on Gallows – He Is Told to Prepare for Death and is on the Verge of Breaking Down

Trinidad, Sept. 13 – Word was received this morning from Sheriff Davis of Las Animas county, who is now at Canon City, that Joseph Johnson, the former deputy sheriff and body guard of Statesman Barela, will be hanged in the execution house of the state penitentiary at 8 o’clock tonight.

Johnson was told this morning to prepare for the end and at 7:45 o’clock tonight Warden Cleghorn will read the death warrant to him. Johnson is reported to be on the verge of nervous breakdown from fear. (Aspen Daily Times, September 14, 1905)

Wednesday night at 8:30 Joseph Johnson was quietly hanged in the penitentiary at Canon City, for the murder of John H. Fox of Trinidad on the 8th of August. The murder was a most atrocious and cowardly one. (Daily Journal (Telluride), September 15, 1905)


Galbraith Pays Penalty – Executed Monday Night for Murdering Wife and Son February 22, 1904 – Walked Bravely to Trap and was Perfectly Resigned to Death – Laid Downfall to Whisky – Canon City, Colo., March 6 – Azel Galbraith was executed at 8 o’clock tonight for the murder of his wife and son at Russell Gulch last year. He walked to the trap with a firm step and showed no fear of the fate he met. His neck was broken and death was practically instantaneous. Every provision of the law governing executions was observed and there was only the witnesses allowed by law.

Galbraith exhibited remarkable courage during the terrible ordeal he was called upon to face. His walk to the place of execution was firm and elastic, and he manifested but little concern, apparently having made up his mind to meet his fate bravely. He was given an opportunity to speak and he said that he had committed the crime for which he was about to pay the penalty and that strong drink caused his downfall. He warned others of its fearful consequences.

When he finished his hands were tied behind him, the black camp was adjusted, the rope placed about his neck and he stepped upon the trap, which, in a few seconds, launched him into eternity. The weight dropped about eight feet and the neck of the prisoner was broken, resulting practically in instant death. After a few minutes Dr. T. D. Palmer, he penitentiary physician, examined the body and pronounced that life was extinct. It was cut down and taken away to be prepared for burial.

The execution was witnessed by warden John Cleghorn; Thomas Cody, sheriff of Gilpin county; James L. Beaman, former sheriff of Pueblo county; A. Sandberg, sheriff of Clear Creek County; T. D. Palmer, penitentiary physician; Rev. Mr. Lucas, chaplain of the penitentiary; William Granger, deputy warden; Thos. Scott, yard master; Clarence Cleghorn, overseer; W. H. Peabody; W. H. Arnet, Capt., T. W. Connor and c. A. Lindquist of Denver and Dr. F. M. Cochems of Salida.

Condemned Man Welcomed Consolation of Religion

The fortitude shown by Galbraith was not inspired so much by bravado as by resignation to the punishment which he confessed he deserved. Rev.J. T. Thomas, pastor of the first Presbyterian church, spent the greater part of the afternoon in the cell offering him such spiritual consolation as was possible. Galbraith expressed repentance and said he was resigned to death, although he feared that his courage would fail him when the test came. He stated that he preferred death to life imprisonment and said he hoped the governor would not commute his sentence at the last moment.

Galbraith attributed his crime to whisky, and asked Dr. Thomas to point to him as an example of what strong drink would do. He repeatedly knelt upon the floor of his cell and in prayer asked forgiveness for his crimes.

Chaplain Lucas was with Galbraith also, and did everything he could to console the condemned man.

Galbraith was born at Mount Morrls, N. Y., and 34 years old. He leaves a brother in Salt Lake and two sisters, one in Fort Collins and one in Walden, Colorado. His parents are dead. Galbraith was received at the penitentiary July 3, 1904. He was reprieved three times.

Galbraith killed his wife and son, the latter nine years old, February 22, 1904. The crime was committed in the family home at Russell gulch, and he used a revolver, shooting them while they were in bed. He claimed that he intded to commit suicide at that time but his courage failed him. (Weekly Courier, March 8, 1905)


Abe Taylor Hanged

Emerson’s Murderer Pays the Penalty of His Crime on the Gallows – His Perfect Composure – Canon City, Dec. 13 – Abe Taylor, the murderer of City Marshal Emerson of Alamosa, was hanged at 7:40 this evening in the penitentiary. He went to his death with perfect composure. His neck was broken.

Taylor was a ranchman near Alamosa, and, with an with an accomplice, stole a load of oats from a neighbor and took them to town to sell. The marshal had been notified and arrested them. While the officer was working with the team, which balked, Taylor got a pistol and a duel began which resulted in the marshal’s death. Taylor was captured, tried and convicted of murder in the first degree. The supreme court reviewed the case twice, both times affirming the judgment of the lower court. Efforts to have the governor and the state board of pardons interfere were unavailing. Taylor seemed perfectly unconcerned about his fate. (Herald Democrat, December 14, 1895)

One Thing Lacking

Abe Taylor, probably told the truth when, before being hung at Canon City, he said he had no malice against Marshal Emerson and had no real intention of committing murder.

There are a great many men like Abe Taylor running loose. They are not murderers in heart, and have not killed anybody yet, but they have grown up with a mortal aversion to such a thing as discipline of the mind and soul. They are hardly to be seriously blamed, for much of the trend of our social life is in the same line of shunning or shirking discipline. And so, many a man of naturally excellent qualities, many a woman of good, disposition, goes to ruin when the sudden temptation overwhelms the undisciplined mind.

With numbers of men all about us who have for years trained themselves to practical hatred of those who oppose them, whose lifelong habit has been to “get even” and assert self, the wonder is that so many of them finally go down to a peaceful death without having been Abe Taylors. (Colorado Weekly Chieftain, December 19, 1895)


Near Midnight’s Hour

Thomas Lawton is Hanged According to The Laws of Colorado

Canon City, Col., May 6 – Thomas Lawton was legally hanged inside the penitentiary walls at 10:20 o’clock tonight, them being present only those persons allowed by the law. The time set of the execution was not generally known, as in compliance with the Colorado laws, the hanging was private. An hour or more delay was caused by Lawton breaking down completely and being unable to mount the scaffold. Time was granted him to gain his composure and then the hanging was proceeded with without any other demonstration.

The crime for which Lawton was executed was the killing of John Hemming, and the story of the crime is as follows: On the night of August 17, 1891, two men held up a car of the rapid transit railroad in Colorado Springs at the extreme north ? of the town. They first attacked Conductor Ward and Motorman Joh Hemming hurried to his assistance. When Hemming came up one of the robbers shot him and he died the next day. The robbers escaped and would probably still be at liberty had not one of them, a young ranchman named Alfred Russell confessed that he and Thomas Lawton had committed the holdup but that Lawton was the man that killed Hemming. For Russell’s part in the affair he was sentenced to life imprisonment and is now in the penitentiary where his partner in crime (Lawton) was hanged tonight. Lawton, which, by the way was an assumed name, was about 24 years of age and came from Missouri. The name of the town, however, he would not divulge. (Kansas City Times, Saturday, May 7, 1892)

The Execution of Lawton

Thomas Lawton was hanged at Canon City on the 6th for the murder of John Hemming, the Colorado Springs motorman, last summer. Lawton refused to tell what his true name is or where his parents are, and showed but little interest in the manner of his coming death until an hour or two before the time set. Then he weakened and begged for mercy. He declared, however, that he was not guilty. The only person that he seemed to think of was a young lady of Manitou to whom he seemed very much attached. (White Pine Cone, Friday, May 13, 1892)


Hanged at Canon

Noverto Griego Expiates His Crime Upon the Gallows in the State Penitentiary

Noverto Griego Hanged

Canon City, Nov. 8 – Just as the huge bell in the belfry of the state penitentiary tapped the hour of six tonight, the soul of one of the inmates of that institution, Noverto Griego, took its flight by the gallows route, and in a few minutes afterwards the legal record was completed that the first execution under the new law had taken place within the massive walls of the state bastille.

Griego’s crime was the murder of old man Underwood at Trinidad on June 4th for the purpose of robbery.

A few minutes before the hour set, Warden Lamping approached the dungeon door and directed Griego to prepare to meet his doom. The Mexican replied with a smile that he was ready. The heavy iron door swung back and he stepped out as calmly as nothing unusual was going to happen. His spiritual adviser, Father Depalma, followed close by his side encouraging him with words and assurance of a better future.

The condemned man stepped upon the scaffold and took his place under the noose. He was asked if he had anything to say and replied that he had no more than he had already said, only that he would die happy and believed he would go to heaven. He then spoke a few words to the priest and the warden after which they bade him goodbye.

Without further ceremony the black cap and noose were adjusted. The signal was given; the trigger was thrown; the 275 pound weight shot down and the manacled form of Greigo shot heavenward like a rocket. A few convulsions and all was over. In nine minutes the physicians pronounced him dead, and in 15 the body was cut down. It will be taken to Trinidad for burial by his wife, who is here. (Aspen Daily Times, November 9, 1890)


The Fate of James Joyce

Denver, Jan. 17 – A special from the penitentiary at Canon City describes a new and novel plan whereby James Joyce will tonight unconsciously commit suicide on the gallows, thereby relieving the warden from disagreeable necessity of participating in the execution. The problem has been effectually solved by means of a water gauge. This gauge consists of two buckets, one set above the other. When the cork is pulled out of the upper bucket it pours its contents into the lower bucket and raises a float which regulates a dial in the execution chamber. At the same time the water foaming out of the upper bucket, at the end of a specified time, releases a ball weighing 20 pounds which falls and pulls the trigger that lets the weight fall and jerks the victim in the air.

The machine is set in operation by a rod which connects with a platform standing in the center of the death chamber. When the prisoner comes in his hands are strapped behind him, he is asked to step upon the platform. As he does so the platform sinks a little and sets the terrible machine in the closet behind him at work. Suddenly, snaplora-hl the weight has fallen and the victim is dangling in the air with three feet and a half of vacancy beneath his feet. (Aspen Daily Times, January 18, 1891)


Pays the Penalty of His Crimes

Canon City, Sept. 22 – Davis will die tonight. The last hope of the condemned man is banished. All day long the stealthy bustle of preparation for the execution of the law’s decree has been going on. Among the prisoners the prison silence is more oppressive than usual. They knew that one of their number is to die. Outside the prison there is little excitement, and glances of morbid curiosity are cast at the grim walls by the passers by. But there will be few witnesses, and few know the exact hour of the execution. Hence but little active interest is manifested.

Davis will be hung by the same machine that was used so successfully in the case of Joyce last winter, and which has been fully described. By it a man virtually hangs himself. The ignominy of the hangman’s touch soils not the hands of the officials.

The death watch has been set on Davis. The man bears up well. He says little, and shows no signs of weakness. The condemned man slept well last night and those who know him do not believe that he will weaken on the scaffold.

The Crime

Denver, Sept. 22 – On the night of the 7th of last January, at Pueblo, Colorado, William H. Davis, shot and instantly killed his mother, Mrs. Carrie Armsby and James Arnold, a lodger in the house. Arnold was a white man, about 45 years of age and Mrs. Armsby, a light mulatto about 50. Arnold had made his home in the family for nearly 10 years and it is alleged by Davis had been unduly intimate with his mother during the most of that time, a condition of affairs which had often caused trouble between he and Arnold.

Another cause for bad blood between the two men was worth probably $30,000 acting under the advice of Arnold, who had obtained great influence over her, refused to furnish her son with any more money to spend in dissipation.

On the day previous to the murder, Davis, who had been drinking, went to his mother’s house and demanded that she give him some money. Arnold interfered and the demand was refused, and Davis left the house, vowing vengeance. Davis secured a shot gun and about midnight that night he went to the house occupied by his mother and demanded admittance. Arnold got up and opened the door, but on seeing the gun in Davis’ hands, refused to allow him to come in. Quick as a flash, Davis raised the gun and discharged it squarely in Arnold’s face. Arnold immediately slammed the door shut and bolted it, and staggered into the next room where he fell into a corner, dead.

Finding the door locked against him, Davis placed the muzzle of the gun against the lock and fired again. Mrs. Armsby, who had been aroused by the first shot was sitting up in bed, directly in range of the second shot, and was instantly killed, falling back in her original position in the bed. Davis was arrested a few minutes afterwards at his sister’s house.

At his trial he played the insanity and self defense dodges without success and was sentenced to be hanged between July 18th and 24th. A respite as granted in order that his case might be taken to the supreme court. Here a supersedeas was refused and the governor seeing no reasonable grounds for interfering Davis was executed at the hour mentioned above.

Davis Executed

Denver, Sept. 22 – W. H. Davis, who murdered his mother and her alleged paramour, James Arnold at Pueblo on January 7th, because they refused to give him money with which to continue his spree was executed in the prison yard at Canon City at 9 o’clock tonight. Everything worked to perfection, the condemned man’s neck being broken instantly and death was painless. Davis showed no fear and stood up bravely. A few tremors of his body and all was over. The doctors found him to be a pure blooded white man, not having a drop of negro blood as reported being only a foster child to the woman he killed. (Aspen Weekly Times, September 26, 1891)


The Execution of Van Horn

Forty miles from Denver, on yesterday, a man, who had for some time previously been confined in the jail at this place, was sent into eternity for the dreadful crime of murder. There had been no attempt to create a morbid sensation upon the subject by the city press, only the bare facts of the case had been given to the public, yet scarcely met a man, or fell into a little gathering, but the topic of conversation was in regard to the solemn event. And it was everywhere treated with solemnity. It is a dreadful thing for a man to go before his Maker in such a manner – for such a cause.

There was one man more sensibly affected by the event than others – Mr. Cavanaugh, the counsel of Van Horn, who has most thoroughly and completely identified himself with the prisoner – and as the hours rolled by, he would count them as days. It is no fault of his that Van Horn was convicted – not his fault that he was hung. The evidence was too clear, and he could not change it.

It is but just to Mr. Cavanaugh to say, that he still insists, that that infamous woman (Mrs. Squires) killed Copeland; though he does not pretend that Van Horn was ignorant of the deed. His reason for this belief he has promised to communicate to us, that we may give them to the public at a proper time. As well as the great public we are of course, quiet incredulous upon this point.

There has been no mistake made. The verdict expressed by the throng around the gallows yesterday was correct. There should have been two persons hang instead of one, and the other person was Mrs. Squires. She only escaped by turning State’s evidence. That Van Horn was her victim, however, no less than Copeland, is apparent to every person who has posted himself in the case.

The Execution of William S. Van Horn for the Murder of Josiah Copeland – Special Correspondence of the Commonwealth – Central City, 11 p.m. Dec. 17, 1863. The execution of Van Horn for the murder of Copeland in October last, has occasioned greater excitement interest and curiosity in Central City and I may say the whole Territory at large, than any other event of the kind that has ever transpired in this country. Van Horn arrived here this afternoon between 5 and 6 o’clock in custody of U. S. Marshal Hunt, who was accompanied by a strong guard of the First Cavalry. Great anxiety was manifested by the people to catch a glimpse of the man who had defied their laws and was now about to perish for his rashness. Few however, were gratified, he being taken directly to the jail. The prisoner seemed more calm on his way here, than he had been for several days previous to leaving Denver, and has evidently determined to die game. Perhaps, too, the objects around him have occupied his mind, as he is looking at them with mortal eyes for the Last Time! But who can imagine the terrible struggle which is going on within his breast, between the weaknesses of human nature and the strong desire to hide those weaknesses from human gaze, or the thoughts upon a thousand subjects which must crowd themselves upon the brain under such circumstances.

As the evening advances, whisky flows faster and faster, men try to keep pace with it with their tongues – the streets are crowded with loud talking people – and an occasional pistol shot, fired by some man whose brain is overheated with firewater, indicates that it is about time for your correspondent to retire.

There is no indication of any disturbance and a general feeling of satisfaction with the officers having Van Horn in charge. I have not heard of the least disposition to rescue him from the hands of the authorities, and every precaution is taken to prevent any interference with the orderly executions of the law. This is all the people want.

Yours C. M. F.

Friday – The Execution

Central City, Dec. 18, 1 p.m.

Friday morning opened cold – and dark overhanging clouds threatened a storm. The streets were filled at an early hour by throngs of people passing and repassing, who as they met a friend would stop to inquire for news, or, to ascertain the exact hour if possible that the execution would take place. Crowds surged like angry waves of the ocean – jostled one another at the street corners in the passages of saloons and at hotels. Hundreds gathered about the front of the jail where Van Horn was confined, vainly endeavoring to get a look at him. The day had more the appearance of a grand fair, jubilee, or carnival, than that of hanging a man for murder. By 10 o’clock all business was suspended, few paid any attention to dinner or even cared for it. At eleven the clarion notes of the military bugle called the guard to prepare for the great event. Not only did it call the guard, but other hundreds of people rushed to the place from whence the wretched man was to emerge. Eureka Gulch was perfectly blockaded by the throng. Tiplers hastily tossed off their dram, boys shouted, women in the neighborhood rushed to their doors or threw up their window sash – each and all eager to behold everything that transpired. A three-seated vehicle drawn by two large mules ornamented with musical bells, was driven before the door, and the prisoner having his shackles removed was brought forth. The military were dismounted and formed in two lines up and down the road under command of Lieut. Dickerson – The prisoner then took a place in the back seat of the wagon, between Sheriffs Cozzens and Wilson, the former of Gilpin, and the latter of Arapahoe County. The appearance of Van Horn was calm, but there were unmistakable signs of grief about his eyes. He was dressed in a suit of grey cloth, wore a black felt hat, cloth gaiters, much worn, and wrapped around his shoulders he had a pair of heavy blankets. He was almost mute, only requesting that he might be hung quickly. Many who had anticipated a speech or confession were disappointed.

Both the Sheriffs asked him several questions, among which had he any request to make, or any message for them to deliver. To but one of these questions he made reply, seemingly from a fear that if he began to talk he could not control himself. Once, and only once, he made a verbal answer and that was “I have only one favor to ask. That you drive quickly – let the business be well done – but don’t let me wait a minute. I want it done with.”

From the jail to the place of execution is about three fourths of a mile, the route passing the Express office, and down that street until some distance below the office of James E. Lyon & Co., then taking the Casey road for about one-third of a mile. The crowd followed quickly, keeping up with the sad procession of civil and military authorities, but with less clamor than is usual on such occasions. Not a word was said above the ordinary tone of conversations, neither was there any unusual or avoidable jostling.

The Scaffold was erected upon the hill, some two hundred and fifty yards east of the powder magazine, on the Casey road, and almost directly north of Mountain City. No less than two thousand persons were present, among whom were at least one hundred women. The crowd, considering its numbers and the occasion, was the most orderly and quiet I ever beheld. Few jocular expressions were used by them as is usual upon scenes of this kind, a fact quite creditable to the inhabitants of Gilpin county.

The gallows had been duly prepared, and everything was in readiness. No pains were spared to make the quick work which the law’s victim had desired. As soon as the wagon stopped, Van Horn got out, at a signal from one of the officers, went straight up the steps of the scaffold, placed his feet firmly together upon the drop – put his hands behind him in very anticipation of the orders from the executioners. Marshall Hunt tied his feet, Lt. Soule, fastened his hands, and Sheriff Cozens pulled the black cap over his face. All these things were don ein perfect concert, but cooly and without any flurry or bungling. – Marshal Hunt, then drew his hankerchief through his left hand, giving it flirt, and the person whose duty it was pulled a cord which let the drop fall, and Van Horn was swinging in mid air! The time occupied in the preliminaries was inerpdibly short. It was not sixty seconds from the time that he put his foot upon the first steps to ascend the scaffold, until he was hanging by the neck.

There was no confession of the horrid crime, of which not a soul present believed him innocent – not a word of warning to his fellow men – not a prayer offered by a priest – but an awful dispatch in the dreadful work, which seemed to impress the crowd more than any or all of these could have done. I have seen some five or six men hanged, but never witnessed such celerity before.

Upon the fall of the drop, Van Horn fell from three to four feet; the knot of the rope did not come as it out, just back of the ear, but caught under his left jaw. It must have been three minutes before the first convulsion occurred, when he drew up his feet and jerked violently, and these contortions occurred at intervals for over twelve minutes. At the end of eighteen minutes, there being no signs of life, he was taken down, and placed in a plain pine coffin stained black. Dr. Goryell, who had been called by Marshal Hunt, then examined the body, and declared life extinct, although the neck was not broken. Another physician in attendance also attested the fact. As. Lieut. Soule took the rope off the neck of the corpse, a noise proceeded from the mouth like a terrible groan, which started many of those present, not a little. The features had not the distorted look which is usually attendant upon violent deaths, and the discoloration was confined mostly to the lips and finger tips. His eyes were closed as naturally as if he only slept.

Before closing the coffin, four or five females, claiming to be friends of the dead man came to take a last look at him, but turned silently away without any evident intensity of grief. I did not learn who they were.

The coffin was then placed in a common lumber wagon, and taken to the point of the hill near the Powder Magazine, and was buried in a grave previously dug, about 100 yards from the spot where the murder was committed.

Business is business. Of course an enterprising disciple of Daguerre was present, and while the body was yet hanging, the Messrs. Collier of the Register, Sheriff Cozzens, and your correspondent were standing upon the scaffold, trying to make an estimate of the number of the crowd, he took a faithful picture of the scene.

I understand, that Rev. Mr. Vincent visited Van Horn in the jail but with what result, I am not at this writing informed. I expected of course that the wretched man would desire a prayer to be made as he was launched into eternity, but it seems that he was determined not to yield even a semblance of a confession.

There was but one expression o opinion sa to the guilt of the man; but the opinion appeared to be just as universal, that although he committed the act, that the principal witness Mrs. Squires, was as deeply guilty in a moral point of view as Van Horn and I am fully persuaded, that had she been within reach of the crowd, that, calm and orderly as it was it would have made her pay the same penalty without further ceremony.

Slowly the crowd dispersed by tomorrow morning this city will wag its usual way but it will be a long time before the impressive event of today will be effaced from the memories of those who witnessed it. I desire here to return thanks to Marshal Hunt for his kindness in affording me means and place to witness every ting; also to Capt. Dan Doyle, John P. Waddell of the express office, Mr. John Kinna, Lt. Soule and J. M. Johnson of Golden City of the almost indispensable favors I received at their hands. C. M. F. (The Daily Commonwealth, Saturday, December 19, 1863)

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