Upton County, Texas



Thomas Edward Ketchum was born October 31, 1863 in San Saba, Texas his life ended on April 26, 1901 in Clayton, New Mexico. Thomas was the youngest of eight children born to Greenbury Ketchum and Katherine Wydick. His oldest brother was a wealthy horse trader. Another brother Sam, joined up with Thomas to form the Ketchum Gang. On September 3, 1897, they committed their first robbery at Twin Mountain. Then, on July 11, 1899, the gang, without Black Jack, robbed the train again at Twin Mountain. After the robbery, Sam and several unknown gang members, in addition to Wild Bunch gang members Will Carver and William Ellsworth "Elza" Lay, headed for the mountains southwest of Raton, New Mexico Territory. The next day, a posse consisting of Sheriff Ed Farr of Huerfano County, Colorado, special Agent W.H. Reno of the Colorado & Southern Railroad, and five deputies found their trail and tracked them into Turkey Creek Canyon near Cimarron, New Mexico. There, the posse engaged them in a gun battle. Sam Ketchum and two deputies were wounded seriously, and the gang escaped. Sam Ketchum was captured in Springer, NM at the Lambert Ranch where he sought out medical attention for his shoulder wound he received in the gun battle. Sam Ketchum was taken to the Santa Fe Territorial Prison, where he died from his gunshot wounds. He was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery, now the Fairview Cemetery on Cerrillos Rd. in Santa Fe.

On August 16, 1899, Tom Ketchum, supposedly knowing nothing of the July 11 hold-up which ended in the death of his brother Sam, single-handedly attempted to rob the same train again at the same place and in the same way that he and Sam and others had robbed it just a few weeks earlier. The train conductor, Mr. Frank Harrington, saw Tom approaching the moving train. He recognized him, grabbed a shotgun, and shot Tom in the arm, knocking him off his horse. The train continued, and the next day a posse came out and found Tom beside the tracks, badly wounded. He was transported to medical facilities at Trinidad, Colorado and his right arm had to be amputated. He was nursed back to health and then sent to Clayton, New Mexico Territory, for trial.

At the trial, Ketchum was convicted and sentenced to death. He was the only person ever hanged in Union County, New Mexico Territory (now Union Co., NM). He was also the only person who suffered capital punishment for the offense of "felonious assault upon a railway train" in New Mexico Territory (which did not become a state until 1912). Later, the law was found to be unconstitutional.

Ketchum was executed by hanging in Clayton. The rope was too long, and Ketchum had gained a significant amount of weight during his time in jail. Additionally nobody in Clayton had any experience in conducting hangings. Hence Ketchum was decapitated when he dropped through the trap door.

His last words were: "I'll be in hell before you start breakfast, boys! Let her rip!"

A popular postcard was made showing the body. Afterwards his head was sewn back onto the body for viewing, and he was buried at the Clayton Boot Hill then in the 1930's moved to Clayton Cemetery. He tomb reads" AND HOW HIS AUDIT STANDS, WHO KNOWS SAVE HEAVEN"

Ketchum is said to have wrote a letter to the president telling of the false imprisonment of three men. He claimed responsibility for the crimes they were convicted of. He also warned that the conductor of the train, that shot him, Frank Harrington and the Wells Fargo attorney Lewis C Fort, would both be dead within the year. This however did not come true at least for the conductor.  Frank and his family moved from Colorado to Clarendon City, Donely County, Texas and then to Houston, Texas. Edgar Frank Harrington lived till April 29, 1946 and is buried in South Park Cemetery.

Ketchum Hanging - 1899

Source: Dallas Morning Newspaper, Wikipedia, Old west history book


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