Thomas Edward Ketchum was a cowboy from San Saba County, Texas who became one of the notorious American outlaws. Because Tom Ketchum slightly resembled another American outlaw whose nickname was Black Jack and was once mistakenly identified as him, it became his nickname as well. Tom Ketchum was the last man in America to be executed for attempting to rob a train as after his execution, the Supreme Court ruled that in order to warrant an execution, there would have to be actual victims. What makes the Tom Ketchum’s execution different from other Wild West hangings is the fact that the executioner used rope that was too long for the weight of Black Jack resulting in decapitation of the convict.
Tom Ketchum’s Life of Crime
Born on October 31, 1863, Tom Ketchum left Texas in 1890 and moved to New Mexico. It is speculated that the reason for his move was an unspecified crime. Once settled in New Mexico, he was joined by his brother Sam Ketchum and a few others with whom he formed a gang. The gang was credited with the robbery of an Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway train in 1892.
The Black Jack gang used to hang out at the ranch of Herb Bassett whose daughters Josie and Ann Bassett were girlfriends to Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang members. After several murders and smaller robberies, Tom Ketchum joined the Hole in the Wall Gang, which was a hideout from where other gangs, including the Wild Bunch operated.
On July 11, 1899 Tom’s brother Sam joined a few Wild Bunch gang members to carry out the train robbery at Twin Mountain, New Mexico. Black Jack was not there. The gang was tracked by a posse headed by Sherriff Ed Farr of Huerfano County, Colorado and engaged them in Turkey Creek Canyon. Sam Ketchum and two others were seriously wounded in the shootout. Sam managed to escape but was later apprehended by Agent Reno who locked him up in the Santa Fe Territorial Prison where he died from the gunshot wounds.
A month later, on August 16, 1899, Tom Ketchum attempted to single-handedly rob the same train his brother attempted to rob when he was fatally wounded. Tom was unaware that his brother previously attempted to rob the same train at the same place so when the conductor Frank Harrington saw an outlaw approaching the train again, without hesitation, he grabbed a shotgun and fired at the horseman, hitting Tom Ketchum in the arm.
Tom Ketchum aka Black Jack Execution by Hanging
Tom Ketchum was found by a posse the day after being shot badly wounded still laying by the railway tracks. His right arm, which took the shotgun hit had to be amputated but that didn’t really matter because Black Jack faced a trail in Clayton, New Mexico Territory (New Mexico was not a state at the time yet) and was sentenced to death by hanging.
People who attended his execution said that Tom Ketchum ran up the gallows stairs and uttered his famous last words:
I’ll be in hell before you start breakfast, boys. Let her rip!
Good-bye. Please dig my grave very deep. All right; hurry up!
Miscalculation of the inexperienced executioner who used the rope too long for the weight of Tom Ketchum made for an extra gory spectacle after the trap door opened. The drop was too long, the kinetic energy too large resulting in an instant decapitation of Black Jack’s head. As his body dropped to the ground, the spectators were treated to a sight of blood spurting uncontrollably out of the headless neck. Some reports say the executioner allowed for a 7 foot drop, which was definitely too much for a man of 190 pounds.
After hanging turned decapitation execution was done, Tom Ketchum’s head was sewn back onto the body for the funeral. His grave, which gets a fair deal of admirers, can be found at Clayton Memorial Cemetery.
Gallery of pictures of American outlaw Tom Ketchum and his execution by beheading which resulted in his decapitation is below:
Tom Ketchum aka Black Jack at the Gallows, Seconds Before Execution
Famous Last Words by Tom Ketchum – I’ll Be in Hell Before You Start Breakfast, Boys! Let Her Rip!
Sepia-Tone Postcard Showing Tom Ketchum’s Decapitated Body with a Caption: Body of Black Jack After the Hanging Showing Head Snapped Off.
Putting the Noose Around the Neck of Texas Outlaw Tom Ketchum aka Black Jack
Photo of Tom Ketchum After Botched Hanging Decapitated His Head
Thomas Edward Ketchum – Famous American Outlaw
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