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The inappropriate picture

There, above and to the right of the packets of Sweet-n-Low and Equal and old-fashioned sugar, is a photograph of a man standing on the gallows, black hood covering his head, about to be hanged. A haunted house breakroom? No. Some creepy horror museum? No. How about the Dairy Queen in Clayton, New Mexico? Intrigued and disturbed by the framed photos (yes, there is more than one photo of the hanging) and the copy of a wanted poster for a man called Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum, once I had returned to my domicile I decided to do some research about this doomed man on the wall of the Dairy Queen.

The beginnings of a hanged man

Born October 31, 1863 in San Saba County, Texas, Thomas Edward Ketchum was the eighth and final child of Green Berry Ketchum, Sr. and Temperance Katherine Wydick Ketchum. Both of his parents passed away by the time Thomas was ten; his oldest brother, Green Berry Ketchum, Jr. took over his care. Tom's first recorded brush with the law was on March 17, 1880 when he was issued a summons for contempt of court for failure to appear as a witness. The next few years apparently passed quietly, with Tom working for his oldest brother on his ranch in Tom Green County Texas. Then in 1889 Tom was arrested for disturbing the peace - he chased a dog into a church while a service was in progress. Consequently, Green Jr. kicked Tom out of the house.

The first dead man

On December 12, 1895 Tom killed John N. "Jap" Powers, a rancher in Tom Green County. Apparently Powers ran up some gambling debts with one of Tom's older brothers - Samuel Wesley Ketchum - and got into disputes with the neighbors, which somehow culminated in a plot by Powers' wife and his ranch foreman to have Powers eliminated by Tom and his buddies. Powers died as a result of four gunshot wounds received as he entered a horse pasture. The brothers Ketchum and their buddies made a clean getaway.

The second and third dead men

Liberty, New Mexico was the site of the next major crime. Tom and Sam robbed the post office and general store in June of 1896; one of the owners of the store, Levi Herzstein, took offense, raised a posse and pursued the Ketchum boys. Unfortunately the posse was unsuccessful in its attempt to arrest the Ketchums. In fact, two members of the posse, Herzstein and Merejildo Gallegos, were shot and killed by the brothers during the pursuit.

The train robberies and more dead men

Tom, without his brother Sam but with the assistance of two others, Will Carver and Dave Atkins, robbed their first train in 1897 near Folsom, New Mexico. They blew up the safe on one of the train cars - reportedly it took three charges of dynamite to open - and managed to get away with approximately $30,000. Although pursued by Texas Rangers, sheriff's posses, and U.S. Marshals, the gang successfully evaded capture.

The same train was robbed again in July 1899 by members of Tom's gang, this time with Sam but without Tom, who was off in Arizona where he killed two men, Clint Wingfield and Mack Rogers. Both Tom and the train robbers were pursued by posses; Tom made it back to New Mexico, but the gang was mostly unsuccessful in evading capture. The resulting gun battle between the gang and the posse ended up with two posse members dead and two members of the Ketchum gang wounded and arrested - including Sam. Will Carver managed to escape and later joined the Wild Bunch gang. Two weeks after his capture, Sam died of gangrene from his bullet wound in Santa Fe Penitentiary.

Tom had no idea his brother was dead, and in early August of 1899 he decided to rob the same train his gang had robbed in July. This time, the conductor fought back when Tom boarded the train. Conductor Frank Harrington and Tom traded bullets - Tom's rifle shot grazed the conductor, but Harrington's shotgun blast nearly tore off Tom's right arm below the elbow. Tom jumped off the train and made it back to his horse, but was so badly wounded he was unable to ride away. He was captured the next morning by a freight train conductor who spotted Tom by the robbery area, stopped the train and apprehended him (Harrington had spread the word about the robbery attempt.) Tom was brought into Folsom where a doctor treated the wound; he was then shipped to the hospital in Trinidad, Colorado for further treatment - which consisted of amputating his arm.

Once Tom was deemed safe to travel, he was transferred to the prison in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he was kept until September 1900 when he was transferred to Clayton, New Mexico to be tried for "felonious assault upon a railway train." On September 11, 1900 Tom was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

The hanging

April 26, 1901 was Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum's last day on earth. This was a big day in Clayton - the local businesses (except the saloons) were closed, tickets were sold by the lawmen to people wanting to view the hanging, and people purchased souvenir dolls of Tom hanging from a stick. Unfortunately, this was the first (and only) hanging in Clayton and therefore the hangman was inexperienced.

Tom was led to the scaffold early that afternoon, got a black hood placed over his head and pinned to his shirt, had a noose placed around his neck, and at 1:13p.m. the local sheriff chopped the rope releasing the trap door under Tom. The trap opened, Tom fell through, and rather than being hanged he was decapitated, the hood pinned to shirt keeping his head from rolling away from his body. A few minutes later the town doctor declared Tom dead, sewed Tom's head back onto his body, and Tom was buried later that afternoon.


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