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The Deadliest Outlaws

The Ketchum Gang and the Wild Bunch, Second Edition

Jeffrey Burton

Publication Year: 2009

After Tom Ketchum had been sentenced to death for attempting to hold up a railway train, his attorneys argued that the penalty was “cruel and unusual” for the offense charged. The appeal failed and he became the first individual—and the last—ever to be executed for a crime of this sort. He was hanged in 1901; in a macabre ending to his life of crime, his head was torn away by the rope as he fell from the gallows. Tom Ketchum was born in 1863 on a farm near the fringe of the Texas frontier. At the age of nine, he found himself an orphan and was raised by his older brothers. In his mid-twenties he left home for the life of an itinerant trail driver and ranch hand. He returned to Texas, murdered a man, and fled. Soon afterwards, he and his brother Sam killed two men in New Mexico. A year later, he and two other former cowboys robbed a train in Texas. The career of the Ketchum Gang was under way. In their day, these men were the most daring of their kind, and the most feared. They were accused of crimes that were not theirs, but their proven record is long and lurid. Their downfall was brought about by what one editor called “the magic of the telephone and telegraph,” by quarrels between themselves, and by their reckless defiance of ever-mounting odds. Jeffrey Burton has been researching the story of the Ketchum Gang and related outlaws for more than forty years. He has mined unpublished sources, family records, personal reminiscences, trial transcripts and other court papers, official correspondence and reports, census returns, and contemporary newspapers to sort fact from fiction and provide the definitive truth about Ketchum and numerous other outlaws, including Will Carver, Ben Kilpatrick, and Butch Cassidy.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Title Page

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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pp. ix-xiv

My first attempt at a narrative study of the life and criminal career of Thomas Edward Ketchum was published unobtrusively in Santa Fe at the end of1970. It was not a finished piece of historical writing; I was all too well aware of important source materials that existed only in the original and were inaccessible to someone who, at that time, had visited the United States only once and whose direct ...

Half Title

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pp. 1-2

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Chapter 1: Meet the Gang

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pp. 3-15

The oral tradition of fable and ballad was fading in Tom Ketchum’s own lifetime. He will never be one of those folklore villains whose violent and lawless ways have been burnished with an illusive romance. If he is remembered at all, it is mostly for the peculiar circumstances that attended the curtailment of his earthly career. Yet, as a man much noted in his day, who stood out above most others in his profession, he deserves more than passing mention. ...

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Chapter 2: “I Could Kill a Buzzard a-Flying”

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pp. 16-26

If the early direction of a life is resolved by the character-shaping coalescence of ancestry, environment, and upbringing, its ultimate course must still depend upon choice, subject only to the random interference of mere chance. The actions of maturity are not ruled by the lottery of heredity and childhood. Somewhere a choice has to be made and, like all who reach their middle years, Sam and Tom Ketchum made theirs. ...

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Chapter 3: Vagrant Years

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pp. 27-39

Among the pertinacious but unsubstantiated stories about Tom Ketchum is the one in which he is said to have gone to Arizona and gambled away an inheritance of $1500. One form of this yarn would have it that Ketchum hailed from New Jersey and came into the money upon the death of a relative there.1 Since this is palpably absurd the rest of the tale scarcely commands heed. What may have happened with the Ketchums is that Sam and Tom arrived at some sort of a settlement with Berry. ...

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Chapter 4: Will, Laura, and Ben; The Course of True Love?

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pp. 40-55

Tom Green and the counties surrounding it were big range country in the 1890s. The 23-acre section (13,720 acre) pasture, with nearly two thousand cattle which the Ellis Brothers of Schleicher County sold to Godfrey Miller for $20,000, was a pocket-handkerchief size compared with some of the other spreads. John Loomis, whose ranch headquarters were eight miles west of Paint Rock, Concho County, could offer to rent out “130,000 acres in a body,” ...

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Chapter 5: Three Murders and a Dead Ringer

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pp. 56-70

“John Wright gave me a brown horse to do what I did, and then he came over and took it from me. It was Wright’s intention to take Old Lady Powers and leave the country with her. That was his intention . . . Old Man Powers was killed . . . There were four or five implicated in it.”1 ...

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Chapter 6: Easy Money and Hard Riding

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pp. 71-89

Before he left Arizona late in 1896, Will Carver told Leonard Alverson that he was going to put a monument over the grave of his wife and did not know what he would do afterwards.1 It would have chafed him that Viana’s parents had already marked her resting place with a stone from which his family name was conspicuously absent. Perhaps, therefore, he really intended to plant his own token of remembrance at the graveside, ...

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Chapter 7: Crossed Trails

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pp. 90-101

According to Leonard Alverson, none of the Ketchum gang, except Will Carver, had visited Texas Canyon before the September of 1897, when Carver led the party thither following the Folsom robbery.1 Aside from the likelihood that they showed up early in October, rather than September, there is no cause to dispute this, even though Alverson, in general, may have understated his dealings with the outlaws. Tom and Sam had seen something of Cochise County during late 1896 and early 1897, ...

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Chapter 8: The Steins Pass Imbroglio

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pp. 102-109

A widely publicized statementby Tom Ketchum, in which Ed Cullen’s surname was sometimes printed as “Bullin” or “Bullen,” gave rise to a belief in some quarters that he was Ed Bullion, a brother of Laura. This theory ought not to have reached the printed page. Recent research has shown that Laura Bullion’s only brother was named Daniel, and that he was living in Brewster County, Texas in 1900, more than two years after Ed Cullen’s premature demise, and in Lincoln County, New Mexico, when he registered for military service in 1917.1 ...

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Chapter 9: Framed

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pp. 110-132

Besides John N. Thacker, a detective of national note and second only to Chief of Detectives Jim Hume in the hierarchy of Wells, Fargo’s force of investigators, the posse raised by Foraker, Griffith, and Wells, Fargo included nine men from Arizona and five from New Mexico. In the New Mexico squad were Cipriano Baca, Ben Williams, Tom McElroy, George Scarborough, and George’s son Edgar. The Arizona nine were Jeff Milton, his nephew Jim Gamble, ...

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Chapter 10: Dynamite and Six-shooter

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pp. 133-153

Though the Snaky Four took cover in Mexico after their discomfiture at Steins Pass, they did not remain there for long. The posse that had joined forces with the rurales to hunt them through northern Sonora and Chihuahua returned to the United States in mid-January. The Ketchum gang may not have been far behind them. For the last six or eight weeks of the winter they loitered in and around Cochise County. ...

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Chapter 11: Separate Ways

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pp. 154-161

On or about May 3, 1899, one of the three men was seen on the TX pastures, some thirty miles east of Roswell. His partners must have been close at hand for, barely a day later, three mounts were stolen from the nearby LFD horse camp, and the three Erie animals left in their place. Then, on May 6, the outlaws swapped the LFD horses for three from the—V (Bar V) ranch of the Cass Land and Cattle Company, north of Roswell. W.G. Urton, manager and part owner of the company and a former employer of the Ketchums, was particularly incensed because the thieves had killed one of his horses: ...

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Chapter 12: Another Incident at Twin Mountains

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pp. 162-168

By the end of the first week of July, 1899, Sam Ketchum and party were almost ready to leave Cimarron. On Friday, the seventh, Sam and Carver bought supplies at Jim Hunt’s store and stashed them away in Turkey Creek Canyon. Hunt, all eyes and ears, learned they had gone in the direction of Dean Canyon; in effect, the back door of their hideout. Lay and Weaver spent Friday night at Duran’s and whiled away Saturday ...

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Chapter 13: Bullets in Turkey Creek Canyon

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pp. 169-192

Posses led by Sheriff Saturnino Pinard and Special Officer Reno were in the saddle by mid-afternoon on the 12th. From the spot along the railroad right-of-way where the robbers had tethered their four horses, the posses followed the gang’s westerly line of retreat. For a while the trail was blotted out because “there had been sheep all over the country,” but when it reappeared it was still pointing “pretty due west.” ...

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Chapter 14: The Sixteenth of August

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pp. 193-211

Sam Ketchum would have little information for the law, despite the pressing efforts of his official invigilators. Although much weakened by pain and the loss of blood, he “rested easily” the following afternoon, complaining only that his swollen arm “seemed to weigh about three hundred pounds.” At one point he told Foraker that he was sure that “Bill McGinnis” was dead, “as his wound was dangerous and only his pluck kept him from dropping.”1 ...

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Chapter 15: Dead to Rights

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pp. 212-221

The removal of Thomas Edward Ketchum from Union County, New Mexico, to the most easily accessible hospital—which happened to be in Colorado—did not spring spontaneously from the exercise of plain common sense. ...

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Chapter 16: Points of Law

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pp. 222-244

District Attorney Leahy was assisted by Lewis C. Fort and Elisha V. Long in the preparation of the case against Lay for the murder of Edward Farr. Leahy and Fort were two of the ablest and most energetic prosecutors in the Territory. Moreover, they and Chief Justice Mills were of one mind: the mysterious prisoner was an outlaw, a pre-convicted train robber, and a salutary example was going to be made of him.1 ...

Map 5

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p. 245-245

Map 6

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p. 246-246

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Chapter 17: Atkins Saddles The Ocean

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pp. 247-255

After the capture of Elzy Lay at Chimney Wlls, Tom Capehart rode hard across country until he reached the WS ranch in western Socorro County. At the horse camp, twenty miles from the ranch headquarters, he met Butch Cassidy, who was still in the employ of the WS. Red Weaver was also in the locality, having reappeared in Alma shortly after parting from Marshal Foraker. ...

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Chapter 18: An Anniversary for George Scarborough

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pp. 256-270

Early in March, 1900, Assistant Superintendent Frank Murray, of the Denver office of Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, came to Alma to investigate reports that currency obtained in the Wilcox robbery was being passed in the locality. Some of the stolen bills had been placed on deposit at the bank in Silver City by the storekeeper at Alma.1 ...

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Chapter 19: Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid . . . and Will Carver

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pp. 271-278

Harry Longabaugh, alias Harry Alonzo, alias Frank Roberts, alias Frank Jones, with a future paved with fresh aliases a-plenty, but already nicknamed “the Sundance Kid,” had been a fugitive for ten years. His story, like that of most of his companions, could be told in three words: cowboy, pilferer, outlaw. He came West from Pennsylvania as a fifteen year old in 1882, and worked on various ranches, beginning with his uncle’s.1 ...

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Chapter 20: “Before He Could Cock His Pistol”

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pp. 279-297

When Cassidy and Longabaugh journeyed to Fort Worth, they probably did not travel in the comfort and style to which their recent access of wealth entitled them. If they had any opportunity to buy new clothing to replace the worn and dirty garments they had worn on their flight from Winnemucca, a heightened sense of caution could have warned them against doing so until they had put a couple of states between Nevada and themselves. ...

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Chapter 21: Off With His Head

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pp. 298-314

Twenty months and a few days spanned Tom Ketchum’s arrest and his dispatch into the hereafter. The interval allowed him ample time for reflection, but he never yielded to repentance. He regretted nothing, except for being caught and failing to kill Harrington or Kirchgrabber. He felt sour towards his fellow train robbers Bronco Bill and Elzy Lay because they were merely serving out prison terms—yet he would declare that he would rather be hanged than die of old age in a cell.1 ...

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Chapter 22: Empty Saddles and Lonely Graves

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pp. 315-343

It was far more a sign of social and economic transition than an argument for the deterrent effect of capital punishment that there was no really serious outbreak of outlawry in New Mexico after the execution of Tom Ketchum. An unforeseen result of the Territory’s anti-train robbery legislation was that its enforcement acted as a deterrent against its future use. Public unease at the harshness of the statute was magnified into disgust by the Clayton carnival of blood and bungle. ...

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Chapter 23: Myth, Mistake, and Muddle

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pp. 344-354

Among the drolleries beloved of “western” hacks whose tiresome penchant was to array historical personalities in the garb of fiction, is the story of how Tom Ketchum, keen to try out his new rifle, and bent on settling a wager with another of the gang as to which way a man would fall from his horse after being shot, wantonly picked off a Mexican who was riding some distance away. ...


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pp. 355-464


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pp. 465-480


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pp. 481-504

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413564
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412703

Page Count: 560
Illustrations: 59 b&w illus., 6 maps
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

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Subject Headings

  • Outlaws -- West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • Ketchum, Black Jack, 1863-1901 -- Friends and associates -- Biography.
  • West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • Gangs -- West (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ketchum, Black Jack, 1863-1901.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.).
  • Train robberies -- West (U.S.) -- History -- 19th century.
  • West (U.S.) -- History -- 1860-1890.
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