Archive for June 8th, 2010

1896: Bill Gay, prospector

2 comments June 8th, 2010 Headsman

This date in 1896 saw the Helena, Mont., hanging of frontiersman Bill Gay.

A ticket to Bill Gay’s hanging in December 1895 — which was, obviously, postponed.

As a prospector a generation earlier, Bill Gay had actually struck gold in the Black Hills, not far from Deadwood, S.D. The settlement that grew up around his claim, Gayville, was briefly in contention to be a key entrepot in the covered-wagon trade stripping Sioux land of precious metals.

Alas, Gayville burned down and became a ghost town, just like its founder became a ghost.

Maybe it was Bill Gay’s candle burning at both ends that caused the conflagration. The temporarily wealthy Gay (sporting furniture imported from the east coast!) had the pull to marry a dance-hall hottie … just, not so much pull that he had total impunity to ice a younger rival for his wife’s affections. After serving a turn in the clink for that murder — an abbreviated turn; the guy was rich, after all — Gay was back to square one as a prospecting plainsman, and moved on to Montana.

In Castle, Mont., where he settled (another mining camp later turned ghost town; see Ghost Towns of Montana), Gay fell into a mighty feud with local newspaperman John Benson.

When Benson’s establishment “mysteriously” burned down, a posse was detailed to bring in Gay, along with Gay’s brother-in-law. They killed a couple of deputies in the process of (successfully) blowing town; the in-law, Harry Gross, was never caught, but Gay was apprehended in California and returned to face the music.

Despite the Herculean efforts of his daughter, Maud — the wire report of the hanging (this one printed in the next day’s Omaha Morning World-Herald) complained that “never in the history of Montana have more efforts been made to save a criminal a neck” — he hanged this morning, still protesting that old Harry Gross had been the dead-eyed triggerman.

There’s a nice exposition of Bill Gay’s life from Wild West magazine reprinted at

Bill Gay has no known connection to New York City piano lounge Bill’s Gay Nineties, which is an obvious oversight on someone’s part.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Montana,Murder,Pelf,USA

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,




Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!

Recent Comments

  • Teri: Whoa…the wife that divorced him was my great grandma. Unbelieveable…ghosts in the cliset.
  • Stewart Colley: This story is better known than is the fact that the Iron Duke himself was more properly a Colley...
  • john: Rest in peace oglach tom williams lovely tribute video and write up
  • CoreyR: Really?? That’s what HE told the court. Dressed in dark clothing, with the passenger seat in the back,...
  • Robert Jones: Like all serial killers, Charles Starkweather was a nobody who wanted to be somebody. He took eleven...