September 14th, 2011 Headsman
Given that we bear no brief for the man’s eternal soul, it seems in these parts as if bursting with rage is no less legitimate a way than any other to shuffle off this mortal coil: surely, it is better spectacle than many. “The most despicable mangy canine whelp that ever met an ignominious fate,” reported Salt Lake’s Daily Tribune, “could not have whined itself out of existence in a more deplorable, decency-sickening state than was Enoch Davis’ last hour.”
Davis got started well before the last hour; according to this review of Utah’s notable executions, he kicked off execution day by asking his jailers if he could enjoy one last … prostitute.
Maybe that would have chilled him out a little.
Instead, the Salt Lake Herald reporter recounted (under a scandalized headline) that “for vileness, filth, obscenity, indecency, billingsgate and profanity, no man, standing on the threshold of eternity’s ante-room, ever equaled Davis, barring Ruloff who was hung in Binghampton [sic], New York, in 1872 [sic].”
By turns cursing, resisting, demanding (he had better luck with his demand for whisky), and cursing some more — the Herald report is full of blushing bowdlerizations of Davis’s dirty stories and blasphemous digressions. Solicited of his last remarks, “[t]he subsequent dialogue was of such a disconnected character that reproduction is impossible. First, because it was too filthy; second, the same. And so on ad infinitum.”
Now those are last words we can all enjoy.
Beyond the newsmen, and about 500 residents of Provo, Lehi, and environs who assembled for the show, the audience included the six anonymous members of the firing squad. In order to secret their identity, they had been carried to the site in the dead of night and situated in a tent: they would not emerge until the following nightfall.
Holes cut in the canvas provided their firing positions on Davis, staked out in a bar seat that was (for obvious reasons, but also because Davis was by that point too drunk to sit straight) as securely nailed down as the officiants could manage.
Davis objected to everything else, and of course he objected to this too. “Let me see ‘em! Let me see them men who are going to kill me!” the doomed man carped, not wanting to “die like an Indian.” Odd phrase, but he was a little stressed out.
The sharpshooters demurred.
The demurrers shot sharp.
That part, at least, went off without a hitch. Like an Indian, like a cur, or merely like a weak and wicked villain, Davis succumbed instantly to the volley.
His own cowardly tears fell through the foulest of breaths during his last hour, his complete lack of nerve … might have won him a little human sympathy if it were not for his vile and lying tongue.
-Salt Lake Tribune, quoted in Frontier Justice in the Wild West: Bungled, Bizarre, and Fascinating Executions
This illustration (and the sketch of Davis above) both from the September 15, 1894 Salt Lake Herald.
Part of the Themed Set: Americana.
Also on this date
- 1459: Pietro di Campofregoso, former Doge of Genoa, stoned to death
- 1767: Elizabeth Brownrigg
- 2000: Cheng Kejie of the National People's Congress
- 1932: Paul Gorguloff, who assassinated the French President
- 2004: Mamoru Takuma, for the Osaka school massacre