1929: Constantine Beaver, Alaskan native

On this date in 1929, Alaskan native Constantine Beaver hanged in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Described as a “woodsman”, Beaver shot his friend Egnatty Necketta during a drunken altercation the previous December.

Neither Beaver himself nor the several witnesses spoke or understood English, so much of the trial was conducted via interpreters. The jury, in finding him guilty, availed an option to remain silent as to the penalty, punting the decision to the judge — who went with hanging. Several jurors then protested, too late, that they hadn’t understood that was a possible outcome of their silent penalty decision.

In pre-statehood Alaska under federal governance, it was U.S. President Herbert Hoover 4,000 miles away in Washington who would have the final say in this affair — riding high, as it happened, at the very moment of the stock market peak right before the economic meltdown that would define his presidency.

Hoover said no.

Hopeful throughout the greater part of the night that a stay of execution would arrive Beaver bore himself with fortitude when informed that he must die. His only wish was that the intervening time might speed by so that his mental agony might be ended.

When Beaver reached the death chamber he broke into a tribal chant which continued until the floor opened beneath him.

It was “the saddest affair I’ve had to witness,” said a U.S. deputy who was present at the execution. And it was the last hanging ever conducted in Fairbanks.

Of possible interest: American Indian Executions in Historical Context” by David V. Baker, a lengthy pdf.

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