January 8th, 2015 Headsman
George Smiley’s execution in the Arizona Territory on this date in 1900 was a month late owing to a public relations debacle.
The first and only man ever hanged in Navajo County, Smiley had killed a railroad section foreman.
As his scheduled December 8 execution approached, sheriff Frank Wattron garlanded the routine invitation he was required to send to the official witnesses with a bit more exuberance than was usual for the genre.
The jaunty, gilt-edged communique found its way into the hands of newsmen who soon reported it coast to coast.
U.S. President William McKinley — Wattron’s ultimate boss, since Arizona was a pre-statehood federal territory at this point — was not amused by the officer’s jollity, and ordered a 30-day reprieve for Smiley and a do-over with a little solemnity this time for Wattron.
The sheriff’s compliance was not altogether in the spirit of the directive. On the eve of the hanging, when it was much too late for news cycles to create any upstairs blowback, he dispatched a black-framed invitation dripping in sarcastic gravity.
Revised Statutes of Arizona, Penal Code, Title X, Section 1849, Page 807, makes it obligatory on sheriff to issue invitations to executions, form (unfortunately) not prescribed.
Jan. 7, 1900.
With feelings of profound sorrow and regret, I hereby invite you to attend and witness the private, decent and humane execution of a human being; name, George Smiley, crime, murder.
The said George Smiley will be executed on Jan. 8, 1900, at 2 o’clock p.m.
You are expected to deport yourself in a respectful manner, and any “flippant” or “unseemly” language or conduct on your part will not be allowed. Conduct, on anyone’s part, bordering on ribaldry and tending to mar the solemnity of the occasion will not be tolerated.
Sheriff of Navajo County
I would suggest that a committee, consisting of Governor Murphy, Editors Dunbar, Randolph and Hull, wait on our next legislature and have a form of invitation to executions embodied in our laws.
On this day..
- 1878: Gauchito Gil, Argentina folk saint - 2017
- 1932: Asbury Respus, North Carolina serial killer - 2016
- 1690: Andrei Ilyich Bezobrazov, stolnik - 2014
- 1813: The Yorkshire Luddites, for murdering William Horsfall - 2013
- 1908: John Boyd, by John Radclive - 2012
- Themed Set: 2010 - 2011
- 2010: Jeong Dae-Sung and Lee Ok-Geum, for escaping North Korea - 2011
- 1603: Not Tommaso Campanella - 2010
- 1864: Two Dodds, as two spies, in two states, and twice botched - 2009
- 1697: Thomas Aikenhead - 2008