Posts filed under '19th Century'

1897: The Bicol martyrs of Philippines independence

Add comment January 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1897, eleven pro-independence Filipinos were shot at Manila’s Bagumbayan execution grounds.

These eleven,* together with one who was tortured to death on a prison brig and three others who died exiled to prisons elsewhere in the Spanish empire, comprise the Fifteen Bicol (or Bikol) Martyrs.

Spanish suppression of the unfolding Philippine Revolution was in full martyr-making; just days before, the same site had seen the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal. (A few days after this, it made still another batch of martyrs.)

“They died bravely,” a Filipino newspaper reported. “They died like those who are sustained by a sacred ideal.”

They were.

This date’s victims had been rounded up on September 16 at Naga City in the Bicol Region. It was the aftermath of Spain’s discovery of the anti-colonial Katipunan secret society, and mass arrests followed by torture-aided interrogation were the order of the day.

These would not, in the end, avail.

As a result, the “Quince Martires” are still commemorated in independent Philippines every January 4, which is a public holiday in Naga City … and commemorated throughout the year at that city’s Plaza Quince Martires, and its monument.


(c) image courtesy of Wally Ocampo.

* Rev. Fr. Gabriel Prieto; Gabriel’s brother, Thomas Prieto; Rev. P. Severino Diaz; Rev. P. Inocencio Herrera; Manuel P. Abella; Manuel’s son, Domingo I. Abella; Camilo Jacob; Florencio Lerma; Macario Valentin; Cornelio Mercado; and Mariano Melgarejo.

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1841: Archilla Smith, Trail of Tears Cherokee

2 comments January 1st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Archilla Smith was hanged over a tree branch in Cherokee Country (since the gallows hadn’t been delivered in time) for the murder of John MacIntosh.

Our narrative for this event is Indian Justice: A Cherokee Murder Trial at Tahlequah in 1840, a volume derived from the reports of 19th century poet John Howard Payne, who’s best known for writing “Home! Sweet Home!”.

Payne lived with the Cherokees in Georgia immediately preceding their forcible removal to Oklahoma along the Trial of Tears, and then repaired to Oklahoma with the evicted tribe. (Payne unsuccessfully lobbied the U.S. Congress against its removal policy.)

The procurement of Cherokee signatures on the treaty that gave legal cover to the tribe’s expulsion from Georgia was a source of bitter controversy … and a generation of internecine violence. Our principal for this date’s post, Archilla Smith, himself affixed an X-mark to this notorious document, and he was defended at the trial in question here by another signer, Stand Watie.

Payne’s book, however, does not much treat the political context of Indian removal, nor even read as something like a true crime book: the brawl between the killer and the victim, two aggressive men with a passing and private quarrel, is little more than the background fact; the question for the jury turned on little but the degree of wilfulness or intent in the fatal stab wound Smith dealt, and various witnesses describe the same scene of their melee with slight differences of shading.

Rather, it’s a courtroom drama, and an outsider’s sketch of Cherokee jurisprudence (amalgamating tribal and Anglo-Saxon practices) circa 1840. It’s also the first newspaper any Oklahoma trial.

There as no appearance of bitter feeling on either side. The accused and the judge and jury and spectators, all seemed in the best of humor with one another. The accused smoked much of the time; and his judge, and most of the jury, every now and then would get up and go across the log-court to him with “Arley, lend me your pipe;” and receive his pipe from his mouth (as is the Indian custom); and revel in the loan of a five minutes’ smoke. … The wife and handsome young daughter of the accused attended … His three young sons, one a boy about ten, — the others about twelve and fifteen, were in the court room nearly all the time, and often sat by their father’s side.

-Payne

At one point, the judge digresses into the ancient right of clan vengeance and dismisses it in view of the “improved” system. But Payne’s postscript notes that one of Smith’s own jurors (from the first jury) would himself be killed just days after the execution when the juror attempted to exact family retribution on a murderer who had been acquitted in court. This is the snapshot of an evolving society.

Archilla Smith’s first jury hung. The second jury tried to hang, but was forced by the judge to come to a conclusion. Finally, it convicted Smith on December 26, 1840. Smith took word of his fate evenly.

“You are every one of you old acquaintances of mine, Jurors,” he remarked after hearing his fate. “You have been several days engaged about my difficulty. But I have no hard thoughts against any one of you, Jurors, nor Judge, against you. I believe your object has been that my trial should be a fair one.”

Cherokee law required that after five days, the sentence be executed. Accordingly, the hanging was fixed for New Year’s Day at noon.

Because there was also no tribal prison, Smith was simply held under guard in a log hut, and was able to get around the new Cherokee capital of Tahlequah with those guards. In Payne’s narrative, this invites no trouble on the part of the prisoner, whose bonhommie even after his death sentence belies the ill-tempered knife-slayer described by court witnesses. (Though Smith did once try to bribe his guard to let him escape.)

Accordingly, on one of those five days between sentence and hanging, Archilla Smith and his friends simply rode up to the Cherokee Chief John Ross to appeal personally for a pardon. He’d obtained about two hundred signatures on a petition supporting such an act of clemency.

Nevertheless, Ross, a foe of the removal treaty and of Stand Watie,* told them that the matter was out of his hands … but Smith and his party still ate dinner at Ross’s home that evening and nothing untoward occurred. Open hospitality was a Cherokee custom, and Ross regularly entertained dozens of visitors at his two-and-a-half-story log house, “as many as the table can accommodate.”

When the hang-day finally came, two different men preached under the noose.

The first, an Anglo named Worcester, who issued a bog-standard 19th century Anglo hanging sermon in English:

Almighty God! We see before us an awful instance of thy power. May it eventuate in an equally impressive exemplification of thy love. May the bitter fruit of the one sin for which atonement is now about to be exacted, procure the pardon of many. May it not only produce sincere penitence and consequent acceptance with thee, in the unhappy sufferer who now stands upon the threshold of eternity, but operate as a warning to all who either witness or hear of his fate. May it show this people to what dreadful results intemperance may lead; and when they see that the great commandment ‘whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ cannot be evaded; may it bring them to a salutary meditation through which all may be converted. In the name and through the meditation of our blessed Savior, we ask that the influences of the Holy Spirit may draw this blessing on the nation; and may the victim now offered up to the violated laws have cause to bless a doom, which if it awaken him to a proper knowledge of Thee and of himself will yet prove to him a happiness and a mercy into thy hands, oh blessed Savior, we commend his spirit.

The second gallows-preacher was a half-breed Protestant minister named Reverend Young Wolf — and this reverend had actually been the foreman of the jury which condemned Archilla Smith in the first place. Young Wolf preached in Cherokee, thus:

God of heaven! Creator of all things! Thou, who knowest our inmost thoughts I pray to thee have mercy on this man. He is standing on the threshold of death. He will presently leave this world to enter the world of spirits. Thou canst see into his heart. Thou art aware whether the charge for which he suffers is true or not. If he is guilty, I supplicate thee to forgive all his sins. Into thy hand we submit ourselves. We assemble together as a people to witness the death which our friend is about to suffer; and may it make us remember that we too, are born to die sooner or later, and prepare to meet thee in peace. May the view of thy power which we are now beholding, humble us before thee. May we continue humble. We are now about to part with our friend Archilla. We give him up to thee. May he receive thy pardon for his sins, that hereafter we may all come together again before thy throne and unite there in thy praise!

The doomed addressed the multitude last.

He, too, spoke in Cherokee, and the natives whom Payne spoke with were divided as to whether the “escapes” and “third time” which Smith mentioned referred to the two times that his juries refused to convict him, or to two previous, undetected crimes.

Friends, I will speak a few words. We are to part. You will presently behold how evil comes. I do not suffer under the decree of my Creator but by the law passed at Tahlequah. — Friends, you must take warning. — I think, perhaps, that my being hated has brought me to this. No man can hope every time to escape; and the third I have been overtaken by the law. But avoid such practices. — I suppose I was preordained to be executed in this manner. I am ready to die. I do not fear to die. I have a hope, there, to live in peace. (Tears now gushed from his eyes.) I should not have shed tears had not the women come here to see me. — I have no more to say.

* Ross and Watie were lead figures of the rival factions within the Cherokee polity, and they would be recognized as opposing chiefs by the Union and the Confederacy (respectively) during the coming U.S. Civil War. Stand Watie lives on in bar bets: he has the distinction of being the last Confederate general (and his First Indian Brigade the last Confederate force in the field) to surrender to the Union, on June 23, 1865.

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1868: Priscilla Biggadike, exonerated Stickney murderess

1 comment December 28th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1868, Priscilla Biggadike withstood one last gallows-foot plea from her minister to admit to poisoning her husband.

‘I implore you not to pass away without confessing all your sins; not only generally, but especially this particular case, for which you are about to suffer. I had hoped that you would have made that confession, and thus have enabled me, as a minister of Christ, to have pronounced the forgiveness of your sins … It has grieved me much to find that [you] still persist in the declaration, that you are not accountable for your husband’s death; that you still say that you did not administer the poison yourself; that you did not see any other person administer it, and that you are entirely free from the crime. Do you say so, now?

The Prisoner, still in a firm voice, said, yes.

The Chaplain. — There is only one [hope] left, that you have endeavoured to confess your sins to God, though you will not to your fellow creatures. All I can now say is that I leave you in the hands of God; and may he have mercy on your soul. What a satisfaction it would be to your children, to your friends, to your relations, to know that you had passed from death into life, in the full persuasion that your sins were forgiven you … I am sorry I cannot exercise that authority [to pronounce sins forgiven] at the present moment.

Then, at the stroke of 9 a.m., she was hanged by ten-thumbed executioner Thomas Askern at the stroke of 9 a.m. True to form, Askern made a mess of it, and Biggadike painfully strangled to death with the rope’s knot infelicitously positioned under her chin* … although, since this execution was behind the walls of Lincoln Castle (in fact, it was the first female hanging after an 1868 Act of Parliament had made all hangings private), at least it didn’t incense a vast concourse of onlookers.

Posterity, though, has taken plenty of umbrage at Priscilla Biggadike’s fate.

She and her late husband Richard kept two lodgers in a two-room house in the village of Stickney.

Richard already suspected an affair between Priscilla and one of those lodgers, Thomas Procter (or Proctor), when he returned home from work on September 30, 1868, enjoyed tea and cakethat his wife had made for him, and then fell violently, fatally ill. The post-mortem examination showed Richard Biggadike had been poisoned with arsenic.

Priscilla Biggadike and Thomas Procter were both arrested on suspicion of murder but charges against Procter were soon dropped.

Priscilla was known to have quarreled with her husband over that whole infidelity thing, and she had alluded at least once to having arsenic around for killing mice. She was accordingly found guilty of poisoning him, though “only,” in the words of the jurors when the judge pressed the question, “upon the ground of circumstantial evidence.”

Indictment, trial, conviction, and execution for the “Stickney Murderess” wrapped up in two months’ time. But the discharged co-accused, Thomas Procter, years later made a deathbed confession that it was really he who poisoned Richard Biggadike.

(During the investigation, Priscilla had even attempted to blame Thomas Procter, reporting that on one occasion prior to the murder he’d even made what looked like an attempt to poison Richard by mixing white powder into his tea, after which Richard became sick. Police didn’t regard the accused as a particularly credible source for obvious reasons, but it’s hard to believe anyone would have failed to follow up on that sort of lead.)

On account of that whole wrongful-hanging mix-up, Priscilla Biggadike received a posthumous pardon. She’s even had a short musical made about her conviction, which was recently performed in Lincoln Castle. If you visit, you can still see the cell where she passed her final days.

* The bad botch of this job led Lincolnshire officials to audition for their next execution a local cobbler and amateur noose enthusiast destined to revolutionize the British hanging with his scientific approach: William Marwood.

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1882: James Gilmore, the first hanged in Deadwood

1 comment December 15th, 2012 Headsman

In the 1870s, the illegal settlement of Deadwood, South Dakota attained pride of place among Old West frontier towns, complete with vigilante justice, lethal gunfights, and lucrative brothels.

Yet even though it was the source of South Dakota’s first legal hanging — Wild Bill Hickok’s murderer Jack McCall, who swung in Yankton — Deadwood itself did not play host to a proper judicial execution until this date in 1882.

The unhappy subject of this occasion? James Gilmore, a surly and perhaps deranged Ohioan who had senselessly gunned down a Mexican fellow-laborer named Bicente Ortez when both men were driving wagons on the Pierre-Deadwood route. Gilmore got upset when Ortez spooked his oxen, waited until the teams made camp that night, and then walked up to Ortez during dinner and shot him in the arm.

As the startled Ortez tried to flee, Gilmore pumped three more shots into his back.

(This was near Deadman’s Creek. How trite.)

Anyway, Gilmore’s ox-driving companions might have disliked Ortez themselves because they gave Gilmore a horse and a few bucks and, while his mortally wounded ex-comrade lay painfully expiring all the night long, let the shooter flee into the wilds. He’d be captured only months later, still driving livestock for some ranch.

“Is it for killing that son of a bitch Mexican?” he asked the marshals, incredulously.

(The prosecutor would close his trial with a charge to the jury that “in this land of the free, every man, regardless of color, creed, or other station in life was equal before the law, and the law protected with its folds, the plebian as well as the millionaires, and it knows no difference between the bull-whacker and the bonanza king.”)

Gilmore was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the autumn of 1881. However, the offender’s advocates pushed his appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to the Cincinnati Daily Gazette (Dec. 16, 1882), whose interest in the case derived from Gilmore’s nativity in Steubenvile, Ohio,

It is the opinion of many who knew him best, that James Gilmore had not a mind sufficiently well balanced to make him responsible for the terrible deed for which he was sentenced. Many stories are told of his strange freaks when a child (he is not yet twenty-two years old), which shows that he was of a very irritable temperament. At one time, fancying himself insulted by a citizen of this place [Steubenville], he attempted to shoot two fine horses belonging to the offender, with a small pistol… At another time he set the school building on fire and then placed himself in the most dangerous position he could find. He would frequently run away from home, and was found once by a brother, who is an officer in the United States Navy, in New York City.

Evidently, Gilmore’s non-naval other brother was a lawyer, who was able to corral testimony as to his sibling’s unsound mind from a variety of worthies who knew the unbalanced James in his youth.

But those appeals ultimately failed, as did Gilmore’s father’s simultaneous push in Washington D.C. (since the Dakotas were still federal territory) for executive clemency. Advised by Gilmore’s detractors that the condemned murderer “was a second Guiteau of a most diabolical character,” (Grand Forks Herald, Oct. 28, 1882), President Chester A. Arthur declined to interfere. Arthur was a guy who couldn’t be soft on Guiteaus.

Gilmore never denied responsibility for murdering Ortez, and at his (private) hanging he attributed the whole thing to his “bad temper” ever since his mother died when he was a child.

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1889: John Gilman, tetchy landlord

2 comments December 13th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1889, 60-year-old John F. Gilman was hanged in Oregon for the murders of William and Elizabeth Eationhover (Eatenhoover, Etenhover).

Elizabeth and her husband Christopher were German immigrants. They arrived with their five-year-old son William in Coquille, Oregon in July 1888 and signed a five-year lease on farmland belonging to Gilman and his wife.

The Eationhovers built a small house forty yards from John Gilman’s house. They hadn’t lived there long before they began having disputes with Gilman about just what they could do on his land. Gilman wanted them to move and offered to cancel the lease, but the Eationhovers refused to budge.

Less than a year had passed before Gilman had decided the only way out of the situation was to cancel his tenants’ lease … on life.

He tried subtlety first, poisoning their food. That didn’t work and he was forced to use a more direct form of homicide.

On Saturday, July 12, 1889, Christopher was returning home after working all week at another, distant farm. When he reached the river, he noticed Gilman on the other side and asked him to row over and give him a ride. Gilman obliged and Christopher continued his journey home — but when he reached the corral, Gilman came up behind him and hit him in the head with one of his boat’s oars. He then pulled out a knife and stabbed him multiple times.

Gilman had made a miscalculation, though — one that saved Christopher Eationhover’s life. He’d been carrying two knives in his pocket, and one had a broken blade. He’d mistakenly pulled out the broken one, and it could not inflict fatal wounds.

As the two men struggled, ElizabethGilman’s wife came out of the house to break up the fight. Christopher then took the opportunity to get away. He staggered down to the river, rowed the boat across and went to get help.

By the time he returned with a posse, however, his wife and child had disappeared. The kitchen table was set for breakfast, and little William’s plate still had food on it, long since grown cold.

When the authorities arrived at the Gilman house, they found John Gilman in bed asleep. He hadn’t even bothered to change his bloodstained clothes. Arrested, he insisted he had no idea where the Eationhovers were or what had happened to them. He suggested that perhaps they’d followed after Christopher and got lost.

A search party found them the next afternoon, poorly concealed in a shallow grave. Nearby was another, empty grave, presumably for Christopher.

The two had died horrible deaths.

Elizabeth had been beaten on the arms, hips and face, and had a bad cut on the back of her head, but the actual cause of death was strangulation. Medical evidence indicated she’d remained alive for a time after the beating.

Five-year-old William had tried to run away, but his killer was too fast for him. He’d been strangled with a rope and his neck was broken.

Gilman would later confess to the crimes. He said he had beaten Elizabeth and then ran off, leaving her semi-conscious and helpless, to kill the child. He then returned to finish off Elizabeth. He claimed he’d strangled the victims (actually hanging William from a tree) because he didn’t want to leave blood evidence in the house.

While clearing out his conscience in this rummage sale (which sorely tempted lynch law), Gilman also confessed to another murder, that of George Morras in 1888. He later recanted his statements, but law enforcement believed he had in fact committed the crime.

John Gilman was indicted for two counts of murder. His wife, Fidelia, was charged as an accessory, but later acquitted. John’s insanity defense failed, and there was no appeal or executive clemency.

One final tragic detail in this very tragic story: on October 21, 1892, nearly three years after the hanging of the man who killed his family, Christopher Eationhover hanged himself.

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1861: Christopher Haun, potter and incendiarist

Add comment December 11th, 2012 Headsman

Christopher Alexander (“Alex”) Haun was perhaps the finest potter in antebellum Tennessee. He never had the chance to become the finest in post-bellum Tennessee because he was hanged in Knoxville this date in 1861 as an incendiarist.

While Tennessee seceded with the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War, East Tennessee was a Union stronghold. This was the native soil of pro-Union “War Democrat” (and future U.S. President) Andrew Johnson.

Soon after the war began, Unionist east Tennesseans started slipping over the border to northern-controlled Kentucky, where they hatched a plot to burn railroad bridges throughout East Tennessee.

Hand of Bridge

Besides being good fun, the conspiracy promised an effectual blow against the Confederacy inasmuch as the East Tennessee & Virginia and East Tennessee & Georgia lines constituted the South’s most reliable rail and telegraph link between its capital at Richmond, Va., and the Deep South. This plan’s author, Rev. William Carter, went to Washington and had his scheme personally approved by President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of State William Seward, and Gen. George McClellan.

The rest of the plan called for the Union army to invade East Tennessee on the heels of the bridge-burnings and occupy the area. Just a few months before, McClellan’s troops had similarly occupied the pro-Union western mountains of secessionist Virginia, which is why there’s a state of West Virginia today.

But there’s no state of East Tennessee, is there?

The bridge-burning conspiracy would go down as one of the great, failed guerrilla operations of the war.

Burning Your Bridges

With authorization straight from the top, the conspirators got going. A Captain David Fry** was tasked with targeting the Lick Creek bridge, located in northeastern Tennessee† near the settlement of Pottertown, so named for the ceramics craftsmen attracted to the area’s excellent clay.

After dark fell on Nov. 8, 1861, the local Union sympathizers recruited to the plot — Christopher Haun among them — gathered at the house of a local landowner, Jacob Harmon, Jr. There they took a dramatic lantern-lit oath on the Union flag, each to “do what was ordered of him that night and to never disclose what he had done.”

Then a party of some 40 to 60 mounted raiders stole out for the Lick Creek bridge two miles distant.

Around 2 a.m., they overpowered the small Confederate sentry detail assigned to Lick Creek, and forced the sentries to watch as they fired the bridge. That same night, several other parties elsewhere along the line all the way down to Alabama also burned, or tried to burn railroad bridges and cut telegraph lines.

These “deep-laid schemes … by an organization of Lincolnite traitors” (as the Knoxville Register accounted matters) brought a predictably furious Confederate response — and the audacious saboteurs would discover only after the fact that the planned East Tennessee invasion had been aborted by William T. Sherman without alerting his pyrotechnic fifth-column allies.

A Bridge Too Far

Within three days of the “treason,” East Tennessee had been clapped under martial law. A number of bridge-burners were also arrested (although many others escaped), and here the Lick Creek men would pay dearly for their recklessly humane decision to release their captured sentries. (pdf) As a result, several of them were captured in the days following their attack.

Confederate Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin had a ruthless order for East Tennessee’s military authorities.

I now proceed to give you the desired instruction in relation to the prisoners of war taken by you among the traitors of East Tennessee.

First. All such as can be identified in having been engaged in bridge-burning are to be tried summarily by drum-head court-martial, and, if found guilty, executed on the spot by hanging. It would be well to leave their bodies hanging in the vicinity of the burned bridges. [emphasis added]

Second. All such as have not been so engaged are to be treated as prisoners of war, and sent with an armed guard to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, there to be kept imprisoned at the depot selected by the Government for prisoners of war.

Two men, William Hinshaw (often called “Hensie” in the period’s reports) and Henry Fry, were condemned by such a tribunal on Nov. 30 and immediately hanged — their bodies left exposed at the Greeneville Station for a day or more, until the stench became overpowering.

Haun was condemned on Dec. 10.‡ Confederate Brigadier General William H. Carroll telegraphed Benjamin for Jefferson Davis‘s confirmation of sentence.

The court-martial has sentenced A.C. Haun [sic], bridgeburner, to be hung. Sentence approved. Ordered To be executed at 12 o’clock tomorrow. Requires the approval of the President. Please telegraph.

Benjamin replied within hours, telling Carroll to make with the noosing.

Execute the sentence of your court-martial on the bridge-burners. The law does not require any approval by the President, but he entirely approves my order to hang every bridge-burner you can catch and convict.


Haun takes leave of his pregnant wife and four children before execution. Illustration from this 1862 propaganda volume by the Unionist publisher of the Knoxville Whig.

Six days after Haun hanged at Knoxville, the landowner who hosted the conspirators, Jacob Harmon, also went to the gallows, along with his son Henry. It seems someone in the incendiary party had carelessly dropped the name “Harmon” in conversation while the bridge sentries were in custody within earshot.

(Several others only narrowly avoided execution, or lynching, for the conspiracy. Given hundreds of other arrests of even merely suspect East Tennesseans and the very nasty feelings engendered by the Unionists’ attempt, it’s something of a wonder that only five were executed.)

Water Under the Bridge

Today, the Harmons are buried at Pottertown Harmon Historic Cemetery in rural Green County, Tenn., where a hexagonal monument commemorates all five executees (with an extra panel for summary text). There’s an annual ceremony there to commemorate the East Tennessee bridge burners.

Or, pay your respects any time by using the cemetery as the trailhead for the Civil War Bridge Burners’ Bike Ride (pdf). You’ll find the spot just off Bridge Burners Blvd.


View Larger Map

All the hanged incendiarists were posthumously enrolled in Company F of the 2nd Tennessee by Congress in 1862, a gesture of appreciation which also conferred on their heirs the right to survivors’ benefits.

In addition to the resources linked here, see Donahue Bible’s “Shattered like earthen vessels,” Civil War Times, Dec. 1997.

* Later to become the East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railway, and then the Southern Railway, and then a big band hit.

**The intrepid Captain Fry would escape immediate capture, gather a few hundred Unionists as a guerrilla band, and eventually get caught, sent to Georgia, and condemned to death as a spy. Fry escaped by breaking out on the eve of his Oct. 15 hanging, in the company of some of the men arrested for the Great Locomotive Chase. He rejoined Union forces, was captured again, and survived the war, finally dying in 1872 … when he was hit by a train.

† The other bridges successfully torched by the conspiracy included two over the Chickamauga in southeastern Tennessee, and the theme of Civil War bridge-burning in that sector can’t help but suggest Ambrose Bierce’s “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. (The other details are nothing alike, so Bierce’s story clearly isn’t about this incident.)

‡ The railroad bridge at Lick Creek was back in action by this time.

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1900: John Filip Nordlund, Mälarmördaren

Add comment December 10th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1900, John Filip Nordlund was beheaded with Albert Dahlman‘s axe at Sweden’s Västerås County Jail.

The second-last person executed in Sweden (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) was the author of an infamously fiendish murder spree aboard a ferry steamer crossing Lake Mälaren for Stockholm on the evening of May 16, 1900: shortly after the Prins Carl‘s departure from Arboga, Nordlund, armed with two revolvers and two blades, went on a rampage through the boat (Swedish link), shooting or stabbing everyone he saw.

The spree left five dead, including the ship’s captain, and several others wounded. Then Nordlund lowered a lifeboat into the water and rowed away with about 800 stolen kronor … and the opprobrium of the nation.


Nordlund stalks the Prins Carl, from this verse pdf (Swedish).

Police were able to track him from the descriptions of witnesses to a train station and arrest him the very next day. Their maniac would turn out to be a 25-year-old career thief, only released the month before from his latest prison stint.

Although captured trying to flee, Nordlund from the first projected resignation — even relief, writing his parents that he would be well rid of a society he had never felt part of. Certainly the sentence was in little doubt given the infamy of the crime (Nordlund was almost lynched after arrest), and the man made no attempt to defend himself or mitigate his actions in court, nor to seek mercy after conviction.

Nordlund was the third person executed in Sweden in 1900 alone, but there would be no more patients for Dahlman for a decade … until 1910, when Sweden conducted its first and only guillotining. The country has not carried out a death sentence since.

Besides being the penultimate executee in Swedish history, John Filip Nordlund is also the last man in Europe beheaded manually (rather than with Dr. Guillotin’s device) other than in Germany.

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An unspecified Monday: Fagin

1 comment December 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On an unspecified Monday in what seems to be an unspecified autumn of the 1830s, Charles Dickens had hanged one of his most memorable characters: Oliver Twist‘s Jewish pickpocket-magnate Fagin.*

The prolific English scribbler who conjured Fagin had keen empathy for the man or woman on the scaffold, leading him to contribute some of literature’s most poignant execution scenes.

Detail view (click for the full image) of the condemned Fagin in his cell, from an 1867 edition of Oliver Twist/

This from the serialized novel that hit print from 1837 to 1839 is no exception.

Dickens does not stage Fagin’s actual hanging; the writer’s predilection is for the mind of the doomed as it reaches the precipice, and let the reader fill in the final details.

And in Fagin’s case, that mind belongs to a complex character for whom the reader likely has some empathy: despite Fagin’s villainy, he’s also the orphan Oliver’s surrogate father-figure and said urchin’s ticket out of the anonymous desperation of the urban poor.

As for the date, the murder committed by Fagin’s partner-in-crime Bill Sikes occurs in “autumn” (chapter 47) — probably early autumn since the relatively proximate chapter 38 is in “summer”. That murder precipitates Sikes’s death and Fagin’s capture almost immediately: though the ensuing juridical sequence is not directly, or even indirectly, delineated, the narrative’s sense certainly suggests that Fagin was prosecuted with all speed. A sequence of arrest-trial-execution in London at this period could easily take place within just a few weeks.**

This doomed wretch in his final hours is sketched in Oliver Twist‘s second-last chapter, “Fagin’s Last Night Alive”. (Text via Project Gutenberg.) It surely draws on Dickens’ 1835 visit to Newgate’s condemned cells.


The court was paved, from floor to roof, with human faces. Inquisitive and eager eyes peered from every inch of space. From the rail before the dock, away into the sharpest angle of the smallest corner in the galleries, all looks were fixed upon one man—Fagin. Before him and behind: above, below, on the right and on the left: he seemed to stand surrounded by a firmament, all bright with gleaming eyes.

He stood there, in all this glare of living light, with one hand resting on the wooden slab before him, the other held to his ear, and his head thrust forward to enable him to catch with greater distinctness every word that fell from the presiding judge, who was delivering his charge to the jury. At times, he turned his eyes sharply upon them to observe the effect of the slightest featherweight in his favour; and when the points against him were stated with terrible distinctness, looked towards his counsel, in mute appeal that he would, even then, urge something in his behalf. Beyond these manifestations of anxiety, he stirred not hand or foot. He had scarcely moved since the trial began; and now that the judge ceased to speak, he still remained in the same strained attitude of close attention, with his gaze bent on him, as though he listened still.

A slight bustle in the court, recalled him to himself. Looking round, he saw that the juryman had turned together, to consider their verdict. As his eyes wandered to the gallery, he could see the people rising above each other to see his face: some hastily applying their glasses to their eyes: and others whispering their neighbours with looks expressive of abhorrence. A few there were, who seemed unmindful of him, and looked only to the jury, in impatient wonder how they could delay. But in no one face—not even among the women, of whom there were many there—could he read the faintest sympathy with himself, or any feeling but one of all-absorbing interest that he should be condemned.

As he saw all this in one bewildered glance, the deathlike stillness came again, and looking back he saw that the jurymen had turned towards the judge. Hush!

They only sought permission to retire.

He looked, wistfully, into their faces, one by one when they passed out, as though to see which way the greater number leant; but that was fruitless. The jailer touched him on the shoulder. He followed mechanically to the end of the dock, and sat down on a chair. The man pointed it out, or he would not have seen it.

He looked up into the gallery again. Some of the people were eating, and some fanning themselves with handkerchiefs; for the crowded place was very hot. There was one young man sketching his face in a little note-book. He wondered whether it was like, and looked on when the artist broke his pencil-point, and made another with his knife, as any idle spectator might have done.

In the same way, when he turned his eyes towards the judge, his mind began to busy itself with the fashion of his dress, and what it cost, and how he put it on. There was an old fat gentleman on the bench, too, who had gone out, some half an hour before, and now come back. He wondered within himself whether this man had been to get his dinner, what he had had, and where he had had it; and pursued this train of careless thought until some new object caught his eye and roused another.

Not that, all this time, his mind was, for an instant, free from one oppressive overwhelming sense of the grave that opened at his feet; it was ever present to him, but in a vague and general way, and he could not fix his thoughts upon it. Thus, even while he trembled, and turned burning hot at the idea of speedy death, he fell to counting the iron spikes before him, and wondering how the head of one had been broken off, and whether they would mend it, or leave it as it was. Then, he thought of all the horrors of the gallows and the scaffold—and stopped to watch a man sprinkling the floor to cool it—and then went on to think again.

At length there was a cry of silence, and a breathless look from all towards the door. The jury returned, and passed him close. He could glean nothing from their faces; they might as well have been of stone. Perfect stillness ensued—not a rustle—not a breath—Guilty.

The building rang with a tremendous shout, and another, and another, and then it echoed loud groans, that gathered strength as they swelled out, like angry thunder. It was a peal of joy from the populace outside, greeting the news that he would die on Monday.

The noise subsided, and he was asked if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. He had resumed his listening attitude, and looked intently at his questioner while the demand was made; but it was twice repeated before he seemed to hear it, and then he only muttered that he was an old man—an old man—and so, dropping into a whisper, was silent again.

The judge assumed the black cap, and the prisoner still stood with the same air and gesture. A woman in the gallery, uttered some exclamation, called forth by this dread solemnity; he looked hastily up as if angry at the interruption, and bent forward yet more attentively. The address was solemn and impressive; the sentence fearful to hear. But he stood, like a marble figure, without the motion of a nerve. His haggard face was still thrust forward, his under-jaw hanging down, and his eyes staring out before him, when the jailer put his hand upon his arm, and beckoned him away. He gazed stupidly about him for an instant, and obeyed.

They led him through a paved room under the court, where some prisoners were waiting till their turns came, and others were talking to their friends, who crowded round a grate which looked into the open yard. There was nobody there to speak to him; but, as he passed, the prisoners fell back to render him more visible to the people who were clinging to the bars: and they assailed him with opprobrious names, and screeched and hissed. He shook his fist, and would have spat upon them; but his conductors hurried him on, through a gloomy passage lighted by a few dim lamps, into the interior of the prison.

Here, he was searched, that he might not have about him the means of anticipating the law; this ceremony performed, they led him to one of the condemned cells, and left him there—alone.

He sat down on a stone bench opposite the door, which served for seat and bedstead; and casting his blood-shot eyes upon the ground, tried to collect his thoughts. After awhile, he began to remember a few disjointed fragments of what the judge had said: though it had seemed to him, at the time, that he could not hear a word. These gradually fell into their proper places, and by degrees suggested more: so that in a little time he had the whole, almost as it was delivered. To be hanged by the neck, till he was dead—that was the end. To be hanged by the neck till he was dead.

As it came on very dark, he began to think of all the men he had known who had died upon the scaffold; some of them through his means. They rose up, in such quick succession, that he could hardly count them. He had seen some of them die,—and had joked too, because they died with prayers upon their lips. With what a rattling noise the drop went down; and how suddenly they changed, from strong and vigorous men to dangling heaps of clothes!

Some of them might have inhabited that very cell—sat upon that very spot. It was very dark; why didn’t they bring a light? The cell had been built for many years. Scores of men must have passed their last hours there. It was like sitting in a vault strewn with dead bodies—the cap, the noose, the pinioned arms, the faces that he knew, even beneath that hideous veil.—Light, light!

At length, when his hands were raw with beating against the heavy door and walls, two men appeared: one bearing a candle, which he thrust into an iron candlestick fixed against the wall: the other dragging in a mattress on which to pass the night; for the prisoner was to be left alone no more.

Then came the night—dark, dismal, silent night. Other watchers are glad to hear this church-clock strike, for they tell of life and coming day. To him they brought despair. The boom of every iron bell came laden with the one, deep, hollow sound—Death. What availed the noise and bustle of cheerful morning, which penetrated even there, to him? It was another form of knell, with mockery added to the warning.

The day passed off. Day? There was no day; it was gone as soon as come—and night came on again; night so long, and yet so short; long in its dreadful silence, and short in its fleeting hours. At one time he raved and blasphemed; and at another howled and tore his hair. Venerable men of his own persuasion had come to pray beside him, but he had driven them away with curses. They renewed their charitable efforts, and he beat them off.

Saturday night. He had only one night more to live. And as he thought of this, the day broke—Sunday.

It was not until the night of this last awful day, that a withering sense of his helpless, desperate state came in its full intensity upon his blighted soul; not that he had ever held any defined or positive hope of mercy, but that he had never been able to consider more than the dim probability of dying so soon. He had spoken little to either of the two men, who relieved each other in their attendance upon him; and they, for their parts, made no effort to rouse his attention. He had sat there, awake, but dreaming. Now, he started up, every minute, and with gasping mouth and burning skin, hurried to and fro, in such a paroxysm of fear and wrath that even they—used to such sights—recoiled from him with horror. He grew so terrible, at last, in all the tortures of his evil conscience, that one man could not bear to sit there, eyeing him alone; and so the two kept watch together.

He cowered down upon his stone bed, and thought of the past. He had been wounded with some missiles from the crowd on the day of his capture, and his head was bandaged with a linen cloth. His red hair hung down upon his bloodless face; his beard was torn, and twisted into knots; his eyes shone with a terrible light; his unwashed flesh crackled with the fever that burnt him up. Eight—nine—then. If it was not a trick to frighten him, and those were the real hours treading on each other’s heels, where would he be, when they came round again! Eleven! Another struck, before the voice of the previous hour had ceased to vibrate. At eight, he would be the only mourner in his own funeral train; at eleven—

Those dreadful walls of Newgate, which have hidden so much misery and such unspeakable anguish, not only from the eyes, but, too often, and too long, from the thoughts, of men, never held so dread a spectacle as that. The few who lingered as they passed, and wondered what the man was doing who was to be hanged to-morrow, would have slept but ill that night, if they could have seen him.

From early in the evening until nearly midnight, little groups of two and three presented themselves at the lodge-gate, and inquired, with anxious faces, whether any reprieve had been received. These being answered in the negative, communicated the welcome intelligence to clusters in the street, who pointed out to one another the door from which he must come out, and showed where the scaffold would be built, and, walking with unwilling steps away, turned back to conjure up the scene. By degrees they fell off, one by one; and, for an hour, in the dead of night, the street was left to solitude and darkness.

The space before the prison was cleared, and a few strong barriers, painted black, had been already thrown across the road to break the pressure of the expected crowd, when Mr. Brownlow and Oliver appeared at the wicket, and presented an order of admission to the prisoner, signed by one of the sheriffs. They were immediately admitted into the lodge.

‘Is the young gentleman to come too, sir?’ said the man whose duty it was to conduct them. ‘It’s not a sight for children, sir.’

‘It is not indeed, my friend,’ rejoined Mr. Brownlow; ‘but my business with this man is intimately connected with him; and as this child has seen him in the full career of his success and villainy, I think it as well—even at the cost of some pain and fear—that he should see him now.’

These few words had been said apart, so as to be inaudible to Oliver. The man touched his hat; and glancing at Oliver with some curiousity, opened another gate, opposite to that by which they had entered, and led them on, through dark and winding ways, towards the cells.

‘This,’ said the man, stopping in a gloomy passage where a couple of workmen were making some preparations in profound silence—’this is the place he passes through. If you step this way, you can see the door he goes out at.’

He led them into a stone kitchen, fitted with coppers for dressing the prison food, and pointed to a door. There was an open grating above it, through which came the sound of men’s voices, mingled with the noise of hammering, and the throwing down of boards. There were putting up the scaffold.

From this place, they passed through several strong gates, opened by other turnkeys from the inner side; and, having entered an open yard, ascended a flight of narrow steps, and came into a passage with a row of strong doors on the left hand. Motioning them to remain where they were, the turnkey knocked at one of these with his bunch of keys. The two attendants, after a little whispering, came out into the passage, stretching themselves as if glad of the temporary relief, and motioned the visitors to follow the jailer into the cell. They did so.

The condemned criminal was seated on his bed, rocking himself from side to side, with a countenance more like that of a snared beast than the face of a man. His mind was evidently wandering to his old life, for he continued to mutter, without appearing conscious of their presence otherwise than as a part of his vision.

‘Good boy, Charley—well done—’ he mumbled. ‘Oliver, too, ha! ha! ha! Oliver too—quite the gentleman now—quite the—take that boy away to bed!’

The jailer took the disengaged hand of Oliver; and, whispering him not to be alarmed, looked on without speaking.

‘Take him away to bed!’ cried Fagin. ‘Do you hear me, some of you? He has been the—the—somehow the cause of all this. It’s worth the money to bring him up to it—Bolter’s throat, Bill; never mind the girl—Bolter’s throat as deep as you can cut. Saw his head off!’

‘Fagin,’ said the jailer.

‘That’s me!’ cried the Jew, falling instantly, into the attitude of listening he had assumed upon his trial. ‘An old man, my Lord; a very old, old man!’

‘Here,’ said the turnkey, laying his hand upon his breast to keep him down. ‘Here’s somebody wants to see you, to ask you some questions, I suppose. Fagin, Fagin! Are you a man?’

‘I shan’t be one long,’ he replied, looking up with a face retaining no human expression but rage and terror. ‘Strike them all dead! What right have they to butcher me?’

As he spoke he caught sight of Oliver and Mr. Brownlow. Shrinking to the furthest corner of the seat, he demanded to know what they wanted there.

‘Steady,’ said the turnkey, still holding him down. ‘Now, sir, tell him what you want. Quick, if you please, for he grows worse as the time gets on.’

‘You have some papers,’ said Mr. Brownlow advancing, ‘which were placed in your hands, for better security, by a man called Monks.’

‘It’s all a lie together,’ replied Fagin. ‘I haven’t one—not one.’

‘For the love of God,’ said Mr. Brownlow solemnly, ‘do not say that now, upon the very verge of death; but tell me where they are. You know that Sikes is dead; that Monks has confessed; that there is no hope of any further gain. Where are those papers?’

‘Oliver,’ cried Fagin, beckoning to him. ‘Here, here! Let me whisper to you.’

‘I am not afraid,’ said Oliver in a low voice, as he relinquished Mr. Brownlow’s hand.

‘The papers,’ said Fagin, drawing Oliver towards him, ‘are in a canvas bag, in a hole a little way up the chimney in the top front-room. I want to talk to you, my dear. I want to talk to you.’

‘Yes, yes,’ returned Oliver. ‘Let me say a prayer. Do! Let me say one prayer. Say only one, upon your knees, with me, and we will talk till morning.’

‘Outside, outside,’ replied Fagin, pushing the boy before him towards the door, and looking vacantly over his head. ‘Say I’ve gone to sleep—they’ll believe you. You can get me out, if you take me so. Now then, now then!’

‘Oh! God forgive this wretched man!’ cried the boy with a burst of tears.

‘That’s right, that’s right,’ said Fagin. ‘That’ll help us on. This door first. If I shake and tremble, as we pass the gallows, don’t you mind, but hurry on. Now, now, now!’

‘Have you nothing else to ask him, sir?’ inquired the turnkey.

‘No other question,’ replied Mr. Brownlow. ‘If I hoped we could recall him to a sense of his position—’

‘Nothing will do that, sir,’ replied the man, shaking his head. ‘You had better leave him.’

The door of the cell opened, and the attendants returned.

‘Press on, press on,’ cried Fagin. ‘Softly, but not so slow. Faster, faster!’

The men laid hands upon him, and disengaging Oliver from his grasp, held him back. He struggled with the power of desperation, for an instant; and then sent up cry upon cry that penetrated even those massive walls, and rang in their ears until they reached the open yard.

It was some time before they left the prison. Oliver nearly swooned after this frightful scene, and was so weak that for an hour or more, he had not the strength to walk.

Day was dawning when they again emerged. A great multitude had already assembled; the windows were filled with people, smoking and playing cards to beguile the time; the crowd were pushing, quarrelling, joking. Everything told of life and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the centre of all—the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideous apparatus of death.


* Fagin was named for a workman named Bob Fagin, who showed a few tricks of the trade when the boy Dickens did his own turn in a workhouse.

** For instance, the the London Burkers in 1831 and Benjamin Courvoisier in 1840 were each condemned to death less than two months after their arrests, and each hanged within days of sentence.

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1868: Sam Dugan lynched in Denver

Add comment December 1st, 2012 Headsman

Like San Francisco and other western cities dissatisfied with the half-lawless frontier atmosphere, the city of Denver formed a “Vigilance Committee” — ominously known as “The Stranglers” — to maintain rough quasi-justice, “meted out innocent and guilty alike.”

This date in 1868 marks the end of one of the guilty.

Sam Dugan, aka Sanfourd Dougan, is seen here lynched to a cottonwood tree at Cherry Street, midway between 4th and 5th streets, in Denver.

(Denver’s city plan has changed quite a bit since those days, but I believe the present-day location of this lynching would be approximately Speer Blvd. in a knot of paving the edge of the downtown University of Colorado campus.)

The photo, snapped by the morning light of Dec. 2, 1868, showed the previous night’s work of the Vigilance Committee.

Dug(g)an was a young (23 years old) knockabout in the territories with a blackhearted reputation, having been thought to have killed a man at a camp the year before.

In 1868, he and buddy Ed Franklin robbed a justice of the peace, one Orson Brooks, at gunpoint. As one can imagine, Brooks was one of the little town’s more prominent citizens and the crime outraged residents.

Denver lawmen chased Brooks’s assailants to nearby Golden, Colo., where Dugan’s accomplice Franklin — blind drunk — was shot dead resisting arrest. An innocent Golden citizen named Miles Hill also died when he was caught up in the the shootout to take Dugan … but Dugan himself escaped.

Public fury over this bloodshed (on Nov. 22) precipiated the Nov. 23 lynching of already-jailed outlaw L.H. Musgrove from a Cherry Creek bridge, not far from where Dugan would soon stretch hemp. (Musgrove had ridden in a murderous gang with the late unlamented Ed Franklin.)

Our surviving fugitive Dugan, meanwhile, made a run for Wyoming but was picked up within a few more days at Fort Russell after he stole a mail carrier’s horse. Marshal David Cook, whose public-domain Hands Up! or Twenty Years of Detective Work in the Mountains and on the Plains is a major source for this post, went to retrieve him.

Given the Musgrove lynching, Cook must have had an idea of the danger Dugan would face in Denver. Denver papers anticipating the party’s arrival said that Cook’s team “will bring the prisoners dead or alive. The former condition would be preferred by many.”

About 90 to 100 vigilantes made that preference into fact after dark on Tuesday, Dec. 1, stopping a police wagon moving Dugan between lockups, just as it was crossing a bridge over Cherry Creek.

The hijackers redirected the wagon around the corner to a copse of trees and “in a moment a rope was thrown over the limb, and in another moment, Dugan was standing in the wagon immediately under the fatal noose.”

That’s from a newspaper report that appeared in several publications; our cite is from the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel on December 21, 1868.

Dugan, “completely unmanned, crying and sobbing like a baby,” wheedled and stalled, begging for a Catholic priest and making various professions of innocence or mitigation that would cut no ice with his judges.

After he had said all that he had to say, the order was heard, “Drive on,” and the wagon which had served as his frail bulwark between life and eternity moved from under, and the spirit of Sanford S.C. Dugan took its flight into the presence of Him who shall judge us all according to the deeds done in the body. The fall, about eighteen inches, broke his neck. He was a man six feet two inches in height, and weighed 205 pounds.

Cook, in Hands Up!, says he “would gladly have prevented” the lynchings, “but it was useless for [lawmen] to fly in the face of an entire community, which had been outraged and which was aroused, not so much to vengeance as to the necessity of protecting itself against the rough element of the plains.”

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1871: Gaston Cremieux, Marseilles Commune leader

Add comment November 30th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1871, Gaston Cremieux was shot at Marseilles for his role in that city’s lately-destroyed Commune.

Cremieux (French Wikipedia page: most external links in this post are also in French) was a gifted young lawyer with a social conscience who was known for taking on indigent-defense cases and working-class causes.

Given his prominence in radical circles, Cremieux was naturally thrust into leadership when word of the Paris Commune brought Marseilles, too, into a popular rising.

Lissagaray called Cremieux “an elegant and effeminate speaker … a mild enthusiast, who beheld the revolution under rather a bucolic aspect.” His admirable principles were not those of bloody revolutionary will, and he was accordingly viewed (or disdained) as a moderate.

The Marseilles Commune lasted only a fortnight: neighboring towns did not rally to it, and elsewhere in the south Toulouse and Narbonne communards were crushed within days.

When troops of the bourgeois Versailles government — the city to which it had fled from Paris — took Marseilles, according to Lissagaray, they “arrested at random, and dragged their victims into the lamp-stores of the station. There an officer scrutinized the prisoners, made a sign to one or the other of them to step out, and blew out his brains. The following days there were rumours of summary executions in the barracks, the forts and the prisons. The number of dead the people lost is unknown, but it exceeded 150.”

Cremieux’s own conscience was pretty clean in all this — he’d even advocated against keeping hostages. (Unsuccessfully, but Marseilles did not kill its hostages, unlike Paris.) “Show me those whom Cremieux has shot,” his lawyer would later protest to the military tribunal called to try him.

Cremieux’s own shooting would have to suffice. He died crying “Vive la République!” as the firing squad emptied its barrels into his torso … as per Cremieux’s request to preserve his face lest his parents be too shaken by his corpse. Just call him a family man.

A posthumously-published French volume of Cremieux’s work contains verse, a play about Robespierre’s fall, and his “Impressions of a Condemned Man”.

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