Posts filed under 'Colombia'

1885: Pedro Prestan, isthmus rebel

Add comment August 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1885, the Colombian rebel Pedro Prestan hanged at a railroad at the town of Colon, on the isthmus of Panama that was then still a part of Colombia.

The Caragena-born Prestan was part of a liberal rebellion against the government of Rafael Nunez; in the end, Nunez is going to author Colombia’s 1886 constitution and write the words to its national anthem, so it would be fair to say that said rebellion was not crowned with victory.

Nevertheless, in his moment Prestan shook imperial capitals around the globe in the spring of 1885 when his attempt to receive a shipment of weapons at Colón during Ferdinand de Lesseps‘s initial attempt at canal construction was underway. This shipment was interdicted in port with the aid of an American warship, leading Prestan to seize four American hostages as a guarantee for his product. “At the first gun you hear fired from the vessel, shoot these men!” Prestan ordered.

The resulting crisis brought a landing by American marines (operating gingerly lest they provoke the execution of their countrymen), an incursion of Colombian troops, the wholesale burning of Colon, and a brush with war between the U.S. and Chile — the latter also dispatching its navy to the region as a precaution against the United States seizing Panama outright.

In the end, the hostages weren’t shot, Prestan didn’t get his guns, and the foreign interlopers all withdrew to settle the isthmus some other day.

The destruction of Colon was laid at Prestan’s feet once they caught him. A court-martial condemned him on the evening of August 17th; he was hanged the very next day before a large crowd, with a rail car (pulled from under his feet when the moment came to drop him) serving as his scaffold. Prestan protested his innocence of incendiarism to the last.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Panama,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions

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1819: Antonia Santos, Bolivarian revolutionary

Add comment July 28th, 2019 Headsman

Today is the bicentennial of the July 28, 1819 execution by firing squad of Bolivarian independence heroine Maria Antonia Santos Plata.

Monument to Antonia Santos in Socorro, Colombia.

This New Grenada peasant (English Wikipedia entry | the more extensive Spanish) led Bolivar-aligned guerrillas resisting the Spanish reconquest in her home Province of Socorro.

She was captured during the last months of Spanish hegemony, but even as she awaited execution of her sentence her comrades in arms continuing in the field played a part in the crucial Bolivarian victory at the Battle of Pantano de Vargas.

She was shot at 10:30 in the morning on the main square of Socorro, along with Pascual Becerra and Isidro Bravo.

A battalion of the Colombian army’s Seventh Brigade is named for Antonia Santos.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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1903: Victoriano Lorenzo, cholo

Add comment May 15th, 2019 Headsman

Panamanian indigenous leader Victoriano Lorenzo was shot on this date in 1903.

He was a cholo (mixed-race; Lorenzo had both African and Amerindian ancestry) peasant who in the 1890s rose to become the most prominent indigenous leader in Cocle, a Pacific-facing province on the isthmus back when Panama was still a part of Colombia.

Lorenzo (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) would lead indigenous forces in the Thousand Days’ War — a civil war between Colombia’s Conservative and Liberal Parties. Lorenzo fought in alliance with the Liberals; they lost the war, and with it the native land rights that Lorenzo fought for.

While the war was settled by the last days of 1902, the now-ascendant Conservative government accused Lorenzo and followers of continuing to fight and put him to a rial on grounds of murder and robbery that culminated in his public shooting in Panama City. The affair was so irregular that it’s commonly maligned as an “assassination”.

Scholars have interpreted the strange circumstances of his death as Conservative vengeance, the destruction of a hero and powerful symbol for impoverished people, the establishment of oligarchy, and as the forgetting of indigenous people as emblematic in the new Republic of Panama. Lorenzo has been interpreted as a martyr and the first victim of North American imperialism related to the Canal because he was held aboard the United States ship Bogota before his assassination. Seven days before his assassination, Esteban Huertas publicly announced that there was nothing more dangerous for the Canal construction than “guerrillas” and their activities in the mountains of Cocle …

The Conservative narrative of Lorenzo as “guerrilla” fighter permeated Panamanian national history, and schoolchildren learned to see Lorenzo negatively. National Panamanian history depicted Lorenzo shamefully as a “dirty cholo” …

In contrast, northern Cocle oral history memorializes, in cyclical time, Lorenzo as a cultural hero who continues to live, and understands his fight for land rights and political autonomy as the same fight of Urraca that is still ongoing today. People identify strongly with a liberation theology quote attributed to Lorenzo shortly before his death, “I forgive all. I die like Jesus Christ died,” wherein the cultural hero continued the cycle of death to defend land in this epoch. Rufino Peres J., born in 1941, recalls:

My people were illiterate, when he lived. They wore plant fiber loincloth (pampanillas) to go to Penonome … Why did they kill Victoriano Lorenzo? He died fighting for our land, and they formed a war, and that Victoriano Lorenzo, a cholo, won that war! It was not the president who won the war; it was Victoriano Lorenzo. They could never kill him: they used machetes, sticks, smoke, and they didn’t kill him. How was that? Then Victoriano Lorenzo went to the Presidency, and there they killed him. But Victoriano Lorenzo has stayed in History. So, now, whenever a campesino starts any kind of movement, they are scared because because we are the blood of Victoriano Lorenzo.

He uses the word blood (sangre) to mean how much someone is dedicated to the land and lineages in struggle, and adds, “Now youth don’t have blood like before, they have to be ready to die.” (from The Blood of Victoriano Lorenzo: An Ethnography of the Cholos of Northern Cocle Province, Panama)

Panama broke away from Colombia later that same year of 1903, and its new constitution abolished the death penalty outright. Independent Panama has never conducted an execution — so Lorenzo’s appears to be the isthmus’s last.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Murder,Panama,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Soldiers

1816: Joaquim Camacho

Add comment August 31st, 2018 Headsman

On the last of August in 1816, the Colombian statesman Joaquin Camacho was executed as a traitor to Spain.

Blind and paralyzed — he had to be carried to his firing squad in his chair — this lawyer-turned-journalist decorated the 1810-1816 “Foolish Fatherland” era of present-day Colombia, when New Granada declared independence from a Spain bogged down by the Napoleonic Wars.

In fact, multiple regions and municipalities within New Grenada each began declaring their own sovereignty in 1810. The July 20, 1810, declaration by Bogota — then and now the capital city — is still commemorated as Colombia’s Independence Day.

And Camacho (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was right in the middle of it.

On the morning of July 20, in a maneuver intentionally staged to coax the Spanish authorities into showing their backsides to New Granada’s patriots, Camacho presented himself to the viceroy to request the calling of a council in Bogota — a request he would (and did) certainly refuse. Elsewhere in the iconic “Flower Vase Incident,” Camacho’s comrades solicited of a wealthy royalist merchant the use of his ornamental flower vase to welcome the arrival of a noted fellow-traveler. They too were predictably refused, and escalated the expected affront into a fistfight and thence to a riot in the market. The backlash against these indignities gave cover to proclaim the independence of Bogota — with Camacho among the signatories of the declaration at a public meeting that evening.

During the exciting years that followed, Camacho served in the Congress of the United Provinces of New Granada and for a few months in 1814-1815 as one of a triumvirate collectively exercising the office of president.

All such offices were swept away by the Spanish reconquest of New Granada under Pablo Morillo, who lived up to his chilling nickname “El Pacificador”. Camacho was among numerous separatist and revolutionary leaders put to death to control New Granada, several of whom we have already encountered in these annals. It worked … for all of three years, until Simon Bolivar accomplished permanently what Camacho et al and died in seeking.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Lawyers,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1782: Jose Antonio Galan, for the Revolt of the Comuneros

Add comment February 1st, 2018 Headsman

Ni un paso atrás, siempre adelante, y lo que fuere menester … sea!

-Jose Antonio Galan

On this date in 1782, Comunero rebel Jose Antonio Galan was executed in Bogota, New Grenada (present-day Colombia).

Spain’s New World precincts had risen in response to intensified taxation exacted by the empire’s modernizing reforms and particularly accelerated when Spain went to war against Great Britain in 1779; similar pressures likewise helped to trigger the 1780-1781 Tupac Amaru insurrection in Peru.

In New Grenada, spontaneous resistance to new viceregal edicts coalesced into one of the most serious rebellions of the Spanish colonial era — albeit one that aimed at reform, not revolution.

Shouting demands for tax reductions and greater local autonomy, a force of 10,000-20,000 rebels marched on Bogota in the spring of 1781, routing a column of government soldiers sent to disperse them and forcing authorities to terms that the latter had no intention of honoring. This is one of the oldest ploys: offer concessions to end the rebellion, then declare the concessions null and void as obtained under duress when the rebels are safely out of arms.

An illiterate mestizo peasant, our man Galan (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the much more satisfactory Spanish) was not the principal captain of this rebellion but he seems to have exceeded them in foresight — for Galan and his more radical followers continued the revolt even after the main body of Comuneros went home satisfied with the government’s specious pledges. North of Bogota, Galan threatened a more Tupac Amaru-like experience, attracting a multi-racial lower-class force* which he turned against hacienda landowners.

Captured in October of that same year after reinforcements arrived at Bogota to begin laying down imperial law, Galan was so popularly admired that no free blacksmith would accept the contract to forge his irons — all the more reason for his exemplary sentence:

We condemn José Antonio Galán to be removed from jail, dragged and taken to the place of execution, where he is hanged on the gallows until dead; when lowered, his head is to be cut off, his body divided into four parts and passed through the flames (for which a bonfire will be lit in front of the scaffold); his head will be taken to Guaduas, theater of his scandalous insults; the right hand placed in the Plaza del Socorro, the left in the town of San Gil; the right foot in Charalá, place of his birth, and the left foot in the place of Mogotes; his descendants are declared infamous, all his goods are confiscated to the treasury; his house is to be pulled down and sown with salt, so that his infamous name may be lost and consigned to such a vile reputation, such a detestable memory, that nothing remains of him but the hate and fright that ugliness and crime inspire.

Despite the sentence, it’s said that an unskillful executioner not knowing how to hang his man shot him dead instead, so that he could proceed to the butchery.

* The main insurrection that had so meekly disbanded itself was heavily led by Creole local elites with a clear inclination towards deal-making.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason

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1816: Francisco Jose de Caldas, wise person

Add comment October 28th, 2014 Headsman

Colombia polymath Francisco Jose de Caldas was shot on this date in 1816 during the Spanish commander Pablo Morillo‘s decimation of rebellious intelligentsia in separatist New Granada.

While Europe was mired in the Napoleonic Wars, those United Provinces of New Granada — roughly modern Colombia, which remembers its short-lived New Granada predecessor as la Patria Boba, the Foolish Fatherland — had asserted their independence. As we have detailed previously, it was Morillo who arrived from the mother country to disabuse them of this dream. Morillo did it with such a flair for the merciless that he earned the nickname El Pacificador.

Morillo conquered Bogota by May 1816 and for the rest of the year put large numbers of the pro-breakaway intelligentsia to political trials in an apparent attempt to cripple any future independence movements. (It didn’t work; during this very period, future liberator Simon Bolivar was making his first landings in Venezuela.)

A history by Jose Manuel Restrepo, a political figure of New Granada who was fortunate enough to escape the crackdown, lamented the fate of the men with whom he had once dreamed the dream.

for the space of six months, scarcely a week passed without the execution, in Santa Fe or the provinces, of three, four, or more individuals, shot as traitors. Thus perished the persons of the greatest wisdom, the most virtuous and wealthy, in New-Granada. The object which Morillo had in view, was to extinguish intelligence, remove men of influence, and destroy property, so that, in future, there should be none capable of originating or directing another revolution. New-Granada has deplored, and will for a long time deplore, among other illustrious victims, the loss of Doctors Camilo Torres, Joaquin Camacho, Jose Gregorio and Frutos Gutierrez, Crisanto Valenzuela, Miguel Pombo, Jorge Lozano, Francisco Antonio Ulloa, and Manuel Torices; and of military men, general Custodio Rovira, Libario Mejia, and the engineer Francisco Jose de Caldas. The murder of this celebrated mathematician and philosopher, was a piece of wanton cruelty on the part of Morillo. The exact sciences lost much by his premature death; and the geography of New-Granda especially, retrograded beyond measure, by the loss of the precious works which he had nearly perfected.

The spirit of these dark days is summarized by a reply Morillo supposedly made to petitions for him to spare the wise Caldas: “Spain does not need wise people.”

Present-day Colombia memorializes Francisco Jose de Caldas in the name of a department and numerous public monuments. (He also used to be on the 20-peso note when such a thing existed. Colombia’s smallest paper bill today is 1,000 pesos.)


Statue of Caldas on Bogota’s Plaza de Caldas. (cc) image from Mauromed.

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1906: The would-be assassins of General Rafael Reyes

Add comment March 6th, 2012 Headsman

BOGOTA, Colombia, Tuesday, March 6. — The three men who on Feb. 10 attempted to assassinate Gen. Reyes, the President of the Republic of Colombia, were shot to-day at the spot where the attack took place.

-New York Times, March 8

Reyes had parlayed a successful military career into politics (Spanish link), and was the elected-ish but also dictatorial president of Colombia.

He had the misfortune to ascend to this illustrious post on the heels of a bitter civil war that had seen its Panama department break clean away. To Reyes’ administration would fall a variety of civil society infrastructure projects (more Spanish): constitutional reform, military modernization, a central bank, reconciliation with the Liberal party.

Marco Salgar (left) and Roberto Gonzalez, two of the failed assassins.

He couldn’t make these omelets without breaking a few eggs and his authoritarian power was challenged with at least two coup attempts and multiple assassination plots, as well as a bid by other Colombian territories to break away and join up with Panama.

But the most notorious angry-with-Reyes event was the 10th of February 1906 — also the title (Spanish again) of a book of photographs documenting the incident — when three gunmen ambushed Reyes on the outskirts of Bogota and somehow all managed to miss both the president and his daughter.

Reyes’ vengeance was extrajudicially old-school: the executions he arranged were not permitted under Colombian law at all, and by having them publicly shot at the scene of the crime, he added a downright medieval twist of lese-majeste.


Images from here. These are the three shooters mentioned by the Times, as well as a fourth accomplice.

However rough his methods, Reyes did accomplish some important reforms for his country, and he did have the grace to resign his position in 1909 under fire for financial and diplomatic mismangement. (The man’s five-year administration has its own periodization in Colombian historiography: the quinquenio.) There have been worse entries in the annals of dictatorship.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Shot,Wrongful Executions

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1816: Camilo Torres, Manuel Rodriguez, and other leaders of independent New Granada

Add comment October 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1816, Spain hanged the leaders of a breakaway former New World possession in a vain effort to maintain control of what is now Colombia.

The United Provinces of New Granada was la Patria Boba, the “foolish fatherland” of Colombia: a welter of rival provinces and municipalities which capitalized on the mother country’s fall to Napoleon to declare independence and immediately commence fratricidal civil war.

The United Provinces had leave of several years for this foolishness before the Peninsular War ended with the restoration of Ferdinand VII, who promptly dispatched a massive expedition under the notorious command of Pablo Morillo to bring these disobedient satellites to heel … and to hemp.

The gentlemen whose death-day we commemorate today were the ones at the seat of government when the music stopped playing. Those positions, and even the forms of government itself, had been regularly reshuffled in the Patria Boba as federalist and anti-federalist, republican and royalist, threw their respective weights (and armies) around.

Morillo, who is still infamous in Colombia for his cruelty, had the most weight of all.

As Morillo’s reconquista invaded the Provinces, Camilo Torres (English Wikipedia page | the much more detailed Spanish) resigned the presidency. Torres is best-remembered now as the author of the Memorial de Agravios (Spanish link; it translates as “Memorial of Grievances” or, more Office Space-ishly, “Memorandum of Grievances”).

This incendiary document prophetically insisted that

the union between America and Spain [rest on] the just and competent representation of its people, without any difference among its subjects that they do not have because of their laws, their customs, their origins, and their rights. Equality! The sacred right of equality. Justice is founded upon that principle and upon granting every one that which is his.

-Memorial de Agravios, as translated in The Independence of Spanish America, by Jaime Rodriguez

Stuff like this was liable to get you on Morillo’s enemies list political office or no; cowing — or killing — seditious intellectuals was part of his whole project.

Torres, his predecessor and vice president (same guy) Manuel Rodriguez, and several other ministers of state were nabbed together trying to make an escape to sea.

Morillo had them subjected to a snap trial, and Torres and Rodriguez were executed this date along with Pedro Felipe Valencia (Spanish link) and Jose Maria Davila; simultaneous property confiscation left the men’s survivors penniless. (Later, Simon Bolivar would personally support the widow Torres.)

Once hemp got through with the necks this day, old-fashioned blades did their redundant work: Torres’s head was hewed off and mounted in Bogota for public viewing.

It’s noteworthy that the author of this sort of nasty warning to the public would later sign his name opposite his New World antagonist Simon Bolivar in a Treaty of Armistice and Regularization of War (more Spanish) undertaking to stop murdering prisoners and non-combatants and fight only “as do civilized peoples” — one of the seminal documents in the development of human rights and the law of war.

Spanish speakers may appreciate this timeline site on the life and times of Camilo Torres.

* Torres, that Colombian Tom Paine, took some overt inspiration from the recent American Revolution, arguing that “to exclude the Americas from such representation … would forever alienate their desires for such a union.” After all,

If the English government had taken such an important step, perhaps today it would not rue the separation of its colonies. But a feeling of pride and a spirit of vanity and superiority led to the loss of those rich possessions.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1828: Jose Padilla executed

1 comment October 2nd, 2010 Headsman

No, no, not that one. Or that one.

This date saw the 1828 execution by firing squad of Bolivarian independence hero Jose Prudencio Padilla, founder of the Colombian navy.

Padilla’s father was a shipwright, and Padilla took to the sea from his youth in the service of what was then the Spanish colonial domain of New Granada. At the age of 19, he fought Lord Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar.

This service to the Spanish crown did not loyalty make, and in 1815 Padilla fell in with revolutionary Simon Bolivar.

The mariner’s triumph in the Battle of Lake Maracaibo, completed the Venezuelan War of Independence. (Venezuela and Colombia, along with Ecuador and Panama, were all part of Gran Colombia at this time.)

Like everyone else, however, Padilla made history but not in circumstances of his own choosing.

Independent Gran Colombia was immediately riven with internal political conflict, resolving (to oversimplify) to Bolivar as the increasingly autocratic president, as against his more liberal vice president Santander — a conflict also bound up in sectional and racial divisions that would soon break apart Bolivar’s state.

In 1828, those factions were at daggers drawn over the future shape of Gran Colombia.

Padilla, a multiracial pardo, “had taken the Liberator’s professions of racial equality to an ideological point of no return: neither birth nor skin color should carry any privilege or social status. Instinctively, Bolivar sympathized … but he knew only too well that to acquiesce to the demands of such movements would further alarm a fearful white Creole society.” (Lester Langley, Simón Bolívar: Venezuelan rebel, American revolutionary)

That put Padilla into Santander’s camp — and, like Santander, he would be inculpated for complicity in the plot against Bolivar’s life that struck (unsuccessfully) on September 25, 1828.

Neither Padilla nor Santander was linked to the conspiracy by any direct evidence. But that was only enough to save one of them. As Langley notes,

Under the retributive justice of General Urdaneta, fourteen people of varying degrees of guilt were condemned and executed. One, the pardo Padillo, bore no responsibility for the assault on the Liberator’s life but received a death sentence. Santander, who may have approved but against whom there was no compelling evidence of culpability, was sentenced to death as well, but he escaped execution when Bolivar pardoned him. In yet another instance during his career, Bolivar had drawn a color line. He spared the white Creole but not the pardo.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1816: Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Colombian Renaissance man

Add comment July 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1816, Jorge Tadeo Lozano was executed by firing squad in a Bogota temporarily reconquered for the Spanish crown.

Scientist, journalist, essayist and man-about-town Lozano (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) sprang from the stock of New World Spanish nobility.

He studied literature, philosophy, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, mineralogy, botany; he served in the Spanish military and traveled in Europe; he returned to his native New Granada, where he became drawn into the liberal ferment with a celebration of the emerging bourgeoisie obviously contextualized by his scientific education.

Money, like the blood of a body, gives life and shares with each and every one proportionally the movement and robustness that it needs to freely comply with the action that it must complete as a member of society … This inistrumental motive of wealth can not be hushed, if it is to produce an effect … in the manner of electric flow [it] passes through bodies, leaving them with a glowing heat, also enlivens the arms and hands through which it passes… (Studies in the History of Latin American Economic Thought)

As a member of the constituent assembly, he helped draft an 1811 constitution that acknowledged the authority of the Spanish crown, but not of its viceroy, creating (so its signers thought) a new commonwealth state. Lozano thereupon became the first President of Cundinamarca, essentially the forerunner to the present-day Colombian presidency.

Since Lozano turned out to be a better botanist than executive, he resigned the office after a few months.

Only after Europe had sorted out the Napoleonic wars did the Spanish free up the resources for a brutal reconquista of their errant provinces. But when it came, under a general with the macho nickname El Pacificador, it had intellectuals just like Lozano right in its sights.

Even though he’d been back at lower-profile scribbling since his stint at the top, Jorge Tadeo was just the sort of guy Pablo Morillo targeted for demonstrative executions over the second half of 1816.

Thus perished the persons of the greatest wisdom, the most virtuous and wealthy, in New-Granada. The object which Morillo had in view, was to extinguish intelligence, remove men of influence, and destroy property, so that, in future, there should be none capable of originating or directing another revolution. (Source)

Thus perished Lozano this date, along with another intellectual, Miguel Pombo (Spanish link) among a whole train of patriotic martyrs over the months of Morillo’s rule.

The policy of killing these men to deprive New Granada of revolutionary potential was, however, an abject failure: just three years after these men were shot as traitors to that distant European line, Simon Bolivar detached Colombia from Spain at the Battle of Boyaca.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Separatists,Shot,Spain,Treason

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