If he was real at all, or even if he wasn’t, Antonio Mamerto Gil Nunez was an freelance ranchhand gaucho who ditched his conscription into the Argentine Civil Wars for life as an outlaw — flourishing in the classic social bandit guise as a friend to the put-upon peasantry with beneficence extending all the way to saintly healing powers.
Ambushed and captured at last, Gil’s last charity was reserved for the policeman who decided to have him summarily executed — whom Gil warned was about to receive an en-route pardon. The cop didn’t buy this obvious dilatory gambit and slit the bandit’s throat, only to return and find the promised clemency riding on up. As Gil had also prophesied, the policeman’s son had fallen quite ill and now he prayed to the brigand he had just put to death, who posthumously secured the boy a miraculous recovery.
The reports of the duly impressed executioner proliferated and soon fathered a flourishing popular veneration. Although Gauchito Gil is of course entirely unrecognized by the institutional Catholic Church, many devout pilgrims visit his site to pray for, or to offer thanks for, a favorable intercession in life.
On this date in 1803, Flemish outlaw Ludovicus Baekelandt was guillotined at Bruges with about 20 of his gang.
Deserting the army of the conquering French, Baekelandt set up as a bandit preying the deep spruce forests of the Vrijbos, eventually attaining leadership of a gang more than 30 strong.
Baekelandt is one of those whom popular memory and national sentiment (resentful here of the French occupation) has elevated into huggable social banditry. But the evidence remaining us testifies to little but a garden-variety brigand whose offenses were in no way confined to property crimes.
The gang was rounded up in 1802 and the Bruges court heard testimony from more than 100 witnesses, eventually dooming 21 men and three women to death for a litany of murders and robberies.
Almost all the information about Baekelandt available online is in Dutch; if that tongue is in your toolkit, gentle reader, this public-domain book is sure to level you up on Ludovicus Baekelandt and friends.
This Khan aspired to far-reaching reforms that would modernize his marchlands kingdom and not for the last time an Afghan ruler found this programme stoked a furious resistance among tribal grandees. Kalakani, though derisively nicknamed Bacha Seqao (son of a water-carrier) was just such a grandee, having pivoted profitably from regular military orders to highway robbery.
When Khan’s forces had vacated Kabul to manage a Pashtun rebellion in the south — only the latest of numerous tribal risings that plagued the Khan years — Kalakani in late 1928 sprang a surprise Tajik rebellion from the north and marched on the unprotected capital.
Amanullah evacuated Kabul with a quickness, personally behind the wheel as he blazed his Rolls Royce ahead of Kalakani’s cavalry all the way to India and eventual exile in Europe.
But the “bandit king” soon found his own government strained by the same tensions that had elevated him. Pashtun rebels who used to chafe under a western-oriented king now chafed under a Tajik one — in fact, the only Tajik to rule Afghanistan in its modern history — and their fresh rebellion soon toppled Kalakani in his own turn. He was shot with his brother and their aides, contentedly telling his firing squad, “I have nothing to ask God, he has given me everything I desired. God has made me King.”
Kalakani is still the third-last king of Afghanistan and is still bitterly — violently — controversial on his native soil, where whether you reckon him a hero or a thug depends upon your kinship. Just weeks ago as we write this, a reburial of Kalakani’s remains in Afghanistan provoked bloody ethnic melees on the streets.
* Although there is no specific connection here to Habibullah Kalakani, an execution blog would be remiss not to include a reference to this sadly undateable National Geographic photo tracing to Khan’s reign of one of those real-life dangling man-cages so beloved of the sword-and-sandals fantasy genre. Per NatGeo’s caption, an actual thief was “put in this iron cage, raised to the top of the pole, so that his friends could not pass food or poison to him, and here he was left to die.”
On this date in 1857, “the great southern land pirate” James Copeland went to the gallows in the now-abandoned Mississippi town of Augusta.
Copeland‘s criminal career is the subject of a wonderfully old-timey reader by the Perry County sheriff who noosed him. (As it says right there on the title plate. Sheriff J.R.S. Pitts does not shrink from injecting his own story into the narrative, and to get to the action the reader must first wade through tedious digressions into the hangman’s biography, his civic-minded rationales for a prurient interest in outlaws — “such a life and history cannot fail, even at this late date … of materially interesting and benefiting the public at large” — and some whinging about the libel suits that dogged his attempts to materially benefit the public at large.)
After an “introduction”, a “preface”, and an “explanatory”, our volume comes at last to an illustrated 100-page autobiographical narrative which Pitts says that Copeland dictated to him while cooling his heels in jail.
Hardened and violent in life, Copeland under the eaves of death seems to made that familiar return to God and repentfully confessed his path into depravity beginning with youthful delinquencies the condign punishment of which was consistently deflected by his mother, “who always upheld me in my rascality.”
Having fallen into a legal scrape for pig-thieving, Copeland left behind charming rascality for Godfather territory when he made contact with an outlaw named Gale Wages and concocted a plan to vacate the charges by destroying the documentation … by torching the courthouse in which they rested.
“Such a sight I never had before beheld,” Copeland remembered of the blaze. “The flames seemed to ascend as high, if not higher than the tops of the tallest pine trees; they made everything perfectly light for over two hundred yards around.” After that bonfire, Copeland gave himself over to the guidance of a man who turned out to be halfway between Jabba the Hutt and a Masonic lodge chief.
Wages, Copeland found, had “a great many persons concerned with him, in different parts of the country, some of them men of wealth and in good standing in the community in which they lived.”
They had an organized Band that would stand up to each other at all hazard; they had a Wigwam in the city of Mobile, where they held occasional meetings … they had many confederates there whom the public little suspected …
I was there introduced by Wages, (who was their president,) as a candidate for membership, I should have been rejected, had Wages not interceded for me. I was finally passed and admitted to membership. Wages then administered to me the oath, which every member had to take. I was then instructed and given the signs and pass-words of the Clan.
Maybe the gang was right to doubt him, for Copeland broke this oath by divulging to his hangman-biographer numerous names of members as well as the Encyclopedia Brown-esque cipher this gang used to send coded messages.
Over the course of the next decade and more, Copeland’s narration has the gang and he romping through Dixie in misadventures that range from the charmingly picaresque — finagling a guest role at a Methodist pulpit by posing as wandering preachers upon which they netted several hundred dollars from the inevitable passed hat — to the much less charming:
A legend of $30,000 in gold that the squad claimed to have buried in Catahoula Swamp still circulates in Mississippi — spur to thus-far frustrated treasure hunters down to the present day.
We can’t know to what degree the voice that we read is Copeland’s own or that of Pitts interposing but the narrator we have affects at times a stagey horror at his sins.
With the gang determined to be rid of an Irish boatman on the Mississippi, Copeland draws the short straw to bludgen him to death in his sleep: “Oh, God! when I look back, it makes me shudder. Even now it chills the blood in my veins.” Copeland bashed his brains in with a hatched and as day broke they slipped the weighted corpse into the river.
Copeland had moved up the ranks enough to share the marquee in the “Wages-Copeland gang” by the time things got real dark. In early 1844, a summit of the gang’s leadership determined spies were afoot and four of the suspected “butted their heads against a slung-shot hung to a man’s arm, and they went floating from Mobile wharf down the channel of the river.” Others they left “in a situation where he told no more tales” and “fed … the contents of two double-barrel shot-guns, about forty-eight buck-shot, and put him in a swamp near Eslaya’s old mill” and “put a rope around his neck, and we very soon squeezed the breath out of him.”
The end of the line could really have been any one of these incidents or the numerous others this post elides — enough blood feuds and hand-to-hand murders and the odds are sure to turn against you in the long run.
In 1849, now a wanted man, Copeland started drinking at a grocery near Mobile
and became intoxicated, and in that situation I imagined every man I saw was trying to arrest me. I fell in with a man by the name of Smith, an Irishman, and a difficulty occurred between us; I concluded that he intended to arrest me. I drew my double-barrel shot gun upon him and intended to kill him. He was too quick for me; he threw up my gun, drew his dirk and stabbed me just above the collar bone.
Having made himself both conspicuous and immobile, Copeland was tracked down by a posse and now he was really in the soup: “one indictment against me in Alabama for larceny, and another against me in Mississippi for murder.” Copeland pleaded guilty in Alabama and served a jail sentence there, hoping that the passage of years would buy him some opening to escape the hanging sentence that would surely await in neighboring Mississippi. But the Magnolia State was on its game and had a timely extradition request ready to receive James Copeland the moment his term in the Alabama pen expired.
The day arose clear and beautiful on which the sentence of the law and of outraged humanity was to be executed on the man who had so often violated their most sacred behests. The sky was blue and serene; the atmosphere genial; all nature was calm and peaceful; man alone was agitated by the various strong emotions which the execution of the fatal sentence of retributive justice on a fellow-man could not but create.
The place of execution was distant from the city of Augusta one-quarter of a mile. The gallows was erected on a beautiful elevation that was surrounded by the verdure of shrubby oak and the tall, long-leaf pine. The ground was everywhere occupied by thousands of spectators, gathered from Perry and the surrounding counties, to witness the solemn scene. It was indeed one that they will long remember.
About the hour of noon, the prisoner, after being neatly clad, was led from the jail by the officers of the law, placed in the ranks of the guard formed for the occasion, and the procession moved slowly toward the fatal spot.
Soon the doomed man appeared on the gallows. The death warrant was then read to him, and he was informed that he had but a short time to live.
He proceeded to address the awe-struck and silent multitude. He especially urged the young men present to take warning from his career and fate, and to avoid bad company. His misfortune he attributed principally to having been mislead while young.
When he had concluded, a number of questions were asked by the immediate spectators, in relation to crimes which had transpired within their knowledge; but he would give no direct answer — shrewdly eluding the inquiries.
The Sheriff then asked him, in hearing of many lookers on, if the details of his confession, previously made to that officer, were true. He replied that they were.
His hands were then tied and the cap pulled over his face, and he was told that he had but a few moments to live. He exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy on me!” and he was praying when the drop fell, and a brief struggle ended his blood-stained career.
On this date in 1829, the Slovak outlaw Matej Tatarka was hanged.
Tatarka — and most information about this character is in Slovak, as the links in the post will attest — was a brigand whose gang haunted the rugged wilds of the Tatras mountains straddling present-day northern Slovakia and southern Poland.
That was in the 1820s, a period when economic and political development in Europe were driving outlaws off the lands and into the wistful literature of a Romantic age. To consider an analogue: it was Ainsworth‘s 1834 novel Rookwood that elevated into myth the criminal career of Dick Turpin — a bandit who had hanged back in 1739.
Tatarka might have been the impetus for Slovakia’s simultaneous-to-Ainsworth recovery of its own hundred years’ dead knight of the road, Juraj Janosik.
Tatarka flashed into the emerging Slovak national consciousness in early 1829, when he escaped prison. Recaptured months later, the Habsburg empire’s sentence and execution of such a quaint figure could not fail to attract the interest of Slovak romanticists like Belopotcky, who helped circulate the fellow among artists by including Tatarka in his almanacs of Slovakian events.
* Kral’s Vignettes of Janosik in turn influenced his contemporary Jan Botto, whose Song of Janosik is 19th century literature’s definitive elegy for the bygone social bandit — concluding (with thanks to Sonechka for the translation)
When they hang me, the rain will mourn me
The moon and stars will shine for me
The winds will murmur over me, and the Tatras will resound with,
“Flown are thy golden days!”
Once they’d fixed on Tatarka’s predecessor, these Slovak writers couldn’t get enough; here’s Botto’s Death of Janosik in a dramatic reading:
From the Newport (R.I.) Mercury, September 7-14, 1767:
August 3. The gang of villains from Virginia and North-Carolina, who have for some years past, in small parties, under particular leaders, infested the black parts of the southern provinces, stealing horses from one, and selling them in the next, notwithstanding the late public examples made of several of them, we hear, are more formidable than ever as to numbers, and more audacious and cruel in their thefts and outrages.
‘Tis reported, that they consist of more than 200, form a chain of communication with each other, and have places of general meeting, where (in imitation of councils of war) they form plans of operation and defence, and (alluding to their secrecy and fidelity to each other) call those places Free-Masons Lodges.
Instances of their cruelty to the people in the black settlements, whom they rob or otherwise abuse, are so numerous and shocking, that a narrative of them would fill a whole gazette, and every reader with horror.
They at present range in the Forks between Broad, Saludy, and Savannah rivers. Two of the gang were hanged last week at Savannah, viz. Lundy Hust, [sic] and Obadiah Greenage: Two others, James Ferguson and Jeffe Hambersam, were killed when those were taken.
The Georgia Gazette of August 5, 1767 confirms the date of the execution for Obadiah Greenage at Savannah, but noted that Lundy Hurst was in fact not hanged, but reprieved by the governor.
On this date in 1699 the robber prince Nikol List was broken on the wheel in the town of Celle — along with seven other members of his gang.
A former soldier and beer-house keeper, Saxony’s bandit career owned the usual long roster of outrages upon person and property but really fixed his name in the heavens (and his soul in the other place) by robbing St. Michael’s Church of Lüneburg of its treasured Golden Plate and sacrilegiously melting it down.
In the end his career was not long — just a few years in the late 1690s, nothing to compare with the likes of his near-contemporary Lips Tullian — for the outrage at St. Michael’s attracted the fury of the Duke of Brunswick who dedicated himself to the prompt destruction of these outlaws.
List is no. 6 in this illustration conflating the executions of various gang members who suffered at different times and places. The full numbered key to this forest of corpses can be found, along various other illustrations, here.
While List was alive and “working” his former house in Beutha was razed and a pillory set on the place instead, to disgrace the naughty native son. Worn “Nikol List Stones” can still be seen there. Two commemorate citizens whom List shot dead evading arrest on St. John’s Eve in 1696:
Christoph Kneuffler, farmer and sheriff of Hartenstein, shot on St. John’s Eve 1696 by Nikol List. This honest man was 50 years and 27 weeks old, and leaves a troubled widow and four children, namely three sons and one daughter.
Gottfried Eckhardt, citizen and butcher of Hartenstein, shot on St. John’s Eve 1696 by Nikol List. This man was 34 years and 34 weeks old, and has a poor afflicted widow and three small uneducated children, two sons and a daughter.
On this date in 1781, the Spanish social bandit Diego Corrientes Mateos was hanged and quartered in Seville.
A robber who plied the roads from Portugal to his native Seville, Corrientes (English Wikpedia entry | Spanish) was said to be of farmworker stock himself. His consequent good treatment of the rural common folk enabled him to operate with great freedom and situated him as a Robin Hood character; folklore has consequently inflated the valor of his exploits and the bile of Sheriff of Nottinghamesque pursuers like the lieutenant governor of Seville. For example, surprising his adversary on one occasion, Corrientes is supposed to have remarked, “I have learned that you boast you will be able to capture me.”
“Yes, and hang you,” shot back Francisco de Bruna.
“Then I must spare your life so you can fulfill your promise,” the sporting Corrietes allowed. (The reader will discern that Francisco de Bruna soon made good his threat.)
The Last Speeches of
Patrick Carraghar, Nephew to the great Collmore, and Two Arthur Quinns
who were Executed on Saturday the 21st of this Instant February 1718-19 at Dundalk. Together with the Tryal of Capt. Collmore.
The Speech of Patrick Macallaher
I Patrick Carraghar am the Nephew of that Collmore who was Executed last Wednesday, who was the Ruin of me, who am but Eighteen Years of Age now, tho’ of these Tender years, I am very sensible of the great Follies and Sins that I have been Guilty of, my Father and Mother Liv’d in the Place call’d Loghross, in the County of Armagh, as for my Father People may say what they please of him; for he is Alive, but for my Mother she was never charg’d with anything that was ill, and the Neighbours in the Country knew her to be an honest good Woman she dy’d when I was very young, neverthleess I was bound Prentice to a Taylor, but did not serve my Master long, but followed my Uncle, which is the Cause of my coming to this untimely End, tho’ I was Try’d for keeping Company and assisting one Gillaspy M’Culum, a Proclaimed Tory, for my part I was neither Guilty of Murhter nor Robbery of my self, but I have been by when Robberry was committed, I have no more to say but that I die a Roman Catholic, and I beg of thee O my great God to have Mercy on my poor Soul. Dear Christians Pray for me.
The Speech of the Two Quins
For our Parts we have but little to say for our selves, only that we were born in the Fews, in the County of Armagh, and our Parents Lived Poor and Honest, but many honest Parents has had Wick’d Idle children as we both have been very Disobedient to our Parents or Friends, which gave us good advice, but we follow’d too much of our own, which Brings too many young Fellows either to the Gallows or to be Transported, and as we are Dying Persons, we desire all young People to take the Advice of their Parents and Friends, here we die for Robbing a poor honest Man’s House in the County of Cavan, his name is one Coleman, we can’t deny the Fact, it being prov’d so home on us, though we thought what we took there did not deserve Death, but this with other wicked Sins and Crimes is the Cause of our being Brought to this shameful End, O great God we Crave Mercy, and Begs of thee O merciful Father to receive our Souls, O good People pray for us, for we die Roman Catholicks, and sweet Jesus receive us Amen. One of the Quinn’s had the Impudence to Curse and Abuse the High Sheriff, the Grand Jury and the whole Court, and told them that they Murdered him.
The Whole Tryal and Examination of Capt. Collmore a Proclaim’d Tory, and was Noted for being Guilty of Bloody Murthers, Rapes and Robberies in the County of Armagh
When Collmore was brought to the Bar to be Tryed, he denied himself to be the Man, then the Clerk of the Crown was obliged to Swear to the Proclamation where he was nam’d; so when the Jury was call’d and Sworn, he was asked several Questions, but answered to no Purpose, then one Andrew Thompson appear’d, and the Book was given him, who Swore that he was the same Charles Carraghar who Liv’d formerly with Mr. Blykes of Darcy in the Fews, and that he Stole Two Heffers from Aldarman Grimes, and was for the same Indicted and Proclaimed at Ardee[.] Collmore objected against the Evidence, because he said that Thompson had formerly forsworn himself, to which the Evidence answered, that as he was coming home late to his House one Night, that he was met by this Collmore, and was forced in Defence of his Life, which was so much threaten’d by him, to Swear that he never Presented him, the Jury immediately brought him in Guilty.
Councellor Townly gave him the following sentance, That he should be Hanged; and be Cut down before he was dead, his Privy Members to be Cut Off, his Bowels burn’d, and his Quarters to be dispos’d off at the King’s Pleasure.
When Collmore was brought to the Gallows, he Hang for a small Time, he was Cut down while alive, when the Hangman was cutting off his Privities, he cry’d out, then the Sheriff ordered his Throat to be Cut, the Hangman could not do it readily, for he strugled very much, his Head was afterwards Cut off, his Chops open’d and shut, tho’ his Head was a Yard from his Body, his Carcass was divided into 4 parts, and set up in 4 several Parts of the Country. He died very obstinately.
The Last Speech and Dying Words of
Charles Calahar alias Collmore
who was Try’d on Tuesday the 17th Inst. Feb. 1718/19 at the Sessions of Dundalk, for being a Proclaim’d Tory, and was the next Day Hang’d, Quarter’d and his Intrals burn’d.
Deliver’d at the Gallows to Will Moore Esq.
High Sheriff of the Country of Lowth
Almighty God has by a just Providence brought me to this untimely End, He has been Mercifully pleas’d not to Cut me off in the midst of my Sins, but to allow me some Time to reflect on my unhappy mis spent Life, and to Implore Forgiveness for my many Iniquities, which I trust he will graciously Pardon.
And as my Crimes have been of publick crying Nature, so I think myself Bound to make a publick Confession of them both to God and my Country.
And first with Shame and Confusion of Face I confess I have been Guilty of many Robberries and Thefts, and have also Seduced and Encouraged others to do the like.
I Barbarously and Unjustly Embru’d my Hands in the Blood of my Fellow Creatures, and in particular I Murder’d Martin Grey and Christopher Betty, and suffer’d that worthy honest Gent. Mr. Edmond Reily to be wrongfully Executed at Cavan Assizes for the said Murders; He being no ways Privy or Accessary to them, but entirely Innocent of that bloody Fact which was the ruin of his Wife and several small Children. [emphasis mine, not in the original -ed.]
I likewise Confess I was at the Inhumane Murders and Butchery of Bryan O’Hanlan, and M’Gibbin, for all which I most humbly beg the Almighty’s Pardon, and the Pardon of all whom I have in any way Injur’d, and declare I have a thorow sence of my former Impietys and an utter Abhorence and Detestation of them, and hope God will please to look on me, and accept of my Blood, tho’ a most unworthy Offering, since my Punishment is not half what I deserve.
I die a Member of the Church of Rome, tho’ an unworthy one, and do freely forgive every one that have Injur’d me, especially John M’Keoine who betray’d me, and I declare I wou’d have Fought my way thro’ the Soldiers who surrounded the Cabbin where I was, and had new Charged and Prim’d my Pistols in order to it, but was prevented by the Entreaties of my Nephew, and am now thankful to God for it since I have by that had opportunity to think of my Soul. I humbly Recommend into the Hands of my most Merciful Redeemer, and beg the Prayers of all good People.
After he was Executed there was 3 Kishes of Turff lighted, wherein his Harts Livers Lights and Members were Burned, and his Head set on the Goal, Two Yards higher than any of the rest, with His Hat and Wigg on; his Nephew James McCaraghar and 3 more are to be executed on Saturday 21st.