Silva had struck silver and cashed his claim in for the proprietorship of a saloon in Las Vegas, NM where he tolled the vices of later prospectors and of the ranchers and herders who peopled the area.
In the 1880s the deposits were drying up and with them the tumblers at Silva’s well. Ever the enterprising businessman, he procured a remote ranch to use as the base for a fresh initiative: running by night a secretive gang that terrorized San Miguel county and neighboring Guadlupe, Mora, and Santa Fe counties, too. For a couple of years these villains had the run of unsettled territory’s rural places, and waylaid travelers or rustled livestock with near impunity — murdering when necessary and even brazenly “disappearing” some ranchers known to be too vigorous about defending themselves.
The Silva gang came unglued in the winter of 1892-93. Suspecting one of its number of preparing to expose him, Silva ordered the man done to death — and Pat Maes was efficiently lynched to a bridge in a driving snowstorm. Silva himself fled his legitimate persona in Las Vegas and embraced outlawry as a fugitive in the bush.
Having already proven his willingness to slay his own followers, Silva soon had to go even farther than that: in February 1893 he demanded that his cronies murder his (Silva’s) wife, and the wife’s brother — again for fear of betrayal. The men so tasked did carry out their orders, but, wary of the Robespierrian trend betokened by these purges, they also took the opportunity to murder Silva himself.
That scattered his associated desperadoes to the desert winds. Pursued by rewards on their heads — and no longer in mortal terror of the chief’s vengeance should they turn stool pigeon on their former mates to collect — many of the gangsters were rounded up in the years to come.
Our two characters, Vialpando and Chavez, numbered among Silva’s dispersed marauders and had managed to escape the most recent instance of a tattling comrade. Come the winter of 1894-95, two years on from Silva’s exit stage 6 feet under, these ex-henchmen still had their former liberty … and none of their former ease.
Staggering through another blizzard like the one that had fallen on poor Pat Maes so many moons before, they* came upon Lorenzo Martinez’s land and trespassed with famished gusto. They had soon made of one of Martinez’s cows a much-needed repast, but as they huddled around a fire to devour it in warmth, the rancher’s son Tomas arrived on the scene. Who knows but with what suspicion these parties eyed one another, and what guarded words they exchanged. Later Vialpando would explain through an interpreter that, catching glimpse of the man’s cartridge belt “I became afraid of him that he might be the owner of that animal that we had killed there,” and with familiar glances to Feliciano made a silent impromptu pact to kill Martinez before the rancher got a drop on them.
Four days later, Martinez’s faithful dog Gallardo — whom the raiders had also shot, but not managed to kill — turned up back at the family homestead half-frozen and matted in its own blood and all but dragged Martinez’s brother to the spot where Tomas’s cremated remains mingled with the carcass of the dead cow. The discovery was quick enough to put authorities on the right track, and they had Vialpando and Chavez in custody within a fortnight.
They offered only a feeble attempt at spinning the admitted homicide as “self-defense”. At the prisoners’ request, Governor William Thornton met personally with them in jail a few days before their hanging, where the doomed men begged for mercy “without pretending to give any reason why he should” grant it. (New Mexican, Nov. 14, 1895)
Around 6 o’clock on the morning of November 19, Vialpando was escorted alone to a one-man public gallows at an arroyo north of town. Wan and terrified, Vialpando had all he could do to keep his composure and made no statement before he was efficiently executed.
By 7 o’clock the sheriff’s party had returned to the jail for Chavez. Less unmanned by the occasion, Chavez had a rambling 18-minute address to the crowd from the gallows, translated on the fly from his Spanish by a handy interpreter, the substance of which was to vaguely distribute among the rest of his party enough responsibility for Martinez’s murder that he could complain about taking the punishment for it. At last, with the parting cry of “Adios, todos!”, Chavez too was hanged at 8 o’clock.
The men’s bodies were shipped a few miles down the way to their families in Romeroville, along with a few dollars in nickels they had accumulated from well-wishers while awaiting execution. A public subscription covered the cost of their burial.
* The party was four in all. Zenobia Trujillo and Emilio Encinias were present when Martinez found their party but were sent away before he was murdered; they were charged as accessories after the fact.
The legendary Highlands freebooter Jamie Macpherson was hanged on this date in 1700 in Banff.
Macpherson is said to be an illegitimate half-Gypsy child with every talent necessary to live larger than life — and if gigantism can be inferred from the size of his enormous alleged sword, that would be extremely large indeed.
Besides his elite SPARQ score, Macpherson was blessed with complementary gifts for making music and sweet sweet love, and plundered livestock and merchandise and maidenheads as he sprang through the vicinities of Banff and Aberdeen. Despite living by his prowess with the sword every source concurs that he never used it to harm anyone that the audience would sympathize with.
But he outraged the local grandees, and at length he was apprehended (as befits his outsized tale) by a fellow with the improbable name “Duff of Braco” — then was duly condemned to hang on market-day (“Forasmeikle as you James McPherson, pannal are found guilty by ane verdict of ane assyse, to be knoun, holden, and repute to be Egiptian and a wagabond” etc.).
In the week before his hanging, Macpherson reportedly composed an air variously described as “Macpherson’s Lament” or “Rant” or “Farewell” which he then performed on the gallows.
In the most picturuesque version, he played his own fiddle in this exit performance, then dramatically smashed the instrument. As Chambers’s Journal observes, it seems hard to accept that the sheriff would have given this veritable Goliath the free use of his hands at such a desperate moment. Indeed, local legend has it that the authorities were so afraid that a reprieve might arrive that upon catching sight of an approaching rider on the horizon, they put the town’s clocks 15 minutes forward.
At any rate, several versions of the Lament/Rant/Farewell survive and one can follow its evolution in this open-source Annals of Banff. Robert Burns’s eventually immortalized the verse with this gloss on it from the late 18th century:
On this date in 1864, German tailor Franz Muller hanged before an unruly London mob estimated near 50,000 angry souls.
Muller was among Britain’s last public hangings, before executions disappeared behind prison walls four years later. But what he’d done was a first, and father to a legion of detective novels and dinner theater: Muller committed the first murder on a British train.
Certainly Muller’s motive was as pedestrian as his locomotion was unusual, for the victim was a 69-year-old banker who was relieved of a gold watch and gold spectacles, then pitched out of his compartment onto an embankment on a North London commuter train.
This operation was facilitated and — so conceived a public that was spellbound by the crime — poor Mr. Thomas Briggs’s escape prevented by the then-prevalent use of the compartment coach, a railcar design without any interior corridor communicating between the berths. As each compartment opened only to the outside, passengers were stuck in their rooms between stations (and ticket-takers had to scuttle hazardously along exterior running-boards). Known in much of Europe as the English coach, these designs would quickly lose popularity thanks in part to this very affair.*
In a sense, these spaces just translated into the industrial era the age-old terrors that stalked travelers. It must be this that accounts for the extraordinary interest the public took in Briggs and Muller: in a sealed compartment, face to face with a desperate man, one would be as nakedly vulnerable as the lone rider on the roads of yesteryear quailing at the shadow of Dick Turpin. London businessmen did not expect such harrowing encounters on their daily commute.
A reward soon yielded a tip that put police onto this working-class immigrant Muller — the man sure ticked every box for a proper moral panic — who had dropped into a Cheapside jeweler’s** shop two days after the murder to exchange a gold chain (later identified as Briggs’s chain), and hopped a ship to New York soon thereafter. Inspectors took a faster ship and beat him to the Big Apple. He still had Briggs’s watch and top hat on his person, the latter ingeniously cut down.†
In a recent book about Briggs’s murder, Kate Colquhoun argues that despite the verdict, Britons “never quite felt they got to the bottom of” why the murder occurred. It’s commonly supposed that Muller didn’t intend to slay his victim and perhaps didn’t even realize he had done so.
Muller’s disarmingly amiable personality contrasted sharply with the circumstantial but persuasive evidence of a violent bandit; he struck the men who awaited him in New York as having been genuinely surprised by his arrest. Muller himself denied his guilt throughout a breathlessly reported three-day trial and even pressed for a stay of execution claiming to have developed new evidence of his innocence.
There was no stay, and only at the very last moment before the drop fell did the condemned youth succumb to the pressure of the German-speaking Lutheran clergyman who had been his companion in the last days to confess himself of the crime with the words Ich habe es getan.
Rev. Louis Cappel, whose immediate public announcement of this solemn unburdening played better as theater than as ministry, later explained in a letter to the London Times‡ (Nov. 16, 1864) that
the unhappy man declared he was innocent not while, but before, the Sacrament was being administered to him. Soon after entering his cell on the last morning I asked Muller again whether he was guilty of this murder. He denied it. I then said, “Muller, the moments are precious; we must turn our minds wholly to God; I shall question you no more about this, but my last words to you will be, ‘Are you innocent?'”
He remained silent for a minute or two, but presently exclaimed, his eyes full of tears, and clasping his arms round my neck, “Do not forsake me; stay with me to the last.”
* As a stopgap safety measure in the following years, before the widespread introduction of cars with interior corridors, existing compartment coaches were fitted with peepholes (called “Muller’s lights”) between compartments as well as wires enabling passengers to ring the alarm
** Submitted without comment: the jeweler’s name was John Death.
† Muller’s truncated-top-hat design actually enjoyed a brief fashion vogue that became named for him as a “Muller cut-down”.
‡ Consonant with the growing elite consensus on the matter, half the Times‘ execution coverage — a full column and a half of newsprint — was dedicated to excoriating the “lawless ruffianism” of the jeering hang-day mob.
On this date in 1939, Nelson Charles hanged for stabbing his mother-in-law to death in a drunken altercation.
Charles, an indigenous man and World War I veteran, was described by a retired U.S. Marshal who knew him as ” quiet, peaceful and polite person and I have never known him to even have an argument or get into trouble of any kind” — that is, when not drinking. Alas, both he and the victim, 58-year-old Cecilia Johnson, had an affinity for the stuff.
Though Charles committed this murder in “Indian Town” of segregated Ketchikan, Alaska, he hanged in the territorial capital of Juneau.
This was Juneau’s very first execution (previous Alaskan executions had occurred in Nome, Sitka, and Fairbanks), and the improvised gallows arrangement tucked into a stairwell pit under the outside staircase of the town prison is something to read about. One can do that in this here article of the Alaska Justice Forum.
The University of Alaska Anchorage also has a very moving essay written by the then-21-year-old cub reporter who was one of the dozen official witnesses:
Men have been stricken with fatal diseases and we have known they would die. We have held our buddies in our arms at the front and watched the last breaths spend themselves. But even then there had been hope, and when not hope, the awareness that death might stay away awhile. But none of that now; nothing less than a miracle could save this fellow and there are no miracles in this life. Soon he would be a stone.
From under his vest the marshal brought out the black hood. With the deputy standing on the other side, assisting him, he began to draw the thing onto the man’s head. I had not felt too bad until the priest had appeared in his long, black robes; I had seen those robes and tears had come. Nothing like tears came now, but still I hated the black, hated the hood. Take it easy now, you fool, I thought to myself. Look away for a few seconds. So I dropped my eyes and looked into the pit; then up again. They were having trouble with the hood. It was too small. Halfway on, its edge caught onto the man’s right ear.
“Fix my ear,” he said quietly. His last words. Like a small boy who is about to be punished and, with a half-sob, begs his parent to be careful not to break the toy in his pocket.
Three murderers’ coincidental hanging dates on November 4, 1881, were reported by the next day’s issue of the New York Herald. We reproduce all three bulletins below, verbatim save added line breaks to aid readability.
Whiteville, N.C., Nov. 4, 1881
Henry Lovett, colored, to-day suffered the extreme penalty of the law for the murder of Archelaus P. Williams, who was also colored.
The doomed man slept quietly last night and ate a hearty breakfast this morning. The Rev. H. Gore, colored, of the Missionary Baptist Church, who had attended the malefactor on several occasions and officiated with him to the last moment, states that Lovett professed himself as willing to die. His demeanor this morning was calm and collected and he bade goodby to the sheriff, jailer and others in attendance with perfect composure.
At half-past eleven o’clock this forenoon he was taken from the jail to the gallows, which was erected in the jail yard. He mounted the scaffold with a firm step, attended by the jailer, sheriff and clergyman.
PRAYING ON THE SCAFFOLD.
The execution being public, the yard and surrounding grounds were packed with an eager populace anxious to witness a spectacle seldom seen in the county of Columbus.
Religious services were held upon the scaffold, in which Lovett joined with fervor.
At the conclusion of the devotions the Sheriff adjusted the rope, and at ten minutes past twelve the drop fell. At the expiration of fifteen minutes the physicians in attendance pronounced Lovett dead. He died with scarcely a struggle, the neck being dislocated by the fall. After remaining suspended for twenty minutes the body was cut down and taken to the public burial ground for interment.
STORY OF THE CRIME.
The murder of Williams by Lovett was committed at a place known at Williamson’s Cross Roads, in Tatums township, in this county, on the 19th of July, 1880.
The parties had always been on friendly terms, but upon the day of the murder, both men being intoxicated, some misunderstanding had arisen between them, during which Williams picked up a rock to throw it at Lovett, who had drawn a pocket knife. High words and threats passed between them, but finally apparent peace was restored and Williams threw down the rock in token of amity.
Lovett then approached him, and putting his arm around Williams’ neck said, “There is no trouble, Ned (a name by which the latter was usually known), between us,” and they walked off together in seeming good friendship, when a blow was heard and Williams exclaimed, “I’m a dead man without a cause!”
At the same instant Lovett was seen by one of the bystanders to draw a knife from the neck of his victim.
Some of those present immediately secured Lovett, while others hastened to the assistance of the wounded man. The former made no effort to escape, nor did he attempt to resist arrest.
Medical attendance was very promptly on hand, and it was found that the jugular vein was partially severed and the throat and windpipe badly cut. Williams, however, lived twenty-four hours after receiving the fatal wound.
He was about fifty-five years of age, and left a wife and several children. He was generally a peacable man, but at times, especially when partially intoxicated, was inclined to be quarrelsome.
TRIAL AND CONVICTION.
At the fall term of the Superior Court of Columbus county last year the Grand Jury found a true bill against Lovett, and he was duly arraigned for trial.
As the prisoner was entirely without means the Court assigned counsel to defend him. Upon affidavit being made that the prisoner was not prepared for trial the case was continued until the spring term of 1881, at which the prisoner’s counsel asked for a further continuance to enable them to secure important witnesses, and upon affidavit made to that effect the request was granted.
At the fall term, which convened at Whiteville, September 19, 1881, Judge Jesse F. Graves, presiding, Lovett was brought to trial, and after a fair and impartial hearing, an able defence by his counsel and an exhaustive charge by the court, the jury rendered a verdict of “guilty of murder in the first degree.”
A motion was made for a new trial upon the ground that no malice had been shown upon the part of the defendant, but it was overruled. The court then pronounced sentence of death upon the prisoner.
INDIFFERENCE TO HIS FATE.
Lovett received the sentence with stolid indifference, apparently without remorse for the fearful crime he had committed or solicitude for the awful fate which awaited him.
This utter disregard of the past or future he has as a rule maintained ever since. Spiritual consolation has been offered him through the ministrations of a Baptist (white) clergyman and also by two colored ministers of the same denomination, but he paid little attention to any of them, although his conduct has been quiet, peacable and orderly during his long confinement.
He claimed to be but twenty-one years of age, although his appearance would indicate that he was at least four years old. He also claimed to have had no recollection of the events of that fatal day.
Lovett was a full black, about five feet and five inches in height, and his status as a colored man was considerably below the average of intelligence among those people. He was unmarried.
Plattsburg, N.Y., Nov. 4, 1881
Henry King was executed here to-day for the murder of Michael Hamilton at the State Prison, at Clinton, on July 13, in which both men were convicts.
Both were New York burglars, who had been drafted from Sing Sing Prison. King was serving a life term for killing Police Sergeant McGiven, of New York. He had been very quiet and penitent in the jail and attended strictly to the religious advice given him by Father Walsh.
The arrangements for the execution were carefully made by Sheriff Mooney, the gallows being placed in the rear yard of the jail.
At thirty-six minutes after eleven o’clock the Sheriff and deputies, two medical men and representatives of the press took their places.
The warrant had been previously read in the cell. The condemned man walked unpinioned, with a determined air to his fate, behind Fathers Walsh and Carroll, who were reciting the offices of the Church. King spoke briefly, thanking the Sheriff and his deputies for their kindness, and saying that he had hopes of God’s forgiveness.
DEATH BY STRANGULATION.
The rope and cap having been adjusted by Sheriff Mooney, that official stepped behind a screen, and at seventeen minutes to twelve the body of King sprang upward and was dangling in the air four feet from the ground.
The knot having slipped to the front the neck was not broke and death ensued by strangulation.
After a lapse of three minutes no pulse could be felt at the wrist, but it was still eighty at the heart. At twelve o’clock it was gone and he was declared dead by the doctors. Seven minutes later the body was lowered, placed in a coffin and given to his mother and brother, who had come up from New York last Tuesday for that purpose.
The remains were taken to St. John’s Church, where a funeral mass was recited, and at two o’clock they were buried in the village cemetery.
DETAILS OF THE TRAGEDY.
On the 10th of August, 1876, Henry King was sentenced to serve a life term in Dannemora Prion for murdering Sergeant James McGiven, of New York.
A short time after the shooting of President Garfield, King and another convict named Hamilton, got into a quarrel regarding the character of Vice President Arthur and his fitness to administer the affairs of the nation in the event of President Garfield’s death and Arthur’s succession to the Presidency.
Hamilton made some remark which was not complimentary to Arthur, whereupon King struck his brother convict two blows on the head with an axe, killing him instantly.
King was tried on the charge of murder, at the Circuit Court in session at Plattsburgh, on September 14, Judge Landon presiding.
Three witneses were sworn for the prosecution — the prison physician, a cook and one of the keepers. No evidence was introduced on behalf of the prisoner. The taking of testimony occupied about one hour and a half, when the jury retired. After an absence of about two hours it returned and requested the Judge to explain the legal difference between murder in the first and second degrees.
EXTRAORDINARY SCENE IN COURT.
Judge Landon was about to reply, when the prisoner arose to his feet and said: — “Your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, this was not a murder in the second degree. It was a deliberate and premeditated murder. I know that I have done wrong, that I ought to confess the truth and that I ought to be hanged.”
Here the prisoner’ counsel tried in vain to silence him.
“No,” continued King.
I have done wrong. It is my duty to confess it, and I cannot help doing so. I cannot keep still. I plead guilty to murder in the first degree. It was fifteen minutes from the time I struck the first blow with the axe until I struck him the second time, and all this time I kept thinking, ‘I will finish this man.’ If this is not premeditated murder what is it? I have already killed two men. What is my life to me? The life of either of these two men whom I have killed is worth a dozen of mine.
THE DEATH SENTENCE.
The prisoner then sat down, whereupon the Judge informed the jury that in view of the prisoner’s admission that the murder was premeditated there was no necessity for any further explanation of the law upon his part.
The jury thereupon retired and very soon came back with a verdict of guilty. In reply to the question as to whether he had anything to say why the sentence of death should not be passed upon him King replied: — “Nothing, sir; the sentence is a just one. I ought to be hanged.”
KING’S RECORD IN NEW YORK.
Policeman Patrick Kennedy, of the City Hall police, said yesterday: —
I arrested King immediately after his stabbing poor McGiven. King had a watch and chain in one hand and an open knife in the other.
As soon as McGiven was wounded he released his hold of the thief, who had thus become a murderer, and cried out ‘I am stabbed!’ Just as this occurred I arrived at the scene and seized the murderer.
McGiven said, ‘Look out for him; he has a knife.’ With some difficulty I succeeded in disarming King, not, however, before he informed me that if he had his pistol with him he would ‘fix’ me.
I subsequently learned that King was one of the worst characters in a locality notorious for crime — viz., from Twelfth to Forty-Second Street, east of First Avenue. He was always ready, for anything in the way of crime, being what is known as a ‘general thief,’ having no particular specialty, but adopting sneak thieving, burglary or highway robbery as occasion offered.
He lived with his mother and brother in Nineteenth street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, and was well known to the police as one of the most desperate characters in the Eighteenth Ward.
He had the most violent temper that ever man was cursed with. He would stop at nothing to injure any one who interfered with or thwarted him.
Since he has been in prison I have ascertained that he wrote letters to this city, in which he expressed the intention, if ever he got out, to put an end to my life. Some idea of the man may be formed from his statement only a day or two ago that he does not want to live, as if he were to obtain his liberty he might commit other murders.
Jonesborough, Ga., Nov. 4, 1881
Tom Betts, colored, was hanged here to-day for the murder of Judge H. Moore, last fall.
Betts was taken from jail at 12 o’clock by the Sheriff under a guard of seventy men and carried to the gallows, which was erected a mile from the town.
The condemned man made a speech confessing his crime and expressing the belief that he would be saved. The drop fell at 1:01 o’clock and death resulted in seven minutes from strangulation.
[M]ore than 14,000 will have perished in this unhappy city, the great majority through starvation; others were shot, and still others were beheaded by the rebels in the fields that many attempted to cross even though they knew that the rebels would not show them any mercy if they looked Spanish in any way. And I, in the middle of all this misfortune and despite having as many bullets pass over me as passed over Carlos Federico of Prussia, I am still alive up to this date and after having satisfactorily carried out all the enterprises entrusted to me by my friend Commander Segurola, and having shown myself on all occasion to be very competent, and with a selfless love of service towards both Majesties, risking my life and everything I own to defend this hapless city. And everybody has celebrated, but especially said Commander, my activity and boldness at night as well as during the day, as I could always be found in the most dangerous areas of this wretched city, supervising and reprimanding those officers who were slack in their duties. Whatever happens from now on, God was served.
There is no Indian who is not a rebel; all die willingly for their Inca King, without coming to terms with God or his sacred law. On October 26th twelve rebels were beheaded and none of them were convinced to accept Jesus; and the same has happened with another 600 that have died in executions during both sieges.
The head of the infamous Tupac Catari still hangs from one of the gallows of this square, and on the 20th of last month they began to form the cases against twenty-four of the principal rebel officers who served under his perverse and iniquitous command. Equal diligence is being practiced against five women who are being held in the command post of this square. Among them is Catari’s sister and one of his women with the same inclinations as that iniquitous Indian, who must have come from the depths of hell.
More troops are needed from both Viceroyalties or from Spain, some 8,0000 to 10,000 men to make Our Sovereign’s name respected throughout the entire Sierra and to finally, once and for all, cut off some heads and be finished with all these cursed relics.
-Dec. 3, 1781 letter from Juan Bautisa Zavala “summarizing the calamities” of La Paz under Aymara siege over the foregoing months (As quoted in this anthology)
Murderer Owen McQueen(e)y was hanged on this date in 1858 at Gallows Flat down the road from Old Geelong Gaol.
McQueeney, a wandering Irish robber with one distinctively sightless eye, committed something called the “Green Tent Murder” which consisted of the slaying of the pretty proprietress of a structure that went by that name.
The Green Tent was a grocery and tavern serving Australia’s ample population of itinerant gold-hunters in the environs of Meredith, Victoria — specifically the environs of present-day Green Tent Road.
Fresh off a jail term for horse-rustling, McQueeney turned up at the ‘Tent in July 1858 and began creepily haunting the pleasing mistress with the well-proportioned stock shelves.
Until, for no known provocation save plunder, McQueeney murdered the widow owner Elizabeth Lowe and fled.
The poor woman’s body was chanced upon soon thereafter and travelers’ reports of a dead-eyed and overladen swag-man making tracks for Geelong soon zeroed the search in on the desperado, still carrying Ms. Lowe’s incriminatingly distinctive property.
McQueeney, who was noted for his obnoxious bravado from the moment of his first police examination all the way to condemnation evidently labored until almost the very last “under the infatuation that he would yet be reprieved … on the ground of the great aversion entertained by a large class of people to capital punishment under any circumstances. This belief of his in the morbid sympathies of his fellow-creatures, there can be no doubt, induced him to the last to disown his crime” even though he admitted to many other ones. Nevertheless, he continued his irascible act all the way to the noose, griping at the executioner for holding him too tight and pulling the hood down too soon.
Old Geelong Gaol was converted in 1865 to an “industrial school” for street urchins, and 12 years after that into a prison-hospital. The dusty old place, famous for is spartan amenities resumed life as a working gaol after World War II and only closed in 1991 — but never had another hanging after the 1860s. Today it is open for public tours, complete with gallows exhibit.
On this date in 1854, two Sami men were beheaded for Norway’s Kautokeino Rebellion.
The indigenous Sami people — often known as Lapps, although this nomenclature is not preferred by the Sami themselves — had by this point become territorially assimilated to the states of the Scandinavian peninsula across which their ancestral homeland had once spanned.
The material benefits of this association for the Sami were much less apparent.
In Norway — our focus for this post — Sami shared little of the economic growth in the 19th century save for a startling proliferation of alcoholism.
In the 1840s a charismatic Sami preacher named Lars Levi Laestadius founded a Lutheran revival movement that went over like reindeer among his people. Religious enthusiasm and social critique went hand in hand: Laestadius’s hard anti-alcohol line and criticism of the comfortable state clergy touched deeply felt grievances, and Laestadius could deliver these messages in Sami dialects. Villages devastated by drink would go dry in response to his exhortations with pleasing results for the social fabric, further stoking adherents’ piety.
The most militant expression of this movement soon detached itself from any restraint Lars Levi Laestadius might hope to exercise upon it. Eventually it would move towards disruptive actions like interrupting services of the official clergy and protesting licensed alcohol merchants.
In a rising in November 1852, firebrand Laestadians attacked the trading post of Carl Johan Ruth, the liquor merchant in the Finnmark village of Kautokeino. Both Ruth and the local sheriff, responding to the disturbance, were slain in the ensuing fray and several other buildings in town torched. A counterattack managed to quell the disturbance — killing two rebels in turn — and eventually 17 men and 11 women were condemned to sentences ranging from short prison terms to lifelong prison terms to (our concern, of course) execution.
After decapitation, the men’s bodies were buried at Alta’s Kafjorddalen Church, but their severed heads went off to the Royal Fredrik’s University (today the University of Oslo) for scientists to probe. The heads eventually went missing until a search turned them up at a cranium collection in Copenhagen in 1997, which returned them at the behest of the descendants for burial back with the trunks from which they parted ways 160 years ago today.
As of this writing, the full movie is also available on YouTube provided you can understand Norwegian, or read Spanish subtitles.
* Laestadianism still exists today. According to Wikipedia, “Because of doctrinal opinion differences and personality conflicts, the movement split into 19 branches, of which about 15 are active today.” Said Wikipedia entry enumerates all 19 groups, ranging from the Conservative Laestadians (approximately 115,000 adherents) all the way down to the Sten group (15 adherents) and the Kontio group (5 adherents).
In Arequipa, there is active devotion to Victor Apaza Quispe, who was born in the Miraflores district in 1932. Apaza led a vagrant life supported by odd jobs after fleeing his abusive father. In a variant version that he related to inmates, he was sold by his father into farm labor. Apaza married in 1953, continued a life of transient jobs and petty crime, drank heavily, and physically abused his wife and daughter until he finally abandoned the home. When he returned ten years later, the marriage was beyond repair. In January 1969, Apaza dreamed that his wife was unfaithful to him. He went to the location revealed in the dream and saw the shadowy figure of a man escaping. His wife, also there, was not as fortunate. Apaza beat her to death with a rock.
It was later revealed that the crime was premeditated and carefully planned. Apaza originally denied responsibility but confessed his guilt once the evidence mounted against him. Later, during appeals for clemency, he again declared his innocence. He was convicted partially on the evidence of his two daughters, who wittingly or unwittingly offered testimony that supported the death penalty. Apaza did not understand the sentence until his lawyer translated it for him into Quechua. He hugged his lawyer, the two of them crying, and then collapsed into his chair.
People in the courtroom were shocked by the death sentence. The rarity of the event — this would be the first execution in Arequipa — resulted in extensive press coverage. Apaza suddenly gained a celebrity derived less from his crime than from the punishment. The press represented him as a poor, simple man and a good Christian. According to Apaza’s defense attorney, “the very foundation of society was shaken” when the public learned that Apaza had been sentenced to death. Horror and indignation were aroused because the imminent execution was “an unjust action of human justice.” Divine justice would make amends.
Apaza faced the firing squad in prison on September 17, 1971. (The drama is intensified in some folkloric versions by locating the execution in Arequipa’s main plaza.) Arequipa’s residents were outraged, even traumatized, and some fifteen hundred attended Apaza’s funeral. They organized themselves into squads, taking turns to carry the coffin.
Apaza had been in prison for two years before he was executed. Like Ubilberto Vasquez Bautista in Cajamarca, he became a model prisoner and something of a populist. Fellow inmates described Apaza as a good, hardworking, honest man. In 1971, the 531 men incracerated with him sent a letter to the court petitioning clemency, in part because Apaza had proven himself to be “an honorable man and dedicated to his work.” The prison chaplain, a Jesuit, found Apaza to be pious and God-fearing, and the warden thought he was a “completely good” man. Later, retrospective press accounts described Apaza and Ubilberto together as “innocent men crushed by the Kafkaesque and labyrinthine cruelties of the administration of justice in Peru.”
The devotees with whom I spoke in Arequipa knew little about Apaza. Even the official rezador, a man who prays for tips at the shrine, did not have the story clear. Many devotees had a vague idea that Apaza had been executed under circumstances that suggested injustice, however, and the key word offered by all was “innocent.” Some believed that the true killer confessed the crime after Apaza was executed.
When I asked devotees how they knew that Apaza was innocent, one woman astonished me with her answer: “because a sinner cannot work miracles.” I later encountered this same response in other devotions. Once a folk saint’s fame for miracles is accepted as true, then this truth — this evidence — revises backward to create the conditions necessary for the production of miracles. Miracles make Apaza’s apparent guilt impossible, so the verdict is reversed. Innocence causes miracles, and miracles cause innocence. Miracles occur within the circularity defined by these parameters.
Apaza is miraculous, like all folk saints of this prototype, because “he died innocent and is beside Our Lord.” “You were shot, you suffered,” people said when they requested the first miracles, because these misfortunes qualified Apaza for sainthood.