1868: Melvin Baughn, Pony Express rider turned horse thief

Add comment September 18th, 2018 Headsman

We cadge today’s entry from the August 1950 Kansas Historical Quarterly; the article “Legal Hangings in Kansas” by Louise Barry can be perused in pdf form here.

A footnote in the original notes that “During the time in 1860 and 1861, when the Pony Express was in operation, one of the well-known riders on the route between St. Joseph, Mo., and Seneca, was Melvin Baughn. It is said he turned to a life of crime by joining a gang of horse thieves, soon after the Pony Express ended. Mooney is said to have been lynched sometime later.”


The Hanging of Melvin E. Baughn

Three Doniphan county men arrived in Seneca on November 19, 1866, with warrants for four horse thieves known to be in the vicinity. Sheriff William Boulton and a posse of Nemaha county men joined in the hunt. Jackson and Strange, two of the wanted men, were captured a little east of town. Three posse members (Charles W. Ingram, Henry H. Hillix and Jesse S. Dennis) overtook the other two criminals on the road to Capioma. When they rode up to arrest the men — Melvin E. Baughn and Zach Mooney — they were fired upon. Hillix was wounded severely and Dennis was fatally shot in the back, dying a few minutes later. The horse thieves escaped.

Baughn was arrested in Leavenworth on January 6, 1867, on a robbery charge. When recognized as Dennis’ murderer, he was turned over to Nemaha county officers who placed him in the Seneca jail. Four days later an unsuccessful attempt was made to lynch him. On February 6 he and another prisoner escaped.

More than 15 months later Baughn was captured near Sedalia, Mo., after being wounded by officers attempting to arrest him for a robbery. Upon being identified, he was returned to Kansas and to the Seneca jail. He was tried during the next term of the district court, early in August, Judge R. St. Clair Graham presiding. The jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree and on August 7 he was sentenced to be hanged on September 18, 1868.

A gallows was erected on the south side of the Nemaha county jail, and an area of the jail yard was enclosed by a “fence” of canvas. And, on the appointed day, at 3:18 in the afternoon, Baughn was hanged.

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1869: An Dehai, beloved eunuch

1 comment September 12th, 2018 Headsman

The imperial eunuch An Dehai was beheaded in Jinan on this date in 1869.

He was so much the favorite that it’s been clained that the redoubtable Empress Dowager Cixi had outright fallen in love with the courtier.

This was a circumstance destined to sharpen both An’s confidence in his position, and the blades of the inevitable enemies within the Forbidden City who were keen to be rid of him.

In 1869, the eunuch was dispatched to Nanjing as Cixi’s envoy to arrange the wedding gowns for the marriage of her son, the titular boy-emperor in whose name Cixi wielded power. On this trip, Cixi openly flaunted the protocol requiring eunuchs keep themselves inconspicuous, and also allegedly used the occasion to feather his bed with a bit of opportunistic extortion.

This, at any rate, was the report that an imperial governor relayed back to Prince Gong, who had once helped Cixi seize power in the state but had now become her rival. Gong got a quorum of the Grand Council to sign off on An’s execution while Cixi was off at the opera. She was so bereaved to discover his fate that she had his belongings lovingly gathered up for permanent safekeeping.

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1862: Frisby McCullough, Missouri bushwhacker

Add comment August 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1862, Confederate soldier Frisby McCullough was shot as a terrorist during the U.S. Civil War’s guerrilla Missouri campaign.

McCullough had a youthful stint in the California gold rush to his back when he returned to Missouri in the mid-1850s to practice law. (He also served in the Missouri State Guard, a pro-slavery militia that had been established in 1861 by the since-exiled secessionist governor.)

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, McCullough signed up for the pro-slavery Southern army and after a few different assignments became detailed to aid Confederate Col. James Porter in the hasty bush war raging in that frontier state.

We’ve previously detailed that conflict here. For purposes of this post it will suffice to say that the border state of Missouri was fiercely contested during this war, and claimed by North and South alike.

The Union commander John McNeil was not very inclined to charitably reading the treasonable secessionist irregulars who opposed him in the state, whom the Union considered to be operating illicitly behind its lines — in the character of spies and saboteurs, like the British agent John Andre during the Revolutionary War. This very much applied to our man, since McCullough’s particular gift was recruitment — you know, luring loyal citizens into sedition and rebellion.

On August 6, 1862, McNeil’s forces routed Porter’s at the Battle of Kirksville, and they pressed their victory. The very next day after, McNeil had 15 Confederate prisoners taken at Kirksville executed as former POWs who had violated their paroles by returning to the field: “I enforce the penalty of the bond,” McNeil icily reported to Washington.

Not long after, northern sentries also captured the ailing McCullough riding alone near Edina. He wasn’t a parolee — but “he had no commission except a printed paper authorizing the bearer to recruit for the Confederate army,” McNeil would write of him later in a missive to a comrade. At a snap trial on the 8th, “he was found guilty of bushwhacking and of being a guerilla. He was a brave fellow and a splendid specimen of manhood. I would gladly have spared him had duty permitted. As it was he suffered the same fate that would have fallen to you or me if we had been found recruiting within the Confederate lines. He met a soldier’s death as became a soldier.”

A memoir of the southern travails during this conflict titled With Porter in North Missouri; a chapter in the history of the war between the states is in the public domain; chapter XXII relates with umbrage the fate of McCullough whom the author Dr. Joseph Mudd* greatly admired:

Leaning against a fence he wrote a few lines to his wife, and these, with his watch and one or two other articles, he delivered to an officer to be given her, with assurance of his devoted affection in the hour of death. Upon the way to the place of his execution he requested the privilege of giving the order to fire, which was granted to him. All being ready, he stood bravely up, and without a tremor in his manly frame or a quiver in his clarion voice, he called out, ‘What I have done, I have done as a principle of right. Aim at the heart. Fire!’

… He was a good citizen, a high-minded gentleman, of fine presence, brave as a lion, gentle as a woman. Even in his death the strongest Unionists who knew him respected and admired his virtues and entertained the most bitter regrets that what they considered his misconceptions of duty had led him to his fearful fate. At the time of his death he was thirty-three years of age.

* Dr. Joseph Anthony Mudd hailed from Maryland: he was the brother of the Maryland Dr. Samuel Mudd who narrowly avoided execution as a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

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1864: The Andersonville Raiders

1 comment July 11th, 2018 dogboy

It’s not hard to understand why the Andersonville Raiders turned criminal. But on this day in 1864, the group was decapitated when six of its leaders were hanged in a quasi-legal action at the most inhospitable prisoner of war camp in the Confederacy.*

Andersonville Prison was opened in February 1864, 26.5 Georgian acres (about 0.1 square kilometers, or about the size of a square 4 city blocks on a side) of tightly-packed tents with a ditch of water flowing through its center. Its design population was 10-15,000 prisoners; its true population at one point was almost 30,000.** Some 45,000 Union soldiers went in, passing first the outer stockade, then the so-called “dead line” that demarcated the line outside of which they could be shot summarily, and finally into a mass of malnourished, often sickly humanity. Of these, 13,000 never emerged.

The Confederacy, you may recall, was not the war’s winner. As an aspiring nation, the CSA borrowed heavily to fund its arms, then found itself strapped for basic supplies as the war dragged on. By 1863 the nation was already economically depressed, and when a CSA-USA prisoner exchange agreement broke down, the Confederacy found itself with a lot of Union soldiers to house and nowhere to put them. Enter Andersonville: far enough from the North to be “safe”, easily defensible, and in the heart of slave labor to build it. All the Confederacy needed to build some basic housing was wood, which should be … oh wait … war update!…the Union controlled lumber supplies. Guess there won’t be housing.

Prisoners instead got lumped in with their brigade, and (at least initially) basic materials to make some sort of shelter.† New arrivals often showed up without being thoroughly checked over, so they might come in with food and supplies that weren’t already available to other internees.‡ Very quickly, the grounds were littered with Union POWs from around the country, people with vastly different backgrounds and goods. As the camp’s population breached 10,000 and then 20,000,§ there were, of course, inmates with designs on better living.

It’s not hard to see where this is going.

Sometime around May 1864, dozens of them assembled into a loose affiliation. The Raiders were headed by about a half dozen men: Charles Curtis, Patrick Delaney, John Sarsfield, William Collins (“Moseby”), a guy known only as “A. Munn”, and W.R. Rickson (or possibly Terry Sullivan; there’s an unusual disparity in diary accounts on the person’s name, but first-hand diary entries from the moment prefer Rickson) were considered the principal offenders. Each headed a small band of thieves who would trick new entrants, burgle tents, or use violence or threats of violence to amass “wealth” and keep themselves well-fed, well-clothed, and, most importantly to them in this hostile place, alive.

The Raiders had some huge advantages when they committed these crimes. Thanks to their amalgamated resources, they had good odds of being better armed and more fit than their victims — unless those victims were green, in which case they just knew the place better. The thieves started out as midnight raiders who turned tail at the first sign of genuine resistance unless they thought they could readily overpower the victim. By mid-June they were brazen, according to John Ransom: “Raiders … do as they please, kill, plunder and steal in broad day light, with no one to molest them.”

The victims were soldiers who, even if they weren’t killed, were left without resources in a deadly environment. Even the robberies and beatings were, in many cases, a prolonged form of murder, and Union inmates knew it. Indeed, Collins was thought by most to have never directly assaulted anyone, but he was known to steal blankets from the ill.

It’s unclear what the full Raider population was (estimates range from 100 to 500, but most people settle on the 100-200 range). What we can say definitively is that it was large enough to be a problem. Late in June of that year, a group called “the regulators” began taking police-like action against the perpetrators. Inmates brought their complaints to the group, which sought out and punished — usually through head shaving or other non-destructive means — those they found responsible.

On June 29, that problem started getting a real solution when the Raiders assaulted and robbed a prisoner now known only as Dowd. Dowd complained to the guards, and Andersonville’s overseer, Captain Henry Wirz, officially endorsed the Regulators as a police force/tribunal to maintain order. But first he announced an end to inmate rations until the Raiders were given up. (What a guy!)

The Regulators, headed by a man called “Lumber” (or maybe “Limber”) Jim, quickly had 80-100 inmates to deal with. Jury trials were implemented in the spirit of (but without most of the protections of) common law, and most punishments ranged from setting in the stocks to running the gauntlet.


Detail of a panorama sketch of Andersonville (click to see it) makes space for a certain well-attended sextuple hanging.

The ringleaders were also among this bunch. They were assembled on July 11 and executed at a hastily-erected gallows on the north end of camp. As far as the POWs were concerned, the ultimate crime of the Raiders was a violation of the soldier code of death before dishonor. Their bodies were buried separately from other inmates, and the US makes a point of placing no memorial flags at their graves.

To be clear, the Andersonville Raiders were, for most inmates, not the primary problem but an obviously controllable one. Remember that 30% of the interned died, and for the most part those deaths were borne of bad sanitation, hunger, and disease. The removal of the Raiders was a morale boost at best, as Andersonville was still a pee-pee soaked heckhole in which another 10,000 soldiers would die before liberation in May 1865, most of them before the summer’s end.

* It was also known as Camp Sumter, named after the county it resided in.

** The population density at peak was 330,000 people per square kilometer. For comparison, the world’s densest city is Manila, at about 71,000 people per square kilometer.

† It turns out the term “shebang” wasn’t widely-used camp lingo. Drawings and photos of the camp illustrate the variety of dwellings: open sleeping, simple V-tents, structured tents, lean-tos, huts, and shacks were all scattered about the grounds.

‡ They also came with new diseases.

§ The original camp was actually only 16.5 acres, and the population ballooned to 20,000 in early June and 33,000 in August of that year. Ransom notes that the stockade was “enlarged” on July 6. Fall transfers dropped the number to 1,500 and it bumped back up to 5,000 until war’s end. Sanitation issues persisted throughout.

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1865: Thomas King, heartstabber

Add comment June 23rd, 2018 Headsman

From the public domain History of Siskiyou County, California Illustrated with Views of Residences, Business Buildings and Natural Scenery, and Containing Portaits and Biographies of its Leading Citizens and Pioneers.

THOMAS KING.

After lying in jail two years, and receiving two trials, hoping for a release from the extreme penalty of the law until a few weeks before his death, Thomas King was executed on the twenty-third day of June, 1865, for a heartless and causeless murder, for dealing a death-blow, unprovoked and unexpected. He was born in Ireland, and when about twelve years of age, left his home because his parents had punished him for some offense. For several years he roamed about the United Kingdom, the associate of bad characters, until for the commission of
some felony he was transported to Australia.

When the Crimean war was raging, a regiment was raised among the convicts, by order of Lord Raglan, the men being given their liberty at the close of the war. In this regiment King enlisted, and after the fall of Sebastopol received his discharge. He made his way to Halifax, and from there to California, and to this county. After mining at Humbug, Scott Bar and various other places, he went to the south fork of Scott river, where he committed the terrible crime, for which the law exacted the penalty of his life.

On the second of July, 1863, having already become considerably under the influence of liquor, he entered French’s saloon, and began flourishing a knife in a threatening manner, and was deprived of it by the barkeeper. Among others in the saloon was James Duffy, who had been drinking, and whom King accused of having his knife. The accusation was denied, and upon being informed where the knife was, King demanded it from the barkeeper and it was restored to him. Throwing the weapon upon the floor and striking a tragic attitude, he exclaimed: “There lays me dagger. Whoever picks it up, dies by me hand.”

Not dreaming of danger, Duffy stooped, picked up the weapon and laid it upon the counter, saying, “You wouldn’t kill me, your best friend, would you?” “Yes, I would,” he said, as he took up the knife and made several false motions, touching Duffy’s breast with the handle, while the victim stood there smiling, unconscious of danger. Suddenly King reversed the knife, and with a, quick, hard blow, buried it deep in Duffy’s heart, the murdered man sinking to the floor with the exclamation, “You have cut me.” King made a pass with the bloody weapon at the barkeeper, and then sprang to the door and fled. The horrified witnesses of the tragedy stood for an instant in blank amazement, and then hastened in pursuit of the murderer, whom they soon overtook and secured after a slight resistance.

He remained in jail until the following February, when, after a trial lasting three days, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced by Judge E. Garter to be executed Friday, March 18, 1864. An appeal to the Supreme Court gained for the condemned man a new trial, based upon the construction of a statute, and not upon the merits of the case. He was again tried in September, and was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, November 4, 1864, but an application to the Supreme Court produced a stay of proceedings until the case could be reviewed by that body. While awaiting the decision of the court, on Saturday, the eighth of February, 1865, he made a bold, and for a time, successful attempt to regain his freedom. Confined in the jail, which was the old wooden building first erected by the county, were also George Foster and Robert Ferry, both under a sentence to the penitentiary for grand larceny, and McGuire, a deserter from the army. The last named was allowed in the corridor, and was in the habit of calling for water. About eight o’clock on the night in question Foster succeeded in getting out of his cell, and after releasing the prisoners from their cells, had McGuire call for water, as usual, and when Jailor McCullough opened the door he was seized, gagged, and bound, and the prisoners escaped, having their irons still upon them. They had been gone but twenty minutes when their flight was discovered. The town was aroused, and people started in all directions in search of the fugitives. About daylight Ferry was caught at Cherry creek by John Hendricks and others. having been unable to get rid of his irons. About two o’clock Sunday afternoon William Short and Charles Brown found King in a clump of manzanita bushes, near Deming’s old brickyard, but a short distance south-west of Yreka. His long confinement of nineteen months had so weakened him that he had been unable to proceed further or to remove the irons from his limbs, although one of them he had succeeded in sawing partially through. A party composed of Livy Swan, A.V. Burns, J. Babb, A.D. Crooks, Sherman, Stone, and Groots, in pursuit of Foster and McGuire, stopped Monday night at Cherokee Mary’s, a resort for thieves, nine miles from Yreka. About four o’clock Tuesday morning the two fugitives approached the house and were ordered to surrender, and upon attempting to escape were fired upon by Jesse Sherman, with a shot gun, and Foster was wounded in the head and captured, while McGuire escaped by flight. Foster had succeeded in removing his irons, and now, severely wounded, was conveyed again to jail, while McGuire went to Fort Jones, and, finding escape impossible, gave himself up. Foster and Ferry had the terms of their sentences increased, while McGuire, who would have been released in a few days, was sent to San Quentin for two years for his little exploit in jail-breaking.

George Foster, alias Charles Mortimer, alias Charles J. Flinn, was the leader in the jail delivery, a hardened and reckless felon, and ended his career upon the scaffold. He was first sent to San Quentin from San Francisco for three years, and when his term expired, went back, chloroformed a man and robbed him of $1,800, was arrested, and escaped from officer Rose, by knocking him senseless and nearly cutting his throat. He then came to Siskiyou county, and was soon sentenced to three years for grand larceny, which term was increased to seven years for his participation in the jail delivery. After his release he continued his career of crime, finally murdering a woman in Sacramento, September 19, 1872, for which act he paid the penalty upon the gallows, not, however, until his brother lost his life in a desperate attempt to release him from the jail in which he was confined while awaiting the day of his execution.

The Supreme Court having reviewed the case and sustained the decision of the lower court, King was brought before Judge Garter in May, and was sentenced to be hanged on Friday, June 23, 1865. Preparations were accordingly made by Sheriff A.D. Crooks by erecting a gallows in the jail-yard. King’s conduct during the trials had been one of bravado and defiance, and this he maintained to the last, being quite abusive while on the scaffold. He remarked as they were leading him from his cell to the place of his death, “I’m the handsomest man here, if I am going to be hung.” But few spectators were admitted within the jail walls to witness the last act of this terrible drama, which culminated at nine minutes to two o’clock. The murderer who thus received the just punishment for the crime, nearly two years after he had plunged the fatal knife into an innocent and unsuspecting bosom, was buried a little east of town, near the remains of Crowder and Sailor Jim, executed several years before.

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1866: Barthelemy Cellier, true sangfroid

Add comment June 16th, 2018 Headsman

Dying graciously is a — in that blessed space of unfeigned equanimity, in between fright and bluster — is a difficult art. On this date in 1866, the central France town of Riom guillotined an otherwise forgettable criminal who attained that Stoical condition.

By the account of La Petit Journal (French, obviously), double murderer Barthelemy Cellier was awoken at 3 a.m. on the morning of his beheading, with news of the rejection of his appeals. “Ah, ah,” said Cellier calmly, “it’s today!” Well, it’s as good today as it is tomorrow!”

Cellier listened to the curé “avec beaucoup de calme”, called for a glass of Bourdeaux wine and a cigarette, and then,

bare-headed, dressed in the prison outfit: gray trousers, white clogs, a gray jacket thrown over his shoulders, smoking his cigarette, walked with a firm step between the two ecclesiastics … Behind came the executioners and mounted gendarmes.

The course was about two hundred meters. Throughout this journey, Cellier’s face was marked by the most perfect serenity; a gracious smile wandering in his eyes and on his lips gave him rather the countenance of a man walking towards his deliverance than of a criminal going to execution.

The scaffold was surrounded by a large number of people from Riom and the surrounding area; but, thanks to excellent preparation, the dismal machine was separated from the crowd by fifty yards at least. Detachments of soldiers rigorously maintained this perimeter.

Arriving at the foot of the scaffold, Cellier raised his head and looked, without pallor, the fatal cleaver.

He threw out his cigarette and crushed it with his foot.

Then, turning to the honorable priests, he spoke for a few seconds with them, kissed both effusively and climbed alone with a sure stride the steps separating him from the platform.

There, with a sudden movement, he dropped the jacket which hid his shoulders, and having with a glance examined the crowd, without bravado, without affectation, always with the same calm and the same smile, he twice graciously greeted the apparatus. Not a single word was spoken. The hour had just tolled. A sudden noise, immediately accompanied by a few women’s comments and a shriek from the crowd, announced that the supreme act had been accomplished. Cellier’s spirit had not been broken for a moment. He died demonstrating true sangfroid. The crowd slowly went away, deeply moved by the dreadful drama which had just been broken up in a few seconds.

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1863: Zygmunt Padlewski, January Uprising rebel

Add comment May 15th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1863, Zygmunt Padlewski was shot for rebelling against the Russian empire.

A young St. Petersburg-trained tsarist officer with a patriotic bent — his father had taken part in the November [1830] Uprising against Russian domination — Padlewski (English Wikipedia entry | German | the surprisingly least detailed Polish) spent the early 1860s organizing revolutionary exiles in Paris.

He then put his neck where his mouth was by returning to Warsaw to agitate and, eventually, to assume the leadership of Polish rebels in that area during his own generation’s doomed revolution, the January [1863] Uprising.

Padlewski’s carriage was detained at a checkpoint when he tried to sneak back to Warsaw after a defeat, and his too-liberal bribes excited the suspicion of the Cossack sentries — who searched the traveler and discovered they had a man well worth the capturing.

He was shot at Plock, where a street and a school today bear his names (numerous other cities around Poland also honor Padlewski).

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1864: Utuwankande Sura Saradiel, Ceylon social bandit

Add comment May 7th, 2018 Headsman

Ceylon social bandit Utuwankande Sura Saradiel (or Sardiel) was hanged by the British on this date in 1864.

Saradiel fled a barracks servant’s life to take the road as a bandit. He’s alleged to have gallantly shared his proceeds with the poor; what he unquestionably did was tweak the tail of the powerful (and in this case, colonial) overlords. As is often the case with social bandits, it is difficult to know for certain whether it is for reason the latter that he enjoys the reputation of the former.

The indefatigable brigand was captured multiple times and made at least two escapes — inherently a winning public relations move — eventually maintaining himself from a picturesque mountain cavern and authoring throwback knight-of-the-road exploits to earn the nickname “Robin Hood of Ceylon”.*

Naturally, there is always a Sheriff of Nottingham.


Reward notice for the capture of our man, from the Ceylon Gazette of January 13, 1864.

Saradiel cinched his fate by shooting dead a constable in the course of his arrest. Considering that circumstance, we here at Executed Today are officially skeptical of the legend that a misplaced comma — “kill him, not let him go” when “kill him not, let him go” was intended — decided the man’s fate.

* The best one is that, having robbed from a father what he later learned to be the dowry for a bride-to-be, the robber found his victim again to return the sum, compounded by gambling winnings. Heart of gold, this guy!

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1868: Gujarat’s “Tribal Martyrs”

1 comment April 16th, 2018 Headsman

When current India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat, he implemented a “Tribal Martyrs’ Day” celebration for April 16 — in honor of a hanging on that date in 1868 of five Nayak.

Joriya Parmeshwar, Rupsingh Nayak, Golaliya Nayak, Ravjida Nayak and Babariya Galama Nayal all hanged in the city of Jambughoda, against the British Raj. Their authenticity as patriots rather than brigands has been disputed, but certainly Britain’s ready resort to summary justice in the course of her authority on the subcontinent earns no presumption of good faith for any designation.

“The stories of rebellion and martyrdom by Gujarat’s tribal leaders against tyranny of foreign rulers had remained buried in history and I have unfolded the chapter about the valour of these five forgotten leaders from tribal-dominated town of Jmbughod,” Modi declared. In a seeming dig at the governing Congress Party that he would soon expel from power, Modi added that “sacrifices of a large number of martyrs, who laid their lives for freedom of our nation, have been deliberately erased by some elements so that people could no longer remember their martyrdom.”

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1868: Charles Martin and Charles Morgan lynched in Cheyenne, Dakota Territory

Add comment March 21st, 2018 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1868, Charles Martin and Charles Morgan were both lynched for unrelated crimes in the nine-month-old city of Cheyenne. Cheyenne was still part of the Dakota Territory at the time; later that year, it became part of the new Wyoming Territory, which was created from bits of the Dakota, Idaho and Utah territories.

Martin was originally from Missouri and, like many of the local residents, a new arrival, who had come to Cheyenne with the railroad in 1867. Historian R. Michael Wilson, in his book Crime & Punishment in Early Wyoming, detailed the start of his fall from grace:

He partnered with William A. James, who was known by everyone as Andy Harris, another member of the rowdy element. The two men bought and jointly managed a dance house and it was rumored their purchase was financed with stolen money, but there was never enough evidence to prosecute them. Eventually they had a falling-out and dissolved their partnership.

On the evening of February 13, 1868, Martin and James were at Thomas and Beauvais’s Hall on 16th Street, both up at the bar, and James came at him saying, “You are a dirty little bastard. I ought to kill you. You are no friend of mine; if I did you justice I’d shoot you now.”

He pointed a Derringer at Martin, who stuck his hand in his pocket and taunted, “Shoot, what do I care?”

James told Martin to get out or he would shoot him, and Martin started backing towards the door, with his erstwhile friend following him every step of the way. Five feet separated the men and when James reached the end of the bar, he started to lower his gun. At this point Martin pulled a five-shooter from his pocket.

James fired one shot from his Derringer and missed. Martin emptied his gun and hit every time, “the five wounds forming a neat line from James’s chin to his navel.” Mortally wounded, James collapsed and died late the following morning.

Martin was arrested. Justice was swift: the trial began on the 17th of February and concluded two days later. Four eyewitnesses to the shooting testified, as did the doctor who tended to James in his last hours. Martin argued self-defense. The jury acquitted him.

Even prior to James’s killing, Martin’s reputation, as noted in T. A. Larson’s book History of Wyoming: Second Edition Revised, was “appalling.” Wilson describes him as “a desperate character who womanized and drank liquor to excess.” His abandoned wife back in Missouri wrote to him, pleading in vain that he should give up his wild ways and return to her and their children. Consequently, Wilson says,

[t]he acquittal of Martin created a great deal of dissatisfaction within the community. Martin, had he used common sense, would have left until the indignation cooled but instead he became more insolent and defiant than ever and began making rounds of his usual haunts celebrating his liberty, and made threats of “furnishing another man for breakfast.”

It probably didn’t help that he had threatened to kill the distinguished attorney W. W. Corlett, who’d assisted with the prosecution.

On the evening of March 21, a masked mob of about fifteen vigilantes abducted Martin from the Keystone dance house where he’d been partying with “females of the lowest type.” Pistol-whipped into semi-consciousness, he was dragged to a crude tripod gallows on the east end of Cheyenne and strung up. His body was found the next morning, his feet brushing the ground, sporting horrific head injuries.

A coroner’s inquest convened that same afternoon and rendered the following verdict:

We, the undersigned, summoned as jurors to investigate the cause of Chas. Martin’s death, find that he came to his death by strangulation, he having been found hanging by his neck on a rude gallows, at the extreme end of 10th Street, in the suburbs of Cheyenne. Perpetrators unknown.

A few hours later, stock thief Charles J. Morgan was also hanged on the east side of Cheyenne.

Earlier that month, a large number of mules had gone missing from the prairie surrounding Cheyenne, including a four-mule team owned by W.G. Smith. Smith and others, determined to recover the stolen animals, seized a man named “Wild Horse” Smith and threatened to lynch him if he didn’t reveal what he knew of their whereabouts. They put a rope around his neck and three times yanked him into the air, but he maintained his silence. When he was told that the fourth time would be his last, Smith cracked and told them where the hidden stock was.

As R. Michael Wilson explains, the searchers found fifteen stolen mules at the location “Wild Horse” specified, but W.G. Smith’s team was not among them.

Smith made further inquiries and learned that Charles J. Morgan had purchased the four-mule team and some other stock for about half their value. He and a man named Kelly were driving the stock south on the road to Denver and were then only a short distance out of town in the mountains. Smith formed a posse of vigilantes and overtook Kelly at Guy Hill. Kelly was arrested and the party started for Cheyenne. On the way back to they met Morgan, a known member of the gang of thieves, who claimed that he and Kelly had bought the mules and were going to Sweetwater. Morgan was also arrested and the two prisoners were taken into Cheyenne at an early hour on March 21st.

The jail in Cheyenne was little more than a tent over a wooden frame with a wooden door and a guard at the flap. So, with escape a certainty and the vigilantes ready for action they decided to settle the matter themselves.

At daybreak, Morgan’s body was found hanging at Elephant Corral on a tripod-shaped gallows very similar to the one where Martin met his end. His remains “had blue and swollen features, tongue and eyes protruding, fists clenched, with feet now brushing the ground.” There was a sign pinned to his back: This man was hung by the Vigilance committee for being one of a gang of horse-thieves.

The coroner’s jury returned the following verdict:

We the undersigned, summoned by the Coroner to inquire into the cause of death of Chas. or J. Morgan, find the evidence that his death was occasioned by strangulation, he having been found hanging by the neck on three poles in the rear of the Elephant Corral, in Cheyenne, D.T. Perpetrators unknown.

At first there was speculation that Kelly, too, had been lynched: shortly after his partner in crime was hanged, he was taken some distance away and shots were heard in the darkness. Searches were made for his body, but it turned out that Kelly had merely been banished from Cheyenne and the shots were fired to speed him on his way.

T. A. Larson notes that this disreputable pair were the first and nearly the last known to have been lynched in Cheyenne; the Cheyenne Vigilance Committee killed only one more man there, for failure to pay a debt he owed a saloon keeper. (They are also known to have lynched three men at Dale City thirty miles away.) “It seems fair to say,” he notes, “that the record of popular justice in Cheyenne was neither very extensive nor very creditable. But it may well be that vigilantes in Cheyenne and elsewhere had a positive deterrent value which is hard to measure.”

Martin and Morgan were buried out on the prairie. No one was ever charged in their deaths.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Lynching,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft,USA,Wyoming

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