1880: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment July 9th, 2018 Headsman

A half-dozen murderers hanged in five different U.S. states on this date in 1880.


Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, July 10, 1880. We make the count six, not four.
George Allen Price (Pennsylvania)


Harrisburg (Penn.) Patriot, July 10, 1880.

George Sanford and Richard McKee (Arkansas)


Columbus (Ga.) Daily Enquirer, July 13, 1880.

Alexander Howard (North Carolina), Daniel Washington (South Carolina), and Henry Ryan (Georgia)

(Note: Henry Ryan’s execution is missing from the Espy File of U.S. executions.)

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1883: Not Alferd (sic) Packer, #nerdprom attendee

Add comment May 19th, 2018 dogboy

The National Press Club is probably best known for its White House Correspondent’s Dinner. This site prefers to think of it as the site of the Alferd Packer plaque, a memorial to a cannibal who avoided hanging.


(cc) image from Kurt Riegel.

The plaque is rather unassuming, its simple polished brass declaring: “The Alferd Packer Memorial Grill — In Memory of Stan Weston 1931-1984.” Weston was the public affairs officer at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who came up with a 1977 contest to name the USDA’s new cafeteria. But hold that thought for now.

Packer was born in Pennsylvania in 1842. He made his way west and joined the Union Army in Minnesota, then ambled on into the Rockies as a pioneer after the Civil War. In a particularly stunning feat of incompetence, he and five others separated from a larger expedition and tried to make it across a mountain pass in January 1874. Three months later, Packer arrived on the other side, declaring that he got separated from the other five.

But Packer had taken money and effects from them, which made the remaining members of his expedition more than a little suspicious. Caught out in a lie, Packer confessed to a carnivorous progress through his comrades: Israel Swan froze to death, and he was eaten; James Humphreys died a few days later, and he was eaten; then Frank Miller was likely murdered and eaten; and George “California” Noon fell to the pistol of Wilson Bell. With Bell armed and dangerous, Packer claims to have killed him and taken a bit of a snack for the road.*

Packer was arrested shortly after his return, but he slipped his bonds and escaped to Wyoming. There the law finally caught up to him. He was returned to Colorado, where a judge sentenced the cannibal to death.

The hanging was not to be. Packer appealed the conviction, which was ultimately overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court; on retrial he was remanded for a 40-year prison sentence instead. He was paroled in 1901, took a job as a guard at the Denver Post (who had, incidentally, helped him make parole), and died in 1907.

Back to the memorial grill.

Why would the USDA honor such an odd historical figure? Politics.

In 1977, newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland had a beef with the General Service Administration, which refused to terminate the Nixon-era contract award for cafeteria services and food. Bergland’s response? Let the disgruntled employees name** and shame. The USDA cafeteria became the Packer Memorial Grill,† and Bergland paraded the press through the facility, taking every opportunity to point out just how similar he felt the food was to the diet of the honoree.

The contract was rescinded later in 1977. The plaque, meanwhile, was taken off the wall just a week after its installation. Initially, the GSA claimed it was not approved prior to installation, but it turns out the building manager, a GSA employee named Melvin Schick, simply found the name distasteful.

All of which begs the question of how it ended up gracing the National Press Club’s bar, emblazoned with Stan Weston’s name. The answer probably lies in Wesley McCune, founding member of the “Friends of Alferd Packer” and member of the National Press Club. Schick returned the plaque to Weston after the goings-on at the USDA cafeteria, and Weston hung it in his office. McCune’s group met most Aprils to hold an Alferd Packer dinner at the National Press Club. Stanley D Weston died in July of 1984, and while it’s unclear when the plaque went up, by 1989, this unusual object had a permanent home.

* A memorial was placed at Cannibal Plateau in the 1920s.

** The plaque was originally purchased by Bob Meyer and Stan Weston.

† And it wasn’t the first! The University of Colorado has had an Alferd Packer Restaurant & Grill since 1968.

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1882: Dead Shot, Dandy Jim and Skippy, mutinous Apache scouts

Add comment March 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1882,* the U.S. Army hanged three White Mountain Apache scouts as mutineers.

This small tragedy in the long-running Apache Wars of the American Southwest had its seeds in the 1870s, when the Army forced onto the San Carlos reservation several bands of Apache peoples, including the Chiricahua, Yavapai, and the Western Apache nations of Tonto, White Mountain, and Cibecue.

The concentration proved potent, unexpectedly so since the tribes in question were not all on friendly terms with one another.

Noch-ay-del-klinne (many other transliterations are possible), an influential White Mountain medicine man of 36 summers or so — and a man who had been to Washington DC with a peace delegation and laid his own eyes on the encroaching industrial civilization — began cultivating something very like a ghost dance for the San Carlos Indians.

Though the ghost dance is most closely associated with the Lakota Sioux, several years and several hundred kilometers’ distance from the Apache of Arizona, the movement actually originated among the much nearer Nevada Paiute. Incarnations of ghost dancing throughout the American West gave a millenial expression to indigenes’ shared trauma of defeat, displacement, and death.

Noch-ay-del-klinne’s rituals were called Na’Ilde’, meaning raising from the dead,** and his prophesy that lost comrades would rise from their graves and the white man would vanish from Apache lands when the corn was ripe, spoke to that trauma for the denizens of the San Carlos reservation — and alarmed the U.S. Army troops stationed at nearby Fort Apache. Especially troubling was the “fraternizing that went on between tribes and elements of tribes which had always held for each other the most deadly aversion,” in the words of the later memoir of Thomas Cruse, who commanded the army’s company of native Apache scouts. He had granted leave for some of his scouts to attend these dances and didn’t like what he saw when they returned.

After the medicine dances began around the post I noticed a change. Generally they [the scouts] are very ready to communicate anything they know or may have seen, but after these dances they became very uncommunicative and would not tell anything that was going on among the other Indians or among themselves … when they came back they were not only exhausted and unfit for duty, but they showed surliness and insubordination. They grumbled constantly and made vague remarks about the country being theirs, not ours. Dozens of small incidents showed that something, or someone, was giving them new thoughts.

Cruse gave a grim — and as events soon proved, sound — assessment of his men’s unreliability: “he entirely distrusted his scouts in event of the rising of the White Mountains and believed all or nearly all would go with the enemy.” But the affirmative reply to Cruse’s plea to discharge the unit was delayed due to telegraph problems by the time that unit set out with Col. Eugene Asa Carr on an August 1881 mission to arrest Noch-ay-del-klinne.†

This incursion, which will set in motion dozens of untimely deaths, was entirely aggressive, justified by no act of overt hostility by the Apache. Although Cruse was writing many years after the fact, his complaints about his subalterns’ “surliness” and “new thoughts” have the ring of the boss’s know-your-placeism, as directed in this same period at social insubordination elsewhere in the American experiment — at organized labor, for example; or at Black men and women.

The army found the medicine man and took him into custody on August 30. That evening, as the troop bivouaced down for the night, Apaches began gathering ominously beyond their fringes. They were visibly armed, and unhappy about the unprovoked seizure of Noch-ay-del-klinne; according to an oral history relayed by Tom Friday, the orphaned son of one of the men destined for the gallows in this post, “All Cibecue Indian people know that the soldiers were coming. They were ready for them. They were ready to fight. They sent word to all Indians, ‘Come, clean your guns; get ready.’ … The Indians were very angry: they had done no wrong and could not understand why the soldiers would come.”‡

Whether upon an arranged signal or merely the alert of the sort of random confrontation this situation invited, those Apaches started firing at the army camp — and as Cruse had anticipated, his scouts in the breach adhered to their people, not the flag.

The Battle of Cibecue Creek could easily have wiped out the expedition, for as one of their number named William Carter later wrote, there were at the outset of “more than 100 Indians besides the scouts in camp, and less than forty dismounted men engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict.”

In averting catastrophe, Carr was one of four U.S. soldiers to earn the Medal of Honor for gallantry in the battle, repulsing the hostiles from the camp and scrambling his surprised men to hold off any further attacks until night dispelled the combatants. He also had Noch-ay-del-klinne summarily shot during the fight. Carter again:

Before leaving the field Colonel Carr sent Lieutenant Carter to examine the body of the Medicine Man and determine if life was extinct. Strange to say, notwithstanding his wounds [he’d been shot in the head -ed.], he was still alive. The recovery of this Indian, if left in the hands of his friends, would have given him a commanding influence over these superstitious people, which would have resulted in endless war. Colonel Carr then repeated the order for his death, specifying that no more shots should be fired. Guide Burns was directed to carry out the order with the understanding that a knife was to be used. Burns, fearing failure, took an ax and crushed the forehead of the deluded fanatic, and from this time forward every person murdered by these Apaches was treated in a similar manner.

Carr’s bloodied expedition proceeded that night upon a forced march for the safety of Fort Apache, reaching it the following afternoon — although “many of the Indians had preceded the command, and all night they were haranguing in the vicinity. They covered the roads and trails, and killed a number of citizens.” The fort came under a brief siege in the ensuing days, and hostilities in the resulting regional uprising dragged on for two years, concluding with the outcome customary for the Apache Wars.

Four of the absconded scouts were arrested in the months ahead and tried at court-martial. (Other captured Apache who were not enlisted in the army were not prosecuted for the firefight.) A Private Mucheco was sentenced to hard labor at Alcatraz. The other three, sergeants jauntily known to the whites as Dead Shot, Dandy Jim, and Skippy,

On the appointed day, per a detailed report in the New York Herald (March 4, 1882),

Wagons of all descriptions loaded with men anxious to see the execution of the Indian scouts, Dead Shot, Dandy Jim and Skippy, came pouring into this place from Wilcox, Thomas, Safford and all points from very early this morning. The time not being known at which the event would take place, there was a state of suspense until the moment arrived for the execution. The gallows was erected in front of the guard house and was fourteen feet high, with a platform six feet four inches from the ground and a distance of seven feet four inches from the floor to the gallows pole. The whole measured twelve feet in length by eight feet wide. The rope used was three-quarters of an inch thick and the drop was four feet six inches.

Dandy Jim, from this forum thread.

[On the scaffold] Dead Shot said he had nothing to say. What was being done was correct. He would probably meet his people. He had suffered much in this world and now he was through and would see his people. Since he first saw white men he had been well treated. He had plenty to eat and plenty of clothes, but this day paid for all he got from the white men. He also said Dandy Jim was a nephew and Eskiticha, or “Skippy,” a cousin of his. He had seen a good many of his people die and did not know where they went, but he was going to follow. He thought there was no use in dressing an Indian up as he was and then hanging him. When he came into San Carlos, if he had done anything wrong, he would not have given himself up, yet he gave up his rifle and the twenty rounds of ammunition that were furnished him at Camp Apache.

Dandy Jim said he had to be hanged, as such were the orders. He could not talk much. It was no use to beg for his life, as people would only laugh at him for his trouble. Eskiticha said: — “The sun is going down, and God is looking after me.” He did not think they were doing right, as he had never done anything to warrant being hanged.

The chaplain, Rev. A.D. Mitchell, then repeated a short prayer, which was interpreted by Merijilda, when all retired from the scaffold, except the hangman, a military prisoner. The black caps were then placed over the heads of the men, and at one o’clock the drop fell. Death was instantaneous in the case of Dead Shot and Eskiticha; Dandy Jim quivered once or twice. After being allowed to hang about twenty minutes they were cut down and pronounced dead by the doctors.

* The same date as an unrelated Mississippi double hanging, previously covered in these pages.

** According to John R. Welch, Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh and Mark Altaha in “Retracing the Battle of Cibecue: Western Apache, Documentary, and Archaeological Interpretations,” Kiva, Winter 2005. Noch-ay-del-klinne had some exposure to Christian doctrine, which seems present in his own movement’s interest in resurrection.

† Also in the scouting party for this mission was famed frontiersman and eventual Executed Today client Tom Horn.

‡ Thomas Friday’s full account of this affair — which is a second-hand version, since Friday himself was a small child at this time — comes courtesy of William B. Kessel in “The Battle of Cibecue and Its Aftermath: A White Mountain Apache’s Account,” Ethnohistory, Spring 1974.

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1888: Oscar Beckwith, the Austerlitz Murderer

Add comment March 1st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1888, the “Austerlitz Murderer” — not a Napoleonic figure but an irascible septuagenarian woodsman — hanged in New York.

Oscar Beckwith’s crime, explains the New York Herald of Jan. 18, anticipating the sixth issuance of his sentence for this crime,

was the killing of Simon A. Vandercook at Austerlitz, Columbia county, in January, 1882. Both men were wood-choppers and quarrelled over a supposed gold mine near the town. The victim’s body was found in Beckwith’s hut, portions of it having been burned.* Beckwith fled to Canada and eluded capture until February, 1885. He was extradited, and while in custody admitted the killing, but claimed that it was done in self-defence.

That same paper four days afterwards informs us that he favored the court on this occasion with an “excited tirade” blaming the affair on “Freemason devils” as he was hauled back to his cell, where “he kept up a running invective against everybody who had any connection with his case.”


Via Atlas Obscura.

* More specifically, after suspicions were aroused by the awful smell belched by Beckwith’s stovepipe, the body was found hacked up and stashed under Beckwith’s bed, save that “the head, one hand and a foot were gone. The teeth were found in the ashes of the stove.” (Troy Weekly Times, March 1, 1888) This grisly pile spurred (likely baseless) rumors of cannibalism; he’s also sometimes tagged the “Austerlitz Cannibal”.

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1885: August Reinsdorf and Emil Kuchler, Kaiser Wilhelm I bombers

Add comment February 7th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1885, anarchists August Reinsdorf and Emil Küchler were guillotined for a failed attempt on the life of Kaiser Wilhelm I.

The King of Prussia turned Emperor of the newborn (in 1871) Deutsches Reich, Wilhelm was honored by assassins equal in enthusiasm to his distinctive whiskers.* The versions distinguished by this post had the cheek to contemplate exploding the Kartätschenprinz** just as he ceremonially inaugurated an important national monument.


The Niederwalddenkmal still stands to this day. (cc) image from Philipp35466

The day was wet, and the dynamite fizzled. Everybody departed none the wiser but police spies later caught wind of the attempt, apparently when the would-be bombers Emil Küchler and Franz Reinhold Rupsch asked reimbursement from leftist typesetter August Reinsdorf, the plot’s mastermind.

Eight were eventually rounded up, secretly at first but later publicized to the prejudice of leftist parties.

Reinsdorf, Küchler and Rupsch all received death sentences; Rupsch’s was commuted in consideration of his youth.

The workers build palaces and live in miserable huts; they produce everything and maintain the whole machinery of state, and yet nothing is done for them; they produce all industrial products, and yet they have little and bad to eat; they are always a despised, raw and superstitious mass of servile minds. Everything the state does tends toward perpetuating these conditions forever. The upper ten thousand rest on the shoulders of the great mass. Is this really going to last? Is not a change our duty? Shall we keep our hands in our laps forever?

-Reinsdorf at trial

* We have in these pages already met one such predecessor who went under the fallbeil in 1878; the zeal of such men had given the Reich pretext to ban the Social Democrats.

** “Prince of Grapeshot”, a bygone nickname that paid derisive tribute to Wilhelm’s mailed fist in the Revolutions of 1848.

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1886: Henry Jackson, religiously inclined

Add comment January 22nd, 2018 Headsman

From the New York Times, Jan. 23, 1886:

NEW-ORLEANS, La., Jan. 22. — Last July Henry Britton, of Minden Junction, was found murdered in his store. He had been shot through an open window with a shotgun and his brains blown out. The murderer, it was subsequently shown, deliberately crawled into the store window over the dead body, took down some sardines from the shelf, opened them, and made a meal. After eating he rifled the cash drawers and the dead man’s pockets, securing about $130 in money and two watches. He then went out the front door, taking the key which had been left sticking into the lock on the inside. He closed the door and carried away the key. The next morning, which was Sunday, a negro named Henry Jackson appeared at the negro church at Arcadia, 10 miles away, took a prominent part in the services, and contributed liberally to the church. On Monday morning, as soon as the business houses were opened, Jackson commenced purchasing goods freely, which led to a suspicion of his being the man who committed the murder.

Jackson was arrested, and when searched the money and watches — one of them with the murdered man’s initials on it — and the store key were found on him. He stoutly asserted his innocence until he was returned to Minden and jailed. He then confessed. He said that he knew Britton had money, and he murdered him for it. Jackson was tried by a jury composed of his own color, who found him guilty of murder in the first degree, without leaving their seats. He was sentenced to be hanged on such day as the Governor might name. He experienced religion a week after he was jailed, and he said that the Lord had forgiven him, and he was going straight to heaven.

The murderer was hanged to-day, and the event is notable in consequence of his being the first person ever legally hanged in Webster Parish. He came down the stairs to the gallows singing a negro revival hymn at 12:50 in the presence of the Sheriff, his deputy, and the witnesses allowed by law. The rope holding the trap on which the prisoner stood was cut, and in 15 minutes the doctor declared the man dead. His neck was instantly broken, and there was every indication of an instantaneous death. Jackson was singing a hymn when the trap fell.

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1884: Maggie and Michael Cuddigan lynched in Ouray

Add comment January 18th, 2018 Meaghan

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

Shortly after midnight on this date in 1884, a mob of masked men dragged Michael and Maggie Cuddigan out of the Delmonico Hotel in the Rocky Mountain mining town of Ouray, Colorado, marched them to the town limits, and lynched them. Michael was hanged from a tree and his wife, who was visibly pregnant, was hanged from the ridgepole of a cabin on the opposite side of the road. It was later said that the whole business “was quietly and neatly done.”

The Cuddigans had adopted Mary Rose Matthews from St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in 1883. She was about ten years old at the time; she had been sent to the orphanage after her mother died and her father found himself unable to care for her. On January 13, 1884, only a few months after her arrival at the Cuddigans’ ranch ten miles outside Ouray, the child died.

That day a hunter found Mary Rose crouched beside a haystack near the Cuddigans’ home. It was freezing cold and she was underdressed for the weather. Michael and Maggie were notified and took her home, but she died a few hours later. The next day they buried her themselves, quickly and with some secrecy, in a distant part of the ranch. Anyone who asked was told she had accidentally fallen down the cellar steps and been killed.

Mary Rose’s sudden and mysterious death gave rise to suspicion of foul play. The neighbors who had seen her in the days and weeks prior to her death noted that she’d been visibly bruised and barefoot in spite of the frigid January temperatures. They approached the coroner and asked him to investigate.

When the body was exhumed and a postmortem performed, there were clear signs that the little girl had been cruelly abused and overworked. Her remains showed numerous scars, bruises, broken bones and knife wounds, as well as severe frostbite to both feet and one hand. There was also evidence of sexual abuse. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.

The Cuddigans were arrested, as was Maggie’s brother, John Carroll, and charged with murder. They were held in temporary custody at the Delmonico Hotel between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. That’s when the lynch mob intervened, overpowered the sheriff and his deputies, and took the suspects away.

Carroll was questioned separately from his sister and brother-in-law, roughed up, and threatened with death. There are reports that the mob actually did string him up, but changed their mind and lowered him to the ground before he actually died. At any rate, he claimed he wasn’t at the Cuddigans’ ranch when Mary Rose died and he was able to convince his captors to release him. Michael and Maggie were not as fortunate, and both died a slow death from strangulation.

Until January 21 their bodies were displayed in public view in town; hundreds of people saw them. The community remained incensed about Mary Rose’s murder. The so-called bed she’d slept in at the Cuddigans’ ranch during the final months of her life was also on public display: it consisted of four gunnysacks stitched together, nothing more.

Before Mary Rose’s death, Michael Cuddigan had not had a bad reputation in the community, but after the lynching, the locals in Ouray mostly believed he and his wife got what they deserved.

Officials at Cedar Hill Cemetery refused to allow the Cuddigans to be buried there, and the local Catholic priest, although he harshly condemned the lynching, refused to officiate at their funerals. Michael Cuddigan’s own two brothers (who had been present and heavily armed when he and Maggie were taken from the hotel, but had done nothing to intervene) wanted nothing to do with it either. Finally the coroner had them buried on their own ranch, expenses covered by the $240 that had been in Michael’s pocket at the time of his death. No mourners attended.

The body of Mary Rose Mathews taken back to her hometown of Denver after the lynching and presented before the public, so they might see how she had suffered. Approximately 12,000 men, women and children viewed the corpse before it was buried in a Denver cemetery, but reports of her ghost haunting the former Cuddigan ranch have persisted ever since.

Maggie Cuddigan was the first woman known to have been lynched in Colorado history, and it should be noted that that state has never judicially executed a woman.

An editorial in the Leadville Daily Herald opined that

The citizens of Ouray have distinguished themselves by a most outrageous and barbarous act of lawlessness … It is the boast of Americans that a woman’s weakness will shield her from violence at the hands of a true American … The men of Ouray can find no apology for their brutal conduct by the plea that the woman was guilty. All the world knows that a woman may be coerced by the power of her husband and compelled to do a thing at which she herself would naturally revolt.

Michael and Maggie Cuddigan left a sizable estate, valued at $4,500 once their debts were paid. The inheritance was placed in trust for their baby son, who was raised by relatives.

No one was ever arrested for the lynching.

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1889: Two Apaches in Arizona

Add comment December 6th, 2017 Headsman

Two of eight Apaches — Nacod Qui Say and Rah Dos La, among other possible transliterations — who murdered an Arizona sheriff and deputy while escaping from a transport to the penitentiary were hanged on this date in 1889.

According to White Justice in Arizona: Apache Murder Trials in the Nineteenth Century, the documentary trail for this remarkable case is surprisingly thing, with “no indictments, subpoenas, jury lists, witnesses, trial notes, or prosecutor’s notes extant.”

The vituperation of many surviving news accounts, however, gives us an essential fact that the judiciary’s papers surely wouldn’t. After decades of war with the Apaches in the Southwest, white settlers were set on edge by a native revolt against settler authority and from the first reports of the incident began ruminating about “the treacherous red man.” (Tucson Daily Citizen, Nov. 4, 1889)

When five were condemned to hang in this affair — three would cheat the executioner by committing suicide two days before the hanging — a newspaper in Florence where the gallows went up remarked that “should a few bands of Apaches be taken from the war path and suspended by the necks, where the other Indians on the reservation could get a good, fair look at them, there would be no more Apache outbreaks.”

This sort of rhetoric would rate as positively liberal beside the cruder commentary. For example, a few days before the execution, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison had said in an address to Congress that as the white man “can no longer push the Indian back into the wilderness,” it had become essential “to push him upward into the estate of a self-supporting and responsible citizen.” The Tombstone Prospector found some Khruschchevian merriment mulling its preferred form of “support.” Harrison must not have been too put off, since he denied clemency.*


Tombstone Prospector, Dec. 6, 1889.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the old saw that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” a wag at the following week’s San Diego Weekly Union did Tombstone one better in the racist headline department.


San Diego Weekly Union, Dec. 12, 1889

* Arizona didn’t attain statehood until 1912; prior to that it was federally administered and the last word on clemencies and commutations belonged to the U.S. President.

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1883: The martyrs of Quequeña and Yarabamba

Add comment November 24th, 2017 Headsman

This date in 1883 saw the deaths of six Peruvian patriotic martyrs.

These executions blackened the War of the Pacific, a conflict between Chile and an alliance of Bolivia plus Peru which we have previously featured on this site. Its stakes were a resource-rich borderlands but by this point in the war, Chile had already conquered all the way to Lima. Now it was a war of occupation, a war of resistance.

The inland city of Arequipa — Peru’s capital up until this very juncture — had been captured by Chile in September 1883, setting up a chaotic situation.

Come November 22, three Chilean soldiers engaging the occupier’s prerogative to brutalize the locals were set upon by civilians in Quequeña, just outside Arequipa. Two of the Chileans were kied in the fray.

An immediate dragnet in Quequeña and neighboring Yarabamba hung dozens of severe convictions on various Peruvians, headlined by a staggering 26 condemned to execution for participating in the brawl. Our six — by names, Liborio Linares, Manuel Linares, Angel Figuerioa, Juan de Dios Costa, Jose Mariano, and Luciano Ruiz — were the “only” ones ultimately put to death; they remain national heroes in Peru to this day.

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1880: Alexander Kvyatkovsky and Andrei Presnyakov, Narodnaya Volya terrorists

Add comment November 16th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1880,* Russian revolutionaries Alexander Kvyatkovsky and Andrei Presnyakov were hanged at St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress.


Kvyatkovsky (left) and Presnyakov.

Kvyatkovsky, 28, and Presnyakov, 24, had each spent the whole of their brief adulthoods agitating, police ever at their heels. As Russia’s “season of terror” opened in the late 1870s, both immediately cast their lot with the violent Narodnaya Volya movement. They were found by police at their respective arrests to have each had more than a passing interest in Narodnaya Volya’s ongoing project to assassinate Tsar Alexander II — an objective that it would indeed achieve a few months later.

Their fellow-traveler Mikhail Frolenko would remember the mass trial they featured at not for any glorious martyr-making but as a propaganda debacle for his movement.

The Trial of the Sixteen** in October 1880 was a model of judicial procedure — the government had learned, planned carefully and conducted the trial with absolute decorum. The sixteen accused included three of the most important figures in the Movement: Shiraev, who had been arrested in Moscow a year before with two suitcases of dynamite, Presnyakov and Kvyatkovsky. The last two were old friends of Andrei Zhelyabov. The evidence against the accused was provided by Grigory Goldenberg; the prosecution’s case was unanswerable. The sixteen were allowed to address the court and their speeches were reported. The prosecutors questioned them with a mix of deliberate courtesy and provocation: the sixteen were given enough rope to hang themselves. They followed no clear line and contradicted each other on endless details. They improvised counter-accusations, became mired in irrelevancies, and exploded in fits of petulance. They made a miserable impression, highlighted at every stage by the correctness of the proceedings. In its sentence the court was lenient, another propaganda victory: fourteen were sentenced to hard labor; two, Presnyakov and Kvyatkovsky, were sentenced to be hanged. We lost sixteen good people, which was bad enough. But worse was our irreparable loss of public esteem. One small sign of this was the fate of the word terror. Hitherto we had freely called ourselves terrorists; it had much the same ring as revolutionary. Terror was simply the first phase of the revolution. Overnight the word became a term of abuse and the exclusive property of the government. That alone might have told us we were following the wrong path. (Excerpted from Saturn’s Daughters: The Birth of Terrorism

Kvyatkovsky’s son, also named Alexander, was a Bolshevik close to Lenin in the early Soviet years.

* November 16 by the Gregorian calendar; it was still November 4 by the archaic Julian calendar still then in use in the Russian Empire.

** Not to be confused with at least two distinct Soviet-era mass trials also respectively designated the “Trial of the Sixteen”.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Power,Russia,Terrorists,Treason

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