1884: Howard Sullivan, too leisurely about escaping

Add comment December 2nd, 2018 Headsman

The moral of this story is that when you have the opportunity to break out of death row, don’t dawdle.


Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 1, 1884


New York Herald, Dec. 3, 1884

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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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1884: Thomas Orrock and Thomas Harris

Add comment October 6th, 2017 Headsman

From Illustrated Police News, Oct. 11, 1884:

EXECUTION OF ORROCK AND HARRIS AT NEWGATE.

The two murderers, Thomas Henry Orrock and Thomas Harris, underwent the penalty of the law on Monday morning within the prison of Newgate. The circumstances of the crimes for which they suffered have been given so recently that it will not be necessary to state more than that Orrock was convicted of the murder of a police-constable named Cole, who had endeavoured to take him into custody after he had broken into a Baptist Chapel in Dalston, by shooting him with a revolver; and the other, Harris, was convicted of the murder of his wife, to whom he had been married a great many years, and who had borne him a large number of children, eleven of whom are still alive, by cutting her throat with a razor in the bedroom they occupied at Kilburn.

The first-mentioned murder was committed nearly two years ago — namely, on the 1st of Dec., 1882. The murderer got clear away, and as it was a dark, foggy night, it was generally thought to be impossible to recognise him, and the murder had nearly died away from the public mind, when, through the active exertions and inquiries made by Inspector Glasse, of the N Division of police, [including an early foray into firearm forensics -ed.] the prisoner was apprehended and his guilt of the crime was conclusively established … [he] persisted to the last in declaring that the act was not a premeditated one, and that all he was endeavouring to do was to make his escape.

The prisoner, it will be remembered, was an attendant at the chapel where the burglary was attempted, and he bore a very good reputation with the Rev. Mr. Barton, the minister of the chapel. …

His wife, who is only twenty-one years old, has been with him every day, and took a parting farewell of her unhappy husband last Saturday. At the time they were married the murder had been committed but six weeks; they were each only nineteen years old, and the bride little thought, when she clasped the hand of her husband at the marriage ceremony, that she held the hand of a murderer, almost red with the blood of his victim.

The story of the culprit’s life appears somewhat remarkable when the gravity of the offences with which he was charged are taken into consideration. Born of respectable parents in the year 1863, young Orrock was guided in the paths of virtue. His father, mother, and two sisters were regular attendants at the Baptist Chapel Ashwin-street, Dalston, the elder members of the family holding seats. In connection with the chapel is a Sunday school, which for a considerable time the youth attended. He was spoken of as a well-behaved, unassuming boy, and his general conduct was so marked as to be highly commended by the superintendent and teachers. Services of song were frequently held at the chapel, evening classes were formed, and other attractions provided, in which Orrock appeared to take delight. The pastor, the Rev. Mr. Barton, took great interest in the welfare of the youth, but unfortunately declining health caused the reverend gentleman for a time to relinquish his duties.

Between thirteen and fourteen years of age, Orrock was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker at Hoxton, and to this circumstance is attributed his downfall. The company with which he came in contact was of a dissolute class, and a short time after his apprenticeship his father had cause to reprimand him. His attendance at chapel became less frequent, and his general conduct entirely changed. About three years ago Orrock’s father died in Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. The mother being left a widow without any provision, and receiving little or no assistance from her son, after some time married again a respectable man, highly esteemed as a local preacher.

As stated at the trial Orrock, at the time of the murder, was not a constant attendant at the chapel, although at one time he held a seat. It would appear, indeed, that he was almost compelled to be present, as he was paying his addresses to a respectable young woman, who, in conjunction with her employer, frequented the chapel. She was engaged as an assistant in a draper’s shop in the locality, and, as in the case of the criminal, special interest was taken in her, she being left without father or mother. It will remembered that Orrock was actually planning the robbery whilst attending a service at the chapel, also that he was present at the funeral of his victim. When his marriage took place with the young woman alluded to six weeks had elapsed after the commission of his crime …

Orrock’s marriage did not appear to have brought about any change in his behaviour, as in the month of September, 1883, he was sentenced at the Middlesex Sessions to twelve months’ imprisonment for housebreaking and stealing a quantity of jewellery, value £20, and £45 in gold. It was while undergoing this sentence that Inspector Glasse informed him of the more serious charge he would have to answer, telling him that the information was laid by his accomplices.

When the murderer was placed in the dock of the Old Bailey his astounding self-possession attracted much notice. His appearance was that of a fresh, decent-looking young fellow, rather boyish, with a slight moustache — the last person one would expect to find in a criminal dock.

At the close of the trial, it will be remembered, Mr. Justice Hawkins expressed the greatest commiseration for the prisoner’s sister under the painful circumstances in which she was placed. In her case, as that of Orrock’s young wife, the shock of the occurrence led to premature confinement At the final parting on Saturday the wife of the convict was thoroughly broken down with grief.

With regard to the other prisoner, Harris, who is forty-eight years old, there does not appear to be any doubt that he has for a long time been in the habit of treating his unhappy partner in a most brutal manner. Upon one occasion he (the other prisoner Harris) was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for a brutal assault upon her, and he had repeatedly threatened that he would murder her. The prisoner, however, who was a very rough, ignorant man, persisted in asserting that he was utterly unconscious of what took place on the night of the murder, and the earnest exhortations of the Rev. Mr. Duffield appeared to have very little effect upon him, or to bring him to anything like a proper sense of his condition. The only observation that could be obtained from him in reference to his crime was, “I speak the truth. I cannot say more. I know nothing about how it happened.” …

The prisoners went to bed about ten o’clock on Sunday night, Mr. Duffield having been with them alternately during the previous two hours. Orrock appeared to be quite resigned, but Harris exhibited the same callous demeanour that has characterised him since his conviction. Both prisoners got up at six o’clock on Monday morning, and very shortly afterwards they were visited by the Rev. Mr. Duffield, to whom both men expressed their gratitude for the kindness and attention shown them. Mr. Sheriff Phillips and Messrs. Crawford and Whitehead, the Under-Sheriffs, arrived at the prison about half-past seven o’clock, and were received by Captain Kirkpatrick, the Governor, who shortly afterwards accompanied them to the cells where the prisoners had been brought.

Berry, the execution, was in attendance, and the ceremony of pinioning was rapidly performed. Orrock was the first who was brought out. He walked with a firm step, was placed under the beam, and the rope put round his neck before his unhappy companion, Harris, had been placed by his side. The Rev. Mr. Duffield then read the Burial Service, and at a given signal the drop fell, a distance of seven feet five inches, and death appeared to be instantaneous, the executioner apparently having performed his work in the most skilful manner. The skin on Harris’s neck was slightly abrased, but it was stated that this was generally the case where the criminals are advanced in life, Harris being forty-eight years of age.

A considerable crowd assembled outside the prison, and it was necessary to have the attendance of two police-constables to keep the road clear.


From the Bristol Mercury, Oct. 13, 1884:

EXTRAORDINARY DEATH FROM EXCITEMENT

A death of a remarkable character, connect with the execution of the two murderers Orrock and Harris at Newgate on Monday last, has been the subject of an inquiry before the Southwark Coroner.

Eliza Kate Williamson deposed that … she was the wife of the deceased, Alexander Ben Williamson, aged 45, who was a labourer in a foundry. He came home from work on Monday night apparently quite well, and after tea sent witness for an evening newspaper in order to read the account of the executions.

She returned with a paper, and he read the account aloud, but stopped at intervals, quite overcome with emotion, and he cried several times. Witness begged him to put the paper away, saying she did not want to hear any more about it, but he would not do so, and completed the account to himself. They then went to bed, but about 1.30 a.m. the witness was awoke by a noise and found the deceased struggling by her side and trying to call out something about the execution.

She tried to rouse him, but he fell on the floor, and continued struggling and muttering after she lifted him back on the bed. He then vomited and afterwards fell into a stupor, from which he never rallied. A doctor was obtained, but death ensued about 24 hours after witness first noticed the deceased struggling.

In answer to the coroner, the witness added that the deceased was quite sober on Monday, but the execution of the two men made a great impression on him. He had read all about them in a Sunday edition of a newspaper, and frequently talked about the condemned men.

Mr. Alfred Matcham, parish surgeon, deposed that death was due to apoplexy, which he had no doubt was brought on by the excitement consequent on reading and dwelling upon the details of the executions on Monday. The struggling probably arose from dreaming of the execution, and the excitement of the dream had no doubt caused a blood vessel to burst in the brain. The jury returned a verdict of “Death from natural causes.”

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1884: Not Crow Dog, saved by an ex parte

Add comment January 14th, 2017 Headsman

January 14 was supposed to be the hanging day in 1884 for the Sioux Crow Dog — but instead of being executed he was busy making caselaw.

A sub-chief of the Brule Lakota, Crow Dog on August 5, 1881, met — intentionally? — the tribal chief Spotted Tail on a road in the Rosebud Reservation and shot him dead with a rifle.

The killing was adjudicated the very next day within the Brule community, at a council where the killer and the survivors of his victim agreed together on the appropriate compensation, and paid up.* But the U.S. Indian agent on the scene also arrested Crow Dog a few days later, and had him tried for murder in a non-Indian court in the the frontier town of Deadwood.

Sidney Harring, who would expand this review to book length with Crow Dog’s Murder: American Indian Sovereignty, Tribal Law, and United States Law in the Nineteenth Century, argued in a 1988/1989 paper** that the needless white court’s trial was staged from the outset as a test case by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, angling for new legal tools to break the doctrine of tribal sovereignty which dated back to Worcester v. Georgia (1832). Although that anti-sovereignty cause would suffer a tactical setback in this case, it would very soon carry the day.

Condemned to death early in 1882, Crow Dog had various appeals, respites, and delaying actions that stretched the case out for nearly two years until the U.S. Supreme Court at last stepped in ahead of a scheduled January 14, 1884 execution to adjudicate the question of whether a murder within a tribe, on that tribe’s own reservation, was within the proper jurisdiction of non-Indian courts like the one that tried Crow Dog. Its Ex parte Crow Dog resoundingly answered in the negative, a milestone in the legal framework around Indian sovereignty in the U.S. To execute Crow Dog under the white court’s verdict, the justices ruled, would require Anglo law to be

extended over aliens and strangers; over the members of a community, separated by race, by tradition, by the instincts of a free though savage life, from the authority and power which seeks to impose upon them the restraints of an external and unknown code, and to subject them to the responsibilities of civil conduct, according to rules and penalties of which they could have no previous warning; which judges them by a standard made by others, and not for them, which takes no account of the conditions which should except them from its exactions, and makes no allowance for their inability to understand it. It tries them not by their peers, nor by the customs of their people, nor the law of their land, but by superiors of a different race, according to the law of a social state of which they have an imperfect conception and which is opposed to the traditions of their history, to the habits of their lives, to the strongest prejudices of their savage nature; one which measures the red man’s revenge by the maxims of the white man’s morality.

The legal doctrine at work here holds that although conquered, native tribes still possess internal sovereignty. And with Ex parte Crow Dog it became clear and settled American jurisprudence that one attribute of that remaining sovereignty was plenary — that is, absolute — power over purely internal affairs.

At least, for a year.

White America was discomfited by the abrogation of its morality-maxims over the revengeful red man, and the situation invited moral panic around any malfeasance in Indian country. The Washington D.C. Evening Star would complain months later (June 5, 1884) that Ex parte Crow Dog “has had the effect of creating the idea among the Indians that there is no law to punish an Indian for a crime committed on a reservation.” And the Supreme Court itself had slyly noted that it was obliged to make such rulings absent “a clear expression of the intention of Congress” to take a bite out of Indian sovereignty — an intent “that we have not been able to find.”

So in 1885, the U.S. Congress decided to express that intent and voted the Major Crimes Act placing Indians under federal, not tribal, jurisdiction for seven major types of crimes — including, of course, murder. “We all feel that an Indian, when he commits a crime, should be recognized as a criminal,” Michigan Congressman Byron Cutcheon urged on the legislation’s behalf. “It is an infamy upon our civilization, a disgrace to this nation, that there should be anywhere within its boundaries a body of people who can, with absolute impunity, commit the crime of murder, there being no tribunal before which they can be brought for punishment.”

This briefest interim between Ex parte Crow Dog and the Major Crimes Act was in a sense the high water mark for tribal sovereignty. Following the Major Crimes bill, white politicians began almost systematically reaching onto the reservations to legislate, picking away at tribal sovereignty until another much more infamous case, Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock, disastrously declared that plenary power now resided in Congress.

Crow Dog went on to become a major figure in the ghost dance movement. Present-day American Indian Movement activist Leonard Crow Dog is a descendant; he’s written a book connecting back to his famous ancestor called Crow Dog: Four Generations of Sioux Medicine Men. Meanwhile, South Dakota’s Sinte Gleska University is named for Spotted Tail.

* The price was $600, eight horses, and a blanket.

** Sidney Harring in “Crow Dog’s Case: A Chapter in the Legal History of Tribal Sovereignty,” American Indian Law Review, Vol. 14, No. 2 (1988/1989) — also the source of the preceding footnote.

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1884: Howard Sullivan, ravisher and murderer

Add comment December 2nd, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, Dec. 3, 1884:

SALEM, N.J., Dec. 2. — The hanging of Howard Sullivan, the negro, which took place at the county jail this morning, was the closing act of a tragedy that has never been equaled in Salem and rarely in any other county in the State of New-Jersey. Ella Watson, on the night of Aug. 18, while proceeding to her home over a lonely road near Yorktown, a thrifty little village, nine miles north of this place, was waylaid, robbed, ravished, and murdered, and her body concealed in some bushes near by, where it was discovered a few days later.

For a time the murder was enveloped in mystery, but the vigilance of two or three detectives, among them a colored man, who exhibited remarkable skill in working up the case, soon unraveled it, and Sullivan was charged with the murder.

He had not been long in jail before a confession was wormed from him,* and when placed on trial before a Supreme Court and three lay Judges, in the Court of Oyer and Terminer, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be hanged. Sullivan stood the prison life bravely, and not once did he display the slightest emotion.

Sullivan did not go to bed until after midnight last night. A great part of the time he spent in singing and praying, and when not engaged in this he was conversing with his death-watchers.

Confined in a cell on the third floor, the one he formerly occupied, and from which he attempted to escape, is a colored woman named Sallie Fisher, convicted of the larceny of a watch chain, and sentenced to imprisonment in the county jail for 90 days. Nearly all last night she prayed and wept aloud for Sullivan. Her voice could be heard for a long distance from the jail, and her cries were piteous in the extreme. Sullivan’s mother called to see him and remained with him for some time. The scene between them was an affecting one.

The morning opened clear and pleasant, and Sullivan arose at exactly 7:05 A.M., when he was awakened by the Warden. He left his breakfast untouched, saying he would eat “after a while.” When asked if he wished to make any statement for the public, he said: “There is nothing more that I care to say about the case. I have got no complaint at all to make about my trial or my treatment. I have had all I want to eat and Sheriff Kelty and ex-Sheriff Coles have been very kind to me. I hope to go to a better world, and I believe my sins will be forgiven.”

Sullivan added that he had slept quite as well as usual during the night. After making this statement he ate the breakfast that had been prepared for him. His manner was calm, and when talking to his companions he was almost cheerful.

At 9 o’clock the gallows was tested and found to be in good working order. A few minutes later the condemned man’s fater and mother called to see him, and while they were with him in the cell all others, except his spiritual adviser, were excluded. The father is a bright, honest looking man, 65 years of age, though his appearance does not indicate it.

The meeting between Sullivan and his father and mother, together with the Rev. Richard Miles, Pastor of the Mount Pisgah Methodist Episcopal (colored) Church, of this city, one of his spiritual advisers, was a quiet one. They all sat around a stove in an outer room and chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. Sullivan said to his parents: “If you cry I will want to cry, but if you control yourselves I will.” This was all he said regarding his feelings.

While his family were still with him the Rev. William S. Zane, Pastor of the Walnut-Street Church, and the Rev. W.V. Louderbough, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, called on him and uttered a few consoling words. They have been regular visitors for some time, but took no part in the execution. The Rev. Wilson Peterson, Pastor of the African Church of Bushtown, also called while Sullivan’s parents were with him, and before taking their final leave all joined in singing “Take the Name of Jesus with you.”

Finally, the prisoner’s sisters entered the jail, and his parting with them was distressing.

His sister Emeline fell in a fainting fit and had to be carried out. This sight proved too much for his mother’s nerves, and, weeping and wailing, she was led into another room. When Emeline was taken to the street, on her way to the railroad station, she again fell in a fainting fit, and was actually dragged to the train. Mrs. Sullivan kept up long enough to reach the house of a friend, where she remained until her departure for Yorktown at noon.

After Sullivan’s cell was cleared of all except his spiritual adviser a final prayer in the jail was offered by the Rev. Mr. Peterson, after which, at 10:20 A.M., Sheriff Kelty, in the presence of Prosecutor Slape, read the death warrant. Sullivan was the coolest man in the party.

At 11:18 the jury appointed by the court filed down stairs to the basement and thence to the yard.

Sullivan, preceded by the two spiritual advisers, and accompanied by his friend, ex-Sheriff Coles, followed immediately after. He was dressed in a neat-fitting black diagonal suit, and wore black cloth gloves.

At the scaffold the Rev. Mr. Miles offered a prayer. Then the prisoner’s ankles were pinioned and his hands were fastened behind him with handcuffs

Ex-Sheriff Coles asked him if he desired to say anything, and he replied: “I hope the Lord will bless you all, and I hope to meet you all in heaven. Good-bye. When I fall from here I will fall into the arms of Jesus. It is a warning for all. It is very sad for my mother, my father, for Mr. Kelty, and for every one, but it is not sad for me. It is a marriage ceremony with me, and I want to be there in time for the feast with all those good men that have gone before me. I want all you gentlemen who have sons to take heed and learn them. Good-bye all.”

As the black cap was being adjusted Sullivan bade his friend Coles good-bye. There was just the slightest tremor in his voice as he spoke.

At exactly 11:29 the drop fell. There was a twitching of the body for a minute, and then it hung withut motion. In three minutes Sullivan was pronounced dead; his neck had been broken. The body was allowed to hang for half an hour, when it was cut down and placed in the coffin. It was buried at Bushtown in the afternoon.

* By a Pinkerton detective infiltrated into his cell for the purpose. According to the Chicago Tribune report of the trial, relating that detective’s gloss on Sullivan’s alleged jailhouse confession,

Sullivan said he sneaked up behind Ella Watson unperceived and struck her three or four terrible blows with a cane had had picked up in the woods. She fell to the ground, and, grasping the prostrate form, he dragged it across the road into the bushes, where he attempted to commit a dastardly assault upon the dying girl. She resisted his attempts, but he accomplished his design. Then the girl raised her head and exclaimed, “O, I know you!” “Then,” said Sullivan, “I clutched her by the throat and choked her with all my might. That killed her. I didn’t stop choking her until a shudder ran through her and I knew she was dead.”

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1884: Field executions during the Bac Le ambush

Add comment June 24th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1884, a French expeditionary force’s summary battlefield executions marked its retreat from an ambush — and the approach of the Sino-French War.

Having established a foothood in south Vietnam (Cochinchina), France was pushing into north Vietnam (Tonkin) — a campaign that could open a potentially lucrative route straight into China.

For the same reason, China viewed Tonkin as its own security zone. The ensuing skirmishes had as we lay our scene been recently abated by the Tientsin Accord* — an accord on France’s terms, since she had lately enjoyed the run of play in the field.

One of those terms was Chinese withdrawal from Tonkin, and as one might expect the Chinese had little appetite to speedily effect such a submission. In June 1884, when a small French column commanded by a Lt. Col. Alphone Dugenne pushed into what was supposed to be France’s new satrapy, it expected to occupy undefended towns.

Instead, on June 23, having forded the rain-swollen Song Thuong River, Dugenne’s force encountered Chinese regulars manning a chain of clifftop forts.

Outnumbered and on unfamiliar ground, the French surely felt their vulnerability. “High rocks, deep canyons, dense woods and somber defiles, where a handful of resolute men could easily have stopped a whole army, were the principal features of the country,” according to a French-derived account published later that year in the U.S.** “The heat was intense, and fatigue overcame the soldiers, already tired by the thousands of ostacles of the road. The fiery atmosphere did not allow any rest, even during the night, and terrible showers of rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, converted the rivulets into torrents which swept everything before them, soaked the poor soldiers and destroyed provisions.”

A delegation under flag of truce informed Dugenne that China’s commander was aware of the Tientsin Accord, but had received no superior orders to withdraw. This obviously put both forces in an uncomfortable position. The Chinese wanted time: was this a good faith sorting-out (the Tientsin arrangements were barely six weeks old), or a double game? When the eventual winners wrote the history of events, they called what ensued June 23-24 the Bac Le ambush.

Believing that he had an arrangement with his opposite number, Dugenne’s column moved ahead on the afternoon of the 23rd, in a defile ominously commanded by the Chinese positions. Suddenly — and accounts from the two sides each accuse the other of provoking the first shots — the French came under Chinese fire. “Every tree, every overhanging rock, concealed an invisible enemy, who, being perfectly under cover himself, safely inflicted death all around him,” our correspondent’s account runs.


Illustration of the Bac Le ambush from Le guet-apens de Bac-Le by a French officer who survived it, Jean-Francois-Alphonse Lecomte.

But the ambush did not become a massacre; the French were able to regroup, stabilize their position, and camp that night — the Chinese “so near that they could hear them talk.”

The next day, the French would find themselves hopelessly outgunned but not (yet) encircled, and by mid-morning would be effecting an orderly retreat. In the course of it, Dugenne ordered at least two sets of executions to maintain discipline: early in the morning, it was “the hanging of two Chinese spies who had just been caught … with great solemnity and a great apparat, which caused a hail of bullets to whiz from all sides, where the Chinese friends of the hanged men were concealed.”

Hours later, as his column formed up to withdraw, Dugenne harshly punished his own native Tonkinese auxiliaries, green recruits who had all but routed in the first moments of the ambush when they came under fire and whose ill discipline could not be brooked on retreat: Dugenne “gave an order before [retreating] to shoot down ten Tonquinese of the native troops.”

Dugenne reached friendly forces safely, and with him accounts of a “massacre” that would incense public opinion in Paris. China’s refusal to meet the ensuing French demands for satisfaction in this affair would by August trigger open war in Tonkin.

* Not to be confused with 1885’s Treaty of Tientsin, which actually ended the Sino-French War.

** San Francisco Evening Bulletin, Sep. 11, 1884

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1884: Tombstone hangs five

Add comment March 28th, 2015 Headsman

The frontier town Tombstone, Arizona saw its first legal hanging on this date in 1884 — and its second, third, fourth, and fifth besides.

On the 8th of December ult., Daniel “Big Dan” Dowd, Comer W. “Red” Sample, Daniel “York” Kelly, William “Billy” Delaney and James “Tex” Howard rode into the nearby town of Bisbee in an attempt to seize the $7,000 payroll for the Copper Queen Mine.

Sadly the bandits mistimed the arrival of the boodle. Having already committed to the raid, they improvised a plunder of the general store and the valuables of any nearby customers they could lay the sight of their sixguns upon. And then on the way out, villainous mustaches a-twirl, the gangsters shot up the town and slew four good residents of Bisbee.

The survivors telegraphed the sheriff of Tombstone, the seat of Cochise County.*

This Bisbee Massacre was just two years on from Tombstone’s signature moment, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral — and it had a similar whiff of the lawless frontier.

Arrayed against Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday at the O.K. Corral** had been the so-called “cowboys”, a network of desperadoes who found this last vanishing enclave of the lawless frontier a congenial environment for opportunistic outlawry: livestock rustling, smuggling, stagecoach robbery, and the like.

The line between legitimate businessman and criminal element was as permeable as the nearby Mexican border. As Tombstone’s posses hunted down the five Bisbee shooters over the ensuing weeks, interrogations would reveal that Bisbee saloon-keeper John Heath — an Ohio native of shady reputation who could be found during the gunfight cowering behind his own bar — was actually the moving spirit behind the raid. He would later testify in a piece of hairsplitting vainglory that of course it was he who conceived it all, as his henchmen were too stupid for such a plan … but the part where they started shooting people was none of John Heath’s idea.

Heath was smart enough to get his own trial separate from his goons, and smart enough to work a jail sentence where his cronies were set up for execution.

Folk in Tombstone were incensed at this leniency and on February 22 they reversed it by extracting Heath from his irons and lynching him to a telegraph pole at First and Toughnut.

The Alfred Henry Lewis Wolfville books (available in the public domain) dramatize a fictitious western town loosely based on Tombstone … complete with vigilance committee and a strong female character named Nell.

It was fairly clear under the circumstances that the five toughs awaiting their March 28 hanging date had no need to entertain any hope of mercy.

Nonetheless, legendary frontierswoman Nellie Cashman — later to be inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame for her exertions in that arctic gold rush — was at this time resident in the silver boom town of Tombstone.

So appalled was the Irishwoman at the highly improper festive civic atmosphere prevailing in Tombstone as the executions approached that she organized a gang of her own: a team that on the eve of the hangings secretly dismantled a grandstands some ghoulish entrepreneur had erected in order to at least permit the event to go off with some modicum of solemnity.

* Cochise County, Arizona, was named for the great Apache warrior.

** Actually, the shootout was neither in nor abutting the O.K. Corral.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arizona,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Theft,USA

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1884: Two abusive husbands

Add comment March 7th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1884, a Louisiana man named Noah Jackson was hanged at Lake Providence for beating in the brains of his 15-year-old wife during a fit of jealousy. (She’d been only 13 years old when they married.)

Meanwhile, in Corsicana, Tx., Harrison Williams hanged for murdering his sister-in-law Ada Sallard.

“The particulars in the murder case,” reported the Dallas Weekly Herald on June 28, 1883, “are as follows:”

Munroe Sallard and Harrison Williams, two colored men living on adjoining farms about five miles from town, married sisters. Williams has been abusing his wife ever since their marriage; on Monday morning Williams beat his wife in a brutal manner, and on being remonstrated with by her sister, Mrs. Sallard, told her that if she said a word he would kill her. Mrs. Sallard started for town on horseback to have him arrested, and when near the fairgrounds on her way home was way-laid by Williams, who took her from her horse, tied a handkerchief around her throat and then mashed her head to a shapeless mass with his boot heel. He then secreted her body in the woods, and went to her house and occupied the same bed with her husband, leaving yesterday morning [meaning June 26]. Since then he has not been seen. Her body was discovered in the woods yesterday evening, and last night an armed posse of negroes went in search of the murderer. If caught he will certainly dangle.

He sure did.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Louisiana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Texas,USA

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1884: Henry Rose

Add comment April 4th, 2014 Headsman

Special dispatch to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (April 5, 1884), which perhaps accounts for the outsized interest in the provenance of the rope.

MEMPHIS, TENN., April 4. — Henry Rose was hanged to-day at noon at Osceola, the county seat of Mississippi County, Ark., for the killing of Dempsey Tyler, a well-to-do negro who resided near Osceola. The preparations for the hanging were made by Sheriff W. Huskins some two weeks ago. The scaffold was newly built, as it was the first execution there for several years. The rope used was made at St. Louis of hempen material, and was 18 feet long and three-fourths of an inch in diameter. In ordering the rope Sheriff Haskins said he wished it to be good and strong, as the culprit weighed 200 pounds. A large crowd of negroes witnessed the execution. Rose, who is a negro, made a full confession of his guilt, and in a rambling speech on the scaffold told his listeners to be warned by his fate. His neck was broken by the fall.

THE CRIME.

The murder was a cold-blooded affair, as Taylor was killed while seated at his fireside one dark and stormy night, a load of buckshot being fired into the back of his head through a window only a few feet distant with fatal effect. The murderer escaped for the time being, but he left tracks which led to his discovery, arrest and conviction. He had gone to Taylor’s house in his stocking feet, and Sheriff Haskins, suspecting him of being the guilty party, inquired of a little girl at his residence for the stockings Rose wore on the night of the killing. The girl in reply to the Sheriff said, “Dey am under de bed, hid.” The tell-tale objects were found, and they led to further developments, which fixed the deed where it properly belonged. The man killed was popular with his race, but was regarded as an impudent and overbearing person by his white neighbors. It was for some slight or fancied wrong that Rose sought to revenge himself by slaying Taylor in the manner he did.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arkansas,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA

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1884: Two Pennsylvania murderers

Add comment September 23rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1884, Joseph Sarver was hanged as a parricide at Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Sarver became enraged by his father’s affair with their housekeeper Mary Kelley, and shot the father dead in his doorway. (He also shot Mary Kelley; she survived.)

As if the parricide rap wasn’t enough to get the blood up, he “greatly intensified the popular feeling against him” by behaving after his arrest like an all-around jerk. Sarver reportedly fought with jailers over the timeliness of his breakfast, made merry in prison, and blithely boasted that “they could never hang him because he was a Democrat, and so was Governor Pattison.” (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Nov. 14, 1883; Galveston Daily News, same date. It made the national crime blotter.)

He eventually made a full confession, and was said to have died firmly.


Executed on the same date in Cambria County, Penn., Michael Murray “dictated a letter, to be made public after his death, in which he charged that certain persons, possessing the powers of witchcraft, had exercised a spell over him, and while under its influence, he committed the deed.” The deed created by this sorcery was shooting a man on the Pittsburgh turnpike who called Murray a name.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pennsylvania,USA

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