1926: Tony Vettere, who put up a fierce fight

Add comment October 1st, 2012 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1926, triple murderer Tony Vettere was executed on the “Galloping Gallows” in Butte, Montana. He would be the last person judicially hanged in that city.

The previous year on November 22, the Italian-born Vettere had encountered John Deranja about a mile outside of the town of Meaderville, a suburb of Butte in Silver Bow County. For no apparent reason, Vettere shot Deranja in the left side and killed him instantly.

That was at 9:15 p.m.

By 10:00 p.m., Vettere was on North Main Street in Meaderville and saw Joseph Cicarelli standing in front of a house talking to another man, Antone Favero. Vettere called out Cicarelli’s name, raised his shotgun, and fired on both men. Cicarelli was hit in the shoulder; he died within minutes. Favero got it in the abdomen and lived long enough to get to the hospital and make a statement implicating Vettere. Then he, too, succumbed at midnight.

By this time, Vettere had already attempted a fourth murder: he shot at still another Meaderville man, Angelino Gucciono, but missed. Gucciono hit the ground when he heard shots and the woman he was walking with legged it for the nearest house, where the occupants let her inside. Vettere chased after her and broke several of the house’s windows, but didn’t go in; instead, he fled the scene.

The next day the police found him hiding, unarmed, in a gully eight miles outside of town. His murder spree seems to have been motiveless: he had had some problems with Gucciono, but that had been years ago, and he didn’t seem to have had anything against the other men.

Vettere, according to witnesses, was drunk during the late afternoon hours on the day of the murder, but by 10:30 he appeared to be sober.

The victims left behind eighteen children between them.

Some people, even before his shooting spree, thought Vettere was crazy. He behaved erratically in jail and claimed he didn’t remember the murders. His lawyer claimed he “spoke incoherently on many different subjects” and didn’t seem to know why he was locked up. The court decided he was legally sane, however.

The portable (horse-hauled; hence the name) gallows were set up in the foyer of the old jail, which is today the Butte police department. According to the Billings Gazette, hundreds crowded in to witness it.

“A hanging was a pretty big social event,” Butte Archives volunteer Jim McCarthy told the paper. “The sheriff would send out invitations in those days.”

After his inevitable conviction and death sentence, Vettere became one of the few condemned men who actually put up a physical resistance en route to the gallows. Amateur historian R. Michael Wilson describes it:

During his final days Vettere was visited by Father J.M. Gilmore but his reaction to the priest was so violent he was not permitted to be with the prisoner alone. On September 30 the prisoner asked to see Judge Lynch [yes, that was the judge’s real name], but he refused to visit the man in his cell. Vettere would not rest that final evening and paced his cell, tensed as if ready to spring, and when the deputies entered the corridor Vettere yelled out, “Where are all these men come from.”

Undersheriff Robinson entered his cell at midnight to take him into the corridor for the reading of the death warrant but Vettere pulled a three foot piece of pipe from his bed clothes and attacked the undersheriff. Robinson backed out of the cell with Vettere close behind, and in the corridor of the jail Vettere pulled out a makeshift knife made from a spoon and, flailing about with the pipe in one hand, tried to cut the officers. He yelled, “You can shoot me but you won’t hang me,” and said, “I kill every man who come here. Get Judge Lynch. I want to kill him,” and then, “Viva Mussolini!” Sheriff Larry “Jack” Duggan demanded the pipe, but Vettere refused saying he would kill everyone. Two canisters of tear gas were brought in and he was sprayed from two sides, and the officers finally managed to herd him back into his cell, where he was gassed for fifteen minutes.

He was finally overcome by choking, dropped his weapons, and retreated onto his cots. The deputies then rushed in, overpowered him, and his wrist and arms, knees and ankles were bound with straps. He was carried onto the gallows and as he stood on the trapdoor he recovered his senses and began cursing everyone.

After death, Vettere’s brain was removed and examined by two doctors, who found no visible anomalies.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Montana,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1917: Frank Little of the IWW lynched

4 comments August 1st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Wobbly labor organizer Frank Little was abducted from his hotel and hanged from a railroad trestle in Butte, Montana.

An executive board member of the radical Industrial Workers of the World, the half-Cherokee Little had only rolled into Montana’s copper mining hub two weeks before. A roving agitator who had organized workers all around the west, he would be a signal martyr to America’s nascent Red Scare.

It was a fraught moment nationwide, and worldwide. After winning re-election on the slogan “He kept us out of war,” Woodrow Wilson upon his inauguration immediately (try to act surprised) got the United States into World War I. Just as it had in Europe, the question of war put American labor to the test: would it transfer opposition to war into resistance, or would it line up patriotically with its state?

This outstanding IWW poster (via the University of Arizona’s web exhibit on the labor deportations that had expelled Frank Little from Arizona just days before he arrived in Butte) pits the militant Wobbly position against the nationalist American Federation of Labor.*

And Little was one of the most stridently anti-war in his movement.

Either we’re for their capitalist slaughter fest or against it. I’m ready to face a firing squad** rather than compromise. (Source)

Anaconda Copper could nowise welcome this character’s arrival, where he would organize already-striking miners and mix in militant anti-war rhetoric with incendiary potential in the cocktail of immigrant workers being asked (in many cases) to wage war on their homelands.

The local labor conflict, an exceptionally brutal instance of a pattern across the country and especially in western mining country, was probably savage enough on its own to make Little a marked man. Whether his anti-war activity or his union activity motivated his death is not sure, but the dilemma was probably a false one for his killers just as it was for Little himself: they were two heads of the coin. As American troops poured into Europe, and particularly as the Bolshevik Revolution later in 1917 spurred a worldwide Communist scare (and a separate American military expedition), both public and private power violently pursued left-wing elements.

Caption: Copper Trust to the Press: “It’s all right, pal; just tell them he was a traitor.” (Source.)

The film An Injury To One (review) deftly weaves those themes and others together into the tale of a crime which is also the tale of a time and place:

This note was found pinned to Little’s body. “3-7-77”, a Montana vigilante calling card, indicates the dimensions of a grave.

Officially (again, act surprised), it’s an unsolved crime. Even though the New York Times report the day after the hanging quoted a labor official claiming “certain” knowledge of five of the six men in the posse, and a prosecutor vowing, “it is a cold-blooded murder and every effort will be used to apprehend the men who did it,” nobody ever went on trial for lynching Little.

Company goons, likely aided by the infamous union-busting Pinkerton detective agency, are the presumed culprits. And it is the nature of lynchings to make extrajudicial the rough justice sought by a certain constituency, as expressed by Montana’s Helena Independent:

Good work! Let them continue to hang every I.W.W. in the state. The time has come. It is beyond the comprehension of the average citizen why the war department has not ordered certain leaders arrested and shot. The people will not stand for much more.

A massive funeral turnout brought federal troops to quash labor unrest in Butte … and in the years to come, the IWW would be hunted from pillar to post.

Pro-Wobbly sites give adoring biographical treatment and fairly extensive resource lists on Little here and here.

Little is buried in Butte. His grave marker reads:

Slain By Capitalist Interests For Organizing And Inspiring His Fellow Men.

* The AFL, now the AFL-CIO, remains the dominant institution in American labor today.

** Little undoubtedly had in mind the precedent of his fellow-martyr Joe Hill, executed judicially two years before in Utah.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Martyrs,Montana,USA,Wartime Executions

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