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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1708: Thomas Ellis and Mary Goddard

Add comment March 3rd, 2017 Headsman

The Ordinary of Newgate’s Account of the Life, Conversation, Birth and Education, of Thomas Ellis, and Mary Goddard.

Who were Executed at Tyburn, on Wednesday, the Third of March, 1707/1708.
WITH
The most Remarkable Passages of their whole Lives and Wicked Actions, from the time of their Birth, to their untimely Death; as also their Tryal, Examination, Conviction and Condemnation, at the Old-Bayly, their Behaviour in Newgate, their Confession, and True Dying-Speeches, at the Place of Execution.

Licensed according to Order.
LONDON:
Printed by H. Hills, in Black-fryars, near the Waterside. 1708.

The Life and Conversation, Birth and Education of Thomas Ellis, and Mary Goddard, &c.
AT the Sessions of Oyer and Terminer and Goal delivery of Newgate, held for the City of London, and County of Middlesex, at the Old-Bayly, on Wednesday and Thursday, the 26th and 27th of February last, Sentence of Death pass’d upon Thomas Ellis, Ann Simmons, Deborah Churchill, and Mary Goddard.

On the Lord’s Day following I Preach’d to them twice, in order to prepare them for another World, and took the Portion of Scripture for my Text, from the 28th Chapter of Proverbs, and the 13th Verse. He that covereth his Sins shall not Prosper, but whosoever forsaketh them shall have Mercy.

In handling them, I

I. Explain’d the Nature of Sin, and the Guilt Contracted by it.

II. I enter’d into the Consequences that attended it and prov’d from Holy Writ, that the Sinner Ignominious in this Life, and Eternally Miserable without due Repentance in the next; an tho’ he may flourish like a Bay-Tree, in his Temporal Concerns, he is lost to all Eternity in his Spiritual, without petitioning for Mercy, and preparing himself with an Humble and Contrite Heart, for the acceptance of it.

III. Having shewn them what Sin was, and represented it to them in its blackest Colours, I shew’d them what it was to forsake it, what Methods they ought to take for so Holy a Purpose; and what an Abhorrence they should entertain of so Detestable a thing as offending the great Governour of all things; The Creator of Heaven and Earth, by Wicked and Ungodly Practices.

IV, and Lastly, I applied the Consolation and Mercy to them, and dwelt some time upon the Conditions by which they were to expect it, and exhorted them to forsake Sin, by a Repentance not to be Repented of, by an open and hearty Confession of their Manifold Wickednesses, by a Discovery of such as had been Confederates with them, and by Imploring the Pardon of that God whose Mercy is over all his Works, and is sure to such as seek it according to the prescribed Methods in his Holy Word, &c.

On Monday the First of March, which was the Day following the Dead-Warrant came down, which order’d only Thomas Ellis and Mary Goddard for Execution, Deborah Churchill being respited by a Reprieve till she should be deliver’d of a Child, which a Midwife had given her Oath she was quick of, and Anne Simmons, by reason of her great Age, and Her Majesties Compassion: Tho’, for the Benefit of others, I shall proceed to their Behaviour and confession under the Sentence of death with the two others, that are the melancholy Occasion of this Paper.

I. Thomas Ellis, Condemn’d for breaking open the Dwelling-house of Sir Miles Hicks, of St. Peters Pauls Wharf, in the Night-time, and taking from thence two Silver hilted Swords, a Hanger, a Cloth Coat, two Pistols, a Bever Hat, with other things. He told me that he was about 32 Years of Age, that he was born of honest Parents, who put him Apprentice to a Poulterer, in which Occupation he behav’d himself honestly to the good liking of his Master and all that had any Concerns with him, till his Acquaintance with John Hall, and Stephen Bunch, two Criminals lately executed for Felony and Burglary, brought him to commit such Crimes as he stood Convicted for. He confess’d he had been an Old Offender, and had formerly receiv’d Mercy, but not living up to the Conditions of it, he had justly incurr’d the Punishment he was to suffer, by returning with the Dog to his Vomit, and keeping his old Acquaintance Company. He seem’d to be much concern’d for the many Robberies he had been Guilty of; and said, Nothing griev’d him more than that he was incapable of making Restitution: So that I must write him down for a hearty Penitent.

II. Mary Goddard, Convicted and Condemn’d for making an Assault on Jane Gregory, and taking from her Five Shillings in Money, the Money of said Gregory, and one [He]nry Moult, on the 10th of December last, &c. she was about 37 years of Age: That her Father was a Weaver in Chippinnorton, in Oxfordre; and that being desirous of seeing London, left her Friends, and put her self Servant to a rcer in the Strand: That she behav’d her self the good liking of those she serv’d, till getting quainted with the aforesaid Thomas Ellis, for ose Wife she had pass’d for some years, she turned op-lifter; for which Crime she had formerly rev’d Sentence of Death; she continued the same cked Practice, which brought her some time since the Work-House in Bishop’s-gate-street, where committed the Crime for which she was to die

III. Deborah Churchill, Condemn’d for Aiding Richard Hunt, William Lewis, and John Boy, in e Murder of Martin Ware, by giving him several Mortal Wounds with a Rapier, on the 12th of January last, of which he instantly dyed, said, she as in the 26th year of her Age, That her Parents ing when she was young, she was left to the Care an Uncle at Five years Old, who not shewing at Regard to her Education, as he ought to have one, she took her leave of him at Fifteen, after having been enticed by a Neighbour’s Son, that got er with Child, she came up to London, where he got acquainted with a Bawd in great Wild-reet, who made Money of her, for the Service of he Unclean; and that she had continu’d in that Course of Lewdness, till her Commitment to the[se s]eem heartily Penitent, and solv’d for an Amendment, should God spare Life, which I hope he has done, to forward so [re]ligious a Purpose.

IV. Anne Simmons alias Smith, of the Parish Stepney, Condemn’d for privately Stealing from the Person, of Hester Bourn, on the 17th January last; She said that she was 60 Years of and born of very honest Parents, who dying w[hen] she was young, bequeathed her to the Care of Parish, by whom she was put an Apprentice Servant to a Farmer. But that she being prompted the Lust of the Flesh, and having had to do w[ith] several Young Men came to London: Where f[all]ing into evil Company, she got acquainted w[ith] Mary Raby, who was Executed some Years […] sin who initiated her in that wicked Art of Picki[ng] Pockets, which she had continu’d for Thirty Yea She seem’d extreamly desirous to make Reparatio[n] which I hope she has done through, the Mercy her Saviour.

On Wednesday the 3d of March, being appointed for the Execution of Thomas Ellis, and M[a]ry Goddard, I attended them in the Chappel Newgate, where not only these two, but all th[ose who] lay under Condemnation were present. viz. Mr. Gregg, Mr. Maugridge, and the other two Women who are Repriev’d; I there earnestly press’d the to pray heartily that God would soften their harened Hearts, and bring them to a serious and heaty Repentance of all the former Wickednesses the[y] committed, which they did with great Ferven[cy] and Devotion; insomuch that they press’d me to minister the Holy Sacrament; which I perform’d [acco]rdingly; and afterwards expounded to them Holy Scriptures, and again exhorted them to upon their Redeemer for Mercy upon their Souls.

After which they were convey’d by the Sheriffs cers in a Cart to Tyburn, where I attended them he last.

[I l]aid before them the little Time that was be them and the Dark Night of Eternity, eary desiring them to improve every moment to Souls Advantage, and to cry mightily to that who was able to save them at the last Moment true Repentance, through the Merits of a Cru[cified] Saviour. I exhorted them to stir up their [hear]ts to God more and more to clear their Conces, and to discover any thing they knew t be of use to the World. They acknowledged were Guilty of the Facts for which they were to Suffer. They desired all Spectators to take [warn]ing by them, and to pray for them; wishing all that knew them would become wiser and [learn?] by their shameful Death, so as they might ome to the same Condemnation. Ellis said he [had b]een very Wicked, and done much Mischief; he hoped God had forgiven him, and would Mercy upon his Soul. He begged Pardon of hom he had injur’d, and freely forgave those had done him any wrong. Mary Goddard bitterly for the Sins of her Life, acknowledging the Fact for which she was now to suffer; desired the People to pray for her, and let this shameful End be an Example for all such who fl[aunt] the tender Mercies of God, and follow their Vitious Course of Life; for, said she, by keep[ing] Bad Company, and Prophaning the Lord’s [Name] hath been the Cause of my coming to this unti[mely] Death. When I had perform’d the Offices re[qui]site for my Function, and sung a penitential Psa[lm] I wished them a happy Passage out of this Life a better, and recommended their Souls to G[od and His] boundless Mercy in Christ. Then they pray’d some minutes by themselves, and then were tur[ned] off; calling upon God all the while to have M[ercy] upon their Souls, and open the Gate of Heaven them.

This is all the Account I can give here of the Malefactors,

Paul Lorain, Ordinary

Wednesday, March 3.

Part of the Themed Set: The Ordinary of Newgate.

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1903: Edgar Edwards, sash weight killer

1 comment March 3rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1903, Edgar Edwards was hanged in Wandsworth Prison for a minor-league* triple murder.

Of course, the killing was anything but trivial to its victims, a Camberwell grocer and his wife along with their infant daughter. The couple put their business up for sale: Edwards answered the ad but had a different transaction in mind. Contriving to separate man and wife in the course of the interview, he bashed Beatrice Darby to death and strangled the infant child. Evidently he had some proficiency wielding a five-pound sash weight. The reader may perceive that this weapon, albeit improvised, is a crueler device than its accessorizing name might suggest.


Sash weights.
(cc) image from With Associates.

Having done with the wife, he lured unwitting husband John to his makeshift abattoir and murdered him in the same horrid fashion.

That occurred way back in November, but it wasn’t until Edwards tried the same ploy using the same type of bludgeon** against a London businessman a month later that the earlier homicide unraveled. As the investigation led back to Leyton (thanks in part to Edwards’s foolish possession off John Darby’s business cards) the neighbors all started remembering that he’d been awfully keen about burying something in the garden a few weeks back. Rear Window this ain’t.

The motive for all this was just to take possession of the stock and sell it quietly for ready cash. Edwards had little recourse when captured but to try to draw out a family history of insanity, a ploy could not have impressed jurors much in view off the crime’s calculated ferocity.

* A century and God knows how many murders onward, this crime may be an imperceptible drop in the sea; in its day, however, it earned Edwards wax statuary at Madame Tussaud’s.

** The humble sash weight has its niche in the crime annals; it was also the weapon used by Double Indemnity inspirations Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray.

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1882: Bob Jones and Billy Miller, murderers on the open road

Add comment March 3rd, 2015 Headsman

Bob Jones and Billy Miller were hanged together on this date in 1882 for the murder of three sons of Judge J.P. Walker.

The Walker boys had been traveling together for an Arkansas plantation to which their prosperous Alabama father was relocating the family. They “encamped three miles west of Aberdeen [Mississippi], and on Sunday evening some persons passing by found them lying on mattresses, covered with quilts, each with his head split open as though with an axe.”

Miller, a black man, was picked up “under suspicious circumstances” and at the point of lynching he was forced to confess the crime. When he later attempted to disavow it, Judge Walker visited him in his cell, and (per the New Orleans Times-Picayune of Dec. 8, 1881) made the following chilling-but-practical appeal:

I am the father of these murdered boys. I can assure you that you will certainly be hung, if you don’t meet a worse death. It will do you no good to die with a lie on your lips about this matter. I came to get the truth, and you can gain nothing by telling me a lie, for your doom is sealed. Tell me all about the murder of my sons.

According to to the newsmen, Miller then proceeded to tell all. There’s just something persuasive about the grief of a father with a lynch mob at his back.

Per Miller’s confession, he happened by the camp of the Walkers, whose party was actually a foursome. The other white man with them, also just a chance fellow-traveler, pulled Miller aside as he rested by the campfire and indicated that the Walkers, schlepping a wagon full of effects from the Alabama plantation to the Arkansas one, were worth the trouble to put out of the way: “There’s big money in this.” They then axed the trio as they slept.

Miller said that the white man took all the money they could find, giving Miller only a bogus promise to meet him to divide it, and then absconded. The two would next lay eyes on each other in late December, when Jones was apprehended. It had been a job to get him; descriptions of him were shaky and Miller himself didn’t know anything about his accomplice — so random tramps, strangers, and solo sojourners were grabbed and interrogated willy-nilly for some weeks until Jones’s own brothers finally supplied the tip that he had met the Walkers and come back with a gold watch.

Once located, Jones too confessed — in his case, we are assured, “without a semblance of violence and by kind argument.” Surely there was some semblance of violence, since both men were reportedly “in great fear of lynching” even by that time, a month after the murders.


Columbus (Ga.) Daily Enquirer, Dec. 29, 1881.

Four thousand people were reported to have turned up in Aberdeen to witness these accidental confederates hang for their opportunistic crime. Jones fainted away as he was being arranged on the scaffold; Miller bore it better and swung off with a sad dirge on his lips.

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1522: Vicent Peris, of the Revolt of the Brotherhood

1 comment March 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1522, the leader of the Revolt of the Brotherhood came to his grief in Valencia.

Spain circa 1519-1520 was a powder keg. The rival kingdoms Aragon and Castille had of late been joined by a personal union of Ferdinand and Isabella, but now that couple was several years dead, and the scepter held by an irritating Flemish youth who had just popped in to hike everyone’s taxes so he could fund the bribe campaign necessary to become the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

These tensions triggered the Revolt of the Comuneros in Castile, whose consequent executions we have already dealt with; in Aragon, they launched the Revolt of the Brotherhoods. The “brotherhoods” in question were the germanias, urban artisan guilds. Those guilds stepped into a power vaccuum in Valencia when a 1519 plague triggered anti-Moslem riots and sent the nobles scurrying for the safety of their country estates. (Charles was busy in Germany being crowned Holy Roman Emperor.)

This was more than fine by the salty Valencia townsfolk, who much detested the overweening aristocracy.

[G]entlemen (caballeros) were regarded with the greatest hostility by the masses of the people. Argensola and Sandoval relate a story which places this hostility in a conspicuous light. One day, as a gentleman passed through a certain street, a woman called upon her son to look at him, and mark his appearance carefully. The child inquired the reason. The mother replied, “In order that when you become a man you may be able to say that you had seen a gentleman; for long before that time the whole race shall have disappeared, and been as completedly destroyed as the Templars were. (Source)

A “Council of Thirteen” — one representative from each of Valencia’s principal guilds — took over the city’s government.


La pau de les Germanies (The Peace of the Germanias) by Marcelino de Unceta.

Vicente Peris (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish), a firebrand weaver, soon came to be the first among this leading baker’s dozen. He enjoyed some military successes in 1521, and took advantage of them wherever possible to impose forced conversions, property expropriation, or summary execution on any Muslims he could lay hands upon.

No surprise but this alarming situation drove the hated caballeros into organized counterattack, just as the Valencian factions started breaking apart over how far to push the revolution. After they were thrashed at the Battle of Oriola in August 1521, they didn’t have to worry about that question any more.

Peris was caught slipping back into now-royalist-controlled Valencia on February 18, 1522, apparently hoping to stir up his old comrades in arms once more, and caught only after a running street battle that night that ended with him being smoked out of his house as it was burned around him.

As addenda to his execution this date, that house was entirely razed and the ground salted over, with a decree that nothing should ever be built there again. Peris’s descendants were anathematized as traitors to the fourth generation.

* The island of Mallorca followed Valencia’s lead in revolt, and by 1523, followed its unhappy fate as well.

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1676: George Bromham and Dorothy Newman, on the Combe Gibbet

1 comment March 3rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1676, the Combe Gibbet was put to its first and only use.

Adulterous lovers George Bromham (or Broomham) and Dorothy Newman had been doomed by the Winchester Assize for murdering the wife and son of Bromham’s inconvenient marriage. “With a staff,” the trial record says. Ouch.

The two were sentenced to hang together “in chaynes near the place of the murder,” which demonstrative sentence required the erection of a brand-new purpose-built double gibbet just for the occasion, high atop Inkpen Beacon, the 975-foot hill overlooking the countryside.* After execution, they were taken down, laid out a nearby barn (inevitably to become known as “Gibbet Barn”), and then strapped back up on the double-gallows in chains for a few days.

Although this dreadful landmark has never been used again, it’s stood ever since. Or, technically, a succession of different versions have stood, but the point is that there’s still today a large, black execution device looming over scenic Berkshire. It’s a nice place for a walk. (pdf)

When next in West Berkshire, top your visit to the Combe Gibbet with a refreshing Gibbet Ale at Inkpen Common’s Crown and Garter Bed & Breakfast. (That’s where the Gibbet Barn used to be.)

The murder behind the gibbet was the the subject of a student film called Black Legend in 1948 — the first movie made by future legendary director John Schlesinger.

* Bromham was from Combe, and Newman from neighboring Inkpen, and the murder itself took place on the towns’ border. In the great tradition of municipal politics, there was a consequent dispute over the bill for setting up this gibbet; they were forced to split the bill.

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1865: Antone Richers, Galveston deserter

Add comment March 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1865, the Confederate forces defending Galveston, Texas shot Antone Richers for desertion.

With the U.S. Civil War into its mopping-up phase, the Texas port was bracing for the Union to land an irresistible force. Many soldiers inclined less to brace than to bow: with the handwriting on the wall for any fool to see, the grey army suffered an epidemic of judicious desertions.

Antone Richers was one of these. Just, maybe not so judicious.

Richers was retrieved from the drink when the stolen boat he was attempting to ride out to the Union blockade capsized, and the upright Confederate officer who pulled him out wouldn’t take a bribe to keep keep quiet about it.

Condemned “to be shot to death with musketry” for his trouble, Richers died this date in especially pitiable fashion. According to Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, a newspaper report of the execution ran thus:

A sharp rattle of musketry, and the prisoner fell dead, several balls having passed through his breast … The saddest part of the story remains to be told. The friends of [the prisoner] had sent Rev. Father Ansteadt on the day before the execution, by hand car, to Houston, as bearer of documents addressed to General Walker, showing that [Richers] was not of sound mind, and setting forth other reasons why he ought to be respited. The telegraph line between [Galveston] and Houston broke down the evening before the execution, and remained down [until] fifteen minutes after the execution. No intelligence from General Walker could therefore reach [Galveston]. But as soon as the telegraph operated, a dispatch was received from General Walker, dated the night before, containing an order for the respite of Anton [Richers]. It was too late — the man was dead.

It was Galveston’s second and last military execution of the war.


Galveston’s Confederate monument, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy: “Dignified Resignation”. (cc) image from Patrick Feller.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Confederates,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,History,Military Crimes,Reprieved Too Late,Shot,Soldiers,Texas,USA,Wartime Executions

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Unspecified Year: Bigger Thomas

4 comments March 3rd, 2011 Headsman

The main character of Richard Wright’s Native Son was condemned to a March 3 electrocution by the state of Illinois.

In Number 666-983, indictment for murder, the sentence of the Court is that you, Bigger Thomas, shall die on or before midnight of Friday, March third,* in a manner prescribed by the laws of this state.

The Court finds your age to be twenty.

The Sheriff may retire with the prisoner.

Readers are not treated to the actual execution scene, but the hopelessness of Bigger Thomas’s situation is the book‘s whole context and theme. There is little room to entertain a reprieve.

“In the first draft I had Bigger going smack to the electric chair,” the author remarked. “But I felt that two murders were enough for one novel. I cut the final scene.”

The first Book of the Month club selection by an African American author was an instant best-seller, but hardly easy reading. Wright tackles the catastrophic “hatred, fear, and violence” suffusing negro life.

Inspired in part by a real-life Windy City murderer, Bigger Thomas grows up wretched and impoverished in Depression-era Chicago and eventually commits an accidental homicide, then rapes and murders his girlfriend. Wright took some heat for staging a character seemingly written to whites’ darkest fears of African-Americans, but it was his object to force the reader to relate to a violent man whose brutality is conditioned by the world he inhabits.

Bigger Thomas’s trial has his lawyer present an overt indictment of structural oppression as the true cause of Bigger’s crime.

“I didn’t want to kill,” Bigger shouted. “But what I killed for, I am! It must’ve been pretty deep in me to make me kill! I must have felt it awful hard to murder … What I killed for must’ve been good!” Bigger’s voice was full of frenzied anguish. “It must have been good! When a man kills, it’s for something … I didn’t know I was really alive in this world until I felt things hard enough to kill for ‘em. It’s the truth …”

Whether Wright truly broke out of the existing literary genres may be a matter of debate.

James Baldwin considered Native Son to be of the Uncle Tom’s Cabin tradition, “self-righteous, virtuous sentimentality … the one uttering merciless exhortations, the other shouting curses.”

All of Bigger’s life is controlled, defined by his hatred and his fear … elow the surface of this novel there lies, as it seems to me, a continuation, a complement of that monstrous legend it was written to destroy … Bigger’s tragedy is not that he is cold or black or hungry, not even that he is American, black; but that he has accepted a theology that denies him life, that he admits the possibility of his being sub-human and feels constrained, therefore, to battle for his humanity according to those brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth. But our humanity is our burden, our life; we need not battle for it; we need only to do what is infinitely more difficult — that is, accept it. The failure of the protest novel lies in its rejection of life, the human being, the denial of his beauty, dread, power, in its insistence that it is his categorization alone which is real and which cannot be transcended.

-“Everybody’s Protest Novel” (pdf)

“Protest novel” or otherwise, Native Son‘s mainstream success extended to the stage, where Orson Welles — fresh from the debut of Citizen Kane — directed a Wright-written adaptation in 1941. Less successfully, Wright himself played the title role in a 1951 Argentinian film.

“Bigger Thomas” is also the name of a long-running ska band.

Though the novel is not yet public domain in the United States, it is in some countries — and can be perused free here.

* For the finicky chronologist: Native Son was published in 1940. At that point, the most recent occasions March 3 had fallen on a Friday were 1939 and 1933.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Fictional,Illinois,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,USA

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1955: Gerald Albert Gallego, like father like son

6 comments March 3rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1955, murderer Gerald Albert Gallego became the first client of Mississippi’s new gas chamber.*

It was a botched job, though that didn’t stop Mississippi from retaining the gas chamber into the 1990s.

Gallego coughed, choked, and wheezed on a less than lethal cloud of cyanide poisoning. Finally, after some forty-five minutes while officials feverishly worked to correct the problem, the repairs were completed and Gallego quickly died. An additional step was then added to the required testing of the chamber prior to an execution: an animal, usually a rabbit, would be placed in a cage in the chamber chair and cyanide gas was released to make sure the mixture was sufficiently lethal.

Gallego killed a cop, then engineered a prison break out of death row by giving a guard a faceful of acid and a fatal beating.

But if you think he was bad, get a load of his son.

The younger Gerald Gallego drew two gas chamber sentences of his own, in California and Nevada, for a far more diabolical crime spree (though he ultimately died in prison, not at the hands of an executioner).

The son’s story is the subject of The Sex Slave Murders: The Horrifying True Story of America’s First Husband-and-Wife Serial Killers, whose author gave an interview to indefatigable true-crime blogger Laura James here.

Despite the familial resemblance in lawbreaking, the father and son never met in this life.

According to The Sex Slave Murders, a prison conversion gave Gallego pere a care for his next life, and on his last walk this day to the gas chamber, he handed the Mississippi sheriff a note that read in part,

Sheriff, if at any time you should have young men in your jail, please tell them that I was once like them, and should they continue, there is no reward but hardships and grief for their parents.

* Mississippi’s gas chamber replaced the electric chair.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,Milestones,Mississippi,Murder,Notably Survived By,USA

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1870: Thomas Scott, “take me out of here or kill me”

3 comments March 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1870, a troublesome Anglophone was shot in Fort Garry by the rebellious Metis provisional government.

The Red River “Rebellion” pitted the Métis people — Francophone mixed-race descendants of Europeans and natives, constantly referred to as “half-breeds” in the period’s literature — of the inland plains against the Canadian government that had just bought the rights to their land from the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Needless to say, this sale was not effected with reference to the consent of said land’s inhabitants, which makes the term “rebellion” something of a misnomer — rightful authority was not clearly constituted, and in this period it would be negotiated on the fly.

Distrustful of the Ontario government and the Red River Settlement’s own minority of Anglo settlers, Louis Riel led a headquarters in Upper Fort Garry.* Riel’s negotiations with Canadian authorities set the parameters for the future province of Manitoba.

Parallel to the diplomatic overtures, however, were skirmish-level military hostilities.

Scott, an Irish-born Orangeman of fiercely anti-Catholic disposition, was captured with a few dozen Anglos attempting to mount an assault on Metis holdings and imprisoned in Fort Garry. He escaped with some of the other prisoners, but was re-arrested making a return trip to attack the fort again and liberate the remaining captives.

Scott’s execution this day helped inflame anti-Metis sentiment and contributed to the Riel government’s collapse a few months later.** But the guy makes a bit of a problematic martyr because — and we want to be fair here — he seems to have been an unmitigated prick.

The leader of Scott’s fatal expedition, Charles Boulton, was likewise condemned by the Metis, but Riel pardoned Boulton and even offered to bring him into Riel’s own government. Scott, by contrast, let no one be mistaken about his contempt for the half-breeds and abused his captors; his particular sentence was procured on the grounds of having defied the provisional government’s authority and threatened Riel.

Since Riel was looking for someone to make an example of, he was the guy.

As so often with firing squads, the execution was a botch … and upon that botch was laid, according to the testimony of a Metis opponent of Riel quoted by Boulton, a downright sadistic final chapter. (It must be noted that both the original source and the man citing it have an interest in maximizing the alleged brutality of Riel.)

Six soldiers had been chosen to shoot Scott. I have here again to write the name of a man whose behaviour in that circumstance reflects on him the greatest honour. Augustin Parisien, one of the six soldiers, declared openly that he would not shoot at Scott; in fact, he took off the cap from his gun before the word of command ‘present’ was given. Of the five balls remaining, only two hit the poor victim, one on the left shoulder, and the other in the upper part of the chest above the heart. Had the other soldiers missed the mark undesignedly, or had they intentionally aimed away from Riel’s victim, it is not known. However that may be, as the two wounds were not sufficient to cause death, at least sudden death, a man, named Guillemette stepped forward and discharged the contents of a pistol close to Scott’s head while he was lying on the ground. This ball, however, took a wrong direction. It penetrated the upper part of the left cheek and came out somewhere about the cartilage of the nose. Scott was still not dead, but that did not prevent his butchers from placing him alive and still speaking, in a kind of coffin made of four rough boards. It was nailed and plated in the south-eastern bastion, and an armed soldier was placed at the door. This would seem like a story made at one’s ease, if there were not several credible witnesses who, between the hours of five and six in the evening, heard the unfortunate Scott speaking from under the lid of his coffin, and it was known that he had been shot at half-past twelve. What a long and horrible agony, and what ferocious cruelty was this on the part of his butchers. The words heard and understood by the French Metis were only these ‘My God, My God!’ Some English Metis, and those understanding English, heard distinctly these words: ‘For God’s sake take me out of here or kill me.’ Towards 11 o’clock — that is, after ten and a half hours of frightful agony — a person, whose name I shalt withhold for the present, went into the bastion, and, according to some, gave him the finishing stroke with a butcher’s knife, with a pistol, according to others. After having inflicted the last blow on poor Scott, that person said, as he was coming back from the bastion: ‘He is dead this time!’ The corpse was left for a few days in the south-eastern bastion, being guarded by the soldiers, relieving each other in turn.

* The site — most of the fort is demolished — is now in downtown Winnipeg.

** Riel himself had a colorful career ahead of him, which ultimately delivered him too to the annals of the executioner.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Scandal,Shot,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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