Black Jack Ketchum

Black Jack Ketchum was a notorious New Mexico bandit.  Many other criminals also took on the moniker "Black Jack", so it is difficult to know exactly which bad deeds should be attributed to Mr. Ketchum.  Regardless, enough evildoings can be accurately pinned on the New Mexico Black Jack such that there is little doubt as to his nature.
Black Jack and his gang robbed the train near Folsom at least twice.  Train robbery was a popular sport at the time as they carried payrolls to the burgeoning territories and were generally not well defended.
They would wait until the train arrived at a hairpin curve just east of Folsom near the Twin Mountain rock quarry.  The slow speed of the train at that point made it easy to board.  Sometimes, robbers would then disconnect the passenger cars and leave them stalled while the engine and money car continued down the track, safe from intervention by any

Black Jack Ketchum Hanging ~ photographer unknown

heroic riders.  Other times, the passengers were fair game as well.

The gang would ride down to Cimarron until things cooled off after a robbery.  The townspeople there thought that the gang members were respectable business men -- very generous business men at that.  After one robbery, the gang was chased by a posse and ended that run with a shoot out.  Both the posse and the gang suffered killed and wounded.  Afterwards the Black Jack gang more or less dissolved.

Black Jack came back to Folsom to rob the train by himself; it turned out to be an ill-fated trip.  He boarded the train as usual, but had difficulty pulling the pin to disconnect the passenger cars.  The conductor, who had been on the train for the previous two robberies, saw Black Jack and fired at him with a shot gun.  Black Jack fired back with a pistol, but missed.  Unfortunately for Black Jack, the shot gun blast did not miss.  He was left with his arm dangling by a thread and fell off the train.

The next day, two men on horseback found Black Jack, whereupon he drew his weapon on them.  They threatened to leave him alone to die, but his pain gave him cause to think better of his actions.  They took him to the old rock Folsom Hotel, which still stands to this day, to patch up his arm.  It is said that the room in the front of the hotel still bears the stains of his blood.  Black Jack was shipped on to Trinidad where his arm was amputated and then to Santa Fe for safekeeping until a trial could be held.  He was not kept in the Folsom area for fear he would be lynched.

Black Jack was tried and convicted in Clayton.  Recently, train robbery had been made punishable by death due to the increasing number of incidents.  Due to Black Jacks nefarious past, and the fact that hangings were considered good, clean fun, he was given the ultimate sentence.

Black Jack sat in the Clayton jail and listened as the men hammered each nail into the gallows.  Tiring of his sedentary life, he commented, "Hurry up boys, I'm tired of waiting!"  The condemned man ate rather well during his wait and put on weight.

When the gallows were finished, the workers tested the rope and trap door with a bag of sand.  Without thinking, they left the bag hanging overnight, stretching out the rope and removing any give -- by morning it was like a steel cable.  The hanging was much anticipated by the under stimulated citizens.  Tickets were even sold for the privilege of viewing the spectacle.

When they pulled the lever, the overweight, small-necked, lopsided, one-armed, Black Jack hit the end of the rope and the end of his road.  The rope didn't allow for any bounce to soften the halt and yanked the condemned man's head from his body.  It is said that the headless body landed on its feet and took two steps before it fell over.

Black Jack had requested to be buried face down so that the conductor who had shot him could kiss his ass for eternity.  His request was honored, but when they dug him up and moved his grave they turned him right side up.  He is buried in Clayton, NM.

The grave is said to be haunted, probably due to Black Jack's burial request being denied.  If you walk around his grave three times and ask, "Black Jack, what are you doing?", he says nothing.

(if you don't get that, email me and I will explain it to you)

Mike Schoonover, November 2010

The following is another account of the Black Jack story by an unknown author.  It has a few more facts and a bit less embellishment.


Black Jack Ketchum

Thomas Edward Ketchum was a son of Green Berry Ketchum, Sr. and Temperance Katherine Wydick. Green Berry Ketchum was born on November 10, 1820 in Alabama, and died October 28, 1868 in San Saba County, Texas.

On January 27, 1842 in Macon County, Illinois, he married Temperance Katherine Wydick, born March 26, 1824 in Kentucky, and died in 1873 in San Saba County, Texas. They are believed to have been buried at China Creek Cemetery of San Saba County, Texas.

Mr. and Mrs. Ketchum had a family of 8 children: James Ketchum, born December 5, 1842; Joseph Ketchum, born November 10, 1845; Elizabeth Ketchum, born March 20, 1848, died June 26, 1933; Green Berry Ketchum, Jr, born October 24, 1850 and died March 31, 1914; Samuel Wesley Ketchum, born January 4, 1854 and died July 24 1899; Abner Ketchum, born February 2, 1856 and died before 1860; Nancy B. Ketchum, born January 6, 1860 and died January 9, 1937; Thomas Edward 'Black Jack' Ketchum, born October 31, 1863 in Sa Saba County, Texas and died April 26, 1901 in Clayton, Union County, New Mexico.

Black Jack Ketchum and his gang were originally from Texas, and the train robberies they committed were near the same location, between Folsom and Des Moines, New Mexico. This was at the point where the old wagon road crossed the Colorado and Southern Rail Road tracks near Twin Mountain. The area is flat and an ideal place for a train robbery. The Black Jack Gang stopped the train and uncoupled the mail and express cars. These cars were then taken about mile and a half down the track and looted. Of the three robberies, the third was poorly executed and aborted by Black Jack himself. He did not participate in the second robbery.

September 3, 1897 Train Robbery #1

The robbers escaped.

Mrs. Thomas Owen was a passenger, and she had a large, leather valise which the robbers cut open with a sharp knife. They used a dress from her valise to wrap the loot in.

Black Jack clubbed the Express Messenger, Charles P. Drew, and blew up the safe.

Ike Mansker, of Clayton, told the passengers that he thought this was a hold-up and advised everyone to sit down in the aisle of the car in case a stray bullet entered the passenger coach. The passengers all sat on the floor until the hold-up was concluded.

Currency and $20,000.00 in gold and $10,000.00 in silver were taken.

The outlaws returned to the cave south of Folsom and remained there until morning.

July 11, 1899 Train Robbery #2

The robbers camped at Daughtery Springs in the head of Dry Canyon, about 4 miles from the XZY Ranch. (Dry Canyon is now a part of the TO Ranch).

After the robbery, George McJunkin told law officers of these men having been camped in Dry Canyon.

George W. Titsworth, an officer from Trinidad, Colorado recovered a letter that had been torn into small pieces. Returning to Folsom, the officer entered the store owned by T. W. McSchooler and asked to use a desk, some mucilage and paper. Mr. Titsworth pasted the pieces of the torn letter together. Afterwards, the officers loaded their horses on the train they had brought in from Trinidad, i.e., an engine, passenger car and freight car. They went to Cimarron, unloaded there and picked up the trail of the outlaws. The outlaws had arrived in the Cimarron area by horseback.

The posse and outlaws met in Cimarron Canyon. The outlaws were armed with the latest high-powered rifles and smokeless powder, while the posse had only conventional black powder guns whose smoke showed the outlaws their positions. One of the outlaws wounded was Sam Ketchum, the older brother of Black Jack. Sam died of gangrene July 24, 1899. Outlaw McGinnis was wounded, but recovered. He was later captured and served time in the penitentiary of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two posse members died of wounds sustained during this confrontation in Cimarron Canyon. Ed Farr, of Walsenburg, Colorado, was killed while hiding behind a pine tree when the outlaws shot through the tree with a steel bullet. H. M. Love was struck in the hip with a soft nose bullet, and his badly shattered hip cost him his life a few days later. One wounded posse member, F. H. Smith, recovered.

Black Jack did not participate in this robbery.

August 16, 1899 Train Robbery #3

Black Jack and two other gang members participated.

Ben F. Owen, a son of Thomas E. Owen, was riding down the Dry Cimarron, about 2 miles below Folsom, when he met Black Jack. Ben's attention was drawn to the man by the nice horse he was riding and the one he was leading, which had a small pack. (The pack contained dynamite, caps and fuses).

Black Jack went around the town of Folsom to a cave a short distance south where he could conceal himself and his horses. At the cave he was met by two other men who had arrived from another direction. Waiting in the cave until after dark, Black Jack and his two companions rode to the location where they intended to rob the train.

After a late arrival at 10:20 p.m., the train had stopped at Folsom for coal and water. Black Jack boarded the train from the blind side of the baggage car, just behind the coal car.

When the train was going around Twin Mountain, he crawled into the engine. Here he drew his pistol and covered the engineer and fireman.

Black Jack miscalculated where he intended to stop the train by stopping it on a curve where there was about a 4 foot fill. This fill left the train in a cramped position which made it impossible for the fireman and engineer to uncouple the cars. Black Jack meant to disconnect the the express and mail cars and take them a safe distance up the tracks where his friends would be waiting. This would have left the remainder of the train and passengers behind so that just the fireman, engineer, express manager and Black Jack remained in the disconnected section of the train. The engineer was on the platform and the fireman was between the cars.

Conductor Frank Harrington, whose train was now being held up for the third time, took his shotgun into the baggage car. Just as he carefully opened the door at the other end of the car and poked the gun through the door, Black Jack spotted him and and shot at the conductor with a rifle. The bullet went through the door, barely missing Harrington. Harrington shot at about the same time, hitting Black Jack in the right elbow, almost severing the arm. Black Jack fell backwards and down the bank of the fill, trying all the while to draw his pistol with his left hand. Harrington's gun muzzle was so close to the engineer that the blaze from the gun burned the seat of his pants. The engineer grabbed himself yelling, "I'm shot! I'm shot!" Harrington ordered the engineer and fireman back to the engine and to get the train moving as fast as possible. Harrington later explained, "I wanted to hit the bandit in the heart, but in the dim light I misjudged. It had to be done quickly. I knew that as soon as I opened the door, my appearance would be noticed by the robber who faced me, and I aimed the best I could." Black Jack later stated, "I'd have killed him if he'd waited a fraction of a second. I had a bead on his heart but he jiggled my air."

Resuming the run, the train stopped at each station, reporting what had happened and sending word for law officers to look out for a badly wounded man near the scene of the hold up. Ketchum later reported, "I tried a dozen times to mount my horse but was too weak to do it." Weary and dizzy from the pain, he sat down to wait for the posse. About sunrise the next morning, a freight train heading from Folsom passed by the robbery scene. A man was seen about 100 yards from the train. He had his hat on the end of his gun, waving it as a signal. When the train was stopped and the conductor and brakeman approached, Black Jack drew a gun on them. The conductor said, "We just came to help you but if this is the way you feel, we will go and leave you." Black Jack responded, "No boys, I am all done, take me in." (In other accounts, Sheriff Saturinino Pinard is credited with the arrest). Black Jack was carried to the train, placed in the caboose and taken into Folsom. Ben and Thomas Owen were there when he was removed from the train and taken to a local doctor for treatment of his wound.

At first Black Jack stated that his name was George Stevens and that this was his first attempt at a hold up and a mighty poor one. He was taken on the first passenger train to Trinidad, Colorado and placed in San Rafael Hospital. After amputation of his arm and again able to travel, he was taken to Santa Fe for safe keeping. He was later tried and convicted in Clayton, New Mexico. Black Jack remained in the Clayton jail until April 26, 1901. On this date, the hanging was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. The community of Clayton closed its stores but the saloons were open and business was brisk.

There had been debate concerning the length of rope to use and several people had changed the length of it. On Thursday night, the rope had been tested by attaching a 200 pound sandbag to the noose and dropping it through the trap. Forgotten, the weight of the sandbag caused the rope to be as rigid as wire. At 1:13 p.m., Ketchum was taken to the scaffold, the hood adjusted . Ketchum stated, "Hurry up boys, get this over with." Sheriff Garcia sprang the trap. Ketchum fell through and the drop decapitated him. The black hood pinned to his shirt kept his head from rolling away. Dr. Slack (formerly of Folsom), sewed Ketchum's head to his torso prior to the Clayton Cemetery burial at 2:30 p.m.