"Black Jack" Ketchum 1863-1901
My Great, Great Uncle
Tomas Edward Ketchum was born on October 31,1863 in San Saba County, Texas,
son of Green Berry Sr.Ketchum and Temperance Katherine Wydick Ketchum.
Tomas Edward Ketchum had four siblings two brothers and two sisters His
father died when he was only five years old and his mother was blind several
years before she died in 1873.
Tom's oldest brother, Berry Jr., became a wealthy and noted cowman and
horse breeder. Sam his other brother got married and had two children,
but left his wife when their son was only three. Tom and Sam were both
cow boys working on ranches throughout west Texas and northern and eastern
New Mexico. They were in many trail drives and got to know the territory,
settlers and ranchers very well.
Tom Ketchum's first major crime was the murder of John N. "Jap"
Powers, a neighbor in Tom Green County, Texas. Powers was shot down on
December 12, 1895, by several men including my Uncle. He later admitted
that he took part in the murder, but was paid to do it. Later he left
, and his brother Sam joined him later in New Mexico.
The brothers worked on the Bell Ranch, until early June, 1896, when they
quit their jobs and stole some supplies. On June 10, they came to the
small settlement of Liberty, north of present-day Tucumcari, where there
was a store and post office operated by Levi and Morris Herstein. Tom
and Sam robbed the store at night and then rode to the Pecos River. Levi
and some 3 or 4 men went after the Ketchums and after a short gun battle
most of the posse formed by Levi were dead.
After the Herstein killing, Tom and Sam joined friends in Arizona and
they went on a killing and robbery spree in the Four Corners states, they
also rode with Butch Cassidy's Hole in the Wall Posse. Will Christian
was known as "Black Jack" and when he was killed in 1879 someone
mistakenly identified my uncle as "Black Jack" only after Christian's
death that people started calling my uncle "Black Jack" but
people who knew him never called him that.
After many train robberies a posse of law men hunted down the Ketchum
gang after a short gun battle at Turkey Creek the outlaws escaped, but
Sam was wounded so badly he was taken to a hospital and was turned in
by a nurse. He later died of his wounds in the Santa Fe penitentiary and
was buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery which is now covered by a freeway.
My uncle was trying to hold up a train by himself, but the conductor shot
his left arm and Tom staggered off into the night. He was found at a water
hole and surrendered peacefully, and was taken to a hospital in Santa
Fe where he had his arm amputated. When his arm healed he was taken to
Clayton for his trial. He pled innocent to most of the crimes he was charged
with but, the judge found him guilty and he was sentenced to death by
hanging. The hanging was delayed several times until law men heard about
rumors that old gang members were going to free my Uncle, so they pushed
up his hanging to April 26 1901. His hanging turned out to be a big town
event. People from the towns around Clayton came,the law men sold tickets
to see my uncle get hung and they sold little dolls of my uncle hanging
on a stick.
The law men felt better about pushing up his sentence, but were still
a little nervous about the rumors about somebody saving my uncle. Someone
remembered a tall stranger... He and my uncle exchanged several glances
,but the stranger left before any one could find out who he was. Finally
the sheriff took two blows with an hatchet before the rope was cut then
my uncle fell to the ground, he had been beheaded. It was the first time
any one was ever hung in Clayton, so many mistakes were probably made
like the rope was probably stretched while testing and the probably misjudged
Tom's weight. Uncle Tommy was buried at Clayton's Boot Hill ,but was moved
to the new cemetery in the 30's.
By Justine Ritter