Thomas E. "Black Jack" Ketchum - October 31, 1863 - April 26, 1901

by Justine Ritter
(Re-printed with the permission of the author)

My Great, Great Uncle Thomas Edward Ketchum was born on October 31,1863 in San Saba County, Texas, son of Green Berry Sr. Ketchum and Temperance Katherine Wydick Ketchum.  Thomas 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 cowboys 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 Gang.  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 did people start calling my uncle "Black Jack", but people who knew him never called him that. 

After many train robberies a posse of lawmen hunted down the Ketchum gang and 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 lawmen 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 lawmen sold tickets to see my uncle get hung and they sold little dolls of my uncle hanging on a stick. 

 The lawmen 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 anyone could find out who he was.  Finally the sheriff took two blows with a hatchet before the rope was cut, then my uncle fell to the ground, he had been beheaded.  It was the first time anyone was ever hung in Clayton, so many mistakes were probably made like the rope was probably stretched while testing and they 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.