|Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum|
My family and I stayed at the historic Hotel Eklund on one of our trips through Clayton, New Mexico. While there, I noticed several photos hanging on the walls of the hotel with articles about an infamous criminal named Thomas “Black Jack” Ketchum. Being a writer, I couldn’t resist the urge to find out more.
The proprietor shared the sad, twisted tale of Black Jack Ketchum, a train robber and murderer whose birthday on Halloween day in 1863 seemed the first harbinger of the man’s horrible fate.
According to the proprietor, Tom and his brother Sam’s outlaw careers spanned the years 1896-1899. During that time, their focus was mainly on train robberies, though many would claim their crimes were far more reaching than that. They joined a gang whose exploits and terror left a wide mark across the southwest, including New Mexico, where Black Jack Ketchum was eventually captured and sentenced to hang. Unfortunately for Black Jack, this wasn’t the end of his story.
On April 26, 1901 Thomas Edward “Black Jack” Ketchum was hanged in Clayton, New Mexico, but the execution was bungled and the outlaw was decapitated. Perhaps it was the length of the fall, the proprietor told me, which instead of being the normal four to six feet, was more like eight. Or perhaps it was the fact that the rope used to hang Ketchum was thin, thereby severing his neck and spine. Whatever the cause, one fact remains—Tom Ketchum’s death was almost as chilling as his life.
After thanking the proprietor for his time, he smiled and encouraged me to visit the hanging site (the North Wall of the sheriff’s office at the courthouse). He also told me I could visit Black Jack’s grave in the local cemetery east of town. I didn’t have the time to spend researching further on this trip, but you can be sure I intend to go back…one day.
In the meantime, if you’re ever passing through Clayton, be sure to check out the Hotel Eklund. Say hello to the proprietor for me, and ask him to show you around the hotel, gunshot holes in the ceiling and all.