When imagining the Old West, what images come to your mind? Perhaps the cattle drives and cowboys? Indians and their wild and free lifestyle? Mexican settlements with their adobe houses and colorful traditions? Gold mining and saloons? Possibly some of the more violent times like the Lincoln County Wars and vigilante justice?
For sure, the life and times were not as easy as they are today. Sometimes judgement was swift, as was punishment. This area of the United States, southeastern New Mexico, was probably one of the most typical, if not well known areas of those times, because we had all of the above and lots more.
When you hear of a double hanging you probably imagine a pair of horse thieves or perhaps bank robbers meeting their justice, right?
Read on for another take on double hanging, and the story behind it.
Following is a newspaper article taken from the Evening Star and published in Washington, D.C.
Assassination in New Mexico
Murdered for a Debt of Eight Dollars
Ft. Stanton, N.M., Oct. 19, 1875
Editor Star-Wm. Wilson, of Arizona, killed Robert Casey, a prominent citizen of Lincoln County New Mexico, on the 1st day of August last, under the following circumstances: William Wilson was a runaway horse thief from Arizona, and had been employed by Robert Casey, a U.S. forage agent, at his ranch some few miles east of Lincoln, but had been discharged.
Wilson claimed that Casey owed him eight dollars, which the latter denied. They met at Lincoln, 9 miles east of Fort Stanton, on the 1st of August, on the occasion of a convention for the nomination of county officers. Wilson demanded of Casey the $8 which he insisted upon being paid, but the latter denied owing him. A short time after the convention closed, Wilson, on coming out of the hotel, saw Casey coming down the road, and pointing a Winchester rifle shot him, striking him on the left buttock.
Casey immediately ran around the corner of a small unoccupied hut in front of the hotel, as if to evade him, but Wilson encountered him around the opposite corner and shot him in the face underneath the right eye, upon which Casey fell instantly. Wilson then proclaimed: “I am Wilson, of Arizona; if Casey has any friends let them come forward.” Shortly afterwards he gave himself up to the authorities who turned him over to the military, and he has been confined in the guardhouse at Ft. Stanton ever since. Casey died of his wounds 30 hours after being shot. He remained unconscious up to the moment of his death. During the October term of the district court, held at Lincoln county, by his honor Judge Bristow, William Wilson was tried for murder in the first degree, and on the 18th sentenced to be hung, having been found guilty by a jury.
Friday, 10 December, was the day set by the Governor for the execution of William Wilson, who murdered Casey at Lincoln. The warrant went to the sheriff of Lincoln County. The governor had granted a reprieve for 30 days to allow him to examine the case; and reviewing it fully and consulting with the judge before whom the trail occurred and with the Attorneys for both the prosecution and the prisoner; all concurred in the opinion that justice demands the execution of the sentence.
The Execution of William Wilson, Lincoln County, Dec. 15, 1875.
Editors New Mexican:
As I informed you in my last, William Wilson, convicted of the murder of Robert Casey and sentenced to death was to have the penalty of the law executed on him last Friday.
On the day appointed, before daybreak, the carpenters were at work erecting the gallows and even at that early hour strangers, men, women, and even children were pouring in from the adjacent country. At 11 o’clock, the prisoner in an ambulance, accompanied by Capt. Stewart, Commander of the Post, Dr. Carbollot, Medical Director, and Reverend Lamy of Monzano, preceded by Company G, 8th U.S. Calvary, under the command of Lt. Gilmore arrived at this town and proceeded to the residence of the sheriff. The prisoner then arrayed himself in his funeral clothes in the procession moved to the gallows. Before mounting the platform, Wilson shook hands with several whom he recognized, and mounted the scaffold calm and collected. The escort was drawn up in line fronting the gallows, whilst four men dismounted and kept back the crowd which by this time had increased considerably.
Whilst on the scaffold the death warrant was read first in English and then in Spanish, after which the dying declaration written and signed by Wilson, was read and translated; he then received the extreme junction and the ‘merciful sheriff’ declared that the execution would be stayed for half an hour.
However to leave him in the town actuated by pity for the poor unfortunate entered such a vigorous protest against such barbarous proceedings that the sheriff proceeded with the execution. The priest descended from the scaffold, the black cap was adjusted and the prisoner, with hands tied behind and the noose around his neck awaited his doom.
The sheriff descended from the scaffold and in an instant, justice so long outraged, was avenged, and the perpetrator of one of the foulest murders which had ever disgraced a civilized community was no more. After hanging 9 1/2 minutes, the body was cut down and placed in the coffin, when it was discovered that life was not yet extinct. A rope was then fastened round his neck and the crowd drew the inanimate body from the coffin and suspended it from the gallows where it hung for twenty minutes longer; it was then cut down and placed in the coffin and buried.
When one reads the proceeding information of the murder of Robert Casey and the execution of his slayer, William Wilson, we can easily understand why this execution is known as the “double hanging.”
It is also very understandable why William A. Keleher referred to the hanging as “reflecting life in the raw in a frontier community.”
The priest, Rev. Anthony Lamy, the nephew of Archbishop Lamy, returned to his parish at Monzano. He soon became ill and died within a short time.
Some narrators of the proceeding events attribute the death of Lamy, in part, to the shock of witnessing the execution of William Wilson. His death is also considered as probably being caused by pneumonia.
When we read of such events occurring in this region less than 150 years ago, we more readily understand how close we are in time, to that “raw life in a frontier community.”
Credits also go to Robert Casey and the Ranch on the Rio Hondo, by James D. Shingle.
Janice Dunnahoo is an archive volunteer at the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives. She can be reached at 575-622-1176 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.