Home News Vision Historically Speaking: The Ketchum brothers and their crimes

Historically Speaking: The Ketchum brothers and their crimes

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Roswell Daily Record Archive Photo In an article by historian Elvis Fleming, published in the Daily Record Oct. 10, 1997, he wrote that Sam Ketchum worked two years on the Bar V Ranch, which was owned by W.G. Urton. The photo's caption reads, "Family members from the Bar V Ranch head out on a family fishing outing to Mora Spring, July 4, 1903. The 25 people in the party represented 14 states, but not New Mexico — Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Photo."

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

In a 1984 article in the Roswell Daily Record, a story was featured about a train robbery at Folsom, New Mexico. The events of that robbery reads like a scene from a Western movie. I wanted to know more, so I did some research to try to find old newspaper articles about this event at the time it happened — 1899.

Sam Ketchum, one of the robbers, is mentioned in the first article as being the brother of “Blackjack” Ketchum. For those who may not know, “Blackjack” Ketchum had a story of his own, which will have to be in a follow-up article. The thing that is most important to remember here, both these brothers did not meet a good end, both were caught. This was real life, it happened here in our state. It reads like a Western movie dialog, but it is a part of the true history and happenings of this state. Both brothers paid dearly for their crimes. Following is Sam’s story:

Roswell Daily Record

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June 27, 1984

“Higgins’ shootout in old Folsom recalled

“By Doug Swanson

“Folsom — The excitement and activity of modern-day life has mostly passed by this northern New Mexico community today.

“It was quite a change from the events of the July evening 85 years ago, when Sheriff Fred Higgins of Roswell encountered three bandits robbing a passenger train on winding mountain tracks near here.

“It was late on the evening of July 11, 1899, when a southbound Colorado and Southern Railway train en route from Denver to Fort Worth was robbed by three masked bandits, who dynamited two express car safes to gather the money and valuables inside.

“At the turn of the century, train robbery was one of the more popular crimes for outlaws, and the rash of robberies throughout the Western territories kept law officers busy constantly.

This particular robbery was the second holdup of the Colorado and Southern train near Folsom within a two-year period, as detailed by the Roswell Daily Record of July 14, 1899.

Sheriff Higgins — a tall, scruffy man — happened to be one of the passengers on board the train on that warm summer evening.

“Higgins had only been on the job a few months before the adventure in the mountains near here gave him some hands-on experience in law enforcement, New Mexico style.

“Reports of the events indicate that two bandits boarded the engine of the train when it stopped that evening to take on passengers and baggage at Folsom.

“Covering the engineer and firemen with their revolvers, the pair forced the engineer to pull the train out of the settlement and into a small canyon about 9 miles east of the town.

“It was at this small canyon the third man jumped aboard the train. The three robbers walked the engineer and fireman back to the freight car, whereupon they each took turns shooting through the roof of the car, several passengers aboard the train reported.

“Upon examining the two small safes in the freight car, the masked bandits placed one safe on top of the other, with a stick of dynamite in between.

“One of the men then took out his revolver and fired at the dynamite, with no effect.

“A second shot caused a tremendous explosion, which ripped the sides and top off of each safe, reports indicated.

“Gathering up the contents of the two safes, the masked men placed the valuables in a large bag, and jumped off to the side of the track, instructing the engineer to pull the train away.

“The three men then disappeared into the darkness, passengers said.

“When the sound of the dynamite explosion rattled through the passenger car, sheriff Higgins barked to the conductor to turn off the lights in the passenger car.

“Higgins and the conductor then jumped from the train — and crawled to the spot near the tracks where the bandits had hitched their horses.

“It was best not to engage in a gun fight with the robbers, Higgins and the conductor decided, as between the two of them they were only armed with two revolvers and nine bullets — no match for the well armed bandits.

“Shortly afterward, Higgins discovered a well defined trail leading from the area through the mountains toward Springer … a trail that Springer Marshal Creighton Foraker and his six-man posse picked up 23 miles west of the town.

“After following the trail into the mountains for about 10 miles, the posse came upon the bandits preparing to camp.

“A demand for the bandits’ surrender was refused, and the three outlaws opened fire on the posse.

“In the 45-minute gunfight that followed, posse member Ed Farr, sheriff of Huerfano County, Colorado, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest. As he lay dying, Deputy Sheriff H. M. Love of Springer and F. H. Smith of Cimarron were shot and severely wounded.

“One of the bandits — a man identified as William McGinnis, a bronco buster from Magdalena, was killed. Abandoning their horses, the remaining two outlaws ran into the hills surrounding their camp.

“Although history doesn’t indicate all the details, several days later, two men identified as Sam Ketchum and G.W. Franks were brought out of the hills and into Springer by a 20-man posse headed up by a Captain Thacker, special agent for the Wells Fargo Express Co.

“Although the fate of Franks is uncertain, it is believed Ketchum was taken to the State Prison at Santa Fe, where he later died. History indicates Ketchum was the brother of another famous outlaw: Tom “Black Jack” Ketchum.

“The amount of cash and valuables taken in the robbery was never made clear in the public record, though Higgins — who returned to Roswell to serve as sheriff for five years — described it as ‘a good pile of booty.’”

Las Vegas Daily Optic

July 21, 1899

“KETCHUM PASSES THROUGH

“On His Way to Santa Fe – Reno’s Account of the Fight

“Sam Ketchum, the wounded outlaw, who was captured at Lambert’s Ranch on the Ute creek, passed through Las Vegas en route for Santa Fe on No. 17 at 5 o’clock last evening, the train being late. He sat in the day coach, surrounded by guards. His left arm, which had been broken near the shoulder by a bullet, was bandaged up and carried in a sling. He was not handcuffed, in consequence, and apparently sat in the car without any chains or hobbles to his legs. A week’s growth of sandy beard covered his face and his shirt was bespattered with blood. He looked very pallid as though he had lost a great deal of blood, which is the case. Ketchum is a muscular looking fellow, heavily built, nearly 6 feet in height and wears a mustache. Although special officer Reno is credited with having figured in his capture, Ketchum was apprehended by Mr. Lambert. The outlaw drifted into the ranch for food and medical attention. Mr. Lambert, who runs the hotel and saloon at Cimarron, happened to be there and after binding up Ketchum’s wound, held him at the ranch until Reno and another officer could be sent for.

“Ketchum, on being taken to Springer, gave the following account of the fight Sunday afternoon:

‘They placed me on my horse twice, but I could not sit there. I was the first one shot. When I saw it, I could not ride, I told the Kid to pull out and leave me. If they want my gun and ammunition, it is hid up there in the rocks and they can have it if they find it. When they commenced firing I threw up my hands and then that’s when I was shot. If they had ordered us to throw up our hands, we would have done so. After they had left me I was wet through. I could not cut kindling to build a fire and my matches were all damp and I could not light one, after trying the whole box. Suppose they have me now, I am a brother of Tom Ketchum, the original ‘Black Jack.’

“When the physicians commenced taking care of his arm, he remarked, ‘Guess I can stand a little thing like that.’

“Ketchum also says that when he was hit by the bullet during the fight he of course fell. He tried to get up, but could not on account of violent vomiting, so he lay there until late at night, when he felt better and was able to get up the canyon.

“Reno, in a card published in both the Denver News and Republican, denies that he left the scene of the battle in precipitate haste and arrived at Cimarron in a panic stricken condition. And giving an account of the fight he makes a statement materially different in details from the one he gave verbally to a newspaper correspondent at Springer on Monday. His account for that reason, more nearly tallies with that given in the Optic on Wednesday evening. He does not attempt to explain, however, the misstatement that he made regarding the killing of one of the outlaws, which, in itself, is a strong indication that he was badly rattled and was at the time unable to give a straight report of the fight. He states that when darkness came over the scene, Sunday evening, he went to where Smith was lying. He found Sheriff Farr’s body lying on top of the wounded man and removed it. Then he asked Smith if the latter could go with him. Reno’s account goes on as follows:

“‘Smith replied no, for me to get help at once. I left my rifle with him and started for Cimarron afoot over the mountains, as it is almost an impossible place in daylight with a horse, I got lost about midnight and remained on the mountain, wet through, until day began to break, when I found my way back into Cimarron about 7 a.m. and notified United States Marshal Foraker of the fight with the robbers, informing him that I had not seen anything of Elliot and his men after the battle began, but heard their rifles until about 6 p.m. when the two last shots were fired by the robbers. I was apprehensive for Mr. Elliott and men.’

“‘Another correction I desire to make in the same article is that Mr. Elliot was, as stated, in charge of the posse of five men sent out by the United States Marshall Foraker, but not of Sheriff Farr and myself. I did not know there was any dissension between our parties until my attention was called today to that article attributed to Mr. Foraker. To say that I deserted in the fight is false.’

“Before Sheriff Farr breathed his last breath, he whispered to Smith, ‘Say goodbye to my wife and baby.’

“‘Mr. Foraker informed me that he is authorized to put five more men in the field. The balance of the men are under Special Agent Thacker of Wells Fargo & Company and myself as a representative of the Colorado & Southern railroad.’ Signed W. H. Reno”

Las Vegas Daily Optic

July 25, 1899

“KETCHUM IS DEAD

“Blood Poisoning Ensues as Result of His Wounded Arm

“BODY SHIPPED TO SAN ANGELO

“A brother will take charge of it

“Ketchum Died on Monday

“Last evening’s Albuquerque Citizen contained the information that Sam Ketchum, one of the Folsom train robbers, had died in the penitentiary at Santa Fe. The Optic today wired a telegram of inquiry to the ‘New Mexican’ and this afternoon received the following:

“He died Monday. The body will be shipped to a brother at San Angelo, Texas.

“The news was received at Albuquerque in a telegram to Marshall Foraker stating that Ketchum had died of blood poisoning after suffering intensely. He was wounded in the fight near Cimarron, Sunday, July 13. His left arm was shattered near the shoulder by a bullet. A few days later he was captured at the Lambert Ranch, where he had drifted in search of food and medical attention.

“Ketchum was taken to Santa Fe Thursday and lodged in the penitentiary for safekeeping. He was about 40 years old and was a native of Texas. As stated, his brother lives near San Angelo.

Marshall Foraker states that he has no further news in regard to the surviving train robbers and that the several posses have all been called in, the trail having been lost in the mountains of Union County.

“Captain Elliott, of the express company, who was in the Cimarron battle was expected to reach Albuquerque last evening.”

“Black Jack” Ketchum’s story will be featured in next week’s column.

Janice Dunnahoo of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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