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Major Source On “Black Jack” Ketchum

197. THOMPSON, Albert W. The Story of Early Clayton, New Mexico [wrapper title]. [Clayton: Clayton News, 1933]. 95 [1] pp., text illustrations (photographic). 8vo, original grey printed wrappers, stapled (as issued).  Very fine, with contemporary manuscript corrections in text.

     First edition. Adams , Guns 2199. Adams , Herd 2296. Adams, More Burs 209n: “The book is now rare; in fact, the copy I once owned is the only copy I have ever seen” [the book is uncommon in commerce, but apparently not in library holdings].  Campbell , My Favorite 101 Books about the Cattle Industry 91. Eberstadt 109:107:  “Thompson rode the range from the Cimarron to the Canadian, was one of the founders of Clayton, and had a life-time of experience and adventure among the cattle men, desperadoes, and settlers of the Southwest.” Saunders 3183.

     The author settled on the Tramperos in 1885, worked at Bushnell Brothers’ cattle ranch, and in 1886 preempted his own claim for a ranch on the Pennevetitos. In relating early anecdotes about Clayton, the author really captures a sense of early life in a wide-open cow town. “In the saloons poker, monte, and other games of chance were indulged in unfettered by Territorial law. The usual scenes incidental to frontier life were not absent from Clayton. One favorite pastime of the cowboys was to ride up and down main street, shooting off their guns to the accompaniment of wild yells.... To early Clayton came also that flotsam and jetsam of feminine society. A long, narrow frame building, situated just across the railway tracks from the stockyards, and known from its painted sides as ‘Casa Colorado,’ or ‘Red House,’ in the 1880s harbored several dance-hall habitués, bearing such sobriquets as ‘Box Car Alice,’ ‘Coon Ide,’ and ‘Queen Bess,’ who nightly waltzed up and down the long room with unsteady cowboy partners, to the strains of a guitar, picked by a blind native New Mexican of the male sex.”

     Thompson’s book was reviewed by J. Evetts Haley in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly (Vol. 37, No. 3) at the time of publication: “Albert W. Thompson, early settler of northeastern New Mexico, cowboy, homesteader, postmaster, and, finally, substantial business man in the region he helped pioneer, has told the early history of his land as he remembered it, supplemented somewhat by the memories of others and a consultation of documentary sources. He traces, with perspective and pleasing style, the era of the open ranges, the coming of railroads, founding of towns, growth of trade, social diversions, and the formation of religious patterns. By way of conclusion he tells the life story of ‘Black Jack’ Ketchem [sic], train robber and Western outlaw. The brochure is rich in biographical detail, social incident, and interesting anecdote. The chapters were first published in The Clayton News, and, admittedly `brief and fragmentary,’ the author's prediction that later chroniclers will continue the story `in much abler manner’ is modest but doubtful. Certainly here is a `local item’ of interest and intrinsic worth. J. Evetts Haley.”

     Haley is somewhat understated when he says the work treats of Black Jack Ketchum in “conclusion.”  In fact, the work is a basic Western outlaw history source, since nearly the last half of the book is devoted to this famous outlaw character, whom the author met and whose execution he witnessed-an execution so botched that Ketchum was decapitated by the rope rather than hanged.  Thompson relates, again as an eye-witness, that Ketchum was disinterred years later from his lonely grave with great ceremony and buried in the newly-established town cemetery.  Although Thompson merely hints that it might happen, a handsome granite marker now marks Ketchum’s grave, which is a tourist attraction in Clayton. ($400-800)

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