In the paragraphs below you will find some of the deadliest men ever to step foot in the South. Feared and dangerous, these outlaws had a reputation of violence and destruction. Wherever their paths led, death was in their wake. Upon their own deaths, not one of these infamous southerners showed remorse for their victims or the terror they left behind.
- Thomas Edward Ketchum—San Saba County, Texas Working local ranches with his older brother, Sam, Thomas Edward Ketchum met the other half of the early Ketchum gang, William Carver and David Atkins. They spent nearly a decade robbing trains and avoiding the law.Orphaned at ten, Thomas Edward “Black Jack” Ketchum grew up under the watch of his oldest brother, Berry. A wealthy and respected cattle owner, the elder Ketchum wasn’t particularly fond of his youngest sibling and his exploits. From even his early years, Tom Ketchum had little respect for authority, his first run in with the law was at sixteen for failure to appear in court as a witness. But that would soon be the least of the family’s worries.
For years, Ketchum earned his living at his brother Sam’s side, working as a cowboy throughout Texas and New Mexico. Working the ranches, the brothers met what would become the other half of the early Ketchum Gang, William Carver and David Atkins. The fearsome foursome were a deadly combination, robbing trains throughout the West. One such robbery in May of 1897 cost Wells Fargo $42,000.
But robbery wasn’t the only game the Ketchum Gang was playing. In December of 1895, the gang killed John N. “Jap” Powers. Ketchum later confessed that he was paid to murder Powers by the man’s own wife. As the years passed, the gang got deadlier and the robbery sums got larger.
In July of 1899, while Ketchum was away, Sam and the rest of the gang robbed a train outside of Folsom, New Mexico. Not far away, a posse was waiting on the robbers. Sam was shot and captured, dying a few days later due to his injuries. Ketchum, who was just south of Folsom, knew nothing of his brother’s fate. Aiming to rob a train himself, Ketchum was injured and later captured. In 1901 he became the first person hanged in Union County, New Mexico. His last words were, “Hurry up, boys. Let’s get this over with.”
- Hoodoo Brown—Lexington, Missouri Hyman G. Neill, aka Hoodoo BrownHyman G. Neill, also known as Hoodoo Brown, was working at a newspaper in Warrensburg, Missouri. The teenage Brown secured rags as needed for the printer. But one day he had apparently had enough. Hopping on a nearby freight train, he reportedly shouted he was going to “get your durn rags.”
On his own, Brown worked various jobs to get by, traveling throughout Kansas and Colorado, even down to Mexico. He was a wanderer but had earned a reputation as a small-time gambler. When he stepped foot in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in the late 1870’s, it was like coming home.
If anyone was ever able to work the law on their side, it was Hoodoo Brown. Las Vegas had a bad reputation of being a place for outlaws and thieves. Seeing an opportunity, he quickly gained the support of local immigrants and was elected as Justice of the Peace. But peace wasn’t something Brown was fond of. Shortly afterwards, he took over as mayor and coroner as well. Brown’s motives began to show when he formed a group of “peacekeepers” from his own outlaw friends, known as the Dodge City Gang.
The group robbed and murdered, all the while justifying their actions through the corrupt system Brown had created. In 1880 a bold group of citizens and vigilantes of Las Vegas were able to drive the Dodge City Gang out of New Mexico. Not long after Brown moved into Texas he was charged with robbery and murder. But even Texas couldn’t get the law off the side of Hoodoo Brown. His lawyers had all charges dropped, and he seemed to move into the shadows for the rest of his life. He is believed to have died in Mexico, but the outlaw is buried back where he started in Lexington under the name Hyman G. Neill.
- Cherokee Bill—Fort Concho, Texas Crawford Goldsby, or Cherokee Bill, teamed up with the Cook Gang, and together they terrorized the Indian TerritoryCrawford Goldsby, also known as Cherokee Bill, was a young boy when his father abandoned his family. His mother, who was of Cherokee, white, and African ancestry, moved back to Fort Gibson, Oklahoma (then in Indian Territory). Young Goldsby went to Indian schools in both Kansas and Pennsylvania, but he showed little interest in an education and was rumored to have not been able to read or write as an adult.
When he was twelve he moved back to Fort Gibson, and it seemed all of his anger and resentment had only built up over the years. But his family couldn’t foretell he would soon be one of the most feared men in the Indian Territory. When he was eighteen his future of terror began to take shape. Some say it was over a girl; others say that Jake Lewis had beat up Goldsby’s younger brother. Whatever the reason, Goldsby shot Lewis twice and fled. Lewis survived and filed charges against Goldsby. His life as an outlaw had begun, and coincidentally he quickly met up with other established outlaws in the area—Bill Cook and the Cook Gang.
The Cook Gang terrorized the Cherokee and Creek nations. They murdered, stole horses, and held up trains and banks. Their reign over the Indian Territory seemed to never end over the years the Cook Gang lasted. As members were killed or captured, Goldsby was able to elude the lawmen for a time. But greed got the best of him on December 31, 1894, when he attempted to rob a train in Oklahoma alone and was captured.
Sent to Fort Smith, Arkansas, Goldsby was tried and found guilty of the murder of Ernest Melton, who was shot during one of the gang’s robberies. Waiting for his sentence to be fulfilled on death row, Goldsby attempted an escape that ended with one guard dead and a surrender of his gun to friend and fellow inmate Henry Starr.
On March 26, 1896, the twenty-year-old Cherokee Bill was hanged. When asked if he had any last words he responded, “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”
- John Wesley Hardin—Bonham, Texas John Wesley Hardin is known as one of the bloodiest killers of the Old West, possibly killing up to forty menJohn Wesley Hardin is thought to have killed up to forty men. Known as one of the bloodiest killers of the Old West, Hardin committed his first murder at only fifteen and stabbed a fellow student at fourteen. And he had only just begun.
Wherever Hardin went, blood was shed. A mean spirit and a quick temper guaranteed he would kill anyone who stood in his way. Constantly on the run, Hardin murdered Union soldiers and law enforcement officers. He once shot a man on Christmas Day over a game of cards.
In his mid-twenties, Hardin was convicted of the murder of a Texas sheriff. He spent the next fourteen years at the prison in Huntsville, studying law. He served a short time as a lawyer in Gonzales after he was released, raising his three children after the death of his wife. But Hardin couldn’t stay away from trouble and moved to El Paso, a city with a well-earned, violent reputation. His law career fell through in a city that had little use for an attorney. And so he fell back into his old ways, having an affair with the wife of one of his clients. A man used to taking what he wanted, Hardin paid to have his mistress’s husband killed.
In 1895 his murderous ways came to an abrupt stop. After a heated confrontation with an El Paso officer John Selman, apparently over a woman Hardin was seeing, Hardin threatened Selman. But it was Selman who prevailed. Selman later found Hardin throwing dice at the Acme Saloon—and shot him in the back of the head without a word.