Killer’s DIY ex­e­cu­tion

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QUES­TION

Did the cow­boy Tom Horn really ex­e­cute him­self in a wa­ter-trap de­vice? AMER­ICA’S Western Fron­tier was de­clared closed by the U.S. Govern­ment in 1890, but to many the Old West, with its rough jus­tice, only truly died with the ex­e­cu­tion of Tom Horn in 1903.

Born in Mem­phis, Mis­souri, in 1860, by the age of 16, Horn had made his way to the wilds of the South-West. A skilled marks­man and hunter, his jobs in­cluded cow­boy, miner, army scout, deputy sher­iff and packer for Cuban rough rid­ers.

In 1890, the Pinker­ton De­tec­tive Agency hired him to ap­pre­hend out­laws prey­ing on banks and rail­ways. He then be­came a hired killer for the Wy­oming Cat­tle­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion, which fought a vig­i­lante war in John­son County against a group of farm­ers, ranch­ers and rustlers.

Horn killed us­ing his 30-30 Winch­ester car­bine, of­ten from more than 200 yards away. On July 18, 1901, in the Iron Moun­tain re­gion of Colorado, his tar­get was Kels B. Nick­ell, a rancher who had brought sheep onto the range. But he killed Nick­ell’s son, 14-year-old Wil­lie. There were no wit­nesses, but law­man Joe LeFors tricked Horn into con­fess­ing.

Horn was sen­tenced to death on Oc­to­ber 24, 1902, and was hanged at Cheyenne Jail, Wy­oming, on Novem­ber 20, 1903. He was hanged on a gal­lows on which the pris­oner ef­fec­tively hanged him­self, with no need for an ex­e­cu­tioner. Th­ese were in­vented in 1892 by ar­chi­tect James P. Ju­lian and were called the Ju­lian gal­lows. Wear­ing a noose, the con­demned man’s weight on the trap­door pushed down on a sup­port post that, in turn, opened a valve to al­low wa­ter to fill a can on a sup­port beam. Once full, the can top­pled from the beam, which knocked the post away, open­ing the trap­door.

Den­ver jour­nal­ist John Charles Thomp­son wrote that ‘the sin­is­ter sound of run­ning wa­ter per­sisted for 31 sec­onds be­fore Horn fell. To the ears of the lis­ten­ers, that sound had the mag­ni­tude of a tor­rent’.

Ju­lian’s rig was meant to of­fer a quick snap of the neck, but Horn dan­gled for 17 min­utes be­fore he died. Af­ter an­other vic­tim took more than half an hour to die, the ap­pa­ra­tus was dis­carded.

Terry Munn, Ed­in­burgh.

QUES­TION

When some­one is hyp­o­crit­i­cal, we tend to say ‘that’s rich!’ What is the ori­gin of this phrase? ‘RICH’ in this sense is re­lated to the idea of some­thing be­ing en­ter­tain­ing or pre­pos­ter­ous. The root sense is the fa­mil­iar one of abun­dant. Its first recorded use is in the satir­i­cal play The Re­hearsal (1671) by Ge­orge Vil­liers, 2nd Duke of Buck­ing­ham, which mocked the heroic dra­mas pop­u­lar at the time.

It con­cerns a writer named Bayes try­ing to stage a play made up of ex­cerpts of heroic dra­mas. While ex­plain­ing his vi­sion to two men, John­son and Smith, Bayes says that when speak­ing French and mak­ing gram­mat­i­cal changes, one can make a proper state­ment sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive. Smith says: ‘This is one of the rich­est sto­ries that ever I heard of.’

Over time, its use be­came more ironic. Per­haps its most fa­mous mod­ern use is at the start of the Stephen Sond­heim song Send In The Clowns (1973) which be­gins ‘Isn’t it rich’, mean­ing ‘catch this irony’ or ‘isn’t this some­thing to make you shake your head in amused dis­may’.

Ben­jamin Wright, Belper, Der­bys.

QUES­TION

Liv­ing in Ec­cles made me think: what other towns are known for one item? FUR­THER to ear­lier an­swers, I am proud to say that here in Devon, Axmin­ster car­pets are still man­u­fac­tured in the town of that name.

The Axmin­ster weave can be used by any man­u­fac­turer, but was orig­i­nated in 1755 by Thomas Whitty, who named it af­ter the town where he pro­duced the first Axmin­ster car­pet. Church bells rang to mark the oc­ca­sion as the car­pet was car­ried through the streets.

The bells don’t ring ev­ery time a car­pet comes off the looms now, but we think that an Axmin­ster car­pet from Axmin­ster is al­ways a cause for cel­e­bra­tion. Ralph Ford, Axmin­ster Car­pets Ltd,

Axmin­ster, Devon.

IS THERE a ques­tion to which you have al­ways wanted to know the an­swer? Or do you know the an­swer to a ques­tion raised here? Send your ques­tions and an­swers to: Charles Legge, An­swers To Cor­re­spon­dents, Scot­tish Daily Mail, 20 Water­loo St, Glas­gow, G2 6DB. You can also fax them to 0141 3314739 or you can email them to charles. legge@dai­ly­mail.co.uk. A se­lec­tion will be pub­lished but we are not able to en­ter into in­di­vid­ual cor­re­spon­dence.

Hanged: Cow­boy Tom Horn and a wa­ter-op­er­ated Ju­lian gal­lows

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