Rod Cook of Caldwell, Kansas is doing a new book on the area and its history. Rod really helped me out when I was doing a Caldwell Classic Gunfight on the fight there between cowboys and the locals. The marshal in Caldwell in 1884 was Henry Brown.
Rod liked the first scratchboard I did of the hanging with the darkness and he wondered if I could combine that starkness with the image I posted yesterday. I told him I would try.
Although Brown once rode with Billy the Kid, he seemed to have cleaned up his act and had recently married and settled down. He took some time off and with a deputy and two Texas cowboys set off for Medicine Lodge, Kansas, which is about sixty miles west of Caldwell. The quartet tried to rob the local bank, but instead, ended up killing the bank president and a clerk. After a brief getaway, they were captured, because of a lame horse and brought back to Medicine Lodge and put in a makeshift jail, a barn. A local photographer came and took their photo:
Left to right, Henry Brown, John Wesley, William Smith and Ben Wheeler (Brown's deputy). Note that Brown is shackled to Wesley at the ankle and Wheeler is handcuffed to Smith. Also, not the badge on the guy at left (I hadn't noticed the badge until I was using this guy as a portrait study for the hanging scratchboard below):
At nine o'clock on the evening of the day this photo was taken, three shots were heard and a mob stormed this barn, sweeping aside the guards (where's Wyatt Earp when you really need him?). Brown had slipped off his boot, thus removing the shackle and crouched by the barn door, inside. As the mob lurched into the dark stable, Brown lept up and slugged the first guy and fought his way clear. He almost made it to freedom, but a farmer with a shotgun cut him in half. Meanwhile Wheeler grabbed ahold of a gun barrel and tried to deflect the shot, but instead the pistol blows off two of his fingers. The muzzle flash sets his vest on fire and he runs through the crowd with the entire mob chasing him and shooting at him. Incredibly he is still alive. The three remaining prisoners are dragged down to the creek bottom where the rest of the mob is waiting (or, did they all go from one place to another? We don't know). Since it is dark and a heavy rain has been falling all day, I imagine the mob started a fire to see. They only had two ropes for three guys. Wheeler was pleading for his life telling the mob that there were more people involved and that if they would spare his life he would tell them, but they didn't listen and up he went, bleating so loudly he could be heard three blocks away. The two Texas cowboys died game and calm. One asked to send his stuff to his mama, and the other said he didn't want his mama to know.
And then it was over. That is the scene I wanted to capture. As the aftermath of the horrible deed began to sink in:
Notice Wheeler's vest is still smoldering.
"The only time you don't want to fail is the last time you try."
—Charles F. Kettering