Courtroom Lynching in Taos

In 1867, the village of Don Fernando de Taos started its new year with a lynching. By Wednesday, January 2, the citizens of Taos had had enough of the antics of  Thomas Means. The man had been on yet another drunken binge. During this one, he’d bounced around the plaza threatening people with a knife and pistol. When he finally went home, he took out his frustrations on his wife, nearly killing her in the process. That was when the authorities stepped in and arrested him.

Means was incarcerated in the local jail but there was apparently some concern that he wouldn’t get the justice he deserved:  New Mexico juries were known for being reluctant to judge defendants guilty of death.  To solve this problem, a group of citizens mob stormed the jail and removed Means from his guards’ protection. But they didn’t take him very far. 1867 must have started out cold, because the impromptu extra-legal jury decided to hang Means in the room next door to the jail: the courtroom where he would have been tried if they’d been a little more patient. The vigilantes dragged him into the space reserved for justice and hanged him from one of the vigas there. Although a judge may not have thought so, the men who dealt with Means clearly thought that justice was a good use for the room in question.

Source:  Robert J. Torrez, Myth of the Hanging Tree, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2008.

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