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.

Serial Killer’s Baby is Christened in Taos

On this day in 1869, (Wednesday, September 29), three month old Samuel Kennedy was christened in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Don Fernando de Taos. He hadn’t been baptized sooner because he’d been born 25 miles east of town, at the foot of Taos Pass (today’s Palo Flechado Pass). It wasn’t a simple matter to get to Taos from what is now the Angel Fire area in those days.

Within a year, Samuel would be dead and his father about to die as a result. His father, Charles Kennedy (sometimes spelled Canady), had spent the last three years murdering and robbing men who visited the Palo Flechado cabin and Samuel’s teenage mother, Maria Gregoria, had kept silent. But in a fit of rage in late September 1870, Charles Kennedy killed his fifteen-month-old son and Samuel’s grieving mother finally took action. She fled twelve miles north to Elizabethtown to report her husband’s nefarious activities.

Samuel christening illustration

Justice was a little confused, but in the end it was served—at the hands of a lynch mob. Legend says Kennedy’s severed head ended up on a pike outside a local restaurant and saloon as a grisly reminder that even on the New Mexico Territory frontier, the death of a child would not go unrevenged.

For a fictional account of the Kennedy story, see my recently-published novel The Pain and The Sorrow (Sunstone Press).