I rediscovered Black Jack Ketchum in Rusk.
Black Jack Ketchum is a legend. Born in Texas and dying in New Mexico, Black Jack was a train robber from the turn of the 20th century who operated in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona (where he joined the Hole-in-the-Wall gang).
But that’s not what made him legendary.
My mother grew up near Clayton, NM, the scene of his death. Black Jack was captured in Folsom, NM, and brought to trial in Clayton. He was sentenced to hang.
What the people of Clayton lacked in experience in hangings, they made up in enthusiasm. The hanging was botched and Black Jack lost his head in the hanging. Black Jack was buried in an extra wide coffin in an extra wide grave in the Clayton Cemetery to accommodate his head which was laid to rest under his arm.
That’s still not what made him legendary in this neck of the woods.
Almost a century later, teenagers still visit Ketchum’s grave and recount the legend that at midnight Black Jack rises from his grave to seek his head. Fortunately, most teens have an earlier curfew so they miss his appearance. But that doesn’t stop boys from daring boys to stay in the cemetery to await Black Jack and it doesn’t stop boys from trying to make time with girls with the legend. So the legend of Black Jack lives on.
There’s a wonderful little hotel and restaurant in Clayton. It’s been restored to its turn-of-the-century glory. The Eklund is a popular place to eat a nice dinner, talk about old times, and hear the legend of Black Jack Ketchum. You can even see pics of the Black Jack and the hanging.
And there’s a geocache hidden near Black Jack Ketchum’s grave to bring in out-of-towners to hear the legend.
Here Lies Black Jack Ketchum–the legend.