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Customer Review

on March 13, 2003
"Death on the Gallows" is a great source of information. It has an entry for every legal hanging in New Mexico since the coming of the Americans. Most of the hangings occurred during the long territorial period, 1850-1912. The entries are organized by county. Each entry begins with an introduction by the author, apparently drawn from contemporary newspaper accounts, to judge from the lists of sources. Some of the introduction are bare-bones, others go into detail.
Each entry continues with a quotation from a contemporary newspaper. Often an entire article is reprinted. The papers almost always described the execution itself. Reporters, and presumably their readers, seemed to be very interested in the sheriff's skill with the noose, noting with approval when the neck was broken and death followed quickly, and disapproving when the prisoner strangled to death or (as in the case of Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum) was decapitated.
As this description makes clear, and the title ought to warn you, this is not a book for the faint of heart. That said, the author's descriptions are never sensational; indeed, they tend to be rather dry and factual, which adds to their value -- the author doesn't get in the way of his material. The contemporary newspaper accounts are more colorful, as was typical of the age, but even they are rarely heartless or gleeful.
All in all, a wonderful concentration of information. The author's prose style is pedestrian and he makes no attempt at synthesis or analysis, but he succeeds admirably in what he set out to do, which is to present the fruits of persistent research in a clear, straightforward format.
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