They called him “Black Jack” Ketchum, but the gambling done by Thomas Edward Ketchum was in robbing banks, holding up trains, and leaving a trail of cold blooded murders across Texas, New Mexico and eastern Arizona. It was July 2, 1899, about 8 o’clock in the evening that Ketchum rode up to the old sutler’s store in Camp Verde, and within minutes had shot and killed the owners, “Mack” Rogers and Clint Wingfield.
R. M. “Mack” Rogers had lived in Texas some years earlier, and in 1898 he joined relatives in the Verde Valley. There he met and went into partnership with Clint Wingfield. Several Wingfield families had established ranches and fruit farms around Beaver and Clear Creeks in the Verde Valley, and Clint’s parents had settled in Strawberry where his father helped build the old school house that still stands as a historical landmark. As Clint came into his own he ranched cattle up on the Mogollon Rim – Clint’s Well is named for him.
Mack Rogers had made an enemy in Camp Verde of an alleged horse thief named Roger Wade, bringing evidence against him. Wade threatened to get even, though it is not known if he made a deal with Tom Ketchum to kill Rogers. Another theory behind the killings is that many local ranchers deposited their money for safe keeping with the merchants Rogers and Wingfield and Ketchum learned of this. He needed money between bank heists and had come to rob them.
On Camp Verde’s Main Street there is a quadrangle of small stores including the historical building built in the 1860s to provide merchandise for soldiers’ families at Fort Verde. A plaque on the building denotes its long tradition as the oldest continuously operating business in Yavapai County. This store was bought by Rogers and Wingfield in 1898.
On that July evening in 1899, as dusk settled over the Verde Valley, Clint Wingfield went into the office to do some paper work before closing up. Mack Rogers and the store clerk Lou Turner went out on the porch to visit. Joining them to chat were mail carrier Dick Hopkins and retired cavalry officer John Boyd. The four men observed a stranger getting off his horse some distance away. He tied his horse to a tree and began walking toward the store. Rogers asked the man if he needed any supplies before they closed up for the night, and at the same time he was somewhat sure he recognized Tom Ketchum from the days when they both lived in Texas. The fellow said he didn’t need anything, and Rogers turned to lock the door. With that Ketchum jumped up onto the porch and put a gun in Roger’s back, saying, “Get inside there, Mack.”
Rogers broke into a run, heading for his gun case, but he was dropped by the gunman’s six-shooter, shot through the neck. Hearing the noise Wingfield appeared from his office, only to be met with another gunshot that mortally wounded him. He would die in a neighboring house two hours later, attended by his brother Frank Wingfield. The two dead men were buried in the Clear Creek Cemetery on July 4.
If the motive had been simply robbery, one would expect Ketchum to ransack the store, but instead he went out onto the porch yelling, “I might as well kill you all!” Warning them to scatter, John Boyd did not move fast enough and Ketchum wounded him in the right leg. The murderer ran to his horse, and took off at a gallop, heading to the Mogollon Plateau.
The next morning a large posse gathered to pursue Ketchum’s trail. At first it was easy to trace because his horse was unshod, but soon the hoof prints became obscured amid those of a herd of range ponies. By the next day the posse was on top of the Rim, and Yavapai County Sheriff James L. Munds caught up to them, having been summoned from Prescott. They picked up the trail again, and it led to the cabin of Charlie Bishop who owned the unshod horse Ketchum rode. Both Bishop and Ketchum kept well ahead of the posse
Clint Wingfield’s brother Frank was a member of the posse, and later reported how he pressed them to stay with the hunt, even though the trail had grown cold. After going as far a Long Valley, they returned to the old mail trail toward Fossil Creek, and then searched up and down the East Verde River finally arriving in Payson. There they got a lead from Rock Store owner J. W. Boardman. He said there was a stranger who had been coming in from his camp on the Rim, buying a lot of .45 ammunition and food supplies. He had called himself Charlie Bishop and had been there in Payson just six days before the murders. Sheriff Munds then led the remainder of the posse up the East Verde canyon to the Rim, leaving word that nobody was to come up on the Rim while they were hunting Bishop and Ketchum. As it turned out, Bishop had remained in hiding in the Payson area until suspicions of his role in the murders cooled off.
Munds’ search party found suspicious smoldering campsites, and followed a trail that led in circles between the jump-off at the head of the East Verde and Clear Creek. A few tips from sheepherders who had seen a lone man camped in Chevelon Canyon, led the sheriff to believe Ketchum had gone back to New Mexico.
That was indeed the case, for while this manhunt was going on Ketchum and some of his cohorts were robbing trains.
When Tom Ketchum attempted to rob the same train for a third time he met his “Waterloo.” The guard was prepared, and fired a shotgun blast at Ketchum that destroyed his right arm. Later, in jail, it had to be amputated, and Ketchum contracted blood poisoning.
When Sheriff Munds caught up with the murderer, who still denied the Camp Verde affair, he took pictures of the prisoner. Witnesses back in Arizona positively identified him as the one who killed Rogers and Wingfield. As for Ketchum, New Mexico refused to extradite him to Arizona. The legal proceedings went on for a year, during which time he talked to many about his career as an outlaw, tried to escape once and to commit suicide twice. Finally he was convicted of the train robberies and on April 26, 1901 the 37-year-old Tom Ketchum was hung.
It was a big day in Clayton, New Mexico Territory. Businesses were closed, except for saloons, and tickets were sold to the hanging. People even purchased souvenir dolls of Ketchum hanging from a stick. The sheriff on Union County, New Mexico, was inexperienced at such things and allowed the drop to be too long for Ketchum’s weight. As a result he was beheaded by the loose. The town doctor sewed Tom’s head back on for burial later that afternoon.
NEXT: Violence at The Sheep Camp
“Tom Ketchum and His Gang” by Jeffrey Burton, Wild West magazine, February 2002 Dynamite and Six-Shooter by Jeff Burton, Palomino Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico Coconino Sun July 8, 1899, “Bloody Verde Tragedy Raised 100-Man Posse”
Ruth Wingfield Kennedy family records (Internet)