Lincoln, the Center of Justice


The town of Lincoln was the administrative center of Lincoln County until the county seat was moved to Carrizozo about 1918. During the early days the Judicial Proceedings were handled at the District Court in Mesilla in neighboring Socorro County, a bit of an inconvenience to some; the more local issues were handled through the Sherriff’s Office, the County also empanelled a Grand Jury from time to time. 


There was also, in County Precincts, Justices of the Peace who had some local authority including their own Constables; also issuing and sometimes presiding over Civil Marriages. The JPs occasionally didn’t see things the same as the County Sheriff, sometimes working at cross purposes; the “Lincoln County War” provides a good example of this.


Depending on your viewpoint, the Sherriff’s Office didn’t seem to always side with the folks; consider the relationship with the House of Murphy and other power brokers.


The following are some Lincoln County Executions found on the Genealogy Trails web site:



Hanging of William Wilson, a Gruesome Affair


The following letter was written to the Santa Fe New Mexican on December 15, 1875 by an anonymous writer who signed the letter "A Rolling Stone" This letter referred to the hanging of William Wilson which has often been referred to as "Ghastly bungled. Even today it is sometimes called "the double hanging."


Lincoln, N.M.Dec. 15, 1875


On the appointed day before daybreak, the carpenters were at work erecting the gallows and even at that early hour strangers, men, and women, and children were pouring from the adjacent county.


At eleven o'clock the prisoner in an ambulance accompanied by Captain Stewart commander of the post, Dr. Corbello medical director, and Rev. Lamy of Manzano preceded by Company "G" 8th U.S.Calvary under command of Lieutenant Gilmore, arrived at the scene proceeded to the residence of the sheriff, Captain Saturnino Baca, the prisoner then arraying in his funeral clothes, the procession moved toward the gallows. Before mounting the platform he shook hands with several whom recognized and mounted the scaffold calm and collected. The escort was drawn in line fronting the gallows whilst four men dismounted and kept back the crowd, which by this time had increased considerably.


Whilst on the scaffold this death warrant was read first in English and then in Spanish; after which the dying declaration written and signed by Wilson was read and translated. He then received the extreme unction and the merciful sheriff declared that the execution would be stayed for half an hour.


However, the leading men of the town, actuated by pity for the poor unfortunate, entered such a vigorous protest against such barbarous proceedings that the sheriff went ahead with the execution. The priest descended from the scaffold, the black cap adjusted and the prisoner with hands tied behind and the noose around his neck awaited his doom.


The sheriff descended from the scaffold and in an instant justice so long outraged was avenged and the perpetrator of one of foulest murders which ever disgraced a civilized community was no more.


After hanging nine and a half minutes, the body was cut down and placed in the coffin, when it was discovered that life was not yet extinct. A rope was fastened around his neck and the crowd drew the inanimate body from the coffin and suspended it from the gallows where it hanged for twenty minutes longer, it was then cut down and placed in the coffin and buried.      "A Rolling Stone"


Source: Submitted by Virginia Stanbrough


Hanging of William James.


George Slay, late deputy sheriff of Lincoln county, now in this city, this morning received from Jones Taliafero, probate clerk and recorder of Lincoln county, the following account of the hanging of James, the murderer, the other day, in the town of Lincoln: "The hanging passed off quietly. All worked smoothly. Brent deserves the credit for his successful management. Poor James weakened. He cried continually while on the scaffold, his last words simply being, 'Young men, take warning from me; don't do anything to bring you to the like of this.' His last words were to Jim, 'Good-bye God bless you!' His neck was broken.


Source: Santa Fe Daily New Mexican, June 25, 1886, Transcribed by C. Anthony

Hanged, D. C. Johnson the Murderer of Howe, Put to Death.


The citizens of Las Cruces have all heard of the murder of Alfred Howe which occurred below South Fork on the 10th of last June, and both the murderer and murdered have known about, more than passing interest has been manifested in the case. Howe, who kept a little store near South Fork, and who was by business called to this place frequently during the year, had many acquaintances in the town and was by all considered a kind-hearted, inoffensive, law-abiding man.


Johnson the murderer, is best known here, as one of a gang of roughs who last year attempted to rob a chinaman in Rincon. The poor chinaman was so severely beaten that his life was for a while impaired of, and it was reported that he did afterwards die in California from the effects of his wounds. As will be remembered, Judge Huntington and several other citizens of Rincon arrested Johnson and his pals, and brought them to this place, where they were jailed until District court convened. Their trial here will also be well remembered.


Ernest G. Greve, who was with Johnson when Howe was killed, formerly worked for Mr. Frank Reinhart in the Centennial saloon here, and afterwards for Dan Dameron in the Monarch. He was familiarly known here then as "Dutchy." Greve at the last term of District court in Lincoln county entered a plea of guilty of murder in the fifth degree, and was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in the penitentiary. Johnson at the same time plead guilty of murder, and threw himself upon the mercy of the court. He was sentenced to be hanged on Friday Nov. 19th. The particulars of the murder, are doubtless fresh in the memories of our readers but we clip from the Lincoln Independent the following concerning Johnson's last moments, and his execution.


Johnson's Talk.

The following private talk was had during the morning with D. C. Johnson, "I am sorry for E. G. Greve and my hopes and best wishes are that the law will be very lenient with him, and that his sentence of imprisonment may be cut down, so as to escape the long and unmerited confinement in the penitentiary; the he may be a free man with the past affair to guide him from again violating the laws of the land and the laws of God. He was persuaded to take part against his free will, and I wish the people may petition the governor to shorten his term of imprisonment, for I believe he would be a good and upright citizen. The statement I made before the court is true in every particular, but regret that I made the statement implicating W. F. Good."


The Execution.

At 11:25 p. m., the warrant for Johnson's execution was read to him by the sheriff in the rotunda of the jail. The prisoner accompanied by his Christian adviser, Father Garnier, proceeded to the scaffold. He was in good spirits and apparently happy. His step was firm and steady and he walked up the steps without any support and went to his fate like a man of nerve and d??d game. On the scaffold he made the following talk:


To Young Men.

"Gentlemen take my advice and shun bad company, walk in the way of righteousness, and God your souls will surely bless, young men my advice to you, is not to gamble for sooner or later it will get you in trouble, look at me and see where it has let me, to the gallows. I am sorry for what I have done, but you must remember that when you take a life you can never give it back. The taking of my life does not return the life of the man I killed. But it is the law, when a man takes a life of his fellow man, for him to be put to death by man. Therefore, I tell you to shun bad company and young men draw near, I bid you all adieu, no more on earth as I see you but on bright heaven's flowery plain we may meet again. I am very sorry and penitent for the cruel crime I have done and I hope that God will pardon all my sins."


At the close of his talk the Father administered the last rites, of the Catholic Church, commending his soul to God; 1:30 the black cap was drawn over his head and bidding good-bye to all, the trap was sprung and he dropped into eternity. The Holy Father interceding before God for mercy in the criminal's behalf, Dr. M. G. Paden of White Oaks pronounced him dead after being suspended between heaven and earth 14 minutes. At 1:58 the body was cut down and placed in a coffin. His neck was not broken. His body was immediately conveyed to the graveyard and interred.


Source: Mesilla Valley Democrat, November 30, 1886, Transcribed by C. Anthony.