Classic Gunfights

Ketchum Goes Out Alone

 Tom "Black Jack" Ketchum vs. Frank Harrington.


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August 16, 1899

Camped in a cave, two miles south of Folsom, New Mexico, Tom Ketchum waits until dark, then mounts up.

He leads a pack horse carrying his safe-blowing kit. The outlaw rides to a spot on the Colorado & Southern Railroad tracks, hitches his horses, builds a fire and starts walking toward Folsom.

It is 10:20 p.m. and the southbound train No. 1 is running 10 minutes late.  When the train reaches him, Ketchum climbs in the cab of the engine and sticks the barrel of his pistol in the engineer’s ribs, ordering Joseph H. Kirchgrabber to stop the train at a point four miles south of Folsom.

The train is stopped on a curve with a four-foot high embankment (two miles short of Ketchum’s campfire). Ketchum orders the engineer out of the cab, but Kirchgrabber refuses.

“You son of a bitch, I’ll kill you,” threatens Ketchum, pushing his Winchester into the trainman’s armpit before adding, “I’ll shoot if you don’t.”

The engineer coolly defies him: “Shoot away.”

Ketchum turns his attention to the fireman, Tom Scanlon, who steps down with no argument and leads the outlaw to the door of the express car.

Hearing a banging on the door, express car messenger Charles P. “Scotty” Drew opens the door and  finds himself looking down the barrel of Ketchum’s Winchester.

“Fall out of there goddamn quick,” the outlaw snaps; Drew complies.  While Drew holds a lantern, Scanlon is ordered to uncouple the express car from the coal tender. He has difficulty doing so as the cars are attached via a coupling device, called a “Miller hook,” which is programmed to lock whenever a train is halted on a curve.

Several times, mail clerk Fred Bartlett peeks out from the mail car (the second car, back from the coal tender). Spotting his head, Ketchum barks, “Get back in there!” as he also fires a warning shot that glances off a steel brace on the car and ricochets through Bartlett’s jaw, taking out two teeth. He falls, face forward, onto the floor of the car.

Finally, Scanlon tells the outlaw he has uncoupled the cars. But when the three return to the engine, they...

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