Book Review: Legal Executions After Statehood in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, by R. Michael Wilson

Legal Executions After Statehood in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah: A Comprehensive Registry, by R. Michael Wilson, McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C., 2011, $95

When it comes to capital punishment, R. Michael Wilson knows his stuff. As we learned from his earlier work Legal Executions in the Western Territories, 1847–1911, authorities hanged 53 men before Arizona became a state on February 14, 1912. This latest book details the post-statehood executions in the Grand Canyon State of 87 men (by hanging, poison gas, lethal injection) and one hanged woman—housekeeper Eva Dugan on February 21, 1930, for getting rid of her boss, a Tucson rancher; her hanging was botched (think outlaw Tom Ketchum) and she was decapitated. And so it goes. Add New Mexico (which became a state on January 6, 1912), Colorado (August 1, 1876), Nevada (October 31, 1864) and Utah (January 4, 1896) to the mix and you get 324 people who were legally executed (322 men and two women) in the statehood years.

Nevada’s first statehood hanging occurred in Virginia City on April 24, 1868, and among the witnesses was Territorial Enterprise reporter Mark Twain. John Milleain was the condemned man, sentenced to death for killing Jule Bulette, described as a “woman of the town.” Milleain complained (in French) that he was being hanged because the people of Virginia City didn’t like Frenchmen and due to the testimony of eight women that a jury believed “because of their licentious looks, their popularity in the country and their impression on all the people.” On February 2, 1877, James Miller, a black trooper from Fort Lyon, became the first man hanged in the state of Colorado. His crime was going to a dance hall and shooting down cowboy John Sutherland, although it had been another cowboy, James Greer, who had earlier told Miller, “I will not drink with a damned nigger.” And so it goes.

This look at stateside executions is Wilson’s third volume in the series. The second volume was Legal Executions After Statehood in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon: A Comprehensive Registry. Due out soon is the fourth book, Legal Executions in Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma Including the Indian Territory: A Comprehensive Registry. The fifth and final (and shortest) book in the series is Legal Executions in Alaska and Hawaii: A Comprehensive Registry. “When all the books are released,” says Wilson, “it will be possible to research every U.S. legal execution west of the 98th meridian through December 31, 2010.” Not that updates might be needed down the road: Capital punishment remains in force in most states. And so it goes.


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