Ketchum Boys (unknown–unknown)

By: C. L. Sonnichsen and Berry Spradley

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: September 1, 1995

Thomas Edward (Black Jack) and Samuel W. Ketchum were members of a gang of outlaws that terrorized Arizona, New Mexico, and West Texas in the 1890s. Sam was born on January 4, 1854, in Caldwell County, and Tom was born in San Saba County on October 31, 1863. They were the sons of Green Berry and Temperance Katherine (Wydic) Ketchum and grew up in San Saba, Texas. Their father had been coroner of Christian County, Illinois, before coming to Texas, where he may have been a doctor. His sons were ranch boys of little education. Sam married Louisa J. Greenlee in San Saba on February 4, 1874, according to family records; Tom never married. Tom left Texas about 1890, possibly because of a murder or a train robbery, and went to work for cow outfits in the Pecos Valley of New Mexico. By 1894 Sam had joined him, and the brothers began a career of crime, including killing a merchant near Carrizo, robbing post offices, and holding up stages, trains, and a railroad station. In 1897 they spent a good deal of time across the line in Mexico but stopped two trains in Arizona. On September 3, 1897, they held up the Colorado Southern passenger train near Folsom. In 1898 apparently there was some disagreement in the ranks, and Black Jack was not present when Sam and others again held up the Colorado Southern near Folsom on July 11, 1899. A posse caught up with them; Sam was wounded and captured and died two weeks later in the penitentiary at Santa Fe. Two peace officers and another of the robbers were killed in the battle. Not knowing of the outcome of Sam's last attempt, Black Jack determined to make one more raid and tried, singlehanded, to hold up the Colorado Southern, again near Folsom, on August 16, 1899. Wounded by the conductor, he was picked up beside the tracks next day. On October 5, 1900, he was sentenced to hang. The sentence was carried out at Clayton on April 26, 1901. The Ketchum gang was blamed for a good many crimes that they may not have committed. Apparently they had connections with a larger organization of outlaws. It is also possible that many of the crimes attributed to Black Jack Ketchum were committed by Will "Black Jack" Christian and his brother, and that Tom Ketchum inherited the name and reputation after Christian was killed; however, the facts of Tom Ketchum's career indicate that his notoriety outdistanced that of Christian.

John H. Culley, Cattle, Horses, and Men of the Western Range (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1940). William French, Some Recollections of a Western Ranchman, New Mexico, 1883–1889 (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1928). Miguel A. Otero, My Nine Years as Governor of the Territory of New Mexico, 1897–1906 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1940). Jack Potter, Lead Steer and Other Tales (Clayton, New Mexico: Leader Press, 1939). Albert W. Thompson, The Story of Early Clayton, New Mexico (Clayton, New Mexico: Clayton News, 1933). Lorenzo D. Walters, Tombstone's Yesterday (Tucson: Acme, 1928).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

C. L. Sonnichsen and Berry Spradley, “Ketchum Boys,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995