R. Michael Wilson (McFarland & Co., $95)
R. Michael Wilson (McFarland & Co., $95)

Legal Executions in the Western Territories, 1847-1911, is a wonderful encyclopedic reference—a must for libraries and scholars interested in the Old West.

R. Michael Wilson offers a treasure trove of detailed information for dedicated aficionados of Western Americana—and those who are immune to the sticker shock price of $95 for a 222-page paperback. The tome really is worth the price.

Here, properly annotated and indexed, are most of the case histories of legal executions during the frontier periods of the Western states. You won’t find entries for California, Texas or Hawaii, since they were never federal territories before statehood.

Vigilante justice—or “Judge Lynch”—does not qualify for inclusion. Most executions were by hanging; some, by firing squads. Yet you will read about John D. Lee, the Mormon’s belated (1877) scapegoat for the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, and Thomas E. Ketchum, the Texas badman whose bungled hanging ended in his decapitation. Ketchum was hanged for “assault upon a railroad train with intent to commit a felony,” proving that even crimes against property could earn one a death sentence. These facts and more are all enclosed in this ample collection of Old West history.

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