Myth of the Hanging Tree (Nonfiction)

Robert J. Torrez, University of New Mexico Press, $19.95, Softcover.
Robert J. Torrez, University of New Mexico Press, $19.95, Softcover.

Trials by “Judge Lynch” were euphemisms for mob vengeance from colonial America to the frontier West. This scholarly study analyzes the documented cases of hangings in New Mexico from 1852 to 1928. The 51 legal executions and 125 vigilante lynchings took place in a frontier climate of weak law and order, for crimes ranging from murder to assault on trains. Both legal and extralegal hangings were often botched and gruesome. These true crime histories reveal an interesting fact: the hanging tree was rarely used in New Mexico. Most towns didn’t have tall enough trees from which to string up a person. Nonetheless, generations of children were terrified every time they had to pass their own town’s “hanging tree.”

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