Was anyone actually hanged in the Old West for stealing a horse?

Paul Gordon
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada

Stealing a man’s horse in the wide open spaces was something akin to condemning him to death, so horse thieves were, on occasion, hanged for their deeds.

For example, Russian Bill wanted to be an outlaw in the worst way (and that’s what he became . . . an outlaw in the worst way). To become a bona fide desperado he decided to steal a horse; he was quickly caught. The locals around Lordsburg, New Mexico weren’t amused, and didn’t see horse thieves as romantic Robin Hoods. They hanged Bill and his partner, Sandy King, from the rafters of the barroom in Shakespeare, New Mexico on November 7, 1881. When Bill’s mother, the Countess, inquired about the details of her son’s demise, she was politely told he’d “died of shortage of breathing while at a high altitude.”

Related Articles

  • The History Detectives’ upcoming season features several episodes of interest to readers of True West.…

  • western books the hell-bound train cowboy songbook true west

    Sure ’nuff cowboy songs and stories from a sure ’nuff cowboy—does it get any better…

  • john waynes brother

    Was horse theft a capital offense during the Old West era? Anthony Grizzell Sacramento, California…