Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tombstone, Arizona, Hangings

Both boys instinctively covered their eyes at the sudden burst of Arizona sun as their jailer led them out to the scaffold, according to the Tucson newspaperman who accompanied them. Stiffened by a shot of whiskey from Sheriff White, they climbed the steps with the coolness and nerve that twenty year old Texans are capable of. Hangings were public in 1900 Tombstone, so a large crowd heard their last words and watched the younger boy place the noose over his own head. The sheriff cut the single cord that released both traps. The brothers William and Tom Halderman "swung to eternity," scribbled one witness.

Time Magazine later said Tombstone was "used to glory in its duels, hangings, feuds," and declared the Halderman hangings its "most famed." That is notable, considering the competition for notability--the Clantons, Earps, Bat Masterson, the OK Corral, even Geronimo were local legends. Tombstone citizens considered the brothers cold blooded murderers and thoroughly approved of the hangings. Some residents, and all their Texas kin, thought they were hanged unfairly.

In April of 1899 deputy sheriff Chester Ainsworth had been dispatched to the nearby Chiricahua Mountains to arrest William Halderman on a warrant for cattle theft. On the way, Ainsworth picked up eighteen year old Ted Moore to help. They found the Halderman brothers breakfasting with a neighbor, J.W. Wilson and his son and two daughters. Wilson and the daughters later testified that the boys agreed to go peacably and the deputy suggested they grab what they wanted from inside, including breakfast. The boys stepped out moments later with rifles and dropped the deputy from his horse and mortally wounded the youthful Moore, who rode to his mother's house nearby and died in her arms. The boys lit out on foot but were captured five days later.

Cochise County hired a lawyer to defend the boys. Justice took only two months. The boys claimed self defense--Moore had shot first--but the testimony of Wilson and his two daughters convinced the jury otherwise. An execution date was set. An appeal to the state supreme court gained them a delay to the following March, by which time the boys' Texas family had swung into action.

William and Tom Halderman were scions of a wealthy and influential Texas family, the Kokernots. Their grandmother, Julia Ann Lang, was a sister of L.M. and John W. Kokernot, successful ranchers and businessmen. L.M. first sent the boys' uncle, D.L. Lang, to Arizona to investigate, followed by his own lawyer, S.H. Hopkins, of Gonzales, Texas. Hopkins filed flurries of affidavits with the court and the governor's office, to no avail. The governor of Texas pleaded with the Arizona governor for a commutation, without effect. The Texas family even travelled to Washington to plead with President McKinley, who achieved only a delay of two more months. All this activity, "sufficient to crush the Philippine rebellion," infuriated Tombstone residents, who were eager for a hanging. They got it on November 16.

Was this simply an example of wealth pleading for special consideration, or did the Texans have a legitimate complaint? The brothers' story was mostly drowned out, but they offered a different and believable sequence of events. First, Ted Moore, the youngster they had killed, had a long running feud with the older brother, William, over one of the Wilson girls, Rena, and had often vowed to kill Halderman. Witnesses could testify to this but the brothers were too inexperienced to insist. They said they stepped from the house armed because of fear of Moore, who in fact fired first, they said. William claimed Tom fired no shots and that Ainsworth was simply caught in the crossfire and may even have been hit by Moore.

The girls, Rena and Mary, testified after the trial that their father had insisted that they lie at the trial and say one of the Haldermans fired first. Their father, they said, feared the wrath of his neighbors if he became the cause of the Haldermans' release. The boys were so confident that these arguments would ultimately prove their innocence that when other inmates of the Tombstone jail staged a break, Will and Tom did not join them.

By the day of the hangings, all the Texans had gone home. There was no one to claim the Haldermans' bodies, so they were buried beside each other in the town's iconic Boothill Cemetery.

The Wilson family fared no better than the Haldermans. Within a few years two of J.W. Wilson's sons were killed, one by being pushed into a well. Of the girls, Rena and Mary, one commited suicide and the other spent her life in an insane asylum.


Anonymous said...

So why didn't you tell me you found out all this!!

Anonymous said...

He isn't writing and researching for your benefit and pleasure. Unless you are paying him to service you with real time updates, perhaps you should take a more civil tone. Otherwise you might be mistaken as rude and without appreciation for the fact of this man's work.

Anonymous said...

Mr.Barber's findings are the result of his work. Your entitlement problems are equal to your belief that you owe nothing to anyone, despite all circumstances. This is an unfortunate irony. You are a sad example of the very self-absorbed, the source of having a core of loneliness running deeper within you than most afflicted with your pathology. How can you truly connect, or appreciate, or not feel entitlement when you revolve around yourself emotionally? I think you should apologize.

Alan said...

Anonymouses #2 and #3: I appreciate your solicitous care for my feelings, but it's misplaced. BJ is a friend and her comment was good natured and appreciated.


Anonymous said...

You are gracious.

Anonymous said...

I almost hate to ask this given the passion expressed by Anonymous 2 & 3 but here I go...
Do you have any source material you would share regarding the outcome of Rena and Mary Wilson? ("Of the girls, Rena and Mary, one commited suicide and the other spent her life in an insane asylum").
I'm related to Ted Moore, one of the two people killed by the Halderman Brothers, and I've been collecting news articles and genealogy records for the Haldermans and the Wilsons. On and I came across records for Mary (a.k.a. May) as having married John Prindiville, and had 3 children. The last record I have for her is 6 Mar 1927. I assume it is she who ended up in an asylum? Can you tell me where and when?
Rena appears to have had the tougher life, marrying 3 times, had one child, and died a mysterious death at the age of 20. The last newspaper article I could find online said they found no cyanide or potassium in her stomach. Her brother-in-law must have suspected foulplay, as he had her stomach contents sent to NWU for further chemical analysis. I never found any follow up to this article, a death certificate, nor the final determination for cause of death.
Any details you might be able to provide would be greatly appreciated!

Alan said...

Thanks for posting your note in spite of intimidation by overzealous posters. We can show how to keep the conversation civil despite being on opposing sides of a murder...:)

I'm happy to give you what I have, but it is not a lot. The assertion about the Wilson girls comes from a single newspaper story in the Tucson Daily Citizen of 2 Aug 1913, p. 3. It's mostly the story of the murder of the girls' brother Tol, but it turns out yet another brother had been killed and a third was in jail for grand larceny. About the girls, it says only "a sister sometime ago committed suicide at Pearce, and another sister was recently committed to the asylum for the insane."

The only other thing I have found in my research for this posting is an article in the Gonzales Inquirer reprinting an article in the Arizona Republican. It describes affidavits submitted to the governor supporting a request for commutation. It says "There is an affidavit from Henry Caviness, husband of one of the Wilson girls, one of the three witnesses of the shooting and who had previously made affidavit that her testimony at the trial of the Haldeman's was false and was offered in fear of her father, J. W. Wilson." It says no more, but clearly one of the girls was already married. I wonder if the marriage was after the shooting but before the hanging.

I have information on the Halderman genealogy on my website. The brothers are here: and you can trace their ancestry back from there.

If you like, I can zip together and send my collection of newspaper articles dealing with the trial. It's 29 files, pdf and jpg, totaling some 34 MB. You can contact me offline by using the "Contact us" link at my publisher website,

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your generous offer, I did try the Contact Us link but am receiving a response of, "Failed to send your message. Please try later or contact the administrator by another method." Either 4 msgs have now gone through to them or none (sorry if 4 went through!). I will try again tomorrow.
In the meantime, Rena Wilson married Benjamin Caviness (no record of Henry possibly being a middle name) on 6 Jul 1899, after the shooting but before the trial and hangings. They divorced in Dec 1902. And Mary/May was admitted to an asylum in June 1913 but released by November. The following is noted in the Nov. 2, 1913 Tombstone Epitaph: "Mrs. John Prindiville has returned to Pearce after an absence of about 3 months."
I look forward to sharing more with you later.

Alan said...

Dang. I've had trouble with that problem on the "Contact me" page, but I thought I had it fixed. This morning I tried it with Firefox, IE9, Safari, Chrome, and my iPhone. They all worked perfectly, so I don't know what's going on. Here's another public email address for me:

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