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The Second Stupidest Outlaw That Ever Lived

The following is an article from Bathroom Readers' Institute's Uncle John's Great Big Bathroom Reader

“Black Jack” Tom Ketchum (1862?-1901)

Background: Ketchum [wiki] was an ordinary cowboy before turning to crime. He returned from a cattle drive one day and learned that his girlfriend had eloped with another man. The rejection pushed him over the edge.

Claim to Fame: Ketchum has been dubbed the “second stupidest outlaw who ever lived.” He ran with members of Wyoming’s notorious Hole-in-the-Wall gang, but bungled so many stick-ups that getting away with a few dollars was the best he usually managed. He had a strange reaction to failure, as Jay Robert Nash explains in American Eccentrics:

Whenever a caper of his went wrong, he would methodically beat himself on the head with the butt of his six-shooter snarling, “You will, will you? (slam!) … Now take that (pop) … and that (bang)!” Many of Black Jack’s planned crimes turned into disasters, and if each member of his gang got $10 for his share, it could be considered a superior outing. Needless to say, Black Jack’s gun and skull both took regular beatings.

But even stupid outlaws have their day. In 1898, Ketchum and his boys robbed a train in New Mexico of about $500. Not exactly a king’s ransom, but it was enough to keep Ketchum coming back for more. He didn’t bother to vary his routine even a little. Ketchum went after the same train, at exactly the same remote spot, a total of four times. On the fourth, lawmen were waiting for him.

There was a shoot-out, and Ketchum was wounded and captured. So why was Ketchum only the second-stupidest outlaw? Because his brother, Sam, was even dumber. While Black Jack was in prison, Sam masterminded yet another identical robbery of the same train. He got himself killed in the attempt.

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Great Big Bathroom Reader This 1998 edition is so big it covers topics from your own backyard to the farthest reaches of the globe, such as the world's tallest buildings, the world's strangest beer, and more.

Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!


In his defense, a $10 share of a robbery wasn't that bad. If we assume a job was done in 1892 (Ketchum was 30), that $10 had the purchasing power of $228 in 2006 dollars.

That $500 job in 1898 had the 2006 purchasing power of $12,537 - not bad when you figure a member of US congress took home about $460/mth at that time.

http://www.measuringworth.com/ppowerus/

(I'm not trying to justify his crimes - just pointing out that $10 was worth more in the 1890's)
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This information is historically wrong and somewhat just made up. I am the great grandson of Sam Ketchum and have spend 40 years searching the history and genealogy of this family as a hobby. You can get accurate information on my web site.
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