Friday, June 5, 2009

Laura Frances Gordon Morris 1869-1907

This is a story about Laura Frances Gordon, who was Nettie Virginia Gordon's (my great-grandmother) sister, on my Dad's side. They are two of the daughters of William Gordon, that I wrote about previously. And at the end of the second story is a Miss Nelson who would be the daughter of another of sister. Recently I was contacted by a Don Colson who wanted to know if I wanted more information about her death. You see Laura and her daughter were murdered. Well, of course I wanted more information. And - since my sister, Jeanette, had somehow never heard the story I will post it here for all.

The first two paragraphs come from this great Arizona history website that I discovered quite awhile ago, but the author gives NO source for his information. The rest of the post is from a book, Graham County History: Mt. Graham Profiles, Vol 2, pgs 158-159. Copies mailed to me by Don Colson. He didn't say what year the Graham History was published. I do have another story somewhere, but I'll have to look for it when I'm not at work 8-/

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The year 1907 was also very eventful in the history of Globe. Most of the incidents revolved around the famous old scout Al Sieber. Even in his later years Sieber managed to be involved in dramatic incidents. On 31 January 1907, a woman named Laura Morris and her daughter, Arminta Ann (age 4 and a half) were brutally murdered with a knife near Roosevelt Dam (then under construction--begun in 1905 and finished in 1911). Arizona Ranger Jim Holmes was notified, and he called on Al Sieber to help. Two Apaches who had been scouts with Sieber, a man named "Rabbit" and another named "Yesterday," were called on to assist. As it had recently rained a lot, the scouts were able to follow the killer's footprints until they came to a pool of water near the river, where the killer had washed his hands. They noticed in the pool someone had dragged his right foot a little. Knowing scouting lore, they knew that the killer must have thrown something from that point, because when a man throws something he tends to drag his right foot. They then threw some rocks in the same direction as the man's footprints. When they inspected where they fell, they found the original murder weapon. They knew that the knife belonged to William Baldwin, and so he was quickly arrested. He was placed in the jail behind the newly-erected courthouse, which had been built in the same location as the old one, in Globe. (The "new" courthouse is now called the "old courthouse.")
Anger spread quickly through Globe when it was found out that Baldwin was in the jail. A mob formed and rushed onto the courthouse steps, where it was stopped by Sheriff John Henry Thompson ("Rimrock Henry"), who was holding a Winchester rifle. Thompson told the men (a significant proportion of the grown male population of Globe) that he would allow no lynching, and that they would have to pass by him first. He continued to talk to the mob and then threw the cell keys to them, acting as if he had given up. He told the people to "Go get him--if you can." In the meantime Baldwin had been spirited out the back of the jail by Deputy Jack Knight and was hidden on a train that was going to Solomonville. The mob swarmed over the courthouse, even up onto the copper roof, but were unable to find Baldwin. In Solomonville William Baldwin received his trial and was hung there on 12 July 1907.

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AUG. 30, 1978
GRAHAM COUNTY’S LAST LEGAL HANGING

Not only did Territorial-Graham County hang its evildoers high, but they hung one and then another until the count reached nine. Statehood-Graham County, however, in sharp contrast, committed Charles Blackburn to the gallows at Florence in 1926 and never again meted out the death penalty. All of the above mentioned nine felons to twist slowly in the wind at Solomonville were convicted of the crime of murder. Last of these bloody-handed desperadoes to dance – on-air, was one William Baldwin who except for a series of unusual circumstances, would normally have been tried and executed in Gila County where he brutally murdered 38 year old Laura Frances Morris and her 4 ½ year-old daughter Aminta Ann Morris.
This dastardly crime occurred January 31, 1907 at the Morris home located several miles east of the Roosevelt Dam, then under construction. Laura and her husband Harvey Morris were helping to support their five children by selling bread to restaurants, etc., that Mrs. Morris baked in her home. It was while Harvey was away from home peddling the fresh loaves and the four older children were making their way to school that the mother and daughter’s throats were cut.
After the slain bodies were found by a neighbor a massive search for the killer was quickly instituted by Gila County Sheriff, Henry Thompson. Participating in the hunt was the noted Indian scout Al Seiber and a number of Apache trackers who discovered the murder knife in a pool of water. The knife, an investigation revealed, had been purchased at the company commissary shortly before the deaths of the mother and daughter.
Word of the slayings spread like wildfire, especially in Gila County, and Baldwin immediately was threatened with mob action. First, Al Seiber had to ward off a lynch-minded mob and next Sheriff Thompson had a similar experience while delivering his prisoner to the Gila County jail in Globe.
But the slamming of the cell door on Baldwin did not spell safety for the prisoner as still another mob howled for blood. In this instance it was angry Globe area citizens who stormed the jail and to no avail as the intrepid sheriff had concealed his charge in the nearby First Baptist Church outhouse.
With the mob situation continuing to grow more tense and precarious, Sheriff Thompson reached the decision to spirit Baldwin out of Globe and to the distant Graham County jail located in Solomonville, or today’s Solomon. So, late in the night, after the mob dispersed, Sheriff Thompson called on the railroad section foreman for assistance. It was agreed that Deputy Bill Voris would sneak Baldwin to a steel railroad bridge on Willow Street and hide him underneath the bridge (it still stands) that spanned Pinal Creek. Before daylight the Sheriff joined the work crew dressed as a section hand to disguise himself and went to the secluded spot. Baldwin was ordered to lie on the extra car, and a canvas was thrown over him. The crew pumped their hand-operated cars upgrade for about three miles, and stopped to await the coming of the passenger train which would stop to test the air-brakes before descending the other side of the grade. Sheriff Thompson boosted Baldwin aboard and the two traveled safely to the sanctuary of the Graham County jail.
By virtue of an affidavit of prejudice, Baldwin was granted a trial in Graham County which commenced March 1907. Presiding over it was Gila County’s Judge Nave while Stoneman of the same county served as prosecutor. After a short trial Baldwin was adjudged guilty of the Morris slayings and was sentenced to die by hanging at the Solomonville jail. After the trial’s conclusion, Baldwin was taken to Tucson for further safekeeping.
Described as a “chocolate negro,” the 27 year-old Baldwin was a native of Montgomery, Alabama who had reached the Roosevelt dam site in 1906. From the very moment of his capture until the very moment of his death, Baldwin was stoic in the extreme and would eat and sleep in a normal manner. Although a member of the Baptist Church, he found consolation in the ministrations of Father Cajet and was baptized into the Catholic faith.
The hanging of Baldwin fell to the lot of Graham County Sheriff A. A. (Pap) Anderson who was a grand gentleman as well as being a highly efficient and courageous law officer. Later, with skill and dedication, Mr. Anderson served the Arizona State Penitentiary at Florence.
Before mounting the scaffold on a July 12, 1907 morning, Baldwin listened impassively to the reading of the death warrant. Then, in company with Father Cajet, he climbed the scaffold’s steps. At no time did he display a trace of fear. Nor did he make a statement while on the gallows, but he did wave farewell to the witnesses assembled for the hanging. Sixteen minutes after the trap was sprung, he was pronounced dead. His place of burial was a short distance south of Solomonville’s original cemetery, or about a quarter of a mile southeast of today’s LaPaloma Bar.
One of several oddities connected with the Baldwin hanging was the fact the execution was witnessed by a Miss Morris and a Miss Nelson, a daughter and niece of Laura Frances Morris. The two young ladies sought and received permission to view the hanging.
Another oddity was a letter received by Solomonville’s widely known John Epley, one written by a Nevada lady who requested that Mr. Epley send her a piece of the rope used to hang Baldwin… “I have been told,” wrote the lady, “that a piece of rope used in the hanging of a negro, when tied around a limb, is a certain cure for rheumatism.”
FOOTNOTE – The only living witness to the Baldwin hanging, as far as this writer can determine, is Robert B. Anderson of Ajo, Arizona. Like his illustrious father, Sheriff Anderson, Bob is also a grand gentleman, a historian of note and raconteur of unsurpassed ability.
At the time of the Baldwin hanging, Bob was, of course but a curious lad. Skipping school, he climbed a strategically placed tree just outside the courtyard, a position which afforded him a view of the death-drop. Regrettably – for Bob – the price of admission for his tree seat came high. It seems he was observed in his perch by Duncan merchant and politician, B. B. Adams, who told Sheriff Anderson of his son’s escapade. It was then that the sheriff, back of the woodshed, carried out his second execution of the day.

1 comment:

JustRandi said...

Ok this isn't about family history... but your header picture cracks me up every time I look at it!
Thanks for the laugh!!

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