Saturday, September 19, 2009

Last Hanging in Montana

My father once mentioned that he had witnessed a hanging while a boy in Montana. I've always suspected he witnessed a reenactment or that grandma took him off to see the gallows at some local fair and scared the little kid out of him. Given the last execution was 66 years ago and a semi-private affair, that would put him pretty close to 0 years old, so I suspect I'm right. But I like to do a bit of research, so I dug up the information below at the Missoula website, "Missoula County Sheriffs Buried in the Missoula Cemetery" (Mary Ellen Stubb, Sexton, MT). Presumably this sentence, "The specially made gallows for Coleman's hanging were eventually located in a dusty old section of the Missoula County fairgrounds," pertains to what scarred my Dad. He'll have to wrack his memory to see if he can remember the details. Hopefully I'm not taking away a cherished memory, but replacing it with a more calming version (and I really hope he didn't see a hanging unsanctioned by the state...e.g. lynching. But by the 1950s anti-lynching legislation should have pushed those to the south, such as Emmett Till's death, which was a precursor to the Civil Rights movement, was 1955).

It's interesting that the sheriff involved was a MacLean, as my family is supposedly related to them (Scottish clan-wise) if you go back far enough.

Last Legal Execution in Montana.

September 10, 1943, the last legal execution in state of Montana was overseen by Sheriff MacLean. Philip 'Slim Coleman Jr., 24 years old, was accused of viciously killing Carl and Roslyn Pearson at Lothrop, Montana. He had robbed them of $200. Coleman escaped in the Pearson family car which was later discovered abandoned in Drummond. A large manhunt was activated by Sheriff MacLean. From the time Coleman was apprehended, he had a need to brag about his dirty deeds. He showed no remorse, instead, he was extremely cheerful and commented how 'funny' the whole situation was. He became more serious the day before his scheduled hanging. At that time Coleman told of 23 other murders he had committed since he was 14 years old, growing up in the black ghettos of St. Louis, Illinois. In a dictated confession the night before he died, however, he only gave details of eight of those murders. The confession is said to still be in Missoula but inquiries have not found it. It is also believed that none of Coleman's confession was ever used to solve unsolved murder mysteries. Coleman had refused to be visited by the only local negro minister, Father Webster Williams. In the end, Coleman was baptized into the Catholic faith and accompanied to the gallows by Father Henry L. Sweeny. The gallows were specially built inside the jailhouse and the hanging was done in a very quiet, dignified manner with no news reporters and only a few invited guests. All former hangings had been conducted in the open jail yard with a stockade placed around the gallows and the infamous "Gallopin' Gertie‟ gallows used. The specially made gallows for Coleman's hanging were eventually located in a dusty old section of the Missoula County fairgrounds. They have since been re-located to the Fort Missoula Historical Museum.


Anonymous said...

I did not witness any Hanging, only the building of the gallows. It was in Richland County MT. On the court house lawn in Sidney, MT. I do not know if the actual hanging took place. I saw them build it and test it out with sand bags. I belive I was about 6 when this happened. They also covered the gallows in tarps after it was completed.

Anonymous said...

My mom was the one who found Carl and Roslyn Pearson they lived next door.