History and Southwest

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Myth of the Hanging Tree: Stories of Crime and Punishment in Territorial New Mexico

Robert J. Tórrez

The haunting specter of hanging trees holds a powerful sway on the American imagination, conjuring images of rough-and-tumble frontier towns struggling to impose law and order in a land where violence was endemic. In this thoughtful study, former New Mexico State Historian Robert J. Tórrez examines several fascinating criminal cases that reveal the harsh and often gruesome realities of the role hangings, legal or otherwise, played in the administration of frontier justice.

At first glance, the topic may seem downright morbid, and in a sense it is, but these violent attempts at justice are embedded in our perception of America's western experience. In tracing territorial New Mexico's efforts to enforce law, Tórrez challenges the myths and popular perceptions about hangings and lynchings in this corner of the Wild West.


Robert J. Torrez is former New Mexico state historian.


"A fascinating . . . highly readable book that underscores the harsh and often gruesome realities of public hangings."


Tucson Citizen

" Myth of the Hanging Tree is a singularly fascinating addition to crime history reference shelves and collections."


Midwest Book Review

"(A) fascinating piece of historical research."


New Mexico Magazine

"An intriguing study. . . . Myth of the Hanging Tree is a fascinating book that is thoroughly researched and . . . quite fun to read.


Journal of Folklore Research

"For those fascinated with stories of the Wild West this book will be of considerable interest."


Journal of American History

"The book's colorful and scholarly subject matter will be of interest to a wide readership. Researchers and aficionados of the history of the Great Plains--not to mention the history of the Old West, the Southwest, border studies, criminal justice, and capital punishment--will find this a valuable work. Libraries with collections in these subjects will also want to make the book available."


Great Plains Quarterly

6 x 9 in. 200 pages 2 drawings, 24 halftones, 1 maps, 2 tables