"STRANGLERS" at work


In 1881 Browne & Manzanares was one of the most prosperous mercantile companies doing business in New Mexico. Its sales stood second only to Otero, Sellar & Co. Both maintained their western headquarters and warehouses at Las Vegas •. .

Francisco A. Manzanares, born of a prominent Rio Arriba County family in 1843, had been sent to St. Louis for his education.

Afterward, he teamed up with Missouri native, L.P. Browne, who managed the firm’s eastern business from Kansas City, while Manzanares handled the western end after the railroad reached Las Vegas in 1879.

In that year, as the tracks were extended, he established two new stores, one at Lamy Junction southeast of Santa Fe, and another, much larger, at the booming town of Socorro.

Each place was to figure in a tale of outlawry that began on the evening of Sept. 30 of 1881. The Lamy store at dusk was serving three final customers before closing when a band of men,guns drawn, rushed in.

They helped themselves to all the money in the cash drawer, emptied the pockets of the patrons and proprietor, then carried away a quantity of firearms and saddles, using a wagon and team belonging to the company. It suffered a $1,000 loss in the robbery.

No one seemed to know who the hold-up men were. But before long the press was able to track their movements through reports of new crimes.

From Lamy, the robbers had headed southwest toward the Rio Grande.

Along the way, a lone traveler was surrounded, stripped of $3,150 in cash and his horse stolen. The terrified victim was glad to have escaped with his life.

Not so fortunate were a Bernalillo store keeper and his clerk who were robbed and murdered. The gang was next seen in Los Lunas where they kept a low profile since the country was up in arms.

By the time the fugitives reached the vicinity of Socorro and went into camp along the river, all were tired and thirsty. They decided to visit the town and its saloons in pairs, so as not to attract attention.

Evidently, these men were unaware of Socorro’s reputation for dealing with lawbreakers through a powerful Committee of Safety. That was a polite term for vigilantes, also known locally as the Socorro Stranglers.

Off they went in the evening to enjoy the pleasures of a spree. Shortly, though, word spread that the Lamy thieves had arrived. Two were grabbed at once, but the rest of the gang escaped and fled west into the mountains, never to be seen again.

The captured pair, “Frenchy” Elmoreau, 28, and Bush Clark, 21, were hustled away to the Socorro jail. They were identified as former cowboys and the youngest, Clark, was nicknamed “The Kid.” One news story of the day claimed that his older brother had been the gang leader and was in charge of the loot.

The two young men behind bars were told that the sheriff of Santa Fe County would be notified to come and get them, since their first crime, robbery of the Browne & Manzanares store in Lamy, was committed in his jurisdiction.

However, at midnight, a crowd of masked citizens assembled in front of the jail. Its leaders walked past compliant guards, removed the prisoners, and forced them outside. Then the mob moved up the street, popularly called Death Alley, to a large cottonwood, under which stood a waist-high adobe wall.

The condemned outlaws were stood upon that wall with nooses around their necks, and the ropes tied to a branch in the tree above.

Frenchy broke down and begged for mercy, while Clark cursed him and remained defiant. The crowd shouted, “Shove them off!” And they were shoved — into eternity.

Moments before, The kid had uttered his last words with a yell: “I’ll meet all you bastards in Hell.”

Santa Fe’s Daily New Mexican, in its Oct. 8, 1881, issue, reporting at length on the deaths of the two Lamy thieves, noted that just before their necks were stretched, cardboard signs had been pinned to their coats. Crudely painted letters thereon read: “This is the way Socorro treats horse thieves and footpads.”

A “footpad” is an outdated term for highwayman or robber.