The execution of Brace and Hetherington

On the afternoon of Tuesday July 29th a scaffold eight feet square and ten feet high with a trap door in the center and a cross beam seven and a half feet above it, was built on Davis Street between Sacramento and Commercial. Immediately crowds began to gather, so much so that the nearby rooftops were covered with onlookers. Several roofs collapsed from the weight but fortunately no one was hurt. Four to five thousand armed vigilante soldiers turned out into the streets, five deep around the scaffold with others positioned on the top of vigilante headquarters and other buildings in the area. Philander Brace was the first to be driven up in a carriage followed by Joseph Hetherington. They were led to the top of the stairs. Robert Nixon, dressed in a long black robe and hat, played the part of hangman and fastened nooses to each man’s neck.

Hanging Hetherington and Brace

Hanging Hetherington and Brace

When asked if they had anything to say, Hetherington began to explain how he was ready to meet his maker and had lived a good life and expected to be well received in the next. Brace, who claimed to be drunk, began to interrupt him and go on about how he was now to be murdered by the vigilantes. Finally Brace was gagged but still managed to cry out. At last white caps were pulled over the condemned men’s heads. At ten minutes till six the bell atop the vigilance committee headquarters sounded. With a chisel and mallet a man beneath the platform cut the rope that held shut the trap door. When it opened Hetherington and Brace dropped about six feet. The head of Brace fell forward and he did not move. Hetherington’s head fell back and he drew his legs up once or twice. The bodies were left hanging for forty minutes then cut down and eventually handed over to the coroner.

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