Sioux Falls in Minnehaha County, South Dakota — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
The Hanging of an Innocent Man
Early day justice Minnehaha County, Dakota Territory, overlooked innocence when gallows were erected near this site for the hanging of Thomas Egan, a pioneer immigrant farmer from County Tipperary in Ireland. Egan settled in Dakota in 1876.
Egan was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged for causing the death of his wife, Mary. She was murdered in September, 1880, on the family homestead farm 20 miles northwest of Sioux Falls, north of Hartford. She was found in the cellar of their sod home, dead from a bloody beating.
The suspicion of neighbors, which promptly spread through the community, centered on Egan. He was immediately taken into custody and placed in jail in Sioux Falls where he remained until the hanging. Many years later, a surprising revelation would prove his complete innocence.
Mary Hayden Lyons was a widow with a five year old daughter, Catherine, when she married Egan, in 1866, at Madison, Wisconsin. When the couple later moved, Catherine remained behind with relatives. Three sons, Sylvester, John and Tommy, were born to Thomas and Mary Egan before Catherine rejoined the household in Dakota Territory. Soon thereafter, on November 23, 1879, Catherine married a neighbor,
(side 2) When the day of sentencing arrived, Territorial Judge Jefferson P. Kidder asked Egan if he had anything to say. With an angry scowl he replied “Judge, I have nothing against anybody in the Court, or anybody around the country, except the Van Horns. They betrayed me and may the curse of God be upon them. I can stand it, Sir. The law may not reach the Van Horns, but the curse of God will.”
Catherine Van Horn lived 45 years with the words of her stepfather ringing in her ears. On June 3, 1927, on her death bed, at age 65, in Seattle, Washington, she confessed that she had killed her mother. She wrote, “Back in South Dakota in the early Ď80ís I killed my mother. We quarreled and I hit her again and again over the head until she died. No one ever suspected me. My stepfather, Thomas Egan, was hung for the crime. He died vowing his innocence.”
It took three drops from the hangmanís trap door on July 13, 1882, to end the life of Thomas Egan. On the first drop, the rope broke and Egan was carried back to the platform. On the second drop, a deputy inadvertently broke Eganís fall and the hanging
Erected 1993 by Minnehaha County and South Dakota Historical Societies, and the Minnehaha Century Fund. (Marker Number 544.)
Location. 43° 33.117′ N, 96° 43.712′ W. Marker is in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in Minnehaha County. Marker is on North Main Avenue south of West 5th Street, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is located beside the sidewalk, near the northeast corner of the Minnehaha County Building. Marker is at or near this postal address: 413 North Main Avenue, Sioux Falls SD 57104, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Dakota Iron Store (within shouting distance of this marker); Divorce Capital (within shouting distance of this marker); President Woodrow Wilson (within shouting distance of this marker); The Coliseum (within shouting distance of this marker); Jewett Bros. & Jewett Warehouse The Andrew Kuehn Company (about 500 feet away); President William McKinley (about 500 feet away); Richard Franklin Pettigrew (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Sioux Falls.
Also see . . .
1. Famous South Dakota Capital Cases. The second person executed in the land that is now South Dakota was Thomas Egan, who was convicted of killing his wife. He was "hanged" three times on the 13th of July 1882; the rope broke on the first attempt, and on the second attempt the rope did not break his neck. Only on the third attempt did the execution go as planned. Years later, his stepdaughter admitted to committing the crime when she was on her death bed. (Submitted on October 4, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
2. Looking back: First Sioux Falls execution took three tries. A noose was ordered from a company in Lincoln, Neb., that manufactured items for just such an occasion. It was woven of silk and hemp and came accompanied by a written guarantee. The rope arrived late on the night before the scheduled hanging. It was not tested. Thomas Egan was given a hearty last breakfast on the morning of his execution, July 13, 1882. He was read the death warrant at 9:10 a.m. His arms were tied, and he was walked to the gallows. At 9:34 a.m., he was placed in position on the trapdoor with the noose adjusted on his neck. At 9:35 a.m., Sheriff Dickson sprung the trap. Egan dropped 5 1/2 feet, at which point the rope snapped with “a report like a percussion cap.” Egan landed on his feet and fell on his face and stomach, all the while emitting “a most blood-curdling noise.” (Submitted on October 4, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.)
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Credits. This page was last revised on October 5, 2018. This page originally submitted on October 1, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 52 times since then and 9 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on October 3, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. 2, 3, 4. submitted on October 4, 2018, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.