William Rogers Tattenborn was a Russian immigrant and Gothic Old West character who wandered around the Southwest. His body contained scars from gun and knife fights. Although he wasn’t a true cowboy, he did hang around some of the cowboys who were rustlers and desperadoes. Picking up the obvious nickname of Russian Bill, while in New Mexico he became friends with Sandy King. Now, Russian Bill and Sandy engaged in some minor outlawry in the Deming, New Mexico area. It just so happened that also operating in that area was a very active vigilante group.
Sandy King was arrested by the vigilantes and tried for stealing a horse. It was decided that he should be hanged. At the end of the trial, someone pointed out that Russian Bill was in the courtroom. They decided to hang him also… not for any specific crime, but for a reason we all can understand… he was to hang “because he was a darn nuisance.”
So, on November 9, 1881, ropes were thrown over the rafters of the saloon at the Shakespeare Hotel, and the deed was done. The men were left hanging overnight so that when the morning stage arrived, the passengers would appreciate how the people of Shakespeare dealt with evildoers. To show you how tough people were back then, not only did it not scare the passengers, one passenger actually stole Russian Bill’s boots.
Some time later, the local sheriff received a letter from the Russian consul on behalf of a mother who was inquiring about her son, William Tattenborn. Not wishing to distress a mother, the sheriff replied that her son had come to his end “from a shortage of breath due to a sudden change in altitude.”