Monday, May 6, 2019

The Only Woman Hanged in Arizona

Don't be deceived by Eva Dugan's sweet smile. She was a rough woman who lived a hard life.

Little is known about Eva Dugan's early years, except that she was born in Salisbury, Missouri. After trekking north during the Klondike Gold Rush, Eva became a cabaret singer, and in 1878, she resided in Juneau, Territory of Alaska. At the age of twenty, Eva took the alias Claw-Finger Kitty while she was working as a prostitute.

Public Domain image

At some point, Eva settled in Pima County in southern Arizona. In 1926, she went to work as a housekeeper for a chicken rancher named Andy Mathis. He was reported to be a cranky, old tightwad, and the two butted heads more than once. Just two months later, he fired her for unknown reasons.

Shortly after Eva's sudden termination, Andrew Mathis disappeared, along with his Dodge Coupe and some personal possessions, including his cash box. A search of the ranch turned up a charred ear trumpet, which Mr. Mathis used because he was hard of hearing.

In January 1927, Eva claimed that "Jack," a teenage boy who worked on the ranch, accidentally killed Mathis with a retaliatory punch after Mathis beat him for refusing to milk a cow. They stole Mathis' car, and somewhere in Texas the two parted company. Jack disappeared soon after and was never found.

Lawmen tracked Eva down in New York and brought her back to Arizona, where she was charged with auto theft. Nine months later, a hunter found Mathis’ remains in a shallow grave on the ranch. Eva was charged with murder. The prosecution proved to the jury's satisfaction that Dugan had murdered Mathis with an ax, and she was sentenced to die by hanging.
 After her conviction, she told the jurors, “Well, I’ll die with my boots on, an’ in full health. An’ that’s more’n most of you old coots’ll be able to boast on.” While awaiting her hanging, Dugan gave interviews to the press for $1.00 each and sold handkerchiefs, which she knitted while imprisoned to pay for her own coffin. 

Public Domain image

As they were walking her to the scaffold, Eva instructed the guards to not grip her arms so tightly, lest the witnesses think she was afraid. On February 21, 1930, Eva Dugan was executed. Unfortunately, the hangman miscalculated her weight, and she was decapitated. A female witnesses commented with admiration, “She died like a man.”

Eva Dugan was the first woman to be executed in Arizona and the last to be hanged. As a result of what happened to her, Arizona switched from executing people by hanging to using the gas chamber.

Eva remains famous as the only woman in Arizona history to be legally hanged. During her adventuresome life, Eva married five times, and one way or another, all of her husbands went

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The War Between the States may have ended, but prejudice is still strong among the families journeying together on a wagon train headed down the Santa Fe Trail. Julia Scott is traveling to New Mexico with her father and younger brother. Her pa fought for the North in the war where her two older brothers lost their lives. Pa is looking for a fresh start in a new place, but Julia just wants him to be happy again.

Taylor Marshall, a Southerner who fought for the Confederates, is on his way to Colorado to raise horses. He’s strongly attracted to Julia, but her father adamantly forbids them to talk to one  another. Circumstances continually throw Julia and Taylor together, and their attraction grows. Will a forbidden romance bloom? Or will they go their separate ways when the trail splits?

Vickie McDonough is the best-selling author of 50 books and novellas. Vickie grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead, she married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams penning romance stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie’s books have won numerous awards including the Booksellers Best and the Inspirational Choice awards. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, doing stained glass projects, gardening watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website:


  1. Well! She doesn't sound like someone I'd like to get into an argument with, that's for sure! Thanks for the post.

  2. Replies
    1. It's crazy, isn't it. I wish we know more about her childhood and what drove her to become the woman she did.

  3. Wow, I agree with Connie. Not someone I would tick off. She sounded tough. Thanks for sharing this fascinating information.