Saturday, January 28, 2023

William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill, Hanged June 1859

William Morris is said to have been from Tipperary, Ireland. He supposedly arrived in San Francisco by way of Ireland, but some claim he was one of the last of the ex-convicts that Australia dumped on America's doorstep back in 1849. 

Of course, such tales being what they are, no one really knows if Morris did in fact belong to an Irish Gang in Boston before coming West, or if he arrived in California while running from the law for a murder that he committed in New York City. What people knew for sure is that William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill, was a man who found it easier to steal and rob, and kills, than to work for what he wanted. 

What sort of character was he? Some say he was flamboyant, someone who enjoyed playing the part of an Irish nobleman or poet. While he might have seen himself as being some sort of Irish nobility, most saw the ex-con and a con artist, as a petty thief, a known highwayman, and a murderer who took the lives of others without hesitation. Most knew he was of the lowest character. 

The San Francisco Evening Bulletin newspaper is said to have described him best when they wrote, "Morris is one of the most hardened wretches possible to conceive. He is one of the most desperate and apparently incorrigible criminals ever seen."

Even before Morris committed the murder that finally got him hanged, there was at least one story about William Morris published on September 27, 1858. That was when the Sacramento Daily Union newspaper ran the following story:

Murder -- 
On September 13th, a man named John Collins from Iowa Hill, Placer County, was killed by a man named William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill, who was recently pardoned out of the State Prison of California. It appears that the two had a quarrel which ended in an impromptu street "duel" when Collins fell mortally wounded. Five shots were interchanged between the parties.

Later, when Morris was finally hanged on June 10th, 1859, the newspapers reported that there were about one hundred observers in attendance, including reporters from several newspapers, all there to witness the execution of career criminal and murderer William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill. 

The following was reported by the Weekly Stockton Democrat newspaper a few days after his hanging:

HANGING of WM. MORRIS, alias TIPPERARY BILL -- William MORRIS was hung in San Francisco on Saturday, 10th inst., convicted of the murder of W.M. DOAKE.  The housetops surrounding the jail were covered with men, women, and children, to witness the execution. The officers cleared the housetops, but the heights overlooking the scene were covered with people. The last words he uttered, after kissing the crucifix, before the fatal noose was adjusted, were: "For all the sins I have ever committed, I pray God to forgive me; I forgive all who has wronged me; God be with you all, and pray God bless you all; good-bye."

While it is amazing how it didn't take long for William Morris to find religion while waiting for his appointment with the hangman, and yes that's exactly what did indeed happen, the story above was sent by telegraph to newspapers across the country. The following report also went out by telegraph to syndicated news agencies: 

San Francisco News — Execution of William Morris, alias Tlpperary Bill.  San Francisco, June 10th., About five hundred people congregated in and about the County Jail, today, to see the execution of William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill. There was very little excitement. At the appointed hour, 12 o'clock, the door which opens from the north side of the Jail gallery into the yard was opened, and the officers, with the criminal, accompanied by two Father Confessors, made their appearance and ascended the gallows. Officer Ellis read the warrant for the execution. After the reading was concluded, the prisoner, with a crucifix in hand, stepped forward, and, in a firm but mild voice, said: 

"Gentlemen: I wish it to be understood that I leave behind me no verbal or written statement of any part of my career. I am willing to offer my life to God, as a sacrifice for the part, and hope that it may be accepted. God be with you all and bless you. I forgive and desire to be forgiven by every person, and I ask your prayers for my forgiveness for all that is past."

Morris then stepped back, upon the drop, and, kneeling down, he repeated, with Father Peter, the Apostles' Creed, as received by the Roman Catholic Church. At the conclusion of this devotional exercise, he arose, shook hands with his spiritual advisers, and signified his readiness for death. He ascended the steps with no signs of trepidation. His was the firmest tread of the entire ascending company. 

When he arrived upon the platform, the Deputy Sheriff pinioned his arms, and the black cup was drawn over his eyes. At twenty minutes to one, Sheriff Doane unlatched the spring in the slide, and William Morris was hanging by the neck. The descent of the body was followed by a nervous straightening or stretch of the legs and a slight movement of the fingers. In less than one minute all perceptible movement, even of the slightest degree, had passed forever. 

At the expiration of twelve minutes, Dr. Ayers felt the pulse beating, but in three minutes more the blood had ceased to stir. At the end of half an hour, a plain cherry coffin was brought up the yard, and placed under the drop. In it was placed the body of the criminal. The cap was taken from his face when it was plainly discoverable that death had been caused instantly by the breaking of the neck and not by strangulation. The corpse had every appearance of that of a man who had died a natural death.

So what did William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill, finally do to reap the hangman's noose in San Francisco in June of 1859? Who did he murder in cold blood?

Well, on the 19th of November, 1858, a very angry William Morris walked into a saloon located on the Barbary Coast on Pacific Avenue between Kearny and Dupont. Two friends, Richard H. Doake (one source of five spelled his name Doak) and John Evans, had just walked into the same seedy saloon just moments before Morris. 

Both Doake and Evans watched as Morris walked in angry as all get out while looking for a certain woman. Morris is believed to have been looking for the woman who supposedly owned the place. It was almost midnight, and a saloon gal working there told Morris that the woman that he was looking for had left for the night. This made him even angrier and he became vulgar when talking to the saloon gal. 

That's when Richard Doake told Morris, "that's no way to talk to a woman." Doake was a sailor off of the three-masted bark Success. It's said the 23-year-old Doake was not a very big man, especially when compared to Morris who was described as being very tall and muscular -- an all-around big man. 

Evans saw an angry Morris turn toward Doake. Evans knew Morris was a dangerous man. And yes, it was then that Evans realizing the threat warned his friend Doake that Morris was carrying a pistol under his coat. Morris hearing Evans warning to his friend Doake didn't stop the 32-year-old Morris from challenging Doake to meet him outside in the street. With the challenge given, Morris is said to have calmly walked out of the saloon doors. Once outside, Morris called out that he was waiting. 

Evans and the saloon gal tried to convince Doake not to go outside, but he didn't listen to their good advice. It was when Doake went to the door to see if Morris was waiting as he said he would, that Morris stepped close and shot Doake in the neck -- right there at the door. 

Morris shot Doake before the young sailor ever passed through the doors and made it outside. The shot fired did not kill Richard Doake instantly. Doake staggered back, grabbed his neck, and fell. He actually lingered for a while before dying. Some say Morris held a gun on the people in the saloon to stop them from helping the dying young sailor. Once Doake was dead, Morris fled into the night -- leaving the Barbary Coast, San Francisco, and the man he murdered behind him. 

Alerted, the San Francisco Sheriff's deputies responded and started their hunt for Morris. A deputy's posse did not give up and after a few weeks, Morris was found and arrested across San Francisco Bay near the town of Benecia. Of course, as soon as he was arrested, he was put in chains and carted back to San Francisco. 

Once they were in the city, he was immediately taken to stand trial. Though he had been there before for other acts where no one stepped forward, this time witnesses came forth to say what they say when Morris murdered Richard Doake. The trial was short and the jury's decision was quick. And when the judge pronounced the sentence, that he would hang, it was reported that Morris jumped to his feet and angrily said, "Let it be soon!" 

Some say he may have regretted his request since the Sheriff put carpenters to work immediately to build a gallows to accommodate Morris's request. After that, it said Morris had a few weeks to listen to carpenters hammer and saw away while building the gallows erected right there on the grounds of the county jail. 

It was reported that he may have found religion and asked for a Catholic priest. Some said that he made his amends with God while waiting for the hangman. Of course, there were those who said that his making amends with God was just an act. They point to how he supposedly rehearsed his last words before he was hanged. Supposedly he practiced his last words as if they were the end of a stage performance and he was the star actor.

So, while Richard Doake had the misfortune of having words with a killer in a saloon on Pacific Avenue on the Barbary Coast, William Morris, alias Tipperary Bill, was convicted of murder in March of 1859 and ended up walking to the gallows in June of that same year. Believe it or not, it was a mere 90 days from the time Morris was captured to his meeting with the hangman. 

To many, it was justice served.

Tom Correa

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know there was an Old West outlaw by the name of William Morris. Nor did I know that he was called "Tipperary Bill". This is interesting, Tom. and for those of you that are thinking about whether or not I'm gonna make a movie about him in the future, the answer is yes. The film will be called, "The Legend Of Bill Morris" But the film will only be done after I do some more research and if you're interested Tom I must just put YOU in the film. I don't know if you're good at acting or not, but I'm willing to give you a try. Oh, and let me know how things are in Glencoe. Your friend as always, Benny. And to all you folks out there, remember my catchphrase. Get your own Doritos.


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