The carpenter was alive and his grave was empty...three days after he was pronounced legally dead.
The scene is not Roman Judea two thousand years ago, but the banks of the Pecos in 1892. This would probably be easier to understand if you knew Judge Roy Bean was involved.
The carpenter was one of a group of ten who fell over three hundred feet while building the Pecos High Bridge. And he was one of three who survived the fall and was still breathing when Judge Bean arrived on the scene. Bean was there to perform his duties as the district coroner.
The Pecos High Bridge under construction - 1892
The judge assembled a group of bridge builders as his coroner's jury and then, one by one, pronounced over each victim, "This man came to his death by them big timbers falling on him."
One of the jurymen piped up, “Them three there ain't dead!"
Being contradicted didn't sit well with "the Law West of the Pecos," even if he was standing on the east side of the stream.
“Say, you gander-eyed galoot, who is running this here inquest? Don’t you see them three fellers is bound to die? Do you think I'm damn fool enough to ride thirty miles on a sore-backed mule again to hold another inquest? Officially and legally them fellers is dead, and so I pronounce them dead, every mother's son of ‘em, and you will render it as your verdict that they came to their deaths by them big timbers a-fallin' on 'em.”
At the end of the third day, that last carpenter was laid to rest. He was one of fifteen people who lost their lives in the 87 days it took to complete the 2180 foot span. Eleven fell, three drowned and one was hit by a falling rock.
The bridge they died building would remain the tallest structure in Texas until after the first world war.
For a lot of people, crossing the Pecos High Bridge on the Southern Pacific's Sunset Route would be the closest thing to flying they would ever experience.
It was customary for the train to stop briefly so passengers could view the gorge before proceeding slowly across.
Think about riding in a swaying, creaking wooden car, on a bridge you couldn't see with the Pecos thirty-two stories below your feet. Sounds like a Six Flags-worthy attraction.
The Sunset Limited