Remus Biden ‘famous cowboy’ rumour debunked: Who was Tom Ketchum?

Bruno Cooke November 22, 2021
Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

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In 2000, Snopes felt it necessary to run a Fact Check on a rumour about a fellow apparently named Remus Rodham, who was supposed to be related to Hillary Clinton (née Rodham), whose reputation was supposed to be marred by any connection to this “fellow lacking in character”. They’ve just updated the piece to reflect changes in the political landscape. The latest (false) rumour is about “Remus Biden”, but where did it originate, and who is the real cowboy in the photo?

What’s the story going round about ‘Remus Biden’?

It appeared on Facebook five days ago, on 17 November. One version of the post received 34 likes, but there are likely to be others with more.

“Judy Wallman Biden,” runs the story, “was doing some personal work on her own family tree.” So far, so believable. But note that this is exactly the same intro as every other iteration of this story.

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The tall tale continues: “She discovered President Joe Biden’s great-great-uncle, Remus Biden, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Texas in 1889. Both Judy and President Biden share this common ancestor.”

Which other political figures has the Remus Biden joke targeted?

Previous versions of the internet prank have targeted Hillary Clinton (meet “Remus Rodham”, whose made-up misdemeanours took place in Montana); Al Gore (based on spurious research conducted by the fictitious Tipper Gore into “Gunther Gore”, horse thief); Canadian politician Stephane Dion; Ted Stevens, Republican senator of Alaska; and Donald Trump. 

Biden has actually fallen foul of this one before, in 2009, when he was vice-president. This variation of the “Remus [insert politician’s surname here]” joke is not the first, and is unlikely to be the last.

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Snopes rates the story False, meaning the primary elements of the claim are “demonstrably false”. The fact-checking website uses numerous ratings to help readers quickly recognise how credible a claim is. They run from True to False but also include Scam, Labelled Satire and Lost Legend.

Who is the real man in the ‘Remus Biden’ photo?

Per FactCheck, the man in the photo is actually Thomas Edward “Black Jack” Ketchum. He was a real train robber whose execution took place in New Mexico in 1901.

Born 31 October 1863 in San Saba County, Texas, Black Jack Ketchum and his brother Sam worked as cowboys on ranches in west Texas and northern and eastern New Mexico.

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They terrorised the trains of New Mexico, between Folsom and Des Moines. But his final attempt at a train robbery – which he carried out alone – was ill-fated. The conductor shot him in the elbow with his shotgun. 

Medics amputated his arm at San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad, Colorado. He later transferred to Clayton, New Mexico, for trial and was found guilty despite his plea of innocence. Black Jack Ketchum died by hanging – decapitation, actually, owing to the inexperienced hangmen – on the afternoon of 26 April 1901.

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.