Biden targeted by decades-old horse thief uncle hoax
A black-and-white photo of a man on gallows is circulating on Facebook with the claim that it shows a distant uncle of US President Joe Biden before he was hanged for robbery. This is false, the man pictured is train robber Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum, and the photo has been repeatedly used to poke fun at politicians, with the fictitious "uncle" linked to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and others since the early 2000s.
"President Joe Biden's great, great uncle, Remus Biden, was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in 1889," claims part of a November 21, 2021 Facebook post featuring a photo showing the man on gallows while another tightens a noose around his neck.
According to the post and others that featured an identical caption, Remus Biden was sent to prison in Galveston, Texas, in 1885, escaped, was caught again by Texas Rangers, and hanged in 1889.
The posts and other online sources claim a genealogist named Judy Wallman Biden found the photo while doing research on her ancestors, and that upon realizing she shared this ancestor with the US president, she emailed him to gather more information.
The response she supposedly received is shared as an example of political spin. "Remus Biden was a famous cowboy in Texas in the 1880s. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Galveston & Southern railroad. Beginning in 1885, he devoted several years of his life to government service, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Texas Rangers. In 1889, Remus passed away suddenly during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."
However, the photo does not show a Biden relative, and has been circulating online since at least 2000 as a joke.
A Google reverse image search yields a version of it in the Denver Public Library's digital collections, where it is published under the name "Hanging of Black Jack Ketchum."
According to the Library, the photo was not taken in 1889 in Texas, but on April 26, 1901 in Clayton, New Mexico.
Thomas "Black Jack" Ketchum was a notorious outlaw in the American West who along with his brother and their gang committed several robberies and murders. The photo of his execution became famous partly because none of his executioners were experienced at hangings, which led to Ketchum's decapitation when his body fell through the gallows.
The photo and the tale of Remus has been applied to several politicians in the US and Canada, including former presidents Trump and George Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and others. Biden's version of the hoax was debunked as early as 2000 by fact-checking website Snopes, while AFP debunked the Trudeau version in 2019 as it circulated during the country's federal election.