Page 1

Behind

San Quentin’s

The History of a Prison and it’s Prisoners

California’s First State Prison 1851 - 1900

WILLIAM B. SECREST

Craven Street Books, Fresno,California


For John Boessenecker... premier Western historian and writer, thoughtful and generous friend.


The Garden of Death Safe bound by locking waters Within the Golden Gate, A Fortress stands, remote and gray, A prison of the State. The flanking walls that round it sweep A massive portal scars, Where warders, grim, their vigils keep With locks and bolts and bars―

Through old San Quentin’s garden they led him, to his doom. While rose and lily sighed for him An exquisite perfume: And in the prison-yard beyond, Men spoke with baited breath, Of laws that mock the law of God, And strangle men to death―

And flaunting o’er the battlements Floats “Freedom’s” stripes and stars!

Of men who send God-given life to godless, brutal death!

In old San Quentin’s garden The morn is sweet with blooms: A little square in God’s pure air Amid a thousand tombs: And in a fountain’s mirrored depths, As you are passing by. Bare, mocking walls on either hand Seem reaching to the sky―

O’er old San Quentin’s garden A stately pine-tree sighs. A lonely captive from the wild Where Tamalpais lies; And seated by its rugged trunk A convict, old and wan. Was reading from a little book He held in palsied hand;―

And through that glimpse of paradise A youth was led―to die.

And on the title page I read: “The Brotherhood of Man.”

Above San Quentin’s garden The loop-hole grates look down, Beyond the wall and castled keep Where shotted cannon frown; And just within a little gate Along a steel-bound tier. In cells of death, men hold their breath When unseen steps draw near For death is in the air they breathe, And in each sound they hear!

From

Prison Verse by Royall Douglas, No. “19173” San Quentin The Alturia Press, 1911,


Contents The Garden of Death (poem).................................................................... Acknowledgments....................................................................................... Introduction................................................................................................. CHAPTER ONE

The Journey of the Waban.....................................

CHAPTER TWO

A Cellblock Called the Stones..............................

CHAPTER THREE

Breakouts and Bandit Gangs................................

CHAPTER FOUR

The Big Jailor.............................................................

CHAPTER FIVE

The State Takes Over ..............................................

CHAPTER SIX

The Chellis Break......................................................

CHAPTER SEVEN

Those Troublesome Women...................................

CHAPTER EIGHT

The Stage Robbers Ball...........................................

CHAPTER NINE

Escape as a Fine Art.................................................

CHAPTER TEN

Hanged by the Neck until Dead..........................

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Incorrigibles.......................................................

Afterward........................................................................................................ Bibliography.................................................................................................... Index...............................................................................................................


Acknowledgments I must thank my son first of all. He perhaps sensed that I would

someday write a history of San Quentin. Knowing my interest in the subject, over the years he has given me gifts of many rare prison documents that I would never have purchased for myself. He has also been my companion on research trips, a critic when needed and always a ready source of ideas, history and helpful suggestions. A good friend of many years, John Boessenecker is a much respected historian, writer and collector. When informed that I was working on a history of San Quentin, he packaged up his own research on the subject and sent it right off to me. That’s the kind of friend he is. John and Roger McGrath both critically read the manuscript, providing editing skills, broad historical knowledge and much good advice. Dick Nelson, who provided research materials over the years, originally agreed to read the manuscript and write the introduction. Both as guard and Associate Warden, Mr. Nelson was a leading spirit in founding the San Quentin Museum Association in 1986. Sadly, Mr. Nelson passed away before completion of the manuscript. I am particularly grateful to Sean Ryan, a descendant of James Madison Estill, who provided me with genealogical sources, as well as a copy of his ancestor’s daguerreotype portrait. My thanks also to Estill Putney, for sharing a treasured image with a stranger. For over fifty years it has been my great pleasure to make periodic trips to Sacramento for research in the State Library and State Archives. The knowledgeable staffs of both of these institutions have always promptly responded to my requests for material whether by email or personal visits. My grateful thanks to you all. I am also indebted to the late Kevin Mullen, the late Ron Mahoney, Angus McFarlane, Phil Reader and the Society of California Pioneers. I owe a particular debt to my wonderful wife who does all the work aound the house so I can write. Thanks Shirl. You will always be the light and love of my life. William B. Secrest

NOT


Introduction P

risons are one of the nastier aspects of civilization. They have always been with us in one form or another, something we do not want to know or care about, yet something that cannot be ignored. It’s where the bad guys are deposited so they will not be able to plunder their neighbors. But no matter how many prisons we have and how many criminals are locked up, crime never seems to change much. We try to ignore these things, but we can’t because we are the ones paying the bills. Meanwhile, the convicts use the prison’s muscle-building exercise equipment to prepare for another assault on the public upon their release. It is a situation that never changes and seems to have no answers. The only thing we can be sure of is that it will cost more next year. And yet, with all the frustration, the public seems to have a fascination for prisons. Is it the concept of the power involved to put people behind bars? Or is it simply the fact that we all feel safer knowing so many bad guys are locked up? Whatever the mystique of prisons may be, the drama of the convict props up and surrounds some of our most powerful literature. Such classics as The Man in the Iron Mask and The Count of Monte Cristo come to mind. On some level we also relate to true prison memoirs. Perhaps we wonder at the horror of surviving in such an atmosphere, although we also instinctively know that we are not capable of painting ourselves into such a corner. Or are we? While waiting in prison to hang in 1791, Whiting Sweeting wrote a seventy-two page narrative that went through eleven editions in eight years. Since then there has accumulated a long list of other cathartic prison memoirs, few of which were written by people who thought they could ever wind up in a prison cell. In the nineteenth century the United States was a young country, originally forged in the image of Mother England. Seventeenth century Europe punished minor crimes and misdemeanors by the stocks, whippings, dunking, branding and the cropping of ears. More serious crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, treason, burglary, forgery and counterfeiting were punishable by hanging. The reason for such


stiff penalties was simply that in many countries police forces had not yet been established. In England there was no effective constabulary until Peel’s Metropolitan Police Act of June 1829. Too, hangings were usually attended by huge crowds and were thought to be a deterrent to crime. They were considered as entertainment as well – never mind that pickpockets in the crowds, mused one historian, probably stole more than the victim had purloined during his whole lifetime. Local gaols and dungeons were utilized as holding cells and to hold political prisoners. The new American colonies mirrored their European origins, but as early as 1764, Italy’s Cesare Beccaria was promoting new thinking in his An Essay on Crimes and Punishment. Beccaria had concluded that indiscriminate severity and inconsistency in the application of criminal laws in Europe hampered law and order. He concluded that harsh laws promoted disrespect for authority and the public was thereby hesitant in cooperating with authority to bring petty thieves to the gallows. Failure to differentiate degrees in wrongdoing, he argued, was an invitation to more serious crime. Laws must be “clear and simple” while “the entire force of a nation is united in their defense.” It was a start, but then as now, the public just wanted law-breakers out of their way. Except for relatives and friends, many people cared little for what was done with them. England had long suffered from a lack of gaols to contain her criminals. For years they had utilized out-of-service naval or merchant ships to house convicts, anchoring these “hulks,” as they called them, in bays or rivers. The prisoners were then put to work on nearby public works projects. But there were comAn eighteenth century British ship plaints; these hulks were unsightly converted into a convict hulk to house prisoners. Author’s Collection and escapes were frequent. Parliament did not want to spend any more money on criminals, but they finally came up with a solution. In 1597 an act was passed whereby Britain’s “Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars” be banished “beyond the seas.” To obviate the


increasingly noxious hangings of felons, in 1618 a constant flood of transported prisoners began sailing for the New World to be utilized as workers in the colonies from Massachusetts to New York and further south. As in England, unseaworthy British warships had been fitted up as housing for these prisoners and anchored in bays along the east coast. The labor of the convicts was sold to local farmers and plantation owners. These European convicts, for many foreigners were in English jails, were among the early, first settlers in America’s “New World” colonies. But storm clouds were gathering over the villages and broad fields of the new world—and they were not of the climate variety. If the Americans were ill-prepared to fight a war for Independence in 1776, the British were also seriously hampered by the great distance between the colonies and England. And there were other grave problems, particularly after 1778 when the French entered the war. When New York City fell to the British soon after the Battle of Long Island in August 1776, the Redcoats were further encumbered by thousands of American prisoners. There were at least sixteen British prison hulks in Wallabout Bay on the East River for most of the war. When these became jammed with prisoners, the British seized local churches, sugar factories and warehouses where additional prisoners were kept. Most of these makeshift prisons were tantamount to dying and going to hell. In charge of these hapless prisoners was Provost Marshal William Cunningham who connived with several commissary officers to pocket most of the prisoner food funds and instead supply a bare minimum of rotten rations for their helpless charges. Given little food and water, the health of the prisoners quickly deteriorated and they were soon dying off from starvation, dysentery, typhoid, and contagious diseases of all kinds. There were 4,435 American battle deaths during the War for Independence, while deaths in these hell-hole British prisons has been estimated at between 7,000 and 11,000 during the same period. Unthinkable as it seems, it is almost impossible not to conclude that an insidious British extermination plan was put into effect to get rid of these despised rebels in their care. The same scenario took place in Britain’s Dartmoor Prison during the War of 1812. After the American Revolution, Britain could no longer continue


their coastal prison hulks and convict cargo in the new United States of America. With their rotting hulks and gaols overflowing at home, and America now exempt from the continued dumping of felons on their shores, Britain looked about for other distant colonies to take up the slack. They soon settled on New South Wales (Australia). In 1787 the first fleet of prisoners sailed for the far Pacific. British sugar plantations in Jamaica and Barbados also received their allotted share of convicts and prisoners-of-war. The British were not only getting rid of their criminals, but their prisons as well. The convict pioneers of New South Wales, however, would have to be self sufficient. The newly established United States was a potpourri of local punishments utilized for protection against criminals. In the early Massachusetts colonies, pillories were still in use, as well as chaining to trees, branding, ducking stools, and whipping posts. All were public exhibitions in the hope that it would deter crime. The first jail in New York was reportedly of Dutch genesis and built in 1642. Called the “Stadt Huys,” the building also had rooms for courts and a tavern. A new City Hall was completed in 1699 and in early 1704 was adapted to use as the new City Jail. What has been characterized as the “first American penitentiary, if not the first in the world,” was esPhiladelphia’s Eastern Penitentiary was a massive fortress, tablished in Philadel- opened in 1829. Author’s Collection phia in 1790. Certainly the term “penitentiary” seems to stem from the Pennsylvania Quakers and their belief in “penitence” and self-examination as a means to salvation. Here, reportedly, the idea of exterior egress cells divided by a central corridor inside was first introduced in prison construction. Too, solitary confinement was adapted, as was a separation of the sexes according to age and type of offense. Medieval castles, with their attendant dungeons, were often the architectural inspiration for these early prison strongholds.


New York continued to lead the way, however. Newgate Prison was erected in a rural area now encompassing Greenwich Village. It was completed in 1796 on four acres overlooking the Hudson River. The Doric-style building was two story, with a cupola and surrounded by a stone wall ranging from 14 to 23 feet high. Basically patterned after the Philadelphia model, Newgate consisted of 54 12 x18 foot rooms designed for eight persons each. Fourteen solitary cells allowed the new prison to accommodate 446 prisoners. New prisons were authorized in New York at Auburn in 1821 and later at Sing Sing, which replaced the outdated Newgate in 1824. Always unpopular because of the cost and the purpose, state penitentiaries were usually established, albeit hesitantly, in states as the need became apparent. Later prisons in the West, such as California, had much to learn from these predecessors and should have had an easier beginning. But, because of the lack of interest and funds, it was usually years before makeshift beginnings could be overcome. To house some 30 state prisoners, Kentucky established the first penitentiary west of the Allegheny Mountains at Frankfort in 1799. When the Missouri penitentiary was established in 1836, it became the initial state prison west of the Mississippi River. In 1839, only one year after achieving territorial status, Iowa erected its first penitentiary patterned after New York’s Auburn prison. Iowa’s statehood was still some seven years in the future. Arkansas’ earliest state prison was established in 1840 at Little Rock. Prison architecture and procedures were frequently adapted from preceding models, with various adjustments and improvements by wardens and prison boards. From a distance these early prisons might suggest a cluster of university buildings, or a medieval walled fortress. Gradually, treatment shifted from isolation and solitary confinement, to classifying the prisoners and providing rewards for good behavior and schools for the illiterate. The utilization of these idle convict hordes has always been a problem. Eventually, legislators finally settled on the British system and passed laws allowing convict labor to be used to help pay the prison bills. Factories were set up to manufacture goods within the prison walls, while gangs of convicts


could be leased out for road construction and farm work. Prisoners finally were seen as paying their own way, but it was too good to be true. Now local merchants and manufacturers began complaining that they could not compete with goods produced by cheap convict labor. This was eventually resolved, in California at least, by laws allowing prisons to only market their products to the state. As early as the 18th Century there were great concerns about prisons and their hapless captives. The rich seldom visited prisons and few were concerned for the poor and the criminal inmates. In the United States, the Prison Society of Philadelphia published The Pennsylvania Journal of Prison Discipline in the 1840s. The Society monitored state and local jails, as well as the legislature, reporting their findings in their journal. With little in the state laws to regulate such institutions, the Society had scant powers, but it was a start. West Coast prisons were based on the penal institutions in the East, but because California’s machinery of state was being established at the same time, funds were sparse and work was coarse and hurried. The only circumstance all could agree on was that, despite those idyllic days of ’49 when everyone was working too hard to worry about theft, a continuing horde of newcomers from around the world was generating serious crime problems. By 1850 California was a state of the Union, but still quite primitive as a society despite its burgeoning towns and cities. Disappointed miners, ex-convicts from the Australian penal colonies, thugs from the slum districts of New York, deserters from the abandoned ships in San Francisco Bay, and con men and thieves from around the world were in California now and, for many, digging for gold was the farthest thing from their minds. The story of California’s first state prison is more than just the chronological and statistical annals of an institution. First and foremost, it is a story of people—flawed people, heroic people and ultimately, desperate people. Those wardens, officers, guards and criminals behind the stones, bricks and walls of San Quentin were in their own way all prisoners, as well as pioneers, of a great, new state.


CHAPTER ONE

The Journey of the Waban She was a bark of 268 tons. Built in Maine in 1836, there was little

to distinguish her from other ships of the same designation. Waban was just another workhorse of the fleet of merchant vessels in the shipping trade and this hot summer of 1849 had recently returned to Maine from a voyage to Rio de Janeiro. Now moored in New York harbor, Waban, named after a noted Maine Indian, was being hastily refitted and provisioned for the burgeoning California trade.

A great Gold Rush was underway. At the end of the Mexican War, Colonel Richard B. Mason, First U.S. Dragoons, arrived in California as provisional governor. When gold was discovered at Sutter’s mill in early 1848, Colonel Mason hastened to verify the discovery with a trip to the new mines. Guided by the discoverer himself, James W. Marshall, Colonel Mason was astounded by the hordes of miners lining the banks of the American River. When he was shown samples of the gold being dug up, he collected specimens and prepared a report to his superiors in Washington. With the report went a Chinese tea chest containing some 230 ounces of gold dust and various quartz samples. “The truth,” reported an excited Colonel Mason, “would be miraculous to one who had not seen with his own eyes.” Word of the gold discovery had already reached the East and was widely reported in the press, but it was not at first taken seriously. In his report to Congress on December 5, 1848, however, President Polk validated the rumors with Mason’s report and word was soon being circulated around the globe. Now, the whole world was surging to California where, if you could believe press accounts, riches were practically bursting from the ground. From China, the Pacific islands, South America, Europe and Great Britain, people from all stations of life clambered aboard ships


of every description to get to the promised land. Most had no idea what to do when they got there, much less any conception of just what hard work was involved in mining. Others knew what a primitive land California was likely to be. They knew the easier ways to make their fortune, by profiteering in shop keeping, politics, or providing professional services of some kind. Others, gamblers, thieves, and rascals of every description, came to take the gold from the rightful owners by any means at their command. NEW YORK WEEKLY HERALD, NOVEMBER 17, 1849:

The California Excitement—Increased Mania—The rush of emigration to California has broken out afresh. The two steamers which sailed on Tuesday were full of passengers, and all could not be taken. The last accounts which we received from California have caused this great additional excitement. It appears that further and greater discoveries of gold have been made here… .

Waban’s owners quickly heeded the siren call to the far coast and began loading their craft for the golden market waiting in California. There were few sawmills in those golden hills, so Waban was loaded principally with lumber. On September first, twelve passengers were welcomed aboard and Captain Severn signaled for the lines to be slipped and the bark edged out into the current of Upper New York Bay. Dodging the many small craft that were constantly passing from shore to shore, Waban was soon in the choppy waters of the Atlantic A three-masted bark of Waban heading for Rio. class. Author’s collection.

After restocking with fire wood for cooking, fresh water and provisions at Rio de Janeiro, Waban resumed her journey in early January 1850. Rounding the unpredictable waters of Cape Horn at the tip of South America, Captain Severn made several other stops along the Pacific coast. After a ten day stop at Valparaiso, Chile, for supplies, Waban continued the last leg of her journey. On June 8, 1850, Captain Severn took his bark past Point Lobos and through the Golden Gate to anchor in San Francisco Bay. It had been a long passage – 280 days – and Waban had reached her last port in the land of gold. Captain Severn dropped anchor on the outside fringe of a great mass of abandoned ships in a forest of uncanvassed masts. The ghostly collec-


tion of marooned sailing vessels was the result of mass desertions by both captains and crews upon arrival. They had all, seamen and officers, headed inland for the mining region. As Captain Severn went ashore with the passengers, it was learned the town had already burned down twice. It was rapidly being rebuilt, however, with many brick structures scattered among the tents and wooden buildings. Six days after Waban’s arrival, a large section of the business district burned down again. The vitality of these Argonauts was amazing. With hardly a pause, new and better buildings were going up anew. San Francisco visitor William Perkins witnessed, and commented on, the May fourth fire. WILLIAM PERKINS’ JOURNAL, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, 1964:

The town of San Francisco, or rather the city, for it begins to merit the latter name, is… greatly improved within the last year. Twelve months ago there were only two or three of the very old adobe houses of the ancient port, and one timber house, the ‘Parker Hotel,’… . The rest of the town was composed of the mud huts of the natives, and thousands of tents, canvas and brush houses, of the new comers. Now, a space of about forty acres is completely built up with good houses, some of the adobe, some of brick, some of iron, but unfortunately, most as yet of wood. A favorite speculation, from the beginning of the gold fever, has been the sending out of readymade wooden houses, and there is scarcely a point on the river [Sacramento] where they are not to be seen. Half of San Francisco at this epoch is composed of these inflammable tinder boxes.

The fires stirred immediate mumblings of arson, but most knew that under the circumstances it would be more notable if there were no fires, considering the predominant wooden construction. Others had noticed the arrival of ships from the Australian penal colonies filled with Ticket-of-Leave men (paroled ex-convicts) and drew their own conclusions. The truth was perhaps that both criminal arsonists were active and San Francisco in 1849 was growing fast but it was a wooden firetrap that was destroyed several times. Author’s Collection


accidental fires were taking place. From all accounts, Australian criminals, or others, were certainly involved in stealing goods and profiting by the conflagrations however they were initiated. The exasperation of the populace was well expressed by a prominent lawyer of the city. SAN FRANCISCO ALTA CALIFORNIA, DECEMBER 16, 1850:

The motive for the perpetration of the crime [arson] in this country, and especially in this city, seems to be to afford an opportunity for plunder and house robbery while the occupants are engaged in extinguishing the conflagration. I would suggest one mode by which the incendiary may meet the reward of his crime, and it is the only one by which he incurs any chance at punishment. “When any person shall be caught in the act of stealing at a fire, let him receive Lynch law, and suffer death. One or two evidences of this determination on the part of this community will end the disastrous fires to which we have been subjected during the past year.”

In truth, San Francisco as the principal settlement in the new territory, was suffering from an unrestrained growth and municipal and state government would be playing catch-up for years. Although statehood was achieved in September 1850, the turbulent times allowed less than savory characters to be in charge of the body politic. No one seemed to realize that a great gold rush was also triggering changes from an agrarian to an urban society, creating further problems in the new state. New York Tammany Hall thugs controlled the first elections in San Francisco and the city would suffer for it in many ways during the tumultuous 1850s. Crime was quite naturally a side effect of a society struggling to establish itself in such an amalgamation of nationalities and adverse situations. To make matters worse, California was a United States possession, but at this point was neither a territory or a state. Mexican law was still being utilized and frustration led to frequent shootings and lynchings. California had to muddle through this period with little help from the federal government. In San Francisco during the summer of 1849, a group of discharged New York soldiers banded together into a group calling themselves “Hounds.” Made up of recruits from the New York slums and Five Points area, these thugs marched around town in a troop, intimidating saloon and restaurant owners. On July 15, on the pretext of collecting a debt, the gang assaulted a camp of Chileans on Telegraph Hill. One man was shot, many were chased through the streets by riders shoot-


ing at their heels, while others were severely beaten and women reportedly raped. Much property was also destroyed or stolen. Refusing to be further intimidated, a group made up of Sam Brannan, lawyer Hall McAllister, Sam Ward, A.J. Ellis and others formed a posse and rounded up all the “Hounds” they could find, then lodged them in the brig of a naval warship anchored in the Bay. A committee of three judges tried leader Sam Roberts first, then all of his followers in hearings that lasted several days. Convicted and ordered out of town, all the “Hounds” were threatened with hanging if they ever returned. It was all done outside the law, since municipal authorities were inefficient and there was not yet a serviceable jail, much less a dependable police force. The message was clear. This was the beginning of vigilante law in the Bay City. There were jails scattered throughout California, but they were mostly of adobe and untrustworthy, at best. Mexicans, as a rule, did not believe in jails. They tended toward firing squads for capital punishment, while sentencing those guilty of lesser crimes to public works or fines. Flogging was also utilized. Now, in the mines, lynchings were frequent, as well as ear-cropping and branding. Meanwhile, in early 1850, the Graham House, a large, four-story building on the corner of Pacific and Kearny streets had been purchased for use as a city hall. The basement of the building was also remodeled to contain a police station and six cells that could house 24 prisoners. It was the only safe place of incarceration in the city, but it too was being vacated on a regular basis by escaping felons. Construction of a San Francisco county jail was grudgingly begun in late 1850, but was soon halted for lack of funds. At this same time, city councilman Sam Brannan reported that he had purchased the brigantine Euphemia for $3,500 from a fellow councilman. To fit it up as a prison ship cost another $8,000. Apparently, no one thought to ask the impetuous Brannan why he had paid all that money for a ship, when the bay was filled with hundreds of vessels, many of whose captains and crews had abandoned them. Later, all these ships were stripped of their iron, then burned and sunk to clear the harbor. Nevertheless, San Francisco now had a place to store their ever-expanding criminal population. Too, the hulk was also used to house longer term state prisoners. Anchored at various wharves in the Bay at this time


were other old ships being used as warehouses and saloons. Councilman Brannan, a renegade Mormon, was an example of the type of politician running wild in San Francisco. Brannan, along with other councilmen, had obtained city lots at their own prices, then had wharves built on their bay front property that further increased the value. The year 1849 also saw the establishment of a thirty-man police force in San Francisco, including a chief, assistant chief and three sergeants. But problems persisted in the criminal justice system. One way or another, the bad guys were still escaping from the station house jail. If they weren’t carving their way out through the floor or walls, lawyers were doing it through the courts. Prosecuting attorneys were poorly paid, while criminal lawyers could ask high fees and get them from their burglar clients. San Franciscans looked at all this in a quiet fury… and remembered the Hounds. There were constant complaints about the inefficient and spendthrift municipal government, as well as the state legislature. It was expensive to build a new territory. Everyone knew this. In San Francisco, the frequent fires, construction of wharves, roads and other infrastructure was a bottomless pit of taxation. All goods and supplies had to be imported and marked up accordingly, while officials voted themselves handsome and exorbitant salaries. For many, California seemed to be a nightmare rather than a treasure chest. On October 18, 1850, the U.S. Mail steamer Oregon steamed into San Francisco Bay firing pre-arranged salutes and flying every flag and pennant in its lockers. The new state of California had been admitted into the Union the previous month. Thousands rushed down to the wharves to welcome the great news. Now, they were a part of the United States. Now, things were bound to improve. Meanwhile, San Francisco continued to grow. In 1849 the city contained a floating population of some 2,000. By the following year one resident estimated about 40,000 living there, with about 36,000 arriving by sea that year from foreign ports. The Alta California newspaper in 1851 estimated the city’s population at 23,000. Individual groups of Foreigners – Chileans, Chinese, Australians and others - camped around Telegraph Hill and the waterfront. Saloons, auction houses and gambling halls’ lights splashed onto the crowds and horses that moved


through the, alternately dusty or muddy, streets. Since the Hounds affair, the public had been content to let the beefed up police force handle crime in the city. That had changed, however, on the night of February 15, 1851, when prominent merchant Charles Jansen was assaulted in his shop and robbed of nearly two thousand dollars. Burglaries, muggings, and holdups of travelers on the road were one thing, but the robbery and beating of a popular merchant like Jansen in his place of business struck a particular chord of outrage. As he had done after the Hounds incident, Sam Brannan was again instrumental in assembling a new vigilante group. There is no need to go into the reign of the 1851 vigilantes that now took the stage in gold rush San Francisco. Many books, articles, and scholars have argued the motives and morals of that committee. The truth is that perhaps given all the circumstances that came together that summer, something had to give. Aside from the general crime rate and political dissatisfaction, San Francisco had its fifth great fire on May 4, 1851. More than three-quarters of the city was destroyed, involving a loss of many lives and ten or twelve million dollars. Again, Australian arsonists were blamed, the claim bolstered by a report that ten thousand dollars worth of goods were found in houses occupied by Sydney immigrants. Whatever the cause, the disaster added to the feeling of helplessness generated by the Jansen robbery. On June 10, 1851, another Sydney convict named John Jenkins stole a safe from a shipping office on the Central Wharf. As he rowed across the bay, he was spotted by some other boatmen who had heard the shouts of the shipping office agent. Captured and taken back to the wharf, Jenkins was given a severe beating, then led off towards the police station. The group was interrupted by a crowd of the newly-formed vigilantes and that night he was hanged amidst a huge crowd in the town square. When James (English Jim) Stuart, one of the principals in the Jansen robbery, was finally captured, he was taken from the authorities and hanged on a wharf on July 11, 1851. In his long confession he detailed his many crimes and fingered some of his associates resulting in the hanging of two more of the gang the following month. As an indication of the perceived significance of their actions, the vigilantes performed one more public service before fading from view.


The hanging of Jenkins on the San Francisco plaza. Annals of San Francisco.. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA, JULY 13, 1851:

County Jail—The Vigilance Committee are very busily employed in collecting subscriptions for the completion of the County Jail. Already, in twenty-four hours labor, nearly six thousand dollars have been pledged, and there is little doubt that the fifteen thousand dollars pledged by the Committee will be raised. No person is allowed to give over three dollars, in order to give all an opportunity to lend a hand in this truly noble work.

Although built in periodic spurts, San Francisco would soon have a new county jail. The events in San Francisco had not been overlooked by the state legislature, some of whom must have been shaking in their boots for fear the vigilantes would now be coming after them! They had better do something… and fast! Jails were the problem. At the moment the best jail in the state was the San Francisco county jail, and it consisted of the old ship Euphemia, anchored in San Francisco Bay. How long this would last was anyone’s guess – already dozens of prisoners had escaped from the old hulk. There had been a growing awareness of this lack of a state prison, however. In April 1850, the legislature had passed a bill declaring all county jails were now also state prisons. By the end of the year all the larger California cities – San Francisco, San Jose, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego – had county jails. As state prisons, they were also authorized to utilize the prisoners on public works. With a new state to establish, it was easy for the legislature to ignore criminals and prisons to pursue projects that would generate jobs, industry, and progress. The county jails and the Euphemia were just a


stop gap for a problem that could not be ignored for long. “The need,” opined the editor of the Sacramento Daily Union in September 1851, “of suitable places of confinement and houses of correction becomes more and more apparent every day.” California, however, was the land of gold and more importantly, opportunity. One of those who saw riches, other than those that must be dug from the ground, was a Kentuckian named James Madison Estill. Born in Madison, Kentucky, in 1811, Estill brought his wife, Martha, and two children to Missouri in 1841 where he established a grain mill and worked for the government at Fort Leavenworth. The couple had four more children in Missouri, but after some business reverses Estill was looking around to move again when the great California Gold Rush caught the attention of the world. Informing his wife he would send for her and the family when he was settled, Estill put together a company and travelled overland heading West with father-in-law Archibald Woods, a lawyer and judge. They were accompanied by their good friend, James W. Denver, the total number in their party being thirty-four. Fifteen Estill slaves were also included in the caravan. They were contracted to work for Estill for two years, after which they would be set free. The slaves were in charge of one John M. Gray who had been employed by Estill in Missouri. Eight members of the wagon train reportedly died on the way and were buried in the wilderness. Estill’s first order of business, however, was to initiate a mail service between California and the East. As he did in all his business ventures, Estill sought a prominent partner to bolster his enterprise and share expenses. He contacted Brigham Young in Salt Lake City. The Mormon leader was not interested, however, and Estill moved on. Estill & Co. Express delivered several wagons of mail, but the scheme was premature and was soon abandoned. It would later be charged that a wagon load of east-bound letters was dumped on the prairie and burned. While camped at Pacific Springs during June and July 1850, Estill engaged a passing violinist to give a concert for all the wagon trains camped nearby. Charging a dollar a head, it was a routine pursued throughout his life to make a profit out of every situation. During the entertainment he also readily dispensed a supply of cigars and brandy at inflated prices.


Arriving in California in October 1850, Estill purchased two property deeds in Solano County, where he established a ranch and likely put his slaves to work under overseer John Gray. Estill and his friend Denver also became active in Democratic Party politics. In purchasing cattle for his ranch, Estill met with a rancher who owned much of the county, General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo. Truly a legendary character of old California, Vallejo possessed more than 175,000 acres of land grants in Solano County and seemed to be just the star to which Estill should attach himself. Born in Monterey in 1808, Vallejo came from an illustrious, military family and was himself a colorful soldier, rancher, and friend to the Americans now flooding into California. Although cruelly participating in the early subjection of the Indians, in later years the Vallejos proved to be helpful and friendly to the native wards in their care. Both Mariano and his brother Salvador were generous and enjoyed giving big dinner parties for their friends. It was perhaps at one of these functions that rancher Mariano Vallejo met opportunist James Estill. There was an instant rapport between the two, each realizing that they could be a bridge to the other’s culture and business circumstances. The two were soon talking politics and exchanging ideas on how to best take advantage of the opportunities being presented in the new state. In early 1851 Vallejo presented a plan to the state legislature to establish and maintain a state prison. Although benevolent by nature, Vallejo’s major concern was building up a city named after him. The six counGeneral Vallejo found ty jails declared state prisons were merely a stopgap that trouble and Estill solution to the worsening criminal problem. Vallejo’s went hand-in-hand. Author’s Collection. plan included giving the state $137,000 in exchange for the legislature moving the state capitol from San Jose to a city he proposed building on the northeastern shore of San Francisco Bay. Located in Solano County, the city was originally to be named “Eureka,” but was changed to “Vallejo” after its founder. Aside from all this, Vallejo offered to furnish twenty acres of land on which to construct a state prison. Further, Vallejo and his associate, Estill, would build the prison, staff it, clothe and feed all the convicts, and offer rewards for any prisoner that escaped for a ten year period. Until the prison was


built, they would also provide re-furbished ships to serve as temporary quarters for the convicts. All that was asked in return was that Vallejo and Estill could utilize the convict labor for their own profit. Various members of the state legislature were familiar with eastern prisons. Few of them turned a profit, while most showed deficits of up to $100,000 a year. Californians were being offered a prison and all the accessories — for virtually nothing! Needless to say, the legislature could not get the papers drawn up fast enough. On April 25, 1851, “An Act Providing for Securing the State Prison Convicts” was passed by the state senate and assembly. While waiting for details to be worked out, Vallejo and Estill widened their business partnership. Vallejo would provide the cattle and Estill would market the stock on the hoof to the California towns and Indian reservations. Vallejo had vast herds of cattle that, prior to the Gold Rush, were only of value in the hide and tallow trade with visiting Eastern merchant ships. But things had changed. Now there were markets for beef in the mining camps and larger cities such as Sacramento, San Francisco, and Stockton. Besides these obvious markets, three Indian commissioners sent from Washington were now spanning the state, establishing Indian reservaJames M. Estill was ambitious and tions that the government was promisdetermined to make his fortune in California. He was a primary figure ing to provide with food. In August 1851, in establishing California’s first Indian Commissioner Redick McKee was state prison. Courtesy Estill Putney. assembling his guides, interpreters, army escort, and supply pack train at the town of Sonoma, as he prepared for his treaty-making trip through Northern California. The other two commissioners had been assigned the middle and southern parts of the state. Through his personality and Democratic politics, in July 1851, Es-


till had secured an appointment as a major general in the state militia which he now hoped to parlay into more political clout. In a freshlytailored general’s uniform, Estill was ordered by Governor John McDougal to take a token force of soldiers and accompany the McKee expedition north. Although General Estill and his personal staff wore uniforms, the balance of his troops, according to a newspaper report, wore “hickory shirts and buckskin pants.”All were well armed. McKee was probably impressed with the bombastic Estill’s agreement with his own sympathetic attitude toward the native Indians. Estill also brought along 300 Vallejo cattle since he saw the venture as an opportunity to sell beef to the government and he was delighted at the opportunity. In the booming new state economy, the steers brought ten dollars a head, while prior to the Gold Rush they were worth only a dollar. The expedition left Sonoma early on the morning of August 11, 1851. They headed north up the Russian River to a site just over a hill from Clear Lake. Some eight tribes, or groups, were brought to the camp with one of the chiefs, Julio, being selected as the spokesman. A treaty was concluded and gifts of shirts, blankets, and other items were distributed. General Estill and several others witnessed the treaty signing. He was particularly gratified when the Indians were promised “one hundred head of beef cattle” and other items of provisions and tools with which to farm on their reserve. He must have returned to Sonoma with a nice livestock order for his partner and a commission for himself. But Estill’s active mind seemed to be constantly boiling over with schemes of one kind or another in this wonderful land of opportunity. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, NOVEMBER 3, 1851:

The Sandwich Island Expedition—The brig Col. Fremont, which has been fitted up by Gen. Estill for a voyage to the Sandwich Islands, will sail in a few days for Honolulu. Gen. Estill is now in this city at the Orleans Hotel, where he will remain till 2 o’clock, p.m. of this day. We are requested to state that those of our citizens who have joined the expedition, as well as any who desire to join it, can have an interview with Gen. E. this morning, for the purpose of making arrangements for their departure.

Just what Estill was doing putting together an “expedition” at the same time he was launching his state prison plans, is hard to imagine. If nothing else, it is an indication of the man’s restless and erratic character. Nothing more is known of this project, but it apparently died from


a lack of interest, perhaps Estill’s, when a minimal number of recruits showed up. Thinking he could be more valuable to Vallejo if he was in a state office, Estill managed to secure the Democratic nod to run for state senator from Solano County. The following year he was elected and had to decide just which title he liked best —“Senator” or “General.” The prison lease act took effect on July 1, 1851 and Vallejo and Estill posted a $100,000 bond as required. A legislature-appointed board of prison directors began meeting at intervals, but since no prisoners had yet been received, they began formulating some baThe Stockton San Joaquin Republican, January 10, 1852, sic rules and regulations for the new instituannounces the establish- tion. It was some months later when Goverment of California’s first state nor John McDougal finally announced that prison. Author’s Collection. M. G. Vallejo and General Estill were now accepting state prisoners. But now several surrogates were involved. SACRAMENTO UNION, DECEMBER 8, 1851:

STATE CONVICTS—A delegation from the “Chain Gang” in charge of Lieut. Deal, was marched on board the steamer Senator yesterday, just before her departure for the Bay. We learn from this officer that Col. Hays, Sheriff of San Francisco, has entered into a contract with the State to set all the State convicts at work making brick, and the above passengers are the representatives from Sacramento County, who are to be engaged in this useful employment.

It is not clear just why General Vallejo and Estill sub-leased their prison contract to San Francisco Sheriff John C. “Jack” Hays and his deputy, John Caperton. Probably it was because of the leaser’s lack of experience in such things. Hays already had his county jail prisoners working on the San Francisco city streets. The plan now was for state prisoners to be transported to the fledgling town of Vallejo where it was supposed they could be put to work building roads and leveling ground. When the state legislature was moved from San Jose to Vallejo, however, the lawmakers were dissatisfied with their accommodations and moved Northeast to Sacramento. Estill and his friends tried desperately to keep the capitol at Vallejo, but to no avail. Stockton San Joaquin Republican, January 14, 1852:


…Gen. Estill fought manfully and eloquently for his friend Vallejo, assisted by Cook of Sonoma, Broderick and others… The doom of the city of “magnificent propositions” is sealed—irretrievably gone…

And so it was. Estill had planned a lavish new hotel at the new capitol, but this too was now abandoned. Gone also was the hope for a Vallejo site for the new prison and a disappointed General Vallejo was fast becoming disillusioned with his unraveling project. Fortunately, he was able to interest San Francisco Sheriff Jack Hays in his prison project. Hays no doubt saw a great opportunity in getting in on the ground floor of something as inevitable as a state prison. When the sheriff agreed to assume control of the state prisoners, General Vallejo returned home and Estill now had time to indulge in politics and other interests. Jack Hays was one of the most popular men in California at this time. Only 35 years old, Hays was a former Texas Ranger, a successful Indian fighter, and a heroic figure during the late Mexican War. Though small in stature, he commanded respect from all classes and no one doubted that he would be a first class peace officer. Like so many heroes, however, Hays would at times be unable to live up to his image.

Jack Hays, the great Texas Ranger, found that being sheriff and prison warden did not mix. Author’s Collection.

Part of Hays’ sub-lease agreement was the purchase of a ship that could be remodeled below decks into a series of cells for the prisoners at night. That portion of San Francisco Bay that fronted the city was filled with abandoned sea craft and the sheriff had much to choose from. He purchased the old bark Waban that had been put out to pasture in the bay shortly after a final voyage to South America.

There was a prototype for the prison-ship Hays must now produce. The ship Euphemia was serving as the San Francisco city and county jail and was tied up at the Central Wharf. It had cost $5,357.55, plus labor, iron and lumber, to turn the hold into a collection of jail cells. With any variations Hays might decide on, the cost of the eight foot square Waban cells should be near that figure. The sheriff probably called on the Donahue brothers in Happy Valley who had likely converted the Euphemia. Located on the waterfront, the Donahue’s Union Iron and Brass


The Euphemia, anchored next to a San Francisco wharf. Annals of San Francisco.

Foundry had been the first in the city. Besides being adept at any kind of iron work, the Donahues specialized in ship re-fitting and repair. When the remodeling had been completed, Hays looked up a former employee of the iron shop named Isaiah Lees. Now a partner in a tugboat named Firefly, Lees and his partner Gus Ellis agreed to tow Waban anywhere on the bay. With completion of the re-modeling, some twenty state prisoners were locked up in the hold of the ship and on December 18, 1851, Waban was towed north by the tug, Firefly. With the abandonment of the Vallejo site, it had been decided to drop anchor at Angel Island, just off the Tiburon peninsula, in Marin County. It was about four miles north of San Francisco, across the bay. Here, the convicts, reportedly mostly Hispanics, would be put to work quarrying stone in a quarry leased by Estill. The stone was to be used in construction of the first prison cellblock when a new location was finally selected. The anchor was dropped at the closest, sheltered point possible to the quarry site. Sheriff Hays could only spare one of his deputies, so he was compelled to hire four more to make five guards in all aboard Waban. A regimen and work schedule was next established for the convicts; they were fed in their cells shortly after sunrise, then brought up on deck, where they climbed into a small boat and were taken ashore. Probably four guards accompanied the convicts ashore, while one stayed aboard the vessel. The guards would then alternate as to who stayed behind. The convicts worked in the quarry until mid-afternoon, then stopped for a meal before continuing their work up until nightfall. They were then lined up and marched back to the boat and rowed out to Waban. Climbing up to the deck, the convicts were probably quickly searched, then returned to their cells for the night. They were given Sunday off, but soon learned that it was better to be working in the open than cooped up below decks in the increasingly foul-smelling dungeons of Waban. Of course when the convicts worked Sunday, their guards did also. Since no one wore uniforms, visitors commented they could only tell one from the other because the guards were armed.


These early state prisoners had their heads shaved for identification purposes if they escaped. By the late 1850s there were so many convicts that the practice was discontinued. The twenty prisoners now working on Angel Island were the sum total of state convicts at this time. Criminals were jailed because they committed crimes against society rather than working for a living. In jail, there was nothing to do but plot how to get out and be free again. The housing arrangements gave the convicts plenty of incentive according to one early chronicler. “At night they were locked below, four or five men to each eight foot square compartment. During the warm summer days they stewed in their own juices, while in the rainy winter they stayed below day after weary day. In the mornings the effluvia of feces, sweat and rotting wood was so strong the guards refused to go below until the lower decks had been aired out… .” It was never a matter of would there be an escape attempt from Waban. The question was always— when? On the morning of January 5, 1852, two of the guards were sent ashore to obtain provisions at nearby Sausalito. At 8 o’clock twelve of the prisoners were brought up on deck, while two of the remaining guards began lowering the boat to take the prisoners to the quarry. Still in their irons, the prisoners now rushed the two guards, seizing their weapons and tying them up. The other guard, one Dunbar, was in another part of the boat and was also taken by surprise, tied up and heaved into one of the cells below. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD, JANUARY 6, 1852:

…The Mexicans were for murdering the whole of them, but were dissuaded from their purpose by the few Americans in the party. They immediately armed themselves with the muskets and revolvers on board, got into the boat and made for Contra Costa.

An English brig was lying close by Waban and, not comprehending what was taking place, paid no attention to the boat full of convicts that rowed alongside them heading across the bay. The guards quickly untied themselves and watched where the prisoners were heading, before Dunbar sent word to Sheriff Hays in San Francisco. A strong posse under chief deputy John Caperton crossed the bay and took up the pursuit. Dunbar and the other two guards now


rustled up a posse of sailors and, commandeering a local whale boat, were promptly in on the chase, also. A third posse crossed the bay to Martinez and alerted authorities there to intercept the convicts. “They were so closely pursued,” stated the next day’s account in the Herald, “as to be compelled to throw away their blankets which were picked up by the pursuers.” But it was not going to be that easy. When Sheriff Hays caught up with his posse he found they had not been pressing hard enough and had lost their advantage. The convicts had been tracked to Livermore’s ranch where they had scattered into the area around Mount Diablo. Hays spread the word in the surrounding area to watch for the convicts who would probably be searching for food. He was right, and when two of the convicts rustled some horses from a nearby ranch, they were tracked and captured. Hays and a companion, meanwhile, got on the track of four of the Mexican convicts who seemed to be heading for Stockton. He captured one of the Mexicans and received word that another had been captured on the San Joaquin after robbing Thomas J. Alsbury’s ranch. A dispatch captioned “Headwaters of the San Joaquin” had more news. STOCKTON SAN JOAQUIN REPUBLICAN, FEBRUARY 14, 1852:

Messrs. Editors—In my last note I made mention of an Indian named Antonio, an escaped convict, having been made prisoner here; he is one of a gang who made their escape from San Francisco [Angel Island]; and we have had two more of the party taken since by Major Savage and Captain Boland [Bolin], both of whom deserve great credit for their exertions in scouring the country in pursuit of them. They gave them in charge of the commanding officer of the fort [Fort Miller], and started off again in pursuit of the gang. Of the three who are in custody, one is an American, one a Chilian, and the other an Indian. …Among their depredations they plundered the dwelling of Capt. Alsbury, during that gentleman’s absence to Stockton. They are heavily ironed, and secured to one another.

Just how many of the escaped convicts were recaptured is not clear, but from press accounts, most were returned to the brig at Angel Island. Hays did dismiss the three guards on duty during the escape, however. James D. Savage was a widely known Mariposa County Indian trader and farmer on the Fresno River. He had commanded the Mariposa Battalion during recent Indian troubles and was one of the discoverers of the great Yosemite Valley. He also had a bevy of Indian wives and would be shot down and killed on the Kings River later in the year.


Sheriff Hays and Deputy Caperton, rather than making money on their subleasing of prisoners, had instead gone into debt. Between outfitting Waban and the cost of pursuing the escaping convicts around central California, the two lawmen were out a reported $11,000. General Vallejo was also upset about the direction his grand scheme was taking. He not only did not get his state capitol at Vallejo, but he was also out a lot of money with nothing to show for it. Moreover, he and Estill were still responsible for the building of a prison and the care and expenses of maintaining it and the convicts. When he heard that Hays and Caperton were backing out, Vallejo did the same. The legislature released Vallejo from his obligation with an amendment to the prison bill to take effect on April 10, 1852. General Estill was now sole owner of the prison contract and still thought he could make it pay. And if anybody could, it would be Estill. The escape was a wake-up call to many in official positions, as well as the public. As a state, California was not even two years old and there was much to do to get it on its feet. There were officials to elect and pay, services to provide, roads to construct, and hundreds of other services that were now of vital importance. There were also many obligations that were unforeseen, particularly a succession of expensive Indian wars. Although not on the front burner, a state prison would just not go away. “There is scarcely a prison in the State that is worthy of the name, or one from which convicts have not escaped by reason of their insecurity,” groaned the editor of the Sacramento Daily Union. “In illustration of the truth of our remark, we need only refer to the recent successful attempts of the prisoners at Angel Island, and in Calaveras County, to break from their confinement, and it is but a few months since one party effected their escape from the jail at Marysville, and another from the prison brig opposite the levee in this city.” Close on the heels of the desperate escape attempt on Waban, three state prisoners gained their liberty while in the custody of Sheriff Hays in the city. James Burns, James Peterson, and Lewis Ottinger were working under a house on the corner of Battery and Broadway streets in San Francisco. All three were thieves and burglars, with Burns— known as “Jimmy from Town”—having the longest sentence of ten years. The men had somehow weakened their chains with a file, then finished the job while under the house and out of the guard’s sight. The convicts disappeared and it


was some minutes before the guard realized the digging sounds under the house had ceased. Officers quickly began searching the city. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY HERALD, JANUARY 21, 1852:

…This escape, in connection with that which took place some days since, will, we hope, impress upon those with whom the power and duty lies, the necessity of an immediate completion of a state penitentiary.

A report by the Committee on State Prisons to the State Assembly in early March 1852, made it quite clear that the situation could not be avoided any longer. “The committee cannot too earnestly urge the immediate appropriation for a State Penitentiary; and they do not deem it as any exaggeration of the momentous consequence to the State… to declare that they regard even the interest of juvenile education in California as not paramount to the providing of a suitable place of incarceration for criminals… .” If the legislature needed any further prodding as to action on a prison, it came in mid-May 1852, with the help of a farm boy from Ohio. The Skinner brothers came west with the gold rush in 1849 or ’50. Products of an Ohio farm family, Cyrus was born in 1830, while George was two years younger. They apparently mined in El Dorado County, but like others were unsuccessful and looked about for another livelihood. George went to work as a bookkeeper, while Cyrus apparently began “moonlighting” as a burglar. In late August, 1851, Cyrus was caught in the act and found himself in the Placerville jail. He gave the name “Williamson,” rather than his real name. There is little doubt but that younger brother George somehow aided Cyrus in escaping jail on September 2, 1851. Heading south, Cyrus sought to lose himself in the mining country and in early October the governor offered a five hundred dollar reward for his capture. The El Dorado County sheriff also tendered a reward and the offers soon bore fruit. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, NOVEMBER 3, 1851:

Convict Caught—Mr. J.F. McFarland, Marshal of the city of Sonora, arrived in this place on Tuesday evening last with the convict Cyrus Williamson, who escaped from jail about six weeks ago. A reward of $250 was offered by the sheriff for his apprehension, which was promptly paid to Mr. McF., and he left for Sonora.

Convicted and sentenced to two years in state prison, Cy was delivered to Sheriff Hays and placed in the jail at San Francisco city hall. Exactly when he boarded Waban is not known, but he was logged onto


the prison register as No. 20 on August 15, 1851 and he may have been there at the time of the January, 1852 escape. Certainly he was in the hold of Waban a few months later on the morning of May 15. One of the four guards on the floating prison, a man named Hall, went below decks about six o’clock in the morning to have the prisoners bring some wooden tubs up on deck. There were thirty-two convicts aboard at this time. Unknown to Hall, the prisoners had removed some planks separating several cells and now a dozen or more convicts were gathered in one cell. When Guard Hall opened the cell door, the prisoners rushed at him. Staggering backward, Hall began swinging and knocked down several of his attackers before he was overwhelmed. Grabbing one of the convicts by the hair, Hall butted him several times, knocking him unconscious. “Look out on deck up there,” shouted the desperately struggling guard. Headed by Cy Williamson, the prisoners now swarmed up the stairs. On deck they were confronted by a twenty-year old guard named Fred Kohler who already had his pistol out and pointed at the gangway. “You are the damned rascal we intend to kill!” shouted Williamson, “Damn your pistol!” and he pushed the pistol aside as Kohler fired. When his pistol now jammed, Kohler smashed it into a convict’s face opening a bloody gash. He fought desperately now as he was borne to the deck and his legs seized in an effort to throw him overboard. A short-timer named William Davis now rallied several other trusties and came to Kohler’s aid, swinging a boat hook as a club at the guard’s attackers. When he was forced to jump overboard, Davis swam to shore and collected an armed posse, then returned to the ship. By now Hall and the other two guards were wielding their bayoneted rifles and driving the convicts back down into the hold. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD, MAY 16, 1852:

…One of the prisoners, a perfect desperado named Cyrus Williamson, broke from the rest and attempted to run down into the cabin, where the arms were kept. He was slightly wounded by a shot from one of the guards and then run through the body by Hall with a bayonet, receiving a wound which proved mortal. In the confusion Kohler received a shot in his shoulder fired by one of his supporters, but we are glad to learn that his wound is not of a serious character. …From all accounts the small guard force must have behaved handsomely, particularly Mr. Kohler… .


Despite the desperate battle, Williamson’s bayonet wound was apparently the most serious injury and was at first thought to be mortal. He recovered, however. Miraculously, only one other prisoner had been wounded in the melee. At this time there was still no site for the proposed penitentiary, but there had been some thinking on the subject. The prison committee all agreed that an island would be the ideal location. “These isolated spots,” they concluded, “afford… many facilities of necessary building. They present a solid rocky foundation, defying strength and ingenuity to cut through; and on some of them are abundant quarries of stone adapted for building purposes. A prison erected on one of these islands, could be easily guarded from approach from without and escape rendered impossible.” Isolation from any large city was another benefit. The committee also proposed setting aside some state-owned land to pay for the property selected. After a tour of the various islands in the bay, including Angel Island, it was discovered all were composed of land grants where the titles were in dispute or being challenged as to legality. In their travels the committee had skirted the north side of Angel Island and continued up the Tiburon peninsula at the southeastern end of Marin County. Looking across the water they saw a smaller peninsula which the guide called Punta de Quentin, named after an early Indian warrior. It was spring and a later traveler described the attractive area. NEW YORK EVANGELIST, FEBRUARY 13, 1873:

…All the hills were beautiful and quite in contrast with their brown and arid condition last summer. On the west side, the hills which run up into high mountains were covered more or less with trees; and many of them were in the rich foliage of their unchangeable verdure. There were live oak, the bay, the manzanita, the madrona, and the redwood: the latter farther in the distance, and crowning the summits of the high hills skirting along near the ocean shore.

This tongue of land in Marin County had all the virtues of an island except for the west side which extended into the mainland. The county was bordered by a coastal range of mountains on the west along the sea coast, Mount Tamalpais being the tallest peak. There were forests of redwood, ash, and oak trees, although much of this had been depleted over the years for use as fuel or in building San Francisco. The rest of the county consisted of rolling hills covered with wild grasses, chaparral,


and clumps of trees. In the vales were occasional rancho buildings. John Reed was the first white settler in 1835. It was a wild country then, but he ran cattle and built a sawmill on his Corte Madera land

The chaparral and tree-shrouded hills of Marin County were finally selected as the site of California’s first state prison. Author’s Collection.

grant in what is now Mill Valley. In those early days, grizzlies, black bear, deer and wolves roamed the area. Talking to a local large property owner named Benjamin Buckalew, the prison committee learned that all of Marin County was made up of Spanish and Mexican land grants. Inviting the committee to dinner at his local hotel, Buckalew assured them that he had clear title to his property and had already constructed a road to the county seat at San Rafael. A deal was made and on July 7, 1852 the state legislature paid $10,000 for twenty acres on the southern shore of Punta de Quentin. At a later date, someone discarded “Punta de” and tacked the word “San” onto “Quentin,” reportedly because so many Hispanic place names in the state were prefaced this way. General Estill was now sole owner of the prison lease. Ex-governor John McDougal, after a long chat with Sheriff Hays and Estill, also thought there might be money to be made. McDougal was a Mexican War veteran and popular Democrat, which was not lost on Estill, either. Purchasing a share of the lease, McDougal took over management of the convicts in June 1852. It was a practical arrangement; the


ex-governor needed a job and Estill needed someone to take over the day-to-day management of the prisoners. McDougal now lived at Belmont, a small village south of San Francisco. He had been elected Lieutenant Governor under Peter Burnett and had assumed the last year of Burnett’s term when the latter had resigned. The Alta California gave McDougal good marks as governor and he was quite popular, but his opposition to the San Francisco vigilantes cancelled much of this good feeling. Born to a poor family in Ohio in 1818, McDougal was a self made man and was only twentythree-years old when he was appointed superintendent of the Indiana State prison at Jeffersonville in 1841. At least the California convicts were now under the charge of a man who knew something of prisons. That was the good news. The bad news, however, was that the ex-governor was a heavy drinker. Now the state prison project was finally taking shape. McDougal probably assumed control of the convicts on May 5, 1852, when he added his signature to a bond signed by Estill, McDougal, and three men designated as securities. The bond made these men liable for $100,000 if Estill failed to perform the operation of the prison as had been prescribed. Estill’s sureties would have to pay, also. Taking charge of Waban in early June, McDougal worked the convicts at the Angel Island quarry, then shifted the ship southeast to Goat Island (now Treasure Island), between San Francisco and the east bay settlements. When word was received that the prison would be built at Point San Quentin, McDougal had Waban towed to the site and anchored. According to tradition, for there are few records, the date was July 14, 1852—Bastille Day! General Estill, however, had other irons in the fire. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, JULY 26, 1852:

Gen. Estill and Col. Wilkes left Placerville on Wednesday last, for Carson Valley, whither they will go to superintend the distribution of the emigrant relief train supplies.

Why Estill would choose such an important time to get himself appointed by Governor Bigler to head a relief expedition to incoming wagon trains is anyone’s guess. A man named William Waldo had parlayed an 1850 expedition of the same sort into a run for governor three


years later and this was possibly Estill’s incentive. In any case the party was back in Sacramento by August 16, 1852. There were now between forty and fifty convicts, enough to begin construction of the new prison. Temporary facilities would be constructed with lumber from Buckalew’s nearby sawmill. Before any building could be commenced, however, there was much to do. Estill first established a manufacturing company where convicts would be employed for his benefit. This consisted of a steam operated brick-making facility in which Estill sold shares to friends. He was still working on the plans for his prison structures which he euphorically envisioned as a state-of-the-art penitentiary surrounded by a 20-foot wall with Roman battlements at each corner. Cellblocks, hospital, mess hall, laundry, cells for female prisoners, and guard’s quarters would feature Doric columns, arches, and minarets, and all constructed with


the finest materials available. Nothing was too opulent for General Estill’s new penitentiary, including the newest innovations in toilet facilities. When the prison directors submitted the cost for all this at $800,000, the startled legislature balked, remembering that the original construction act had set a limit of $100,000 on the project. When the document containing the $100,000 limitation was sought, it had mysteriously disappeared. New plans were quickly drawn up and the legislature provided with a fresh contract for the sum of $135,000. It was not known at the time, but the low bidder on the job, Thomas D. Johns, was a partner with Estill in the brick-making operation. He was also low bidder only because his bid included the use of free convict labor, an accommodation not provided the other bidders. “The first few months,” wrote early prison director James H.

One of Estill’s early designs for the new prison combined the officer’s quarters with a four story cell block. California State Archives.

Wilkins in 1918, “seem to have been spent in rush work on temporary quarters for officers, digging wells for a water supply and other enterprises essential for permanent occupation.” The prison was to be located close to the waterfront and a wharf must have been one of the first items constructed. This was for shallow draft boats for importing supplies and lumber from Buckalew’s sawmill on the adjacent Corte Madera Creek. Benjamin Buckelew had a farm in the area and also contracted to build a steamboat wharf one-quarter mile east of the prison on Point San Quentin. He estimated the cost at $15,000, since to reach deep water he had to connect the wharf to a small islet called Agnes Island. Buckelew apparently felt so fortunate in selling the proper-


ty and obtaining the wharf contract, that in September 1852, he deeded 16 adjoining acres over to Estill and several of his cohorts, Ferdinand Vassault, Robert Allen, and Andrew Garr. This property, on the north side of the prison site, would be taken up by Estill’s steam brick making facility. To the west, 2,600 foot Mount Tamalpais dominated the distant background of the property. The prison site itself was hilly and uneven and leveling was begun at once utilizing drags and teams of horses as well as convicts with shovels, carts and wheelbarrows. As this was going on, a boarding house was being constructed off the actual site to house the masons and carpenters that would be doing the actual construction. John Reed’s sawmill on Corte Madera Creek would supply the timber needed. A barn, blacksmith shop, and corrals were also built. Various other outbuildings housed supplies, tin shops, and sheds for the stone cutters and brick-making facilities. As fall eased into winter, stormy weather slowed the work down and limited what could be accomplished. There are few details on Mason’s boarding house, but it had a bar in the main room presided over by Archibald Woods, Estill’s father-in-law. A long shed and cook shack had been put up along with a three-roomed building called the “middle house” or “overseer’s house.” This was occupied by the prison officers and guards who were not on duty aboard Waban. Not surprisingly, Estill’s friend and overseer John Gray had been appointed Lieutenant of the Guard in August 1852. It is from Gray that we get our first glimpse into the evolving routine at the new prison during an investigative hearing in March, 1855. REPORT OF COMMITTEE RELATIVE TO THE CONDITION AND MANAGEMENT OF THE STATE PRISON, SACRAMENTO, 1855:

I resided at the State Prison, and was lieutenant of the guard from August, 1852, until a few days since: there are now at the prison and island about twentyfive guard: there are four night guards, two on guard at a time—one of these are on the prison, and the other on the balcony; the day guards go to their posts before the prisoners are turned out of a morning, and are not relieved through the day except to go to meals; prisoners are turned out to work about sunrise, and turned in again about sundown; guards are furnished with a rifle or musket and dragoon revolver, each; they have not been compelled to work on the Sabbath day, only in cases where we actually wanted something from here, or actually wanted to bring something here, or to save brick when rain was coming on, or to get wood when we were burning a kiln; we arranged it so as to divide the work equally among them


[the prisoners] when we had to work them on the Sabbath; They did not object to work on Sabbath, for they would rather be out than in the cells; prisoners were allowed to bathe in the summer; we took a part of them out at a time, according to the guard that was there; …prisoners were allowed to bathe at any time they applied for permission; generally they were allowed to change shirts once a week, when they had shirts for them; sometimes we had not a change for all of them; there was a class of convicts called trusties, numbering from seven to fifteen… .

Trusties were short-time convicts with good records who, hopefully, had no reason to escape. This system had been adopted by Estill about 1854. Food for the convicts was simple and basic. A meal consisted of a small loaf of bread, soup and 10 to 12 ounces of beef or pork. Water was served with all meals. When gardens were established, there would be vegetables and potatoes. San Francisco resident Henry Hayes was one of the guard in those early, first days at the prison site. He was hired on November 25, 1852, and served until early September of the following year. “When I first went there,” he later recalled, “I think there were eighty-seven prisoners; there were then ten men employed as guard, besides the captain of the guard. …When I was there, the guard was paid $75 per month; it has been reduced since… The opinion of the guard was that General Estill is not too cruel to convicts, but that he is too lenient with them.” It was later brought out in various hearings into the prison management that Estill was indeed too indulgent of his wards, primarily the trusty’s. Former employees had testified that trusties had been allowed to accompany brick shipments to San Francisco, then roam the city and even stay overnight. Trusties, short-termers or convicts with political friends, worked unsupervised on local farms and could also visit the local bar rooms. Sometimes they were given guns to go out and look for escaping convicts. Some of these trusties, it goes without saying, forgot to return! There was a new intrusion on the prison regimen in early July 1852. Agnes Read was a thirty-three-year-old woman who had been convicted of helping a prisoner to escape the San Francisco jail. She was listed on the prison register as No. 87 on July 8, 1852 to serve a one year term. She was held at the San Francisco city hall jail until a group of women prisoners could be collected. She was released on July 8, 1853.


When the so-called “middle house” was completed during the winter of 1852-53, Lieutenant Gray and the other guards were moved in, but soon had to make way for the women. The guard grudgingly sought other quarters. When Perquita Saledano, No. 20, a Mexican washerwoman and the Chilean Carmine Nunez, were convicted of theft, both were given terms in state prison. Lilly Smith, a circus rider fallen on hard times because of an injury, received a two year sentence, while No. 122, Dolores Martinez, with a ten year manslaughter sentence, was logged in on November 8, 1852. Again, it was Lieutenant Gray who provided details on those first women prisoners in the 1855 report referred to above. Several of the above women were not given numbers in the early prison registers. Lieutenant Gray recalled: “There were five female prisoners while I was there; they were kept confined in a separate compartment in the brig, and in a separate house when taken from there; other prisoners had no access to them, that I know of; they were generally locked up in their house at the same times the other prisoners were; three of the female prisoners had their husbands in jail; the husbands were allowed to go over and see their wives on Sunday; there were three rooms in the house where the females were—the windows slatted over, and the doors made secure; the females washed for the guards… .” That they did more than wash for the guards should surprise no one. It is not very difficult to understand what was going on with these women. All were loose characters as anxious to curry favor with the guards, as the guards were to curry favor with them. SAN FRANCISCO ALTA CALIFORNIA, JUNE 14, 1853:

Convicted—William Landers and Mary Ann Wilson were on Saturday convicted in the Court of Sessions of robbing Col. Taylor, several weeks since. Col. Taylor fell off or was thrown off the Pacific street wharf late at night after arriving from Sacramento, and he was taken into a boat by a boatman who was near. The boatman then took his boat under a house that had a trap door in the floor, and through this the two got up into the house. After they got Col. Taylor in there they managed to rob him, and now two of the robbers are likely to suffer the penalty… .

Convicted of the robbery, prisoner No. 218, “Scotch Mary” Wilson received a one year sentence, but was pardoned out early. For the few months she was in, Mary made the best of a bad situation, however, as reported by one of the prison construction foremen, Edmund Buckley;


“Mary Ann Wilson used to do washing for money, and spent the money at the bar on the prison grounds, for liquor. I saw her go into a room with Capt. Thompson [guard official] and heard the door lock. I have seen Lieutenant Gray go to bed with a convict called Scotch Mary… .” As has been noted, Mary Ann Wilson and “Scotch Mary” were the same person. It was said at the time that a shooting was looked for between Captain Thompson and Lieutenant Gray. When he received word that his wife Martha and family had left by sea for Panama, Estill had prepared a house in San Francisco. The Panama route was the quickest way to California and avoided the long trip around the southern tip of South America. At Aspinwall passengers made the isthmus crossing to Panama City where the steamer California was boarded in Taboga Harbor. After a brief stop at Acapulco, Mexico, the California continued up the coast and arrived at San Francisco on January 5, 1853. There had been three deaths from typhoid aboard the ship during the voyage. It was a happy Martha Ann Estill and three children who greeted the General and Martha’s father, Archibald Woods, on the wharf. Between General Estill’s profit concerns, his absence while politicking, and his recent election as a state senator, the prison operation was pretty much in the hands of the guards at this critical, early stage. Were the guards up to it? Hardly. The job paid $50 a month with a six day work week. Free time involved reading, a visit to nearby San Rafael or San Francisco, go fishing or visit the bar at Buckelew’s nearby hotel. Dr. Alfred Taliaferro was the prison’s part-time physician in those early years and expressed his own thoughts about the guards: “About thirty guards [were] employed about the prison; have seen some intemperance or rowdyism among the guards, usually in the evening, but the guards, having been formerly of the class called rangers, are very brave and desperate men, but somewhat addicted to dissipation.“ In speaking of guards as “rangers,” Dr. Taliaferro was perhaps reminded of William Byrnes, the hard-drinking ex-California Ranger who was a former prison guard. Many of the guards were indeed brave men and some died or were injured in putting down escape attempts over the years. The isolation and tardy paydays also resulted in a constant turnover among them. Some of the guards filed pre-emption - or squatter - claims nearby and had convict aid in building cabins on the prop-


erty. Benjamin Buckelew had sold the original prison site to the state, but now had many reasons to regret his actions as he later recalled; REPORT OF COMMITTEE RELATIVE TO THE CONDITION AND MANAGEMENT OF THE STATE PRISON, SACRAMENTO, 1855:

There were twenty-five convicts with axes cutting wood on my premises at one time, as I was informed; I saw them take the wood away; I got out an injunction to restrain them from cutting wood; …General Estill, his father-in-law, Mr. Wood, and several others were made defendants; Mr. Gray was one of the defendants… I should have completed it [the wharf he was building] before this, but for the persecutions of General Estill, Gray and others; they set the prisoners at work cutting my timber, and the guard were squatting upon my land… . I dislike Estill very much, and believe him to be a dishonest man… .

Although Dr. Taliaferro considered Buckelew something of a crank, there is ample testimony as to guards taking up claims on property surrounding the prison site. Too, Estill had his brick-making facility up and running as quickly as possible. He was selling brick in San Francisco and around the bay to government installations and private builders until the actual construction of the prison could begin. All this brick-making required wood to fuel the steam machinery—Buckelew wood at first, but later Estill would have to pay by the cord. Thomas Young, who worked at the prison as an engineer in the early 1850s, was very critical of the situation: “Some of the guards were very good guards, and others not; Mr. Gray, Lieutenant of guard, was drunk about two-thirds of his time; so drunk frequently he could not walk… there was a time after Estill came there, that a good many of the guard were in the habit of getting drunk; Wm. Byrne[s] frequently got on a spree; there was a bar kept at the cook house or dining house by a Mr. Wood [Woods was Estill’s father-in-law]; Wood was a member of the guard inside; I have seen Wood give convicts liquor, and have seen convicts give each other liquor, and get drunk on it; two of the convicts on New Year’s day got to fighting while drunk, and one bit the other’s nose off… I have known Lieut. Gray to sleep in the same room with female convicts; a female convict named Dolores, and Gray occupied the same bed… I have heard Estill talk about the intimacy of Gray with this woman—he seemed to know all about it…” While Dr. Taliaferro’s “rangers” referred to the fact that guards were sometimes hired from among the toughs who “ranged” along San Francisco’s Barbary Coast saloons, others were out-of-work political appointees. William W. Byrnes was the real thing. Mexican War veteran, trapper and


scalp hunter, Byrnes arrived in California during the Gold Rush and mined around Placerville. He participated in the 1850-51 El Dorado County Indian wars and when the state authorized Harry Love to form his twentyman group of California Rangers to track down Joaquin Murrieta’s outlaw band, Byrnes signed on. He was with them that hot July day in 1853 when the Rangers shot it out with the outlaws on Cantua Creek and brought back the severed head of the most famous bandit of Gold Rush days. The California Rangers were disbanded in August 1853. Familiar with western Utah Territory [now Nevada], Byrnes was a guide for General Estill’s wagon train relief expedition of 1852 and was mentioned in several newspaper articles concerning the journey. He learned from Estill that guards were being sought for the new prison. Estill was glad to add someone of Byrnes’ reputation to his guard staff. Guard routines soon palled on Byrnes, however, and by 1855 he was serving as a bodyguard in Monterey during the deadly Roach-Belcher feud. His daughter recalled that Byrnes had been shot some thirty times and was constantly in pain during his later years. Perhaps this was the reason for his heavy William Byrnes. drinking. Byrnes reportedly died in the Stockton Author’s Collection. asylum in 1874.


CHAPTER TWO

A Cellblock called The Stones B

y the early summer of 1853 the foundation of the first cell block structure was laid. The dimensions were 180 feet long by 28 feet wide. It would be two stories high, the first floor consisting of a long room to be utilized as a mess hall, with a smaller room as an office for the guard. With the steady influx of prisoners, however, the mess hall would quickly evolve into more cells. The second floor consisted of two rows of cells, 24 on each side. Each cell was approximately six by ten feet and would contain four persons, although originally planned to hold only two. The ceiling of each cell was arched, being about 8 ½ feet tall. A massive sheet iron door to each cell would open onto the balcony that extended around the outside of the top story. The “Judas Hole,” a twelve by four inch opening in the upper part of the door, was the only ventilation. Even the prisoners, however, were excited about the prospect of getting out of the stinking, crowded hold of Waban. After the building site was graded, the convicts were still kept busy leveling hills and filling in marshland along the bay. SACRAMENTO DEMOCRATIC STATE JOURNAL, DECEMBER 31, 1853:

The prison hulk of the Wabash [Waban] lies at the Point, still affording temporary sleeping quarters for the prisoners, the number of whom has recently and very rapidly swelled to two hundred and thirty-five. A greater portion of these convicts are employed at present in filling up a swampy valley adjoining the landing, on which it is intended to have an addition to the brick-yards… . The prisoners are for the time, fed under a long shed, where a table is set out, supplied with for each man a large piece of good beef, a piece of fresh bread, larger than a New York six cent loaf, and in quality fully equal to the best-baked in this city. Potatoes are also provided, and pea soup was likewise included in the bill of fare for the day. The prisoners ate heartily and cheerfully, and gave every indication that they were properly cared for… . From present appearances, with the growing number of


prisoners to be taken care of, there seems every probability that another structure, at least as large as that now being completed, will be immediately required, and if the money required is as judiciously expended as it has been under the present contract, the appropriation should not be delayed.

Most newspapers of the day were established as political organs and in the above extensive article, while giving a good account of the status of the prison, the final paragraph was an approving nod in the direction of Governor John Bigler who had been re-elected the past summer. Estill and Bigler were great pals, the latter helping push through much of the legislation for the prison. The Daily Union, however, had supported Bigler’s opponent, William Waldo, and during the campaign had published many columns of revelations concerning Bigler’s questionable actions and prison “schemes.” Estill had campaigned for Bigler and the General’s sense of political security is perhaps best indicated by this report in early September. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, SEPTEMBER 7, 1853:

Escape of State Prisoners—On Saturday last information was officially given to a portion of the police of this city that a large number of convicts had made their escape from the state prison in Marin County… . The intelligence was given with great caution and secresy, and on inquiry being made as to the number who had escaped, the official from the Penitentiary coolly remarked that information on that point would be given by Mr. Estill after the election.

The mind-numbing boredom of prison routine could wear the toughest convict down. Six days a week prisoners got up at daylight, ate breakfast, and marched off to the stone quarry or the brickyard. Here, they lifted heavy stones, or propelled a two-wheeled cart full of clay over rough ground while working in a cloud of choking dust. After dinner, there was more of the same until sundown and supper. The prisoner was then returned to his small stone cell to await the same routine the following day. Toilet facilities consisted of a bucket, the same as in Waban. The small window in the door offered little air circulation. “No wonder,” commented an 1854 observer, “that these men become desperate with the contemplation of ten or twenty A San Quentin chain gang as pictured in an 1852 publication. The top-hatted guard brings up the rear. California State Library.


years of this kind of life, and are ready to risk everything to escape it.” By January 1854 the first cellblock at San Quentin was occupied and already overcrowded. Because of its stone construction, it was dubbed the “Stones” by the inmates and the name stuck. The cell ceilings were arched, causing the structure in later years to be referred to as the “Old Spanish prison.” Whatever its unconventional names, Estill had his first substantial cellblock, but he insisted there would still be the threat of escapes until a wall enclosed all the prison structures. He was not alone. “The great Notice of stolen horses recovered from desideratum,” commented a visitor later that escaping convicts. Author’s Collection. year, “is a wall enclosing the prison building and a large portion of the ground. It is an absolute necessity, if the State desires to keep her prisoners. …The idea of a prison building without a wall is an absurdity, and we hope the State will attend to this matter, and have one built as speedily as possible.” For now, however, Estill and his guards had to grit their teeth and be forever on their guard. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, JULY 25, 1854:

Escape of Prisoners—Yesterday nineteen prisoners escaped from the State Prison at Corte Madera. Coyote Charley is among them. One Negro, who has been an occupant of the prison for two years, has been arrested.

This brief account of the incident hardly did credit to what had taken place as further accounts made clear. Corte Madera was the name of a creek running out to the bay on the south side of the prison site. A lumber mill of that name was further upstream. The morning was dark and cloudy as the guards herded a group of heavily ironed convicts toward the stone quarry. Suddenly, prisoner No. 309, Henry “Slung-shot” Smith, knocked down a guard and seized his pistol and rifle. Nine of the convicts now rushed towards the prison sloop, Pike County, while Smith waved his weapon at the other guards. When he wounded one of the guards in the hip, Smith was promptly shot through the heart by Captain of the Guard Asa Estes. The other convicts abandoned the sloop at the wharf and now desperately ran toward a nearby whale boat. The guards were now surprised as some unexpected allies rushed up to aid them.


“It is strange,” noted the account in the Sacramento Times and Transcript, “that no attempt was made on the part of the other prisoners to escape during this insurrection. It seems only a few of the most desperate could be induced to engage in it. But what is stranger still, many of the prisoners ran to the scene of action, and with picks, shovels and clubs, took part with the guard until the insurrection was quelled.” Although several were wounded, the escaping convicts had managed to scramble into the whaleboat and desperately rowed across the creek towards the other shore. A boatload of guards was close behind them as others on horseback headed upstream to cross over at a shallow spot and head off the fugitives. Later a sloop arrived with news that three of the wounded convicts had been captured and were being returned. It was expected that the rest of the prisoners would promptly be captured, but both convicts and guards were grateful there were no more casualties in such a desperate fight. In October of this same year there were several more escape attempts. On a Sunday night some three convicts managed to swim from a Marin Island quarry to shore where they stole a small boat. On the following Tuesday, Cyrus Skinner, “Jimmy from Town,” Jimmy Homer, a convict named Tower and several other “notorious scoundrels” managed to hide themselves when the other convicts and guards filed into the prison mess hall for the noon meal. As soon as the coast was clear, Cy and the others jumped into a boat and escaped into some tules along the shore to await nightfall. Meanwhile, General Estill did the best he could to minimize the deadly escape attempts as reported in the press. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, NOVEMBER 27, 1854:

When an outbreak takes place, by previous orders, all the prisoners who wish not to be considered “in,” throw themselves flat upon the ground, and thus escape being fired upon. Some of them, especially Indians and Chinamen, enjoy the sport hugely, as they escape some few hours of work by the operation. Some fifty or sixty prisoners have escaped within about six months, of whom more than one-half have been re-taken, at a heavy expense to the lessee.

Escape attempts were sporadic, but most were not of the deadly or dramatic variety. Once, when a convict failed to show up for dinner a search was initiated. When a thorough hunt failed to disclose him, someone suggested looking in the chimney of the steam boiler of


the brick-making machinery. Rather than look, they lit the fire and the missing convict was quickly smoked out. Another convict hid himself in a brick kiln and was not discovered until he was starved out. Noting a barrel floating in the bay, another prisoner swam out thinking he was unobserved. Diving and coming up inside the barrel, he planned to stay there until dark when he could make a getaway. He had been seen by a guard, however, and a bullet through the barrel resulted in the convict swiftly swimming back to shore. Chartering a small boat from the Washington street wharf, a San Francisco Alta reporter set out to visit the new prison in late November 1854. After a pleasant two and a half hour trip, the reporter met General Estill himself at the pier on the south side of the prison. After a tour of the grounds and the new stone cellblock, they Rewards for escaped convicts were eating into Estill’s profit margins and he did not visited the Marin Island quarry on like it. San Francisco Alta, April 17, 1853. the north side of the peninsula. Here Lieutenant Gray was in charge of some one-hundred and fifty convicts engaged in quarrying stone on property owned by Estill. Fourteen guards were spread out over a hill keeping close watch on the workers. “It was certainly with a feeling, not at all allied to pleasure,” penned the reporter later, “that we walked amongst them, while General Estill pointed out one as a desperate murderer, who would not hesitate a moment to take a life for fifty dollars, another as a cut-throat and general villain, and all as precious a set of rascals as ever went unhung.” Back at the prison, the reporter was reminded that some things never change, even in prison. While Captain Asa Estes was showing him the machine shop, the officer took off his coat and laid it on a work bench for a moment. When he put it back on, he noticed his purse in the pocket had been lightened by fifty or sixty dollars. Suspecting the identity of the thief, Estes placed him in the “stocks” and after a few hours he revealed where the loot was hidden. Surprisingly, there had already been three escapes from the Stones, although it was only months old. This had happened only because the mortar was so green. The big breaks usually took place outside, when


on a signal the convicts would rush upon their guards. A hint of things to come occurred in late September when eight prisoners who were taking a load of bricks out to a ship in the bay suddenly assaulted their three guards and, leaving one for dead, fled in the boat. A larger scale repeat of this incident took place about six-thirty one morning the following month. As a group of convicts was boarding a sloop for the trip to the Marin Island quarry, suddenly there was a signal and all hell broke loose. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY HERALD, DECEMBER 28, 1854:

Another batch of State Prisoners Escaped— Yesterday morning, soon after the release of the convicts at the State Prison for the usual day’s work, a party of those intended for quarrying on an island near the building overpowered the guard, and seizing a small sloop lying at the wharf made sail. The alarm was given, the remaining prisoners safely secured, and an attempt made to recapture the escaping ones. The cannon on the hill was manned and brought to bear on the departing sloop. Several shots were fired, which killed two and wounded two others so badly that their comrades threw them overboard… .

Some sixty convicts had, on a signal, overwhelmed the six guards, seized their weapons, and pushed off in a sloop tied at the wharf. As other guards rushed to the scene and began firing, convict No. 500, John Thompson, scrambled up the mast to adjust the ship’s rigging. A guard picked him off and Thompson crashed dead onto the sloop’s deck. Number 354, Cherokee Bob Talbot, doing a ten year term for horse theft, jumped behind Guard Captain B. F. Pullen and used him as a shield while bullets splatted and splintered the wood all around him. “Stand up and die like a man,” he later remembered telling the guard, “for we all have to die together.” Pullen received several wounds in his hand and arms. Bob already had several wounds, also, while dead and wounded convicts were scattered around the wharf. Around twenty convicts managed to get into the boat and steered out into the bay. A guard post cannon was put into position and fired several shots, one load of canister ripping through the occupants of the sloop. Several dead or The bloody escape was big news wounded were heaved into the water from for the next few weeks. Sacramento Daily Union, Dec. 30, 1854


the craft as it travelled out of range of the withering gunfire, but many of the convicts in the sloop were wounded. As the convicts neared the Contra Costa shore across the bay, a whaleboat full of guards left the prison wharf in pursuit. It was several days before any substantial news could be garnered from re-captured convicts and other witnesses. In a long letter to the San Francisco Alta California, a shocked General Estill listed eighteen prisoners still at large, nearly all of whom were wounded. Six more had been badly shot up in the fight on the wharf, while Cherokee Bob was badly wounded and had been captured in the Contra Costa hills. “The hospital is filled with the wounded and dying,” wrote a frustrated Estill. “It is a melancholy sight, but could not be avoided. …I am compelled to give the order to kill. I could not obtain guards at all without they had the right to lessen danger by shooting those who attack them. Be that as it may, I have made up my mind to kill, if possible, every person hereafter found in such an act of insubordination as this.” Back at the prison, Cherokee Bob was believed to be dying, but he rallied and in a few days was reportedly improving. Only about twenty-one-years-old at this time, Bob was a colorful Georgia gambler who had a penchant for getting into scrapes and then shooting, or carving, his way out of them. After a gaming squabble in the Mariposa County mining camp of Hornitos, Bob had knifed several of his opponents and then fled with pals on a stolen horse and mule. Bob and Sam White were later captured at Millerton, on the San Joaquin River. At his Mariposa trial in late March 1854, Bob would only identify himself by his nickname of “Cherokee Bob.” His real name was Henry J. Talbot and he was afraid that word would get back to his Georgia home that he was a convict in California. Bob and White were easily convicted and transported to San Quentin to serve ten year terms. Again, at the prison, Bob would only give his pseudonym as his name. Now, he was recovering in the makeshift prison hospital as news of the other escapees filtered in. STOCKTON SAN JOAQUIN REPUBLICAN, DECEMBER 30, 1854:

Martinez—About 2 o’clock this afternoon, an express arrived at this place from Pinole, with the intelligence that 11 escaped convicts had landed from a small vessel near that place, at 9 o’clock this morning. The captain of the vessel was found on the shore severely wounded, where he had been left for dead by the con-


victs. Soon after landing they fell in with two hunters from whom they took their firearms and horses…

The escaped convicts broke up into smaller groups and kept on the move, robbing farms and homes for food and weapons. Two convicts named Scottie and Douglass were spotted and questioned near Oakland, one being shot in the back when he tried to escape. They were quickly in custody. A wounded John Welch, No. 48, and William “Cock-eyed Fury“ Ferry, No. 447, were seized by pursuing prison guards, although Ferry turned out to be one of the other escaped fugitives. When a large group of well-armed convicts were confronted by a citizen’s posse, convict No. 259, Bill Powers, dared them to fight. “We are Americans and will fight till we die,” he shouted. The posse retreated. To make the circumstances even worse for both the fleeing convicts and the pursuing posses, on December 31 and January 1 a massive storm swept through the state making travel very difficult. “The New Year,” hailed the San Francisco Alta on January 1, “has been born in clouds and rain and damp walls and wet roads.” Houses were blown down and several people were killed or injured by falling trees during the tempest. The storm was welcomed by a drought-ridden state, but not by the escaping convicts or their pursuers. Drenched to the bone, their weapons useless in that day of powder and percussion caps, both sides had to seek shelter and restore their wet powder. Eleven guards were pressing the chase in Contra Costa County, aided by Sheriff J. F. Smith, and his deputies. The police of Oakland were in on the pursuit also, while Captain Hampton North and Officer John Nugent of the San Francisco police force blocked the routes to San Jose. SAN JOSE SEMI-WEEKLY TRIBUNE, JANUARY 5, 1855:

Six escaped convicts Caught—Yesterday morning, three of the escaped convicts with five horses were taken at Campbell’s Red Woods, by Messrs. Hughes and Cross. These desperadoes appeared at the village of the Toll Gate Wednesday night, and entered the house of Mr. Hughes, but on being discovered, withdrew. Hughes… charged his gun and pursued them—they were fired upon as they retreated… .

Hughes kept after the intruders and captured one who had three horses. Pushing on with his captive, he came to the house of a man named Cross who had captured several more of the gang. “From their appearance and actions, Mr. Cross arrested them. They have their heads shaved, and are boarders of Estill’s Hotel. There were some ten


in number, all well armed, and mounted on fine horses,” continued the account. A citizen’s posse continued the pursuit and captured three more. A dispatch to the prison stated that nine of the convicts were now in the San Jose jail and Captain North was preparing to take them back to San Quentin. “Only three of the convicts are now at large,” announced the San Francisco Alta. But alas, what’s that old adage about counting chickens before they’re hatched? SAN JOSE SEMI-WEEKLY TRIBUNE, JANUARY 9, 1855:

Five of the State Prison Convicts Escaped. Sometime during Sunday night last, five of the seven State prisoners recently lodged in our jail made their escape and vamoosed for parts unknown. On examination of the cell where they were confined, it appears that having unfastened their handcuffs, they availed themselves of a bar of iron carelessly left in the cell, and succeeded in wrenching off the lock in the door. Once into the passage way, an opening was easily made through the outside wall, by tumbling away a few bricks under the grating of one of the windows… .

Hopefully, someone was keeping a scorecard on all this since three nights later there was another escape—this time from the outside, breaking in. Apparently several of the uncaught escapees were to blame. But Estill had his own problems. He was losing a great deal of money by all these escapes and he did not care if he ever saw these escaping convicts again. The constant escapes were making him look bad and he now stepped up his campaign of blaming these frequent jailbreaks on the lack of a wall. At least on this complaint he was on solid ground. Thanks to Estill’s bookkeeper trusties, some of the escaped convicts seem to have simply disappeared from the prison logs and records. The arrival of Thomas M. Foley at the prison wharf on July 1, 1854, was to underscore the General’s lax policies, in spades. Foley, a 22 year-old printer by trade was employed by the San Francisco California Police Gazette, edited by John H. Dunn. After a dispute with Dunn over back pay, Foley left work early on the afternoon of May 11, 1854, and proceeded to drink himself into a drunken rage. Staggering to Dunn’s home, Foley was arguing with the editor’s wife when Dunn entered and saw what was happening. The two men had argued earlier in the day and Dunn was now furious. Seizing Foley by the arm, Dunn accused him of insulting his wife and said he was taking him to the police station. On the street, Foley drew a sword cane and


thrust it into the editor’s chest. As the drunken Foley fled the scene, he was seized by others and turned over to an officer. Dunn died from his wound and Foley was indicted for murder. The trial was commenced on June 24 and the jury selected, when court adjourned for the day. The following morning, Foley’s attorney, Elcan Heydenfeldt, proposed changing the plea from “not guilty” to manslaughter. Counsel justified the change because of the defendant’s youth, his intoxication at the time, the provocation involved, and the fact that he was being taken to the station house without a warrant. Judge Delos Lake responded that “a jury would do no more than convict the defendant of manslaughter, and therefore concluded to receive his plea on that charge.” At his sentencing two days later, Foley managed to get off with a three-year term and a stern lecture from Judge Lake. There was a strong adverse opinion on the ruling in the editorial columns of the Alta. Clutching a cozy letter from lawyer Heydenfeldt, Foley met Estill at the San Quentin wharf. After reading the attorney’s letter Estill had a long chat with his new “boarder.” Later the General told his prison superintendent, A. Jackson Tice, that Foley was not to be confined, that he was to eat with a trusty named Gates, sleep at Estill’s nearby hotel, have the run of the grounds, and no one was to know he was a prisoner. “Estill said Foley was a perfect gentleman,” commented Tice, “that… he is well educated and never ought to have been convicted and he thought he would be pardoned in a short time.” Foley was so elated at not being locked up in the Stones that he wrote a gushing letter to lawyer Heydenfeldt, praising his prison host’s “kindness and humanity:” “The civility with which I was treated, the indulgence conferred upon me, and above all the great trust placed upon your honor, renders my obligations towards you and the General, a hundred fold more obvious and it shall be my continued prayer to God, that no action of mine will subject me to become the vassal of misplaced confidence. …He [Estill] also placed upon me the injunction that his liberality towards me should be avoided in my communication with friends, lest such indulgence should subject him to the censure of the community. …” Before he signed off, Foley asked his attorney to send him a “few


plugs of tobacco” in care of Superintendent Tice. When a bored Foley asked Tice for something to do, he was made a night guard in charge of the yard. A few weeks later Foley disappeared along with $500 from the office safe. He left a note saying he would replace the stolen funds as soon as he was able to do so. Of course it is doubtful he ever did. When General Estill asked Superintendent Tice to purchase $10,000 worth of prison stock, Tice was not interested. He had seen enough of Estill’s loose manner of operation and probably suspected the General’s house of cards was overdue to collapse. Estill told Tice that he had a man named Turner who was willing to buy the stock and take over as superintendent. “If you will take ten thousand dollars of the stock,” continued Estill, “you can stay here as long as you please.” Tice put him off and later resigned. In the interim, with Tice gone, Estill had to prepare the superintendent’s annual report to the California state Legislature. As might be suspected, the report was long on complaints, but it contained a wealth of interesting data and details on the Stones and its appended surroundings. The report was dated January 28, 1855. To begin with, he began, since January 1851 there had been received at the prison five hundred and seventy-two convicts. Of these, two hundred and twenty-six were citizens of the United States, and three hundred and one were foreigners. Either facetiously or derisively, General Estill was now being referred to as the “Big Jailor.” Since the 1st of January, 1854, ninety-eight convicts had escaped with forty-one having been re-captured. “Quite a number” had been killed by guards during attempts to suppress revolts, and in efforts to retake those who escaped. Only twenty-one escapes, however, had been reported to Estill. More than $12,000 had been paid in expenses and rewards for the return of convicts. “I have the mortification daily,” wrote Estill, “of seeing the graves of my guard, murdered by the hands of infamy, and meeting others, maimed for life, whilst in the discharge of their unenviable duty.” The General pointed out that a big escape incentive was provided by the heavy fog that settled across the coast range from the ocean a


few miles to the west. Five months of the year this fog would blind guards and prisoners alike as they tried to make their way from the Stones to the brickyard, stone quarry, or the wharf. “Not a few have escaped by this means,” wrote Estill. “On one occasion, the prisoners passed an entire week in the cells without being able even to go to their meals, the fog being so dense.”Meals were apparently delivered to the cells during this period. Estill’s strongest and most legitimate complaint, however, concerned the escalating number of prisoners being delivered to him: “At the time this contract was made,” he noted, “it was not contemplated that there would be to exceed fifty prisoners, at any one time, for years. This number, it was believed, could be safely kept in a prison ship, or ‘temporary buildings, until such a time as the State could build the State Prison. …Instead of fifty, there are, at this day, over three hundred, and if a safe prison, with secure walls, had been erected so that the people of the different counties had the conviction that the proper punishment for crime would be administered, mob law would not so readily have been resorted to… .” Here, the General was referring to the many vigilante hangings around the state. It was a good point. Estill closed his report with a plea for the legislature to send a large delegation to the prison “to examine into the condition of the institution, and devise ways and means as will be for the best interest of the state.” This sounds like Estill was trying to squelch reports of rumors that had been circulating for some time as to the irregularities going on at “Point St. Quentin,” as Estill referred to the prison in his report.

The rear, or West gate to the prison, showing a portion of the brickyard in the 1870s. Author’s Collection.

When a state legislative committee did show up, it was not surprising that they found much to criticize. Although Estill complained of losing money on his prison venture, the committee’s math showed that with the current market price for brick and stone “with


ordinary energy and judgement, the institution can be made not only selfsupporting, but even profitable. By the committee’s calculations, there was no reason the prison should not clear something over $97,000 per year.” Although thirty guards were being utilized at this time, the committee insisted more were needed if the constant escape attempts were to be avoided. It was Estill’s policy to keep these investigating committees well-oiled at the various bars in and around the prison, but the legislators were still highly critical of the heavy drinking of the guards and the laxity that also allowed prisoners access to liquor. Despite the various recommendations and criticism, the committee wrote up their report and things returned to normal—or Estill’s idea of normal—at the prison again. While the prisoners could be locked up safely at night in the new cellblock, there would still be escape opportunities during the day when they were outdoors building roads, in the brickyard, working local farms, on woodchopping details, or in the Marin Island quarry. These were the dangerous times. The rule was Original cell door in the one guard for every eight prisoners, but this was Stones cellblock. not always possible. All these work projects were California State Library. going on at the same time which meant that trusties were being used more and more. Estill hesitated hiring any more guards than was absolutely necessary since their salary and food was coming out of his profits. Besides, trustworthy guards were difficult to find. An indication of the primitive conditions and quality of the guards was quite evident one afternoon in the spring of 1855. On a work detail, two of the convicts engaged in a fistfight and had to be separated by guards. The cons were returned to work, but when left together for a few minutes, they again began slugging it out. After this scenario was repeated several times, the guards became frustrated and came up with a novel solution. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, MAY 15, 1855:

Determined to have this constant battling effectually terminated, the guard had the belligerants stripped to the buff and manacled together by the left wrists, after which a new and stout rawhide was placed in the right hand of each, and the two or-


dered to flog each other until one or the other gave in. Nothing seemed more pleasing to the two desperadoes than this method of settling the dispute. The novel combat commenced, and is said to have lasted until both were nearly flayed alive and completely exhausted, when one named Welch was declared beaten. They are said to be more pacific in their dispositions since this trial of the toughness of each other’s hides... .

Convict crews had been working on East Marin Island for several years now. Estill had leased the quarry property and aside from tools, chains, derricks, and carts for moving stone, various buildings had been constructed. There was a guard house, a cook house, a carpenter shed, and a blacksmith shop. There was also a hut and corral for six hogs and eighteen pigs. Waban, now anchored off-shore from the Marin quarry, housed the overflow and most dangerous convicts. While the prisoners were locked in the ship’s cells at night, the guards apparently would often stay ashore in the guard house to sleep better by avoiding the constant rocking of the ship in the water.

“Black Jack” Bowen spent much time in San Quentin. Author’s Collection.

On the night of April 12, 1855, the skies darkened as a heavy rainstorm blew in from the Pacific. It was just what eight of the convicts had been waiting for. Jim Smith, No. 497, and No. 260, John “Black Jack” Bowen were perhaps the leaders, Jim having already previously escaped from prison. Bowen, a handsome, black-bearded ex-sailor from Rhode Island, was a burglar and thief who would spend the next thirty years in and out of prison.

As the wind roared and lightning split the skies, chisels, hammers, and saw knives were seized from hiding places and the convicts went to work. They must have known that the guards had gone ashore, perhaps by watching them through a porthole. As the occupants of one cell went to work on the lock of their door, the men in the next cell, which had the hull of the ship as its fourth wall, began chiseling and sawing through the heavy, wooden planks. By the time a large hole had been hacked out of the side, the lock on the adjoining cell had been broken and the men began dropping down into the water from their freshly-carved exit. The eight convicts swam ashore in the choppy waters and, wet to the bone, made their way to a boat on the other side of the island.


Born in Prussia about 1831, convict Jim Smith was a sailor by occupation and had jumped ship during the 1849 gold rush. He had been convicted of grand larceny in Sacramento in 1851 and was serving a two year sentence. He had managed to escape in January 1854, but after a theft near Gilroy, he was caught by some locals who demanded to know the identity of his cohorts and the location of their stolen property. When Jim refused to talk, the vigilantes put a noose around his neck and hauled him up from a convenient tree limb. Several strangling lifts off the ground were sufficient to convince the convict to hoarsely tell his captors what they wanted to know. Making a vow to himself to return and kill several of his tormentors, Jim was returned to San Quentin in March 1854. Apparently Jim had not forgotten his pledge when he and his seven companions exited Waban. The convicts fled across the bay to Contra Costa County where they split up. John Kelly, an Irishman and another former sailor, was a pal of Jim’s and offered to accompany him on his vengeance trip to Gilroy. One other of the convicts, Barney Smith, went along, also. When the group met a former Mexican convict who had previously escaped, he too joined the party. SAN JOSE SEMI-WEEKLY TRIBUNE, MAY 15, 1855:

…The Mexican was not informed of their designs; and contrary to their wishes, left them, and went to stay with his sister. The four [3] white men became alarmed for fear of the Mexican informing on them, and moved their camp. About two weeks since, on Sunday night, two of them went, during divine service, and stole two horses equipped for riding. The other two stole three horses about four miles from the church, and they all started for the mines. [Deputy Sheriff] Clark heard of them, went in pursuit and overtook Kelly who had sold his horse and was on foot… .

David Clark, a Stanislaus County deputy well aware of the standing reward for escaped convicts, returned to Gilroy with his prisoner and was joined by some twenty local ranchers to aid in the capture of the Mexican ex-convict. After Kelly had confessed to being an escaped prisoner and horse thief, and to Jim Smith’s plan to kill his former Gilroy tormentors, the ranchers took the captive into the woods the following night and lynched him. Jack Kelly had stolen his last horse. There was a spirited exchange in the press over what constitutes “justice” between one of the lynchers, who signed himself as “Truth,”


and a more law-abiding constituent going under the designation of “Y.” The recent convict escapes from both the state prison and the San Jose jail did not go unmentioned in the exchange. Those on the receiving end of depredations by escaped convicts and horse thieves could generally be expected to have their own harsh viewpoints on such people and events. Of the other recent escapees from Waban, Jim Smith had escaped Kelly’s fate and rejoined Black Jack Bowen in Tuolumne County where they stole three horses. Both were arrested at a local ranch on May 14th together with another escaped convict. All three were returned to San Quentin. Others of the escape group, George Wright, John Campbell, and Barney Smith, were recaptured also, but apparently John Hammond and L. W. Dray remained free. They may, however, have been returned under different names in later years. General Estill was being worn down by circumstances mostly of his own doing. He was constantly criticized in the press and in legislative reports for the continual escapes, for the lack of guards, the expense of the prison, and his trusty system—he was even accused of selling pardons! He was doing a good brick and stone business, but the constant expenses of supplying the prison and its inmates made the profits marginal. Vallejo had backed out on him, as did Jack Hays. He had sold prison shares to various others, but the general’s rosy promises soon played out. Without a wall around the Stones, there was no chance of stopping the endless escape attempts. Estill finally became so frustrated and discouraged that he wrote his good friend Governor John Bigler and offered to sell his contract back to the state for $127,000. At least, thought Estill, the governor would go to bat for him one way or another. Bigler, however, had other ideas. In no uncertain terms, the governor told the legislature that the state should not have to pay Estill for not living up to his original contract. Besides, the state was in disastrous fiscal shape and could ill afford such a reversal of course. General Estill was furious. Now, even Bigler had betrayed him. Although no mention of Estill’s wrath appeared in the press, years later an old timer recalled the General’s reaction at the time. THE SAN FRANCISCO EVENING CALL, MAY 4, 1890:


…The state capitol was at Sacramento. One day Estill appeared upon the street armed with a double-barreled shotgun, hunting for Bigler and many feared the consequences of a meeting… .

Fortunately, a mutual friend was able to calm the irate General, but the two politicians were never amicable again. To add to Estill’s troubles, a new set of prison directors had conducted an investigation at the prison during the winter of 1855. The report of new directors Major John Love, Richard N. Snowden, and William H. Palmer was highly critical of Estill’s trusty system, although admitting that the basic concept had merit. A trusty named Brown was not only allowed to go to San Francisco to solicit signatures for his own pardon, but Estill loaned him his horse to do so. A convicted forger from England, Brown’s old habits died hard and after trying to pass a phony check he went back to prison with ten years added to his time. The good news was that the new prison directors had decreed “the absolute necessity of erecting a good and substantial wall around the prison grounds… .” At the same time, the new directors announced that, in con- Prison Director William Palmer as he appeared junction with Estill, they were now assuming control of in later years. Author’s the prison. Estill no longer had charge of the prisoners, Collection. but he must have been grateful that he had been included in the deal at all. He was walking on eggs now and he did not like it. Cutting corners everywhere he could, Estill reduced food rations, while his guard force and was often far behind on receiving their salaries. Estill knew that a wall surrounding the prison was going to happen, he just did not know when. To his credit, plans for the wall had been drawn up. The wall would be a square, five hundred feet on each side. The lower part of the wall would be constructed of stone, four feet thick and ten feet high. The upper portion would be brick, two-feet thick and ten feet high, to make the overall height twenty feet. A three feet wide coping would top the walls, with small guard posts atop each corner. Foundation trenches had already been dug by the convicts. Finally, director John Love gave the contract to one James Smiley and the work was begun on August 20 and the wall completed on December 28, 1855.


At last Estill had his surrounding wall. The prison directors, who had turned the project over to Love, were delighted with the result and stated that “we are confident that the wall will compare favorably with any wall of a similar character in the Atlantic States.” The problems, however, began surfacing immediately. A report by a committee of the State Senate and Assembly grumbled that “the amount of wall built greatly exceeded the limits specified by the law authorizing its construction.” Even worse, the wall was out-of-square, being one hundred feet longer on one side. To cap it all off, the bill was over $125,000 and the directors had not even put the job out to bid! For once Estill had the last laugh, however. When testifying before the senate and assembly committee, he had commented; “I proposed last winter to build a wall around the prison, similar to the one built, for $50,000. I never heard of the giving out of the contract until it was made.” There was the customary amount of newspaper comment, but the politicians shrugged and little was apparently said about Estill’s remark. When the new directors took over management of the prison, Estill again exhibited his varied talents by acquiring the editor’s position on the Sacramento State Tribune. He had also switched parties. Still fuming at Governor Bigler, Estill was appointed chairman of the burgeoning American, or “Know-nothing” party. His stay at the Tribune was brief, but his editorials helped elect J. Neely Johnson governor and send Bigler packing. In March, 1856 Estill was offered the prison lease again, at $10,000 a month. Needing an assured income and with the new governor beholden to him, he readily accepted.


CHAPTER THREE

Breakouts & Bandit Gangs In early October 1851, Thomas J. Hodges was convicted of grand

larceny in Sacramento. A contemporary newspaper described him as “nearly six feet, well proportioned, combining in his frame strength with action; of a sanguine temperament—quick in his motions, he is described as being never at rest—sandy hair, and a full crop of it—light goatee to match his hair in color—his nose which was originally well formed and large has been mashed in the bridge, so as to be almost level with his face.” A native of Tennessee, Tom had acquired enough medical background to serve as a physician’s aid during the Mexican War. Later he joined the gold rush to California, but he had little luck with mining. He had even less luck at gambling, but when he stole some mules he found himself in real trouble. Since there was as yet no state prison, Hodges was probably placed in the unfinished and overcrowded San Francisco County jail. Later many of the state prisoners, mostly Mexican convicts, were moved aboard the Waban, in San Francisco Bay. By December, the Waban had been moved to Angel Island, some three miles north of San Francisco, off the coast of Marin County. Here the prisoners were put to work in the stone quarry. It is not known if Hodges, No. 24, was among the Waban prisoners, but he may have remained in the San Francisco jail where the inmates were put to work grading and repairing streets in the city. Feigning illness, Hodges was given light duties and he had soon disappeared. His freedom was brief, however and the following year found him at Point San Quentin, as the prison was often referred to, quarrying stone and helping to level the ground where the new prison was under construction. Hodges was soon recognized as an educated man with medical experience obtained during the war. As a trusty, he was referred to as “Dr. Hodges” and given the run of the


prison grounds where he looked after the sick and aided the prison physician. His pals, Cherokee Bob and a burglar known as “Jimmy-from-town” assisted him from time to time. Inevitably, the good “doctor” and his pals were soon plotting to escape. DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, AUGUST 19, 1854:

The plan of escape, as arranged, was as follows: At six o’clock, when the prisoners are placed in their cells, the guard is reduced to two or three men, the remainder going to supper, and a trusty passes along the corridor and locks each door. At this time the trusty was to be seized and gagged by the doctor [Bell] and his associates, and a rush made for the armory, where the arms were to be seized and an attack made on the guard. The plan was discovered about noon on the day it was to have been put in operation; upon which the doctor and his associates were taken out and severely whipped, and the former placed at manual labor.

It was a hard lesson that only made Tom and his pals even more desperate. He had many new acquaintances in prison due to his medical work. The Williamson (Skinner) brothers; Ned Conway, No. 243, the German ex-sailor Jim Smith and Bill Gristy, alias White, all became companions of Hodges. Jim Smith and Cy Skinner were both escape veterans and were always on the lookout for an opportunity to break out. Hodges seems to have been more cautious. When he broke out, he wanted to be sure it was successful—he had seen too many escape plans nipped in the bud. On Saturday, May 12, 1855, rumors were circulated in the San Francisco press of a mass breakout at the state prison. All the convicts, ran the reports, Jim Smith, was a leading desperado of had revolted, killed all the guards and were running early California. amok in the countryside. Accounts came in that large Author’s Collection. ships had been seen full of convicts heading across the bay. No word was had from Estill or any of the prison officials and at street corner gatherings crowds were discussing the worst case scenarios. What really happened was nowhere near as hysterical as the rumors being spread by the press. Just after the noon meal on May 12, Lieutenant Gray had assembled a wood-cutting detail. The convicts he assembled were an interesting crew. Tom Hodges had already escaped once and was regarded as an intelligent, and therefore dangerous, convict. Cherokee Bob had


also previously escaped and had proved to be a desperate man. Asa Carrico, No. 89, a Mariposa miner, had committed a particularly odious crime. When some nine hundred dollars in gold dust was missing from a trader on Sherlock’s Creek, Carrico had led a mob that accused an old man named Johnson of the theft. STOCKTON SAN JOAQUIN REPUBLICAN, AUGUST 12, 1852:

He [Johnson] was arrested by the mob and hanged by the neck until he became insensible, and whipped upon the bare back in the most cruel manner; but all this failing to extort from him the theft, Mr. Carrico, who was the leader of the mob, proposed to place his bleeding and lacerated body upon the hot embers, and to extract the nails of his fingers and toes with a pair of bullet molds; but this diabolical proposition meeting with no support, the poor old man, more dead than alive, was set at liberty.

When Carrico disappeared a short time later, he was followed and caught with the missing dust in his possession. He was admitted to San Quentin on August 6, 1852 to serve a five year term.. Convicts Carrico, James Stewart, Bill Gristy alias White, Jim Smith and several others made up the balance of Lieutenant Gray’s woodchopping party. Although not wholly accurate, a newspaper report related the events that followed. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, MAY 14, 1855:

On Saturday noon four noted convicts named Cherokee Bob, Carrico, White and Stewart, were sent out into the woods under the charge of a keeper named Gray, to cut wood for prison purposes. Gray was standing at some distance from the men, when he observed Stewart running towards him. Gray shouted to him to stop, at the same time leveling his revolver. Stewart threw up his arms and replied that he wanted to speak to him at once; he allowed him to approach, when he learned that the other three were making their escape through the bushes. He sprang for his horse, which was fastened nearby, but the animal starting at the sudden movement, broke his bridle and ran away. Stewart and Gray then went in pursuit of the fugitives … .

All the wild stories of the past few days were based on this one incident. Everything else were just—rumors. Hodges, Bill White, Jim Smith, and several others headed for the gold country where they sought the recently released Skinner brothers and other likely recruits for a robber band. After a series of small robberies, in July 1855 the gang stopped a Langton’s Express messenger near Forest City for a $3,000 haul of gold. Hodges needed a new identity and soon the name of “Tom Bell” was terrorizing the mountain roads of the Sierra.


Asa Carrico quickly split off from the group and disappeared. Cherokee Bob also left his companions, thinking he had a better chance by himself. Staying away from settlements, Bob made his way south working on scattered ranches, and gambling at every opportunity. At the isolated mission village of San Gabriel, near Los Angeles, Talbot was recognized by several men who had known him in Sonora. He was gambling when he was arrested as a suspect in a recent murder near Monterey. During several days of hearings, Bob was found innocent of the murder, but he had been identified as an escaped convict. Judge Benjamin Hayes ordered him promptly returned to prison. THE MONTEREY SENTINEL, JANUARY 12, 1856:

Cherokee Bob—This noted individual was examined before Judge Benj. Hayes in Los Angeles on the 22d December, ult., on the charge of being concerned in the murder of Messrs. Wall and Williamson on the 9th of November last, in this county. The result of the examination… shows so far that nothing could be fastened upon him… . He was brought up as an escaped convict in the Sea Bird, which arrived at this port on Wednesday afternoon last.

Although it was never proved, it was generally believed the murders were the work of two local desperados named Anastacio Garcia and Tiburcio Vasquez. Garcia was later lynched for his crimes, while Vasquez was legally hanged for other murders. Cherokee Bob was signed back into prison on January 11, 1856, where he resumed his wearying prison routine. Escaped convict Hodges, now using the name Tom Bell, assembled a large gang of highwayman who began Dolph Newton, one of Tom Bell’s gang. pillaging the gold rush trails. A holdup of a gold carrying Police Gazette. pack train from the Trinity mines was planned. Bell had colluded with several roadhouse operators to give him tips on moneyed travelers on the roads. From these outposts, Bell and his men would stop and rob travelers of every description, sometimes tying their victims to trees after robbing them. Bell paid off his informants in stolen goods or coin. While Bell and others assaulted travelers on the roads, Cy Skinner, Bill Gristy, and “Rattlesnake Dick” Barter stole thirteen mules. The plan was to rob a mule pack train loaded with gold in Northern Cali-


fornia. After the robbery, they would then switch mules so the brands would be different from the gold train mules. The stolen mules were then given to George Skinner, Big Dolph Newton, Nicanor Rodriguez, and Bill A stagecoach preparing to leave Dutch Flat in the 1850s. Stage robberies were widespread even into the early Carter who then left for 1900s. California State Library. the Trinity country. The holdup on March 12, 1856, netted some $17,000 in gold dust. After tying up the express messenger and packers, the gold was reloaded on the stolen mules and continued south, but now driven by the bandits. This was one of the largest robberies of the era and as word quickly spread, lawmen were on the trail. Carter, the first one picked up, promptly identified the guilty parties and told where they could be found. Much of the stolen gold was recovered. On the evening of April 22, at a shack near Folsom, three officers burst through the door and in a smoke-shrouded shootout killed George Skinner and captured a wounded Nicanor Rodriguez. Bill Gristy emptied his pistols during the fight, then managed to escape in the darkness and rejoin Bell. The outlaws continued their robberies on the road, the newspapers throughout the area demanding that something be done. In August, Bell planned a stagecoach holdup after learning there was to be a $100,000 gold shipment made between Camptonville and Marysville. When Bell received word that the stage had left, he and his men set up an ambush along the road. At the bandit’s shout to “halt,” however, the stage guard responded with a shotgun blast. Bell and his men were startled. Several rode off after a fusillade of shots came from the guard and coach passengers. The other outlaws now began firing at the coach, hitting driver John Gear in the arm, a woman in the head, and wounding several other passengers. “The stage is riddled with bullet holes,” reported the Marysville, Daily Herald.”This is the boldest robbery ever chronicled and but for the bravery of the driver, express agent and passengers, it would have


resulted in the loss of the treasure and more lives.” Mrs. Tilghman, the wounded woman, later died. Bell and his gang were relentlessly hunted now. In a desperate gunfight with lawmen, one of the gang, Ned Conway, was killed and Bell and another gang member barely escaped. Jim Smith was captured and tried for a robbery in Amador County. He was admitted to San Quentin again on October 12, 1856. Earlier, this same month, Tom Bell was captured on the San Joaquin River and lynched by a posse. Although Bell’s well-organized gang was history, Jim Webster and others of the gang were still at large. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD, OCTOBER 6, 1856:

Our County Jail now, says the Calaveras Chronicle, contains five of Tom Bell’s freebooters. On Tuesday last, Deputy Sheriff Shuler arrived in the Sacramento stage, having in charge Jack Phillips, a Sydney man, who was arrested at the Mountain House… . Phillips is said to be a harborer of Bell’s gang, and a gatherer of information for their special benefit. …Two prisoners arrived on the Sacramento stage. They were arrested at the California House… by Sheriff Clarke, Deputy Sheriff Paul, and Constable McCormick … .

Cy Skinner managed to escape the state and made his way to Idaho and Montana where he was later lynched as one of Henry Plummer’s gang of outlaws. Adolph Newton was now No. 944 in San Quentin. The fact that all members of Tom Bell’s band were ex-convicts suggested to some that perhaps the new state prison was inadvertently fostering crime, rather than curtailing it. It was a concept being discussed by newspapers, politicians, and on street corners. On October 8, the same month a strangled Tom Bell was twisting and turning from the effects of his rope necktie along the San Joaquin River, a group of native Californian convicts were loading a San Quentin scow with brick on the prison wharf. At a signal from Juan Flores, a twenty-three year old Californio prisoner, the shackled prisoners rushed and overpowered the two guards on the vessel and prepared to sail. Guards on shore recovered quickly and were shooting with deadly effect as the convicts cast off the moorings and edged the ship out into the bay. Dead and wounded convicts littered the deck. A six-pound field piece at Post No. 5 now blasted a load of canister shot across the deck, killing and maiming more of the escaping prisoners. Quickly finding the ship’s tool chest,


the convicts began attacking the rivets that clamped the chains to their legs. Soon the brig was out of range and after making the Contra Costa shore across the bay, the convicts spread out and headed south. Some fifteen or twenty of the convicts stayed with Flores. Fleeing south, a desperado named Pancho Daniel was picked up along the way as the convicts travelled through the Coast Range toward Los Angeles. They stole food at ranches and, to residents of small Hispanic villages, claimed to be patriots who were going to take California back from the hated “Gringos.” They called themselves “Manilas,” Spanish for the manacles of their prison stay. At San Luis Obispo another ex-convict named Andres Fontes joined the group after Flores promised to help him kill Los Angeles County Sheriff James R. Barton. Fontes claimed the sheriff had unjustly sent him to prison.

The village of San Juan Capistrano as it appeared about 1900. Author’s Collection.

After dallying briefly in Los Angeles, Flores and his gang took over and robbed the old mission village of San Juan Capistrano. Taking whatever horses they needed as pack animals, the outlaws capped their visit by killing a merchant named George Pfleugardt and pillaging his store. But Juan Flores had been recognized and a messenger sent to Los Angeles. Even as the large group of Manilas left town, Sheriff Barton and Constable William Little, Charles Baker, Frank Alexander, Charles Daly, and Alfred Hardy were on the road. Sheriff Barton and his posse stopped for breakfast at the hacienda of Don Jose Sepulveda on the morning of January 23, 1857. Unknown to the lawmen, a Flores sympathizer rode off to warn the outlaws. As the sheriff and his posse were passing through the San Joaquin Hills, Flores and his men suddenly appeared and galloped toward Little and Baker who were riding point. There was a brief gunfight as the two surprised posse men were gunned down and killed. Barton and his


four remaining men in his posse, now spurred their horses to the relief of their friends, but they too were overwhelmed by the outlaws in a desperate horseback gunfight. Andres Fontes now reined his mount toward Barton and killed him with a shot to the chest. Hardy, Alexander and Daly plunged their horses through a thick pall of gunsmoke and began a retreat. The outlaws promptly pursued and managed to kill Daly who was riding a much slower mule. The dead bodies of Barton and his men were all riddled with bullets and the corpses robbed of money, clothes, and weapons. The culmination of this terrible event was one of the more stirring occurrences of 1850s California. Many of the Californio rancheros had suffered one way or another since the advent of the Americans and a new way of life. Now, however, the Californios promptly offered their services in the pursuit of the murderous outlaws. Don Andres Pico, who had fought against the Americans in the recent war, gathered a force of fifty-one Californios and quickly mapped out a campaign. A large party of Americans bolstered Pico’s group to 119 men while Indians and other scouts were sent out to guard Andres Pico’s posse relentlessly pursued the mountain passes in the area. A troop of cavalry from the Flores gang. Fort Tejon also arrived to aid in the hunt. Author’s Collection.. Pico and the Americans were merciless in their pursuit of the outlaws, allowing them no quarter. Many of the outlaws were lynched while several managed to flee the area and escape. Juan Flores was captured and hanged in Los Angeles, while Pancho Daniel met the same fate the following year. Also hanged was was Leonardo Lopez, another gang member. It was a terrible time and the decencies of law were sometimes ignored by an exasperated public. But there were those who knew just where to place the ultimate blame for the Bell and Flores gangs and did not hesitate to say so. “If it had been the design and wish of the people,” raged an editorial in the Los Angeles Star, “to found a college for the express purpose of furnishing a complete criminal education and supporting professors, in all the varied arts of crime… it would have been a fertile imagination that could have designed a more efficacious system, than the one now in such successful and flourishing condition at our State Prison.”


Although the many prison escapes had generated much bad publicity over the years, there were occasional reminders that, aside from quarrying stone and brick-making, San Quentin could be otherwise productive as reported by the Marin County Surveyor. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, NOVEMBER 28, 1856:

There have been some improvements made on some of our roads. The road from Prison Point to San Rafael has been made a good carriage road. There are now at work on the road, from San Rafael to Tomales Bay, some twenty hands, which will be finished by spring. These roads have been made by Gen. Estill with prison labor. I hope the county will try to do something towards making roads and bridges, for there has not been one rod of road made, nor a bridge built by the county yet…

From the beginning California politics had been in the hands of seasoned office-holders from the older, eastern states, particularly New York City. But politics was rough and raw in New York, supported by thugs, street gangs, prize fighters, and gamblers who received their share of patronage by controlling elections. They did this by stealing, or stuffing, ballot boxes, and initiating brawls at the polls to scare off voters. Democrat or Whig, they all had their strong-arm boys who, for a stipulation - cash, a minor political office or other favor - would “stuff” a candidate into office. Gold rush San Francisco was particularly cursed with these types: boatmen like Martin Gallagher or Bill Lewis, a thug like Charley Duane, a barkeeper and prize fighter like the hideously-visaged William “Wooley” Kearney, gamblers like Billy Mulligan, or a hack driver like the vicious Mike Brannigan. These men were the means of electing illicit San Francisco judges and other officials who would release their “shoulder-strikers” when they were arrested for their frequent riots, brawls and worse. They could also guarantee that any of the higher state officials would be elected if the price was right. Politicians frequently established volunteer fire brigades as political bases in the 1840s and 50s. Here, prominent merchants and minor politicians would work side by side with policemen, laborers, thugs, gamblers, and boatmen to protect the city against fire. These groups would also hold grand social events such as balls and parades. By 1856, however, outrageous voter frauds, shootings and drunken brawls had worn down the tolerance of San Franciscans. One of the thugs, a minor politician named James P. Casey, finally pushed San Franciscans over the edge.


Casey was a classic example of the level to which San Francisco politics had foundered. A New Yorker, Casey had been involved in various local brawls and shooting scrapes and recently had his friend James “Yankee” Sullivan “stuff” him into a supervisor’s office in a district in which he did not even live. Casey also edited a local newspaper called the Sunday Times in which he excoriated his enemies while blackmailing bankers and merchants. James King of William (the title was to differentiate him from other local “James Kings”) was the crusading Vigilantes hanged editor of the San Francisco Bulletin. When he acquired James Casey after he documents relating to Casey’s serving a term in New shot down editor King. Author’s Collection. York’s Sing Sing prison, King decided to point out the quality of men being elected to local public office. This news had already been published locally during a recent court case, but this was also payback time since Casey had unmercifully roasted both Bulletin editor James King and his brother Thomas in the Sunday Times. Casey, hearing of the Bulletin’s plans, visited King’s office, pleading that he not publish the damning documents and offering retractions on everything he had published on the brothers. “Is not the record correct,” responded Editor King? “Yes,” replied Casey, “but I am sensitive on such personal matters.” King then told him to leave, with Casey muttering dire imprecations if his prison record was published. The prison sentence was for a fairly minor offense; in New York Casey had sold some furniture after splitting up with a harlot with whom he had been living. She retaliated by having him arrested, resulting in conviction and Sing Sing. The record was published and that evening Casey shot King in the street as he was walking home. A brave man as he had proven in various gunfights and cutting brawls, Casey nonetheless was careful to see that he had the advantage. He had his pistol in his hand under a cloak and as King approached, Casey shouted “Defend yourself,” then immediately fired. The ball from his Navy Colt plowed into King’s upper chest. Estill was on the scene and witnessed the incident. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, MAY 16, 1856:

We learn from Gen. Estelle [sic], who was an eyewitness, that Mr. King did


not draw any weapon, but was met in the middle of the street by Casey, who said, “Are you armed?”—to which Mr. King made no reply, but looked at Casey. Casey threw off his cloak and presented a large navy revolver, saying—“Draw and defend yourself,” at the same time taking deliberate aim and covering his victim with a well-directed shot, the result of which is known. He then cocked his pistol again, but seeing his opponent stagger into the Pacific Express office, did not attempt a second shot.

General Estill, Judge Edward McGowan, and various other Casey cronies had been alerted to the attack and were stationed in the area to see the results and provide whatever defense Casey might need in the way of witnesses. Word of the shooting quickly spread. Growing crowds of people promptly choked the street and Casey was hustled into a hack accompanied by several police officers and various supporters and rushed to the county jail where he was locked up. King died a few days later. The great vigilante uprising which now engulfed San Francisco is one of the epic moments of California history. Justification for what transpired, however, remains in dispute. The provocations, most agreed, were great. Gambler Charles Cora had recently shot and killed the local U.S. Marshal. Cora’s mistress, a notorious brothel owner, had bought the best legal talent money could buy and a hung jury was the result. Billy Mulligan, Yankee Sullivan, Bill Lewis, and a herd of other thugs controlled elections, while Casey’s recent fraudulent election to the board of supervisors clearly indicated the results of such practices. One of the worst of the city’s political thugs, Charley Duane, would later admit that “politics had become so corrupt that it was impossible to have anything like a fair election.” An outraged public was a powder keg waiting for the fuse to be lit. It had now been lit by James Casey. More than five thousand vigilantes were enrolled, headed by the most prominent merchants in San Francisco. After vigilante trials, Casey and Cora were hanged along with two others, while a hoard of Mulligans, Duanes, and other undesirables were escorted aboard ships heading for distant destinations. The vigilantes disbanded, but not before establishing a political organization that would elect their own candidates to public office for many years. It was a serious setback for the Democratic Party in San Francisco and General Estill did not like it. He himself had bolted the party dur-


ing his dispute with Governor Bigler, but that was only temporary. Because of his flagrantly inept handling of prison affairs, he well knew how vulnerable he was. He had only escaped vigilante wrath because they had limited their jurisdiction to San Francisco where the Democratic Party had now lost its muscle. Estill would learn, however, that he had not been overlooked by the vigilantes after all. When he ran for and won the Marin County chair in the State Assembly in late 1856, Estill first learned that two recent executives of the Vigilance Committee had delivered a long and highly critical prison report to a legislative committee that was already investigating him. The General’s rage now knew no bounds. On February 3, 1857, he took to the Assembly floor and began a tirade against the past and present editors of the San Francisco Bulletin, the vigilantes, and anyone else who opposed him. It was the most outrageous collection of “lies and billingsgate” that had probably ever been heard in the assembly. Both the dead and the live King brothers, roared Estill, were swindlers, the wife of Tom King was a whore and the vigilantes were bloody murderers. He went on and on for over two hours. Several times during the vicious verbal assault, startled assemblymen cried out “That’s a lie,” but still he relentlessly continued his harangue. The obviously personal attack had nothing to do with the business of the assembly and as such should never have been allowed. Still, those legislators who were not outraged by Estill’s ranting were amused by it, and after all, it was much more entertaining than trying to resolve the state’s myriad problems. Few were deceived by Estill’s preemptive strike, however, least of all the Union. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, FEBRUARY 6, 1857:

The testimony relating to the management of the State Prison by Mr. Estill, which we copy from the Bulletin, and which was taken before the vigilance committee, may be considered as fully explaining the violent hostility manifested against the Committee by the member from Marin… .

The following day Estill was faced with a resolution of censure for his performance, but he continued in his bullying manner. When he began identifying a member as being sympathetic to the vigilantes, Assemblyman Whipple jumped to his feet and called him to order, stating he was attacking a member of the House. “I have been interrupted once or twice by the gentleman from Klamath,” growled Estill, “and give


him notice that if it occurs again I shall have a word to say of him… .” “Any time the gentleman from Marin desires to turn his venom on me,” snapped back Whipple, “I am ready for him and invite the same.” But Estill had made a bad mistake. He was leaving this day for San Francisco to board a ship for the East. Estill had planned that he would leave San Francisco before his scurrilous speech could be rebutted in the Bulletin and sent out on the same boat. But a version of the speech had been telegraphed to Bulletin editor Tom King and a Bulletin rebuttal was aboard Estill’s ship. He had sown the wind and now would reap the whirlwind and not be present to defend himself. The assault was promptly commenced by most of the Sacramento and San Francisco press. “A scene was enacted,” noted the San Francisco Alta, “in the Assembly Chamber of California… which, in point of impropriety, to use no harsher term, has not, we believe, its equal in the whole history of legislative bodies… .” “There is no doubt,” stated the Sacramento Union, ”that Gen. Estill grossly abused the privilege granted him by the Assembly on Tuesday. He asked for the privilege to defend himself against personal attacks which he alleged had been made upon him by the editor of the Bulletin. He did not utter a single word in his own defense—thus leaving everybody to conclude that the charges made against him are true… .” Few of the newspaper accounts actually printed Estill’s diatribe, but the Bulletin had no choice since they would be accused of a cover up if they ignored it. Unfortunately, in roasting Estill the Bulletin quoted various undocumented items of heresay, also. In the following days, however, the Bulletin carefully refuted Estill’s slanders with letters from prominent Democrats and others from around the state denouncing the “Big Jailor’s” oratory. The real damage was done by the vigilante report on Estill’s prison that had initiated the exchange. The investigation by C. J. Dempster and George R. Ward was published in the Bulletin and contained damning testimony from San Quentin guards and other witnesses that revealed a prison system run amuck. According to sworn witnesses, Estill had been selling pardons; he


had released prisoners before their term was up and often made no effort to recapture escaped convicts. Estill had reportedly also taken two African boys from San Quentin and sold them into slavery at New Orleans. Another damning incident recorded in the Dempster - Ward vigilante report involved the escape of Cherokee Bob, Tom Hodges (later Bell), and the others in 1855. Lieutenant John M. Gray was interviewed and told a disturbing story. Gray, it will be remembered, was the longtime friend of Estill who had come to California with him in 1850. Apparently, either Gray and Estill had become estranged, or Gray was terrified of the two vigilantes who interrogated him. SAN FRANCISCO BULLETIN, FEBRUARY 4, 1857;

I was engaged by Gen. Estill in the State Prison at San Quentin. A person named [Asa] Estes was Captain of the Guard. Estes at one time paid a visit to San Francisco and on his return, he requested me to take charge of some prisoners, named Cherokee Bob, Wm. White, Thomas Hodges, and James Stewart, and a man named Calicotte [Carrico], whom I was to take out ostensibly to work, but, according to instructions from Estes, I was to permit them to escape. I at first declined, but Estes told me I must do it and I, feeling that my life was in danger should I persist in my refusal, finally consented to do as I was ordered.

Gray went on to report that Captain Estes then gave him a loaded navy revolver and a rifle and he proceeded with the prisoners into the forest to cut wood. When the prisoners began running away, Gray fired at them, but the convicts only laughed at him. Stewart stayed with the guard and they returned to the prison where Gray discovered that the weapons Estes had given him were loaded with blanks! Later, he heard a report that Cherokee Bob had paid Estill $1,800 for the escape. Guard Gray’s tale was validated by Bill White, one of the escaping convicts. In a long confession first published in the San Joaquin Republican, then later in the Bulletin, October 22, 1856, White told the same story as Gray in detail that left little doubt as to the conspiracy. Estill now claimed that he had directed the prison superintendent, Will H. Graham, to fire Gray as he was suspected of being involved in the escape. Gray saw where all this was going and promptly headed south where he obtained work on the Sebastian Indian Reservation in the mountains north of Los Angeles. On November 27, 1859, he was stabbed to death in a drunken brawl at a local trading post.


Tom Bell was dead now and Cherokee Bob was back in prison. It is not known if Dempster and Ward had queried Bob about the bribe, but if they did he would not have said anything. It would have been more politic to steer himself away from any such illegal bribe as he still hoped to obtain an early prison release. There were other nasty stories in the anti-Estill press—stories that were hard to believe. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, MARCH 17, 1857:

Miserable State of Matters at the State Prison—Death of two Prisoners by Starvation. We learn by a gentleman who arrived from San Quentin last evening, that there has been no bread or vegetables of any kind in the Prison during the last three days; and that the beef brought them was the refuse of the market, and much of it in a putrid state. Our informant says that on Thursday or Friday last two prisoners attempted to escape starvation. One of them in crossing a small ditch, fell in and finally perished, being too weak to extricate himself from the mud. The same day another prisoner was found dead outside the Prison grounds. He was supposed to have been starved to death. The above speaks for itself… .

When “two morning [newspaper] white-washers of vice and corruption” denied the incidents had occurred, the Bulletin shot back with an offer to provide the name of the person who had provided the information. “The gentleman who furnished us the statement called at our office this morning, and says he is prepared to substantiate its truth by persons connected with the prison… .” Certainly something happened, but where Estill was involved either side may have engaged in some exaggeration. Little by little the struggling prison on Point San Quentin was becoming organized. The 1856 Report on the State Prison, by the Joint Committee of Senate and Assembly had listed the number of convicts confined in the Stones in January 1856 as 317. Eightyfive more were living in prison ships and quarrying stone on Marin Island. “We are compelled to put four convicts in each cell,” continued the report, “and some 125 to 130 in the long room, and as soon at the lease expires for quarryScene in the Stones in later years. Note the arched ceilings of the cells. San Quentin Museum Association.


ing stone… we shall have eighty-five more to crowd into the long room, beside the number we daily and weekly see arriving here from different parts of the state.” The long room in the ground floor of the Stones was originally a dormitory and office for the guards. Now it was full of makeshift bunks housing the constantly arriving new prisoners. Such crowding had already led to escape attempts and other problems. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, JUNE 10, 1857:

Difficulties at Point San Quentin—We are informed that there has been quite a difficulty among the convicts at the State Prison at Point San Quentin. It appears that about 300 of them are required to sleep together in what is called the “long room.” They are not allowed any light. On Saturday or Sunday night last, a number of them got into a melee in the dark, in the course of which several of them were badly injured, and several managed to escape. On account of the escapes, several of the guards have been discharged. Among the persons injured was the notorious Cherokee Bob, who was dangerously… stabbed.

The 1856 report cited above also listed the employees at the prison; three directors acting as warden, secretary, and president: ten officers of the guard: thirty-five guards; eleven civilian employees including clerks, sailors, a physician, and a blacksmith. Of course these numbers were always varying. Two more cellblocks, the same size as the Stones, “were required to be constructed immediately,”according to the report. The new cellblocks would be three-story, instead of two-story like the Stones. Other structures of brick and stone were also planned; blacksmith, carpenter, cabinet-maker, boot and shoe, tin, and wheelwright shops; officers’ quarters, a hospital, guard houses, and a store house. All of this would entail an appropriation of $95,000. Add to this $100,000 for prison provisions for the year, $15,000 for clothing and $90,000 for employee wages, and the request from the legislature would be $300,000. The legislature gnashed its collective teeth over spending such amounts on criminals. Consequently, they would ignore such requests, or stall and hold hearings until it was too late in the session to act. By 1856 the prison was generally referred to as the “California State Prison” the “State Prison, Point San Quentin” or sometimes “Corte Madera.” Another term used was “The State Prison at San Quentin.” The name “San Quentin,” although occasionally utilized, was not yet in general use. As early as 1855 a fairly full set of rules were published by the prison directors:


Rule 1. The Guard will receive orders from the Captain, which must be punctually obeyed. No Guard is at liberty to speak to the prisoners, except to give an order and receive a short reply, unless by express orders of the Captain. Rule 2. When the prisoners are taken in and out of the Prison, every Guard must be on duty. In case of an insurrection the Guard must, as far as possible, hold their fire, as it is considered safer; but when necessary to fire, to shout at the prisoners to lay down, and shoot to kill if possible, but only those who are standing up or running about. Rule 3. No guard must sleep at his post or discharge his arms while on duty, nor must he at any time leave his gun at more than a distance of three feet from him. Rule 4. Every precaution should be taken by the Guard to keep their arms in good order, and during the rainy season to keep them dry and ready at all time for use. Rule 5. At the first ringing of the bell in the morning the Guard will rise immediately, dress and arm themselves, and go to such posts as are assigned to them by the Captain, so that by the time the bell rings to turn the men out to work, every Guard will be in readiness at his post. Rule 6. At night when the bell rings the Horse guards will follow the prisoners when they go up to the Prison. The Foot Guards will remain at their posts until the second bell rings at the Prison, notifying that all is right. Rule 7. All Guards must be in the Prison at eight o’clock at night. Rule 8. It shall be the duty of the Guard at the Prison to let no prisoners come in without knowing their business, and if any prisoner is sick to see that he goes to his cell and is locked up; and if any prisoner comes for anything else, by order of any officer or foreman, to see that he receives it and returns to work immediately. Rule 9. Reading at post is forbidden. Rule 10. No shooting will be allowed on the Prison grounds, except by the Guard at the Prison for the purpose of clearing weapons, and then only one shot each. Rule 11. The Guard on duty the first part of the night, must be at the door of the Prison from Bell-ringing in the morning until twelve o’clock , M, The Guard on duty from twelve M. must be at the doors of the Prison from twelve, M. until the prisoners are all secured in the cells at night. Rule 12. At the turning out of the prisoners in the morning, the Captain of the Guard will have all the sick placed in a line by themselves and marched under Guard to the office of the Doctor, to be prescribed for, and returned to their cells all that are not able to work.

In the morning the prisoners were allowed to empty and rinse out their slop buckets from the night and then wash up. “Prisoners were allowed to bathe in the summer,” recalled a guard. “We took part out at a time, according to the guard that was there; prisoners were allowed to bathe at any time they applied for permission; generally they were allowed to change shirts once a week when we had shirts for them… .”


Punishment for recalcitrant prisoners evolved around flogging, which had been a principal means of discipline in much of the world since biblical times. In this country, however, memories of European dungeons and punishments resulted in isolation cells, bread and water diets and other alternatives to physical punishment. It was soon learned that leniency often only encouraged bad men to be worse. Besides, it was reasoned, children were still being whipped in school and sailors faced flogging for disobeying orders on the high seas. Infringement of rules would likely get a convict ten lashes, eighteen for fighting, thirty for insubordination, sixty for escaping, twelve for stealing, and thirty for homosexual activities. George W. Wells was yard captain during 1856 and described his job to the prison board in a report of the following year. REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON STATE PRISON, SUBMITTED FEBRUARY 25TH, 1857.

I have the inflicting of all punishment; I use a raw-hide or leather strap; any violation of Prison discipline, such as attempts at escape, insurrections, stealing, using offensive language, fighting, unnecessary noise, disorderly or vicious conduct, render them liable; do not recollect ever giving over one hundred lashes at one time; ranging from five up. No other person employed in Prison is permitted to inflict any punishment, except during my absence, when I deputize someone; but the business is generally laid over until my return.

Woe to the convict who was in the yard captain’s disfavor and sentenced to flogging. Jesus Moreno, No. 966, who was doing a five year stint for grand larceny from Santa Clara County, arrived in August 1856. The punishment record shows that he received 150 lashes, although it later reported that he “was almost cut to pieces by 200.” It was said that Yard Captain Wells, who did the two hour flogging, had to retire to his office several times for a whiskey stimulant. During 1857, a total of 4,643 lashes were given to troublesome convicts. The yard captain, and later the turnkey, supervised the mess hall, also, although the responsibility would vary over the years. In all legislative reports and investigations, Flogging scene as pictured in Bunco Kelley’s Thirteen Years in the Oregon Penitentiary. 1908. Author’s Collection.


General Estill invariably emerged as a man who had assumed a job that no one else wanted. As such he felt he could do whatever was necessary to achieve his own questionable ends. In this report it is shown that many prisoners during 1856 wore the same clothes year around, with no coats or socks; while forty percent of the convicts had no shoes. Meals often consisted of spoiled beef or pork, potatoes, beans and water. Prison officers and trusties had tea or coffee. The trusty system was the cause of a great many escapes and was roundly condemned in the report. “It is to be regretted the trusty system was ever inaugurated, as it destroys the objects to be obtained by imprisonment; a general system of favoritism is kept up; and this depends upon the will, not of the Judge giving sentence nor on the law or the offense committed by the convict, but upon the will of the Lessee; and thus far no check has been interposed.� In other words, it was not the system that was at fault, but Estill! It was shown in various reports that General Estill had sometimes neglected to announce prison escapes for his own reasons. In the report cited above, dozens of escapes were cited that were not reported and it was frequently suggested the prison authorities ignored, or even promoted, the escape of troublesome convicts. Guards, boatmen, visitors, and other informants would sometimes get the word out to the newspapers, however. SAN JOSE TRIBUNE, SEPTEMBER 18, 1857:

State Prison Affairs—According to the report of John C. Gordon, Superintendent of the State Prison, the total number of convicts that escaped from the institution from April, 1856, to August 31st, 1857, is one hundred and eleven! Retaken and brought back during the same period, thirty-five! Still at large, seventysix! The whole number of convicts now in prison is five hundred. The State Prison is supposed to be a place in which convicts can be safely kept; but this is a fallacious idea, as the figures most conclusively show.

Nowhere is the demoralizing state of affairs at the prison better illustrated than in a report by a state assembly investigating committee chaired by George H. Rogers. On January 27, 1856, a seven man team began their investigation. Clearly, the learn-as-you-go methods and the trusty system, coupled with the renting out of the prisoners for profit, had been disastrous. Several pages of the report listed the many escapes from the prison due to a paucity of guards, lack of trusty supervision,


and the disorder resulting from the constant changes in personnel. The report concluded that “the present lessee is an unsuitable person to entrust with the management of a penitentiary.” Many of the prisoners, “probably one fourth, were in a condition bordering on destitution; about one hundred of them without shoes, and as a general thing, the remainder very badly shod… A majority of the prisoners had not sufficient clothing for comfort in summer, and from their general filthy appearance [it was] judged there was not clothing sufficient for change.” The prison bedding was “insufficient” and an examination of the prison food revealed the quality was such that no human being “should be required to eat it.” The report continued downhill from there. REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON STATE PRISON, SUBMITTED FEBRUARY 27, 1857:

That the Commissioners have neglected their duties, and the Directors’ offices have been of little use in the administration of the affairs of the Prison. That the Lessee has used the labor of the prisoners mainly in making bricks for sale during the past season. That this has been done to the neglect of building suitable quarters at an early day, inside the prison walls, for the accommodation of the prisoners.

The Committee report was closed with a series of recommendations, among which were that an “agent” should reside at the prison to see that justice was done between the prisoners, the state, and the lessee; the trusty system should be abolished, the prison should be made reformatory as well as disciplinary, and the convicts, without distinction, should be attired in a prison uniform. All the recommendations would eventually come to pass, but not for some years. Despite his new contract, the time for James Madison Estill was running out.


CHAPTER FOUR

The Big Jailor Born in 1811 to an aristocratic Virginia family, John F. McCauley

was already quite wealthy when he travelled overland to California in 1850. He promised himself he would stay that way. McCauley had led a privileged life. When he came of age his father presented him with a slave for a body servant and $10,000 for a sight-seeing trip around the Midwest. After settling in Missouri, young John joined a regiment heading south to fight in the Mexican War. Returning to Independence after the war, McCauley married Caroline Wilson who soon bore him a baby girl they named Alice. In California, McCauley bought large tracts of property and established a cattle ranch, securing a beef contract for San Quentin in 1855. Like General Estill, McCauley also took up residence in San Francisco. The two men may have known each other in Missouri-certainly, they were of like thinking so far as prisons were concerned. Despite Estill’s irrational behavior and the constant criticism, the “Big Jailor,” as the Bulletin referred to him, managed to sweet talk McCauley and his partner, Lloyd Tevis, into buying one half of Estill’s prison lease agreement. A rare, favorable legislative report on the prison’s profitmaking potential backed up Estill’s sugar-laced urgings. But McCauley was not the pampered and spoiled scion of Southern aristocracy that he appeared to be. He had been a soldier and thought he was a good businessman. He looked at the prison the same way Estill did, as a money-making machine powered by convict labor. Estill painted a rosy picture. If he did not always make money, it was the state’s fault, not his, he grumbled. He could have saved his breath. The agreement was signed and recorded in nearby San Rafael on May 14, 1857. Estill was now a Marin County assemblyman and could collect half his profits and spend most of his time on politics, which he did. A report reached San Francisco in late October 1857


that a group of sixty convicts had successfully escaped from San Quentin by commandeering one of the prison sloops. There had been other vague stories, the Sacramento Union commenting that “the lessee of the prison was using every effort to conceal the fact of the escape from the public.” There had been several aborted escape attempts in the past few weeks and some of the guards were noticeably nervous. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY HERALD, NOVEMBER 6, 1857:

Attempt of Convicts to Escape—Two Killed—We learn from Mr. Anderson, one of the officers of the State Prison, at San Quentin, that a number of the convicts endeavored to effect their escape, yesterday, by going on board a small vessel lying in the harbor. They were, however, observed and fired upon by the guard, and two of their number killed. Full particulars have not reached us, as the packet, with Mr. Anderson on board, was leaving at the time the affair occurred.

The prison schooner Energetic had eased up against the San Quentin wharf with a load of firewood. A group of 35 convicts filed onto the boat and began unloading. Stacking the wood on the wharf, when they had filled all the space alongside the schooner with stacked wood, the convicts untied the boat and began moving it down the wharf to a clear space where they could begin unloading again. A brisk breeze caught the sails and took the boat further than intended, according to the convicts, and they struggled to return the craft to the wharf. Overlooking the wharf, guard James Curtin was in charge of a 12pounder field piece at post No. 5. Situated on a hill, the cannon could fire a 12 pound ball or a cannister of grapeshot. Curtin now watched the schooner with increasing alarm. Convinced that an escape was taking place, Curtain yelled several warnings, then fired a charge of grapeshot that ripped into the crowd of startled convicts. Screaming for Curtin not to fire again, guards and convicts now rushed to the scene of slaughter. Bloodied convicts were scattered about the wharf and schooner as prison officers now arrived. First reports from various newspapers implied that a scared guard had slaughtered the helpless convicts, but an explanation from guard Curtin gave more details on what happened. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD, NOVEMBER 13, 1857:

…They got her to the end of the wharf and commenced shoving off her bows; I hailed them, telling them to stop shoving her off; some of them looked at me, but gave no answer, and did not heed the warning; I repeated it twice, with emphasis, but they still kept shoving her out. I elevated the gun, and took sight forward, where they


seemed thickest. I hailed them again, holding the poker over the gun, telling them to desist or take the grape; they paid no attention. …I fired and the result you know.

John C. Gordon, superintendent of the prison, was some distance away and heard Curtin shouting. Seeing the convicts continue to ignore Curtin’s orders, he ran towards the post yelling for the guard to shoot, which he did. “The prisoners retired from the Point,” continued Gordon, “only after being assured that the guard would fire again if they refused.” Two men had been killed and six wounded. After the injured had been cared for, a prompt investigation cleared the prisoners of attempting to escape, while the two dead were buried. Three of the wounded later died. A coroner’s jury ruled that guard Curtin was responsible for the five deaths, but “the said act was not criminally intended.” Convicts Henry Browning, Smith, Watson, Murray and Acuna were buried in the convict cemetery. Whether the responsibility for the tragedy lay with the guard or the convicts, or a combination of both, was not explained in the report. “Lewis Mahoney,” pontificated the San Francisco Alta, “is an industrious thief and takes anything, with feet or without, on which money can be raised.” Although not a gunman, ballot box stuffer or crooked politician, Mahoney was one of the stock rustlers, general thieves, and nuisances exiled from California by the 1856 San Francisco Vigilantes. He was also one of the few Vigilante exiles with the guts to return within a few weeks.

Lewis Mahoney was a creative crook who kept California lawmen after him for thirty years. Author’s Collection.

Reportedly born and raised in Philadelphia, Mahoney left his mother’s hearth when nine years of age and made his larcenous way to California during the gold rush. According to Detective Captain Isaiah W. Lees of the San Francisco Police Department, Mahoney was as bold as he was light-fingered. Lees once recalled a particularly audacious Mahoney venture out near the Mission Dolores. He had stolen a saddle at a ranch, then galloped down the road and sold it at the first house he came to. He then stole several hogs from that house and herded them to the nearest ranch where he disposed of them at a nice profit. From this ranch he rustled a calf and sold it at the


next farmhouse. A man of zealous aspirations, Mahoney was no slouch at jail-breaking, either. Turned over to the San Francisco vigilantes by the authorities of Contra Costa County, Mahoney was shipped off on the steamer John L. Stephens on the 5th of July, 1856. Although they had hanged four men and exiled many others, the vigilantes did not concern Mahoney. He jumped ship at Acapulco and returned to San Francisco aboard Golden Age. Again at large in the Bay Area, the fugitive was arrested on September 5th by Sheriff Ackerson of San Mateo and turned over to the Santa Clara authorities. “He is charged,” reported the San Jose Tribune, “with having stolen a cow, belonging to Mr. Gillis at the ’12 Mile House’ on the Monterey road; also with being engaged in negotiations with a horse and saddle in a manner not exactly on the square.“ The article referred to Mahoney as 22 years old and “a young man, intelligent and of prepossessing appearance and his talents are evidently such as might have made him an honored and esteemed citizen.” On November 3, the officers on duty at the San Jose jail left for a brief time only to return and discover Mahoney and two other prisoners had vanished. It was obviously an outside job, with the door to the building and the latticed cell door pried off with the aid of a crowbar and cold chisel. Prisoner John Norton was captured a few days later, but his two cohorts, including Mahoney, remained at large. The latter headed north for Stockton. STOCKTON SAN JOAQUIN REPUBLICAN, NOVEMBER 13, 1856:

Lewis Mahoney—…On Saturday night he made his appearance at the Boston House, kept by a man named Ironmonger, in Oakland and applied for lodging. After some hesitation, the landlord, fearful of difficulty with the scoundrel, furnished him with a bed, but upon the distinct understanding that he should leave early next morning and not show himself there again. Accordingly at daybreak, he was missing, as was also some $360, which, it appears, he had abstracted from a trunk in an adjoining room. Nothing has been seen or heard of the fellow since.

A county election was being held at this time and Mahoney later averred that he had cast his vote for Buchanan at the Alviso precinct using his own name. Returning to Oakland, the fugitive was spotted, captured, and returned to the Santa Clara jail, “heavily ironed.” By this time the other prisoner had been retaken, also, and all three were scheduled for early trials. Mahoney was promptly indicted for grand


larceny. Tried and found guilty on November 15, Mahoney was sentenced to five years at San Quentin. Received at the prison on December 2, 1856 as No. 1044, the incredibly slippery convict managed to break out on January 7, but his freedom was short lived. Recaptured and placed in the San Francisco county jail for his return to San Quentin, Mahoney allowed a Herald reporter to interview him on January 16. The outlaw told the familiar tales—he stole cattle and other items from people who owed him money or cheated him in some way. The horse and saddle he was convicted of stealing had been given him by a man named Castro who forgot to mention that the animal and saddle were under attachment at the time. And so on… . “As our reporter was leaving,” concluded the article, “the Jailor showed him another writ of grand larceny against Mahoney, issued out of an Alameda County Court since his escape from the State Prison.” Mahoney decided next time he would try applying for a pardon to gain his release. Estill was a tough act to follow, but John McCauley was cut from the same cloth. “He was greatly criticized by the press in those early days,” wrote his daughter Alice in later years. Well, yes he was, and for good reason. By the end of 1857, despite his obligations to care for the prisoners, McCauley had cut back on both food and clothing, failed to provide uniforms, and many convicts were without shoes. The guard detachment had been cut in half and their pay reduced to $40 a month. McCauley was determined to squeeze every nickel he could from his prison, as discovered by a legislative investigating committee in a surprise visit on January 19, 1858. REPORT OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON STATE PRISON AFFAIRS, CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE JOURNAL, APPENDIX. NINTH SESSION, SACRAMENTO: STATE PRINTER, 1858.

…They found on …the evening of their arrival at the prison, some 125 prisoners entirely barefoot and quite a number with nothing more than old gunnysacks or pieces of blanket tied around their feet, none having anything in the shape of socks furnished them by the lessee. The general clothing of the prisoners seems too scant for winter weather, the most of which clothing… appears to be the last remains of what was worn there by them, now in such a tattered, torn, forbidding and filthy condition that the


commonest street beggars sleeping by the wayside… would by comparison have the appearance of newly Parisian-clad gentlemen. The bedding (if bedding it can be called) of the prisoners, especially those confined in cells, seemed insufficient to protect them from absolute suffering from cold. …They are compelled to sleep with their day clothes on. …And being without a sufficient quantity of bedding and clothing to admit of a change, the whole has become a mass of dirty, filthy rags, the lice being so plentiful as to be easily seen crawling about… .

When the committee asked for a calling of the roll, stated the Alta’s account, “it was found that, in addition to the scores who were acknowledged to have escaped, there were ninety-eight who did not answer to their names, and whose absence could not be satisfactorily accounted for.” The committee’s report was something that could not be ignored. By an act approved February 26, 1858, Governor John B. Weller was authorized to take immediate control of the prison and eject McCauley who would be allowed to remove only his personal effects. Due to a long list of abuses, the leasing contract was declared illegal and the state refused to pay Estill and McCauley’s $20,000 claim for January and February. The Lieutenant Governor, Joseph Walkup, was now appointed warden and control of San Quentin was officially assumed by the state. A stunned McCauley wrote Governor Weller and placidly agreed to the takeover so long as the state made good his financial losses. Feeling triumphant, Weller and a group of state officials left Sacramento on Sunday, February 28, 1858, to meet McGovernor John B. Weller. Cauley in San Francisco. McCauley had promised California State Library. to join them at the wharf with a boat for the brief journey to the prison where the transition would take place. When McCauley finally arrived, he announced that it would be several hours before he could leave. Weller and his party agreed to wait, but soon learned the delay was caused by McCauley seeking a court injunction. A Whitehall boat was promptly hired. As the governor’s entourage scrambled aboard, the oarsmen began rowing the twelve miles north to San Quentin. Now, a parody of the future“Keystone Cops” took place, to the consternation of some and the great amusement of others. McCauley’s boat was thirty minutes behind them as Weller clambered ashore onto the prison wharf. “One dash afoot,” noted the Sacramento Bee, “and


they were within the prison’s wall—another, and they were at the very entrance of the inner temple.” Inside, they confronted Superintendent John Simms and demanded the prison keys. When Simms played dumb, guard Charles Robinson directed them to a room where Weller ordered the door battered down. With the keys in his possession, Weller now demanded the official prison seal. Simms had the seal in his pocket, but he emphatically refused to give it up. He was then seized and the seal was forcibly taken from him. The governor was now in triumphant control just as McCauley and several others came bounding through the door. McCauley had with him the Marin County sheriff, the county clerk, and a county judge, but all were overawed by the smiling governor waving the keys in their faces. “We understand,” reported the Sacramento Union, “that ten minutes did not elapse from the time that the Governor’s party landed… before they were in full possession. Charles Robinson, an old attaché and guard of the prison, was placed in charge by the governor, and everything done with military promptitude and dispatch.” The press was generally favorable to the governor’s unorthodox course of action, although there were comments on the “drama” of the incident. Weller, who as a Democrat was a firm opponent of the San Francisco vigilantes, must have been disturbed at the Sacramento Union’s wry comment: “We are not sure that the course of the Governor was, in all respects, strictly compatible with the dictates of genuine Law and Order. ”The “Law and Order” party was the name adopted by the anti-vigilante forces in the troubles of the previous summer. Still, the Union believed the governor was fully justified and suggested that “if he had proceeded a step further, and administered a cold bath in the waters of the bay to the chief author of the State Prison iniquities, for the space of fifteen minutes, the good people before alluded to would not have long remained inconsolable.” “The Governor,” cheered the editor of the Alta, “acting with true Jacksonian spirit, and, we may add, with Vigilance Committee spirit also, took forcible possession of the prison and prison property.” Democrat Weller must have really winced at that one. The legislative act dismissing McCauley also provided for a new prison site to be selected to replace the existing prison. Although


referred to as a “branch prison,” it was not clear whether this was the case since various reports stated that preparations were already underway to transfer all convicts to this new site as soon as possible. There was too much investment at Point San Quentin, however, and the branch prison at Folsom would have to wait for many years. McCauley was quick to bill the state in March to the amount of $55,655.87 for materials and work performed in 1856 and 1857. In checking these services however, there was found an entire lack of system in everything connected with the management of the prison. Further, an inventory at the prison showed that “much conversion of the property of the State had taken place, including some valuable cattle, and even the sloop Marin had been chartered for private gain by the former lessee.” When the state refused to pay him, McCauley now instituted lawsuits against both the state and Weller for multiple violations of his contract. Prison breaks were still a constant threat. About three o’clock on the afternoon of May 12, 1858, eight Mexican and black convicts who were working in the rear of the prison made a sudden rush for the nearby stables. They seized four horses, two of the animals throwing off their unwelcome riders, while the other two burst through the stable doors and crossed the guard’s line, heading west. The closest guards opened fire with their muskets, killing one of the horses and shooting the rider off the other. As other guards rushed to the scene, the break was over a few minutes after it had begun. All the involved convicts were taken in custody, the one shot through the body was thought to be mortally wounded, however. The other involved convicts may have received the required number of “stripes” at the whipping post, but perhaps not. The new slate of prison directors were John B. Weller, Joseph Walkup, and Ferris Forman. “In regard to the proper character of punishment to be inflicted upon refractory convicts,” they would write in their annual report, “we have only a few observations to submit. There is no subject upon which a greater diversity of opinion exists. In many prisons, corporal punishment is still resorted to, and in others dungeons, and short [food] allowances and [high-pressure] shower baths are adopted. We deem it impossible to make the punishments uniform for the same offense, because the varied characters, natures, habits and education of the convicts, ought to be considered.”


There were still other disturbing aspects to prison life. Although scarcely eight years old, San Quentin already had seventy-one repeat offenders behind its walls. It had been suggested in the past that if the younger or more promising offenders could be shipped to another state of their choosing they could make a fresh start, but in California most inevitably returned to their bad associates. Too, as late as March 1858, the San Francisco Call reported that “few or no facilities have been furnished the prisoners for performing ablutions, and this, notwithstanding the supply of water is most abundant, and a small outlay in the construction of water troughs and the purchase of towels would enThe new warden, Lt. able them at least to preserve that degree of cleanliness Governor Joseph Walkup. Author’s Collection. necessary to health.” On June 22, Lt. Governor Joseph Walkup was in San Francisco on prison business and was interviewed by an Alta reporter. As ex-officio warden, Walkup announced that five hundred and fifty convicts were now making brick, quarrying stone, and leveling hills around the prison. The old clay deposits had been exhausted, but a new one had been located and some seventy thousand brick were being turned out every day. A new meat house and store-room would soon be completed. Thirty-two by fifty-two feet in size, the first floor and foundation were of stone, while the second floor was of brick. The warden also reported that the convicts were in “a perfect frenzy” over the Frasier River gold discoveries in British Columbia. “It is to be presumed,” noted the reporter, “that if the prisoners were all turned loose, the State would speedily be rid of their pestilential presence.” A sure sign of the change in administration was a Fourth of July celebration hosted by Governor Weller, himself. Work was suspended and the prisoners were allowed to roam the grounds, play ball games or engage in races. At five o’clock a “sumptuous repast” was laid out in the upper story of the new An old view of the meat house where Governor Weller held his Fourth of July dinner for the convicts on the second floor. Author’s Collection.


meat house, the extended room being decorated by the convicts with wreaths and garlands of evergreems and flowers. There were fifty-two long benches, each seating nine or ten convicts. Governor Weller presided over the affair and read the Declaration of Independence. The governor, as well as several prisoners, made pertinent remarks on the occasion. Hispanics, Chinese, Africans and Indians, fed and housed separately, were not present. Although McCauley had constructed a new kitchen and mess hall, he had not built any new cells to alleviate the overcrowding. Weller promptly separated the old “long room” of the Stones into six individual cells where the more hardened convicts could be held. The next building constructed in late 1858 was an all-purpose dormitory with rooms for female prisoners, a twelve bed hospital and with a basement containing fourteen dungeon cells. Although in time these cells would become the most notorious aspect of the prison, Governor Weller considered them a humane substitute for flogging. Each dungeon cell was eleven and a half by six feet with a height of nine feet. “Standing within these repulsive walls,” wrote a visitor, “all is dark, bitter and gloomy… The liveliest imagination could scarce picture to itself the sensations of the man who has just passed that fatal door. Cut off as a gangrened limb from the rest of the body corporate, and shut up henceforth between these two inexorable tyrants—the past and the future…” Just outside the entrance is the whipping post–the dreaded “Ladder.” Weller was very uncomfortable with the whipping post and the large percentage of incarcerated young men under the age of twentyone and bluntly told the legislature that he would use his pardoning power whenever he deemed it necessary. “If I must err,” he proclaimed, “I prefer erring on the side of mercy.” For the first time occasional divine services were held when a minister could be obtained. Weller’s concern for the young convicts in the prison was genuine. As the mighty boom town of the Pacific Coast, San Francisco slums were spawning younger criminals and there was as yet no House of Refuge or orphan’s homes that could interrupt their inevitable march to San Quentin. The prison’s annual report for 1858 would show San Francisco had the highest number of prisoners at 96, many of them under the age of twenty-one. There was much on these homeless young


thieves and thugs in the concerned Bay Area press. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, MARCH 24, 1858:

There are now above a hundred young vagabonds running loose about town—without parental or other restraint, going to no school, scarcely recognizing a home and equaling some of the smartest rogues of this city of thrice their years. Yesterday, on the complaint of Mr. Robert Hampton, grocer, at the corner of Clay and Mason streets, and of Mr. Wm. B. Watkin, the contractor… no less than thirteen of these candidates for the gallows were arrested and brought to the station house where they remained over night, and will be examined today for all sorts of rascalities which they perpetrated yesterday and the day before… . Last evening we went into the stone cell where the juvenile brood were confined. There they were of all ages from seven to fourteen, and precious collection they were, sure enough. Two or three were pretty well dressed, but the majority were wretchedly clothed, and seemed quite hardened to their condition. The policemen asked them several questions, which some of them answered with slang and flash phrases in the true cracksman’s vernacular. One was named Cohen and was the son of the miserable drunken woman whose name figures so frequently and conspicuously on the police records, and who is now expiating there the crime of beastly intoxication—mother and son in the same prison! … Another, named Dunn, is the brother of the notorious Frank Dunn, now in the chain gang. Young Dunn is between seven and eight years old. The officers say that unless something is effected before long to start a House of Refuge here, the city will be infested … as with so many rats. They are already taking pride in their “profession” and emulate each other in tapping “lushes” or drunken men about the Cheap John establishments and elsewhere. Durkin and Kelly are the two leaders, and have acquired such vast renown among the others, that when any of them are arrested they try to pass themselves off for one of the other mentioned above… .

Robert “Bobby” Durkin was already a legendary figure in San Francisco. His father was a sol- Bobby Durkin (right) and dier who, with his pregnant wife, arrived with Ste- John Ellick pose for their phenson’s New York Volunteers in 1847. Bob was police mug shots. Author’s Collection. born this same year and when the family moved to San Francisco, Anthony Durkin joined the police force in January 1852. By the time he was five or six years old, Bob was constantly getting into trouble. It reached the point where the father began chaining him at night to keep him from going out and committing thefts. When the father died, Mrs. Durkin found the boy impossible to control and he was abandoned to the streets. An older brother, John, was nearly as bad.


Bob was first arrested in 1855 when he was only seven years old. From there it was all down-hill. When things became too hot, or when he had made a big “haul,” he would move on to Marysville, Sacramento, or Stockton. Before he was ten years old he was running with older boys—Charles Coffee, William “Brockey” Winters, “Red-Headed” Burns, Mickey Grant, and others. These older boys were the “Fagins” utilizing the younger thieves in their burglaries while teaching them the business. In time, most of these young thieves would inevitably end up in San Quentin.

Red-headed Burns, one of the thieves exhibited on the plaza. Author’s Collection.

The San Francisco police chief, James F. Curtis, ultimately became so frustrated with these “Lilliputian” bands of thieves and their “teachers” that he determined something must be done. After a tenant was robbed at the Temperance House and Mickey Grant checked out at five the next morning, Chief Curtis promptly had the young thief picked up. Grant’s criminal history dated back to 1851, but he was released for lack of evidence after a police court hearing. Curtis decided that drastic and dramatic action was needed. Detective Isaiah Lees and a posse of officers swooped down on the back-alley and waterfront hangouts of the gangs and soon had a collection of the worst of them. Letting the young thieves know that the kid gloves were off, he explained that they were to be handcuffed to a long rope and exhibited on the plaza fronting city hall. Hotel and shop owners were invited to the viewing so they could see these malefactors up close and be on the alert if they ever saw them near their place of business. A huge crowd gathered on the morning of August 7, 1857, as Chief Curtis led his long string of captives from police headquarters across the street to the plaza. There was shouting and jostling and several times members of the crowd tried to free the prisoners, but officers quickly interfered. Durkin and some of the younger boys had not been included, but the older thieves—fourteen of them—were cursing, straining at the rope, and trying to hide their faces as the mob jeered. SAN FRANCISCO SPIRIT OF THE TIMES, AUGUST 15, 1857:

Charles Coffee, one of the gang… threw himself on the ground refusing to walk, and had his clothes torn from him in being dragged there. As soon as he reached the spot he commenced swearing and abusing the officers in the most vio-


lent and vindictive manner. Someone in the crowd handed him a large bowie knife, with which he cut himself loose from the rope, and slipping the shackles from off his hands, threw himself into a defiant attitude and dared anyone to approach him under pain of death… Captain Anderson, of the police, seized his arms and wrenched the knife from his grasp…

Curtis tied one end of the rope to the flagpole while he held the other. The display lasted for two hours, then had to release them since none had been charged with any crime. The Chief was severely castigated in the press and before the board of supervisors for “violating the law” with his exhibition. Within two weeks, Mickey Grant, Billy Harrison, and “Red-headed” Burns were picked up for various robberies. Most of these “boys” would do time behind San Quentin’s walls.” A year later, Brockey Winters, one of the more audacious of the “Plaza Thieves,” was doing a stretch on the local chain gang. The steamer Sonora had just brought the news of the great Atlantic cable being completed between England and the United States. When a holiday celebration was announced by the mayor, Brockey was upset because he was in jail and knew that large crowds meant rich hauls for pickpockets.

Charles Coffee’s arrogant stare shows his attitude toward the police and public. Author’s Collection.

Brockey somehow acquired a file and on the night of September 26, 1858, managed to remove two bars from an outside window and disappear into the night. He was spotted and picked up out on the Mission Road the night of the celebration. When he was arraigned on the charge of damaging public property, Brockey of course denied knowing anything about the matter. Further, if he could get a postponement, companions could prove his innocence that night. The delay was agreed to, but before the prisoner could be returned to a cell below, an officer handed the judge a note found in Brockey’s former cell which was read to the court. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 30, 1858:

To J. F. Curtis, Chief of Police. Respected Sir:—Having no inclination to work in the Chain Gang, and moreover not appreciating the merits of said public spirited individuals; thirdly,


not liking the manner of marching through the public streets, the observed of all observers, I thought I might as well leave this institution. Yours, respectfully

William Winters

P.S. —No one is to blame in this, but your ex-prisoner. P.S.—I forgot to remark that I wished to participate in the Cable Celebration, and will do so.

Picking pockets at large public gatherings was Brockey’s stock in trade. A few months later he was convicted of a felony and sentenced to a year in San Quentin. When he was admitted on November 27, 1858, he joined his pal Mickey Grant who had preceded him the previous April. “Holey Cheek” Williams, the notorious “Mose” and Bobby Durkin were released from the county jail in October and were busily seeking to make a “raise.” Their San Quentin futures were inevitable. Despite the tangled troubles of Estill and McCauley, there were sporadic bursts of building at the prison. After describing the wall, a legislative report at the time McCauley assumed control noted that the west wall had a substantial iron door or gate, while the main entrance on the east wall had a “common, wooden door and could not be considered a serious obstacle in the way of prisoners wishing to make their escape.” Halfway between the west and east walls was a two story structure 200 feet in length running north and south. Twenty-four feet wide, the building was divided into rooms for the following purposes; a tailor shop, a kitchen, two rooms for female prisoners, a “county jail” room and the balance of the space was utilized as a mess hall. Parallel to this building was a four-hundred foot long structure called the “Manufactory”which was utilized for various manufacturing shops and “mechanical purposes.” Outside the prison walls were several new brick buildings which Estill had built. Encompassing the main entrance a large two-story brick edifice was the guard’s office and living quarters, perhaps designed to dress up the “common, wooden door” of the entryway. On March 3, 1858, Patrick Cody began serving a four year term for Grand larceny. A Sacramento foundry worker, Cody did not like the situation in which he found himself and began looking for a means of escape. He was working with a gang of convicts outside the walls one day in early October, when the group was lined up to return to their cells in the Stones. Inside the walls, Cody noticed the stairs lead-


ing to the carpenter’s shop and he had an idea. The following night as they passed the same spot, Cody dodged to one side and hid under the stairs. No one had seen him and late that night he crept out looking for

An example of the low spots on the prison wall due to the uneven ground. There were outbuildings all around the prison grounds now, used for various purposes. California State Library.

something he could use as a ladder. Finding a long wash bench near a low spot of the wall, he stood the bench on end and after several tries, managed to hoist himself up onto the coping that capped the top of the stone and brick barrier. There was a section of the east wall that sloped down to ten feet from the ground and Cody made his way there. Carefully lowering himself over the outside and hanging from his fingertips, Cody dropped to the ground and was free. “In order to get beyond the guard line,” reported an article in the Alta, “he had to ford the marsh, and afterward to wade in the water up to his neck. Finally believing himself beyond all danger of discovery, he cautiously crawled ashore, but had no sooner landed than he was perceived by one of the guards, and instantly captured.” In late May 1858, a minister and correspondent for the theological publication Pacific, was invited to make a tour of the state prison. On Sunday he was allowed to preach in the mess hall where a desk was provided as an altar. “When the prisoners are all assembled here for


Divine worship on the Sabbath,” he would later write, “no minister of the gospel need wish for a more interesting congregation.” The minister was very much impressed with the prison, in stark contrast to some past visitors. “The number of prisoners in the institution is 541” he later wrote, “the average arrivals are 20 per month; average clearances, 12 per month; so the number is constantly on the increase. …The prisoners generally look well, most of them are well clad and well shod. They seem to work with a will, and enjoy their food with a relish which may be envied by many a dyspeptic epicure outside.” The minister continued… “…Some twenty of the prisoners—those who are reputed the most desperate—wear heavy chains attached to their legs and ankles; amongst those who wear them is found the notorious Pole, Orlinski. His head is half shaved with a razor, but he is comfortably clothed, wears a good pair of boots, and looks in remarkably good health; he does ample justice to his This phograph of Orlinski was food and works steadily. To all appearances, he probably taken after his 1857 desperate escape from intends to behave well, so as to get the irons the San Francisco city jail. taken off, which are evidently a great burden to Author’s Collection. the wearers, and which are kept on those who are suspected of intending to do mischief. So, who was this “notorious Pole,” Orlinski— this foreigner who had wound up in California’s state prison? For one thing, he spoke four languages besides English. He had been captured in San Francisco in early December the previous year while ransacking a law office on Montgomery Street. Orlinski was not a common burglar or porchclimber, however. The rooms where he lived were filled with five or six thousand dollars in loot ranging from gold watches and jewelry to silver spoons. He claimed to have been born in Poland in 1810 and been involved in his country’s struggle for independence. Wounded in the Polish


army in 1832, Orlinski was exiled and left Austria for France, from where he immediately sailed for New York. Moving to Philadelphia, Orlinski learned the carpenter’s trade. While living in Savannah, Georgia, there was a call for volunteers to fight the Indians in Florida and he promptly enlisted. Later he turned up in New Orleans where he joined a Louisiana regiment and served throughout the Mexican War. After the war he bought a farm outside St. Louis, but sold it in 1855 and by the following year was in California. He claimed to have had sixteen hundred dollars when he settled in California, but avoided comment on why he turned to crime for a living. While waiting in his cell for the action of the grand jury, Orlinski managed to loosen an oak slat that made up a portion of his cell wall. He found his opportunity between the hours of three and four in the morning. Removing the slat, he left his cell and crept up behind officer Jared B. Moore who was reading before a stove. Using the heavy slat as a club, Orlinski struck the officer on the back of his head, knocking him to the floor. Several other prisoners, awakened at the noise, described what followed to a reporter. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD, DECEMBER 10, 1857:

As soon as Moore fell, Orlinski rushed to the desk near the door, and grasping a large bunch of keys, tried one or two of them in the lock, but finding they were keys of the cells, threw them down again—and repossessing himself of his weapon, deliberately dealt the prostrate officer another blow on the temple. He then rifled Mr. Moore’s pockets of the key of the door, and some forty dollars in money, and made his escape. The whole affair was executed very speedily and very coolly.

Responding to the shouts of the prisoners, two officers rushed into the cellblock. As Captain Andrews summoned aid for Moore, policeman Henry Ellis rushed out to the street, but Orlinski had vanished into the night. With the whole city on the alert for him and a $700 reward offered by Chief of Police Curtis, Orlinski was constantly on the move for the next week. On December 18, 1857, a few minutes before six o’clock, a haggard and hungry Orlinski slipped into Sol Lichtenstein’s pawn shop. As he was dickering with the man about pawning a pistol, Litchenstein suddenly recognized the fugitive burglar. Saying he had to obtain some coin from next door, the pawnbroker told Orlinski to wait for him and rushed to a saloon across the street. Shouting that the fugitive was in his shop and that he needed help to capture


him, a crowd of patrons followed him out. Litchenstein then rushed to a nearby cock-fighting pit and collected others, all of whom now followed him back to his shop. In a few minutes the capture had been made. When Chief Curtis notified the pawn broker he was entitled to the $700 reward, Litchenstein generously accepted only half, stating that he was donating his share to the police to aid in other such cases. Actually the $300 reward was out of Curtis’ pocket, the balance being donated by members of the police force. Still, Orlinski was heavily ironed in a cell and the probity of the police force was now restored. The colorful burglar received a fifteen year sentence and entered San Quentin on February 14, 1858. He would be heard from again, however. Cherokee Bob’s lively and checkered career had cost him two prison stretches, a scar from a knife wound and a bullet near his spine from the bloody 1855 prison break. By March of 1858 he was primed for a new attempt to get out. He talked to a lawyer, perhaps Frank Pixley, whose many convict clients were the reason for his home near the prison. Governor Weller was well known to be a sympathetic soul who had given out pardons to very young prisoners and was trying to do away with the prison whipping post. Bob had already served the better part of four years in prison—for stealing a mangy horse. Was that not enough time? Well, he would start the ball rolling with a letter to the Governor. PARDON FILE OF CHEROKEE BOB, CALIFORNIA STATE ARCHIVES:

Point San Quintin [sic], 3rd of March, 1858 To his Excellency J. B. Weller Governor of the State of California Excellency Your humble servant, undersigned, most respectfully requests your attention on the following statement in the circumstances of his present confinement in the Penitentiary of the State. Convicted in 1854, for the crime of larceny, in horse-stealing, he was sentenced to serve ten years in the State Prison. It is not his province or wish to review or criticize the different testimonies by which he was convicted, but he would only say that at that time the law in California was striking indifferently the innocent, as well as the guilty. Your humble servant has been already confined four years and by his uniformly good behavior, has succeeded in enlisting in his behalf the sympathies of several officers of this institution.


Your Excellency has, doubtful before now, been acquainted with all the sufferings of an inmate of this gloomy prison and will, therefore, have compassion for a friendless prisoner who has suffered already so long. It would be scarcely myself to relate to your Excellency all my sufferings and I would not encroach on your Excellency’s precious time by their recital. My motives in appealing to your Clemency are of such a nature that I feel assured of your Excellency’s approval in doing such a thing. I have been far from home since 1849, leaving my old father, when I was only fifteen years old. I was twenty years old when I was convicted and ever since, shameful of my situation, I never wrote to my father. I could not be the bearer of such tidings, for my poor father could not have survived the disgrace, the shame of his unfortunate son. I could not and would not be the murderer of my genitor. For this principal motive I have kept silent and, by doing so, refused, denied me the only help I could hope for. I have even concealed my name, for fear that my inquisitive and anxious father should, through his own exertions, be made cognizant of my condition, A confinement of ten years is the dear price of my silence, and I have undergone four years of my long sentence. Clemency is, and has always been, the most beautiful prerogative of men at power. I implore your mercy, Excellency, in the name of my old father, longing for his unfortunate son. Four years in this place of infamy have been more than sufficient to expiate the crime I was convicted for. I am desirous to enjoy again my long lost liberty, to enter again in the path of life, with renewed energies, and prove by my exertions that I am worthy of the Clemency bestowed on me. I am most respectfully, of your Excellency, the most obedient and humble servant, Cherokee Bob

Bob had little more than a sporadic, grade school education at best, so we can be reasonably certain he did not write this letter by himself. Yet, it is such a whining, lying concoction it is difficult to believe a lawyer was the author. A guess would be that one of the more educated convicts helped write this deceiving document in which Bob ignores the two prison breaks he was involved in, and his seven months of freedom after his successful escape. His true concern for his father is indicated by his not returning home when he was later freed. To Weller’s credit, he did not fall for this scam, at least not right away.


CHAPTER FIVE

The State takes Over W

ith Governor Weller and Lt. Governor Walkup firmly in control of the state prison, there was a decided drop in sensational newspaper coverage. General Estill was keeping a low profile in the state legislature. He was battered and driven from pillory to post by endless legislative investigations, political opponents, and newspaper criticism. Although his health was not good, he kept his personal problems to himself. During this period the rules for convict behavior had evolved in this first decade of California prison management. The prison operated on a system of bells. “At the ringing of the first bell in the morning,” read the rules, “they are to turn out, dress, fasten up the cot, and have the [toilet] bucket, ready for disposal. At the order, they are to throw the door open gently, to the wall, step out, and march, when ordered.” It was the time of the bells in the Stones. The general rules as reported in the Annual Report of the Board of State Prison Directors for the year 1858 were that convicts must be respectful and obedient to the officers and obey all orders promptly. When requesting to speak to an officer, a convict must first salute him, by raising the hand to the forehead. They could not exhibit ill-temper when admonished by an officer; there must be no unnecessary conversations with either guards, convicts or any outsiders. Convicts could not look at visitors or leave their work without an officer’s permission. Prisoners were required to be clean in person, clothing and also their cells and march in close order with body erect, and hands by the side of the thighs. They could not damage any state property or remove anything from the cell. Rapping on the cell door is never allowed except in an emergency. If two or more convicts were walking in the same direction in the yard, they had to walk single file and never abreast. In 1858, Governor John B. Weller, Lieutenant Gover-


nor Joseph Walkup and Secretary of State Ferris Forman made up the state prison directors. While Weller was considered the “Chief Warden,” Walkup was the working, or deputy, warden. Under Warden Walkup was a superintendent who looked afterworking parties and was in charge when Walkup was not available. There were also various civilian boat captains and sailors; commissary and quartermaster officers; overseers who were in charge of work parties on local farms and roads; assorted blacksmiths and clerks; the yard captain and his lieutenants, and finally about thirty guards themselves. The trusty system, despite the obvious enticements to escape, had proved invaluable and was continuously utilized with short-termers. At this time there were five guard posts positioned around the perimeter of the prison walls. Post No. 1, guarded the northeast corner of the wall and had three armed guards and a brass six-pounder with ammunition for twenty-one shots. Post No. 2, on the north side of the wall, had three armed guards. Post No. 3, guarding the first brick yard at the northwest corner of the wall, also had three armed guards and a mountain howitzer with twenty-six rounds of ammunition. Post No. 4 was opposite the east wall main entrance and was manned by one armed guard and a cannon firing twelve pound missiles and grapeshot. Post No. 5, at the southwest corner of the wall, commanded the two walls and second brick yard. Three armed guards manned the site with a nine-pounder cannon. There was also a “Mounted Post” with three guards and their horses. In the 1858 Annual Report noted above, three and one-half pages of “Rules and Regulations” for the guard staff indicates that the behavior and activities of the guards was being monitored more closely. Prisoners being released were now given ten dollars and a new (if inexpensive and prison-made) suit of clothes. More importantly, a physician was now required to live at the prison. The first San Quentin doctor was actually one of the best. Dr. Alfred Taliaferro was a Virginian and just twenty-two years old when he arrived in


California during 1849. A practical man, when he took up residence in Marin County Dr. Taliaferro tried farming before signing on as the prison’s on-call physician. Actually, there were hardly enough people in the county to support a doctor, but he would serve many years as a state senator and assemblyman, as well as in various county offices. He cared little for money, suggesting patients pay him whatever they could afford, an old timer reporting that “half the time not getting a dollar for his services.” In 1858 the good doctor was still working at the prison. As he reported at the end of the year, it was a continuing, uphill battle. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, FEBRUARY 3, 1859:

…The sanitary condition of the prison has seen a great decrease in dysentery, diarrhea, and the various affections of the stomach and bowels. These diseases have heretofore prevailed to a very great extent here, catarrhal and rheumatic affections have been very plentiful and are becoming very troublesome. The cause of this is found in the crowded state of our prison. As you know, the men, when locked up, are literally piled one upon another; this fills the room with animal heat and impure air. The mornings are cold and chilly, and the men are called out early to work. The sudden transition from heat to cold, with their bodies much relaxed and debilitated by the heat and impure air of the rooms, render them susceptible to the above mentioned diseases… .

Aiding mightily in the proliferation of these medical problems, wrote Dr. Taliaferro, were the “large array of chronic constitutional diseases… brought on by the indiscretions and follies of the men’s past lives.” In other words, most of the prisoners had been heavy drinkers and this, added to venereal diseases and rheumatism, increased the A cell in the Stones. There were no iron beds as shown, just a mattress stuffed with straw on a wooden frame. Neither was there an air vent in the back wall, only the small vent in the door. California State Library..


medical difficulties. There were 82 convicts under the age of 21 years in the state prison at this time and a bill was recently introduced in the legislature to establish a state reform school. The Alta was also spearheading a drive for an orphan asylum, while talk of a house of refuge in San Francisco added some modicum of hope for the younger criminals, although the likes of freckle-faced Bob Durkin were a lost cause. In mid-October the Alta scraped together a few items of prison news. “We learn from Lieutenant Governor Walkup, acting “big jailor” at the prison up the bay that the affairs of that institution are progressing smoothly and quietly. …There is some $60,000 worth of brick, $20,000 worth of stone, and $25,000 of other improvements. These latter are two new buildings, grading, paving, excavating and sidewalks. The prisoners have also built a stone wall and cleaned out the mud from the bottom of the bay, so that the scows can now land and receive freight at the wharf. The stone is all quarried hard by the prison. There are at present 547 convicts in the penitentiary, being an increase over the discharges of 21 since the 26th of April last.” More good news was that a recent proclamation of the governor containing the names of escaped prisoners, accompanied with a large reward for their recapture, had resulted in the re-arrests of some fifteen prisoners who had been returned from various parts of the state. Other innovations and new construction at the prison were announced in mid-November. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA , NOVEMBER 15, 1858:

Matters at the Penitentiary—[Lt.] Governor Walkup, resident director at the State Prison, has been frequently in town during the past week, purchasing supplies for his big boarding house. The schooner Katherine went up on Tuesday last, laden with sugar, flour, salt and beans. The later were procured at a great bargain, a thousand sacks being purchased at one cent per pound. A building at the northwest corner of the Prison Yard is now in process of erection. It is thirty-six by fifty-four feet. In the basement there are to be two tiers of dark cells. The story above will be set apart for a Hospital, and for sleeping rooms for convicts of the evening of their discharge. The upper story will be used as a large workshop for these convicts and tailors, whose present rooms are altogether too small. In the erection of this building there will be required six hundred tons of stone, and eighty thousand brick, all of which are furnished from the prison grounds. The sills and caps are likewise cut from the beautiful and durable gneiss rock which abounds so plentifully in the immediate vicinity of the Prison. Some twenty-five of the convicts are now at work repairing


and improving the San Raphael road… .

One convict used a variety of names and his career was so long it is difficult to sort out his record. Reportedly born in Kentucky about 1827, Ormistead Thurman’s first known crime was grand larceny in El Dorado County. Admitted to San Quentin as No. 975 on August 24, 1856, he was registered as “Armstead Thurman,” perhaps his real name. His sentence was for one year, but he escaped on September 4th the following month. He was captured in Solano County on .January 12, 1858, and again convicted of larceny and sentenced to two years this time as No. 1321. He again escaped on July 3, 1859, but was recaptured on September 14, and released at the expiration of his term, February 26, 1860. Under the name William Thompson, he was next convicted of grand larceny and jail breaking in Butte County. As No. 2481, once again he was admitted to San Quentin on November 22, 1862 and released in 1864. He had learned his criminal lessons well and he was quickly hatching new plans. Ormistead Thurman’s pleasant face masked a dangerous killer. Author’s Collection.

STOCKTON INDEPENDENT, MAY 31, 1864:

Daring Stage Robbery— It appears that about one o’clock on Monday morning, a short time after the stage left Coulterville, Mariposa County, two highwaymen made their appearance in front of the horses, and commanded the driver to halt. …one watched the horses while the other took out the Wells Fargo & Co.’s treasure box, and took from between two and three thousand dollars… .

The passengers, who thought other highwaymen were watching from the brush alongside the road, were then robbed of another thousand dollars. Wells Fargo immediately offered a thousand dollar reward for the bandits. Thurman, now calling himself “Bill Early,” was arrested in Coulterville in mid-June 1864. He promptly gave descriptions of his two cohorts, hoping to get a lighter sentence. Charles Boyle and Tom Brazier, his two companions, were captured and soon joined Thurman in Coulterville. All three were placed in a covered wagon by a deputy and the trip began to Mariposa for trial. MARIPOSA FREE PRESS, JUNE 25, 1864:

Capture of Robbers—Escape of one of the Gang—…They were placed in a covered wagon and handcuffed, the two who were last captured being heavily ironed and chained together. When within about three miles of Mariposa, Early, who was


arrested in Coulterville, seized a shotgun belonging to the officer and jumping out of the wagon, took to the chaparral and escaped. It is supposed he had previously managed to slip one of his hands out of the “bracelets.” Pursuit and search for him has thus far been useless.

Thurman had waited until the wagon was on a steep incline of the road. As the driver, Deputy McGowan, struggled with the horses, Thurman grabbed a shotgun and leaped from the wagon into the tall chaparral and disappeared. The deputy could do nothing until he reached the bottom of the hill, but then he could not leave the other prisoners and so drove on to nearby Mariposa. Boyle and Brazier were both convicted, Boyle receiving a ten year term, while Brazier was committed for five years. But young Brazier had not been involved in the robbery! He was merely an acquaintance whom Early and Boyle had met on the trail. In mid-January 1865, Tuolumne County Sheriff Bourland received word that Thurman had been captured in Placerville. The desperado was brought to Mariposa and lodged in jail to await his trial. While in the Coulterville jail, Thurman had identified Brazier as an accomplice solely to direct a lynch mob’s attention away from himself. On February 11, the jailor found Thurman in his cell “making arrangements to leave,” according to the Mariposa Free Press. “He managed to saw his shackles in two with the blade of an ordinary pocket knife, but was discovered in time by McGrann, the jailor, who furnished him with a new set of an improved and more substantial pattern.“ Convicted at his Mariposa trial and sentenced to ten years, Thurman entered San Quentin under the name “William Early,” No. 2994, on April 8, 1865. In prison now and no longer threatened, Thurman wrote several long, explanatory letters to the Mariposa Mail newspaper stating that Brazier was innocent of the charge for which he was convicted. “I know that I am the cause,” wrote Thurman,“ of having blasted and ruined an innocent man in Thomas R. Brazier, and it feels heavy on my conscience… .” Apparently the authorities thought the two convicts were involved in some scheme and the letters were ignored. Brazier served most of his term and was finally released on October 29, 1868. Thurman had done what he could to obtain Brazier’s freedom. In May 1865, a group of convicts included Thurman in an escape plan they had devised. Everything was set to go when suddenly all the


plotters were rounded up by guards who told them that their plans were known. The plotters were heavily ironed and thrown in the dungeon, then each taken out and flogged. Only one of the group escapedflogging; convict No. 2938 - Frederick W. Engles. In January 1865, Engles and an acquaintance named Fred Lyle had been accused of attempting to assassinate an old man named Brown at his isolated, Fresno County cabin. Engles claimed he had loaned a borrowed shotgun to Lyle for a deer hunt. Either one, or both of them, had then gone to the Brown cabin one evening. As Brown had moved to blow out a candle before retiring, a shotgun was fired through the window just a few feet from his head. Although buckshot plowed into the old man’s face, some seventeen shot were found embedded in the wall. Brown’s face was disfigured and he lost a lot of blood, but he survived the attack and Engles and Lyle were both picked up as suspects. Press reports of the time mention no motive for the attack. On February 8th at the village of Millerton on the San Joaquin River, Engles was convicted of attempted murder. A few days later Lyle was convicted of perjury, each man insisting that the other had committed the crime. Both received eleven year sentences to San Quentin. In a long letter published in the Fresno Times of February 22, 1865, Engles reiterated his innocence, closing with; “…As my life will not last for the years I have been sentenced, and as I will never see you again, I take leave of all who have known me.” It is not known whether he had a fatal illness or a premonition of death. In San Quentin, the convicts suspected Engles was the informer in the failed prison plot (and he may have been). Engles probably did not know that a bitter Thurman vowed vengeance at the first opportunity. His chance came on May 20, 1865, a day when both men were working together on a shop project. Seizing a hatchet, Thurman split Engles’ head open with one stroke, then surrendered to a nearby guard. Thurman was taken to San Rafael to be tried by civil authorities for murder. The District Attorney quickly discovered that the only witnesses to the crime were prisoners. Since convicts could not testify in court at this time, the case began falling apart. Finally, one of the convict witnesses agreed to testify if he was given a pardon by the governor. This was agreed to and when the pardon arrived, the


trial proceeded and the convict put on the stand. A free man now, the convict reportedly laughed and refused to answer any questions and the trial was adjourned. Although no one wanted to incur the enmity of Thurman, it was also against the convict’s code to testify against each other. With no case, the murder charges were dismissed and Thurman returned to serve out his term. As a result of this incident, the law was changed allowing convict testimony in court. Thurman finished his sentence and was released on June 9, 1873. Warden Joseph Walkup was once described as “a man of plain, unassuming manners but of great sincerity of character, who was decided and honest in his political views.” Born in Ohio in 1819, Walkup was a carpenter and shipbuilder in his youth, but when he arrived in California during the fall of 1849, he engaged in the mercantile business in Placer County and was very successful. By 1851 he was also involved in stock raising and farming, harvesting the first crop of wheat ever grown in the area. A popular figure in the county, Walkup was twice elected state senator and in 1857 was selected to run for lieutenant governor on the ticket with John B. Weller. After election, Walkup was expected to help hold down the burgeoning debt of the new state, as well as to serve as Warden at San Quentin. Whether it was Warden Walkup’s bargain shopping that resulted in another prison mishap is not known, but he promptly returned to the prison from San Francisco after receiving the disturbing news. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, JANUARY 10, 1859:

Three hundred of the State prisoners, on Friday evening, were laboring under the effects of poison, supposed to have been taken in flour which they had commenced to use that day. Some were much swollen, but none had died at latest accounts… .

The flour had been purchased in San Francisco and the unused portion promptly returned. Apparently seventeen prisoners refused any rations that day, but one convict, “a regular gormandizer, devoured not only his share, but that of the seventeen. Yet, he was not more sick than the others… .” This “gormandizer” [greedy eater], was well known to Dr. Taliaferro who, in a letter to the Union, alluded to the incident. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, JANUARY 14, 1859:

…I hope…all this excitement…may induce that gentleman who sent this


flour here to burn it. …I understand he attributes the sickness to other causes, and says his flour is so good that he is perfectly willing to live on it… . I have seen a stomach stronger than his try it and it had to surrender unconditionally. I allude to that of a prisoner here named Vanderpool. He is a Goliath in size, a Sampson in strength, and has a stomach that could not be turned if the Falls of Niagra were turned into it, and altogether an ungodly eater. Well, he had the temerity to laugh at the prisoners for the delicacy of their stomachs, and scorned the idea that anything in the shape of bread could foil him. The prisoners freely offered him their rations, and he ate about seventeen rations in all. But that cast iron stomach of his weakened, and he paid the penalty by disgorging all he ate, and laying one whole day without being able to eat a thing.

George Vanderpool, No. 1212, was doing a three year term for Grand Larceny from Siskiyou County. Despite Warden Walkup’s careful stewardship, continual problems continued to swirl around the prison. A lawsuit against the builders of the lopsided prison wall had been instituted. Both McCauley and Estill were suing for back payments owed by the state and for settlement due for brick used in the prison and around the bay area. The state alleged that the prison operators had forfeited their lease by not fulfilling its terms. McCauley had also instituted a damage suit against Governor Weller for his takeover of the prison. On top of all this there was still talk of a branch prison to either replace San Quentin, or to just alleviate the overcrowding crisis. General Estill’s father-in-law, Archibald Woods, died in late February 1859. Major Woods, as he liked to be known, was a colorful character and was born seventy-five years earlier in Madison County, Kentucky. He practiced law for thirty years, also serving in the Kentucky State Senate and House of Representatives. Estill himself had been ailing during the first months of 1859. By early April he was bedridden with what was diagnosed as congestion of the bowels. This colorful political figure of early California died at 11 o’clock on the evening of April 26, 1859, with his wife and family gathered around him. The various newspaper obituaries very well reflected the flawed yet dynamic character of Estill. The Sacramento Union saw no reason to give him anything more than a minimum mention; “Died. In San Francisco, April 26th, Gen. James M. Estill, formerly of Ky., aged 49 years.” The San Francisco Bulletin did likewise.


Although the Sacramento Daily Bee published a much longer notice, it was peppered with cautionary comments such as; “… a politician by nature, and always made his politics pay,” and, “He was kind and patronizing to those he could control, and violently abusive of those who opposed him in any of his schemes. …As a friend he was acceptable; as a foe, to be feared.“ A staunch Democrat in politics and principles, Estill nevertheless turned his back on his party to lead the new American, or “No Nothing Party” in electing J. Neely Johnson governor in 1856. Editor John Nugent of the San Francisco Herald wrote that he was “deeply grieved” at “one of our morning contemporaries, in which the name of the late Gen. Estill is mentioned with marked disparagement.” A good Democrat, Editor Nugent ignored Estill’s roasting of James King of William after his death. It will be recalled that Estill, on the floor of the state legislature, had implied, among other things, that King had deserved to be murdered for his editorial policies. Mrs. Estill now took the place of her husband in further prison negotiations. When McCauley won his supreme court suit against the state, he triumphantly made plans to promptly resume control of the prison. On May 12, 1859, he received his official papers from Sacramento and immediately proceeded to San Rafael on the Petaluma riverboat. With Marin County Sheriff Valentine Doub along holding a writ of restitution, McCauley’s entourage made the trip to the prison where the sheriff demanded that Acting Warden J. G. Gordon turn the prison over to McCauley. Gordon had already heard the news and formally surrendered the prison. The group now proceeded within the walls to call the roll of the assembled prisoners. When all were accounted for, McCauley got down to the real serious business. “McCauley,” reported the Sacramento Union, May 16, 1859, “immediately upon getting possession, proceeded to discharge most of the employees appointed by Weller. Some of them had already quit in anticipation of the change. Among others, Dr. Taliaferro, long surgeon of the prison, resigned his position. McCauley says he will, as soon as possible, get the convicts to work making brick and cutting stone; also, in sewing and making shoes. He will also endeavor to employ some of them in cutting roads in Marin County.” McCauley also vowed to reduce the number of guards, “thereby


lessening the expense of conducting the establishment considerably.” Needless to say, this also fattened his bottom line. The Alta, in nearly a full-length column, complained bitterly that not only was this a monstrous return to a cruel past, but the state was now liable for all of the accrued debt for which McCauley had sued. “Tax-payers of the State at large,” wailed the Alta, “how do you like the position in which you have been placed through this lame and foolish course of proceeding?” But McCauley would soon have much more than newspaper editorials to worry about. On October 14, 1855, William “Pacing Bill” Scott, entered San Quentin as prisoner No. 755. It was a ten year sentence for grand larceny in Sacramento. A few years later he managed to convince Governor Weller that he was a changed man and received a pardon. He was released on May 11, 1858. A room in Sacramento’s Forrest Theater building was entered on the evening of November 7, 1858, and some $2000 worth of jewelry was stolen. The jeweler, one L. W. Sheldon, was having a display and sale of his work the coming Saturday. Now he had to hustle to put together another show. At this time Sacramento was enduring a local crime wave of home invasions, burglaries, stickups in rural areas and robberies in the city’s streets and alleys. After the Sheldon robbery, there was a roundup of local thugs and thieves and some “squealing” took place. When the Sheldon plunder was recovered it was mixed with other stolen loot and the officers realized the gang was larger than at first supposed. The pardoned Pacing Bill Scott was identified as one of the thieves. When he was spotted on the public square, by Captain J. J. Watson of the Sacramento police, Scott Pacing Bill Scott was a thief, but a gunpulled a pistol and fired at the officer before retreating jewel man when necessary. up J Street. There was an exchange of shots between the Author’s Collection. officer and the badman, both men dodging in and out of various business places. When Scott’s pistol missed fire, Watson and several bystanders promptly took him into custody. Nine burglars and robbers had their preliminary hearings on No-


vember 12, while Pacing Bill Scott and his partner, William Burke, were in court the following day. At their trials, both were convicted of an armed robbery and each received a fourteen year sentence to San Quentin. “We understand,” commented the Sacramento Union, “that a separate cell is being constructed at San Quentin for the reception of Scott, he having been recently released from the institution on a pardon issued by Governor Weller. Unless some future Governor should extend his clemency, or the prisoner manages to escape, he is in a fair way of becoming a fixture of the establishment.” Both men entered the prison gates on March 3, 1859. Pacing Bill, now No. 1583, was doing his third term knowing there was no chance he would ever see another pardon. Scott quickly learned that a new regime was in control at the prison. “On the very day that Mr. McCauley took possession,” recalled convict Joseph A. Sterritt, “the prisoners were all marched out in procession, and if one of us did not keep step or stood out of the line, we were clubbed and beaten until we were black and blue; I was struck with a heavy billet, and the next morning I was so stiff that I could scarcely walk… .” Convicts are always looking for sympathy, but McCauley’s methods are verified by many sources, including a correspondent writing from San Rafael. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, MAY 26, 1859:

I am informed that during nine days the six hundred prisoners were kept pent up in their narrow cells. Of course the result of such confinement must be general filth… and make more desperate men already desperate enough…ready to take any chance to escape... .

About four-thirty in the morning of May 22, 1859, Pacing Bill Scott woke up in his cell to some scratching sounds. The convicts in the seven cells of the hospital and dungeon building which had been completed the past winter, had made an interesting discovery. There had been much rain during the construction and the mortar in the stone and brick structure had never properly set. The divisions between cells were also brick. With two men to a cell, in a few hours fourteen convicts had tunneled between the cells, then through the stone outer wall of the building. Half the escaping convicts were wearing leg irons. The notorious Jim Ivey later claimed that he had helped build the dungeons in the new hospital building and had “arranged some of the stones so they could easily be removed.”


On top of the wall, the fourteen convicts utilized blankets as ropes and were quickly outside the walls. They now split up and went their separate ways in groups. Joe Sterritt and Pacing Bill wandered south, hiding in the chaparral when pursuing horsemen were near. Taking a boat on the bay, they rowed over to San Francisco where they hoped to get some food at a boarding house where Sterritt had formerly lived. They were seen, however, as suspicious strangers by a group of boarders and turned over to the police. An excellent newspaper sketch of the nortorious and much-wanted Jim Ivey. Author’s Collection.

At the prison, an alert guard noticed that a large plank propped up against the outside wall, had been lying on the ground the previous day. Informing the captain of the guard, a hurried investigation disclosed where the convicts had exited their dungeon cells and also broken into the blacksmith shop where some managed to cut off their shackles. An hour after the escape, an armed group of twenty-five guards and citizens were in their saddles and in pursuit. Messages were sent to all the surrounding cities and towns in the area. Alexander Orlinski, the notorious burglar, escaped with his cell mate the equally noted Jim Ivey, who was doing seven years from Amador County for horse theft under the name of Curry. “Blue-Eyed” Thompson headed for San Francisco where he was spotted and captured. Orlinski, Ivey, Tom Lynch and a convict named Garvey now stole a boat and crossed the bay. When Lynch’s leg irons impeded their progress, Orlinski and Garvey both left the group. Ivey stayed with Lynch who had been injured after falling off the wall during the escape. When the convict died, Ivey moved on as he later related to a reporter. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, AUGUST 18, 1859:

…He went on to Oakland, where he obtained something to eat and pressed on for Stockton… from whence he started for French Bar, on the Stanislaus River. Soon after his arrival there, he procured employment as a teamster, but being in too much of a hurry to get money with which to leave the country, he robbed a miner’s cabin and was arrested, convicted of grand larceny, and sent back to his old home.

He re-entered San Quentin on August 16, 1859 as No. 1686 under the name of James Saunders, alias “Ivey’ and “Curry.” Jim Ivey boasted that no jail could hold him and he had previously escaped from San Quentin three times to prove it.


Convicts Colin Douglass and Louis Bowman made it as far as Stockton where they were identified and also returned to prison. McCauley promptly wrote a letter to the Alta trying to explain what had happened. “I am not at all surprised at the escape of these men from the cells in which they were confined,” he wrote, “ but I am at their success in scaling the walls shackled as they were, and without the knowledge of the guard.” A $100 reward for each of the fugitives was issued by McCauley. In all, the prison register indicates that eight of the fugitives were returned to prison although some may have been returned later under different names. The incident inspired outrage in the newspapers, but seized the imagination of the public. Accounts were widely published, including a succinct version titled “Wonderful Escape” in the July 16, 1859 edition of Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion. It had been one of the most desperate and successful escapes to take place in the brief history of the prison. Escapes were supposed to occur when prisoners were on the way to work, outside the walls.

Large newspaper ads offered $100 rewards for each of the 14 convicts. Author’s Collection.

Just a month later, on June 27th, headlines in the Sacramento Daily Union screamed the alarming news of “Forty State Prison Convicts Escaped—Five Killed Seven Wounded, and Nine retaken.” In San Francisco crowds gathered around large placards posted in front of newspaper offices around town giving the news and warning the public to be on the lookout for the escaped convicts. It was the type of break prison guards feared most. Some three hundred prisoners were engaged in the brickyard on a Saturday and were just returning from the noon meal when it happened. Labor Superintendent George Lee and gatekeeper John Spell were watching the prisoners routinely marching toward the brickyard, when suddenly the gate was slammed and locked with about 160 convicts on the outside. Immediately, both Lee and gatekeeper Spell were seized and threat-


An engraving depicts the escape attempt at the rear entrance to the prison on June 25, 1859. California Police Gazette, July 2, 1859.

ened with hand-fashioned knives and rushed past the brickyard toward Corte Madera Creek. Small groups of convicts rushed to join the escaping prisoners, while those left behind could not get back in the locked gate and were rushing in every direction in a panic. The guards, seeing a break was taking place, now fired into the milling crowd of convicts killing one and wounding four others. “It is said,” reported the Sacramento Union, “that when the escape took place, and while the miserable wretches, who refused to run, were outside the wall, a cannon was turned upon them, and, notwithstanding several of them fell upon their knees, crossed themselves and begged for life, it was discharged.” A desperado named Francisco Lulio, known as “Acapulco,” was the leader of the group holding Lee and Spell. As the convicts hastened through the chaparral toward Corte Madera Creek, guards mounted and on foot were rushing to intercept them, while others assembled civilian posses in San Rafael. There was a running, one-sided battle at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais where Acapulco was shot in the eye and forced to release his two prisoners, Lee and Spell. The convicts who were not killed or captured now fled into a brush-choked canyon as the sun went down and the guards returned to the prison with their prisoners. Most of the convicts involved in the incident were Hispanic or Indians. John Allen had been killed when the guards fired into the convict crowd outside the walls, while Pedro Gonzales and Angel Alamos were wounded. Acapulco was thought to be mortally wounded when he was shot in the eye, but he survived. There were some 38 prisoners still at large, among whom was a young Californio, No. 1217, listed as T. Basquez. He would evolve into one of the most noted bandidos of the age.


Born in Monterey in 1835 of an old Californio family, Tiburcio Vasquez learned to read and write both Spanish and English at an early age. At nineteen he was involved in a saloon brawl where a constable was killed. Fleeing with a desperado named Anastacio Garcia, Vasquez was next heard of far to the south. LOS ANGELES STAR, JULY 25, 1857:

On the 17th ult., Mr. Wm. H. Peterson, our active and efficient undersheriff, arrested a gentleman who has been dealing quite extensively in horse flesh. His name is Jose Tiburcio Basquez [sic], and he has stolen no less than ten head of horses and mules from San Buenaventura [Ventura]…

Tried and sentenced to five years in San Quentin, it was two years later that he participated in the brickyard break and successfully fled to the gold rush country. He was caught after stealing several horses and in July was back in prison again. At least one oldtimer recalled that Vasquez was always one of the leaders in any of the breaks in which he participated.

Tiburcio Vasquez was a horsethief who graduated to stage holdups and robbing whole villages. Boessenecker Collection.

These escape attempts resulted in the use of a row of upper-story cells in the Stones that were seldom unlocked. After the customary flogging of recaptured convicts, they were locked up, four men to a cell, for an indefinite period of time. The buckets for toilet facilities made the crowded cells an airless hell since the only access to fresh, outside air was the small window in the massive steel door. Sheet iron lined the walls of each cell. “It will be seen,” wrote a correspondent to the Alta California, “that four men cooped up in a narrow dungeon of this kind, (about eight feet long by seven feet wide, and seven feet high…) must suffer somewhat from noxious exhalations as they never leave it, so far as I have yet seen. I heard the other day that Pacing Bill, and a few others, were let out to breathe a little free air in the prison yard, but these kind of men being looked upon An early view of the Stones and the dreaded third floor. The famed “Garden Beautiful” filled the upper yard. The front wall and top floor of the guard’s quarters is at left. Author’s Collection.


as desperate and incorrigible characters, are rarely let out… .” On July 17, 1859, there was yet another escape, this time at the Market Street wharf in San Francisco. Some fourteen convicts were aboard the prison Schooner William Hicks transferring a cargo of bricks into another ship, Gold Hunter. Captain Aiken was in charge of the convicts, aided by the mate and guard, William Barry. One of the convicts was William “Brocky” Winters, another of the hordes of homeless youngsters that “Brocky” Winters was had been terrorizing San Francisco for years. He was smart and daring, but a member of the group paraded on the San Francisco his life would be brief. Author’s Collection. plaza in August, 1857. After recently escaping from the city prison, however, he was old enough to be sentenced to San Quentin for one year after his recapture. When Brocky saw guard Barry leave to go ashore for his noon meal, he watched while Captain Aiken boarded Gold Hunter to call the convicts up for dinner. Acting quickly, Brocky stepped onto the wharf and began rapidly walking away. When Aiken caught the movement, and yelled after him, a spirited race was on. The younger, faster convict soon disappeared into the city, however. That evening after supper the convicts were locked in the hold of the William Hicks for the night. “The hatch bar,” reported the San Francisco Herald, “was fastened downward, and secured with a padlock. Last night, between eight and nine o’clock, a thumping was heard against the padlock, which soon gave way, and the prisoners were released by a man who opened the hatch, when ten of them seized the opportunity to escape, the other four refusing to go. The captain and the guard must have been absent… .” One account noted that the four remaining convicts went immediately to police headquarters and reported what happened. Later, guard Barry in a letter to the San Francisco News blamed Captain Aiken for the incident, claiming he let Brocky escape and was otherwise negligent in the security of the convicts in his charge. We are left to surmise whether it was Brocky who returned to release his pals. A few years later, he was reported killed in a gunfight during the gold rush to the Idaho country.


About noon, the following September 27th, the schooner Bolinas was tied to a buoy near the prison embarcadero while a crew of about fifty convicts unloaded a supply of fire wood. As the convicts returned from their noon meal, suddenly there was a signal and the prisoners seized guard Dorse Moon and rushed aboard the Bolinas. Moon was held as a shield by several convicts as others frantically sought to raise the sails. All hell was breaking loose as the three guards at Post No. 5 realized another escape was in progress. An eye-witness, who had just lunched with guard Moon, later described the unfolding drama. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 29, 1859:

There were about twenty men took possession of the Bolinas; they cast off the lines and hoisted sail. The guards told them plainly that if they did not desist they would be obliged to fire upon them. The prisoners dared them to fire, if they did they would kill all the free men on board. …Some person said, “Fire!” But Mr. Curtin said “No! there are free men on board.” It was not until then that I knew Mr. Moon was on board. The Captain of the Bolinas jumped overboard, together with one of his men, and swam ashore. …The guards found at last that words or threats availed nothing, fired their rifles, but as they supposed without effect. So Mr. Wattson went down to the water’s edge and remonstrated with the man at the wheel, who dared him to fire, if he did he would kill all the free men on board. … Mr. Curtin asked his superior if he should fire. The officer said no; but at last when he found the prisoners were determined to carry out their plans, the officer…gave orders to fire … accordingly, Mr. Curtin and Mr. Wattson charged and fired the twelve-pounder, with canister, five successive times, and the result was the killing of two and wounding six, besides Mr. Moon, and crippling the Bolinas badly. At the same time a small boat manned with the guards came up, and ordered the prisoners to lower the sails, which they did.

During all the shouting and shooting, convict Tiburcio Vasquez, who had a grudge against Moon, rushed at him with a knife. Tim Ryan, a convict not involved in the escape, had been pushed onto the boat with Moon. He now jumped in front of the guard and snatched the knife from Vasquez’s hand. As other convicts were shouting “Kill him! Kill the son-of-a-bitch!” Ryan held the knife aloft and shouted he would stick the first man who approached the guard. Later, after Moon was badly wounded in the arm, Ryan took him below decks and stacked wood around him for protection. Guard Post No. 5 from where the Bolinas escape attempt was foiled. San Quentin Prison.


“Who,” commented the California Police Gazette, “now dare say that every spark of elevated feeling is extinguished from the breasts of the poor devils at San Quentin!” A. B. Winchell was dead and riddled with shot when carried off the boat. Convict John Dixon died after reaching the hospital, while William Burk was shot in the stomach and not expected to recover. Six others were wounded. Prison officials thought guard Moon would lose his shattered left arm, but it was saved. The incident was oddly similar to the previous escape Guard Curtain had prevented in Novermber, 1857 In the group of ten sullen, uninjured convicts was young Tiburcio Vasquez. All were flogged, then locked in the upper cells of the Stones, or perhaps in the dark dungeons below the hospital building. Flogging was particularly dreaded by some. An Indian prisoner escaped with only a few more months to serve when he had been merely threatened with flogging. To most, whippings were nearly as distressing to watch as to receive. A San Quentin visitor once described such a scene. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, JULY 23, 1859:

Whipping of a convict—This morning a convict known as “Kentuck” was whipped with a strap for not working with the gang to which he belonged, and for being lazy. He was stripped and his hands tied to a post above his head, and in this position was whipped upon the back and “rear”—ten strokes were given. The instrument used is a handle with a single thong of thick leather about two inches broad and, say two feet long, attached to it. This punishment is more severe in its ignominy than its pain—although it is painful enough, I presume. And, as one of them [convicts] remarked to me, “it’s a hard bite to take before breakfast, such a cold morning as this.” Kentuck hollered considerably and jumped up from the ground in anticipation of the stroke. No blood was drawn, but it must have tingled pretty hard.

Flogging was disturbing to many people. Prentice Mulford, a Chronicle reporter, was discussing it with the prison minister one Sunday morning and had the chief “flagellator” pointed out to him as he perambulated the top of the wall. “That’s the man who whips the prisoners,” noted the minister. “Yes,” thought Mulford, “he lashes their backs and you their imaginations.”Another newsman reported a similar meeting. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, AUGUST 10, 1869:

A little after, Hussy, the castigator, came and talked with me, and told how a few months before a couple of reporters came over from the city, and, after examining everything inside and out, they went back, wrote up their visit, praised all hands, officers, guards, cooks and prisoners, and reserved all their indignation and horror for him and his office, calling him a great hulking fellow, who could be much


better engaged at harvesting than in his brutal duties… .

Guard Hussy went on to relate how he had only taken the disagreeable job when no one else had volunteered. He had faithfully performed his duty, had not yet even received any extra pay as promised—and, moreover, was called a “brute” in the press to boot. Mulford tried to console him with the comment that, although he considered whipping a barbarous practice, he “saw no more impropriety in a man’s doing this sort of business than for a Sheriff to take the contract to perform all the judicial strangling for a county.” In the fall the convicts all began feeling apprehensive at the chill in the air. This was understandable since their summer and winter clothing was the same. Prisoners were issued one hickory shirt, one pair of trousers, one pair of shoes and a hat, all of prison make. Few convicts had money to buy such luxuries as socks, woolen shirts, coats, and hats. In his constant quest to fatten his profit margin, McCauley seemed unable to apply cause to effect. Convicts wearing the same ragged and thin clothes year around were bound to be unhealthy, sick, and often in the hospital with rheumatism, grippe, and a host of other maladies that definitely cut into his profits. Lack of proper medicines became such a problem that Dr. d’Heirrey, who had replaced Dr. Taliaferro, frequently had to ride to his home in San Rafael and utilize his own supplies. The previous winter, after noticing many of the convicts laboring in their bare feet, Dr. d’Heirrey told the warden to supply the men with shoes or all were going on the sick list. The shoes soon magically appeared. Sitting in his dark cell, day after dreary day, wearing heavy leg irons, Tiburcio Vasquez must have pondered the violent life he had chosen, but knew he would never change. In October he wrote a letter to his mother, complaining of his chains, the cruel treatment he was receiving and asking that she come visit him. He gave the letter to a visiting vaquero who was to mail it. While waiting for a response, Vasquez had the following disturbing news. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, OCTOBER 15, 1859:

Horse thieves Captured and One Shot. Martinez, Oct. 14th.—Early on Thursday three Spaniards, having stolen horses in their possession … passed through Lafayette … where they stole three saddles. The alarm being at once given, some six or eight persons at once started in pursuit. …The camp was immediately surrounded and the Spaniards called upon to surrender; upon which they broke for


the brush. The pursuing party fired upon them, wounding one, when the two others immediately surrendered. …The wounded man died this morning… .

Vasquez’ letter was found on the dead man and published in the Martinez Gazette. It is the missive of a selfish and thoughtless son informing his mother of several prison breaks in which he was engaged and in which men were shot and killed. It was the last thing any mother wanted to hear from a convict son. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, OCTOBER 26, 1859:

San Quentin —Beloved Mother: Perhaps you are not aware of the difficulties that I have to surmount and overcome every time I feel inclined to open my heart to you… but I hope you will overlook the little faults and mistakes of your unfortunate son, and, rather than to feel angry, to pity him. …I left the place during a riot, and was arrested a month after in the San Joaquin Pass, and very near you, by a party of armed men, who took us by surprise, and brought us back again here, and after two months of close, hard confinement in prison they put me again to hard work. A party of Americans one day took possession of a small vessel, and I went with them, but by being unused to working a vessel the guns and rifles from the shore soon put our craft unmanageable; and out of fifteen men on board, three were shot on the spot and five badly wounded; amongst the latter was one of the guards, whom we took with us. I came out without a scratch. I therefore… beg you to come and see me, as I am overloaded with irons, and without any cause, cruelly ill treated… Courage, mother! Do not lose your spirits for me. Your son was born to suffer, and the Supreme Being shall assist him in all this time of distress, until he may again go to serve his mother once more.

It was a story that could only end on the gallows, which it did. After serving out his term, Vasquez was promptly hip deep in crime again. He associated with several of the worst Hispanic outlaws of the period and after a burglary in Petaluma he was convicted and again entered San Quentin on January 18, 1867 as No. 3449. Released in 1870, Vasquez engaged in a daring and bloody series of stage robberies and raids on villages. He was captured near Los Angeles and hanged in San Jose on March 19, 1875. Next to the legendary Joaquin Murrieta, Vasquez was the most desperate and daring outlaw of frontier California. Mr. McCauley could not have been happy with the string of recent escapes. They were a terrible drain on his profit margin and an endless source of criticism in the press. A recent issue of the Sonoma County Democrat complained of stolen horses, young calves, and poultry as


being the work of “McCauley’s Rangers,” [escaped convicts]. Houses were being burgled, also. “A party of boys,” complained the tabloid, “in the vicinity of Petaluma, in search of blackberries, were surprised by the appearance of half a dozen men from a thicket nearby, who, led by one having an ax, rushed forward as if to rob them of their horses. The boys hastened to their horses and escaped, though the rear animal, being mulish and mounted by two boys, narrowly escaped the attacking party.” This was probably a gang of escaped convicts, a circumstance that Marin County residents had been complaining about for many years. The good news for McCauley and Tevis was that they had won their lawsuits against Weller and the state and shared a $275,000 settlement with Estill’s widow. Even more satisfying to McCauley’s ego was Weller’s failure to win his party’s renomination for governor and his defeat in the election for U.S. senator. The lessees were so pleased that they relinquished the $70,000 judgement they had won against Weller. Although McCauley well knew that the state was determined to get rid of him, his contract was still valid and all he had to do now was bide his time and collect his $10,000 a month from the legislature. When a settlement was made in August, 1860 to again relinquish the prison to the state, there was a legislative sigh of relief. McCauley had been the same headache as Estill had been. He was probably relieved


when he turned over the keys to Lieutenant Governor Isaac N. Quinn on August 11, although he was allowed to work the brickyard for several more months. “The prison,” reported the Alta, “is now in the hands of the state authorities, and we may look for much improvement… .” In January 1860, there were a reported 538 prisoners at San Quentin. Including the superintendent and boat officers, the guard was numbered at 35. Several of the five guard posts around the perimeter of the prison had been rebuilt as two-story brick structures with a balcony around the upper level. Hexagonal in design, each had a fireplace for heat in the winter. Within the prison walls, the two, new three-story cellblocks parallel to the Stones were a welcome addition of much-needed space. A two-story brick structure, later called “The Porch,” had been constructed in the southeast corner of the walls. This was utilized as the yard captain’s office where the new prisoners were registered. Punishment to groups of convicts was meted out on the front porch—from which the name was derived. The long, wood frame building built at an angle across the yard now housed the hospital, tailor shop, kitchen, mess hall, and the basement dungeons. A parallel building constructed alongside was called the “manufactory”and contained the cooper, blacksmith, and carpenter shops. A brick laundry facility had also recently been built. One of the new two-story brick guard posts had been erected opposite the main gate. Also, a new three-story brick warden’s and officer’s quarters encompassed the front gate. At last, California had what looked to be a functioning state prison with walls and all the trimmings. Although Cherokee Bob finally received a pardon in October 1859, for some reason he was not discharged from San Quentin until May 15, 1860. There had been a silver strike in the Utah Territory early the previous year and Bob wanted to get in on the boom. Fingering his cards, he probably sought a game in San Francisco and after acquiring a proper stake, headed east, over the towering Sierra Nevada mountains. A government of the new territory of Nevada was being formed in Carson City and Bob found the town filled with miners, gamblers, and politicians. During the day there were horse races and at night gambling in saloons that seldom closed. Bob was probably anxious to join a


brother in the northwest, but the games kept calling. In Carson City he met a young Missouri gambler named William H. Mayfield. The two were of the same temperament and were soon in trouble. In a wild knife-wielding melee with a Carson constable named Gardner, Bob and Mayfield cut the lawman severely and were arrested by town marshal, John L. Blackburn. When the two troublemakers were released on bond, Bob met Blackburn and his jailor, George Downey, in the St. Nicholas Saloon in late September 1861. When Bob began complaining to Downey about being put in irons after the Gardner affair, there was an argument and both men went for their guns. Bob dropped Downey with three shots from his Navy Colt, then fled in a cloud of pistol smoke. Mayfield had a girl in town and refused to leave. Cherokee Bob, fearing another prison term, left Carson and headed back to California. Although he planned to join his brother in Washington Territory, Bob got caught up in the animosities of the Civil War and the new gold discoveries in the Idaho country. Placerville was a gathering place for the Fourth California Volunteer Infantry at this time and Bob stopped by the camps looking for gambling action. He made some friends and was still gambling with the soldiers when word was received that they were to be stationed at Walla Walla in Washington Territory. It was a chance to head north and visit his brother, but Bob was having a run of bad luck and he was broke. Boarding the ship Pacific at San Francisco, the soldiers smuggled Bob aboard with them and the ship headed north up the coast. While several companies of the California troops were stationed at nearby Fort Walla Walla, Bob stayed in town and made new friends. An opportunist, Bob now turned against his former soldier acquaintances. The area was alive with secessionists who mirrored Bob’s own thinking on the war. He bragged that with a “colored boy” carrying a basket of weapons for him, he could whip the whole Federal army. He and other secessionists harassed and embarrassed the California troops at every opportunity. At a theater one night, Bob and his Southern pals initiated a brawl with some drunken troopers resulting in two soldiers being killed and others wounded. From all accounts, Bob was in the thick of the fight, which also left several civilians injured. Several nights later a group of soldiers with blood in their eyes


came to town. They were carrying ropes and looking for Bob and his gun-toting pals, who narrowly missed being lynched. Taking the hint, Bob fled town and barely managed to elude a squad of dragoons hard on his heels. Bob gambled at Lewiston, in what is now Montana, and was surprised one day to meet his old pal Bill Mayfield in town. A fugitive now, Mayfield had stabbed Sheriff Blackburn, the erstwhile Carson City marshal, to death rather than be arrested and then escaped from the Carson jail. There was a woman of doubtful character with Mayfield named Cynthia. The trio now thought it was prudent to move on to the new mining camp of Florence, located to the southeast, on the Salmon River. Cherokee Bob acquired a saloon in Florence, Idaho, but when he and Mayfield quarreled over Cynthia she decided to stay with Bob who was now a man of means. Mayfield, who moved on with a gift bag of gold from Bob, was killed in a gambling quarrel at Boise some time later. Bob, too, was living on borrowed time. As 1862 came to an end, the citizens of Florence planned a gala New Years Eve ball. Bob, knowing Cynthia would not be welcome, did not want to go, but she insisted on attending and prepared a suitable gown. Bob expected a big crowd at his saloon that night so he induced friend “Poker Bill” Willoughby to escort Cynthia to the dance. As had been predicted, the couple was told they must leave and they reported back to a furious Bob. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, FEBRUARY 5, 1863:

Desperate Affray—There was a New Year’s party at Florence, Salmon River, and although they had no “man for supper,” they had two for dinner the day after. Two desperadoes, known by the names of “Cherokee Bob” and “William Willoughby,” introduced a woman of improper character. J. D. Williams and O. Robbins ejected the courtesan. Her paramours determined to avenge the insult. They hunted for Williams and Robbins all the next day. At night the parties met in front of the Exchange Saloon. “Bob” and his accomplice opened fire on Williams and Robbins, and the result was that Willoughby was struck by fourteen pistol shots, and died on the spot. “Bob” received five shots in his body, and died on the 5th inst.

Although from the beginning San Quentin had been in the hands of politicians, the political opportunities were not apparent because of the overwhelming problems and constant criticism from the press and


legislature. When Governor Weller helmed the first state takeover of the prison, he was as much concerned with humanizing the operation as politicizing it. Now, with the state again in control, new Governor John G. Downey and his Lieutenant Governor Isaac N. Quinn, the new warden, could step back and look at the possibilities. Good friends and party faithful could be appointed to the guard force, as well as the other posts such as gatekeepers, commissary officers, overseers and boat captains. John McCauley was already a rich man before he retired from his San Quentin Lease. A Southerner by birth, after outfitting a company of men to fight for the Confederacy, McCauley took his family to Europe where they lived in Paris during the Civil War. He died on his large farm near Sacramento in 1896. For all his money-grubbing propensities, McCauley had a tough set of guards to enforce his sometimes shoe-less and hungry charges. Good Democrat Downey now replaced the old guard with a new crew, freshly recruited mostly from the governor’s home town of Los Angeles. Many were good, Irish Democrats. Whether the series of escapes that followed were in some way the fault of these new inexperienced guards was not determined. On August 16, 1860 ten convicts who were gathering wood in a prison scow up Corte Madera Creek disappeared. McCauley, who was still in control at the time, offered $500 for the return of the whole group, or $50 for each one delivered. All were short termers doing from one to five years. Benjamin Buckalew, former owner of the prison property, had originally contracted to build a wharf at the tip of Point San Quentin, but because of his constant squabbles with Estill it had never been completed. This spring of 1860 Charles Minturn, who operated a ferry steamship on the bay, decided to finish the job. Owner of the steamer Petaluma which made regular stops at the point, Minturn at this time was required to anchor the ship in the bay and have passengers climb down a ladder into a whaleboat to be rowed ashore. Governors, sheriffs, ladies, and children all suffered the same inconvenience. Now, there was finally going to be a wharf, just like in San Francisco. A work crew of some thirty convicts was brought to the site and put to work


finishing Buckalew’s project. All were heavily chained and in the custody of four armed guards. One of the convicts was Francisco Lulio, No. 1017, who claimed to be a former member of Joaquin Murrieta’s feared gang of bandidos. Certainly, “Acapulco,” as he was called, was not lacking in courage. Admitted to San Quentin on October 12, 1856 on a larceny charge from Amador County, Lulio had one eye shot out during a previous escape attempt, as has been noted. While grading 1860s view of Buckalew’s road leading to Minturn’s new steamboat wharf in the distance. The uprising took place as the convicts worked on this road. Author’s Collection.

the approach to the completed wharf on August 28, 1860, the irascible Lulio saw another opportunity for escape and took full advantage of it. SACRAMENTO DAILY BEE, AUGUST 30, 1860:

The outbreak took place when the convicts were at dinner, which was sent to them from the prison yard… As the story is told us, the convicts suddenly rose upon the guards—four in number—and got possession of their pistols. At this time, the notorious horse thief, Lewis Mahoney, insisted upon shooting one of the guards dead on the spot, but he was hindered from doing so by some of his comrades. In the confusion the guards recovered their pistols and instantly began firing on the convicts. The latter seized brickbats and every missile within reach, but as several of them fell from the fire of the guards, they soon sullenly submitted. One of the guards was severely injured by a brickbat.

Three convicts were seriously wounded and the following day the others were severely flogged in the yard. At this time Lewis Mahoney was doing his second term. Despite several escapes in 1857, he was returned both times, but made good use of his outside time. Learning that the Sonoma County treasurer, Berthold Hoen, had just received some $3,500 in cash along with a quantity of county warrants and promissory notes, Mahoney assembled a gang. His recruits included ex-convicts Tim Ryan, Frank Reed and several others. On the evening of November 7, 1858, with Mahoney and several look-


outs on the street, two of the gang entered Hoen’s Santa Rosa house while he was drinking at a nearby saloon. The treasury was successfully pilfered and the gang made a clean escape into the night. It was a sensational robbery. “If the San Francisco detectives,” opined the Sonoma County Democrat, “feel themselves to be expert in the game of catching rogues, here, now, is an inducement for them to set themselves to work, where they may do some good for themselves and their country, too.” The paper was referring to Captain Isaiah Lees and his renowned detective corps. It was a prophetic request. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, MARCH 15, 1859:

Two of the notorious Lewis Mahoney’s accomplices, named Tim Ryan and Frank Ward alias Reed, were arrested yesterday afternoon. It was ascertained, after the arrest of Mahoney on Friday last, that he had partners, and officers Lees and Johnson succeeded in finding the two above named, who had two stolen horses in their possession… . Our officers appear to be convinced that the robbery of Mr. B. Hoen, Treasurer of Santa Rosa, was committed by some of Mahoney’s band… .

Mahoney decided his best chance was in “peaching” on his cohorts and when Ryan and Reed were shipped north to Santa Rosa, he “sang” like a canary. Mahoney claimed he was only the fence in the affair. While waiting to testify in the Santa Rosa jail, the facile Mahoney managed to escape and make his way back to Santa Clara County. In San Jose he made inquiries about his wife who was described as an “industrious, enterprising woman.” Mrs. Mahoney, after assuming her marriage was dissolved when her husband went to prison in late 1856, had married a local farmer named Phair. Before the Woodcut of Frank flummoxed badman could decide what to do about his Reed from his mug polygamous spouse, he spotted lawmen on his trail and shot as published in the California Police fled to Mission Dolores, near San Francisco. Captured Gazette. Author’s after stealing a horse, Mahoney was returned to Santa Collection. Rosa where he immediately instituted a suit for horse theft against Phair. It was done purely out of spite and Mrs. Mahoney’s new husband was easily cleared. After being returned to San Francisco, Mahoney was tried for horse theft and given a four year sentence. He entered San Quentin for his second term as prisoner No. 1800 on Febru-


ary 5, 1860. His erstwhile partner, Frank Ward, was there, serving his ten-year term for the Hoen burglary. Lewis Mahoney was discharged in early February 1864, but due to his larcenous instincts he was back as No. 2918 on January 24, 1865, for a ten year stint. Pardoned out with 510 days of credits in seven years, he managed to shoot himself in the foot during a squabble with a San Francisco gambler. The pardon had specified he leave the state, which he violated by returning after two years. Now he found himself back in prison, complaining bitterly to Governor Romualdo Pacheco that he now had to serve the 510 credits time, also. Discharged on January 27, 1876, Mahoney returned in late 1877 to serve a five year term for a burglary in San Joaquin County. Released in late April 1881, San Quentin saw him no more and perhaps he had finally sought greener pastures. Winters were brisk and chilly on the bay, even on sunny days. There was never enough work for all the prisoners and with the relaxed rules of the state authorities, convicts now roamed the yard or gathered in clusters beneath the walls to talk and pass the endless days… and to plot. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD, JANUARY 17, 1861:

Break in the State Prison—Six prisoners killed and two escaped—One of the Officers wounded—We learn that at 2 o’clock, yesterday afternoon, while the great gate of the State Prison yard was opened to admit a water cart, the prisoners in the yard made a simultaneous rush for the gate, at the same time seizing the officers of the prison who were near enough, and holding them up as protection…

It happened so swiftly that a plot was clearly indicated. Later horse thief Dámaso Berreyesa and Tiburcio Vasquez were labled as the instigators. The convicts knew just when the water cart arrived and left and had planned accordingly. When the cart was halfway through the gate, some thirty convicts, mostly Hispanics, rushed for the outside, sweeping any guards, trusties, or others along with them as shields. There was immediate confusion, but an alert guard rang the alarm-bell and sporadic gunfire from the guards was heard. Sheriff S. E. Kennard, of Sutter County, had just delivered a prisoner to the office when a group of convicts burst into the room and grabbed the sheriff and various clerks and trusties. After a quick search for weapons, the convicts and their hostages rushed out through the gates. Guards managed to close the gate and lock in other convicts who had also attempted to flee.


Sheriff Kennard was dragged along by the hulking prisoner named Vanderpool, who finally released him because of the lawman’s violent struggles. Many of the convicts wielded prison-made knives and Kennard’s clothes were cut into shreds. Freed, the sheriff rushed back and retrieved his pistol which had been deposited at the prison office. He then returned to join the pursuit of the fleeing convicts. “On the determined action of the guards,” reported the Alta, “some ten or fifteen of the runaways made for the rear gate and got back into the prison yard. Three of the guards were wounded with Deputy Warden James C. Pennie, seriously wounded in the hand and arm. Another guard received a slight flesh wound, and the third was severely cut about the head and shoulder with a knife.” It had been a deadly incident with Berreyesa and two other convicts being killed and fourteen wounded. The guards had suffered also, Pennie later having his broken arm amputated. Even though he had a knife at his throat, Pennie had screamed for the guards to shoot, but they still had hesitated. Other guards who had been used as shields were bruised and cut by knives. Most of the prisoners had been recaptured, with only one or two still missing. With a prison guard staff of only twenty-four, the Alta opined that the number should be increased to at least forty. “The present guard did its duty manfully in the late emergency. Since the affair it has been wondered that so small a body of men should have been able to suppress such a mob of desperadoes, and it was entirely owing to their indomitable, bull-dog courage and fighting qualities that the prisoners were not successful.” Tiburcio Vasquez was seriously wounded and so avoided the lash. From his bed he probably heard the cries of three other convicts as Lieutenant Dorse Moon delivered sixty lashes in the yard. Moon had been one of the hostages in the break and had little sympathy for his victims, now. In a letter to the San Francisco Alta in August, 1861, a correspondent warned that another group of convicts were loose in the city. “By the way, have you heard that five State prisoners escaped last Saturday from the prison-schooner Pike County, while lying at your city? They were trusties, of course, as none others are allowed to work on this vessel, from which have already escaped hundreds of prisoners. …None of them have yet been captured.”


In early March a San Francisco reporter accompanied Governor John Downey and other officials during their monthly visit to the prison. The newsman was impressed with the progress being made and gave a detailed account of meal time prison routine. SAN FRANCISCO ALTA CALIFORNIA, MARCH 2, 1861:

The prisoners are fed twice a day. They are allowed beef, and bread and potatoes in ample quantities; and pork once a week. No drink but water. This food, added to the excellent climate of San Quentin, keeps the whole establishment in good health… .

Governor John G. Downey. Author’s Collection.

The dining room contains two parallel rows of rough board benches, with seats, placed as close as they can stand. Everything was clean and bright. In each tin plate was a mess like a stew of beef and potatoes—by no means unpalatable to any hungry man—and half a loaf of fresh-baked bread; (the bakers are all convicts). The plates being all filled, the bell on top of the prison building was rung, and the five hundred and seventy, falling into procession four deep, marshaled by the officers, marched in perfect silence through the door, and soon all were seated— all colors, nations, shapes, and sizes of men. All seated themselves facing one way, and looking towards the guard, who was seated at a sort of desk. We were struck with the perfect silence. No man uttered a word… .When the last convict was seated, and all eyes were turned upon the guard, the latter struck a single blow upon the desk with a mallet which he held in his hand. Instantly the prisoners set to, and eagerly, but still silently, devoured their food. A tin cup was at each place, and as any man held up one of these empty, it was filled by one of a dozen “trusties,” or favored ones, allowed from their good conduct to act as servants on these occasions. … It was a dismal sight, and we made our escape from it as quickly as possible.

Sam Clemens ( later Mark Twain) referred to Charles Mortimer as “one of the worst men known to the [San Francisco] police” and if he had known of his full career he might have realized what an understatement that was. Born in Vermont in 1834 as Charles Flinn, Mortimer joined the Navy at an early age, deserted in Central America and in 1858 turned up in San Francisco. Since his teenage years in Vermont and Massachusetts, Charlie had been a thief and burglar and had once served a year in the Massachusetts state prison. In California he was a ready-made candidate for the new prison at San Quentin. In San Francisco, Mortimer and two pals were appraised by a bartender that a man named Conrad Pfister was keeping $1,000 in the saloon safe. On the evening of February 5, 1862, Pfister called for his money. Mortimer and his pals followed him from the saloon and struck up a


conversation with him as they walked. At a likely spot, Mortimer “stumbled” into his victim, neatly picking his pocket at the same time. Pfister missed the weight of his money, however, and when he cried out he had been robbed, several nearby officers quickly had Mortimer in custody. Sam Clemens was the locals reporter for the Daily Morning Call and he was outraged when Mortimer was sentenced to state prison for only a year. “For the same offence, in the interior of the state,” grumbled Clemens, “he would have got ten years at least.” Mortimer entered San Quentin as No. 2323 on March 7, 1862 and was assigned to the prison tailor shop. Mortimer knew the shop foreman, Charles Hammond, who had “peached” on his pals after a robbery, netting him a much lighter sentence. He also knew Hammond to be involved in the murder of a police officer in Sacramento. When Mortimer—and this is his story—denounced Hammond for his traitorous behavior, the shop foreman and a rapist hack driver named Mike Brannigan framed him for stealing some burlap sacking. A lesson in prison discipline was promptly forthcoming. LIFE AND CAREER OF CHARLES MORTIMER, WRITTEN BY HIMSELF, 1873:

Charles Mortimer was a good example of the criminal hordes that arrived during the Gold Rush. Author’s Collection.

…Mike and Hammond combined against me and sprung a trap on me which brought me to the ladder where prisoners are tied up and flogged. I got twenty lashes there with a four foot rawhide in the hands of a powerful man, Vanderlip, who seemed to delight in seeing how deep he could sink the lash into a man’s quivering flesh. Every blow laid open my flesh from six to fifteen inches. I speak of this in no prejudice; hundreds will bear me out in it. …

Stolen burlap sacking was valuable at the time because of the Civil war. In his inelegant, but fascinating recollections, Mortimer gives us a rare insight into the prison at this early day, verifying the relaxed rules under the new state regime. At this time prisoners could go where they pleased inside the walls, and knots of two three, four, and even eight or ten could be seen talking together. Thus they would talk over their past life and future hopes and plans. Very few made good resolves. They would coolly discuss plans of escape and calculate how many lives would be sacrificed in contemplated breaks. I occupied a berth in Room No. 3 with others. Our room had the “best” men in it—that is, called the best because the “worst.”


Mortimer names some of the more noted criminals of the time as being his associates in the prison. Stage robber Ike McCullum was there, along with Dolph Newton of the Tom Bell gang, Jim Driscoll and old Jim Smith. “What I did not already know about criminal life,” recalled Mortimer, “I could easily learn here. There were some ten or fifteen of the most notorious highwaymen on the coast, all in consultation.” According to an 1862 article in the San Francisco Bulletin, the insidious increase in San Quentin prisoners amounted to 258 Americans and 333 foreigners, bearing in mind that the number was constantly fluctuating with prisoners being discharged and new arrivals. Of the group that could not read or write, 141 were foreigners, 41 were native Californians and only 29 were Americans. San Francisco supplied the most convicts at 106, while Sacramento followed up with 59, a much larger percentage than her population would dictate. Colusa and San Bernardino were the runners-up. Jim Ivey’s latest venture was burglarizing a Napa man’s house of $7,000. His pal “Black Jack” Bowen was in on the job, but the two thieves were arrested by San Francisco Police Chief Martin Burke and his detectives who had located them in the San Jose County Jail. Ivey was picked up using the name J. J. Chambers. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, FEBRUARY 27, 1861:

He will, undoubtedly, be convicted of the present charge, and returned to his old quarters, where he will have about twenty-seven years to serve. But, of course, he will again escape, as he confidently asserts, and apparently with reason, that the prison is not made that can hold him. …It is estimated that they have stolen upwards of $20,000 in money and valuables in the last two years.

Ivey was then taken north and convicted of grand larceny in Napa County and was admitted to San Quentin as No. 2143 on April 18, 1861. It was his fourth term. He had escaped a year previously on May 13, 1860. Not wanting to disappoint his keepers, Ivey escaped again on February 14, 1863. By this time San Quentin officers were beginning to believe the burglarizing badman had supernatural powers. Prison news in California, however, was now taking a back seat to the great Civil War in the East. The bloody battles at Bull Run and Antietam and the attendant casualties shocked Californians just as they did the rest of the country.


A page from the San Quentin Daily Log dated May, 1856. Escape attempts, punishments, arrival of new prisoners, events of the day and weather reports are listed. California State Archives.


CHAPTER SIX

The Chellis Break W

hen Leland Stanford was elected governor of California, he took office on January 18, 1862. The new prison directors were Stanford, Lieutenant Governor John F. Chellis, and Secretary of State, William H. Weeks. Lieutenant Governor Chellis now became the ex-officio warden of San Quentin. Chellis, a heavy-set sawmill operator and now politician, seems to have taken his job seriously. He had no qualifications for the work, but neither did most of his predecessors. Besides, Deputy Warden W. E. Robinson did all of the heavy lifting. In early July, however, Chellis accused Robinson of insubordination and playing fast and loose with prison funds. When the deputy warden took the hint and resigned, Chellis was in full charge and he took up residence in the three-story guard and warden’s quarters outside the main gate. On July 22, 1862, just after noon, the convicts working the brick yard and other outside jobs filed out of the mess hall and lined up at the front main gate. A trusty and the gate guard, Cornelius Murphy, began tallying the convicts as they were being let out. As this

The main gate building where the convicts rushed in and grabbed Chellis and whatever weapons they could find, then fled up Corte Madera Creek. Author’s Collection.


was taking place, a half dozen of those already released and on the way to the brickyard turned around and, staying close to the wall, rushed back and attacked Murphy. The guard fought them off with a loaded cane but he was quickly beaten to the ground and his keys seized. Other convicts rushed into the guard headquarters and burst into the rooms of Warden Chellis. Seizing the startled official, they dragged him down to the gate and using the warden as a shield, unlocked the armory and began passing out weapons to cheering crowds of prisoners. Some 300 shouting convicts began streaming out of the gate, the confused guards hesitating since Chellis had shouted at them not to fire.

Post No. 4 where the desperate fight for the cannon took place. Author’s Collection.

Guard Post No. 4 was opposite the gate and the mob, with Chellis in front, now rushed the elevated post. Several of the guards fled. When Chellis yelled not to fire, Captain Thomas Watson discharged the cannon over the bay, then tried to spike it. The enraged convicts beat the officer severely, then heaved him over the incline and the useless cannon after him. The mob now turned toward Post No. 1 that had fired their cannon several times at the convicts, but without effect. Again, with Chellis in front the guards were helpless and fled the post. Seizing the brass cannon, the convicts and their hostage now fled west, past the lagoon, on the Corte Madera road which also led past Ross’ ranch and towards Mt. Tamalpais. LIFE AND CAREER OF CHARLES MORTIMER, WRITTEN BY HIMSELF, 1873:

I saw the whole thing from a front window. I did not join in the escapade because I was a “short timer.” Meanwhile the bells rang “All hands to their cells.” The whipping master was in the tailor shop, concealed under a bench, while Mike Brannigan was covering him up with rags to hide him from the convicts. Lucky it was he was not found or he surely would have been taken. When the front gates were thrown open some three hundred convicts rushed out. They went around the wall to where a twelve-pounder stood, with the Governor [Chellis] square in front of them. …The guards ran for dear life. Some got into a boat and literally “paddled their own canoe.” The convicts then started for the mountains some three or four miles off, keeping the Lieutenant Governor with them. Meanwhile, some of the mounted guards would ride up and pick off a convict and then rush back again.


It was yard captain Edward Vanderlip who had been hidden from the rioting convicts by Brannigan in the tailor shop. Rushing to the stables with several guards, Vanderlip and his men galloped after the escaping convicts, shooting when they could get a clear shot. The convicts were moving as swiftly as the corpulent, puffing figure of Chellis would allow, his staggering figure being regularly urged on by jabs from awls, chisels, and other makeshift weapons. By sundown they had skirted a nearby lagoon on the edge of the bay and were soon at the Brevier ranch where they took food and clothes and whatever else caught their fancy. Chellis was told to get up on a stolen horse that was taken, but with no saddle or bridle he refused to mount the animal and had to again proceed on foot. After wading through a slough some four miles from the prison, the convicts came to a sturdy fence and began climbing over it. When Chellis was ordered to scale the obstacle, his weary and bulky carcass refused to function. After much chiding, the convicts moved on without him. Meanwhile, the prison physician, Dr. J. D. B. Stillman was notified at his San Francisco office that hundreds of convicts had revolted and were loose on the countryside with Warden Chellis in tow. The doctor promptly notified Governor Stanford, as well as the local police headquarters. Chief Martin Burke assembled a posse of his best officers, then alerted General George Wright at the Presidio. Governor Stanford’s brother also put together a civilian posse and the assorted groups all boarded the steamboat Clinton that Chief Burke had hired for $250. By the time the boat got up steam and headed out into the bay, it was Ross‘s Landing on Corte Madera Creek. The about one o’clock in the morning.

principle fighting during the escape took place between here and Mount Tamalpais in the distance. Author’s Collection.

Back in Marin County, the residents of San Rafael were


alerted and a well armed posse under Sheriff Valentine Doub was soon on its way toward Corte Madera and a rendezvous with the prison guard force near Ross’ ranch. It was dark by now, but soon the two groups had the fugitives in a deadly crossfire. Flashes of gunfire now lit up the convict figures scurrying through the brush looking for cover. There were cries when a convict was hit and soon shouts of “Stop shooting, I surrender!” Guards began herding the prisoners into a group and soon it was all over. The one-eyed “Acapulco” Lulio was dragged from a hiding place in the woods. “He expressed himself,” reported the Alta correspondent, “as being thoroughly disgusted at being compelled to give in without having anything more than a ‘scrimmage.’” Back at the prison the steamer Clinton had arrived about dawn, having been held up by the heavy fog. Chief Burke and the others found Warden Chellis sleeping comFrancisco Lulio. Sketch in an early fortably in his bed. The captured convicts were tallied, San Quentin publicaalong with the dead and wounded and it was determined tion, thought to be from a mug shot. that less than twenty convicts were still missing. There were Author’s Collection. three dead, but others were thought to have been killed by grapeshot fired at a boat seized by some prisoners. Twenty-nine convicts were wounded, several mortally. “Only ten or twelve made good their escape;” recalled Mortimer, “among these was Blue-eyed Thompson who cheated the state out of twelve years service. I met him a year later at Virginia City, Nevada. For the next two weeks the groans and cries of the wounded and dying could be heard day and night.” It was no surprise that at least one veteran convict recalled that both Tiburcio Vasquez and Lewis Mahoney were leaders in the breakout attempt. “A few of the guard behaved in a cowardly and contemptible manner,” wrote the Alta correspondent. “One of them took off his shoes and scampered down the road as soon as the fight commenced. ExLieutenant Governor Quinn [who operated the brickyard] informs us that he saw others exhibiting dastardly conduct… .” Many stories of courage and cowardice made the rounds, as could


be expected. Guard Con Murphy put up a terrific fight refusing to give up the keys to the gate and armory, while convict Ed Boyer fought sideby-side with him. A trusty named Miller assisted the guards by forcing inmates back within the walls when the break commenced. Miller then obtained a mule from the stable and aided in bringing one of the cannon into position. Exchanging his mule for a horse, Miller then rode the twelve miles to San Rafael and alerted the town. SAN FRANCISCO HERALD AND MIRROR, JULY 24, 1862:

One of the party who returned from the State Prison yesterday relates that while the convicts were using Lieutenant-Governor Chellis as a buckler of safety, a convict asked him why he (Chellis) was like a certain distinguished officer in the Union Army? Mr. Chellis answered that he didn’t see it. “Because,” answered the ruffian, “you are our General Shield.” [ a Union general] The Chellis break was the last mass attempt to escape from San Quentin.

On January 8, 1863, a soggy ceremony was held on the Sacramento Levee, above K Street. Bands were playing, flags were waving and patriotic bunting adorned the spacious grandstand. It was a gathering in the rain to celebrate breaking of ground for the commencement of the Central Pacific Railroad that would soon begin the arduous task of joining the Union Pacific rails for a transcontinental Railroad link across the country. The female visitors, in their hoop skirts and pantaloons, were crowded onto the balconies along Front Street to witness the affair. After the appropriate political speeches, Governor Leland Stanford, a principal stock owner of the Central Pacific, gave a speech in honor of the great occasion. Afterwards, two wagons loaded with earth were pulled in front of the stand and the governor began shoveling “with a zeal and athletic vigor that showed his heart was in the work.” Six years later America’s East and West were indeed united at Promontory Point, Utah. The New Year was celebrated at San Quentin in an unusual, but familiar manner. In a letter to the Sacramento Union dated January 11, a correspondent wrote that “We were on the eve of an extensive outbreak yesterday afternoon. The buildings of the cooper’s shop were set on fire by the convicts, the flames starting in the drying room. The time chosen was when all the convicts had gone to supper, and the flames would be enabled to make such headway that in the confusion the convicts could make a break on both gates, carrying the guards with them as a shield.”


The yard captain somehow got wind of the plan, probably from a trusty. Captain Best promptly sent three carpenters to put out the fire and when the meal was over the plotters found the fire extinguished and the guards on the alert. A ball of twine that had been soaked in a combustible substance was found at the scene. Several Sacramento arsonists who were doing time were suspects in the incident. Although Charles Mortimer had been classified by Mark Twain as one of the worst men in California, Charlie no doubt considered himself a prince when compared to Mike Brannigan. As previously noted, the two worked together in the San Quentin tailor shop at the time of the Chellis break when Brannigan had hidden the yard captain from the rioting prisoners. “Mike Brannigan was in our shop,” wrote Mortimer, “for a diabolical rape upon an actress at Sacramento, Edith Mitchell, a fine woman of culture and refinement whose prospects in life were very bright until Mike crossed her path, the wretch, and he to boast of his deed as he did, too.” Brannigan, one of the horde of political thugs who had flocked to San Francisco during the early days of the gold rush, was a hack driver by occupation. During elections he helped elect the Democratic officeseekers by stuffing, stealing, or burning ballot boxes, frightening voters away from the polls, or other illegal tactics to aid his candidates. In between elections he took advantage of his hack passengers by overcharging, driving by circuitous routes, or thievery when he could get away with it. He was a rowdy drunk as well and in 1853 had bit the tip of a man’s nose off in a brawl. He had few scruples and even less morals. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, JULY 8, 1856:

…A few months ago… he seized a woman’s baggage…and carried it to her house against her will and in spite of her remonstrances. He then demanded five dollars for carrying two small packages which she refused to pay, offering, however, to pay two dollars… . Mike insisted upon his five dollars, and used very insulting language because she still … refused to pay more than two dollars… . He then watched his opportunity and the next time he met her in the street… he struck her in the face with his horsewhip… .

Mike was convicted and sentenced to pay a hundred dollar fine, but he appealed and it was the last he heard of the case – probably due to his political connections. During the 1856 reign of the San Francisco vigilantes, Brannigan


was violently opposed to their methods, as were all thugs and crooked politicians. When the vigilantes began shipping the worst of the troublemakers out of the country, Brannigan was too much of a hothead to get the message. Deciding to banish the troublesome hackman, the vigilantes adopted a clever stratagem. As two gentlemen were walking down Kearney street, and neared Brannigan’s hack stand, Mike called out to them—“Hack, sir?” When they replied in the affirmative, he opened the door and was told to drive down Sacramento Street. As they neared the vigilante headquarters, Brannigan was told to stop. Jumping down and opening the cab door, Mike helped his passengers step down then was grabbed by his two vigilante fares who escorted him into the headquarters. A startled Brannigan was faced by a scowling vigilante committee that had summoned him. The hackman was put aboard a ship and banished from California. After “vacationing” in New York and Central America, Mike eventually returned to California, but was careful to avoid San Francisco. He again took up the hack business in Sacramento during the summer of 1857. His drinking, however resulted in constant brushes with the law. On the afternoon of June 22, 1861, Brannigan picked up a young actress at the Sacramento embarcadero and took her in his hackney to the St. George Hotel. In town to fulfill an engagement, Ellen Mitchell was surprised when Brannigan showed up at her hotel the following morning and began badgering her to take a free ride in the country to visit Smith’s Gardens. When she consistently refused, Mike told her he did this for all the actresses visiting town and she finally consented after insisting on bringing along a friend. With an older woman as a companion, the trio headed for the country and Smith’s Gardens, a popular, local resort. As the two women sipped their ale, Mike proceeded to get plastered. Driving back to town that evening, Brannigan stopped at the Tivoli House for some more drinks. Here the young actress began feeling her drinks and Mike managed to lose the chaperone. Driving to a certain house of bad repute run by a Mrs. Donnery, Brannigan met several friends and spent several hours in more drinking. In a stupor when returned to her hotel, Ellen Mitchell was chastised by the manager for keeping such hours. Mike was forbidden to ever enter their hotel again.


The following day the actress employed J. W. Coffroth, a prominent attorney, to prosecute Brannigan and several pals for repeatedly raping her and stealing her watch and jewelry. It was a hard-fought case with Mitchell’s armed father-in-law sitting in court glowering at Brannigan. “An intense feeling pervaded the public mind yesterday,” commented the Union, “which would have rendered the life of Brannigan unsafe for a moment on the street.” He was convicted and sentenced to ten years in the state prison. Brannigan, No. 2308, was been admitted to San Quentin on January 30, 1862. A year later, it was announced in the Sacramento press that he had been granted a new trial by the state supreme court. To add urgency to his case, Mike had been in the prison hospital recently when blood had been found on his pillow. It was an old trick. Brannigan had probably pricked his gums with a needle or some other sharp object, just before the doctor visited his sickbed. “…Brannigan will of course be brought back to the city in a few days. Mike is said to be extremely ill from Consumption,” reported the Sacramento Union. In Sacramento Mike was told that Ellen Mitchell was touring in Canada and refused to return for another trial. After a big celebration with his cronies, Mike settled down to hacking again, but things were not the same. He moved to Nevada, but a change of locale did little to change his character. In late September, 1863, The Virginia City Evening Bulletin referred to Brannigan as “this delectable individual, who is incarcerated in our city prison on a charge of attempt at rape upon the persons of two little girls.” The newspaper also printed a lengthy resume of Brannigin’s sordid career. As late as 1894 “Colonel” Mike Brannigan returned to San Francisco and strutted around town promoting himself as a remnant of gold rush days. Currently a resident of El Paso, Texas, where he had operated a hack business for some years, the “Colonel” reminisced to an Examiner reporter about the wonderful 1850s when he was paid $75 to drive two San Francisco prostitutes out to the local racetrack. The source of the “colonel’s” title was not reported. On December 29, 1863 the State Legislative Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds boarded the steamer Petaluma, moored at the


A steam ferry on the bay in early San Quentin days. Author’s Collection.

levee in Sacramento. There were six state senators and several members of the assembly in the group. The committee was headed by Lieutenant Governor T. N. Machin in his capacity as a prison board member. It was a pleasant morning trip down the Sacramento River. After easing past Mare Island and out into San Pablo Bay, the steamer was soon at the Point San Quentin landing. The water glistened like silver on this beautiful, crisp, and cloudless day. Warden Chellis was still in charge during this session of the legislature. He met the group on the wharf and they proceeded the quarter mile to the prison. Standing before the main gate, the party for a moment admired the view of the bay, then noticed two men walking towards them. “It was a novel yet sad spectacle,” noted an Alta reporter who was in the group. DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, DECEMBER 31, 1863:

“Two men slowly approached the building. One, a large muscular man, could be seen smoking and chatting familiarly with his companion. But his feet were manacled, and he tugged at the massive chains in his hands. The two drew nearer. All eyes were fastened on the culprit, who, unabashed, looked steadily at the turnkey. The officer whispered to the another officer, the iron bolt slid, the ponderous door swung open, and shut again upon the receding form, as the Sheriff of Nevada [county] exclaimed, “That’s Terrence Smith, sentenced to imprisonment in the penitentiary for life.” And yet on that culprit’s brow no trace of fear or regret could be seen. He appeared far more indifferent and thoughtless than the group who witnessed the commencement of a probably life-long incarceration within those dungeon walls.”

The “sad spectacle” was not in the convict’s shackles or indifference, but in the seeming hopelessness in reforming a steadily expanding prison population. Already there were second and third term convicts within these walls. The Alta account continued: …The very first unpleasant sight which strikes the visitor at the threshold of the yard, is the masses of men wandering about idly, and conversing as freely with one another as if on the public street. There must have been three or four hundred


of them congregated in the upper yard at the time of this official visit. … Unrestricted intercourse among five hundred desperate criminals, or amongst any number of culprits, is, we believe, not tolerated in any other State Prison. Again, the man or youth confined for only a minor offense, continually comes in contact with the notorious scoundrel. Under the existing circumstances, the managers have done as well as they could. The cost of feeding and clothing each convict per month is about eight dollars. The total expenses of the prison, for the same period, exceed but little the sum of five thousand dollars. They ought to be double this amount, and the State would be the gainer… New cells and more work shops and enlarged accommodations on every hand are required. The Committee found the prison in a better condition than they anticipated, from what they had heard.

The Alta reporter astutely observed that some kind of uniform should be adopted for the convicts. “Falstaff’s ragged regiment were clad in purple and fine linen as compared with our San Quentin state boarders. If a chap enters these premises sporting decent ‘toggery,’ he had better sleep in it, for if he don’t, he will be likely to wake up as nude as the Greek Slave.” The reporter’s comments on the female convict population were most interesting; There are fewer females incarcerated in the California Penitentiary, than in any other State Prison on the Continent. We think we can give plausible, if not conclusive reasons, why the sex is (fortunately) so sparsely represented. If a woman be ever so debased, and even proven guilty of crime by the evidence, it is no easy matter to get a jury to say so. Again, no healthy woman in California need ever be driven to the commission of crime through want, for female labor commands higher rates here than in any other State or country. …The total number of convicts in prison yesterday was five hundred and fifty-six, of whom three only are of the feminine gender. One of these committed arson; her time expires next week. Another is the Italian murderess, Larcari, who is sentenced to imprisonment for life. The third is the woman who committed, or rather attempted, infanticide… .

The reporter was right on target concerning the difficulty in convicting women at that time. In early February 1859, when Mrs. Mary Ann Billman was suspected of conspiring to have her husband murdered by the family Woodcut portrait of Mrs. Billman as published slave, Moses Tate, Captain Lees and his San Francisco in an 1859 issue of the police detectives promptly had the pair in custody. Sev- California Police Gazette. Author’s Collection. eral other men were also involved with the wanton Mrs. Billman, who frequently worked as a prostitute. Faced with abundant circumstantial evidence of his guilt, Tate confessed that he had bludgeoned Billman to death at the instigation of Mrs. Billman. They were


tried separately, Mrs. Billman being acquitted after the jury deliberated 26 hours. In reminiscing on the case years later, Captain Lees commented that “… Of course Tate was abetted by Mrs. Billman, but it’s hard to convict a woman, you know.” No. 1640, Moses Tate, was sentenced for life, but was pardoned out after seven years. The Police Gazette grumbled that he had taken the rap for others. Another example was Ida Vanard, a Sacramento prostitute. Said to have been attractive, Ida had a vio- Moses Tate as he appeared lent and unstable temper and frequently was in trou- in his San Francisco police mug shot. Author’s Collection. ble. When Mary Lee, a rival prostitute, began keeping company with Ida’s lover, there was hell to pay. On the morning of October 21, 1853, Ida burst into a room in the Second Street Bordello where Lee was staying and screeched out, “You slept with my man!” Lee admitted the charge, but gave as a defense that they were both “tight” at the time. The two women began cursing each other until interrupted by the madam of the house who insisted they take their squabble outside. When Lee refused to leave, the two women went at each other, slapping and pulling hair on the bed. In a moment they had fallen off, but jumped to their feet. Ida, however, managed to grab her knife and stab Mary Lee in the stomach. “Oh,” cried out Mary Lee, “I am stuck!” Ida responded by stabbing at her again, this time hitting her knee. Other women in the house wrestled the knife away from the hysterical woman and in a half hour Mary Lee was dead.

Rose Church, the San Francisco prostitute, died in San Quentin in the 1860s. Her records, however, aremissing. Author’s Collection.

Tried just after Christmas, the jury could not bring themselves to convict a woman and brought in a not guilty verdict on the grounds of self defense. There was a burst of applause from the packed courtroom, a representation, no doubt, from the local saloon crowd.

Ida was often in trouble after this. Shooting one man and stabbing another in a drunken 1855 saloon brawl, Ida was sentenced to a


year in prison, but she managed to have the sentence set aside by the California Supreme Court. Moving to San Francisco, she squabbled with another prostitute in a Commercial Street brothel in November 1861. The drunken Ida pulled a revolver and shot Esther Taylor in the head, giving her a nasty, but not fatal, wound. Barricading herself in her room, Ida was taken into custody after the police broke down her door. To add to her troubles, just before sentencing she was badly beaten by her “husband.” Battered and discouraged, Ida pled guilty and was sentenced to a year in San Quentin.

Mrs. Pasquelina Larcari engineered her husband’s murder, but the affair was soon found out by the astute detective Lees. Author’s Collection.

As prisoner No. 2304 Ida served her time without incident and was released on December 17, 1862. Pasqualina Larcari was another exception to the idea that women could not be convicted. When her husband Pietro was found shot to death in early May 1863, Captain Lees was promptly on the scene at a spot southwest of San Francisco. In questioning the woman, he discovered that two other men were involved in the incident, one of them, Giocomo Bruzzo, having suddenly disappeared from the area. When Lees and one of his men tracked him to Virginia City, Nevada, Bruzzo told conflicting stories, but finally admitted to the killing, blaming the woman and her lover, Francisco Pizano, with being the instigators. On October 19, 1863, all three were convicted of second degree murder and given life sentences. Mrs. Larcari, No. 2627, received a pardon six years later, while Pizano, No. 2626, was pardoned in 1874. No. 2625, Bruzzo, had his sentence commuted in 1876. By the 1860s, the female convicts were housed in the upper floor of the hospital building. They were totally separated from the men, but were allowed to go outside for a brief period when the male convicts were having their noon meal. There was no matron in the early days and they were in the charge of the captain of the yard. The size of the cells is not known, but they had to double up when necessary. They had nothing to do, but kept busy washing for the guards, sewing, reading, or writing letters. Saturday, April 2, 1864 promised to be just another bright, spring


day. Fifty-seven convicts had passed out through the West Gate to begin loading brick on a vessel at the wharf. It was a routine chore, with men carting bricks down to the pier and stacking them, while others loaded them onto the boat. Across the prison yard, in the office at the main gate several guards were talking when a rifle shot rang out. “Think that was a chance shot?” asked one of the officers. Suddenly there was the crackle of half a dozen shots and all rushed outside. The startled guards at Post No. 5 had seen men scrambling over the south wall at two different points. As other guards on the walls rushed to see what the shooting was about, they too now joined in the firing as the convicts working in the brick yard began yelling and rushing toward Post No. 5. Twenty-three convicts had managed to top the wall on makeshift ladders, then drop to the outside by ropes. Guards by this time were driving the convicts back within the walls, while guards at the outside guard posts were fighting for their lives. Throwing bricks and rocks and utilizing makeshift bows, slings and arrows, the brickThe Gatling Gun shown here yard convicts made a concerted attack on Post at Post No. 5 was not available at the time of the 1864 escape No. 5. which overlooked the prison wharf. Afattempt. San Quentin Prison. ter firing one quick shot with their cannon, the four guards barely had time to spike the gun before the convicts were upon them. Two of the guards were hurled over the embankment, but were not seriously injured. No. 2507, Augustine Trohio, a lifer in for murder, was wielding a club as he rushed at one of the guard, but was instantly shot and killed. The two struggling guards barely managed to lock themselves in the brick guard post. Taking stock of their wounds, the battered guards now watched as mounted reinforcements and others on foot arrived. “Seeing the day was lost,” reported the Alta, “and that no hope of escape was left, the convicts now broke in a body and ran at the top of their speed for the lower gate of the prison, which they entered, and the rebellion was over.” The majority of those in the break were Hispanic and other nationalities, but a white convict No. 2034, Tom King, was said to be the


leader. He was shot through the hips and it was thought he would die. Ramon Espinosa was also mortally wounded. Late that night Dr. Trask from San Francisco arrived to aid the prison physician. Four convicts had been killed and at least six wounded. It was thought others were wounded but were concealing their wounds to avoid the whipping post for participating in the attempted break. The fact that the convicts could construct bows and arrows, slings and ladders under the very noses of the guards was another wake-up call. One of the prisoners had even managed to concoct a home-made hand grenade that had blown up prematurely, severely injuring his hand. The casualties could have been much worse, but the guards acted with great courage and when the convicts fled to the west entrance, the officers dutifully held their fire. More importantly, none of the prisoners had escaped. On March 15, 1865, Charles Mortimer re-entered San Quentin under the name of George Foster, No. 2915. One of the most dangerous and colorful of early California criminals, Mortimer left an autobiography that is an accurate and fascinating account of the life of one of the worst badmen of his day. Released from his first term on March 7, 1863, Mortimer found himself on the streets of San Francisco with $1.50 to his name. He promptly made a “raise” by making the acquaintance of a drunk in a saloon, then escorting him to his lodging house and putting him to bed. “I undressed him,” he later recalled, “but in this act of kindness my hands slipped into his pocket and a few half dollars stuck to my fingers. In putting him to bed I gave him a good searching and found seventy-two dollars.” Mortimer worked for a time in San Jose, but he soon left for Virginia City, Nevada, where he operated as a highwayman and burglar with “Black Jack” Bowen and other old cons. Returning to the coast, he was involved in many street holdups and burglaries in the Bay Area. He lived near Belmont, between San Francisco and San Jose. When a particularly violent pawn shop robbery took place in San Francisco, Detective George Rose was sent to search Mortimer’s room in nearby Belmont. Some jewelry was found and the officer was returning to San Francisco with his prisoner when Mortimer suddenly


offered to take him to the spot where the loot was buried. It was late on the evening of September 9, 1864 when they arrived at the place near Santa Clara. As Rose tried to strike a match so they could see better, Mortimer grabbed him around the neck and began choking him. During the desperate struggle, Mortimer stabbed the officer in the neck, causing a ghastly wound and a torrent of blood. Believing Rose was dying, Mortimer hurriedly dug up his loot and fled the scene. Edward Byram, was a San Francisco police officer from 1876 to 1912, much of the time as a detective under Captain Lees. Byram kept a journal and in writing-up Mortimer commented that “it was generally conceded that Rose and Mortimer were in league with each other.” But Rose survived the attack and a massive manhunt for the murderous fugitive was initiated. Fleeing north, Mortimer joined up with Black Jack Bowen and several other hardcases in robbing isolated road houses, stores and cabins. They were eventually captured, heavily ironed, and held in the Yreka jail. On February 11, 1865, Mortimer and three other prisoners engineered a desperate escape from the jail. At large for a week, after recapture Mortimer was sentenced to seven years in San Quentin under the name of “George Foster,” Arriving at San Francisco police headquarters on his way back to San Quentin, Mortimer was suddenly confronted by Detective George Rose and a brawl, or killing, was narrowly avoided when Rose was seized by other officers. The next day Mortimer was logged into San Quentin as No. 2915 with the name of Foster under which he was convicted. LIFE AND CAREER OF CHARLES MORTIMER, WRITTEN BY HIMSELF, 1873:

When I was in about eight months some of the prisoners formed a plan to make a break. It was known as the “mush break,” from the fact that it happened the first time mush was given out as an article of food. Many of the “cons” made known their dislike to the dish and used this as an excuse for the attempt to regain liberty. At that time all the “cons” were served in one large dining room, and at supper time on the day in question the prisoners filed in as usual… . When the last of the line had got inside of the room, one of the of- ficers, James Fitzpatrick, in charge of the “cons,” stepped in. As soon as he did so, he was caught hold of by some three or four “cons.” He made some resistance and an outcry. At that moment a convict came rushing in with a large knife and rescued the officer. This act of


treachery… had the effect to throw those who held the officer out of time and they let go their hold, and he started for fresh air. His liberator also went out, but before he got away one of the others gave him a blow on the head with a club. It was well dealt, but did not bring him down.

Yard Captain Fitzpatrick and his rescuer got out safely, the latter being pardoned about a month later for his courageous actions. The break had fizzled and now the commissary officer kept repeating for them to return to their cells. Slowly, the convicts began to line up and move out. The prisoners had intended to hold Fitzpatrick until after nightfall, then go to the adjoining cooper’s shop and scale the wall under cover of darkness. It was pouring rain outside, but it was a poor plan. “No doubt,” recalled Mortimer, “but many would have gained their freedom―many the grave; others would have been wounded and maimed for life.” SAN FRANCISCO BULLETIN, JANUARY 15, 1866:

…Four of the scamps were arrested, ironed and put in a dungeon. Yesterday they were brought out to the ladder and flogged. Last night three other prisoners dug through the walls and escaped. They are supposed to have been concerned in the plot and were afraid of being found out and punished. Two days later the Bulletin published a letter from a correspondent who claimed to have witnessed the flogging. “One of them was certainly marked as among the guilty ones, and there is a strong probability that the others were implicated… and dreading the horrible consequences—terrible to them almost as death—resolved to avoid them by what proved to be a successful attempt to escape.” SAN FRANCISCO BULLETIN, JANUARY 17, 1866:

…I was present when the punishment referred to was inflicted; saw the victims writhe and their muscles quiver as the keen rawhide fell upon and sank into their flesh, guided by the strong arm of the man whose revolting duty it was to inflict the blows, heard their cries of agony and their supplications for mercy, one begging to be taken from the ladder and shot, and I am sure that had I been confined in one of the prison cells that night, expecting to receive the same punishment the next day, my escape would only have been prevented by the absolute impossibility of effecting it… . Charles Mortimer, in speaking of previous incidents, maintained that flogging was often just the beginning of the ordeal. “Some of those men’s backs and sides,” he stated, “were masses of corruption for months after, and some did not leave the hospital till


they went feet foremost to the grave yard. I am thinking of one in particular ―George Wingate; he belonged to Charlestown, Mass., and was an upholsterer by trade. After being struck fifty he was cross ironed and put into the dungeon and was kept there several weeks. He was then removed to the hospital, at which time his back was alive with maggots, and was horribly offensive. Others were nearly as bad, but weathered the storm; yet most of them were broken down. The whipping master told me that he never realized that he was punishing men so hard and seemed to regret his position. I did not eat in the dining room and so had no part in the ‘mush riot.’ Those who had the means to afford it could eat elsewhere than in the dining room. I ate that night in my shop with two others… .” In January, 1866, a committee made up of the State Prison Directors visited the prison. Lieutenant Governor T. N. Machin led the group, and their report was favorable in nearly every aspect, as might be expected. Actually, the prison did seem to have finally turned a corner from the grim days of Estill and McCauley. The prison now housed about seven hundred convicts. The committee found the prisoners well and uniformly clad from the new, striped cloth manufactured by the San Francisco Mission Woolen Mills. In early 1864 the prison had contracted with the mill to manufacture a heavy, coarse cloth, with a pattern of broad, black and grey stripes. The cloth was then fashioned into uniforms with the stripes running vertically, a broader stripe being used for the trousers. A shirt cost $2.32 to produce in the prison tailor shop, while the price for a pair of trousers was $2.27. Buttons and thread were included in these figures. Shoes were also produced at the prison and the total cost of subsistence, including food for a year, was $58.04 per prisoner. Blankets were also produced by the same mill. In addition there had been numerous additions and improvements on the prison grounds. Shops enlarged and repaired; 100,000 bricks in patios and walks; macadamizing parts of the yard; a new belfry


and bell; seven new guard posts; new floors in dining room and cells; addition of a third story to the guard’s quarters; bedsteads, water and slop buckets for new cells; fifteen Henry rifles; and eight new pistols for guards. The sixteen-shot Henry repeating rifles had been introduced during the Civil War and although reports were favorable, they were not extensively used. Cartridge-using, repeating weapons were clearly in the future, however, and would be used throughout the West. This predecessor of the famed Winchester rifle made particular sense to guards maintaining control over large groups of convicts day after day. As always, the prisoners quickly got the message, also. PETALUMA JOURNAL & ARGUS, MAY 26, 1864:

Well Armed―Through G. R. Codding, of this city, agent for Henry’s Repeating Rifle, the authorities at San Quentin have procured that formidable weapon with which to arm the Guards at the Prison. One guard armed with Henry’s Repeating Rifle is equal to at least ten armed with old fashioned muskets. If the prisoners attempt a break now, somebody will get hurt.

The good news for the prisoners was Governor Frederick F. Low’s signing of the “Goodwin bill.” This provided time off for good behavior for convicts who maintained good records. “Coppers,” as the inmates called them, provided five days subtracted from every month of good behavior. It also offered a full pardon on completion of sentence. A proposed Prisoner’s Aid Society had been discussed at Sacramento’s Occidental Hotel on Nov. 14, 1865. Two weeks later Governor Low was elected President, with Dr. John F. Morse, editor of the Sacramento Union, as vice president. After electing the other officers and a slate of trustees, a letter from a recently pardoned convict was read. It was an ex-convict’s eloquent plea for employment to stave off committing another crime or starvation and all agreed that the letter would be acted on at once by the trustees. In a published response to the new organization, the Alta, although agreeing with the aims of the new society, suggested that legislation be enacted that would tack additional time onto second and third time offenders. In politics and prisons, it was the endless tug of war between those of a liberal bent and the more hard-nosed conservatives. Even an inmate of San Quentin saw the logic of such proposals.


MARIN COUNTY JOURNAL, DECEMBER 19, 1869:

“A ticket-of-leave system” granting a man his discharge conditionally after a certain length of time, making it a condition, that in case he should ever return to this place on another charge he should serve out his original sentence without any commutation, or that his original sentence should be doubled; or to be cut off from most of the privileges that other prisoners enjoy, making his punishment sure and certain… It would have the effect of keeping a very large proportion away from here the second time.

There was another interested party who visited the prison in the spring of 1867. Señor Godoy, the Mexican Consul in California, was conducted on a tour of the prison by the captain of the yard. Godoy then personally interviewed all those prisoners of Hispanic origins. “The Consul,” reported the Alta, “expressed himself greatly pleased with the good order, cleanliness and regularity exhibited in every department of the prison. …Not a single prisoner asked for anything in the shape of charity of the party, and the generally hopeful and contented disposition exhibited by the convicts was particularly remarked.”

Bob Durkin was a teen-ager when this Sacramento mug shot was made in the late 1860s. Author’s Collection.

Probably there was no prouder moment for twelve-year-old-Bobby Durkin than when his woodcut likeness appeared in the February 13, 1859, issue of San Francisco’s California Police Gazette. An article listing some of his crimes accompanied the illustration. Bob was nicknamed the “King Pin” among the young thieves and hoodlums of the city. After recording many of Durkin’s crimes in the past, the Gazette referred to him as a “precocious rascal.” When San Francisco became weary of his thieving propensities, the freckle-faced Bob and a pal fled to Sacramento where they made themselves equally obnoxious. Sentenced to the local prison brig for stealing $260, Durkin and his friend managed to jump from the boat into the water while chained together. They promptly discovered their shackles were making them sink faster than they could swim to shore and the boys were luckily rescued by an officer before they drowned. Because of his youth, the grand jury did not act on Durkin’s case and he was free to begin pilfering anew… and he did. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, APRIL 20, 1859:

Police Court―We present below a summary of proceedings in the Police Court, before Justice Coggins yesterday. Bob Durkin, Henry Maxwell and Charles


Keefe—petit larceny of property of Justin Gates—stolen through a broken pane. Durkin and Maxwell were convicted. Keefe (aged about three years) with remarkable precocity and bravado, stood up and plead not guilty… .

Durkin, only twelve years old himself, had taught his pupil well. Durkin and Maxwell were sentenced to several months on the prison brig, while young Keefe was turned over to Police Captain McClory for a stern lecture. With pals like Durkin, little Keefe’s fate was probably sealed. Durkin and several others were reported in Placerville in midMarch of the following year. They were jailed on suspicion of burglarizing a local cabin, but were released when no loot could be found in their possession. A sympathetic reporter interviewed Durkin who knew just what the newsman wanted to hear. Asked why he stole things of no real use to him, Bob turned on the tears. “A drunken parent drove him from home whenever he sought its shelter, with curses and blows, and he first would steal for food… . People didn’t care for him, and there was no one to treat him kindly. On being asked if he would not like a home such as a Reform School, where he would be taught, have a good education… and always kind friends to look after him, the flood of tears that accompanied his affirmative reply showed it came from the remnant of sensibility… left within him.” The reporter had been played like a violin and Durkin and his pals undoubtedly had a good laugh over the incident. In July Durkin, “Billy Goat” Thompson, and another thief named Sprague were cooling their heels in the Placer County jail in Auburn for some “light-fingered” activity in nearby Iowa Hill. This was the pattern of their lives. Constantly on the move, Bob turned up in Stockton in August 1862, where his record was known and he was picked up on suspicion of various local robberies. Late that year Bob was back on his home turf in San Francisco. SAN FRANCISCO ALTA CALIFORNIA, NOVEMBER 13, 1862:

The King of Precocious Rascals― Bob Durkin, the boy thief, has figured frequently in our Police Court, and also as an inmate of the Industrial School [a trade school for young indigents], where he was set down as an incorrigible little rascal. Of late Stockton and vicinity have suffered from his pilfering propensities, he having made professional visits to the tills and pockets of several of the citizens of the town. Having exhausted the patience and good nature of the inhabitants of the town, they have shipped “the worthy” to San Francisco. Our advice to Bob is to behave himself, at the same time reminding him that he is now old enough to be sent to the State Prison.


In early February 1864, Durkin and Jim Congleton were arrested in Marysville for the theft of some jewelry from a ranch house near Bear River. At their justice court hearing the two boys were declared not guilty, but the Marysville Appeal grumbled that “there is no doubt as to their guilt. These chaps are experienced kleptomaniacs, and are not easily caught.” SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, FEBRUARY 17, 1865:

State Prisoners―Deputy Sheriff Norris, of Sacramento, came down by the local boat last evening, bringing with him Samuel Buckle, alias “Slippery Sam,”… and Bob Durkin, alias “Dick Turpin,” a boy of seventeen, who has been a regular thief for the past seven years… . Bob has reached the end of his rope at last, and goes over for five years for a daring burglary… .

Entering San Quentin on February 17, 1865 as No. 2937, Durkin promptly learned that San Francisco’s “King Pin” was now just a small fish in a big pond. He was brash and eager to learn from his peers, however, and state prison would now serve as his high school. The 1850s had been the struggling years for the prison on Point San Quentin. Funding from the legislature was a constant battle for either the lessees or the state, as were the efforts to keep control of prisoners without the walls to restrain them. Recapturing escaped prisoners was also a constant and expensive procedure. The 1860s were the growing years. Some of the guards were living with their families in their own houses lining the road on the east side of the prison walls. The collection of homes, hotels, boarding houses and saloons was being called “San Quentin Village,”or just “San Quentin.” Ministers were preaching on Sundays in the prison now and in 1868 captain of the yard Robert C. Gilchrist established a school for those convicts lacking an education. Gilchrist and his wife, Annie, had two young children and the 41 year-old captain had a genuine empathy for the illiterate young convicts in his charge. He knew these mean little street urchins were often merely children born to the wrong parents. Gilchrist was described by a convict as “active and energetic—he has earned a high reputation and is honored as an officer and a gentleman. …He is free and above board in all his transactions, and is not afraid to look a man in the face, something I am sorry to say cannot be said of all who


belong to that party and hold office under the present administration.” Almost half the prisoners could not read or write and the school was an instant success. By 1869 there were 160 students, divided into 30 classes, each taught by one of the more educated and intelligent trusties. Classes were held on Sunday in the mess hall after religious services. “So now,” wrote an observer, “after the sermon, you may see in the prison dining room about a couple of hundred men, like so many great school boys, with the books, slates and pencils. It is a very orderly and quiet school with gray-headed men there and middle-aged men learning their multiplication tables.” A small library was also being assembled. Various improvements on the prison grounds were noted by a writer in the Oakland Gazette. “Within the enclosure are the prison buildings and workshops. The buildings, three in number, which are devoted to cells, are very good; but those used for shops, dining rooms, kitchens, etc., are wretched structures, and a disgrace to the State. A very fine four-story brick building, intended for workshops, is in process of erection. When completed, it will add greatly to the appearance of the prison… .” OAKLAND GAZETTE, JULY 31, 1869:

…There are upwards of 700 prisoners confined at San Quentin, among whom nearly every nationality on the face of the earth has a representative. Most of the convicts are employed in the brickyards, which are situated outside the wall. About two hundred are at work, under contracts, manufacturing harness, saddles, whips, etc., and a few are engaged in the cooper shop and blacksmith shop. The prisoners who are under contract work eight hours a day, but there appear to be a good many lounging about the yard, who seemed to have very little to do. In their leisure hours the prisoners are allowed to work for themselves, and are permitted to sell the articles they manufacture. For amusement they make bird cages and entrap the songsters that venture within the walls; and some, of a musical turn of mind, devote their leisure moments in learning to play on different musical instruments which they are permitted to purchase.

Although many convicts were employed in manufacturing commercial products, others served as prison clerks, cooks and waiters, bakers, cell tenders, doorkeepers, whitewashers, gardeners, laundry workers, and in the wood and coal yard. Still, there were so many prisoners now—over 900 at one point in 1871-72—that there were usually 50, or more, who were idle. The convicts needed exercise and fresh air, so they were released in small groups to roam about the prison


Convicts lining up outside the Stones cellblock (right) at meal time in 1871. Stairs at left lead to the new four story work shops and mess hall. California State Libary.

yard. To turn out all the prisoners at once was asking for trouble. By now, however, jailbreaks were likely to be of the more subtle variety. On Monday, February 15, 1869, the convicts had just finished their noon meal and were waiting for the turnkey’s mallet to come down to signal for them to stand up. Suddenly, just one man, James Hill, No. 3684, stood up. “All those who want liberty and are not afraid to strike a blow to obtain it, follow me,” he declared! As Hill stepped into the aisle, only one convict followed him. The guards had just finished their meal in an adjoining room and hearing Hill’s loud statement, quickly burst through the doors with their Henry rifles at the ready. Captain Gilchrist briskly walked over to Hill and grabbed him by the arm, depositing him in his cell. As the officer began questioning Hill, the other prisoners were sent off to their work stations. Hill stated that the plan had been under consideration for five or six weeks, and that one hundred and sixty of the prisoners had agreed to join in. “He denounced his companions as cowards,” stated Gilchrist, “and said they deserved to remain in prison for their want of spirit. Hill is an ex-Confederate soldier, and has, it is said, three bullets in his body received in battle.” When Lieutenant Governor Holden questioned Hill, he asked if he was not afraid of the Henry rifles and 12-pound cannon. Hill replied that he had faced too many of them and helped position too many of them on Southern battlefields to feel any fear of them now.


It was not much fun to plan an escape and have nobody show up. The next escape effort the following month was less dramatic, but just as big a failure. MARIN COUNTY JOURNAL, MARCH 27, 1869:

Attempt to Escape from San Quentin—On Thursday evening of last week at locking-up time, when the Captain of the Yard was making his customary rounds, he discovered a false hand protruding from the door of the cell of Alexander Wright, one of the prisoners. It is customary for each prisoner, on the approach of the Captain on such occasion, to put his hand out of the air-hole in the door as an assurance that he is inside. The hand was at once discovered to be a false one [wooden], and a look into the cell satisfied the locker-up that it was vacant. Search was instituted, and the missing prisoner was found in the carpenter’s shop in the prison yard, where he had stowed himself away in the hope of effecting his escape. This same month the primary structures within the walls were three cell block buildings, a four-story work shop, a hospital, wash house, dining room for the prisoners, and a brick building just inside the front gate in which captain of the yard Gilchrist has an office. The top story of this latter structure, called “The Porch,” was now occupied by the female convicts. The ground floor contained the yard captain’s office, along with the constantly-growing prison library and a barber shop. In front of the building, perhaps as a paean to the upstairs women convicts, there was a garden planted with flowers, shrubbery, and strawberry vines. Although a newspaper facetiously reported that “The convicts at the state prison were treated to a Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday; an additional bean was added to the soup,” they had it a little better than that. MARIN COUNTY JOURNAL, NOVEMBER 20, 1869:

Thanksgiving Day among the “cons.”—The national holiday of Thanksgiving was generally observed at San Quentin, if not exactly according to the time honored customs of our ancestors at least with that spirit of magnanimity which characterizes the workings of the Aid Commission. The morning being foggy, the prisoners remained confined in their respective cells until dinner time. Mirth and jollity during their confinement were the order of the day, and it was quite refreshing to listen to the various sounds that emanated from the quarters… portions of plantation melodies and camp meeting inspirations, banjo solos, etc. from the negro quarters…

There were appropriate church services and a grand turkey dinner before the guests caught the last boat home. The prisoners reluctantly filed back into their cells, the lucky ones with an apple in their pocket from several philanthropic boxes sent by San Francisco merchants.


CHAPTER SEVEN

Those Troublesome Women As the 1860s faded into the next decade, the many changes and

improvements in the grim world within San Quentin’s walls blended into the numbing prison routine. Lt. Governor William Holden was serving as warden in 1870, with Gilchrest still captain of the yard; H. K. White, captain of the guard and Leonard Harris, turnkey. The recently created “turnkey” position entailed prison security, custody of the prison record books and presiding over the mess hall. There were forty-six guards with many civilian employees, but as usual these numbers varied from month to month. Captain Gilchrist reported more than eight-hundred convicts now housed in the prison. While some rules had softened since the state had been in control, there were more of them. If a convict behaved, it was a more humane and bearable world, but breaches of the rules could still result in being strapped to the whipping ladder, confinement in a dungeon, or the terrifying “shower” where a high-pressure stream of water was directed at a naked prisoner’s face and genitals while he was tied down. Although San Quentin officials had learned much over the years, by 1870 new prisoners went through a routine that had changed very little. Upon arrival, new convicts were confronted with the large, irongrilled, double gates that admitted wagons. In the lower portion of the gates, a smaller opening permitted entry of just one man at a time. This main gate was in the center of the three-story guard’s quarters and armory building and opened into the upper yard. The convict was logged in at the yard captain’s office and immediately taken to the bay and bathed. Next, was a trip to the prison barber shop where his hair and whiskers were cut. His hair was no longer cut close, however, and he could wear it in any manner he chose. Chinese prisoners were terribly upset at losing their queue and obtained false ones as soon as possible. Next, the prisoner was returned to the yard captain’s office where his name was entered in the


description book. His height, color of eyes, hair color, scars, birthplace, and educational history, if any, were also recorded. Here, he was also given his uniform of grey and black stripes. He was allowed to keep his underclothing, coat, vest, hat, boots, and even his necktie. Only trusties working as clerks were allowed to wear white shirts, however. The convict was then assigned to a cell and will be subjected to a close surveillance for the next few days. The morning wake-up bell signaled the beginning of a convict’s day as recorded by Prentice Mulford, a prominent journalist of the time. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, JULY 29, 1869:

At five in the morning a bell will ring, and shortly you will hear a great clanging and banging of bolts and bars. You are being unlocked. At one end of a long line of black, iron doors walks a man thrusting as he goes a key into each lock, scarcely slackening his gait as he turns the bolts. Another, commencing at the other end of the corridor, repeats the same operation. There are two locks on each door. Directly afterward, a third man springs from door to door; at every spring he pushes back a big bolt and with the rapidity of his movements the bolts are shot

San Quentin in the 1860s and early 70s was a sprawling collection of ugly structures situated on what was called one of the most beautiful spots in the world. This stereo view was taken by Careton E. Watkins between 1865 and 1872. Robert N. Dennis Collection, New York Public Library.

back, bang! bang! bang!—the doors open—out, above and below, from those three long, narrow buildings, pour some eight hundred prisoners, and the great prison yard, empty but a few moments before, is now alive with men…


The morning bell was regulated to the seasons; in winter 6 o’clock on week days giving the prisoners three-quarters of an hour to dress and wash, and a quarter hour for breakfast. The men were then lined up and taken to their work areas by guards. One lineup was for the sick and they were taken to the hospital for examination by the prison physician. Convicts feigning sickness were weeded out and placed in a special room referred to as the “loafer’s Elysium.” The room had no chairs or anything to even lean on, and they were fed only bread and water. Those who were genuinely ill were returned to their cell or the hospital. “At half-past 11 o’clock,” wrote a visitor, “the dinner signal is given and at 20 minutes to 12 o’clock the discussion [eating] takes place. The dining room, which is also used for religious and educational purposes, is furnished with a double row of tables and benches, each table accommodating nine men.” The turnkey presided over the hall and when he banged his gavel, the eating began. Meanwhile the yard captain paced the aisles, making sure there was no talking. Any requests were signaled by a raised hand. Bread and boiled beans made up the breakfast meal, with salt for seasoning. Men wanting coffee were allowed to boil it themselves. At dinner, meat was furnished in liberal quantities. The ramshackle wooden buildings that had housed the workshops, mess hall, kitchens, hospital, and women’s quarters had been torn down and replaced by the large, new brick building that had been constructed inside the north wall. Designed by San Francisco architect A. A. Bennett, the new structure was 254 feet long and 60 feet wide. It was four stories high and besides housing the “manufactory” operations, the library, mess hall, kitchen and other facilities also shared the space. One lyrical reporter stated it would be one of the most imposing structures in the state when completed, and indeed it was, but its glory was to be short-lived. To date there had seldom been more than four or five female convicts in the prison at one time. In January, 1870, a San Francisco woman was admitted as No. 4330. Kate Smith had grown up in New York and had traveled to the west coast because of a particular problem; since childhood, Kate had been a thief. She was apparently protected by her family, but after a few years of marriage, she moved to San Francisco with her


The Porch served as the captain of the yard’s office, while the female convict cells were upstairs. Groups of convicts were addressed by guards under the portico, hence the name. California State Library

mother and several children. When detectives traced some stolen jewelry to her home, the twenty-nine year-old Kate found herself being tried for grand larceny. The Alta added to the drama by dubbing her “The Woman in Black.” Several police detectives testified to the thefts and it was established that she was a kleptomaniac. In court, Kate sat with her three children and her lawyers, but she was still convicted and received a three -year sentence for grand larceny. When the sheriff delivered her to the prison gates, she was accompanied by a surprising companion as noted by a visitor at the time. MARIN COUNTY JOURNAL, NOVEMBER 26, 1870:

Kate Smith, the famous Kleptomaniac is here with her two-year old girl. Mrs. Smith is rather a fine looking woman, and does not seem to regret her imprisonment as much as she does her ever being born at all. …It is sad to think of this little lamb, her innocent child, being brought up in such a place—this little Dorritt [a Dickens character]—and yet, with a mother’s yearnings, out of her three children, we suppose she feels she cannot give her baby up.

But Mrs. Smith, or her lawyer, knew exactly what they were doing. One way or another, the mother routine usually worked and the Smith case was no exception. Besides, no governor could permit such a thing and she was pardoned and released the following February. Sadly, the situation would soon become readily accepted by the prison authorities. On occasion, there could be excitement of a more violent type among the ladies. Mary Dugan, No. 5360 and known as “Queen of the Hoodlums,” formed an alliance with No. 5561, Annie McBride, in June 1873, so they could “give the cold shoulder” to No. 5449, Fannie Price. Mary and Annie were prostitutes convicted of robbing male visitors in their den. Fannie’s offense, on the other hand, was passing counterfeit coin. Seemingly, the girls saw a gap in social status here, with Fannie


blaming Mary for initiating the trouble. During a gathering of all the female prisoners one week, Dugan made a remark that displeased Fanny and a shouting match evolved into an exchange of punches. “Fanny drew a knife from her bosom,” stated a newspaper account, “and began to lunge and slash wickedly at Mary. A fierce struggle followed, during which Mary obtained possession of the knife and was proceeding to dissect her antagonist, when Anne McBride interfered.” When the combatants were separated Mary Dugan had been cut several times on the hands, while Fanny was bleeding from a severe wound on one of her arms. Both were patched up and put in separate cells. They could both now look forward to a bread and water diet during the next few weeks. Sadly, Dugan’s young daughter was with her in prison at this time. Apparently efforts to find her a home were successful and in October, 1873, the prison log reported that “Mary Dugan’s little girl was taken from the prison today.” Dugan, whose real name was McCauley, was pardoned on December 5, 1873. The garden in front of the yard captain’s office and women’s quarters soon spread around the upper yard. Multi-colored flower gardens were cultivated in front of various buildings. The gardens were tended by convicts with a green thumb or just those needing something to do. Neat, low white picket fences surrounded the colorful plots with brick and gravel paths wending their way between buildings. In time the prison would become noted for a graceful water fountain surmounted by a beautiful sculpted swan. The contrast between these colorful gardens and the forbidding walls and brick and stone buildings was a startling but delightful surprise to a new convict entering the upper yard through the front gate. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, FEBRUARY 16, 1875:

The scene inside was not at all repelling; on the contrary, it was inviting. A garden blooming with callow lilies, other choice flowers and artistically arranged


grass plots, with nicely graveled walks leading up to the prison office charms the eye of the visitor. The day was balmy, the sky cloudless and the air fragrant with the odor of sweet flowers.

Although the gardens were disarming, no amount of window dressing could make the prison a country club. San Quentin was a prison―a grim and remorseless stronghold for con men, counterfeiters, stage robbers, thieves, killers, and others who could not follow the rules of society. And to top off this reality, the prison population was constantly growing. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, AUGUST 2, 1871:

San Quentin Prison Report―Captain R. C. Gilchrist of the California State Prison Yard, furnishes the following report for July: Number of prisoners on hand June 30th, 880; received during the month, 23; returned from the Insane Asylum, 2; aggregate, 905; number of prisoners discharged under the provision of the act, 16; on hand July 21st, 884; increase during the month, 9. The incongruities of such statistics might be illustrated by a con-

A large gathering of convicts in front of the stones during a holiday event. A path runs through a portion of the gardens in the foreground. This view was likely taken during the 1880s. California State Library.


vict named John Peterson. Convicted of grand larceny in San Bernardino in August 1871, he made an impassioned and pitiful plea to the judge for mercy— “as it was his first offense. He had, after all, only taken the loan of a horse to do a little work on a piece of land he had recently taken up.” He was sentenced to five years and was duly delivered to San Quentin by deputy Sheriff Margetson. When the yard captain logged him in, the new convict was greeted like an old acquaintance. After several veteran cons also recognized him, the mystified deputy asked what was going on. He was told his prisoner was going in for his fifth term. Captain Gilchrist then pointed out “Peterson’s” record in the prison register: First term—No. 474, Yade Fenaspin, grand larceny, 2 years, Tuolumne County; arrived October 17, 1854; escaped December 23, 1855. Second term—No. 925, Thomas Fornaspin, grand larceny, 2 years, Tuolumne County; arrived June 19, 1856; escaped December 24, 1857; recaptured December 29, 1858; discharged June 28, 1859. Third term—No. 2,184, George Vanausburn, grand larceny, 2 years, Amador County; arrived June 4, 1861; discharged May 25, 1863. Fourth term—No. 3,578, George Van Aspin, grand larceny, 3 years, Placer County, arrived July 6, 1867; discharged per act of January 25, 1870. Fifth term—No. 4,952, John Peterson, grand larceny, 5 years, San Bernardino County; arrived September 1, 1871. A native of Germany, aged 42 years.

After his arrival to serve his latest term, Peterson conducted himself in such an exemplary manner that he quickly attained trusty status and was assigned to look after the gardens highlighting the road and prison entrance. “Nothing apparently gave him such extreme pleasure,” noted one observer, “as when he was watering the flowers, grubbing around the roots of the rose bushes, or cutting the succulent vegetables for the table of the officers.” Still, it will surprise no one to learn that Peterson’s fifth term listed in the prison register is marked “escaped.” Perhaps “disappeared” would have been a more appropriate term. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, APRIL 15, 1873:

When the lock-up came Mr. Peterson was minus, and his cell for one night at least was vacant. A search was made through his favorite garden, in the hope that he might be found asleep among the roses, sweetly snoring by the sad sea waves that washed the lower part of the garden. But alas, he was not there. Only his clothes were found under the bush. A small sailboat was observed near the lower


end of Point San Quentin about 9 o’clock in the morning and perhaps that explains the matter. The situation of gardener at San Quentin is now open… .

One wonders just how many future references to this man are recorded in the prison register under different names ? Far from primarily reporting escape attempts and legislative statistics, the press was beginning to report another side to the governor’s “boarding house” at Point San Quentin. Ugly as crime can be, there was a fascination in the public mind, tinged with a thrill of sympathy, for the caged criminals behind those cold and merciless stone walls. This empathy was perhaps gradually generated by the Sunday visiting days that were almost a holiday in the Bay Area.

San Francisco Chronicle, 1867. Author’s Collection.

Prisoners had no work on Sundays and they spent the day in their cells. On this day visitors, friends, relatives, clubs, organizations, and college groups stepped off the steam ferries at Minturn’s wharf and picnicked in the hills, then walked over to the prison grounds. Bands from around the area would also give concerts from one of the adjacent hills that were enjoyed by the guards and convicts, alike. In time, a bandstand would be built. On Sundays the great, latticed iron doors at the main entrance were thrown open and visitors were allowed to prowl around the prison grounds, even to looking in cell windows or gawking at the ladder called “The Gray Mare” where the floggings took place. Noted in the prison log for Sunday, April 7, 1871, was “Pick Nic & Excursion of the Lone Star Social Club, first of Season.” These tourist intrusions were permitted not only as a warning that “crime does not pay,” but as an entertainment for the prisoners who obviously enjoyed it as much as the visitors. Although Sunday was also the regular visiting day for relatives and friends, newspapermen and dignitaries, were welcomed at almost any time. In the yard captain’s office many items made or crafted by the inmates were on display. From model clipper ships to elaborate cotton


spools, crib and checker boards, picture frames of unique design, bridles, rings, toothpicks and lace, and all for sale by the convict creators. Such pastimes provided them with funds for tobacco and other luxuries. The fascination with San Quentin, as well as the state’s steady liberalization of rules, was noted in an article published by an Eastern magazine. EVERY SATURDAY: A JOURNAL OF CHOICE READING, DECEMBER 30, (BOSTON) 1871:

San Quentin Prison, viewed from a freeman’s stand-point, is most cheerful at night. The sharp angles of the walls are then softened by obscurity, the guards upon the rim of the enclosure seem as mere pigmies, and the whole space is pervaded with an atmosphere of peace and contentment. The writer entered the prison yard on Thursday evening, Capt. Gilchrist providing the open sesame, and took note of the surroundings. The moonlight danced over the whitened picket-fence of the garden, and brought into bold relief the hump-backed swan who reigns supreme therein; The buildings wore a garb of mellow light, and nothing of a depressing nature suggested itself… . The hum and buzz of the prisoners greet the ear…

The reporter was entertained by a roomful of trusties singing and playing their musical instruments for him. Later, there was a ball where cons dressed as women and all had a lively time during the evening’s dancing . The days of the mass attempts at escape seemed to be over by the 1870s. There were more guards now and the sight of those fast-shooting, repeating Henry rifles in their hands was just too daunting. Occasionally, the Henrys could be heard on the guard’s nearby target range… and those shots were so close together! The older guards remembered the muzzle-loading Yager rifles that were virtually useless in wet weather, unlike the brass cartridge-firing Henrys. More clandestine escape attempts would take place, but with better planning and fewer participants. “Target shooting,” commented the Marin County Journal, “is one of Jim Ivey’s good instincts the many Sunday amusements of the residents of were constantly overwhelmed by his bad side. San Quentin.” This referred to the village outside Author’s Collection. the prison. Sacramento Daily Union, October 22, 1872:

San Quentin contains 918 prisoners, of whom 8 are women; 511 natives and 402 foreigners—143 of the foreigners being Chinese.


When Jim Ivey finished his fifth term on January 11, 1868, he had done almost six years of straight time. Picked up for a Santa Clara burglary several months later, he was returned to San Quentin as James Ivey, No. 3841 on June 15, 1868. Receiving a ten year sentence this time, he made several escape attempts that were frustrated by the insistence of the prison officials on his wearing a heavy ball and chain. For all his criminal inclinations, Ivey was reportedly a genial fellow and yard captain Gilchrist told him his chains would be removed if he would give his word he would not attempt another escape. Surprisingly, Jim agreed, and to sweeten the pot he was made gatekeeper at one of the shop buildings. He was also given the job of selling convict-made items to visitors. Earning a commission on this work, Ivey proved to be a good salesman and soon had a tidy nest-egg put away. He was not often so cooperative with reporters, however. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, JUNE 22, 1873:

Reporter—Mr. Ivey, would you object to having a little talk with me? Ivey—I would, most decidedly. I understand that you are a reporter of the press. With all respect to you and the paper you represent, I must decline an interview. the…

Reporter—Your life and history must have been an interesting one? And

Ivey—I understand all that. There may be something in my life which would satisfy the idle curiosity of the public, but it is a bad record and would do them no good. Excuse me sir, but I can tell you nothing. Reporter—It certainly can do you no harm; there is nothing… Ivey—My friend, I know exactly the position you occupy. Your employers send you here under certain instructions. You are trying to follow them out, but asking me questions is only an idle waste of words. My record has been so bad that I have lost all regard and respect for myself, but I have relations whose respect is not yet lost to me. I have nothing more to say.

But Jim would talk to reporters when in the right mood. His favorite story was about once being arrested in Sacramento for some offense and immediately paying his $1,000 bail. That night he broke into the court’s safe, took back his $1,000, and skipped town. With credits for good behavior, Jim was released on September 2, 1876. Ivey’s career at this point becomes hazy, but he reportedly invested in a prosperous San Francisco cigar store at on Kearney Street. He had bought the shop, so the story goes, on the advice and urging


of convict, Newt Morgan. On the outside, ex-convicts tended to lean on each other for support, but there were those who took advantage of their erstwhile pals. It was one of the reasons ex-convicts were forbidden from associating with each other. Supposedly, Morgan set up this cigar shop deal with pals on the outside, and the prosperous shop soon went broke, as did some mining stock investments Jim had made. It had all been a scheme to separate Ivey from his savings. It was no surprise when Ivey again returned to burglary, robbing a safe in El Dorado County in late January 1879. With confidence restored, he now burglarized a Wells Fargo office at Benicia, but was immediately nabbed. Ivey began his seventh term with a new prison number— 8865. Lt. Governor Romualdo Pacheco was the only Hispanic warden and governor of California. Society of California Pioneers.

When Newton Booth was elected governor in 1871, his lieutenant governor, Romualdo Pacheco, became exofficio warden of San Quentin. A colorful native Californio born in Santa Barbara in 1831, Pacheco was a well educated ranchero who richly enjoyed capturing ferocious native grizzly bears with nothing more than his riata. James Towle, a former San Francisco police captain was appointed captain of the guard, while Lee Mathews was captain of the yard. Mathews was a former Calaveras County deputy sheriff and Wells Fargo messenger. A newspaper reported that “the prisoners all say that while Pacheco is very kind and allows them all the privileges and liberties that it is in his power to give, still he is a good disciplinarian.” On Friday morning, June 14, 1872, Warden Pacheco was hosting Governor Newton Booth who was beginning an inspection tour of the prison. In the dining room, the convicts had just finished breakfast when the officer in charge banged his gavel for them to rise and line up to go to work. None of the five hundred prisoners moved. When the yard captain asked what was the wrong, one of the convicts replied that “he and his fellows were dissatisfied with the rations and that unless they were furnished with better food they would not work.” Governor Booth and Warden Pacheco were immediately summoned to the scene.


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, JUNE 18, 1872:

Governor Booth immediately addressed the prisoners at length, stating that the Prison Directors would hold an investigation and if there was anything wrong it would be righted. He would not hear any of the prisoners, and unless they went immediately to work they would be placed in confinement and severely punished. Mr. Pacheco then ordered them to go to the various shops, and all yielded except eleven men, who still grumbled, and they were immediately placed in solitary confinement… .

An investigation of the commissary stores disclosed that the convicts had never eaten better and they were merely trying to flex a power they did not have. Far from eating poor food, they were being served beef and mutton from the same animals butchered to feed the officers. Just recently some 400 bags of flour had been rejected as sub-standard by Warden Pacheco and Captain Towle who inspected all food supplies. The strike was traced to the eleven prisoners now in solitary, all of whom were to lose their “coppers,” or time off for good behavior. Perhaps the crowded conditions had something to do with the restlessness. There were some 950 convicts within the walls at this time, the Chinese prisoners being confined four to a cell to make up for the lack of cells. Pacheco’s reign as warden was to be brief, however. When Booth was elected to the U.S. Senate, he had to resign the governor’s position. Pacheco then assumed the empty office until December 1875, becoming the first, and last, Hispanic to occupy the governor’s office. His legacy was a separate mansion for the warden and his family, located on the east side of the prison with beautiful terraced gardens overlooking the bay. On the morning of May 26, 1873, two trusties were checking the various shops in the manufactory for crates of finished goods to be shipped to San Francisco. At the wagon makers shop there was a long, box which appeared ready for shipping. Loading it on their wagon, the trusties made the quarter-mile trip to Minturn’s wharf where the cargo was placed on its end on the forward deck of the steamer. The trusties had headed back for the prison when cries were heard coming from the vicinity of the box. The ship’s first mate, coming up from the hold, rushed over to see what the yelling was about and was startled to hear shouts of “Turn the box on its side!” actually emanating from the box. The mate eased the top end of the oblong box to the deck. When a board was removed, a man’s head suddenly appeared. As the mate pulled the struggling figure from the crate, two feet appeared and an-


other figure began wriggling out of the crate. The laughing mate knew immediately what had happened. It was obviously a unique prison escape attempt which had gone sour when the crate was stood up on end, instead of being placed on its side. One of the men had been upside down! The two would-be escapees were sent back to the prison, while the steamer proceeded to San Francisco. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, MAY 27, 1873:

…The box was brought on the boat to this city and taken back on the return trip. As the boat lay at the wharf here a large number of persons who had heard of the badly-spoiled program inspected the little wooden house, which on measurement was found to be by outside measurement only four feet four inches in length, two feet, eight inches in width, and two feet four, inches in depth. Inside wagon spokes were so packed as to leave space only three feet, six inches by two feet, one inch, and barely one foot, ten inches in depth. The wagon spokes were closely packed, and so arranged as to give the box the appearance of being filled with them… . The names of the two convicts were not divulged, but a newspaper report identified one of them as a clerk and the other as a workman in the wagon shop. In San Quentin’s third decade, many of the rough spots in the prison’s operation had been smoothed out, but legislators, newspapers, and others could not understand why the prison could not do more to support itself. There were good reasons for this, however, as reported by the warden. REPORT OF THE DIRECTORS OF THE CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON, JULY, 1871:

I have often been asked why this prison is not self-sustaining. I answer, that the prison cannot be self-sustaining until we are enabled to get a higher price for the labor—receiving now but forty cents per day for all men under contract, except the brickyard hands, for which we receive fifty cents. If we could find employment for all the able-bodied convicts in the prison at seventy-five cents per day, the prison would be self-sustaining.

The report explained that improvement in the system had also driven up expenses. More guards had been hired, as well as overseers, a moral instructor and other civilian employees. All contributed to the higher costs. The report contained a chart illustrating a survey of thirty of the largest prisons in the country. It cost forty-three cents a day to support a San Quentin convict, while the chart showed only seven of


the thirty other facilities listed a lesser amount. Various clergy had been preaching at the prison for several years, but the hiring of a full-time minister became a problem due to the varied religious denominations of the convicts. A former school official named C.C. Cummings was finally hired instead, and given the title of moral instructor. He was up to the job and immediately began soliciting organizations, businesses, and individuals for books of all kinds for the prison school and library. In his first year he built up the collection to more than three thousand volumes. He also gained permission to allow his convict students to take books to their cells to study in the evenings since the school could only be held on Sundays, after services. He had also obtained free subscriptions to various family-oriented newspapers so the prisoners could stay current on news, although all crime news was forbidden. Later, candles were allowed in the cells for reading at night. Cummings also encouraged correspondence between friends and family of the convicts. He not only helped them write when needed, but furnished free postage Len Harris was an experiand paper. He also inspected over fifty letters a day enced Sacramento officer checking for objectionable correspondence. It was a and jailor, but San Quentin was too confining. challenging job. California State Library.. Leonard “Len� Harris was a Mexican War veteran from New York. He had headed west in 1849 with the news of the California gold rush. Like so many others, he was unsuccessful at mining and took a position as a deputy sheriff in Sacramento. Harris served both as a constable and deputy sheriff throughout the 1850s and 60s. After being appointed undersheriff for Sacramento County by Sheriff James Lansing, Harris frequently conducted prisoners to San Quentin. Always sociable, Harris became acquainted with many of the guards, as well as the resident prisoners doing time. When Sheriff Lansing was voted out of office in 1867, Harris lost his deputy’s commission. Len and his wife, Amanda, had a growing family of six children, including twin boys. A good Democrat, he applied to the new governor, Henry H. Haight, for a patronage position at San Quentin.


The lawman was gratified to garner an appointment as turnkey. It was an important position and Len was well qualified having been county jailor at Sacramento. Harris now assumed charge of prison security and record books, besides presiding over the convict’s mess hall. The notorious Charles Mortimer was on his good behavior now and was working in the tailor shop. Mortimer had a long criminal record, but he could be affable with the guards and other convicts when it served his purpose. Len Harris talked to him on occasion, but knew he could never be trusted. Meanwhile Harris moved his family to nearby San Rafael where he was a neighbor of Captain Gilchrist and several of the other guards. In the summer of 1871 Captain Gilchrist and Harris had a disagreement. The nature of the trouble is not known, but when Gilchrist complained to Warden Holden, Len found himself suspended from duty. Apparently Harris had some influence with Governor Haight. When he laid his case before that official, Harris was assured the matter would be settled in his favor. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, JULY 27, 1871:

State Prison Turnkey Reinstated—On the 24th inst., Gov. Haight visited the State Prison and reinstated Len. Harris, the turnkey, whom Lieut. Gov. Holden had suspended. The merits of the controversy between Capt. Gilchrist and Mr. Harris have not been ventilated.

Harris was back on duty, but he could see the handwriting on the wall. He had lost interest in babysitting a pen full of thugs and robbers. A lawman’s life was much more varied. With a good record as a peace officer, Len was again hired as a Sacramento City police officer by Chief Matthew Karcher. Walking on the street one day in late September 1872, Harris was surprised to meet Charley Mortimer and they chatted for a few minutes. Released from prison in early 1871, Mortimer had “worked” the San Francisco Bay Area where he had been living with a prostitute named Carrie Spencer. Always on the lookout for a big haul, Mortimer was also an expert at rolling drunks and picking pockets. He and Carrie were involved in the murder and robbery of Caroline Prenel in San Francisco, while Mortimer and several others robbed the Santa Cruz city treasury of some $16,000. The couple moved on to Sacramento


where Mortimer talked to Officer Harris on September 15, 1872. Four days later Mortimer and Carrie stopped by the grocery store and saloon run by Mary Gibson on the outskirts of town. Charley had heard that she kept a good deal of money around the place. He liked to do things the easy way and had brought along some strychnine to poison the woman, before robbing her. While they were socializing with Mrs. Gibson, Charley left the room to look around, leaving Carrie and the woman chatting. In a few minutes there was a yell and he rushed back into the room to find the women assaulting each other. The impulsive Carrie had tried to pick Mrs. Gibson’s pocket and been caught. Suddenly Mrs. Gibson realized she had been set up for a robbery. Rushing at Mortimer, she grabbed him by his Mortimer’s mug shot whiskers and began beating him. Charley picked up taken after the Gibson murder. Author’s a large heavy glass tumbler and smashed it into her Collection. forehead. He continued jabbing her with it as she went down. He felt a searing pain in his cheek now, but in his drunkenness and excitement stepped back and watched as Carrie grabbed a small knife and began hacking at the woman’s throat. After taking a trunk full of clothes and what money they could find, the murderous couple left and made their way back to their room at the Mechanics House. Charley was shocked at what they had done and soon went down town to have a drink. Len Harris and his partner Nick Dole were in the saloon when Mortimer came in and he bought the two officers a drink. When Harris asked where he got the scratches and bruises on his face, Charley replied it was in a fight at Mose Drew’s saloon. The lawmen also noticed Mortimer’s fat purse, recalling that he had been broke the day before. The next morning the murder was discovered and Chief Karcher sent the whole force out looking for clues to the killer. Harris and Dole looked at each other and headed for Mortimer’s room. Taking Charley into custody, the two officers found dresses in his room that were later identified as the property of Mrs. Gibson. They also noted that the exconvict was clean shaven except for his mustache. He was wearing his


full beard the night before. A patch of skin was missing from his cheek. Taking Mortimer to the morgue, Harris showed him the corpse of Mrs. Gibson, then asked if he knew her. When Charley mumbled that he knew who she was, Harris picked up the clenched fist of the dead woman. “This is what tells the story, Charley.” “What is that?” queried Mortimer looking at the reddish whiskers clutched in the dead woman’s fingers. “That’s your whiskers, Charley,” returned the officer. “Oh my God,” gasped the suspect, “Len, don’t say that. That’s not my whiskers, so help me God it ain’t.” But of course it was, and the whole sordid story soon came together. With Carrie’s cooperation (and lies according to Charley) the trial easily resulted in a conviction and Mortimer was sentenced to death by hanging. During his stay in the Sacramento jail, Mortimer was taken to Santa Cruz to testify in a trial there. On the way he made several stops. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY EVENING BULLETIN, FEBRUARY 13, 1873

Charles Mortimer—This notorious character tarried a few hours in San Jose on Saturday last, on his return from Santa Cruz. One of the Mercury staff interviewed the noted criminal and reports as follows: “Mortimer possesses a glib and oily tongue, and frankness that is irresistible and charming. A man not acquainted with his character and antecedents will be impressed favorably with this arch rascal, and will swallow his assertions as truths, so honest and sincere are they uttered. But among the thief-takers Mortimer is regarded as the very prince of liars.

Be that as it may, Mortimer spent his last weeks on earth desperately penning his autobiography in his cell. He was determined to leave a legacy for his lawyer since he was not able to pay for his services. It is an extraordinary story and, despite his reputation as a liar, his autobiography is remarkably accurate. After all, what did he have to lose? Mortimer was as vicious a killer as San Quentin ever held, but he came from an exemplary family residing in Lynn, Massachusetts. A mother, Louisa M. Flinn, sister Mary, and four brothers all lived in town supported by the brothers’ tailoring shop. All were horrified in early April 1873, when Mortimer’s lawyer, Samuel Denson, wrote to inform them of Charley’s situation. He had left his family at an early age and had never written home. Now, his mother and siblings had finally found him, but the long-lost brother and son was scheduled to


die a criminal’s death a continent away! William, one of the brothers, was visibly affected by Charley’s projected fate and disappeared from town without any notice. The family received word in a few weeks that he had gone to California to see if anything could be done for the wayward brother. Learning Charley’s case was hopeless, William broke into the Sacramento jail early on the morning of April 16, 1873. A jailor had seen the furtive figure on the roof, however, and followed him down a stairway to the cells below. When Flinn began running, the jailor fired and the desperate brother fell dead in front of his brother’s cell. To his horror, Charley discovered that the dead intruder was his sibling who had risked his life in a desperate attempt to rescue him. At this point Mortimer ceased speaking. A physician and the various officials all concluded that Charley’s mute conduct was an attempt to feign insanity and avoid his hanging. If so, it did not work and he was executed on May 15, 1873, right on schedule. After the hanging, Frank Flinn, a third The huge, four story brick structure housed power brother, took charge machinery, mess hall, work shops and extra space to boot. The stones cellblock is at center left with conof the two bodies and, victs lined up to go to the shops. Author’s Collection. returning to Massachusetts, buried them in the family plot. Today, however, the cemetery’s records do not show that a Charles Flinn, alias Mortimer, was ever buried there. By the mid-1870s excavating was underway on a hill just north of the prison for a large reservoir to hold 3,000,000 gallons of water. It was about 200 feet higher than the bottom floor of the huge new brick workshops building. Four and a half stories tall, the new structure contained rooms of various sizes, including a boiler room and housing for a 200


horsepower engine to power two large shop chambers. New library and school rooms were set up here also. The kitchen, a 300 foot long mess hall, and food storage area were on the first floor. The new brick structure was so useful that a matching building was soon constructed on its north side. Manufacturing at this time kept as many as 420 convicts at work in the prison shops. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, JANUARY 15, 1874:

The first shop established was for the manufacture of saddlery and harness. It was inaugurated during the administration of Governor Low. Since that time a cabinet shop, a boot and shoe shop, a wagon shop, and a needle factory have been established. The last named two are of recent growth and are yet small, giving employment to but few men. The largest shop is that for the manufacture of furniture. It is conducted in the interest of the California Manufacturing Company, a recently-formed corporation, into which the furniture house of N.P. Cole & Co. was merged. Last month this company paid the state $2,005 for the convict labor.

This sum did not include some two hundred paid prisoners working for the state as waiters, cooks, clerks, washmen, gardeners, and teamsters. The original mess hall, kitchens, hospital and “manufactory” buildings of the 1850’s had been torn down to make room for other buildings. A two-story wing was added to one side of the Porch, the second story being adapted for female prisoner cells and storage. Downstairs were Kitchen and dining room for the women, as well as offices for the warden and turnkey. A two-story brick wash house was now in operation. Outside the wall, off to the side of the main gate, a two-story brick clerk and commissary building had been built, the basement being used for storage and a butcher shop. Also outside the walls and incorporating the main entrance was a three story brick building that housed some officers of the guard as well as the prison physician and his family. The second story of another new brick structure was used as an adjunct hospital, with a convalescence room, kitchen and lockup below. This was in the northwest corner of the lower yard and would be used for a variety of purposes over the years. Toby Rosenthal’s widely acclaimed painting, Elaine was being displayed in San Francisco. A native of the town, young Rosenthal had been studying in Europe for some years and his art was being recognized and


praised in museums and exhibitions on the continent and in England. While visiting home in 1871, Rosenthal had been commissioned to do a painting based on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Titled Elaine, the resultElaine. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. ing painting was highly praised in its startling and melancholy beauty. When shipped to San Francisco in March 1875, a charitable exhibit was arranged at Snow and May’s Kearny Street gallery. The press and the public both went wild over the event and more than 3,700 visitors paraded through the gallery the first week. On Saturday morning, April 3, the gallery began admitting another long line of patrons. To their consternation, however, the frame that had enclosed Elaine was now empty! As word spread, more and more people began showing up just to see the empty frame. Captain Lees and several of his detectives were among them looking for clues, while the gallery owner had to break the news to the owner of the painting, as well as request Rosenthal to make a copy. Lees discovered the thieves entry had been through a window, but few other clues were detected. Later that afternoon, Lees was in his office when a man who had information on the case was brought in. The Toby Rosenthal’s paintprevious evening he had seen several suspicious-looking ing was kinapped by San Francisco thugs. characters in front of the gallery. In being shown some Author’s Collection. portraits in the police Rogues’ Gallery, the witness pointed out William “Cut-face” Donahue. It was an incredible piece of luck! Donahue was promptly located and the whole gang had been rounded up by dawn of the following morning. All had police records. Donahue caved in finally and took Lees to a shanty where the painting was recovered. After notifying the gallery owner, the Elaine painting was put on display at the station house to let the city know of the recovery. Of the five gang members picked up, only three were convicted. James Allen received a seven year sentence, while “Cut-face” Donahue and John Curran each received eight years to consider the error of their

James Allen- Elaine thief turned waiter. Author’s Collection.


ways in the prison across the bay. Visiting his parents again in late 1878, Toby was invited to dinner by Lieutenant Governor James A. Johnson, now ex-officio warden of San Quentin. On the designated date, Rosenthal joined some twenty guests at the warden’s palatial home next to the prison, overlooking the bay. The dinner was held in a large room with many mirrors on the walls. Prisoners served as waiters and the artist later wrote that “one gained the uncomfortable impression that a horde of convicts was in the hall.” MEMOIR OF A PAINTER BY TOBY ROSENTHAL, 1978:

I sat next to the hostess, and across from me sat the Lieutenant Governor. Behind my chair stood a prisoner who was specially assigned to my service. While I was comfortably spooning my soup, I became aware that all eyes around the table were directed toward me with an odd expression, as if suppressing smiles. I turned to my hostess with the remark that apparently some amusing surprise was in the offing. She laughed heartily and whispered in my ear, “Look in the mirror at the servant behind you.” I saw the prisoner staring at me with undisguised curiosity. It turned out that my waiter was one of the thieves who had stolen the “Elaine” picture, and that as a special favor he had been assigned to wait John Curran, the on me.

other convict waiter.

Only two of the Elaine thieves were in San Quen- Author’s Collection. tin at this time; James Allen, No. 6544 and John Curran, No.6518. Donahue, No. 6590, had already gained his release. The number of San Quentin prisoners in late 1875 was 1,088 with fifty guards, overseers, and the usual contingent of prison officers headed by the lieutenant governor. Problems still plagued the prison, however. Various prisoners judged to be insane were sent to the state asylum since it seemed obvious they were not conscious of what they were being punished for. The asylum officials, understandably not wishing to have criminals in their midst, would soon find them “improved” and return them to San Quentin. “…The prison authorities seem compelled to take him back,” wrote a prison official, “as soon as his recovery is announced, which announcement is alleged sometimes to be premature.” 1875 BIENNIAL REPORT OF THE DIRECTORS OF THE STATE PRISON:

The Surgeon’s report draws a sad picture of the


crowded prison, the insufficient ventilation, and the practice of huddling together the prisoners without any regard to health or comfort. This picture is not by any means overdrawn; quite to the contrary. One-half the evils—moral turpitude, degradation, mental and physical Obliquity here existing—are not told and cannot be written, all for want of more room and different management. Then we have four rooms with forty-five men in each, with all the others equally crowded, and one-half, if not more of them, afflicted with maladies, and locked up for thirteen or fourteen hours out of the twenty-four, sleeping and existing in a fetid and poorly ventilated atmosphere, made absolutely poisonous by the exhalations from diseased lungs, and to a great extent unwashed surfaces, and the effluvia arising from the accumulation of excrementious matter deposited in a common receptacle during all these hours.

It was a horrifying description of daily convict existence. Under these conditions, cautioned the prison physician, convicts with a simple chest cold might acquire a chronic inflammation of the larynx, pharynx or trachea, which by easy grades passes to Chronic bronchitis and finally terminates in bronchial consumption. Simply put, minor ailments, cautioned the physician, can lower a person’s resistance to more serious ailments. Native California Indians were particularly susceptible to this kind of confinement and died by the dozens. Little of this was traceable to the prison physicians who worked long hours and often utilized their own supplies and medications. Throughout the nineteenth century, white convicts were housed and fed separately from Hispanics, Chinese, blacks and Indians.

Lum Am Ming served five terms in San Quentin beginning in 1859. After his last term he returned to China. Author’s Collection.

Purchasing of provisions by the commissary department was another sore spot. Complained an official: “Everything from a paper of needles to a steam engine, have been charged not only at full rates but in many instances far above the ordinary market rates, as the bills on file prove.” All state supplies should be put out for bid, insisted the official. And they would be in a few years. Although there was continuing criticism from the press and legislature, the extremely detailed charts and graphs listing the prison officials and guards in 1879 shows the growth of the staff, along with their monthly salaries. REPORT OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE CAL. STATE PRISON, 1877-9:

Warden, Captains of the Yard and


Guard, Surgeon, Commissary……………………....................$150 per month Clerk, Turnkey, First Gate Keeper…………….……...............$125 per month Assistant Commissary Second Gate Keeper, Engineer……$100 per month Moral Instructor, Captain of the First Watch, Captain of the Second Watch…...…...........................................$80 per month Prisoners’ Steward………………………………………...………$75 per month Officers’ and Guards’ Steward…………………..……........……$60 per month Hostler…………………………………………..………….....…….$60 per month One Guard………………………………………………….......…..$75 per month One Guard………………………………………………….......…..$65 per month Sixty Guards…………………………………....…………......…...$50 per month

The prison reports also showed every aspect of the financial situation of the prison, hoping to nip in the bud any carping in that direction. Still, there was always policy to attack, as well as the occasional cooking of the books by trusties or officials with something to cover-up. No. 2937, Bob Durkin, was discharged from San Quentin in May 1869. He left many new acquaintances behind in the prison, while he promptly resumed ravaging the countryside. Traveling throughout the mining country, Bob now specialized in burglarizing homes and remote farm houses. He was caught numerous times and became notorious over the years for his many escapes from local jails. Under the name of John Russell he was picked up for housebreaking in El Dorado County and again found himself in San Quentin for a one year term as No. 4163. Durkin usually behaved himself in prison to obtain time off for good behavior. Released in May, 1870, he managed to avoid capture for the next few years by constantly being on the move. In early March 1873, Durkin and ex-convict Ira Hall, alias French Mike, broke into a Sacramento home and stole some jewelry, then fled to Stockton where Bob had a long police record. Early on the morning of March 25th, City Collector J. P. D. Wilkins was found lying insensible on a city sidewalk. He had been beaten and robbed after having left his office late and stopping by a saloon for a beer. He died a few days later. Durkin and Hall were quickly picked up as suspects, Bob report-


edly having some of the Sacramento jewelry in his pocket at the time. STOCKTON DAILY EVENING HERALD, MARCH 28, 1873:

The Prisoners—The two men, Bob Durkin and Dudley, alias Michael Hall, alias French Mike, alias Mike Galpre, arrested on charge of terrible assault upon Mr. Wilkins, and robbery, are doubtless in their proper habitation so long as they are in confinement. Durkin, while a boy in Stockton was guilty of various petty stealing in the way of robbing rooms and tills… .

The article continued with a long list of crimes committed by Durkin, some of which were erroneous, but all were highly prejudicial to his defense. Having had much experience in such matters, Bob acted as his own lawyer at the justice court hearings, and in the end there was not enough evidence and the case was dismissed by the grand jury. The two ex-convicts were promptly escorted to Sacramento to face charges for the jewelry burglary, but again a lack of evidence resulted in their release. While doing time in the San Francisco county jail for petty larceny and assault and battery, Durkin and several cell mates broke out one night in April 1874. Recaptured the following day, Durkin was tried, convicted and sent across the bay in July to serve a two year, four month stretch at San Quentin. Bob’s fourth term ended on July 28, 1876, and he promptly went back to work. He was nearly thirty years old now, a “lag”—an old felon. SACRAMENTO BEE, AUGUST 22, 1876:

Bob Durkin again—On Friday last a house was burglarized near Wyandotte, Butte County, of a large quantity of property. Sheriff Snyder immediately started out in search of the robbers and caught two fellows with a portion of the plunder. Thinking the men might have been engaged in some stage robbery up country on some previous occasion the sheriff sent for Wells Fargo & Co.’s detective, J. B. Hume, to go up and identify them. He went up yesterday and discovered one of the burglars to be the notorious Bob Durkin. Around twenty in this mug shot, Bob’s Crimnal life was now all he knew. Author’s Collection.

Durkin and his crony, one William Russell, spent the next few months in the Oroville jail. On a rainy Sunday night in late October the two prisoners managed to tunnel through the courthouse floor and foundation and escaped into the night. Wanted flyers were sent out, while deputies scoured the area, with no immediate results. When Deputy Sheriff James Hegan received word the two fugitives had been spotted on the Prattville road, he


saddled up and was on the trail. He located Russell in a Prattville saloon and the officer and his handcuffed prisoner waited for the next stage to Susanville where Hegan suspected Durkin had gone. When the stage arrived, it proved to be merely a buckboard with two seats behind the driver. Hegan hired the driver, Henry Morrison, to take them to Susanville and the wagon was soon rattling over the rough, mountain trail. In Susanville, the deputy again got lucky. While looking around town, Hegan stepped into Dave Boyer’s saloon and asked the bartender if he had seen anyone of Durkin’s description? “Why,” he replied, “he’s in the back room playing poker.” Slipping through the door and coming up behind the badman, the deputy easily arrested and cuffed Durkin who had seen he was covered by Hegan’s revolver. Although Durkin had apparently robbed a Susanville home a few nights previously, a justice court refused to hold him for a lack of evidence. Hegan and Morrison now placed their cuffed prisoners in the wagon and headed down the mountain trail toward Chico. A little past noon the next day, the wagon had just passed a way station when Russell tapped Hegan on the shoulder. “Jim, can you unlock these Darbies [handcuffs]?” Turning around, the deputy was startled to see Russell pointing a revolver at him. It was Hegan’s own weapon, quietly taken from the lawman’s holster as they travelled. At the same time, Durkin thrust his manacled hands over Morrison’s head and with the handcuff chains at the driver’s throat, pulled him over backwards onto his lap. Now a desperate struggle began in the wagon. THE BUTTE RECORD, OCTOBER 28, 1876:

…in an instant, Hegan grasped the muzzle of the revolver, which Russell had failed to cock as yet, and then ensued a tussle for life on one side, and liberty on the other.

Suddenly, a deep rut in the road jolted the wagon. As the handcuff chain was loosened for a moment, Morrison quickly slipped away from Durkin, and jumped out onto the shaft of the wagon. Meanwhile, Russell and Hegan were fighting for possession of the pistol, and in the scuffle both fell out onto the road, dragging Durkin with them. After jerking the stage to a stop, Morrison now pulled his revolver. Seeing Durkin trying to slam Hegan over the head with the heavy handcuffs, Morrison looked for a clear shot. Durkin, however, stepped behind


Hegan and the driver was afraid to shoot. Getting a good shot at Russell now, Morrison fired hitting him a little way below the left hip. As the prisoner fell leaving the contested weapon in Hegan’s hands, the deputy was again in control. It had been a desperate fight and the journey to Chico was made without further incident. Durkin now faced the action of a grand jury for his previous burglary at nearby Wyandotte. At his trial in late January 1877, Durkin stalled, lied, and tried to confuse the court by insisting his name was really James D. Reed and he was tried under that name. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in state prison. When Durkin entered San Quentin on January 29, 1877, he became No. 7345. It was his fifth term. Durkin well illustrated Governor William Irwin’s 1873-5 biennial report of the management of the prison. With an average number of convicts listed as 1088, 124 were listed as being under 20 years of age. 854 of these were serving their first term; 163 were on their second term; 44 third term; 18 fourth term; 6 fifth term, and 3 were on their sixth term. Such numbers fared badly when compared with those of the New York and Pennsylvania prisons. The contractors employing San Quentin convicts all complained of a lack of discipline, while officials were concerned with the rate of recidivism. Add to this the fact that there were also those prisoners who admitted that when times were tough on the outside, prison life was really not so bad. About 4:20 on the afternoon of February 28, 1876, San Francisco police headquarters received an urgent telegraph message. “San Quentin—Prison buildings on fire. Send assistance.” Chief Ellis promptly contacted the city’s fire chief, David Scannell. The chief lost no time in sending to the wharf the department’s most powerful engine, two hose carts with twelve hundred feet of hose, and a squad to operate them. Within twenty minutes the expedition was on its way to the prison. Twenty-five minutes later another dispatch for urgent aid from the prison was received and Chief Ellis, assuming a massive prison break was threatened, detailed Police Captain William Douglass to put together a group of fifty officers and immediately start for the prison. Militia General John McComb was alerted to accompany the police.


The combined unit was aboard the tug Neptune and on their way by 7 o’clock that evening. By that time it had been decided by prison officials that none of the police or troops were needed. San Rafael officials had been notified also, and at the ringing of the fire bells, a hundred or so people assembled at the depot where a train was waiting. Sheriff Olds directed those men who were armed to get on the train, then ordered another horseback group to ride over and encircle the prison to catch any escaping prisoners. Just after 6 o’clock another message was received from the prison. The fire was under control, but all food supplies had been destroyed and some 1,200 persons within the prison walls were without provisions. Actually, this was erroneous—it was the kitchen ovens and stores of utensils that had been destroyed. By 8 o’clock that evening, supplies were being assembled aboard the steamer Contra Costa and forwarded to the prison. The crisis was over, but it was a wonderful example of the quick action the queen city of the bay could muster in an emergency. Newspaper accounts filled in some of the details. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, FEBRUARY 29, 1876;

…Origin of the Fire—The fire started in the paint shop in the attic of the workhouse. This was an immense stone [brick] building 70x300, and four stories in height, located on the northwest end of the yard, facing the southern end of the prison. In the basement was located the engines and the kitchens and convicts’ dining rooms. The second floor was occupied by the California Furniture Manufacturing Company. The upper floors were occupied by the shoe factory of Porter & Co., the prison library, etc., and a department of the building set apart for cells for 158 Chinese prisoners. How the fire started is not known, but it is believed to have been incendiary. …Officers and guards were quickly on the alert. The various departments of the workshops were full of men, and hundreds came pouring out into the yard. Captain Fitzpatrick being the superior officer present and in charge, at once took every measure to prevent escapes. The walls soon swarmed with guards, armed with the Henry rifles and the convicts were given to understand that the least attempt to escape would be the death of them.

Far from being threatened by a massive break, the prison was at all times under perfect control during the excitement of the fire. “The convicts assisted all in their power to save the burning buildings,” continued the Alta, “and the material in them.” The prisoners assembled at the north wall were also assured that good conduct on their part “would tell in their favor with the governor.” One man was suspected of arson, while others thought it was a


case of spontaneous combustion originating in a pile of old rags. The suspect, one of the Brotherton brothers, a pair of forgers, was later cited for his heroic actions during the fire. Although the building was of brick, the insides were all wood. By the time the prison hydrant had been hooked up to the engine, the fire was so far along that the water was played on the surrounding buildings to save them. Prisoners also formed a bucket brigade. The arriving San Francisco firemen could do Lewis Brotherton, shown here, and his nothing to save the structure, but they kept water on the brother both behaved flames hoping to keep the walls from cracking. Although admirably during the fire. Bancroft Library. some of the contents of the building had been saved, soon the structure was a blackened, smoking hull. A particularly literate ex-lawyer and ex-stage robber named George Lyttle had been admitted on January 16, 1876, under the name of Richard Perkins. Upon his admittance, he had been dubbed “Lame Dick,” from an ankle broken in trying to avoid a sheriff’s posse. In a long letter to a Bakersfield newspaper, Dick described some incidents of the fire. George Lyttle, the hard drinking stage robber, KERN COUNTY WEEKLY GAZETTE, APRIL 1, 1876: was also a fine writer. For a wonder the whole affair was unattended with loss of Author’s Collection. life. …Some funny incidents occurred. A celestial approached

very near the building to secure a bunch of boots which had been thrown from the factory, and just as he was about to seize them a can of some explosive material hurled about him a shower of fiery missiles accompanied by a thundering report, when “John” unceremoniously decamped leaving his prospective “booty” behind him. One man, who had been employed in the attic where the fire originated and who… escaped through a dormer window on to the roof and ran diagonally across it, in the most excited manner, made several motions as though he would precipitate himself to the pavement some fifty feet below. Strange to say many in the excited crowd below shouted to him to do so— “jump off!” They must have apprehended an explosion, though that could hardly have been attended with worse consequences.

It was hoped the still-standing brick walls of the building could be salvaged for re-building. but a week later a fierce rain storm knocked over most of the remaining walls, requiring complete rebuilding. A joint committee of the legislature recommended a $200,000 appropriation to both update the water system and rebuild the destroyed shop building.


Of the prisoners cited for courageous conduct in fighting the fire, the story of convict Newton Morgan is particularly interesting. His presence in San Quentin was initiated by that inveterate investigator of iniquity, Captain Isaiah Lees of San Francisco’s detective police. Born in England on Christmas Day, 1830, Lees grew up in Paterson, New Jersey and came West with the great Gold Rush. Having experience in the Colt revolver factory and the Paterson locomotive shops as a boy, Lees did iron work for the Donahue brothers in San Francisco and operated a tugboat on San Francisco Bay before discovering his real calling in police work. Joining the force in October 1853, Lees’ talents were quickly recognized. The following year he was promoted assistant captain in charge of the new detective department. Forty years later William Pinkerton would refer to Lees as “The greatest criminal catcher the West ever knew.” In late 1870 Lees was prowling around the local racetrack one day, meeting friends and keeping his eyes open. He was always on duty, as all good detectives are. Isaiah W. Lees was one of the more Strolling by the betting windows, the detective noticed noted detectives several poll tax collectors from the assessor’s office who of his day. Author’s Collection. were making bets larger than their salaries would seem to justify. Later, when he checked on Newt Morgan’s residence, it was found to be much more extravagant than he should be able to afford. When Lees discovered that Morgan wore diamond stickpins and took his meals at only the finest restaurants, the detective knew he would bear further investigation. Reporting his findings to Mayor James Otis, Lees was told to continue his investigation. He watched Morgan and the three other poll tax collectors for the next few years, often with field glasses while the suspects collected taxes from Chinese as they boarded a ferry. They seldom gave receipts, but when they did they would give them out at one end of the gangplank, then take them back at the other end. It became clear if they were keeping the money they were forging the receipts. Now the detective must show that receipts he had collected were forgeries. Lees did not know if the assessor himself was in on the scheme, so he had to be very careful. The officials involved were Morgan, Leopold Eckstein and two brothers, Joseph and Henry Casey.


Lees tracked Henry Casey to Canada where he found the printer of the gang’s bogus tax receipts and obtained one of the fraudulent printing plates. Returning to San Francisco, Lees now had enough evidence to prove the forgery and by mid-1875 three of the four young men were convicted and sent to San Quentin to ruminate over their transgressions. A newspaper reporter who accompanied Newt and his pals to the prison wrote that Morgan “betrayed no feeling that he realized, as he really did, the humiliation of his position.” SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, FEBRUARY 16, 1875:

The reporter asked Morgan if his parents were living, and he replied with some feeling, “my father is dead, and in one sense I’m glad that he is, though I know it does not sound well for me to say so. He died last July and before this disgrace came upon me. My mother is still alive, but I thank God that she knows nothing about this; it would break her heart… .” “How have you managed to keep the secret of your misfortune from her?” “I have a younger brother and sister at home with her in the East. Every time a newspaper gets into the house they pick it up and look all through it, and if my name is in it they take care that she does not see the paper. I only hope now that she will never hear of this, and that no one will be so cruel as to tell her.”

Henry Casey managed to disappear. His brother, Joseph, No. 6399, was officially cited for his bravery at the fire and was pardoned by the governor in February 1878. Newt Morgan, No. 6387, was also praised for his actions at the fire, but he had burgeoning personal problems. An outgoing type with many questionable friends, Morgan somehow became chummy with Yard Captain Archibald C. McAllister and was soon appointed a trusty. Morgan had all the benefits of his position, and then some. Soon he was swaggering around the prison grounds in his civilian clothes, diamond stickpins and all. He lived in a room at the prison hospital, rather than a cell, and left the prison grounds frequently. Morgan reportedly lorded it over the other prisoners and was deemed the one to see if a convict wanted any favors. Best of all (for him), Newt was delegated to see that the female prisoners were locked up for the night. When Nellie Handley, No. 6901, arrived from Stockton in late February, 1876, Newt promptly let her know how important he was. A romance inevitably blossomed. The situation was ripe for the high tragedy that soon occurred when Morgan discovered that his convict paramour was pregnant. Newt knew he was in big trouble and there was no way he could avoid telling Captain McAllister of the situation.


Although a variety of excuses were considered by the prison authorities, a deputy at the Stockton jail was finally pegged with the blame. Nellie received a pardon from the governor, the Stockton jailor retained his job and Newt went back into prison stripes and was pardoned in 1880. All this was duly exposed and reported in the San Francisco Chronicle in a series of articles. Many of the convicts bitterly resented the trusty system and the way prisoners with money could buy privileges and comfort. “Look at me, sir,” complained an old con in October 1877, “I never committed a dishonest deed in my life, but for a deed committed in a moment of passion I am sent here, compelled to wear the stripes and to feed with my brother convicts. Morgan, who committed a series of forgeries and made money by it, is convicted of his crime, but look at his princely circumstances as compared with mine. He dresses in citizen’s clothing, lives on the best that money can buy, and actually condemns and despises me. But such is life. …I do not charge that any prison official has received money from Morgan, but I do ask… would he occupy the position he does in this prison if he were not a ‘celebrated’ criminal and known to possess money?” It was a thoughtful observation. Strolling about the yard this same month, a Chronicle reporter was told that of the 1,280 prisoners, only about 400 of them were employed. Things had changed greatly in the past two decades. The old rules of restricted talking and associating had been shelved. Now prisoners who were not working roamed the

“Easy street,” the space between the cell blocks and the wall, where the prisoners gathered during free time. The vertical stripes are worn by former Folsom inmates. Author’s Collection.


yard in groups laughing and talking or lounging in the shade of buildings. Others played games, while some gambled in out-of-the-way sheds or rooms. All wore the prison striped trousers, but the rest of their uniform might be a hickory shirt, civilian coat, and a hat of their choosing. Too, hair could be worn in any style, while mustaches and beards freely adorned the faces of those who were so inclined. Even more startling was the familiarity between guards and their charges. “They addressed such prison officials as they met in their rambles,” wrote the reporter, “as one would address a personal friend. ‘Hello, Cap: how are you?’ to an official, would be as familiarly answered.” It must have been confusing, but a great relief to the old cons. Whatever humanity existed within the cold, grey walls of San Quentin, it never glittered so brightly as on an overcast day one year later. The story is too good to be apocryphal, especially since it refers specifically to Yard Captain McAllister as a principal in the drama. DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, OCTOBER 15, 1878:

On Saturday a bright little eight-year-old boy who had gone over alone on the boat from this city, appeared at the State Prison gate and said, “I want to see my papa.” They questioned him, and found that his father had reached the prison three weeks ago from Auburn, under sentence for fifteen years for killing a man. The little visitor was quiet, self-possessed, polite—“a perfect little gentleman,” the bystanders said; and he soon got into the good graces of those about him. They took him to his father, and while the prisoner wept the little fellow showed the tenderest feeling, and hung upon the convict as lovingly as though he had been a king. At night the poor boy went to one of the officials and begged to be let sleep with his father. “But you’ll have to sleep in a cell, then.” He didn’t mind—only let him stay with papa; and so they let him. Throughout Sunday and Sunday night he stayed—so glad to be with his father again, and telling about his mother and sisters, and, by his pretty little manly ways, winning officers and visitors and prisoners—all who saw and heard him. Captain of the Yard, McAllister, made more of the little fellow than if he had been the Governor; and yesterday, when he was about to leave, gave him two suits of clothes that had been made up for him since Saturday. The prisoners had taken up a collection among themselves—charity, indeed! —and presented him a purse of thirty-five dollars. The convict father found that his boy’s visit had helped him, for he was transferred to less laborious employment than had before been allotted him. And when the little fellow had taken such an affecting farewell of his father as brought tears to many eyes unused to them, he left with his purse and his new clothes and a bouquet of flowers, to return to the poor home of his mother, now living at the Mission, telling how next time he would bring his two sisters to see papa.


CHAPTER EIGHT

The Stage Robbers Ball F

inishing his fourth term at San Quentin on June 9, 1873, Ormstead Thurman, alias Bill Early, knew exactly what he was going to do. Thurman had met Louis J. Dribblesbie, No. 3106, in prison during their recent enforced “vacation.” Dribblesbie had been doing a twelve year term for an 1865 stage robbery near LaPorte. When Dribblesbie’s sentence was commuted on September 30, 1871, Thurman agreed to join him at his mining claim at the expiration of his own term in 1873. The purpose of the meeting, of course, was another stage robbery. Dribblesbie already had a third man ready to go and the trio went promptly to work. MARYSVILLE APPEAL, JUNE 24, 1873:

A bold and successful highway robbery was perpetrated yesterday afternoon at about 1 o’clock, between this city and the Oregon House, and about twenty-one miles east of Marysville, when the Downieville stage, on its down trip, was intercepted, the treasure box of Wells Fargo & Co. taken from the stage, broken open in the presence of the driver and the passenger, and robbed of its treasure, consisting of about $2,800… .

Wells Fargo offered a $1,500 reward for the bandits, but scurrying posses had no immediate luck. By July 3rd, however, a description of the robbers suggested the leader might have been Dribblesbie. He had robbed stages in the area before and was known to be an ex-convict. Before any substantial clues were developed, the bandits struck again. GRASS VALLEY UNION, AUGUST 2, 1873:

Highway Robbery – Wells, Fargo & Co’s Treasure Box Robbed - Officers on Track of the Thieves. Last Sunday afternoon the stage coach which runs from Colfax to Grass Valley and Nevada City was stopped by four robbers, and coin to the amount of $7,078 was taken and carried away… .

The stage had been severely damaged when the treasure box was opened with the aid of Giant Powder. Fortunately, a young woman passenger asked the outlaws to remove her trousseau from the coach just prior to the explosion. She noticed a scar on the hand of the leader as the highwaymen hastily gathered their loot, then disappeared in the gathering dusk.


The coach was a wreck, but the running gear was not damaged and driver Bob Scott was soon on his way. When he stopped his stage in front of a Grass Valley cottage, it was dark. The young woman, a mail-order bride named Eleanor Webber, stepped down from the coach and, gathering her skirts, met the lady of the house at the door. Miss Webber was to be married here that evening and she was naturally anxious to clean up and change her clothes. The groom arrived late, and the ceremony was a hurried one. As the vows were exchanged, the bride thought the voice of her soon-to-be partner sounded familiar. The two had never met, the courtship having taken place entirely by correspondence. At the close of the dimly-lit ritual, Eleanor turned to kiss her new husband, Louis Dribblesbie. It was then she saw the scar on his hand. With a gasp, she realized the voice of her new husband was that of the leader of the stage robbers. She turned and ran sobbing to her room. The hysterical bride refused to explain matters, just saying she would be leaving on the next stage for Colfax. Dribblesbie, realizing what had happened, stammered out some excuse and fled the house. Some time later the bandit chief turned up in Coloma where he began drinking and recklessly spending his new-found wealth. Word of this reached Wells Fargo detective Jim Hume who had already collared Ormstead Thurman, one of the bandits. Asking questions of this second suspect, Hume soon realized that the man was Dribblesbie, the ex-convict and chief suspect of the recent stage robbery. A gold bar from the first robbery and blackened coins taken from the current stage holdup was convincing evidence and Dribblesbie eventually gave Hume the whole story, including his fiasco of a wedding. The two other accomplices were quickly in custody, also. It was an emotionally disturbed and bitter Eleanor Webber who returned to her home in the Santa Clara Valley. Of the other robbers, Nathan C. Stover, No. 5802, was sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin and died there in 1879. James Myers, No. 5801, was also given a 10 year sentence, but as a cripple he was pardoned out in 1880. Dribblesbie, because of his complete cooperation, was released, Hume buying him a ticket to his home town of Galena, Illinois.


A mock stage robbery in the mountains. Dribblesbie and his cohorts were all caught. At any given time there were usually dozens of stage robbers in San Quentin. Wells Fargo Bank.

Convicted under the name of “Charles Thompson” for his part in the robbery, Ormstead Thurman was sentenced to fifteen years. He was listed in the prison register as a fifth termer “same as William Early, No. 2994.” He kept his nose clean this time. After acquiring enough credits to deduct 64 months from his term, Thurman was pardoned by Governor Stoneman on August 8, 1883. He thanked the authorities in his usual way GRASS VALLEY UNION, MARCH 11, 1885:

William Harris was brought to the central police station Sunday evening by Detective J. B. Hume of Wells, Fargo & Co., and the Sheriff of Amador County, en route to San Quentin to serve a term of seven years for stage [safe] robbery, on the 16th of October last, at Drytown…Amador County. …Harris, whose real name is Ormstead Thurman, has escaped several times and is considered a very desperate man… .

After serving a seven year term, Thurman was released on December 9, 1889. One year later, Thurman stopped and held up the Georgetown stage running between Greenwood and Auburn. He was alone and three days later he was captured by El Dorado County Sheriff Winchell. He again gave a bogus name and protested his innocence, but when Wells Fargo Detective Jim Hume arrived, Thurman admitted his guilt and said he would plead guilty at his trial and hope for a light sentence. “Thurman is quite an old man ,” commented the San Francisco Evening Post, “and it is probable that when he again enters the penitentiary he will never leave it alive.” No record of his death has been located. In August 1880 the prisoner count was about 1,525, with only seven ailing convicts. It was a startling transition from prior times and probably reflective of the fact that the institution itself was functioning well and there was time and funds to provide proper medical care. The


hospital had been refitted and repainted, the uncomfortable old box cots being replaced by iron bedsteads. By late summer 1885, new, more comfortable quarters for the officers and guards were being completed in a brick building adjacent to the main entrance. The West gate entrance was also being rebuilt. Work in the shops had fallen off, but the men were kept busy cleaning the yard and breaking stone for gravel to macadamize the road to Minturn’s steamer wharf. On July 26, 1880, forty-four of San Quentin’s worst prisoners were transferred to the new state prison east of Sacramento. Fifty more were sent in August and by the following month 208 convicts were leveling ground, working in the quarry, or digging the ditch that would supply power for the new Folsom prison. San Quentin was also entering a new phase of its development. For many years the prison had been a political football in the hands of politicians and the governor’s office. The “out” party continually criticized the party in charge at the prison and other statewide offices, just as is still done today. But that was going to change. A convention to establish a new state constitution was held in 1879. One of the new provisions provided that the warden of San Quentin be elected by a five-man board of state prison directors, instead of the office automatically being assumed by the lieutenant governor. Touted as taking the politics out of government, as might be suspected, the warden would now be elected by whatever party held a majority on the board. Politics still reigned supreme! This same law also denied the use of commercial contract labor, meaning that convicts now could only work for the state. James B. Hume, Wells The new laws would go into effect on January 1, 1882.

Fargo’s chief detective. He was married in 1884 at the San Quentin home of his friend Charles Aull. California State Library.

The first San Quentin warden under the new system was a San Mateo Court of Sessions Judge named Josiah P. Ames. Arriving in California with Colonel Jonathan Stevenson’s New York Volunteer Regiment in 1847, the unit was too late to participate in the Mexican War, but just in time to pollute the Gold Rush with a horde of Five Points New


York thugs and vagabonds. Ames eventually was elected to the state legislature resulting in his later appointment as a judge on the court of sessions. A Republican when he vied for the warden’s appointment in 1879, Ames was a total political animal and his first report to the prison board was stuffed full of the glorious achievements of his new regime. His fondness for liquor, seeming pomposity, and an irascible personality, however, hid a genuine San Quentin pioneer and a man of achievement. The judge had some curious ideas about convicts, however, as he remarked to a visitor early in his regime. SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, JUNE 5, 1881:

I am inclined to think, after all, that crime is a disease of the brain, for it does not seem as though a man would follow such a life if he was well balanced. For instance, the other day one of our men known as ‘Sheet Iron Jack,’ wrote a letter to his father somewhere up country. You know it is our business to read all their letters and open the answers, which is a necessary precaution some times. Jack sent his father his picture, and told him about his crime and term of sentence. The old man’s reply was funny. He said to Jack, ‘You are not my son. I don’t recognize your picture. When you left here, you had black eyes, and in this picture they are blue.’ Thinking this was queer, I went to Jack and got a tracing of his right hand on paper, as the old man said in his letter that if such was sent he would know whether or not Jack was his son. I then told Jack I was going to find out who he was for sure, and gave him the old man’s letter. When he read it he came to me and begged me not to send the tracing of his hand. It seems that one of his fingers was gone. He said he did not want the old man to know it was him, and that he had procured the picture of a fellow in the prison who looked something like himself and sent it. Now I believe it was utterly impossible for Jack to do anything, no matter how trivial, in a straight way. He must write to his father, and ‘natural crookedness’ impelled him to put up this job by which nothing in the world was to be gained.

Warden Ames had a pretty good handle on Sheet Iron Jack, whose real name was John D. Gundlack. He had joined the Union army in 1864 during the closing years of the Civil War. His military and medical records, along with the loss of a finger and various scars on his body, testified to the action seen with the 32nd Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment at the siege of Petersburg. He was mustered out in Virginia on July 15, 1865, and promptly headed west. New Warden Ames had his own ideas about criminals. San Quentin Museum Association.

When he turned up in Northern California in the late 1860s, he was using the name John Allen.


Later, he claimed to have been a scout for the army, rescued a young girl from the Indians, served with Colonel George Crook at Steen’s Mountain in Oregon, and carried dispatches and fought in the Modoc War during 1872 – 73. None of these claims have been verified and seem to be tales cooked up in later years to bolster his attempts to obtain parole. His first serious crime was an attempt to rob a blind old farmer in Shasta County, in early February, 1875. For this he received a two-year sentence to San Quentin. At Red Bluff, waiting for the steamer, a reporter asked Jack where he was going. “I am going where I can get some sea breeze,” he replied. “This northern climate does not agree with my health and I must make a change.” Jack was soon wearing stripes, along with his new prison number - 6395. Released in July of the same year for a new trial, this time Jack was freed after pleading guilty and paying a fine. While working at shearing sheep near Redding, he was visited by a San Quentin pal named John Toney. A first class desperado, Toney had served two terms in San Quentin, for horse theft and attempted bank robbery. He told Jack that he and several friends were going to rob a stagecoach and they would like him to join them. Jack liked the idea and planned the holdup, but when Toney and his cohorts held up three stages without him, he led Sheet Iron Jack was a notorious character the officers straight to the culprits. Allen, however, of many names. boasted to the officers that although not participatAuthor’s Collection. ing in the robberies he had planned them. Instead of receiving a reward for his disclosure, Jack found himself in the Shasta jail with his former partners. Allen received a twenty-four year San Quentin term at his trial, while Toney went back for twenty-one years. The third man, a young Englishman named Chapman, received just four years. Entering San Quentin on Christmas day, 1876, Allen was appalled at the thought of spending a big chunk of his life in prison. After an appropriate period of time, he wrote a letter to Governor William Irwin on June 5, 1877, giving three pages worth of reasons for his innocence and why he deserved a pardon. It was the beginning of a blizzard of paper work over the years, Allen sending letters from witnesses, friends and


lawyers to bolster his pleas of being innocent of the crime for which he was being punished. Soon his pleas were being bolstered by his long tales of military service during the Civil War and local Indian troubles. According to Jack, he had acquired his colorful nickname during service with General Crook in Oregon. While scouting out Indian positions, Allen had strapped a sheet iron skillet to his back to protect him from arrows. From then on he was “Sheet Iron Jack.” His tale of rescuing a “Hattie Henderson” in 1866 after the Indians had killed all the passengers on a stagecoach in northern California, has no basis in fact as no such tragedy is known to have occurred. In September, 1882, Allen gave a San Francisco Examiner reporter all his “evidence” of why he was innocent of the stage robberies. This, along with his wild army tales, filled over a full column. Clay Taylor, the Shasta County District Attorney who had prosecuted Jack several times, rebutted the article. He ignored Jack’s army stories saying they had nothing to do with his criminal career, but instead, clearly showed that by his three convictions and choice of companions he was where he ought to be. Ignoring Taylor’s rebuttal, Allen clipped out the long article on his questionable army experiences to include with the following letter to his parent; SAN QUENTIN, OCT. 3, 1882

My Dear Father —This letter will perhaps surprise as well as grieve you. To come to the point at once, I am in States Prison and have been for the last six years. I have not written you this until now because I did not wish to cause you any anxiety or sorrow on my account and because I have been trying in every way to get An early view of the south side of the prison shows the hills to the northeast with Guard Post No. 1 and the warden’s house in distance. The four story brick work house is at left, facing the three cellblocks. California State Library.


out, although things have looked hopeful, I almost despair of executive clemency. I was charged as an accessory in a stage robbery, but the enclosed article will give a better account of the proceedings than anything I can write you. I can only assure you of my entire innocence of that or any other crime during the years I have been absent from home. As Governor George C. Perkins goes out of office about the 1st of January, I wish you would communicate at once with him in my behalf. I think a letter from you will decide him in my favor and regain me my liberty. His address is George C. Perkins, Sacramento, Cal. Dear father, don’t let mother or any of our relatives know my misfortune. I am here under the name of John Allen. Judge J.P. Ames is warden. You can address your letters in care of him… . I will come to a close with my love to mother and all… Your affectionate son, John D. Gundlack, San Quentin, Marin County, Cal.

After receiving the letter from his son, the elder Gundlack sought out the United States Consul in Ottawa and told him his sad story. To add an official touch to all this, the consul obligingly wrote his own communication to Governor Perkins, enclosing the elder Gundlack’s four-page letter in which he repeated Jack’s heroic army experiences from the Examiner article. Governor Perkins saw the light. He commuted Jack’s sentence to ten years and he was released on June 25, 1883. In any case, both Warden Ames and Governor Perkins were no doubt relieved to be rid of him.

Jack’s new number was 7516. His ultimate fate is unknown. Author’s Collection.

Did Jack return home to his waiting family? Probably not! In March of the following year he was thrown into the Red Bluff jail as drunk and disorderly. He was also wanted in San Francisco for stealing a $500 horse and selling it for $75. This resulted in a six year term in the new Folsom state prison. After being picked up in 1893 in Sacramento on a petty larceny charge, Jack seems to have disappeared. Perhaps he ran out of options and did finally return home, but it is doubtful.

Warden Ames had dozens of Jack Allens to contend with, but if he could not fathom the criminal mind, perhaps the warden’s own mind was bogged down by the constant criticism of his work by the democrats in the state legislature. Maybe the new warden was just thinskinned, but the unceasing political attacks and investigations caused Ames to be constantly on the defensive rather than concentrating on


his own important business. Examples are the following comments in Ames’ 1885 report to the governor and State Legislature: “…It is my report that vindicates in a quiet but effective way your administration against the atrocious slanders with which it has been assailed by designing men. It is an unanswerable indictment against those conspirators who have tried incessantly, in every possible way, by word and by deed, by assertion and by insinuation, by statements conceived in malice and launched in broadcast falsehood, by cunning, by fraud, and by the uttering of libels publicly… to prevent the success of the prison management… .” Despite the assertion that politics had been taken out of prison management, nothing had changed and prison directors and wardens just had to learn to work with the system. Warden Ames was determined to make a difference, however. Finding a preponderance of idle prisoners when he assumed control, the warden pressed the legislature to buy more property where a new brickyard was put into operation. He put his new guard force, now all Republicans, into dark blue uniforms for the first time, with brass buttons and black, slouch hats. He also did away with the whipping post and other severe punishments. Ames also observed how farming was becoming increasingly important in the state and farmers were utilizing millions of sacks made of jute in the harvesting of produce. Jute, even today, is the second most important vegetable fibre after cotton. At this time, besides sacking, jute was also being widely used in wrapping bales of raw cotton. The coarse cloth was also being utilized for various purposes. The finest raw jute was imported from India. Finding only one jute mill operating in the state, Ames convinced the board of prison directors to contract a British firm to ship one hundred jute looms to California at $1,000 apiece. With his political and newspaper enemies nipping at his heels, Ames then began building a huge factory with convict labor and prison-made brick. John Robertson, hired as general superintendent of the new mill, ordered the machinery and directed the erection of the mill as he reported to the local press.


SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, FEBRUARY 25, 1882:

I entertain no doubt of the success of this enterprise. The machinery is of the very latest, improved patents. I have put up and run many jute mills in England, Scotland and France, and this is as nice a little mill as I have seen in all my travels. I can see no reason in the world why the mill cannot be operated with profit to the state… The California importation of grain bags is 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 every year… After we get fully in running order we shall turn our attention partly to the making of ore sacks, coffee bags, coarse matting, etc.

The new mill was officially opened on April 3, 1882. The first year five hundred tons of jute imported from Calcutta was used and Ames could proudly state in his 1883 report that his jute factory “is now a pronounced and acknowledged success.” The first season the mill showed a clear profit of over $31,000. The prison by the bay was beginning to pay its way at last. Or was it?

John C. Edgar was

Former state senator Paul Shirley replaced Ames as captain of the yard under Warden Ames. warden in 1884. In his Report to the State Board of Prison Author’s Collection. Directors, the new warden reported that “the jute factory has necessarily been idle a considerable portion of the time. The supplies of raw material can only be procured from India, after a long voyage. No preparation had been made for securing the needed supplies by my predecessor, and before the necessary material could be obtained, a considerable portion of the season had passed. We were forced into the Calcutta market when the price of jute was the highest known for years”… and on and on. In other words, it was all Ames’ fault, and perhaps it was. But despite this rocky beginning, the jute mill was cautiously deemed to be an initial success. Born about 1836 in Philadelphia, James Hope grew up to be a skilled machinist, but gained fame as the most notorious bank burglar in the country. His first big job was in 1870—the paymaster’s safe in the local Navy Yard. His burglary of Smith’s Bank in Perry, New York resulted in his arrest and a five year sentence in Auburn state prison. He escaped in January 1873, with two others, and went on to many other robberies, perhaps the biggest being his heist of some $2,747,700 in mostly registered securities from the Manhattan Savings Bank in October 1878. When he next turned up it was in San Francisco with “Big Tom” Bigelow and “Little Dave” Cummings with whom he planned an illicit bank withdrawal. De-


tective Captain Lees had word of their arrival from an informant and was sure a local bank was in jeopardy. When a clerk in the Sather Bank found some loose ceiling plaster on his desk one morning, Police Chief Patrick Crowley and Captain Lees were soon sniffing about the premises. Investigating the second story above the clerk’s desk, the officers found that a section of floor had been removed inside a closet directly over the bank’s vault. The burglars had already removed twelve layers of brick and strap iron, the debris being tossed into a wall cavity. On the night of June 27, 1881, five detectives gathered in Lees’ office and prepared for a surveillance of the bank. That night as Lees and two detectives watched from an alley, Hope and Little Dave entered the bank building. Lees signaled to his three other detectives in an office over the bank and the lawmen all rushed to the closet. Little Dave managed to escape through a window, but Hope was captured. Although claiming his name was “Thompson,” Hope’s name tattooed on his arm gave him away. The detectives spent the rest of the night searching for the robber’s room. When found, it yielded Hope’s trunk and valise containing “3 pair of nips, steel wedges, gimlets, powder, dynamite, nitroglycerin” and other tools as listed in Detective Ed Byram’s journal.

Jimmy Hope’s San Francisco police mug shot. Author’s Collection.

The famous bank burglar tried grimacing and other stunts to foil the photographer in taking his mug shot. The cameraman, who had taken many of the 9,000 mug shots in Lees’ collection, knew all the tricks, however, and in the end was rewarded with the best of Hope’s many portraits. “I shouldn’t have to do this,” groused the thief, “when I haven’t even been convicted yet.” He was indeed convicted in late October 1881, however, receiving a seven-and-a-half year sentence. SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, JANUARY 8, 1885:

…The clerk of the laundry is the notorious “safecracker,” Jimmy Hope. Hope is generally supposed to have had a hand in the celebrated Northhampton bank robbery; but is now paying a mitigated penalty for his bungled attempt on the bank of Sather & Co. in this city. When

his

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ficers were waiting to take him back to finish his term at Auburn prison in New York. It has been claimed that the time lock for safes was invented as a direct result of Jimmy Hope’s skills. An 1884 report noted that there were housed in San Quentin sixty boys, from thirteen to eighteen years of age, and 197 Chinese. The total number of convicts was 1,130 males and twelve women. Twenty-five men who were “mentally diseased” occupied cells in “Crank Alley.” Although a large number of the men and boys were employed in the jute mill, there were other shops of learning and employment. THE DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, AUGUST 23, 1884:

The furniture factory is the next in interest and of equal importance. The commoner kinds of chairs and furniture are most largely made, and these are complemented with the handsomest specimens of chamber and dining room sets of Zomano, Zoa, and some choice natural woods, the hand carving done by men who learned the art in prison. Leather and harness are also manufactured; the iron-works supply whatever is required about the prison. Workmen are employed in building wagons and buggies, utilizing an invention of Mr. Garland, by which the strain and jolting of two-wheeled vehicles are reduced to a minimum… .

In the 1880s San Quentin housed as imaginative a collection of escape artists as the country had ever seen. Not always reported to the press since they might fuel another investigation, escapes were sometimes humorous, often deadly, but always fascinating. The yard captain, in conducting visitor tours around the grounds, enjoyed pointing out where a noted desperado climbed the wall while attempting an escape. No. 3869, the former John “Shorty” Hayes, was a San Francisco bartender who took to pilfering to bolster his wages. When he graduated to horse theft, he was captured and sentenced to five years in state prison. There is little doubt that there he was schooled by various old “cons” in the fine art of thievery in all its forms, including stagecoach robbing. Released in late 1872, Shorty Hays middle Hays and several San Quentin pals held up a Shasta name was “trouble.” County stage in October of the following year. “Their Author’s Collection. hands trembled so,” recalled a passenger, “I was fearful, they would shoot accidently and hurt someone .” Hays and his pals were soon run down, convicted and back in prison. When captured, “Shorty”


had just made an $800 payment on the San Francisco saloon in which he was working. This time, he received a twenty-one year stretch along with two of his henchmen, John Clark, No. 5930 and Charles Thompson, No. 5903. Shorty again escaped from San Quentin on a Sunday night, May 28, 1876. He was not missed until morning roll call. At that time it was discovered that he had made up a dummy figure in his bunk with a crude, carved face on his pillow. The previous night, the yard captain in checking the cells, saw the dim shape in Shorty’s bunk and, counting him, moved on. Instead of returning to his cell that night, Shorty had hidden in one of the workshops. Later, when everything was shut down, he used a long, wooden trough to get over the wall and disappear into the darkness. He was captured within a few days over on the coast at Bodega. Shorty escaped again in 1884, but was recaptured in Los Angeles a few weeks later. Returned to San Quentin, he settled down and served out his time and was released in late October 1891. During his last night in prison, the three big cells in the Stones were kept open until 9 o’clock while all of Shorty’s pals bid him goodbye. “There were speeches and songs,” reported the San Francisco Examiner, “and instrumental music, and after the program had been gone through, there was a nice little lunch spread for them.” …and, perhaps, some smuggled “coal-oil” whiskey was also served.

When Shorty got out, he left good friends behind. Author’s Collection.

The convicts made up a purse of $60 for him and even Captain Edgar gave him a gift. Two weeks later a telegram from Spokane was received at San Quentin. It stated that Shorty had been spotted on the street by an ex-San Quentin guard who assumed he had again escaped from prison. He was now being held in the city jail pending word from California. Why, Shorty must have been mad enough to want to go out and rob another stagecoach! John Clark, No. 5930, Shorty’s stage-robbing associate, was also no slouch at the escape game. When Clark turned up missing one day, it was believed that he had dressed up in some fine clothes he had acquired, then mixed in with a crowd of legislators who were visiting and


left the prison with them. The truth was later discovered. Clark was in charge of a gang working on a rock pile west of the prison. At the quitting bell, Clark dismissed his men to return to their cells while he stayed behind to store the tools in their container- a large box. When the convicts were well on their way back to the prison, Clark then climbed into the box, pulling the lid into position. Waiting for nightfall, he made his way to the bay where he stole a boat and rowed across to the Contra Costa side. From there he headed for San Francisco Alkali Jim Harrington was also no slouch when where he boarded a boat for Liverpool. He was later it came to escaping. Author’s Collection. reported living in Bangor, Maine. “Alkali Jim” Harrington, No. 4903, a stage robbing pal of the notorious Bill Miner, worked in the prison shoe factory while in San Quentin. In another “box escape” scenario, Harrington sealed himself into a large crate full of shoes and shipped himself to San Francisco. “The box,” reported a newspaper account, “was of ingenious construction, and made so that by pulling a peg on the inside Jim could unloose the cover.” With the aid of a confederate in the Bay City, Jim then made his way to St. Louis where he stole a pair of shoes. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, JULY 22, 1875:

Wells Fargo & Co. offer a reward of $100 for the arrest of “Alkali Jim,” who escaped from San Quentin last Saturday. This is in addition to the State reward of $50.

Recognized and jailed in Missouri, Jim was returned to San Quentin to finish out his term. On April 19, 1883, the Salt Lake Daily Herald, published a long letter from a correspondent describing a recent visit to San Quentin. The article (paraphrased below) is wonderfully detailed and gives a good idea of the evolving policies of a prison struggling to be humane and practical, yet still serve its stern and original purposes. Walking up to the main gate, the guard gives the visitor permission to enter after contributing fifty cents for the privilege. An officer conducts him through a beautiful flower garden and fountain area, then into the various shops and buildings of the prison. The chapel also does service as the library and school, and two convicts were bus-


ily at work rebinding heavily worn books and magazines. The dining room accommodated two thousand prisoners and in the kitchen a visitor saw a dozen convicts preparing the noonday meal. “Seventeen hundred pounds of flour is made up and one thousand pounds of meat consumed per day, besides a large quantity of vegetables.” An adjoining building was entered filled with the buzz and clatter of machinery. Here was manufactured sash and blinds, doors, furniture, tubs, buckets, saddlery and harness. It was noted that some excellent work was being done, some three hundred doors of every variety being shipped all over the country. “Each department has a superintendant, foreman and several freemen (men engaged to assist in teaching prisoners) at work, all engaged and paid by the state.” There is a tannery and a brickyard, also. There were 1,103 convicts in the prison, 243 of whom are Chinamen, 137 Mexicans and 12 females. The balance includes nationalities from around the world, “even to the Ethiopian, of whom I saw three in the different shops. The state enters the open market with most of their products, but I learn that it is The new jute mill was busy, cluttered and noisy, not yet self-sustaining. but it was making money. Author’s Collection. This is due in a great measure to the cost of the jute mill, which is a very large building and very complete in all belonging to it.” All the able bodied prisoners are expected to work, and in addition to their support they are allowed 10 cents per day which is placed with the commissary clerk. The convicts then can draw on their accounts for tobacco, soft drinks, candles and oil for their lamps which are now permitted in the cells. Many of the men are very ingenious, and devote their evening hours to the manufacture of all kinds of nicnacs, such as fancy inlaid wood boxes, frames, toys, jewelry, lace work, etc. These articles are put on sale about the corridors, and the proceeds


delivered to the respective owners. Many articles are sold, scarcely a visitor leaving without having made one or two purchases. Work hours were from 7 to 11:35 A.M., and from 12 to 4 P.M. By 5 o’clock all must be locked up and be in bed by 9. In the jute mill 300 men are working, and thousands of bags are constantly being made and shipped. Much of the material is shipped just as it leaves the loom, while much plain carpet was also being fabricated. The convicts now have every facility for cleanliness afforded them. There is a large warm salt bath always ready, and each man has half an hour in which to bathe. All are expected to bathe at least every two weeks. The water for the prison is conveyed in pipes a distance of fifteen to twenty miles from a reservoir on a hill above the prison, which has a capacity of 15, 500,000 gallons. The water contract called for 100,000 gallons per day from the San Rafael Water Company. The height of the reservoir ensures pressure enough for fires and all departments are equipped with hoses. Probably the most noted prisoner ever admitted to San Quentin was registered on November 21, Black Bart was the most 1883. Calaveras County Sheriff Benjamin Thorn had noted of the California stagecoach robbers. accompanied Black Bart, the famous stagecoach rob- Author’s Collection. ber, on the ferry from San Francisco. A courageous Civil War veteran with an itch to roam, in 1867 Charles E. Boles had left his wife and two daughters on their Iowa farm and headed west for the gold fields of Montana. Unsuccessful at mining, Boles drifted to California where he also mined and tried other jobs. Nothing seemed to work out for him, however. At some point frustration turned into desperation. On July 26, 1875, he stopped and robbed a stagecoach on the Sonora – Milton Road in Calaveras County. Masked and wielding an unloaded shotgun, he obtained $160 in gold notes, besides the contents of the U.S. Mail pouch. Laying low for awhile, the masked man struck again the following December. For the next seven years he successfully stopped and robbed a total of 28 stages all over Central and Northern California. Oc-


casionally, he left a calling card in the empty strongboxes in the form of a doggerel poem signed, “Black Bart, the PO8.” In between robberies, he lived a comfortable life in San Francisco, telling acquaintances of his rich mine in the Sierra foothills. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo detective James B. Hume and others pursued the phantom bandit, relentlessly. Boles, now famous as Black Bart, continued robbing stages while successfully avoiding the hundreds of lawmen on his trail. On November 3, 1883, Black Bart stopped his 29th stage which proved to be his downfall. Ironically, it was on the same road and exact spot as his first robbery in Calaveras County. Jimmy Rolleri, a passenger, had taken his rifle and dropped off the stage as it toiled up Funk Hill. On the other side of the crest, Bart stopped the coach Black Bart hardly looked like a bandit who had and made driver Reason McConnell unhitch the robbed 28 stagecoaches. horses. As Bart pounded on the express box out of Author’s Collection. the driver’s sight, Rolleri came up with his Henry Rifle. McConnell grabbed the rifle and the two moved forward to where they could see Bart hammering on the box. McConnell fired two shots, missing both times. Rolleri now took the rifle and fired, grazing Bart’s hand as he scampered into the brush. It was the end of the trail for the PO8. A handkerchief with a San Francisco laundry mark had been dropped by the highwayman, however. Within a few days Bart, Charles Boles, was in the clutches of the law with a solid collection of evidence against him. A noted private detective named Harry Morse had tracked him down on the streets of San Francisco where he had lived for years posing as a mine owner. With a coterie of detectives hammering at him, Bart soon saw he was in a corner. After being assured Thought to be the last stage robbed by Black Bart. Private Collection.


of a minimal prison sentence, the stage robber finally confessed and plead guilty. At San Quentin the highwayman was given No. 11046 and registered under the name of “C. E. Bolton.” His sentence was six years. Prison officials soon realized that Bart was something other than the usual run of thugs and thieves. “No one knows how deeply I feel my disgrace,” he had told the officers. “To be caught and identified as a stage robber— that’s what hurts me. If the man with the gun had only killed me, I’d have been buried, and the world would never have known me… .” But he was known and had been caught and his lament had echoed off the stones and walls of San Quentin many times in the past by others. DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, NOVEMBER 20, 1885:

“Black Bart” bends over the books in the drugstore, with a patriarchal and benevolent cast of countenance, and would, but for his prison garb, be easily mistaken for a missionary reviewing some pious work.

Put in charge of the pharmacy in the prison hospital, Bart was a model prisoner and became a competent druggist, according to all accounts. He felt his shame deeply, however, and avoided visitors if at all possible. This included holding himself aloof from most of his fellow convicts, also. His one friend was— of all people—a murderous stage robber named Charles Dorsey. When released two years short of his six year sentence for his good conduct, Bart was last seen in Visalia, in Tulare County. Then he disappeared. Although suspected of several later stage robberies, even in other countries, there was no real evidence he was involved. It is known he did not return home, however. Fearless and brave in battle during the war, he could not muster the courage to return to a brokenhearted family whom he had deserted and disgraced. In January 1885, there were fifteen women prisoners in the cells above the captain of the yard’s office. The prison directors had decided at their last meeting to create a matron position and it was now up to Warden Shirley to make the appointment. The salary was $50 a month and board. It had also been decided to put the previously idle women to work and they were now assembling and sewing socks and underwear for the convicts. Although the number constantly fluctuated, by 1888 there were


twenty female prisoners whose sewing machines hummed contentedly while soothing even the troubled thoughts of the operators. A recurring and constant complaint of prisoners released from San Quentin was that ex-convicts could not obtain work after their release. This, of course, was true up to a point. The cheap suit given them when they were freed, together with not being able to answer where they were last employed, was usually a dead giveaway. Too, police officers who knew the ex-cons would tend to keep an eye on them, often even warning employers. But there was another side to the story. An ex-convict interviewed in a California newspaper had his own recollections on the subject. SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, DECEMBER 20, 1883:

No, sir; I’m not on the crooked lay now, nor ever will be again. I’ve found that it pays better to make money honestly, and there’s a heap of satisfaction in finding that you don’t start when a fellow taps you on the shoulder, or feel queer when a policeman heaves in sight. It isn’t true that no chap who has been in the penitentiary can find nobody to trust him or give him work when he comes out. Of course there’s lots of fellows who never will be anything but thieves, and, as most of such bear the marks of their calling on their faces, why, people naturally give them the go-by; but when a man has been out and out tempted into doing something wrong… and feels sorry for it from the moment it is done; why if that man wants to do the straight thing after he has got out of jail, he’ll have no trouble in finding plenty of folks to give him a helping hand. …That’s what happened to me, I know, after I got out of San Quentin, and I could tell you of plenty of others who have had the same good luck.

The convict made other revelations, verifying the fact that money could, and did, make a prison sojourn much more bearable. I spent a good many years in that state hotel, across the bay, and they weren’t particularly happy ones, although, having a fair amount of money at command, I was better off than many of the others. … one thing you can lay down as a fact, that the man who has money can manage things pretty comfortably over there. In my time, if you didn’t like the work you were given to do, or if you wanted to loaf, it was only necessary to shove $20 or more into a certain prisoner’s hand, and in a day or so you’d get what you wanted. You didn’t ask many questions as to who got that money, but you were always sure of getting the thing you had paid for. …With money you can have all the tobacco you want, and will be allowed to smoke it anywhere but in the shops. You can also get oil and a lamp and matches and can have a light in your cell from locking-up time till 9 o’clock. In fact you can get almost anything you wish, with a few exceptions, if you are only able to pay well and know whose hand to grease. For one thing you can always get whiskey, and a lot of fellows make a business of selling it. I have done it time and again myself, having it


supplied to me in a five-gallon coal oil can… and then selling it to the other prisoners for four bits a soda-water bottle full… .

Perhaps Warden Ames’ most important innovation was his banning the more severe forms of punishment as also noted by this same anonymous ex-convict. …Ames did away with everything but the dungeon. …Under McAllister any man who shirked work, or who did anything else that was against the rules, was paid off in one of three ways—the dungeon, the shower or the lash. When a fellow got the first he was chucked into a cell that had precious little light, with nothing but the stone floor for chair or bed and nothing but the clothes he stood in for bedding. In this sweet, little hole he was kept on bread and water, for just as many days as the captain saw fit—and sometimes he saw fit for a mighty long while. The shower was a daisy, but no one cared for more than one small dose at it. A man would be triced up to what they called “the Gray Mare”—a wooden cross in the punishment cell—and then somebody, it was Newt Morgan while he was a prisoner, would hold a three-quarter inch nozzle within a few inches of the chap’s face and play a steady stream of water right into his mouth and nose until he wilted dead away. In order that the stream should be strong enough the water was shut off everywhere but through this pipe when the shower was being given. The suffocation and general pain from this shower was something perfectly frightful, but in all my time I never knew a doctor to be present when this or any other punishment was being given. The lashes were the worst things, however, for when a fellow got them it sort of took the last pinch of manhood out of him, and made him so desperate that he was little better than a wild beast afterwards. One of the guards got $25 a month extra for taking the office of ‘whipping master,’ and as sure as you are born, he earned the money, for there wasn’t a man in the prison who wouldn’t rather have killed him than not. I never knew them to give more than twenty-five lashes at a time. I never knew a man who could stand many more, for they fairly cut the life out of him. ..

The “Shower” was not considered as brutal as the lash, but men took desperate chances to avoid either one. Author’s Collection.

Jim Smith, the old Tom Bell gang member, was released from prison in September, 1879. He had first entered the fledgling state prison as prisoner No. 497, on September 11, 1851. Stuffed into the odorous hold of the old Waban, Jim and others escaped in January, 1852, but he was returned again in March 1854. This was the pattern of his life. During the next 25 years he was in and out of prison many times, never being convinced that an honest job could take the place of a horse theft or other criminal endeavor. Jim and another ex-con named Charlie Pratt had held up an Ama-


dor County stagecoach on January 10, 1876. Flushed with success, the two bandits enlisted George “Texas” Wilson in the holdup of another coach a week later. Oddly enough, Leonard Harris, the turnkey at San Quentin in the early 1870s, was in the posse that captured the outlaws. Harris, a longterm lawman, was for years a detective for the Southern Pacific Railroad and knew Jim’s record. He must have shook his head at Smith’s persistent criminal career. The old outlaw was soon back in San Quentin as No. 6903. Jim had watched the prison grow over the years. Escape was worth the terrible chances involved in the early days, but this was no longer the case. He must have shuddered remembering the old times under General Estill. Put in charge of a brickyard gang, Smith may have wondered if he should have tried working for a living on the outside. But it was too late now. He would brag about spending every Christmas during the past 30 years in San Quentin. To get his “coppers,” time off for good behavior, Jim behaved. He did a good job in the brickyard, his crew supplying much of the brick used to rebuild the recently burned factory building. When he became eligible for a pardon, however, his record was against him. If he did get out, just as sure as the sun rises, Jim Smith would be back in San Quentin for another stage robbery. Still, he had earned it. In the end it was suggested that his pardon be on the condition that the old outlaw leave the state. On September 10, 1879, Old Jim Smith walked through the prison gates once again, this time carrying his “conditional pardon” and several hundred dollars in cash. Whether the cash had been saved while in prison, or the warden had somehow collected it to ensure Jim’s travel to a distant place, is not known. What is known is that a few months later, Wells Fargo detective Jim Hume noticed a man getting off a train in Sacramento. THE SACRAMENTO BEE, NOVEMBER 30, 1879:

Hume went up to the man and found that it was none other than his old friend Smith who said he was broke and had a ticket to Roseville only; also that he wanted to get out of the State, in accordance with the conditions of his pardon, but guessed he would have to walk to Virginia City. He also told Hume that he would never trouble Wells Fargo again. Hume should have known better, but he bought a ticket for Reno and saw the old man off on the next train.

When Hume happened to meet and talk to the train’s conductor


on the return trip, he was told that Smith had gotten off the train at Colfax, some miles from the Nevada border. The veteran detective knew all too well what that meant. When the Georgetown to Auburn stage was held up near Shingle Springs in El Dorado County, Jim Smith was soon in jail again, courtesy of Jim Hume, Len Harris, and other officers. This time Smith received a life sentence, entering San Quentin as No. 9172 on December 30, 1879. Only 48 years old at this time, Jim was probably philosophical about his situation. He understood prison life. He accepted it and now settled down to the routine for the last time. On the Fourth of July 1884, a New York newspaper correspondent was introduced to one of the more colorful characters in San Quentin. “Jim Smith” he wrote “is the patriarch of the prison. He is the guide, philosopher, and friend of the younger convicts. He is a model prisoner. So far as anyone has been able to discover, he has but one fault. He cannot leave stage coaches alone.” In the course of a long interview, Jim told the correspondent some wild and fascinating tales. The story of his last holdup reads like a scenario in a Charlie Chaplin movie. THE NEW YORK SUN, JULY 13, 1884:

I had just got out and had heard a good deal about the fellows who are stopping coaches now without any guns or anything of that kind. I found one of them and told him he was a chump. Then he said it was cowardly to use firearms, when moral suasion would do just as well. He claimed that he could put on a look that would frighten the passengers more than a dozen rifle shots. I had never thought of it in that light before, and not wishing him to think me a coward, I accepted his challenge to go up in the mountains near the Oregon line for an experiment. We had pistols, but we agreed that we were not to load them. I was a little nervous, but he seemed so confident that I began to feel that perhaps stage robbing had been improved along with many other things. We stopped a coach, and the driver smiled and kept still, just as my friend said they always did. I was to keep him covered with my empty pistol while the other fellow ordered the passengers out and stood them up in a row preparatory to going through them. My friend had got pretty well down the line, and I was admitting to myself that the science had certainly made some progress since my day, when one of the victims hauled off quick and knocked my partner down, jumped on him, took his empty revolver away from him, and began snapping it in his ears. It didn’t go off, of course, but in a minute the others were on him holding him fast, and the man with the revolver leveled it at me with the order “Throw up your hands!” I had always been used to loaded pistols in my day and while I was painfully conscious that mine was empty, I forgot for a moment that the other was also, and up went


my hands. Just then the idiocy of the thing popped into my head, but it was too late. They were on top of me in a minute, and they soon had us both tied up with hitching straps and ropes.

A month or so after this interview Jim began acting irrationally and was diagnosed by the prison physician as being insane. There had been much trouble over the years in sending convicts to the state asylum, then having them returned after being “cured.” This did not happen in Smith’s case, however. On October 7, 1884, he was transferred to the Napa asylum where he died on March 13, 1886. In the end, perhaps, Jim’s sense of humor could not make up for a broken spirit. A lifer had no future. Outside, the Old West that Jim knew was dying and he just gave up. Perhaps it was inevitable that there were in the early days an inordinate number of Hispanics behind San Quentin’s walls. California was previously colonized by Spain beginning in the mid-eighteenth century, the settlers being eleven families of negroes, Indians, mulattoes, one Mestizo and one “Chino.” Any reference to these settlers being “Spanish”referred only to the politics of the group; future generations would be called “Californios.” In 1822 Baja California was made a colony of Mexico which had declared its independence from Mother Spain. At the conclusion of the Mexican War by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February, 1848, California and a large chunk of the West became a part of the United States. The Hispanics led much less structured lives than the Americans and Europeans who had flooded into the area during the Gold Rush. The native Californios and Mexicans often had great difficulty adapting to the American laws and customs, resulting in much friction between the races. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, NOVEMBER 20, 1885:

A few weeks since Captain Reddy espied coming up the road leading to the prison a Mexican with a roll of blankets on his back. He was bent with age, and with hair as white as snow. Captain Reddy accosted the curious looking traveler in Spanish, asking him what he desired. He answered in his native tongue that he traveled all the way from one of the Southern counties, on foot, for the purpose of seeing his son. He stated that he had not seen him for eighteen years, and that his boy was there for saving his life; that while in a fight with a Spaniard in his own house his son had stepped in just as his adversary was about to plunge a knife into his back; that the boy grabbed the uplifted arm, tore the weapon from the grasp of the would-be


murderer and drove it to his heart. For this act he was tried for murder, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The prisoner, Captain Reddy states, is one of the quietest, best behaved, and yet most melancholy men inside the walls.

Captain of the Guard Edwin “Ned” Reddy was a brother of the prominent attorney Patrick Reddy. A mining camp saloon owner, former sheriff and a gunman of note, Ned Reddy called the case to the attention of the Prison directors who promised to look into the matter. Patricio Bonilla, the 78 year-old father, had apparently misremembered the incident of seventeen years before. Bonilla had been the mayordomo of Isabel Yorba’s Rancho Laguna near Santa Barbara. Bonilla and several sons lived at the ranch house. While arguing over some horses with Domingo Abadie, a Frenchman who had married Yorba’s daughter, Abadie became abusive and was shouting and shaking Bonilla by the beard. Captain of the Yard Bonilla’s eighteen-year-old son Francisco rushed over Ned Reddy was tough, and took his father’s part in the angry confrontation. but fair. California State Library. Afterwards the elder Bonilla sent Francisco to town to get instructions from Yorba. Abadie, who was influential in the area, had young Bonilla arrested and jailed for three days. When released, Francisco returned to the ranch. On July 24, 1868, Domingo Abadie drove up to the ranch also, armed with a pistol and two shotguns. During another confrontation Abadie pulled his pistol and Francisco shot the Frenchman three times, a fourth shot missing. Juan Abadie, the victim’s brother, heard the shooting and rushed from the house, but his pistol mis-fired when he tried to shoot Francisco. A short time later, Juan Abadie and Francisco’s younger brother, Teodosio, exchanged pistol shots, but both missed. Springing on a horse, Francisco fled the scene, but a month later he was surrendered to the authorities by his father and stood trial for murder. Both sides had good lawyers, but the jury was made up of eleven Anglos and one Spaniard at a time still fraught with animosity between the races. Further complications arose from testimony often asked in English, but sometimes answered in Spanish. The charge was murder, but testimony indicated the incident could very well be manslaughter. After Judge Pablo de la Guerra carefully explained the differences be-


tween murder and manslaughter, the jury sustained the murder charge. Francisco Bonilla was sentenced to hang on November 28, 1868. An appeal to the California Supreme Court was not successful. A petition, however, signed by 221 Santa Barbara citizens requesting a commutation to life in prison was submitted just eight days before the scheduled execution. Francisco Bonilla entered San Quentin on January 28, 1869. He was No. 4027. There was a concerted effort by many prominent people, including Judge de la Guerra, to secure a pardon or otherwise reduce Bonilla’s sentence. Governor George Stoneman commuted Bonilla’s sentence to 30 years in late 1886, then finally granted him a full pardon on March 28, 1888. When Dr. Taliaferro died on December 9, 1885, the Marin County Journal bordered his obituary in black, a custom heretofore only accorded to chief executives of the country. He had gone out on a midnight call to assist in a baby’s delivery and contracted a bad cold that had developed into pneumonia. The good doc- Charles Aull, former tor’s body lay in state in the local opera house with deputy sheriff and later Wells Fargo detective every San Rafael business house closed. Dr. Taliafer- and warden at Folsom. ro had once been shot by a highwayman on one of his Author’s Collection. late night calls. He continued on his mission, however, quickly bandaging his wound before attending to his patient. His tombstone in the Mt. Tamalpais Cemetery reads, “His virtue was generosity, his friends are legion, his enemies none – one of nature’s noblemen.” Later this same month there occurred one of the most hilarious –if not outrageous- events in prison history. Bill Miner, No. 10191, was later to be known as “The Grey Fox.” He was now serving his fifth term for an 1881 Tuolumne County stage robbery. Usually a troublemaker and complainer, Miner had a brainstorm and came up with a scheme that was a winner for everyone. He wanted to hold a “Stage Robber’s Ball” for the convicts. Miner, whose lodgings was one of the three large cells in the Stones, brought up the subject while talking to the turnkey one day. All the troublesome desperadoes were kept in these cells, and Miner, sporting a big grin, suddenly asked a question. If he could keep the inmates in line for several months would the officer grant a request?


Turnkey Charles Aull laughed, then asked what he had in mind. If Miner could keep his Stones cellmates out of trouble for the next two months, he wanted permission to hold a Christmas Eve ball with all the trimmings! Aull really laughed now, but Miner persisted and the officer finally agreed to discuss it with the warden. Surprisingly, Warden Shirley agreed and the event proceeded. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, DECEMBER 31, 1885:

A veneering of the ways of top society was laid on very thick at San Quentin last week, prior to the annual ball of the “Stay-at-Home” Club. It was the event of the season in the circle in which the hosts moved, and was quite exclusive, the gentlemen having the invitation list in charge of taking great pains to exclude all objectionable characters. The line was drawn … at sheriffs, policemen, detectives and guards, and so consequently it can well be imagined that none were present … Seriously speaking, the residents of the three large cells on the ground floor of the stone cell building… did give a ball on Christmas Eve that was as unique and well conducted as it was enjoyable to the participants. The three cells have nearly ninety occupants, and the most of them are swell prisoners, doing time for…the stopping of a stagecoach or filling of a fellow with buckshot, six-shooter bullets or bowie knives.

The manager was “the genial and versatile Billy Miner” who raised over $150 in funds for the affair. Convicts from other cellblocks were invited to participate by sharing expenses. Supplies ordered from San Francisco included “Eastern oysters, turkeys, hams, pastry, confectionary, etc., and a considerable draft was made on the prison commissary.” The orchestra was composed of the chapel organ, two violins, two guitars, a cornet and a flute. Although the twenty-six women convicts were not allowed at the ball, they freely loaned their clothes to some forty convict female impersonators. The belle of the evening was Mr. Oliver Hutchinson, No. 10663, “the Jersey Lilly… a fine-looking blond of splendidly-stuffed proportions…who pranced in through the door with a genuine sealskin and on the arm of ‘Shorty’ Hayes.” The ball ended at 6 a.m. and was a priciple topic of conversationtalked for the next few weeks. Despite his whimsical moments, Bill Miner could not stay out of trouble for long and late the following year there was a dangerous confrontation in the prison yard. The liberalizing of rules and a recent po-


litical dispute between Captain McAllister and Warden Shirley was exploited by the prisoners at every opportunity. At such times however, the warden and his men knew they had to pull together. Only forty years old at this time, Miner was still an old con. He had first entered San Quentin on April 5, 1866 as prisoner No. 3248. Presently serving his fifth term, the time between Miner’s prison stints was filled with horse thefts, stage robberies, and wild shoot-outs with the law in California and Colorado. Sandwiched in between his other adventures was a vacation and love affair in Onondaga, Michigan, which he had to abandon when his stolen funds ran low.

Warden Paul Shirley. California State Library.

On September 23, 1886, a crowd of convicts left their jobs while working in the jute mill. With Bill Miner in the lead, the convicts began walking across the yard toward the office of Turnkey Charles Aull in the Porch. Seeing the men approaching, Captain Aull stepped outside and confronted them. “What do you men want?” he asked. “You know you can’t leave your job without a guard accompanying you.”

Hesitating, the men suddenly seemed to realize the trouble they were in and did not know what to say. When Aull repeatedly asked them what they wanted, Miner finally stepped forward and said they wanted to see the prison directors who were on the grounds for their regular inspection tour. When this was refused, Miner complained that the bread was bad just as Warden Paul Shirley made an appearance. “What’s the trouble here?” he barked. Suddenly, Captain Ned Reddy and a squad of guards were noticed in position on the wall above them with their Henry rifles at the ready. Miner again complained of the bread; “Well, we’re on strike, and we won’t go back to work until we see the directors…” The exasperated warden yelled at the convicts to get back to work. When no one moved, Captain Aull ordered several trusties to write down the numbers of the men. Most of the convicts now broke and ran for the jute mill, Miner making an effort to stop them. When one of the crowd threw down his hat and shouted that “he would never go back to work,” Captain Reddy called out―”Pick up that hat!” The hat was promptly picked up.


An even more ominous sight than the guard’s Henry rifles was noted in a newspaper article describing the incident. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, SEPTEMBER 24, 1886:

…At the same time the many-muzzled Lowell gun on the hill, with a capacity for 400 shots a minute, was trained down and the hopper filled with cartridges. Some of the weaker began to waver when the frowning muzzles confronted them, and Mr. Shirley once more gave the order to move off to the shops…

The Lowell gun, a variation on the Gatling gun, had been purchased in July 1880, but was more of a threat than any more deadly application. The identified men lost their good behavior “coppers.” Miner had already lost his credits due to previous shenanigans and both he and Shorty Hayes were put to work at brick-making for their impudence. In the past, Miner and the others would have been cruelly flogged for their impulsive actions. Now, the only punishments were the dungeon with diet of bread and water, and the loss of good behavior credits. Staying out of trouble was not easy for Bill Miner, however. He was merely Bob Durkin writ large! He had tasted the lash in the days before Judge Ames became warden and had a smart aleck attitude that guaranteed losing more credits and a longer stay “across the bay.” Nevertheless, he now made a conscious effort to behave and get his credits restored. The following year when a fire occurred in the prison sash and door factory, Bill helped put it out, but it was not enough to secure a return of his “coppers.” Guard Post No. 1 is shown here looking down on the Porch where the confrontation took place. The Stones cellblock is across the yard. California State Library.


On May 19, 1889, Miner had his throat cut by Bill Hicks a fellow convict after the two had quarreled. The wound was only superficial and he fully recovered. In late 1892, however, he was wounded in the face during an escape attempt. His cellmate, Joe Marshall, was killed at the same time in the ambush by two guards. The escape had been suspected and the two escaping convicts were shot down by hidden guards as they emerged from their cells. There was no warning. An investigation clearly indicated the murder had been sanctioned by the prison authorities, but in the end the two guards were exonerated at their San Rafael trial. The incident thoroughly alarmed Miner, however, and he behaved himself for the balance of his term. Despite his conduct, the outlaw could be quite talkative concerning his career, as a newspaper interview indicated. SACRAMENTO DAILY RECORD UNION, JANUARY 1, 1890:

Did you ever again try to escape? he [Miner] was asked. Yes, during the fifteen years term I made several attempts by digging through, stuffing dummies, etc. But the beautifully laid plans were all dismal failures. Once I made a very fine dummy, and even cut off some of my own hair to give the job an artistic finish, but they tumbled to it. How did you manage to get an extra suit of clothes? Oh, that’s my profession—getting things—you know! But the dummy was a mighty good one, and it was kept for a long time as a curiosity. It was so natural that oftentimes when looking at it I would actually take the dummy for myself and think I was the dummy.

Actually, Miner did not know until later just how good his dummy was. On the evening of April 17, 1884, when he discovered Miner was missing from his cell and had replaced himself with a mannequin, Captain McAllister seized the dummy and threw it over the balcony to the brick walk below. A group of Bill Miner was woundyoung people observing the prisoners being locked ed and his cellmate up, saw McAllister’s actions. “One of the young la- killed during his final dies,” reported the San Francisco Chronicle, “believing escape try. California State Archives. that she had seen a most horrible murder committed, gave vent to a wild shriek and sank to the floor in a dead faint.” Miner was later found hiding in the sash and blind factory and spent a day in the dungeon besides losing all his credits. He was finally released from San Quentin on June 17, 1901. This was not the end of his wild career, however. He was just entering phase two of a desperate


and lawless life ranging from Canada to the mid-west and ultimately to the end of his trail in the deep South. By the mid 1880s the jute mill was seemingly so successful that construction of a second mill was being seriously considered by officials. When a proposal to run two shifts instead was suggested, it was quickly put into operation. A day and a night shift not only doubled the 300 men now on the day shift, but saved the $160,000 cost of a new mill, while doubling production. With convicts sewing the sacks, the mill could produce 14,000 sacks a day resulting in a profit of $92,400. Providing the price remains at 8 cents, the legislative appropriation by the state would be only $80,000 a year. This compared quite favorably to the $200,000 previously provided by the state. At this time, India was supplying most of California’s jute bags for agriculture. There were other indications of prison development—the type of progress that particularly interested the inmates of San Quentin. On June 7, 1886, there was to be a meeting of the California State Penological Commission to debate plans for the improvement of prison management. One of the topics for discussion would be the paroling of prisoners, a system that had recently been adopted in Ohio. The concept was that for lesser crimes than murder, after serving the minimum sentence in an “obedient, faithful and industrious” manner, a convict would be eligible for a conditional parole to civilian life. He could not leave the state and would have to avoid drinking resorts and questionable friends. He must report to the prison authorities on a regular basis and fulfill other requirements. Failure to follow the rules would result in his return to prison to fulfill the maximum term for his offense. At a monthly meeting of the state prison directors, Warden McComb gave a report on the hazards of the fog at Point San Quentin. DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, FEBRUARY 10, 1889:

On the morning of the 31st of January, while the prisoners were at breakfast, a dense fog rolled in over the hills and settled down in the valley, completely surrounding the prison, so that the sentries on the outposts could not see the walls enclosing the yard; three prisoners seized the opportunity to hastily join two ladders so as to reach the top of the north wall, from which they dropped to the ground, a distance of twenty-two feet, and then ran to the mud flats, so as to avoid the sentry


posts, and managed to pass the outer line of sentries without being discovered.

The guard on the wall found the ladder while pacing his beat, and gave the alarm. Pursuit was made by nearly the whole force, and the district was soon surrounded, so that it appeared to be impossible for the fugitives to get through the lines. Before sundown one of the escapes was recaptured, and early the next morning a second capture was made, with every prospect that the third one would be retaken before evening, but he managed to get to the edge of San Rafael by crawling through the marsh, and found a hiding place on the brake beam of a freight car. As was becoming standard procedure, prison officials now flooded the area with photographs and it was hoped the errant convict would be caught. The incident underscored the value of convict portraits - mug shots - a San Quentin custom that had been established in the late 1880s. Actually, criminal portraits dated back to the very beginnings of Warden John McComb. photography. Invented by Louis Daguerre in 1839, Boessenecker Collection. daguerreotype portraits of criminals were being utilized by the Paris police as early as 1841. By 1848 the New York Police Gazette was featuring woodcut portraits of notorious criminals in its publication, while in 1851 the San Francisco vigilantes took daguerreotypes of several of their captives. By 1855, Isaiah Lees had also begun collecting portraits for the San Francisco police rogue’s gallery. Eventually, Captain Lees began having daguerreotypes and later paper photographs made of all the criminals entering the city prison. When a San Francisco convict escaped from San Quentin, the warden would send a guard to the city to procure his mug shot. The guard would be directed to the local photographer utilized by Lees and a print would be secured. During the winter of 1889 Warden McComb sent for a photo of a convict named William Dolan, No. 12421, who had escaped. He was less than happy to discover the photographer had raised his price to $10.00 for a print, however. During this period the San Quentin photography studio was established. John G. Crawford had shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband after a series of legal troubles in San Francisco. Entering San Quentin on May 20, 1888 as No. 13128, Crawford was put in charge of the new photo gallery after a suitable training period. Although his sentence was for life, Crawford’s personal tenure was brief. Hearing that his


wife had deserted him, he was terribly upset since she was the original cause of his incarceration. Described as a “very determined character,” Crawford took advantage of the secluded location of his gallery and on February 19, 1889, threw a rope over a cross timber in the roof. Climbing on a table, he placed a noose around his neck and jumped off. He was dead when the second lockup crew found him. The captain of the yard began the search for a new photographer. The prison mug shot procedure was simple enough. Three views were taken at the prison; one portrait in civilian clothes wearing a hat, a second view was taken without hat and a third with his head shaved and wearing his prison stripes. At some point a switch was made to just one portrait, but in an economy move in August 1891, the prison directors decided mug shots were no longer needed. Physical descriptions would do the job just as well. A discussion now brought out the fact that Director Robert Devlin had recently returned from a tour of eastern prisons where it was learned that extortion rackets utilizing prison mug shots were quite prevalent. Chairman Charles Sonntag then solicited Captain Lees to offer his experiences as to the importance of mug shots. SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER,

AUGUST 23,

1891:

I could give you hundreds of illustrations… . Take the fellow John Hickey, who got ten years for stealing Colonel P.A. Finigan’s diamond scarf-pin. He was an Eastern thief, who had on a Skylights were needed for time exposure in early number of occasions been arrested mug shots. Many convicts violently protested. for robbery, and even murder. He Author’s Collection. brought out a new trick. In a crowd he suddenly thrust his right elbow under the Colonel’s chin, with a fierce demand to know why the Colonel had insulted him, and with his left plucked the diamond from his scarf. Mr. Finigan was too much surprised to discover the loss of his diamond for some time after, and when Hickey was arrested he was the most indignant fellow I ever saw, defying anybody to show that he was anything but an honest man. He penned strong, plausible and wellwritten letters to the trial judge, proclaiming his innocence. But an old photograph showing nothing on its back but the number ‘2708,’ which I knew could not have reached me, except as that of a thief, gave me a clue, and among others to whom I


sent copies of it was the Chief of the Chicago police. In response he furnished a complete description under the Bertillon system, with profile and full face photographs taken in 1888. It settled the question of Hickey’s honesty, and was an important factor in his conviction… .

It was difficult to argue with the legendary old detective and San Quentin’s mug shot program was continued. Later, as chief of police, Lees was able to design and set up his own photo studio in the police department of San Francisco’s new city hall. Bob Durkin had dozens of his mug shots scattered in police stations from the gold rush country to San Francisco. He was released from San Quentin on August 29, 1880. He was 33 years old now and steeped in a criminal life from which he could no longer escape, even if he cared to. When he was next State Prison Board arrested he was tried and convicted again, but the Director Robert T. Devlin. authorities, after assessing his long police record, Author’s Collection. accepted him now as just another thief and thug and sentenced him to the rock piles of Folsom prison. Bob promptly assembled a quorum of nuisances and ner-do-wells and began plotting. Meanwhile, the San Quentin warden recently announced that the sash and door factory would be closed in March, 1889 and the out of work convicts transferred to the jute factory. It was a constant challenge trying to keep a prison full of convicts busy.


CHAPTER NINE

Escape as a Fine Art When San Quentin Warden Paul Shirley’s term expired in 1887, he had been succeeded by Brigadier General John McComb of the state militia. McComb, who resigned as warden of Folsom to take the job, was a long term editor of the Alta, and a friend of Mark Twain. The new warden brought with him a small headache named Frank Van Weizer. An immigrant from Belgium, Van Weizer had been convicted of murdering a Chinese in Colusa County and was given a life sentence. The 38 year-old felon was admitted to the new Folsom State Prison on September 25, 1885. From the beginning, the smiling convict made it clear that he was a “lifer” and would never give up trying to escape. His first effort was an attempt to disappear in a heavy, foothill fog, but an unscheduled appearance by the sun caught him unawares and he was spotted and returned to his cell. His next effort involved the determined convict’s burying himself in a garbage wagon which was usually waved through the gate as a matter of course. Unfortunately for the escaping convict, a conscientious guard decided to poke around with his stick and Van Weizer was again returned to his cell. In these and other attempts, Van Weizer always took his failed escape attempts in good humor, laughing and joking as he was escorted back to his cell. Just what prompted Warden McComb to bring along Frank Van Weizer when he took over San Quentin is not clear. Probably the troublesome little convict, along with a group of other restless prisoners, was being transferred because San Quentin was the stronger of the two prisons. The always cheerful Van Weizer, now No. 12950, merely looked around and plotted his next escape. In the next two years he reportedly made six failed attempts to break out. On one occasion he was found in the oven of the bakery, but was discovered when the fires were lit. After stocking a few supplies in the


lumber yard, Van Weizer hid out there for a few days, but a fellow prisoner betrayed him in the hope of obtaining a pardon. The “box” escape was next tried, Van Weizer having himself fastened inside a shipping crate. Again he was found out and was led back to his cell joshing his guard about the incident. As Captain Charles Gulliver was inspecting the outside of the wall one afternoon in March 1890, he was startled to have a man fall to the ground before him. Helping the man up, Gulliver was surprised to see the smiling Van Weizer standing before him. Somehow he had gotten over the wall in broad daylight. The exasperated officer took him to Warden McComb’s office where he received the usual stern lecture. Van Weizer just grinned. “Well, I’m here for life, Warden,” grinned the little prisoner in his broad, accent. “I gots a long time to do my getaway. You catch me this time, but mebbe next time you not so lucky!” McComb could barely keep from smiling, but he was concerned. The constant escapes and unfailing good humor of the prisoner were the talk of the prison. The warden, however, was a conscientious man and he began to wonder if Van Weizer’s confinement had begun to affect his mind. He was put in “Crank” or “Crazy Alley” as a precaution, but it may have been all part of his plan. A. G. Harrison, foreman of the door department, thought “a good many of the prisoners were partially insane. That kind is kept in ‘Cranky Alley.’ The prisoners kept there were treated the same as Frank Von Weizer California State Archives. in other parts of the prison. The cranks were generally put at scavenger work.” Van Weizer began studying his escape-proof cell featuring two heavy iron bolts and a heavy lock on the outside of the door. The cell door, like all the other cells, was of heavy iron with only a small aperture at eye-level. Soon he knew what escape tools he would need for what he hoped would be his final escape attempt. When no more Van Weizer escapes were attempted, prison officials thought maybe the little fellow’s spirit had at last been broken. They noticed, however, that he


was doing a good job tidying up the shops after work hours. He was also scavenging escape tools! A broom handle, some wire, a broken crowbar, a wrench, file, and a steel saw were in time purloined and buried in the asphalt floor of his cell. Finally, he began work. All the locking mechanisms were on the outside of the cell door. As it was later pieced together, he first tackled the large, upper bolt, sawing it where it entered the wall by prying the door open slightly with the crowbar. He sawed vertically as far as dared so the cut would not show from the outside. He could then quickly finish the job on the night of the escape. Next, he tackled the key-lock box in the middle of the door. This too was on the outside, but the heads of the four bolts holding it were exposed on the inside of the door. Sawing off three of the head bolts, he replaced them with wooden ones he had laboriously carved. The fourth one he only sawed partially through and then would finish the night he broke out. The bolts were rusted into place, but could be punched out at the proper time. Van Weizer now considered the final bolt at the bottom of the door. There was no lock on it, but the bolt was channeled and could only be opened with a handle attached to the bolt. This handle, when locked, was pointed down. To open it, the handle had to be pulled up. It was easy from the outside, but Van Weizer had to do it from the inside. Affixing a wire loop to his scavenged broom handle, he reached through the small window at the top of the door for the final act of his preparations. After a series of tries, he finally looped the wire under the handle, lifted it vertically, then tried to move it horizontally. It would not budge. After trying for an hour he remembered that the guard had to struggle to get that bolt open every morning. It was clogged by paint and rust! Were all his hopes and efforts in vain? Maybe not. The following morning the little convict giggled at the struggles of the guard to throw back that bottom bolt. The next day he teased the guard by asking if he was too lazy to clean and oil that stubborn lock. The third day he joshed the guard about the lock again, offering to do the job himself if the guard was too busy. Taking the bait, the guard told him he could clean all the locks on his cellblock and Van Weizer smilingly went to work with a scraper and oil can. In two weeks all


those troublesome bottom locks were operating smooth and silently. On the night of May 17, 1890, Van Weizer made his move. Cloud cover provided the needed darkness and after the lights-out bell sounded, he set to work. He finished sawing the top bolt, punched out the bolts in the middle key box with a nail and heard it fall to the deck outside his cell. With his broom and wire tool in his hand, he now thrust his arm out the small window in the door and after several tries, felt it catch hold of the handle. Carefully pulling the handle up, he now slid it horizontally then gently pushed the door open and stepped out of his cell. He quietly made his way to the spot where a seven-foot high picket fence enclosed Crazy Alley in front of the cells. This was the exercise yard. Quietly pulling a long board from a pile outside the pickets, Van Weizer quickly shimmied over the fence and was facing the twenty-foot high, surrounding wall of the prison. With the aid of several more boards, the freed prisoner was soon on top of the Van Weizar’s cell door wall. The prison bell had just tolled midnight when showing the three locking Guard L.F. Smith saw the little convict’s indistinct figdevices. Author’s Collection. ure some twenty feet from his post on the wall. “Who goes there?” he shouted. Van Weizer said something then kept moving away and Smith thought he was just a guard who had now disappeared in the dark. At a spot where work was underway on the gatehouse, Van Weizer jumped from the wall to its roof which collapsed and tumbled the little convict to the ground in a shower of bricks and dust. Hardly knowing what had happened, he jumped up and sprinted toward San Rafael as guards began mobilizing in the darkness. It was one of the most remarkable escapes in prison history, and so far as is known, Frank Van Weiserwas never heard from again. In its fifth decade now, San Quentin was showing wear. Buildings needed repairs and upkeep and the number of prisoners was continually rising. There were 1,392 convicts on hand in 1890, with some 413 received from July to June, 1891. The number of “lifers” was 129 and, sadly, there were still 94 prisoners under the age of twenty. The majority now were from the United States, 490 being foreign born. San


Francisco, as usual, furnished a larger proportion of convicts than any other county in the state. Visitors were consistently struck by the stark contrast between the drab prison walls, offices, the Stones and other cell buildings and the flourishing flower gardens which flowed within brick walkways and curbs. Some fourteen horticulturally-inclined convicts now tended the gardens that, when in season, were startling to visitors and prisoners, alike. SAUSALITO NEWS, MARCH 29, 1889:

Capt. J. C. Dewar, and Capt. John Carrington, of the British Yacht Nyanza, now lying at Sausalito, paid the State Prison here a visit last week. The State Prison and surrounding grounds have every appearance of a well kept institution. The grounds which are laid out in lawns and gardens of choice shrubs and flowers, and vegetables, are very neat and bright. The valley back of the prison is sown in wheat, which is making good headway toward a bountiful crop this summer.

Although there were no laws against bringing liquor into the prison, it had long been considered forbidden to the convicts as well as the guards when on duty. It was easily obtained, however, in the saloons, hotels, and boarding houses of San Quentin village. Although occasionally a guard was reprimanded for smelling of liquor while on duty, prisoners also could fulfill their alcoholic inclinations by paying a dollar for two bits worth of cheap whiskey. Trusties were involved in this traffic, as well as guards. An investigation in early February 1890, indicated that guard David Corcoran was bringing whiskey into the prison and on the morning of March 22 he was asked to resign. He proceeded to tank up afterBy the 1890s San Quentin had a new front entrance,left, the cell blocks, the Porch and gardens still taking up most of the upper yard. The enlarged brick shops building now stretched across the yard with the old hospital building and other buildings between it and the cell blocks. California State Library.


wards in a local saloon, then that afternoon returned and asked Captain Ned Reddy for permission to enter the prison. Reddy told him to go ahead, but then realized, “Corcoran wanted to close his operations with the convicts and had liquor concealed on his person.” Sending another officer to escort Corcoran off the grounds, the drunken, cursing Corcoran refused to leave, but was forcibly taken outside the front gate. Captain Reddy was standing nearby and when Corcoran stormed into his office Reddy and Captain of the Yard Dougherty followed him in. When Corcoran began cursing Reddy as the instigator of his dismissal, the two went at it. “Reddy’s wrath was aroused,” noted one account, “and the way his fists pummeled Corcoran’s head, he left the grounds with a well-formed opinion of Reddy’s fistic ability.” Another officer had witnessed the fracas and explained what happened after Corcoran sent a complaining letter to Warden McComb. “Captain Reddy,” noted the Sausalito News, “has the reputation of never hunting for a quarrel. Neither will he retreat when attacked. Besides, he is the most popular man at the prison,” On August 10, 1890, a trio of convicts initiated a desperate escape attempt that had all the potential for a great tragedy. No. 13523 Charles Baker, alias Hanlon, was a third-timer doing seventeen years for two stage robberies in Mendocino County. His partner in the holdups, Charles Manning, No. 13524, was doing time with him, both men being admitted in April 1889. Determined to escape, the two convicts took murderer Abe Turcott, No. 11277, into their plans, which included having weapons hidden near a windmill tank outside the walls. Manning managed to contact a cousin who successfully concealed two Winchesters and several pistols near the windmill. After receiving word of the hidden weapons, the three convicts, each of whom was a trusty, proceeded to a brick building they were working on outside the walls. Carrying their tools, the men passed by their work site and continued on to the windmill where they found the hidden weapons. As the escaping convicts began loping down the road, they were noticed suddenly by several guards who opened fire on them. A Gatling gun began firing, also, as the three convicts disappeared into clumps of chaparral that covered the surrounding hills.


As all available guards were quickly rallied, the fugitives fled to a spot three miles away where they hastily prepared a fortress of logs, brush, and rocks. The trio was quickly located and surrounded. There was desultory firing from both sides, one guard taking a bad wound in the arm, while another’s horse was shot out from under him. After a standoff of some eighteen hours, in the morning a frustrated Hanlon shouted, “You think you’ve got us, don’t you? But you haven’t, damn you! We’ll never surrender. We’ll make this spot our grave first.” After another exchange of gunfire, the beseiged and discouraged convicts finally surrendered to Mendocino County Sheriff Jeremiah “Doc” Standley. It was Standley who had originally sent Hanlon and Manning to San Quentin. Although no one had been killed during the incident, the wounded guard’s arm had been amputated. The errant convicts were promptly put on bread and water in the prison dungeon. When he resigned in 1891, Warden McComb left behind a prison lit by electricity. Plans had been drawn up for an additional jute mill using an appropriation that had never been utilized. Wardens now lived outside the walls in a spacious home with their families. A big step forward was the establishment of the Preston School of Industry at Ione in Amador County. The state had finally corrected the shameful practice of sending minors to San Quentin where they were forced to associate with deviates and hardened criminals. McComb also left behind a growing problem of prisoners using morphine and opium that was smuggled into the prison. Certain guards were willing to augment their salaries in this way and in the early 80’s an ex-convict, insisted it was a serious problem even at that early date.

Stage robber Charles Baker, alias Hanlon. Author’s Collection.

SAN FRANCISCO CALL, DECEMBER 20, 1883:

The worst thing at San Quentin is the frightful way in which opium is used. By paying about double what it would cost outside, you can get all you want of it, and I swear to you as I breathe, that, counting out some country-bred fellows and a very few city chaps, all the rest of the prisoners over there have learned to smoke or chew opium. They have almost all learned


the trick after getting there and they leave that prison with a hankering for opium which lands them down in these dens in Chinatown as soon as they strike the city.

Recently enacted legislation had allowed convict labor for the building and upkeep of county roads. The prison already had an agreement with Marin County to build a road to Point Tiburon with convict labor. Governor Markham was also sharing his pardoning power with the board of prison directors, thus diluting some of the grumbling about the recidivism of some recent parolees. It was agreed, also, that pardons should be given wide publicity so as to avoid public criticism as much as possible. This was in direct response to previous Governor George Stoneman’s often ill-advised pardons of convicts who began pillaging again immediately upon release. “Stoneman’s convict pets” the newspapers called them. The new Warden, Republican William E. Hale, had been a longterm sheriff of Alameda County and a popular politician. John C. Edgar was brought back as captain of the yard. The new commissary officer was J. L. Tharp and the captain of the front gate was J. C. Jamieson, of Alameda. Monitoring the new officers carefully, the convicts debated just how they could influence them. But most convicts are not rational thinkers. It did not take trouble-makers long to convince fellow prisoners that the food was bad or they were being worked too hard. The fact that they would not be behind those twenty-foot high walls but for their own bad behavior just did not resonate with many of them. With newspaper reporters, convicts could be surprisingly candid. On a slow news day a Sacramento reporter visited the state prison and interviewed some of the inmates. He talked to a variety of prisoners, from burglars to stage robbers and murderers. SACRAMENTO DAILY RECORD UNION, JANUARY 1, 1890:

Wallace Green is a very ordinary looking man, about 45 years of age… . He was convicted at Suisun in December, 1866, of stealing a horse. For this he got a two-year sentence which he served out in full. Early in 1869 he was sent from Woodland for three years to reflect upon the impropriety of running off other men’s horses. Six months after the completion of his second term Green essayed to give a


little variety to his plan of working, and when next he appeared at the bar of justice it was to answer to the charge of highway robbery. With a couple of others of his ilk he stopped a stage near Knight’s Ferry. “Did you get much by that haul,” the reporter asked?“Yes; five years,” answered he, with an air of supreme disgust. “I’m getting’ used to it,” he said, in speaking of his long incarceration, “and there isn’t no use in a feller tryin’ to live square when he goes out of here. No matter how well he behaves himself, some dirty dog’ll point him out as a jail-bird before long, an’ then there won’t be nobody have nothin’ to do with him, an’ he’s got to go back to the old thing. I’m goin’ to try it outside once more, though, an’ if they can’t give me no better show than they have yet, I’ll do some job which’ll throw me on the State till I croak.”

Among others interviewed was a Californio—a Mexican born in California— named Felipe “Nino” Moreno who was a principal actor in one of the most infamous murders in early California history. Dr. John Marsh, a prominent pioneer physician, owned a vast ranch along the San Joaquin River in Contra Costa County. On September 24, 1856, he had just supervised the branding of his cattle by a group of vaqueros and was travelling to Martinez in a buggy to catch the San Francisco ferry boat. Moreno and two vaquero friends, Jose “Chino” Olivas and Juan Garcia, rode up and stopped Dr. Marsh demanding their pay. The three Californios were in an ugly mood. Warden Hale was now Marsh had refused to pay the going price of fifty cents in charge of the official for each branded cow, and was only paying the past state hangings. Author’s Collection. rate of twenty-five cents. Telling the three vaqueros to see him when he returned from San Francisco, Marsh drove off. Furious, the vaqueros galloped after him and attacked Marsh with knives. Unarmed, the rancher fought desperately, but fists were no match for the savage blades that ripped through his cheek, back and chest. When he finally collapsed and lay still, one of them leaped on the body and cut the victim’s throat. Robbing the torn and bloody corpse, the murderers promptly rode away and disappeared into the hills. The dead rancher’s son, Charles Marsh, vowed to avenge his father’s death. He was never able to find Garcia, but he spent years tracking the other two killers. Olivas was captured near Santa Barbara, but due to a legal technicality he was released after a trial. Moreno had fled


to Mexico, but when he returned young Marsh caught him one night in a San Francisco deadfall in late 1867. Tried and convicted, Nino Moreno was sent to San Quentin for life. When he was interviewed by the Sacramento reporter, Moreno was fifty-five years old. As anyone knows who has had any experience with the convict gentry, a majority of the prisoners maintain their innocence on all possible occasions. Such a one is Felipe Moreno, a “life man,” who does not look as though he would tell a lie about it, but probably has. …In the latter part of 1856 a man was murdered at Contra Costa. Moreno says he knew who did it (which is probably true), and that he helped the guilty man to escape from the country. Fearing lest an indiscriminate and hasty public might suspect that he had some hand in the matter himself, he also concluded to decamp and went to Mexico. …Senor Moreno, who is “as mild a mannered man as ever cut throat or scuttled a ship,” emphatically declares his innocence. He says he wouldn’t hurt a fly. Nevetheless, when the writer meets him “outside,” the swarthy gentleman may have as much of the road as he may require for his own private use.

No. 3697, “Señor Moreno,” guilty or not, was pardoned the following year. This was surprising considering the atrociousness of the crime and the fact that it took over ten years for Charles Marsh to capture him. Too, a newspaper article of the time reported that “as he was being taken to the State Prison he vowed that he would kill all of Dr. Marsh’s family if ever he got out.” Mrs. Alice Marsh Cameron, the doctor’s daughter, still feared Moreno’s threats, but apparently the old convict was content with just enjoying his freedom. Among the old-cons doing their time, few could match No. 14,447—a Chilean named Marcella Ayala. San Quentin officials claimed he was the oldest prisoner serving a sentence in the country—One hundred and one years old in 1891. He spoke no English and had no friends. Described as “a tall, muscular man with slightly stooping shoulders and a face full of a sad and resigned expression,” he walks aimlessly around the gardens in the Marcello Ayala as great open courtyard, leaning heavily upon his cane and he appeared in a newspaper sketch. basking in the sunshine and flowers. In November 1891, Author’s Collection. he had been in prison about a year after killing a man in Calaveras County in a whiskey-inspired fight. Age and other mitigating circumstances resulted in his two year sentence and he now had just one more year to do.


Warden Hale’s 1891 report to the state board of prison directors was the usual collection of statistics, charts and cheerful reports, headed by the announcement that the jute mill had shown a “very handsome” profit of over forty thousand dollars for the period. Captain of the Yard John Edgar totaled 1, 272 prisoners on hand at the end of June. Chaplain August Drahms reported an inventory of 3,884 volumes in the library, with a great many books and magazines being kept in repair by the prison bindery. Dr. I. L. R. Mansfield, the prison physician, recorded twenty-six deaths during the year, only three from violence and one from old age. The balance died from common diseases. “The opium traffic,” wrote the doctor, “which has baffled the genius of the preceding administrations for years, has been, by your [the warden’s] vigilant efforts, nearly abolished within the last ninety days.” Warden Hale’s report also closed with the pronouncement that, “I have been able to very largely decrease the traffic in opium and morphine.” This was no more true than the physician’s statement. Later events would indicate that the prison officials were either papering over this drug problem hoping it would go away, or they had no idea of the extent of it. Outside, beyond the Stones and the towering walls, there was that other world. “These November mornings,” noted the San Francisco Examiner, “great fog banks roll in from the bay upon San Quentin, and so dense that often the space between guards on the walls is impenetrable to the vision.” This fog had been a great concern since the very early days. On the morning of November 4 1891, the convicts had their breakfast and were then herded to their various work stations. When the day’s checklist of prisoners was submitted to Captain John Edgar, however, Peter Hall and William Mallett were missing. Edgar checked the roster, then waited until the fog lifted for a lockdown and a search for the missing men. At the appointed time the alarm was given, the outside gates were all closed, the guard was doubled, and a search was initiated. The jute factory, outside the walls, was scoured without results. Taking several trusties with him, Captain Edgar began searching the factory building inside the walls which was the scene of a recent escape attempt. They inspected various rotted and splintered floors, but nothing


suspicious could be discerned. Edgar then had a hunch and checked an old stairway between two walls. He looked for pulled nails in the stair steps, but when he found none he had several steps pulled up, anyway. “A convict who accompanied him,” read a newspaper account, “crawled into the opening made by removing one step, and back in the clay, huddled together, were Mallett and Hall. The two prisoners, wild with anger at their fellow convict for informing on them, crept back to daylight at the sound of the captain’s voice.” Their plan had been to stay in hiding until early morning, then escape in the dense fog. Peter E. Hall, No. 6883, was a murderer from Tehama County, while No. 11499, William Mallett, was a native of the Santa Clara Valley. They had not only lost their gamble, but also any earned credits they had accumulated. A more grand, if not elegant, escape plan involving the jute mill was discovered in March of the following year. The mill superintendent’s office was located in the center of the mill, next door to the barber shop. The office floor was raised three feet above the concrete floor of the structure, leaving a three-foot tall crawl space beneath the office. A convict had discovered this space and that the prison sewer was underground nearby. Access to this crawl space was a simple matter of removing a few boards from the barbershop wall, then replacing them when the space was not in use. Early one morning a convict was seen emerging from the barber shop in the jute mill. There was no reason for anyone to be there and Warden Hale immediately detailed guards Dominic Gallagher and J. L. Smith to watch the shop. A few weeks later another convict was caught in the same place and Hale suspected a mass escape was in the works. He immediately summoned the prison board members to the spot. Entering the barber shop, Hale and the others soon discovered a place where the boards of the office and barber shop common wall could be easily removed, then replaced. Attacking the wall with crowbars and axes, the men were startled to see the “basement” of the superintendent’s office was filled with heaps of broken concrete, bricks, and rock. In a corner of the space was a three-foot wide hole. One of the laborers and a San Francisco Call reporter with a lantern clambered into the tunnel that led down to the sewer pipe. From here they could make their exit by walking out through the five-foot tall pipe.


SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, MARCH 13, 1892:

The convicts had evidently been at work systematically and for a long time. Neatly stowed away in the hole were three old striped suits, evidently donned by the cons when at work on this special job, so that their regular suits might not be adorned with tell-tale patches of mud and dirt. Their tools, a pick and several shovels, together with two lanterns, were also stowed away in the hole…

Convict Peter Hall, of the previous year’s foiled escape, had been caught in the act and his pals, George Ross No. 13992, and Chris Merkle, No. 11361, were seized as they entered or exited their project and placed in the dungeon. The men lost their credits and a tremendous amount of work was for nothing. Ironically, Merkle would have been eligible to leave prison that same month but for losing his credits in this, and a previous escape attempt. Few details of the plot were given out by the authorities for fear it would inspire further attempts. Behind San Quentin’s grim and confining walls, the women prisoners seldom made attempts to escape. For one thing, there was little opportunity. They were locked up in their own, two-story, brick and stone structure, with the cells on the upper floor. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, JULY 13, 1885:

The building [the Porch] is over and at the rear of the officers’ quarters inside the walls. It is two stories in height and a hollow square in shape, and is neatly fitted up. It contains about twenty-five rooms or cells, washrooms, bathrooms, dining room, kitchen and hospital. The shape of the hospital allows ample space for the female prisoners to have plenty of Many smuggling operations and escape efforts out-door exercise where they were planned within the jute mills during work cannot observe, or be ob- hours. Author’s Collection. served by, the male convicts. For the first time in the history of the prison, the female prisoners will be employed. They will hereafter make all the clothing necessary for the convicts, and from the experiment made during the past week, it has been found that they can turn out work much more rapidly than the men in the tailor shop.

The matron in charge had a room down the hall from the cells, while


a kitchen and dining room were downstairs. A courtyard provided space for exercise and a bench where the women could sit in the shade of a few trees. They seldom thought of escape. Yet, among the prison staff it was said that of all the convicts in San Quentin, these fourteen or twenty women, give or take a few, were “said to be as hard to manage as the whole of the male convicts.” The reason, of course, was simply their gender! Although killers and thieves, they were still women and must be respected. They were carefully monitored by visitors, the press and the political enemies of the prison authorities. In early April 1894, a San Francisco reporter, Winifred Sweet, who wrote under the name “Annie Laurie,“ was directed by her editor to interview the shady ladies of San Quentin for a feature article. Debarking from the steamer Petaluma, she climbed aboard a waiting stagecoach for the short trip to the prison. It was a beautiful day. SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, APRIL 8, 1894:

There isn’t a prettier place on earth than San Quentin. The road to the prison lies along the edge of green hills aflame with yellow wild flowers. The sweet-scented mustard, the buttercups and the California poppies nod under the very wheels of the stage. The Blue Jay sings at the foot of the meadows and it is good to be alive in the sunshine and the singing breeze.

Several little old ladies were on the stage also, no doubt visiting relatives in the prison. As the coach rattled and bumped over the rutted road, suddenly someone cried out, “There they are!” and pointed out the window of the coach. The convicts! The men to whom this lovely place means the vengeance of the law! They were working on the brow of the hill, a great gang of them, all in a line. They looked like a huge striped snake coiling to strike. The wide stripes of their dress showed clear and distinct in the strong light. Down in the hollow to the right loomed the prison. Sentinels were pacing in the watch towers.

Entering the prison, the captain of the yard introduced Annie to a white-haired lady named Mrs. Keyes who led her to the women’s quarters. As they looked over the inner courtyard from a balcony, one of the inmates yelled from a window to another woman, “Hey, I hope Annie’ll give us a good write up.” The reporter was amazed. “How in the world did they know things so soon?” she asked. Mrs. Keyes smiled. “They always find out the news quicker than the officers. You know we do not allow the papers inside the walls, yet every bit of news from the outside world gets in here some


Guard Post No. 1 overlooks the women’s courtyard of the Porch where female convicts can sew and talk. Author’s Collection.

way, and gets in quickly.” Mrs. Keyes next knocked at the door of a cell. A stout Portuguese woman holding a baby in her arms answered and invited them in. The baby had been born in one of the prison officer’s houses and was just a month old. “No one can say he was born in prison,” laughed the woman. “I haven’t had much time since the baby came, he keeps me pretty busy. I have two older children and have been expecting them every day, but they haven’t come yet.” “The cell was not at all like a cell,” wrote Annie. “It was a room, a cheery room with a neat bed, comfortable chairs, and there were pictures hanging upon the wall. There was a row of plants in the window and there was a mat on the floor.” Leaving the cell, Annie asked the matron what the woman was in for. “She is accused of beating her sister-in-law to death with a club.” Annie’s last interview was with a pretty young woman who was making lace as she talked. “Not so bad here,” she commented. “They are very good to us, the Matron and all. We are not kept under much restraint. The courtyard is pleasant, the food is good. My room is comfortable—yes, the only thing I do not like is the key. I do not like the sound of it in the lock. It comes at night when they lock us in. It grates in the lock and when you hear it grating you know that you can beat your


life out against that door and it will not open.” Although most of the women seemed satisfied and content with their curtailed lives, others were of a different temperament. Mary Von, No. 12705, was apparently of English origins and had seduced and robbed men for a livelihood. In 1884 she shot The narrow cell of a female convict, and wounded a victim and was sent with it’s sparse furniture, as “across the bay” for one year. In 1887 she sketched by the Examiner artist. was connected to a sham San Francisco Author’s Collection.. “Matrimonial Bureau” that, among other things, found husbands, or victims, for predators like Mary. Paired up with an Australian tourist named George W. Bishop, she had acquired most of his bank account and jewelry when he finally realized what was going on. Breaking off the relationship, Bishop boarded an Australian steamer for home with Mary bounding up the gangplank close behind him. She shot and mortally wounded her former paramour and was given a life term in prison. It was poetic justice that she was compelled Mary Von, the “holy terror.” to spend most of her stolen loot to save her She was not a pleasant person. Author’s Collection.. neck from the hangman. “Annie Laurie” left before being introduced to this particular convict since Mary’s foul mouth and mercurial temper made her very unpredictable. An earlier male reporter, however, had been awarded that somewhat sour and dubious pleasure. SACRAMENTO DAILY RECORD-UNION, JANUARY 1, 1890:

Mary is what is commonly known in the vernacular as “a holy terror,” and if she thinks that any of the San Quentin people thrown in her society are in love with her she makes a great mistake. She makes life miserable for the officials and everyone else within sight or within sound of her voice, for although she looks mighty bad, she acts much worse. Her conduct is really naughty. About a year ago, for instance, she made a desperate effort to kill the matron


of the prison, since which occasion she has been kept locked up all the time. Nor does she try by decent behavior to merit great liberties. She swears in a fashion which would make a Barbary Coaster blush, and heaps the vilest abuse upon anyone who comes near her. Even the innocent writer of these harmless lines had to take it—and he confesses to a sort of malicious glee in declaring to the world that Mary is a rude thing, forty years if a day, and not a bit good-looking.

Mary had eluded lock-up one night several years before and attacked one of the early matrons, a Miss Kincaid, with an iron pot-holder. Fortunately, the matron was rescued before Mrs. Von could finish the job. Dental problems were perhaps one of the sources of Mary’s bad disposition. After losing all her teeth, she finally acquired a set of dentures in 1912. It was Mary’s luck to only enjoy solid food for a year, however, as she died in 1913. Despite most of the women convicts being content with their minimized existence, the ranks of the male convicts contained desperadoes who would never submit to being subjugated by society. Their curtailed lives were irrevocably centered around the search for ways to escape. With a background as one of Quantrill’s guerrillas during the Civil War, Charles Dorsey continued his plundering after arriving in California in 1865. Born in Kentucky in 1841, on the coast he found robbery easier than working. By the end of the year he was in San Quentin as No. 3092, doing a two-year term for a Nevada County burglary. Released at the expiration of his term, Dorsey again took up residence at the prison on March 13, 1873 for a robbery in Stanislaus County. This time the sentence was fifteen years. During his second term in San Quentin, Dorsey fulfilled the prophecies of many critics of the place when he began associating and plotting with others of his ilk. Horse thieves Jim Crum, No.5061 and Ben Frazee, No. 4271, were particular pals, as was burglar John Collins, No. 7135. When Frazee was released on February 14, 1874, he suggested his friends drop by his ranch for a visit when they were released. Dorsey took him up on his offer when his sentence was commuted by Governor William Irwin in October, 1878. That winter, Dorsey, Crum and Frazee stole horses for a living. When John Collins was released in June of the following year, he joined Dorsey and Crum in a Tuolumne County stage holdup. Crum then moved on. Returning to Frazee’s ranch, Dorsey and Collins next


made plans for a robbery in Nevada County. On September 1, 1879, the two highwaymen were hiding in some chaparral alongside the stage road waiting for the Eureka stage. After stopping the coach, the passengers were ordered to get out. As Collins searched them, Dorsey held a shotgun alternately on the travelers and the driver. Searching and relieving the passengers of their valuables, Collins threw out the luggage and express box for examination. In opening the heavy valise of banker William Cummings, the two robbers spotted two bars of gold bullion inside. Cummings jumped from the stage and tried to take the satchel from Collins and the two men began wrestling. When Collins fell to the ground, Dorsey shot the banker in the neck, then stepped back to cover the driver and horrified passengers. Ordering the passengers back into the coach, Dorsey shouted for the driver to move on as the dying banker choked out his last few breaths. The two bandits then fled with their loot, leaving Cummings dead in the road. A massive manhunt for the two highwaymen Charles Dorsey was smart enough to make it on the was instigated, but they had fled the state in a wag- outside, but crime was on. From Prescott, Arizona, they travelled to Kan- more appealing. Author’s Collection.. sas City, then down to New Orleans where they had one of the bullion bars converted to coin. The other was shipped to the Philadelphia Mint where it was also converted to coin, which was then sent to Louisville, Kentucky, where the two outlaws reclaimed it. Deciding they should separate now, Collins now traveled east, with a female companion while Dorsey went his own way. In Union City, Indiana, Dorsey assumed the name Charles Thorne while posing as a wealthy investor looking for business opportunities. Drinking in the better saloons and spending his money freely, he met the town’s leading citizens and by 1882 had acquired a partnership in a local lumber yard. Collins, meanwhile, was of an inferior nature and had spent all his loot on high living in New York. Returning to St. Louis, he was arrested on a burglary charge in December 1880. The two outlaws had


stayed in touch and after his trial and conviction, Collins wrote and asked Dorsey to make up some phony depositions establishing his, Collins, presence in Union City at the time of the St. Louis burglary. Two documents from leading citizens (forged, of course) were sent to Collins, along with a letter from Thorne (Dorsey), claiming to be a Union City lawyer. Ironically, the letters were accepted as evidence, but when they proved to be fraudulent as did much of Collins testimony, his story collapsed and he was convicted. While all this was transpiring, the unlikely story John Collins, Dorsey’s took another bizarre turn. Walking in the jail yard one stage-robbing partner. day, Collins was startled to see a fellow San Quentin Author’s Collection.. alumnus in the same yard. Asking Roger O’Meara about news from California, the Cummings murder and robbery was discussed and Collins callously bragged that he and Dorsey had done the job. In jail on his own burglary rap, O’Meara knew that if he “peached” on Collins he would likely obtain more lenient treatment in his own situation. He informed the local police chief of the incident and the officer promptly contacted the San Francisco authorities. Captain Lees and Wells Fargo detective Charles Aull caught the first east-bound train. In yet another ironic touch, Aull was a former San Quentin official who knew and could recognize, Collins. After identifying the prisoner, the lawmen were shown the correspondence between Thorne and Collins. Aull recognized Dorsey’s handwriting and the two officers caught the next train for Indiana. UNION CITY TIMES, OCTOBER 7, 1882:

Quite a furor was raised in our usually quiet city last Monday morning at the arrest of Charles Thorne, partner of Moses Murphy, by two strangers. The arrests were made by Capt. Charles Aull… assisted by Capt. I. W. Lees, Chief of the Detective Force of San Francisco. They found Charley eating his breakfast at Branham’s restaurant and walking up to him the arrest was made without any resistance on his part. During Thorne’s residence in our city he has conducted himself in a straight forward business manner, promptly meeting all obligations as they came due, and commanding the respect of the business men. At the time of the arrest he was engaged in the lumber business and was making a nice thing out of it… .

Accompanied by Aull and Lees, the two outlaws were returned to California. They were tried separately, Dorsey being convicted and


sentenced to life in prison because one juror, a sympathetic former Confederate soldier, would not vote for the death penalty. Collins was then tried on the same evidence and hanged for the crime. Dorsey was returned to San Quentin on March 15, 1883, as prisoner No. 10760. Bitter and disappointed, Dorsey now searched endlessly for another opportunity for escape. During an illness in October 1885, he became friends with a hospital nurse named Martin Tracy. In discussing means of escaping, Tracy mentioned that the back panel of a closet in the room was next to a brick wall. Dorsey was ready for anything and the pair removed several boards from the closet wall and began chiseling out the bricks, one at a time. Unfortunately, while the convicts were waiting for a foggy night to go over the wall, the prison authorities were alerted to the plan by a trusty. Dorsey was sullen when taken before the captain of the guard and questioned, but accepted all the blame for the incident. Suddenly he jumped up shouting that he was never going to get out and he would rather die than have to serve out his sentence. Making a threatening move toward one of the guards, Dorsey stopped when he saw three revolvers trained on him and he was escorted to the dungeon. Losing all his credits, Dorsey was now carefully watched. He was obsessed with the idea that escaping was now his only hope in life. When he met a failed train robber, a trusty named George Shinn, they came up with a simple plan. As a trusty, one of Shinn’s chores was to pick up and deliver the prison’s commissary goods in his wagon. On the night of December 1, 1887, a particularly stormy night, he drove out of the gates with a tarpaulin covering the wagon bed. The guard, instead of inspecting the load, waved at Shinn, who drove on through. Dorsey was hidden under the tarp. In a few minutes the wagon disappeared in the blackness of the night and driving rain.

George Shinn, Dorsey’s companion during his second escape. Author’s Collection..

Stealing a boat, the two convicts crossed the bay and struck out over the Contra Costa hills. Becoming desperately ill after eating some tainted food, Dorsey later described that terrible night. NEVADA CITY DAILY TRANSCRIPT, OCTOBER 29, 1890:


I could hardly drag one foot after the other. I was more dead than alive, and the wonder is that I ever succeeded as I did, in getting away. I would have died in those hills had not George [Shinn] begged me to keep up heart and fight it out. I wanted him to go on and leave me to die alone… but he would not listen… and said that if I stopped he would stop… .

By stealing, and obtaining jobs when they could, the two fugitives worked their way east, settling in Chicago where they began a carpet-cleaning business. This was undoubtedly a ploy to locate likely subjects for their real business—burglary. It was also determined that they returned to California on occasion for some stagecoach robberies. In later years Charley told a friend that he had found a girl he had planned to marry and purchased Chicago property on which to build a home. But his stay Roger O’Meara ratted out San Quentin pals, in the Windy City was ending. Amazingly, Dorsey was Dorsey and Collins. spotted on a Chicago street by the same Roger O’Meara Author’s Collection.. who had turned in Collins years before. By late October 1890, the fugitives were on their way back to the coast in custody of James B. Hume, the prominent Wells Fargo detective. Each captive wore a fourteen pound, iron “Oregon Boot” on one foot. The re-capture of the two desperadoes made headline news around the country. But Dorsey was not finished yet. A year later Captain Edgar informed Warden Hale of a rumor that guns had been hidden in the prison and an escape was imminent. A trusty on the verge of being paroled validated the rumor and named names. Dorsey and five other desperate convicts, including Hanlon, Manning and Abe Turcott who had previously escaped, were seized and grilled relentlessly. All vigorously denied knowing anything of the plan. Heaved into solitary cells with only bread and water to eat, the convict connivers refused to talk for three weeks. Warden Hale had the authority to flog or tie the men up by their thumbs until they talked, but he was morally opposed to such punishments. Finally, worn down by Charles Dorsey after his the diet, prisoner Abraham Turcott said there capture in Chicago. California State Archives. was indeed a plot, but that details had not yet


A reward card sent out for Dorsey after his second escape from San Quentin. Boessenecker Collection

been worked out. He led them to a tunnel under one of the work houses and five revolvers were recovered, together with a supply of cartridges. The weapons had been smuggled into prison in pails of milk by a not so trustworthy, trusty.

Charles Dorsey’s spirit was finally broken. He was resigned to spending the rest of his days behind San Quentin’s foreboding walls. In time, Charley was given the job of regaling tourists with the mechanics of an execution in the prison’s “Hangman’s Hall.” San Francisco editor Fremont Older was impressed by the old convict’s spiel. After learning he had been there for twenty-nine years, the newsman took an interest in Dorsey and began working for his release. When Dorsey was pardoned by Governor Hiram Johnson on December 21, 1911, he was put to work on Older’s ranch. “He plowed from daylight to dark,” recalled the editor, “never seeming to tire.” When he died in 1932, Dorsey was living with a niece in Los Angeles. He had managed to save some money during those last years and left several thousand dollars to the people who had cared for him.


CHAPTER TEN

Hanged by the Neck until Dead California history is saturated in the blood of countless, lawless lynchings from the very earliest days of the Gold Rush. Most of these lynching victims were accused of murder, although in the early 1850s, grand larceny and robbery could legally result in hanging, as well. It was a desperate time—a period of vast, undeveloped, and frequently unpeopled, landscapes where peace officers, judges and courts could be widely scattered or ineffective. There is little doubt but that most Californians of the time applauded the prompt, inexpensive, and effective justice of a vigilante court, but society soon demanded officially sanctioned executions which resulted in the demise of illegal hangings. Legal hangings by county sheriffs were decreed by the Criminal Practices Act of 1851. By 1856, degrees of murder had been specified by legislative acts and gradually a criminal justice system was established. Warden William E. Hale of San Quentin was a principal in inaugurating the custom of carrying out capital punishments at the two state prisons. Hale, sheriff of Alameda County for several terms, was a humane man and as one newspaper put it, “He would not willingly kill a chicken for his own breakfast.” Dreading the official hanging obligations of sheriffs that might arise, Sheriff Hale, a longtime prominent Republican, had aided a bill through the legislature transferring the responsibility for executions to the state prisons. The new law was based on statutes in both Ohio and New York that were aimed at standardizing the process. Hale himself sought the San Quentin warden’s position when General McComb left in early 1891. With a Democratic governor in office, Hale called in all his political chips, manipulated the several other candidates for the job, and won. Realizing that the state prison wardens would now officiate at executions, Warden Hale must have had an unpleasant epiphany. He had painted himself into a corner, but now at least he could make hangings the solemn event they should be.


“People are joking me in this way,” Hale responded to the situation, “but that’s all right. I shall do my duty and carry out the law to the letter. It is a good law, and the plan has worked well in New York and Ohio. It does away with the exhibitions of morbid curiosity seen when hundreds crowd around a jail. Then, there is sometimes a suggestion of brutality about executions and with inexperienced sheriffs arrangements are often not carried out smoothly.” The California Furniture Manufacturing Company had ceased operating in March 1886, leaving two hundred convicts out of work and the huge, four-story factory building largely empty. Hale selected a corner of the third floor of the large structure to remodel as the execution room. The construction of a gallows was probably supervised by Colonel John W. McKenzie, chief jailor at the San Francisco county jail. McKenzie, who had earned his rank in the Mexican War, had arrived in California in 1849. He had been city marshal of San Francisco in the 1850s and served for many years in various capacities of law enforcement. More importantly, he had presided over various County hangings in San Francisco. In the same room as the gallows and a few feet away, two condemned cells were constructed. With heavy pine bars on the front, the cells were the last waiting room for the victims who were always under the observation of two guards. An outside stairway led to the death room which was large enough to accommodate the required number of spectators. Several cells on the top floor of the Stones were also utilized for condemned prisoners. As the time of execution drew closer, the doomed man was taken from the Stones and led through the garden walkway to the old factory building that now housed the gallows. The irony of all this was not wasted on the prisoners. Soon, they were referring to the “Garden Beautiful” as “The Garden of Death” and in time it would be the subject of a moving poem by one of the convicts. The first hanging was scheduled for August 5, 1893. Anton Vital, No. 14964, had shot and killed a Chinese near Santa Barbara during a robbery. He was convicted and sentenced to hang on October 12, 1894, but Vital was a violent man. While being taken to San Quentin by Sheriff Broughton and his deputy, the three


Newspaper sketch illustrating the preparation of the new gallows. Author’s Collection.

men were walking down the San Francisco wharf when Vital suddenly struck the sheriff a powerful blow. Even though handcuffed to the sheriff, Vital now attacked the deputy “and was handling him very roughly,” according to a newspaper account, “and seemed in a fair way to escape, when two policemen rushed to the scene. It took the combined efforts of the four men to overpower the murderer, who was then taken on board the steamer and chained to a stanchion.” Although a thug and a tramp with no funds, through the efforts of the Greek Consul, D. G. Camarinos, Vital obtained a reprieve from the governor just three days before his scheduled hanging. For some time, however, Vital’s behavior had been bothering Father Mullin, his prison spiritual advisor. The convict ate very little and was described as “a flighty person, full of vagaries and not at all impressed by his impending death.” His mental state continued to bother those he came in contact with and when two physicians pronounced him “insane” in late 1894, Governor Markham commuted his sentence to life. Soon, he was transferred to the State Insane Asylum at Stockton. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, JANUARY 10, 1895:

Stockton, Jan. 9.—Antone Vital, the condemned murderer, who was a short time ago transferred from the San Quentin State Prison, while under the sentence of death, to the State Insane Asylum in this city; escaped from the latter institution sometime last night and is still at large… .

Vital was closely watched and kept in irons. Confined on the top floor of the building, he nonetheless never ceased looking for avenues of escape. On the night of January 9, although still handicapped by wrist shackles, he managed to remove the casing from his window and take out the sash weights. Tearing up a blanket, he padded one of the weights and began bashing the bars on the window, the padding muffling the noise. He knocked out one bar and spread the others to allow him to get through the window. Using the cords from the sash weights, he now tied strips of blankets together, long enough to get him the fifty feet to the ground. Still in his handcuffs, Vital tied his “rope” to


a remaining window bar and quickly shimmied to the ground and disappeared into the night. In late February 1897, Vital was recaptured in Arizona during a burglary. He was promptly returned to California. “He says,” noted a newspaper account, “he is glad he has returned to San Quentin, and that he will never try to play the insane dodge again.”

Antone Vital man-

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings was an Indian aged to dodge his hanging sentence. of low intellect who was now scheduled to become the Author’s Collection.. first victim of the new gallows. Indications are that Jose Gabriel had little concept of the gravity of the events that had enveloped him. He was convicted of murdering and robbing Southern California farmer John Geyser and his wife in October 1892. Easily convicted, the simple Indian was sentenced to die by hanging on March 3, 1893. In his condemned cell, Gabriel showed more interest in the food he was served than in his approaching death date. Two trusties, who looked after him during his last days, were convinced he was insane. Very conscious of his responsibility, Warden Hale again retained the services of the experienced Colonel McKenzie. It was undoubtedly McKenzie who schooled Hale and Captain Edgar in the technical preparations for the hanging. The rope, specially made by the Tubbs Cordage Company, was of three-quarters of an inch diameter manila that had been stretched until there was no more twist or expansion left in it. This prevented any bouncing or twisting of the body as it jerked to a halt in the air. Three lengths of hanging rope were weighted with three hundred pounds of brick, then hung from an overhead beam to stretch. The hanging itself was austere and brief. While the hangman stood on the platform and applied the noose and black hood, three other officers were in a secluded box adjoining the gallows. Upon a signal from the hangman, these assistants cut three cords. Each cord released a cannon ball, one of which also tripped the gallows trap door. No one knew which man had the dreadful responsibility for the actual hanging. It was claimed that the superstitious owners of the Tubbs Cordage Company would not accept any pay for the ropes they supplied.


SAUSALITO NEWS, MARCH 10, 1893:

Jose Gabriel, murderer, was hanged at San Quentin last Friday. It was a very successful affair. The thirty Christian gentlemen who witnessed it classified it variously as “A perfect hanging,” “A beautiful hanging,” “A very neat Job”... . Warden Hale executed the decree of the court expeditiously, with much tact, and in the most formal manner.

There were those who, despite reprieves, could not escape their fate. Convicted murderer William Leary had been sentenced to San Quentin from Monterey County in 1895. By continually feigning insanity, Leary had obtained several reprieves. His last reprieve had stalled his hanging until March 3, 1898, but the strain, coupled with several weeks in the hospital with stomach ailments, killed him on August 5, 1897. “His reprieves were secured,” noted a newspaper article, “on the ground that his mind was impaired. Of late he had begun to regard his chances of escaping the gallows as less hopeful, Record of first man hanged at and it is believed that his despondency San Quentin. Boessenecker Collection. had a tendency to aggravate the disease which caused his death at an early hour this morning.” Other destinies were of an even more poetic variety. Dennis McCarthy had murdered a man near Marysville and was tried, convicted and sentenced to hang. Behind San Quentin’s walls, his somber situation at last became very real. “He has showed signs of insanity since his incarceration in San Quentin,” noted the Sausalito News, “and Governor [James H.] Budd sent the doctors from three state asylums to San Quentin to examine McCarthy and report whether he was sane or not. The doctors examined the man and could form no opinion, the majority believing him to be only shamming. However, Governor Budd reprieved the murderer a number of times… .” No one wanted to make a decision on the case and meanwhile McCarthy was kept in the prison hospital under constant surveillance. Ordinarily he should have been in a cell on condemned row in the stones, but at this point prison officials could not decide just what to do with


him. Then fate stepped in. In late 1897 Marin County Deputy Coroner Stephen Eden received word that a large number of Chinese buried in the San Quentin cemetery would have to be exhumed. It was Chinese tradition that their bones be returned to China. Coroner Eden must have cringed at the idea, but he rode over to the prison to discuss the matter with Warden Hale. Undoubtedly the coroner sought assistance in the project and the discussion brought a smile to Warden Hale‘s bearded face. He knew just the man for the job. No condemned prisoner was allowed outside the walls, but an exception could be made and a guard provided. Besides digging up the Chinese bodies, Hale also made Dennis McCarthy the prison grave digger. “Frequently has the grave yawned for McCarthy,” chortled the Sausalito News, “but every time he has managed by influence and clever shamming to avert death. Now he lives to be digging the resting places of others.” When examining the record of Jim Ivey, it is difficult not to arrive at the conclusion that he was a poor example of a burglar. He was never out of prison for any length of time, yet he apparently knew how to enjoy his plunder during his periods of freedom. And Jim had class. When arrested in San Jose in early 1861, Ivey was living at the principal hotel in the city as a gentleman of leisure. ”He gave out,” reported the San Jose Tribune, “that he had come here for the purpose of buying a ranch; and, from his mild and gentlemanly manners, had succeeded in deceiving nearly everyone with whom he came in contact. So successful had his deception been that the Marshal, after arresting him, was severely blamed by several persons… for having put a gentleman in jail.” Discharged after his seventh San Quentin term on December 30, 1882, Ivey headed north and engaged in a series of burglaries in Sonoma County. During one The corner of the old factory building showing the hanging room. The arrival of a coach full of visitors is shown in this contemporary newspaper sketch. Author’s Collection..


of his nocturnal break-ins he was interrupted during a robbery and shot in the head. No details of the incident are known, but although he survived the wound, he lost an eye. On March 22, 1883, he robbed the post office and Wells Fargo office at Guerneville. He burglarized the post office at Healdsburg on May 25, following up with the robbery of the Shocken Store in Sonoma on July 10. While transporting his stolen loot to San Francisco, he was arrested with the goods in his possession. He decided to plead guilty and hope for the best. At the gates of San Quentin for his eighth term on July 23, 1883, Jim tried to be philosophical about the nine year stretch he now faced. His only option was to behave himself for those time-off credits, and he did. Released on June 23, 1889, Ivey was older but no wiser. He was arrested in Sacramento on a warrant from San Joaquin County in late February 1890. “If old Jim Ivey is convicted in San Joaquin County this time,” mused a Sacramento officer, “he will probably complete half a century in prison.” Under the name of “James Brooks,” Ivey entered Folsom state prison on April 1, 1890. It was another burglary conviction. Using the alias, he had perhaps requested Folsom hoping he would not be recognized. Over sixty years old now, Jim did his time quietly, again hoping for an early release for good conduct. He reportedly died of paralysis in the Folsom hospital on July 23, 1894. He was seventy years old. “All the police officers, Sheriffs and Wardens,” reported the Sacramento Bee, “had a kindly feeling for “Old Jim Ivey. …Warden Charles Aull, in speaking of the deceased, said; ‘He was absolutely truthful in, as well as out, of prison. You could not make those who knew him best believe that Jim Ivey ever told the semblance of a falsehood.’” This appraisal of Ivey’s character is borne out by a contemporary tale. It seems that sometime in the 1850s a young man was in court being tried for a jewelry theft. As the jury was retiring with a “guilty” verdict etched onto their faces, Jim Ivey stood up at the rear of the courtroom. Dropping a handful of jewelry on a table, Jim said, “That man is innocent! I robbed that store and here is the plunder.” The judge adjourned the court and in the tumult Jim vanished. The following day, as the story goes, the young man was acquitted.


On Sunday, March 19, 1893, the prison chaplain made a special announcement to his congregation. A parole bill had recently passed both the state assembly and senate and was awaiting the signature of the governor. Reverend Drahms had word directly from the governor and now announced the news from his pulpit. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, MARCH 22, 1893:

“My children, the parole bill will be signed, I know this to be a fact!” He was hardly able to finish imparting the welcome information. There was a wild hurrah from 200 throats and a general wah-who-wah as a windup. This burst of enthusiasm signified the satisfaction with which the remarks were greeted by the prisoners.

A parole law, long sought by California convicts, was finally passed amidst a clamor that more should be done to rehabilitate criminals. Under a strict code of rules, prisoners could now be paroled under controlled conditions and regain their status in society. A similar “ticket-of-leave” system had long been utilized in the British penal colonies in Australia.

When Amos Lunt applied for and was granted a guard position at San Quentin, he assumed it would be good for his health. Except for an occasional crisis now and then, he was right. A veteran of the Civil War, Lunt had come to California in 1868 and engaged in the lumber business near the coastal village Guard Amos Lunt was of Santa Cruz. He was appointed to the police force San Quentin’s first offiin 1886. Two years later he was chosen chief of the cial hangman. Author’s Collection.. department, but when his physician advised him to obtain an outdoor job for the sake of his health, Amos began looking around. In an interview with Warden Hale, he was offered the head guard position with his office at Guard Post No. 4 at the main gate. In addition, he was also offered the new hangman’s job (which no one else wanted). The position came with extra pay and Lunt accepted, knowing that he would merely be placing the noose and hood over the victim’s head. He would not be doing the actual hanging. He could live with that. It was a prophetic decision.


In the spring of 1895, “Annie Laurie,”the Examiner’s lady reporter, was informed that five men were on death row in San Quentin’s “Hangman’s Hall.” It was a great opportunity and she just had to go across the bay to interview them. That was what her many fans expected. One of the first “sob sisters,” Winifred Sweet worked for Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner, writing under her famous pen name of “Annie Laurie.” On a bright and cool morning, Annie and an Examiner artist were passed through the front gate of the prison. She noticed four convicts in stripes talking in the upper yard rose garden. These were the murderers she was to interview and she walked over to a bench and sat down. SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, MAY 12, 1895:

“They are the condemned men,” said the guard who had greeted her. “Azoff, Morasco, Smith and Garcia. There are three more, but Collins is saying his prayers in his cell all the time, and Fredericks is in the hospital in a strait-jacket; he’s playing crazy, and has been reprieved until December.”Annie then took up the conversation. “The four men who walked in the garden came out one by one and talked to me. They all talk, as every criminal I ever saw always talks, with an assumption that some malevolent power is persecuting them just for the joy of persecution, and that the law is something devised for the torment of innocent and injured men. Three out of four of these men told the details of the hideous crimes of which they are convicted with perfect indifference. The fourth man trembles and crosses himself when he tells of the man he killed… “First came [Anthony] Azoff, the murderer, and talked to me. Azoff is the man who killed Detective Len Harris. … Does the time pass slowly to you? “‘Slowly!’ He has a great trick of repeating words—this amiable young man who laughs. ‘Slowly, Ah no; it goes pretty fast. You see we have a pretty easy time of it; nothing to do but eat and sleep, and no worry or anything.’ I thought I must have misunderstood him. “No worry? I repeated. ‘No,’ he said. ‘They treat us fine here; we’re the star boarders, you know.’ The man was not talking for effect. He was as simple and as unaffected as a child, and meant just what he said.


’My name ain’t really Azoff,’ he said confidentially. ‘It’s Wright. I’m a deserter, you know. Ran away from Uncle Sam down in Arizona and had to change my name. I like to a died that time—got crazy with thirst and wandered round till I saw a wolf. I managed to shoot him, and his blood saved my life. Sometimes I have tried to imagine that I made a mistake living that “Annie Laurie” was second only to Nelly Bly time. It would have been a good time for me to go… .’ ” as a female reporter. As Annie talked to the others, the artist made a Author’s Collection. series of sketches. When the convicts had left, Annie then turned and spoke with a guard. “The guard who had sat by me when the men were talking picked up a bit of stick and began to whittle it. ‘See here,’ he said, ‘do you imagine that you can understand one of these men when he talks, or that he can understand you? They speak English, and so do you, but when you say white it means black to them, and when they say green you think they mean blue. Why, they live in a queer world of their own, these men. They ain’t pretending when they try to act like martyrs. They think they are martyrs, that money idea they’ve got—well, some folks say there’s more to that than there ought to be—but anyway the idea that money’s all there is on earth worth having is just what’s made most of them kill somebody. They’re just like children. They see something and they want it, and Anthony Azoff, the killer of Len Harris. that’s all there is to them.’ ” Author’s Collection.. The artist closed his sketchbook. He followed Annie to the gate and they again walked out into the real world. “Annie Laurie with the Murderers,” she mused, would make a fine title for her story. Azoff, Emilio Garcia and Patrick J. Collins were hanged one after the other on June 7, 1895. Morasco and Smith had managed to obtain stays of execution. Annie’s visit had given her some indication of the character of these murderers, but all were on their best behavior and under the supervision of several guards. Crusty veteran prison director Charles Sonntag had a more practical and experienced view of such men.


SAN FRACISCO EXAMINER, JULY 22, 1892:

There are men in our prisons—a great many men— upon whom kindness is wasted and for whom reformatory measures accomplish nothing. They are men who are vicious by nature and because they love to do cruel things. Men like Dutchy Baker, who cut the throat of a fellow convict for fun and who has been in solitary confinement during a large portion of his prison life for stabbing, cutting and otherwise attempting the lives of the men about him, are better off dead than alive and I am sorry that the law does not allow us to have them shot to death… .

Prison Director

Director Sonntag, like “Annie’s” guard, had been Charles Sonntag. worn down by the brutality with which they were forced Author’s Collection.. to deal. In September 1891, Henry “Dutchy” Baker, No. 12930, was preparing to sit down for the evening meal when he suddenly stepped behind convict James Bailey who was already seated. Swiftly, Dutchy stabbed Bailey repeatedly in the throat with a shoemaker’s knife. When guard Amos Lunt seized him, Dutchy tried to cut him, also. Both convicts had long prison records and had lost all their credits as a result of bad attitudes and escape attempts. Henry Baker. Author’s Collection.

There was nothing new about personal altercations among the prisoners. Volatile tempers, differing personalities, and the close contact in the cells was bound to make for some conflict. That opium was the basis of much prison trouble was no longer questioned after a prison directors’ meeting in mid-January 1894. Warden Hale, a coterie of guards, and a collection of prisoners were at the meeting for the sentencing of convicts for using opium.

James Bailey. Author’s Collection.

After three of the convicts had been sentenced, a young Oakland thief named O’Donnell stepped forward. He was asked several questions about some confiscated opium cakes that were displayed on a table. “Some of it is cosmetic and some real,” responded the convict. When he was asked which was cosmetic, O’Donnell walked to the table and, reported a newspaper account, “under the eyes of at least ten men, dexterously ‘palmed’ a piece of opium.” Using his handkerchief as a shield, he deftly placed the opium in his mouth, but a guard saw the move and choked him into spitting it out. The startled officials sen-


tenced him to wearing a ball and chain for thirty days, but afterwards discussed the merits and costs of a proposed cure. Most addicts, of course, did not want to be cured. Brought to California by Chinese immigrants during Gold Rush days, opium was a component of their culture. In the United States, the drug was legal and sold with a doctor’s prescription in pharmacies throughout country. The increasing presence of the drug since then was noted by a hearing of the Congressional Committee on Immigration that was held in San Francisco in December 1890. Collector of the Port T. J. Phelps testified that between July 1888, and November 1890, 176,000 pounds of prepared smoking opium had been imported. Duties on this substance amounted to approximately $1, 760,000. This made it clear why the addictive drug was being imported. Morphine, a derivative of opium, served as a sedative and pain reliever. Aside from the prepared opium, 177,000 pounds of crude opium was imported during this period and half again that amount was smuggled illegally into the U.S.. “Opium smoking,” stated Collector Phelps,“ is becoming common in many parts of the country where formerly it was unknown and was even being used by children.” He went on record testifying that it was his opinion that smoking opium should be prohibited from the country. But the genie was now out of the bottle! With a doctor’s prescription, opium could be readily purchased and was utilized as an ingredient in many patent medicines. There had been a steady increase in opium and other drug use in the prison, encouraged over the years by the inability of the prison’s officers to stop it. It seemed obvious that visitors, trusties, and guards had to be involved in the traffic, but so long as nothing serious occurred, the administration was apparently content to let things simmer along. In May 1892, the prison board voted to conviscate any contraband money found on convicts and donate it to the library fund. Convicts simply began using tobacco as the medium of exchange for the drug. Every known manner of smuggling opium into the prison was utilized. SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, JANUARY 15, 1894:

Warden Hale explained to a Call reporter how every convict upon his release was made the agency for smuggling the drug. It is concealed in the fields where the prisoners find it upon going to work. It is thrown over the walls at night. It is brought in


by female relatives of prisoners and slipped to them in any number of dexterous ways. Last Christmas day a box of fine looking cigars came as a present to a prisoner. Every one was filled with opium, specially manufactured by Chinese. …A mother visiting her son kissed him good-by and transferred a $5 gold piece from her mouth to his, the money to be used to buy opium from the ring [dealers].

On the evening of October 12, 1894, convict No. 13978, Charles Johnson, was returning to his cell from the mess hall. A convict walking in front of him swiftly turned and made a vicious swipe at Johnson’s throat with a jute mill knife. Johnson tried to avoid the attack by stepping back and the blade ripped a long gash across his chin, just missing his throat. The confrontation was promptly broken up by prisoners and guards and Johnson was led off to the prison hospital. An investigation was promptly launched, but the only witnesses were convicts and of course none would talk. It was against the “convict code.” Johnson was considered by the guards as an incorrigible— “the worst in the prison.” In a few days, however, the officials had pieced together the story. Johnson was a thug and burglar doing his second term. His pal, Jim Riley, was suspected of being his partner in a series of garrotings, the choking and robbing of prisoners in the prison yard. Riley, No. 15974, had been out of Folsom just six days when he was arrested for an Alameda robbery attempt. Now he was doing a fourteen year term. Both men were opium addicts and when they were broke and their dope supply ran out, they began robbing their fellow convicts. Riley would garrote the victim from behind, choking him with one arm while Johnson rifled his pockets. The victim was then told to move on without looking back. The officers were convinced that Johnson had been slashed by one of his robbery victims. The two garroters were soon doing dungeon time on bread and water. As if opium and garrotings within the walls of San Quentin were not bad enough, when prison officials learned that burglar tools were actually being surreptitiously manufactured in the prison machine shop, the officials must have gulped—hard! SAN FRANCISCO DAILY MORNING CALL, OCTOBER 14, 1894:

For a long time past the implements which burglars use in their nocturnal operations have been manufactured at benches in the machine shop at San Quentin prison, but it was only yesterday that such knowledge was given the Board of Directors.


Warden Hale informed the commission that Convict Ben Harkins, an importation from San Francisco, was caught with a package of burglars tools made ready for removal from the prison. This was an infraction of prison rules, and for punishment Harkins was deprived of one year’s credits. One day Turnkey Jameson noticed a convict with a package under his arm walking toward him Convict Ben Harkins. California State archives. in the prison yard. As they approached each other, the prisoner suddenly broke and ran in the opposite direction, disappearing behind a building. Jameson sprinted after him, but when he was caught, the officer noticed that the convict’s bundle was now missing. A prompt search of the area soon produced the missing package, however. Ben Harkins, convict No. 15098, denied ever having it, but could give no reason for running away. Harkins and his bundle were turned over to Warden Hale and his captain of the yard. When opened, the package surprisingly revealed a set of expertly crafted burglar’s tools, including several skeleton keys, lock picks, nippers, saws, and other devices. The officers were amazed at the quality of the tools. Harkins, no mechanic, was merely a go-between since he had access to the outside yard. When someone suggested how bad this was going to appear to the prison board, an officer replied that the guards were not at fault. “You see, in the machine shop a man may make any small tools and escape detection for years. His bench is littered with tools, bars, bits of machinery and such. When the guard’s back is turned the prisoner picks up whatever he wants to make in secret and does Nineteenth Century burglar’s a little work on it. So the thing goes along by tools. Author’s Collection. alternating with prison work for a few minutes at a time. As soon as the piece is finished it could be removed and stowed away.” Burglar tools fabricated in prison would be much cheaper and easier to obtain than on the outside. Refusing to “peach” on his partners, Har-


kins lost all his credits and had one year tacked onto his six-year term. In an investigation of this incident, Warden Hale told the state prison directors how the prison-made tools were being traded for opium. A perusal was made of Harkins’ recent correspondence with an ex-convict named Chris Germain, now living in San Francisco. The letters seemed harmless enough, but Captain Jameson was suspicious. Exposing the letter to intense heat, the penciled writing disappeared and a message concerning the exchange of burglar tools for opium appeared. Harkins was slapped into solitary on top of his other punishment. Hale knew they had broken up this particular operation, but there would be others. It was a red-letter day in May 1894, when Governor Markham issued an executive letter to the state prison commissioners announcing that seven young San Quentin convicts were being transferred to the new Preston School of Industry at Ione, in Amador County. There, they would be taught a trade in a wholesome and controlled atmosphere, free from the inducements and bad associations of the larger cities. So many “Bobby Durkins” had been lost to crime over the years. Now, perhaps at least the odds could be changed for the better. Frank Wheeler had seen the inside of both Sing Sing and Joliet prisons and had escaped from both. His records at both prisons were unblemished, but he was always planning a vanishing act of some kind. A burglar by profession, Wheeler entered San Quentin on March 21, 1888, as No. 12913. He escaped the following year on October 1st, but was recognized in Los Angeles and was soon returned to San Quentin. On Monday, June 1, 1896, and the following day, he appeared nervous although his work hemming jute bags was as neat as ever. By four o’clock that afternoon he had disappeared again.

Frank Wheeler. Author’s Collection.

“Fled from Jail or Hid Within,” screamed the headline in the San Francisco Call, “Convict Frank Wheeler is Wanted at San Quentin.” At first, since he had disappeared so completely, it was thought the missing man was hiding on the prison grounds. After several days search, however, posses were fanning out over the countryside. Wheeler, or “Ohio Fatty” as he was known in the underworld, had vanished again.


The guards had not looked close enough and he had indeed secreted himself in the jute mill. He remained for some sixty hours before being discovered. “Fatty” had only been released from solitary a few months, however, before he was in trouble once again. THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE, APRIL 21, 1897:

Convicts Clash. A Fatal Duel with Knives in San Quentin Prison—A serious cutting affray occurred in the prison yard here this morning between Frank Wheeler alias Ohio Fatty and W. H. Kelly, a burglar from Sacramento County. Both men are in a very dangerous condition… .

In San Quentin history the jute mill is frequently characterized as a hell hole where flying particles of jute filled the air and the lungs of coughing workers felt like they were lined with velvet. Ex-convict Donald Lowrie, who did eighteen months of his time on the jute looms, disagreed. “True,” he wrote, “the work is irksome and the air is charged with fine particles of dust, fatal to the weak-lunged, but the conditions are no worse than those prevailing in many of the textile mills of New England, where young girls perform the same work that is required of able-bodied men at San Quentin.”

Convict Edward Morrell. California State Archives.

Convict Ed Morrell, on the other hand, complained bitterly of his time on the loom. “I was put to work in that Hell of San Quentin, the Jute Mill… amid the deafening clatter, in air filled with jute dust so thick at times that it was hard to distinguish more than vaguely a faint outline of the blue coated guards who stood over us with loaded clubs to see that we turned out our one hundred yards of cloth each day.” If the work was not as dangerous to health as some made it out to be, it was probably boring and “irksome” in the extreme, as is most repetitive work. Convicts, however, were always complaining about something: they were being worked too hard and the food was always bad. Complaining and plotting intricate escape plans was all they had left. When all was said and done, in the end they were just complaining about being prisoners! The San Quentin officials knew the complaint game well and had no intention of letting the inmates run the prison. If there was any chance a complaint might be justified, a committee of convicts would


be allowed to appear before the prison board, as happened one crisp autumn afternoon in 1891. It was another food complaint, with William Merkle and four other convicts representing the prisoners. In the course of complaining about bad food, Merkle let slip that there had been a strike that morning in the jute mill. “We don’t want you to think,” said Merkle, “that we intended any disturbance this morning when we quit work. We only wanted to state our complaint.” That did it for the volatile Director Charles Sonntag who spoke right up!. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, SEPTEMBER 13, 1891:

Yes, and I want to say right here that the directors were astonished when they learned of your action. It was nothing more nor less than revolt! Now, we have heard what you had to say and I tell you now, all of you, that you have no cause for complaint. I and other directors go through the kitchen and dining room frequently and are acquainted with the quality of food you get. It is the best of each kind to be obtained in the market. “Your action this morning in stopping work was a gross violation of the rules, and if I had been warden you and all the others in the strike would have been locked up in close confinement. …Your complaints have no foundation, and I tell you now that these complaints must be stopped. This is a prison, and we will not tolerate any such action as a strike and if you do it again it will go hard with you. I warn you now that if any more insubordination such as this morning occurs the guards will order you to work and if you disobey they will shoot you. Probably that will have the desired effect and stop this complaining. That is all I have to say.”

The convicts were then dismissed and left knowing Sonntag was noted for such bombastic talk. Guards would never be ordered to shoot down prisoners who would not work. The convicts were cheered when Director Sonntag retired in early January 1894. During the ceremony, Warden Hale and his staff presented him with a handsome gold chain and locket. In a speech “which abounded in felicitous expressions of good will,” Warden Hale congratulated a grinning Sonntag on serving “his full term of ten years, without taking the benefit of the Goodwin Act [time off for good behavior].” Ex-convict Donald Lowrie wrote that he became a competent jute weaver in two weeks time. Others, not used to repetitive manual labor, found it difficult to make their daily quota. The jute looms, now nearly twenty years old and in continuous use, had worn out parts and breakdowns occurred. Old-timers knew how to get them back in operation, but to the newcomers malfunctioning looms were a source of endless frustration.


Each operator had a quota of 100 yards a day and each 100 yards was carefully inspected for flaws. After several warnings about flaws in their product, the operator was thrown in the dark dungeon for several days which would sometimes enhance the powers of concentration on the job. It was learn or go to the “hole” and most convicts, in the end, “learned.” Competent operators became fast enough to achieve their 100 yards several hours early. With these extra hours they could either loaf or be paid to take over for one of the slow operators. Money was forbidden to the convicts, so the medium of exchange was usually tobacco. With tobacco a prisoner bought whatever luxuries could be acquired, from liquor to drugs, hats, clothes, or favors. At a meeting of the prison commissioners on March 10, 1894, a number of problems were discussed. They voted to abolish the office of usher. This was the title of the officer in charge of mug shot photography as well as the new system of Bertillon measurements. The office of lieutenant of the yard was also abolished, the positions being replaced by the office of turnkey which had been reinstated to do both jobs. It was also voted that the old brick laundry building would be remodeled to replace “Crank Alley” when funds became available. It was suggested that the Lowell gun batteries should be modified. The cartridges were now twenty years old and some would not fire. New cartridges would not fit the guns and the old cartridges, re-filled with powder repeatedly, were undependable. The barrels of the guns would have to be re-bored to fit .45 caliber cartridges. This was voted down by the board, perhaps because they knew that the guns were by then primarily utilized as a threat.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Incorrigibles In March of 1895 Warden Hale’s four year term was drawing to a close. He was on good terms with the board and found himself campaigning for another term as warden. “I have good reason to believe that I will be elected,” commented Hale. Among other things, Hale claimed that although there had been escape efforts, no convict had been successful during his term. In former years there had been from twelve to fourteen escapes for each administration. Also, the jute mill had been productive during Hale’s term and was showing a profit while supplying grain bags to the state and keeping a large proportion of the convicts busy. Best of all, there had been no glaring scandals, although it was becoming ever more difficult to hold down the growing opium problem. When Warden Hale was indeed reappointed, he and most others were optimistic that the formula for a successful penitentiary had finally been achieved. They were wrong! If he had known what was in store for him, he would surely have looked into other areas of employment. It seemed too good to be true that San Quentin had little to criticize during Hale’s second term. And maybe it was. A correspondent of the Kansas City Star seemed to be an early practitioners of a new theme in attacking the prison. It was an assault from an entirely different direction. “Criminals Gently Kept,” screamed the headlines in the May 15, 1895, issue of the Star. “Convicts Find a Happy Home at San Quentin. Peculiarities of the Management of California’s Greatest Prison— Convicts Bribed to be Good and Offered Inducements Not Held Forth in Other States.” The gist of the article was that California had a higher percentage of criminals, population-wise, than all the other states. “This means, that on a basis of one million people for each state, she had 478 more prisoners at the last census than Massachusetts, her nearest rival and


689 more than the next nearest.” The writer then went on to describe the harsher discipline of the larger prisons in the East, drawing the conclusion that San Quentin was so easy on its prison population that criminals were fleeing to the West Coast. In other words, if they were caught and convicted in California, a prison sentence would be much easier to serve. Citing the trusty system, the custom of allowing prisoners to buy and eat their meals elsewhere than the prison mess hall, the rampant purchasing of privileges and so on, the writer concluded that when a convict was released from a tough Eastern prison he would select another state for his new operations. “There is a decided preference for California,” he went on, “for among the criminal classes of the United States this state’s treatment of her prisoners is well known and favorably commented upon. No other prison in America, or the world, offers such a premium for crime as does that of the principle prison of California—San Quentin. Situated in a delightful nook of a beautiful bay, few spots in California or Italy surpass it for prettiness of location.” When a San Francisco newspaper published several articles on this same theme, the headlines were even more sensational, although ultimately misleading. SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, OCTOBER 20, 1897:

SAN QUENTIN A PLEASURE RESORT FOR CRIMINALS. Climate There is Delightful, Surroundings are Agreeable and there is Little Hard Work to interfere with the Comfort of the Convicts. The number of convicts at the San Quentin prison in round numbers is 1,200. Many of them, after conviction, were sent there by request. …An ex-judge of one of the departments of the criminal courts in this city said on this subject yesterday: “While I was on the bench I was requested in nearly every instance of sentence to send the convicted man to San Quentin. I am told that life in that prison is much easier than penal servitude in Folsom. Criminals prefer the climate on the bay to that of the foothills in Sacramento County. The summer weather at Folsom is not at all agreeable to the convicts. Again, the criminals at Folsom are in a sense isolated. The place is so far from San Francisco that the convicts cannot see their friends and acquaintances as often as they like. The chances of escape from the Folsom institution are remote… .

The Call published a week’s menu at the prison, but rather than showing a listing of gourmet meals, the menu tended to indicate more healthful food was being


served. The press was on more solid ground when it published interviews with new San Francisco Police Chief Isaiah Lees pertaining to recidivism. Testifying before a governor’s special commission of inquiry in July of 1881, Lees stated that discharged convicts and confirmed criminals from other states and from Europe, deliberately chose California as the theater of their operations. Lees, continued the report, “also gave it as his opinion, and abundantly fortified by unmistaken instances, that the light, punitive character of the prison discipline does not exert a deterring influence upon the distinctively criminal classes in this state.” The committee validated Chief Lees’ testimony by citing that San Quentin’s prison population was abnormally large in proportion to the state’s population. “For example, the state of Michigan, with a population 50 percent greater than that of California, has less than one-half the number of convicts in her prisons to be found in ours. Even the state of New York, with over five times our population, has less than double our number of convicts.” California, however, was much younger than the eastern states and as such could expect higher crime rates. Continuing, the committee then listed a series of disturbing recidivism cases. Case No. 1—Convict received from Los Angeles June 4, 1878 for grand larceny; 2 years — discharged February 4, 1880. Received from Marin May 5, 1880 for burglary, second degree; 5 years;.” There were some forty cases cited, all showing a mere few months between the convict’s release and re-admittance for another crime. Was “doing time” in San Quentin easier than in Folsom? The stone cutting and quarrying was a thing of the past at the Marin facility, but at Folsom a convict’s sweaty future of making little ones out of big ones was a hard fact of life. Too, the cost of a ferry ride to San Quentin was a mere fifty cents, while train travel to Folsom involved a ten dollar investment. For the friends or family of a convict, this made a big difference. In later years the “San Quentin-as-a-Resort” articles would still occasionally surface, usually as a political device during election years. On a Monday night in late February 1895, there was excitement of the kind the prison could well do without. Ada Werner, No. 16099, was serving a life term for shooting her husband as he quietly slept in their San Francisco home. In the habit of reading herself to sleep in her cell, she dozed off this night and had a nightmare. Sitting up quickly in bed, Ada’s bedside


candle was knocked over. As the bedding then caught fire, the room quickly began filling with smoke and Ada commenced shrieking and pounding on her door. Her neighbor convicts were soon yelling and pounding, also, and by the time Matron Keyes had arrived on the scene, several of the night watch guards had arrived. Rather than go downstairs for the key, the two began battering Werner’s cell door and it soon gave way. The escape and Ada Werner. California State Archives. fire bell alarm had by then been sounded and the prison firemen promptly had the blaze under control. It was a close call. Bob Durkin was still travelling his own dark road. Released from his fifth term at San Quentin on August 29, 1880, he looked up some old pals and they commenced their usual series of burglaries in their hit and run style. Durkin’s record was well known by now and upon a burglary conviction in Nevada County the authorities slapped him with a fifteen year term in Folsom. The quarry was where the career criminals sweated out their day-to-day lives at Folsom, but the prison was still new and there was much other work to be done. Hillsides were being graded and water had to be hauled to the prison grounds from the American River until a water system was installed. Convicts also laid sewer lines and put down cement floors. In late summer 1881, Durkin, George Lupton, George Walker, John Cooney, and James Gordon planned a break. All but one had done three or more terms, three of them being troublesome prisoners shipped from San Quentin. Shortly after one o’clock on the afternoon of August 5, several of the five convicts put some wood planks on their shoulders and walked toA Folsom guard Post such as the one Durkin and his pals assaulted. Folsom History Museum


wards guard post No. 7 pretending they were on a work detail. At the post, as they showed a forged note to the guard, he was struck from behind with a hammer. Taking the guard’s rifle, the five convicts then sprinted for the river. Another guard shot Durkin in the leg before he got ten feet from the post. “The other four,” reported the Sacramento Record-Union, “got a quarter of a mile away, and went to swim the river. Just as they were about to jump in the officers and guards were upon them, and at once, Burns, a guard, shot Walker dead and Lupton jumped into the river, and was not seen any more. It is the belief that he was drowned.” Gordon, Cooney and Lupton were recaptured and herded back to their cells, grumbling that they wished for the same fate as Walker. Durkin was still in Folsom in July, 1892 when former San Joaquin County Sheriff Benjamin F. Rogers dropped by for a visit. The ex-sheriff knew Bob from his various Stockton exploits. “He was a very tough boy here even thirty years ago and has served several terms in the State Prison. His last sentence has nearly expired and he will soon be preying on the public again, for good is not in him.” Upon release, the forty-four year-old Durkin headed south and soon fulfilled Sheriff Rogers’ prophesy when he was picked up for burglary in Kern County. He entered San Quentin again on February 21, 1893 for a seven year term. After release he reportedly served a term in San Jose for vagrancy. After this Durkin seemed to disappear for a few years. In 1915 a vagrant known as “English Joe” was recognized by Officer Edward Healy in the misdemeanor cell of the San Francisco county jail. “Joe” was thought to be dead at the time and his mug shot was so designated. Thinking the man looked familiar, Healy accosted him in the cell.

Possibly Bob Durkin’s final mug shot. Author’s Collection.

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, APRIL 25, 1915:

“Hello, English Joe,” Healy cried to the silent, brooding figure. With a halfstart the old fellow looked up and with a sad smile huskily answered: “English Joe no more. Just Old Bob Durkin.” Answering, then, the questions put to him by Healy, Durkin told how on his release in 1909 he found himself too old and feeble to continue his outlawry and had tried to earn a living as a porter about saloons and resorts, places where in former years he had squandered his loot in royal fashion.

Durkin’s further travails and fate are not known, but he does not


show up under his real name in the state death records after 1915. Wishful thinking had never been able to make the jute mill the big boon it was hoped to be. It had been, however, a frequent source of trouble. With over half the prison population now engaged there— some 720 men—trouble often hung in the air like an angry fog. Sometimes a convict would lay in wait for a personal enemy as he was filing out into the yard, then club or stab him as he passed by. At other times the attack would take place while working at the jute looms or bag-sewing stations. Convict meetings of one kind or another often took place in the noisy, dust-filled shop. Other trouble had occurred in exercising the only power convicts had in the prison— the power of refusing to work! There had been brief strikes before, but no strong leader or unanimous commitment among a large segment of the convict population. Now, things had changed. There were exchanges between the two prisons—sometimes to break up trouble making relationships, or to make escape more difficult since Folsom had no walls. The opium problem was worse than ever. As fast as the dope smugglers were broken up, new means of getting opium into the prison were devised. The drug was buried at predetermined sites in the hills or along roads where the convicts were known to be working. It was dropped over the walls at night, smuggled in by visitors, and officials suspected that guards were probably involved. Packages sent to the convicts were also more carefully checked than ever, with astounding results. A turkey came with a large bundle of dressing, in the middle of which was a package of opium. Letters were discovered that were saturated with opium. “A pair of slippers was sent to Ohio Fatty,” reported Warden Hale. “It was noticed that the soles were not made in the regular manner, so they were cut open and this disclosed some paper money, one dollar and three dollar bills, which were to be used, of course, in the purchase of opium. Some cigars sent to another prisoner proved to have dollar bills rolled in with the tobacco. The covers of books have often proved a receptacle for money and opium, and all kinds of tricks have been played with fruit— holes would be bored and scooped out and filled with opium, then the


surface restored.” When the delivery of these packages was promptly stopped, all hell broke loose. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY MORNING CALL, MAY 28, 1897:

San Quentin Prison, May 27—Another strike occurred in the jute mill at this prison today, the men giving as a reason that the food was not properly cooked and some of it not fit to eat, and refusing to do any work until something was done to remedy this… .

The convicts had all been standing at attention before their jute looms waiting for the bell to ring at 7:30 A.M. When the machines started up, the men went to work as usual. According to convict Ed Morrell, at exactly 10 o’clock, the machines clanged to a stop. The convicts all remained immobile before their equipment. Guards were confused and rushed up to the workers shouting for them to get back to work. Still, the convicts stood like statues. Warden Hale and his officers conferred with convict leaders who complained that the food was bad and must be improved. They insisted that the commissary officer and cooks all be discharged and a new set named by the convicts. They also demanded that delivery of the fruit and other packages be resumed. Captain Edgar snorted that the food was good and the prisoners were complaining just to be complaining. In any case, Hale had no intention of giving in. The dickering was still going on when the dinner bell rang at noon. The convicts dutifully lined up and were marched off to the prison mess hall. During the noon meal, Warden Hale contacted several prison This 1890s newspaper sketch of the prison shows the Stones and other cellblocks to the left with the wall running behind it. Next is a corner of the four story workshops building with stairs. To the right are the officer’s mess, hospital, laundry and other structures. In the foreground, obscured by hilltop shrubbery and the wall, is the Porch and a wing of the women’s cells. Author’s Collection.


board members, as well as the governor, and was told they would back him up in anything he had to do. That was all Hale and his men needed to know. Instead of ringing the “back to work bell,” the “return to your cells” bell was rung. Creatures of habit, the men now went to their cells where the cell doors were quickly locked. Before they Jute mill workers came up with another scheme realized what was happen- to get their way, but Hale and his men were one step ahead of them. Author’s Collection. ing, the convicts were seized and hustled off to the old Stones cellblock where some four hundred men were jammed into the ground floor cells. Seventy of the suspected leaders were locked up in the dungeons in the old hospital building on a diet of bread and water. Hale and his men were mighty pleased with themselves. The warden had firmly rejected the convict’s demands and the strike had been easily quelled. It was a good day’s work. When it finally dawned on the convicts how they had been duped, they exploded with fury! SAN FRANCISCO DAILY MORNING CALL, MAY 29, 1897:

Like a Band of Raving Maniacs—Never before in the history of San Quentin prison has there been as such a season of tumult and excitement as that of last night. The 750 prisoners who rebelled and refused to work in the big jute mill combined to make the night hideous and shriek upon shriek rent the air, while an incessant banging against the massive iron doors added to the racket and confusion. There was little opportunity for sleep in the prison last night on account of the noise. Today it was more quiet, although the hammering and howling was heard at intervals throughout the morning and during the afternoon… .

The next night the screaming and cursing from the Stones cellblock were resumed, combined with a banging on the cell doors that made a din seemingly from the pits of hell itself. Horrified at the noise, the people in the village outside the prison gates gathered on the hills surrounding the prison. They could not sleep with the terrible racket and now feared a breakout. Their fears were well grounded. In their fury, the prisoners in the dungeons were tunneling through the brick


walls of the solitary cells with crowbars and hammers that had been smuggled in. At the same time they were battering the cell doors, ripping them from their hinges and piling them before the main dungeon door to prevent the guards from entering. The following day the screaming and banging continued. When Hale and other officers appeared and tried to open a discussion, they were violently cursed by the seething crowds in the Stones cellblock until they retired from the din. At three-thirty in the afternoon, a guard named Sullivan took three other guards to check the dungeons in the old hospital building. They unlocked the outside iron gate, then the large, double wooden doors that opened into the corridor where the cells were located. Throwing back these doors, the guards were startled to see the convicts out of their cells and in the corridor. The guards and convicts now confronted each other over the pile of steel cell doors clogging the entrance. As the convicts began heaving bricks at the invaders, there was a brief struggle until several shots were fired and the convicts and guards both backed off. Sullivan reported to Hale, then returned with more guards and sledgehammers which were used to batter down the barrier of cell doors. Captain Birlem and a squad of riflemen herded the convicts back into their cells where they were held until their comrades had been moved out of the Stones cell block. Now, guards removed the other jute workers from the ground floor of the Stones to cells on the top floor. The rioting solitary prisoners were then moved into the vacated Stones cells and locked up where they resumed screaming and banging on the doors. Hale had again conferred with the prison directors and was assured of their support in any course of action he would now undertake. “San Quentin is going to put on spurs and boots,� growled Hale, “and


ride over these men who have set at defiance its whole code of discipline, if it takes a year to do it.” As the “solitary” convicts continued to scream and bang the doors of their new quarters in the Stones cell block, Hale unleashed a new plan of action. The prisoners were taken from the Stones’ cells, ordered to undress, then herded naked back into the cells. Unrolling the fire hose from the nearest hydrant, the nozzle was inserted in the small window of the first door of hoarsely screaming convicts. The water was then turned on full force into the cell amid the startled shouts and screams of those within. “The effect was magical,” reported the San Francisco Call. ”The occupants, after being drenched from head to foot, became dumb. The forced silence was contagious, and at 9 o’clock Newspaper illustrations could not show the dropping of a pin could be heard in that the convicts were naked while being hosed down. Author’s Collection the courtyard of the prison. Guards are patrolling the cell galleries constantly looking for candidates for flushing, but the supply has disappeared.“ The strike was over. Convict Ed Morrell was in one of the flooded cells and described what must have been a horrifying experience. “…A great stream of icy water burst into the cell striking the back wall with terrific force and spraying down upon our naked bodies so heavily that we were almost hurled to the floor! We dodged, crowded, and finally stooped low to avoid being struck directly by the full force of the stream.” Call reporter Muriel Bailey was appalled at the scenes of screaming and violence. SAN FRANCISCO DAILY MORNING CALL, JUNE 6, 1897:

Oh! The awfulness of it… Gradually the yells decreased until nothing more than mutterings and sounds of baffled rage came to the ear mingled with the sound of splashing water. Still we stood and watched, speaking no word, too sad at heart to even think, until one by one the streams of water were stopped and silence reigned. And a cool breeze sighed across the quiet court and just then rang out from the north wall:


“Ten o’clock! All’s well!” “Poor wretches!”said Captain Birlem. “Imagine them shivering in the corners of their half-filled cells.” “Are they penitent? Not a bit of it,” he laughed. “They imagine they are badly treated, and think that we are brutes and are willfully depriving them of their rightful liberty.”

Although quiet now, the rioters were sullen and refused to accept the fact that they would not prevail. “We have got Hale in a hole,” one of the prisoners was heard to mutter. “I guess he’ll be glad to come to our terms. He can’t run the jute mill without us and he can’t afford to keep it closed.” What the rioters did not know, however, was that there were over three million jute bags in inventory and nearly every farmer in the state had been supplied for the current year. Hale, meanwhile, issued a stern threat that any convicts caught outside their cells would be shot down, if necessary. Warnings were posted in the prison yard and in the guard’s quarters. After a tour of the wrecked solitary cells, reporter Bailey turned to leave. “I followed slowly out of the dark, uncanny place. It held the same charm that Rome’s old amphitheater has, formerly inhabited by wild animals and the breath of their wildness lingers about, holding with it a kind of terror.” And so it was over! “From execrations,” bellowed the Call, “vilifications, howling, yelling and a general pandemonium, the cold-water treatment transferred the state’s caravansary into the quietude of the cloister.” Many convicts, nearly half, had not participated in the revolt. The regular prisoner work gangs that were laboring on county roads had gone out every day. No trusties had participated either, since they were mostly short-termers. Captain Edgar reported that some forty prisoners told him they wanted to go back to work, but were afraid of the strikers if they Ed Morrell - always did. The convicts had won nothing and lost much. Goverin trouble. California State Archives. nor Budd had already announced that none of the strikers could expect any executive clemency in the future, while most of them lost their credits. It had been a costly strike for the convicts. The events and rioting at San Quentin were big-headline news around the country.


THE NEW YORK TIMES, JUNE 7, 1897:

San Quentin Trouble Over—June 6.—The trouble with the convicts employed in the jute mill is over. Work will be started up tomorrow in that portion of the mill known as the “Old Jute,” with 400 men. This leaves about 250 of the most desperate and mutinous of the criminals still confined on a diet of bread and water, and it is expected that of these all but the ring-leaders will soon be at work again. Those who took part in the attempt to break from the dungeon will be punished.

As she had arrived at the prison that late afternoon, reporter Bailey had asked about one of the guards pacing in front of Guard Post No. 4. “That man?” replied her companion. “Why, that is the hangman—Amos Lunt. He is waiting for his next victim. … He feels important, this man who has executed more criminals than any man in the state; he feels doubly so now, for is not his next victim to be the “criminal of the century?” Before, during, and after the jute mill strike and revolt, there had been endless legal delays concerning the hanging of convicted murderer Theodore Durrant. He was accused of killing two, young San Francisco girls. The newspapers had a field day during Durrant’s trial, reviling the accused killer as the most bestial murderer of the time. On April 10, 1895, a schoolgirl had been reported missing in San Francisco. Blanche Lamont, a twenty-one-year-old student failed to return from school one day and no trace of her could be found. A police investigation revealed she had last been seen on a streetcar accompanied by a fellow student named Theodore Durrant. When interviewed, Durrant readily admitted being on the streetcar with Blanche, but insisted he had gotten off a short time later. On Saturday morning, April 13, several women were preparing for the Sunday services in the Emmanuel Baptist Church. In looking for a trash container, one of the woman wandered into the pastor’s office, then into an adjoining room. The woman screamed when she saw a young woman’s corpse on the floor. Her clothes had been ripped from her body and she had been stabbed repeatedly, the knife still protruding from her chest. The police were promptly summoned. It was first thought that Blanche Lamont’s body had been found, but the bloody corpse proved to be that of Minnie Williams, a friend of both Durrant and Miss Lamont. An investigation disclosed the mutilated, nude body of the Lamont girl in the belfry of the same church. When Minnie Williams’ purse was found in the pocket of one of Theodore Dur-


rant’s coats, there was little doubt that the murderer had been found. It was called the “Trial of the Century” and the defense attorneys could not successfully counter a great mass of evidence collected by the new Chief of Police Isaiah Lees and his detectives. When all else failed, Durrant was put on the stand. His evasive answers and alibis, however, would indicate a dozen witnesses were liars, with no motives for such deception. Durrant had added to the prosecution’s case. On September 26, the courtroom was startled when Warden Hale appeared in court and shook hands with one of the defense team. “The advent of the official executioner of the State was not met with hospitable looks by Durrant and his friends,“ reported the Examiner. “They glared at him with hostile regard and perhaps he felt uncomfortable because he remained but a short time.” On December 6, 1895, Durrant was convicted and sentenced to death. He took up residence in the condemned cells at San Quentin, while Amos Lunt began stretching his rope. While his lawyers filed habeas Corpus proceedings in Federal Court, Durrant continued his innocent act, presenting Warden Hale with the following pompous and absurd document; San Quentin, Marin County, June 1, 1897. To Mr. W. E. Hale, Warden of the State Prison at San Theodore Durrant, the Quentin, State of California: Take notice that I, the underaccused murderer of two signed, claiming to be illegally restrained and detained by girls. Author’s Collection. you at the State Prison at San Quentin under proceedings, without authority of law, hereby demand my release from imprisonment and detention by you as an officer of the State of California.

W. H. T. Durrant.

And now the waiting began for word from the California governor and courts. There were still occasional escapes. Most attempts, however, showed a little more thought than the convict who climbed to the roof of the old factory building to wait for nightfall. Hoping to disappear into the hills after dark, he found it was easier to go up than to come back down, especially at night. At the first bell in the morning he was shouting for help to get down from the four-story structure. A more imaginative approach was taken by Allen Downen, No. 5023,


who had been convicted of a Tulare County stage robbery in 1874. By behaving himself, Downen became a trusty in the prison laundry. On October 1, 1878, he appropriated the clothing of a guard, then changing into his new wardrobe quietly walked out the front gate, probably with a group of tourists. He was recaptured in Truckee and returned to prison on December 11, 1878. He managed to secure a pardon from Governor Stoneman on September 16, 1884, and was again a free man.

Allen Downen’s story is a strange one. Author’s Collection.

But Downen was bad clear through. He next managed to steal the jewelry of a prostitute he was living with in San Jose. Picked up with a train ticket to Denver in his pocket, Downen was easily convicted and escorted back through San Quentin’s gates on October 17, 1885, to serve a seven year term .

In time, Downen, No. 11883, secured a trusty position in the prison bakery. He and co-workers Gus Meyer, No. 12939, and James Dollar, No. 13274, were kindred spirits and by late 1889, the trio was perfecting a plan to escape. SACRAMENTO DAILY UNION, SEPTEMBER 13, 1889:

Over the Garden Wall. The Three Bakers Who Make Hot Muffins at San Quentin Escape. September 12th.—There will be no hot rolls for breakfast in the morning at San Quentin, owing to the fact that the bakers, three in number, are looking for citizen clothes in which to escape the gaze of detectives somewhere in Marin County. They went over the wall of the prison about 7:45 PM, at what is considered almost an inaccessible point, using a thirty foot ladder and letting themselves down a rope from the top of the wall… .

Downen apparently lost his grip and fell from the wall, breaking his leg. His two pals scampered off without him. Painfully crawling and hobbling around the Marin County hills, he was recaptured after five painful days of freedom. Downen was a good example of the dangerous characters continually being pardoned or escaping to once again prey on the public. Convicted of the escape attempt, two more years were added to Downen’s sentence and he was again released on September 17, 1892. By the summer of 1896, Downen was plying his trade in Colorado where he engaged in a long series of holdups on the road. When he was picked up in late October, Downen asked to see Denver Police Chief


John L. Russell. Inexplicably, the ex-convict sat down with the chief and confessed to his many crimes in Colorado, California, and several other states. He detailed several murders and many other shootings and robberies. His killings and crimes were easily verified in newspapers and prison records. Downen was convicted and sentenced to hang, but this was commuted to life in prison due to Colorado’s recent ban on the death penalty. The colorful desperado apparently died in the Canon City, state prison sometime after 1911. There had been many changes in San Quentin by the mid 1890s. The main entrance had been rebuilt as a much more impressive edifice. Now, two, three-story gothic structures jutted out from the wall, surrounding the set-back entrance doorway. Medieval-like battlements crowned the summits. Decorative stone-work set off the gothic windows. On the south side of the entrance, a new brick, two-story bank of rooms and offices covered a large stretch of wall. Gardens and shrubbery lined the two roads leading to the now imposing but foreboding, entrance. Inside the walls were many new buildings surrounding a stillroomy upper yard. The old shop building that housed the hanging room now was fronted by updated buildings, including a hospital and guards’ mess hall. The women’s quarters had been expanded with additional rooms where the inmates still fashioned men’s garments for prison use as they whiled away their sentences.. A railroad spanned the distance between the steamboat ferry landing and San Rafael. The North Pacific Coast Railroad passenger trains stopped near San Quentin where visitors could catch a horse-driven


bus to the prison gate. This greatly facilitated travel by tourists and other visitors and made Sundays busier than ever. Since the mid-1880s a large visiting room was in use where visitors talked to the convicts through wire screens. Gradually, however, there were complaints from those who wished to embrace or hold hands with their loved ones. Although many visitors had surreptitious reasons also, these did not occur to Warden Shirley who now had second thoughts about the screens. DAILY ALTA CALIFORNIA, MARCH 12, 1890:

The wire screen, which was put up in Warden Shirley’s time at the San Quentin prison, to intercept all communication between prisoners and their friends during the progress of conversation, has been taken down, and now a mother is permitted to embrace, touch, and kiss her convict son. No attempt is now made to keep them separate. Of the more than 1,300 convicts in the prison, only about 100 are ever called for by visitors. Of the few women convicts about a third have friends who call to see them.

In time it was discovered that visitors and convicts now exchanged all sorts of contraband under the very noses of the guards. Up went the screens again, and this time they stayed. By the mid-90s, several uniformed guards kept watch over the proceedings. One of them clocked each group of visitors, limiting them to fifteen minutes each. It would have delighted fifty-three year old Julia Ryan, No. 11990, if she could have been visited by any of her three sons on a Sunday morning. Julia was in San Quentin serving fourteen years on a perjury charge. Unfortunately, Martin Ryan, No. 11902, and Patrick Ryan, 11583, two of her sons, were also San Quentin prisoners and as such were not permitted contact with the female convicts. Julia Ryan was a pawn of her criminal sons, ormaybe it was the other way around. California State Archives.

SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, AUGUST 26, 1888:

It was Julia Ryan’s wont when either of her sons was arrested and charged with some crime, to turn up in court and attempt to prove an alibi. It was in doing this the last time, when one of her sons was being tried on a charge of robbery, that she was caught. It was proved that not only she was perjuring herself, but that she also had assisted her son in the commission of the robbery for which he was being tried.

Oh yes, Julia’s third son had just recently escaped from Folsom. It was not convenient, or wise, for him to visit his convict mother, either.


A female Call reporter, with a maudlin Sunday article in mind, took a fog-shrouded trip across the bay one morning. She had an idea about recording the drama and tragedy in those monthly visits. There were plenty of both to be found. SAN FRANCISCO MORNING CALL, JANUARY 21, 1900:

Here for fifteen short minutes they may talk across three inches of wireenclosed space, but with never a chance for even the comforting touch of a friendly hand. I subsided rather uneasily into a corner before the screen, feeling that I was intruding on emotions to which I was a stranger and on which I had no right to look. But these people—the sinners, who appeared like striped phantoms behind the screen; and the sinned against, who stood outside—were absorbed in their own affairs and despairingly indifferent to all The visiting room is shown here in an illustration else. appearing in the San Francisco Call, January 21,

Down in the corner nearest 1900. Author’s Collection. the door the narrow, bent shoulders of a woman arrested my attention. Her story is an old, old tale, of that feminine devotion that men always respect, but rarely appreciate. . Her husband’s hands are stained with the life blood of a fellow employee—an accident of anger. The law has said that for twenty years he must atone. Half of the allotted term has passed and in all that time, rain or shine, this devoted wife has never missed meeting her husband on the privileged days….slowly the panorama of human misery and retribution moved along. A tall, slender figure of a woman stood with one knee resting on the stool beside her, and her bony , nervous hands formed a sort of trumpet for her mouth, which was pressed close to the screen. With scarcely a pause, for fully fifteen minutes she poured forth a perfect torrent of words into the ear of a big, brutish-looking convict. As her time drew to a close she talked faster and faster, until finally I heard him exclaim impatiently, “I can’t hear that.” When the guard called at last, “Times up,” the fellow turned away…without one backward glance, while she stood with clenched hands, waiting in vain for a farewell smile. As she turned to go out she glanced around the room with a look of impotent rage that a wounded tigress might give her slayer. …At the other end of the railing sat an old mother. Far, far back in the golden days of California this woman had been a belle, and her Spanish beauty had been the theme of many a gallant toast. Four sons had crowned her wifehood… now, once every month, she sits before that screen in the prison, bringing the comfort


of mother-love to her erring son. Two were in San Quentin, but the other now sleeps upon the hill with the criminal dead. Another is in Folsom. The proud old father used to come with her, but he would not speak to the boys. Silent and grim, he would wait for the mother, and when the interview was over would march out, unyielding and unforgiving. Now, however, he will not even come to the prison and the tiny old lady makes her sad little journey alone. …On visiting days a special program is printed, and Becker, the notorious forger, devotes all his inventive genius to making the tiny, folded square as artistic as possible… .

Charles Becker was an anomalous touch to the whole tragic and sad scenario. He had probably stolen more money than all the thieves in San Quentin combined. He was a check raiser and forger, the best in the business, and he was wanted all over the world. When a reporter asked him the secret of his success, Becker responded; “A world of patience, a heap of time and good inks—that’s the secret of success in my profession.” Yet, he was flattered when Yard Captain Edgar asked him to participate in the protocol of visiting days. It was good to stay busy. He wanted to do his time, get those good behavior credits and return to his wife in New York. The legendary claim was that he was Charley Becker was perhaps the most feared so skilled with a pen that he could duplicate a page forger in the world. in a newspaper that could not be distinguished California State Archives. from the original. In January 1896, Captain Lees and his detectives had been called in when a draft on a local bank proved to have been raised from $12.00 to $22,000. Prior to this, one Frank Dean had opened a San Francisco broker’s office and began conducting business with a local bank. After a suitable time had elapsed, he obtained the $12.00 draft and detailed another gang member named Creegan to convey the draft to Charles Becker in Sacramento. Becker then forged the draft to read $22,000 and returned it to Dean in San Francisco. The bogus draft was then cashed for gold and the gang all fled in different directions. Although Dean had been disguised during his San Francisco sojourn, Lees interviewed dozens of witnesses and put together an accurate description of the con man. This was sent out to banks all around the country as well as to the Pinkertons who represented the Ameri-


can Bankers Association. Dean and another of the gang were recognized in a Minnesota bank and arrested and returned to California. In three or four days, Lees had obtained the names of Becker and Creegan who were then captured in New York. After a lengthy series of trials, Dean, Becker, and Creegan were convicted and sentenced to terms in San Quentin. Becker was the real prize, however, and Lees received congratulatory telegrams from around the country. Detective Robert Pinkerton’s message was typical: “Accept my sincere congratulations,” he wrote, “on the conviction of the greatest forger of the age. The banks of the world owe you and the Police Department and District Attorney a debt they can never repay. It is a great victory.” When he was released on August 10, 1903, there were rumors that Becker was to be subsidized by the American Banking Association to keep him honest. This was dismissed as nonsense by Becker, the Pinkertons, and the Association. Becker himself claimed he was going straight. He had invented inks and paper that could not be altered or forged and he hoped to sell these to the banking industry. In 1896, although there were ninety-three guards on duty at the prison, those convicts with escape on their mind just kept on plotting. George Marshall, No. 17214, convicted of grand larceny in San Joaquin County, only had three years to serve—less with time off. But six months was all he could take. From the beginning Marshall cooperated in every way and was soon enjoying trusty status. His job was room-tender for the guards in several of the two-story outside guard posts. He straightened the rooms, made up the beds, and brought the guards their meals. He was routinely let out of the prison gate at 7:30 in the morning to make his rounds. At 11:30 a.m. he was again released to take the noon meal to the posts. On the morning of September 21, 1897, Marshall walked through the main gate to begin his chores. At 12 o’clock the guards began to wonder what had happened to their noon meals. The missing room tender was soon reported to Captain Birlem. “It was found that Marshall had gone to the round guardhouse on the hill,”reported the Call. “Instead of making the bed he had picked out a suit of clothes belonging to the guard and exchanged it for his suit of stripes. Then, dressed


as a citizen, he walked forth to freedom. Later investigations show that after leaving the guardhouse he walked over the hill toward San Rafael… Here trace of him was lost, and it is thought he boarded a train at this place… .” Although the press referred to the escape as “one of the neatest that has ever been attempted at the prison,” convict Allen Downen had pioneered the same routine back in 1878. Warden Hale immediately offered a $50 reward for Marshall’s return.

Convict George Marshall. Author’s Collection.

While on a business trip to Oakland in early December 1898, Warden Hale received word that he was needed back at the prison. Returning, he was informed that the opium problem had surfaced again. Hale had always thought that guards must be mixed up with the smuggling and while he was gone, two of them had been caught in the act. A trusty named Miller had told Gate Keeper Victor Gilardin that guards Joseph Brooks and John Cramer were smuggling the drug into the prison. Gilardin immediately detailed a guard named Alden to keep a watch on the two suspects. It was not long before Alden spotted Guard Cramer, at his post, wandering off down the wall. Keeping out of sight, Alden saw the package given to Guard Joe Brooks who lowered it on a string into the prison yard where a convict shoved it under his coat. Waiting until the convict was out of sight of his companions, Alden seized the package and found it to contain a half pound of opium. Firing Brooks and Cramer upon his return, Hale now began interviewing other guards and was convinced that the underground drug source had been found. He could only grit his teeth over the dismissed guards since both were political appointments. “So fierce,” noted the Call, “were the threats made against trusty Miller by the convict ‘merchants’ and peddlers of the drug that it was found necessary to keep him away from the table where his fellow prisoners ate. …shut him in his cell at a different hour and have a guard constantly keep his eyes on him.” In the midst of this investigation, Hale was faced with a seldom confronted prison situation. Trusty George Cook, No. 12313, was described as a “muscular, good-looking fellow.” As a driver of the prison commis-


sary wagon, one of his duties was to deliver supplies and groceries to the kitchen of the female prisoner’s quarters. He was accompanied by a guard, since no contact was allowed between the male and female convicts. But Cook was a trusty. The guard would often sit on the wagon while Cook made several delivery trips into the kitchen of the women’s quarters. On one of his trips, George met May Johnson, No. 22966, in the kitchen. May, a personable, African American woman, smiled and the husky, woman-starved delivery man was doomed. Little is known of the relationship, but George probably found excuses to drop by the female quarters from time to time with items he had “forgotten” to deliver on his regular rounds. Giggles, jokes, and sheep’s eyes soon blossomed into smuggled notes between the two. As the plot thickened, Cook enlisted the aid of another trusty named Bill Karns who tended the garden next to the women’s quarters. May was advised to fold up her letters and tie them to a rock. This would then be dropped from a window into the garden and Karns would pass it on to Cook. And so the romance proceeded. The extent of the affair was never learned by Warden Hale, but upon discovery it was quickly terminated in December 1898. May went to solitary, while Karns took up residence in the dungeon. Cook, whose This photograph was acquired by the author many years ago. It is labled as “Warden Palmer & prison guards.” William H. Palmer (far left) was an 1850s prison director and warden, but the others are unidentified. Author’s Collection.


time expired in a few months, was taken off his delivery route and put to work in the jute mill. The disappointed suitor reportedly stated “he will wait in San Francisco for the woman until she is released, six months later, when he hopes to make her his wife.” Bigamist and confidence man “Sir” Harry Westwood Cooper, No. 17592, was doing three years for forgery. Most short-term convicts had sense enough May Johnson found romance in prison. Calto keep their noses clean and earn those good con- ifornia State Archives. duct credits for an earlier release. Cooper did the same, but mainly to ingratiate himself into a trusty position. Later, he obtained a gate keeper job, but he was always trying to better his position and the officials learned to be wary of him. He was next placed in Captain Edgar’s office, but that wily official soon pawned him off on the prison physician. Cooper did not last long with the doctor, either. He was soon working in the guard’s dining room where he was able to stay up late and wander around. When he met convict Ed Morrell, Cooper was in a position to initiate some real mischief. Born Martin Delaney in the Pennsylvania coal fields in 1868, Ed Morrell, claimed to have left home at an early age, travelling the world on tramp steamers. At some point he arrived in California where he did odd jobs in Southern California. In March, 1891, he was convicted of burglarizing a room in the Riverside Harry Cooper was a con man and forger. hotel where he was employed. Sentenced to two and a Author’s Collection. half years in San Quentin, he arrived in late March and became convict No. 14486. After his release on March 27, 1893, Morrell headed for the broad plains of the San Joaquin Valley. Stopping in Fresno, he visited the family of Milton Harvey Lee, a stage robber he had known in prison. In Fresno, Morrell mooched off the Hutchinsons, the family into which Lee’s ex wife had married. Chris Evans and John Sontag, desperadoes wanted for a series of train robberies and various shootings, were still at large at this time. The following June, the two outlaws were ambushed by a three man posse headed by U.S. Marshal George


Gard. The badly wounded outlaws were captured and taken to the Fresno jail where Sontag died and Evans, who had lost an eye and an arm, recovered from his wounds. During this period, Morrell somehow made the acquaintance of Chris’ daughter, Eva. A bright and personable teenager, Eva talked Morrell into helping her father escape jail. Later Morrell would admit that “he was in love with Eva.” At this time Morrell was working as a waiter in a local restaurant that provided meals for the local jail inmates. When he brought the evening meal to Evans in his cell, two pistols were hidden under a napkin, also. The two successfully fled the Fresno jail, Evans shooting and wounding the Fresno city marshal, John Morgan, in the process. The most noted train robber in the West and his “wannabe” desperado rescuer dodged posses for nearly two months in the mountains east of Fresno. The two fugitives were finally compelled to surrender during a clandestine visit to Visalia. Evans and Morrell were tried and convicted, each given life sentences in Folsom prison by Fresno Judge M.K. Harris. Morrell’s long sentence was the result of his taking the marshal’s pistol, adding ”armed robbery” to his jail-breaking charge. FRESNO DAILY EVENING EXPOSITOR, APRIL 16, 1894:

Curtain Rung Down—All the glamour of romance has been stripped from Edward Morrell’s participation in the liberation of Chris Evans and he will soon don the picturesque, if homely, garb of a convict at Folsom. …Judge Harris, in sentencing Morrell to Folsom… moralized somewhat on the nature of the bandit’s crimes. Morrell, however, …ran his eyes over the small crowd of spectators who were present to see the curtain rung down. He evidently wanted to play to the grand stand as they say in baseball parlance… .

There was certainly no glamour at Folsom prison. The officials and guards took no chances with jail-breakers of Morrell’s stripe and he found himself punished for any minor infractions of the rules. Instead of accepting responsibility for his situation, Morrell would rant in later years that the warden and guards were “drunken thugs” and “brutes” who frequently tormented him. Hoping for an easier job than rockcrushing, he was probably glad to be one of the 22 convicts transferred in May of 1896 to work in the San Quentin jute mill. A chronic complainer, Morrell probably needed little encouragement to join in the jute mill revolt of the following year.


Morrell seems to have kept a low profile for a time, but in late 1898 he made the acquaintance of “Sir Harry” Cooper. The origins of Cooper’s title derived from his past as a con man, forger, and thief. Although Morrell later claimed to have divulged an escape scheme to Cooper, there is little doubt it was “Sir Harry’s” plot and not Morrell’s. The plan was simple. Cooper, while working late at night in the guard’s mess, was able to gain access to the prison records room. The commitment papers of a select group of convicts would be removed and forged to show a much earlier release date than originally stated. A new warden was scheduled to be selected in May 1899. The confusion of a new administration taking charge would be an ideal time to complete the scheme. When Cooper displayed Ed Morrell was several sample forged documents, Morrell and seven always in trouble. Cali- other involved convicts started counting their days to fornia State Archives. freedom. Late on the evening of March 4, 1899, several guards burst into Morrell’s cell. Dragging him from his bunk, he and his cell were both thoroughly searched. “Where are the guns hidden?” the guards kept repeating, shoving him around for emphasis. After the cell was thoroughly searched, Morrell was dragged outside and taken to the solitary cells in the top floor of the Stones cellblock. Here he found several of the other conspirators in the commitment papers scheme. When all eight of the other plotters had been brought in, “Sir Harry” was noticeably absent. The conspirators promptly realized they had been betrayed by Cooper. The guards then began taking the convicts out one by one for questioning by Warden Hale and Captain Edgar. With the officers shouting “Tell us where the guns are!” the conspirators finally realized that convict Cooper had not mentioned the commitment papers switch at all. Instead, he had proclaimed that Morrell and others had hidden guns on the prison grounds. Various prison-made knives and keys that had been found during the search added validity to the plot. Hauled before the prison directors, none of the convicts could do anything but deny they knew of any guns, much less anything about hiding them. Because he always complained so much, Morrell was


thought to be one of the ringleaders and was the first one to testify. He refused to say anything, however, until he knew what charges were being brought against him. Finally, one of the directors mentioned Cooper’s name and Morrell spoke right up. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, APRIL 23, 1899:

“Now you’re getting down to business,” he said. He claimed that the “English doctor” [Cooper] was always going to him with wildcat schemes of escape, but that he would never listen to him. “He told me,” Morrell continued, “that he was a physician, and that being on the shift with the night guards, he could easily put some drug in their coffee that would keep them asleep for an hour or more.”

Harry Cooper was a bad one. Author’s Collection.

When one of the directors asked him if he would escape if he could, Morrell quickly responded. “Why of course I would. I’ve been here five years and I’ve never thought of anything else but escaping. I will keep on thinking of it, too. I was railroaded into this prison and would take the first chance that offered to get out. You bet I would.”

It became increasingly clear during the hearing that Cooper had hatched the whole scheme so he could betray his convict pals and hopefully collect a pardon for himself as a reward. All were sent to the dungeons until it could be decided what to do with them. Meanwhile, the directors had authorized Warden Hale to construct a series of cells next to the hanging room in the now mostly empty, four-story Sash and Blind building. These 32 sheet-iron cells were eight feet long and four feet wide with ten foot tall ceilings. Designed for incorrigible and unmanageable prisoners, the cells would each house just one man. They were completed in four months on June 24, and the worst convicts were soon behind their steel-grated doors. SAN FRANCISCO CALL, JUNE 25, 1899:

Jacob Oppenheimer, the assailant of Guard James McDonald, was first taken up in the elevator by Guards J. V. Robinson, J. D. Jones and S. L. Randolph. He retained his surly demeanor and appeared unmoved at his fate. George W. Schlegal and Ed Morrell came next. Both were ringleaders in the conspiracy to murder the guards and empty the prison of all its inmates last March. Schlegal was subdued, but Mor-


rell blasphemed in such a manner as to shock his custodians, accustomed as they are to the foul language of the convicts… .

Cooper and two more of the conspirators went up in the elevator last. When Al Gould and G. W. Bullock tried to attack Cooper, they were restrained by the guards and Cooper was taken up separately. Jacob Oppenheimer, No. 18056, was the poster boy for San Quentin’s “incorrigibles.” A young San Francisco messenger boy noted for his “depraved habits,” Oppenheimer was fired from his job when he tried to shoot his manager over a wage dispute. He was sent to San Francisco’s House of Correction for eighteen months and when released engaged in a series of robberies beginning in May 1892. He was sentenced to Folsom three years later for a fifty year term from Alameda County. Jacob Oppenheimer. Author’s Collection.

In Folsom, Oppenheimer distinguished himself by stabbing to death Walter Ross, a former partner in crime. Tried and convicted of murder, Jake was sentenced to life in prison, although already serving fifty years. In February 1899, he was moved to San Quentin. When he was reprimanded for breaking rules in the jute mill on April 16, he viciously attacked Guard James McDonald with a knife he had made from a file. Stabbed twice in the chest, the guard fell to one knee and desperately grabbed the blade of the knife. Oppenheimer savagely jerked it away gashing McDonald’s hand, then continued Guard James McDonald. stabbing his victim. From his post in the jute mill, Convict No. Author’s Collection. 15688, Donati Probasco, saw what was happening, and rushed over shouting at Guard Samuel Yoho. The guard and convict ran up just as McDonald had lurched to his feet and was going for his assailant. As Yoho clubbed the murderous prisoner to the ground with a blow from his leaded cane, Probasco helped the bleeding McDonald to the hospital. Breath was wheezing from a ragged wound in the gasping guard’s lung. “I had all I could do,” Yoho said later, “to control myself sufficiently to keep from hitting Oppenheimer two or three times and settling him. The fiendish grin on his face as he drew the knife through that defenseless man’s fingers and saw his hand drop


to his side with the blood spurting three feet simply maddened me.” Although given little chance of living, McDonald survived his five terrible wounds. Oppenheimer was caged in one of the new Incorrigible Cells as soon as they were ready. Because of this incident, the legislature added secGuard Samuel Yoho. tion 248 to the Penal Code making it a crime punishable Author’s Collection. by death for a convict serving a life sentence to assault another person. When McDonald recovered from his wounds, he and other guards began a campaign to secure a pardon for Probasco who was serving a twenty year term for the drunken murder of a friend. When the convict obtained his pardon the following year, McDonald and other guards met Probasco at the front gate of the prison. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, MAY 10, 1901

When Probasco was released yesterday he was immediately escorted by a group of guards to McDonald’s house, where a glad reception was given him by the guards. For three hours he was entertained and banqueted and when he left he took with him a Convict Donati Probasco. substantial purse raised for him among the employees of the California State Archives. prison. He was loaded down with letters of recommendation, and a position will be secured for him…

Republican Henry Gage was elected governor of California and took office in January, 1899. His selection for warden of San Quentin was Martin Aguirre, whose Spaniard father had married into the prominent Estudillo family of San Diego. Although young Martin had a good education, he was also a skilled rancher and vaquero and over the years served as a fireman, constable, and sheriff’s deputy. After Aguirre successfully ran for sheriff of Los Angeles County, he was regarded as a strict disciplinarian who preferred carrying a knife to a pistol. “I don’t know where bullets might go,” he once commented, “but I know where this knife is going.” Aguirre was elected warden of San Quentin by the prison directors on May 29, 1899. It was also decided that Warden Hale would remain in office until July 1st. In the Incorrigible Cells, Harry Cooper was only saved from the


vengeance of his erstwhile pals by the fact that each cell housed only one occupant. Two rows of sixteen cells each were back to back. The occupants could neither see nor contact each other. Two armed guards patrolled the corridors and kept up a constant watch. SAN FRANCISCO CALL, JUNE 25, 1899:

The completion of the Incorrigible Cells, it is prophesized, means a new era at San Quentin, and the discipline maintained now is the best in the history of the institution. A knowledge that the average life of a man placed in solitary confinement is only five years has induced fear on the part of the prisoners, leading to an observance of even the minor rules of discipline. Of course all this was wishful newspaper talk as the Hale regime was ending. No one could ever gauge what a murderous convict could do when he had lost all hope and had endless time on his hands. They were about to find out, however. On the evening of September 23, 1899, Guard W. L. Jones had gone for his evening meal, leaving William Barwell in charge. As the guard was pacing before the cells, Cooper called to him saying he had a request to make. The convict had his hands carelessly stuck through the bars as Barwell Guard William Barwell. moved a few steps closer to the cell. Author’s Collection. “Quick as a flash,” read a newspaper account, “Cooper threw a stout cord around his neck, jerked the guard’s head against the door and, throwing his full weight upon the cord, attempted to garrote him.” As the cord fell round his neck, however, Barwell threw his hand up and caught hold of it, perhaps owing his life to the quickness of his action. Bracing himself against the doorway, he exerted all his strength and tore loose from the murderous convict’s clutches, carrying the cord with him.” It was a narrow escape. As soon as Guard Jones returned, Warden Aguirre was summoned and he and Captain Edgar questioned Cooper concerning the incident. ‘Sir Harry” responded with his usual con-man doubletalk. A disgusted Aguirre directed Captain Edgar to put him in a straitjacket until he decided to tell the truth. The straitjacket, as described by Ed Morrell “was made of coarse heavy


canvas. It was about four feet long, and had brass eyelets on the sides, four inches apart. On the inside of the jacket were two canvas pockets.” The convict placed his hands in the pockets and the canvas was wrapped around him, with the eyelets running up his back. Rope was then inserted in the eyelets, crisscrossing the victim’s back, then cinched up tightly. At the end of the day Cooper was howling for mercy, Guard W. L. Jones. Author’s Collection. but he was kept trussed up for two more days “to thoroughly crush his spirit.” By then, Cooper was more than ready to talk! It is difficult to distinguish just how much of the con man’s story was accurate, flavored to fit what the warden wanted to hear, or exaggerated by the press. Since his plan had failed, Cooper could pretty much say whatever he wanted. His overblown story was that he meant to kill Barwell, take the keys from his body and release all the “incorrigibles.” The freed convicts would then kill all the night guards and turn loose the general prison population. Perhaps just as important was the revelation that all this was planned under the very noses of the guards. According to Cooper, the incorrigible convicts exchanged messages by tapping in code, marking the pages of magazines they exchanged, and even by underlining certain passages in the Bible. Morrell, in his highly exaggerated book, only mentioned the exchange of messages by tapping in code on the steel cell walls. When Cooper gave the warden a letter signed by “Ed” and riddled with secret numbers, it was shown to Morrell who loudly denied authorship. A comparison to another Morrell letter showed he had lied and he was immediately laced up in a straitjacket also. Morrell neglected to mention in his autobiography the reason why he was again friendly with “Sir Harry,” the man who had


betrayed him and the others in the “pardon plot.” Early the following month, Oppenheimer began professing an interest in religion. When he asked for copies of the Christian Advance and Volunteer Gazette, Warden Aguirre agreed, not seeing any harm in it. For the next few weeks Jake appeared to be assiduously reading copies of the publication, especially when a guard was nearby. Before returning each copy of the tabloid to the guard, however, he was surreptitiously removing an inside page. On the evening of October 27th, Guard W. L. Jones thought he saw something extending from one of the “incorrigible” end cells. The gas jets spaced along the walls made for poor lighting, but as Jones watched he saw a long, white tube reach across the hallway to a gas jet where it burst into flames. Rushing down the hallway, Jones saw Jake Oppenheimer tossing everything flammable in his cell on a pile of burning clothes. “Put out the fire,” the guard shouted, “or I’ll blow you full of holes!” Jake hesitated for a moment, then began kicking and stamping out the fire. Now it was discovered why Oppenheimer had been saving those pages from the Gazette. Tightly rolling the torn-out pages into tubes, he had attached them end-to-end. He then thrust the extended tube through the bars and over to a gas jet. As it burst into flames, it was quickly retrieved and applied to the pile of clothes on the cell floor. It was the resourceful effort of a desperate man. The guard promptly threatened to shoot Oppenheimer if he didn’t stamp out the flames. Warden Aguirre attempted to question the prisoner, but Jake gave him his standard sour look and refused to say anything. After a night and the following morning in a straitjacket, the convict reluctantly mumbled the details of his plot. Jake had intended to pass a burning bit of clothing to the next cell and so on until all sixteen cells in the row were blazing. Then, in the smoke and confusion, the prisoners would attack the guards as they sought to rescue them. According to press accounts, all the guards were destined for slaughter, but this was the standard prison stuff that sold newspapers. Before hanging Garcia confessed to murdering ten men, women and children. Author’s Collection.

Meanwhile, Amos Lunt had been busy. On June 7, 1895 he had hanged three men one after another; Anthony Azoff, Patrick J. Collins and Emilio Garcia. On July 26th


of the following month, William Fredericks faced his fate in “Hangman’s Hall.” It was William Young’s turn on October 25th to finish up the year. Reading about his victims in the press, Lunt must have been struck by the desperate lives and needless crimes of these men. Only one man, Marshall J. Miller, was hanged in late 1896. He and a younger fellow named Greene robbed a pawn shop in Tehama County, assaulting and tying up the owner who died. Arrested the next day, young Greene pled guilty and was tried first. His family’s money bought him good legal representation and he was given a life sentence. Miller, who had little in the way of money or friends, was convicted and sentenced to death. Since both were convicted of the same crime, it was expected that Miller’s sentence would be commuted, but the governor refused to interfere. Miller was hanged on December 11, 1896, with the disparity in justice being apparent to many. In mid-February of the following year, a Chinese murderer named Chung Sing , was hanged, followed by Frank Kloss on April 23. The hanging of Harvey Allender on December 10, 1897, was the culmination of another needless tragedy. When Wilburga Feiner had refused his marriage proposal, Allender threatened to kill both her and her new fiancé. Allender, who had a violent temper, saw the couple on a San Jose street one day and stopped to speak with them. When Feiner attempted to walk away, Allender pulled a pistol, shooting and killing both her and her fiancé. The next scheduled hanging was that of Theodore Durrant whose seemingly endless appeals had finally ran out. There were definite signs that these intermittent Theodore Durrant executions were beginning to disturb Amos Lunt. The the most hated man enormity of Durrant’s crimes coupled with his calm and in California. California State Archives. serene demeanor during most of his final days must have further aggravated the hangman. When a Call reporter asked Lunt’s opinion of Durrant, the response was disturbing, to say the least. “I believe that Theodore Durrant murdered both of those innocent girls in cold blood,”growled the hangman. “His face to me is that of the fiendish and horrible criminal that I believe he is, and when I place the rope around his neck, as I expect to do on the 11th of next June, I will


do it with the feeling that I am assisting in the hanging of a man who is meeting a death that he richly deserves.” Amos Lunt, however, was just warming up to his subject. “Hanging is too good for him. I could take him out on the road, run a red-hot iron into his flesh and hold it there until he fainted. I would repeat it as soon as he regained consciousness, and keep it up until he died a death of horrible agony… .” Lunt’s emotions were perhaps inflamed by the fact that his own daughter, Lottie, was only a few years younger than Durrant’s two victims. That the hangman’s job was affecting Lunt psychologically seemed inescapable. During the last few days before the execution, Durrant was extremely agitated, throwing himself on the floor at times and wailing uncontrollably. After his flurry of legal appeals had failed, he was finally hanged on January 7, 1898. When no bay area mortuary would accept the corpse, the body was shipped to Los Angeles for burial. After this there were three more executions in March, April and on May 27, 1898. Amos Lunt was involved in all of these events. It was a tremendous mental burden and never far from his mind these days. He once testified in court during a trial A newspaper sketch showing the condemned cells in a room next to the gallows. The doomed men could hear, concerning his deadly but not observe the hanging. Author’s Collection. profession. SAN FRANCISCO CALL, MARCH 22, 1898:

I have hanged twenty murderers in my time, but I seldom examined the bodies after the trap dropped. When there was an execution it was my duty to hang the condemned. I attended to that business. I usually went on the scaffold and took the rope down from the beam and examined and tested it. I tested the knot. My ambition was always to have everything right and correct. All I had to do then was to place the noose around the neck of the condemned, pull down the black cap, tighten the noose, take off my hand and give the signal and down it goes. That settles it.

When John Miller took up residence in one of the condemned cells on the top floor of the Stones cellblock, hangman Lunt must have been


concerned. Miller, a carpenter by trade was a hunchback with a crooked neck. As Miller had chased his girlfriend trying to shoot her, she had run screaming into the San Francisco home of James Childs. Miller now grappled with Childs who was trying to keep him out of the house. As they fought, Miller shot Childs in the head and killed him. The hapless victim was the sole support of his family. Miller was convicted of the murder on March 13, 1897 and sentenced to be hanged on October 14, 1898.

John Miller’s execution helped push Lunt over the edge. Author’s Collection.

As the day of execution drew near, Dr. Lawlor, the prison physician, consulted with other doctors and Lunt on the procedures to use in the hanging. Calculating the length of the drop was usually routine and based on weight, but Miller’s deformities changed everything. Doing the best they could in an unusual situation, a five foot drop was agreed upon and the execution proceeded on schedule. SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, OCTOBER 15, 1898:

One of the most revolting scenes ever witnessed at an official execution was enacted yesterday morning, when John Miller, the epileptic hunchback, was hanged in San Quentin Prison for the murder of James F. Childs. It was a sight so sickening that those of stoutest nerve weakened, while some of the spectators who were unused to gaze upon things so horrifying turned away paled and sickened.

Despite the best efforts of the physicians and Lunt, Miller had been nearly decapitated. As near as could be determined, the muscles on one side of Miller’s stiff neck had atrophied. Although the physicians had aided in calculating the drop, Lunt must have felt much of the responsibility and the incident only added to his increasing depression. “Despite his apparent utter indifference as a man-killer,” noted the Sausalito News, “it was known by many of his intimate friends that in secret he brooded over it.” But there was to be no respite. On October 21st murderer George W. Clark was hanged by an apprehensive Amos Lunt. On January 25, 1899, Lunt won $1,000 in a lottery and took some time off from his gruesome duties. He toured the San Rafael and Sausalito saloons for the next few days, perhaps to clear his head of the phantoms that were lurking there. A few days turned into a week and when he returned to his San Rafael home his wife, Laura, was upset and


concerned. For some time she had been worried about her husband’s moodiness and personality changes. Reporting back for duty at the prison, Lunt was dismissed for taking so much time off without notice. Rehired by Warden Aguirre in early October 1899, by mid-month his behavior was such that the warden summoned Laura Lunt to the prison. Her husband’s aberrant behavior could no longer be ignored.

Guard and hangman, Amos Lunt was a tragic figure. Phil Reader Colllection.

“They are after me, Frank,” Lunt had whispered to Guard Frank Arbogast. “There are several under the bed now. A convict is assisting them, and it is only a matter of time until they get me.” It was known that Lunt had not slept for many days and was eating very little. Laura, Warden Aguirre and the prison physician finally determined to send him to a prominent San Francisco doctor. A negative prognosis would be conclusive and he would have to go before the state Lunacy Commission. Sadly, their worst fears came true. SAN FRANCISCO CALL, OCTOBER 31, 1899:

…The verdict of Doctor J. H. Barbat, reinforced by the expert opinions of Drs. Ruthers and Windell and the sorrowful testimony of the unfortunate man’s wife, was that the ex-hangman was suffering from melancholia, and upon this testimony Judge Bahrs reluctantly signed the order of commitment… .

He was consigned to the Napa insane asylum on October 30, 1899. He died there nearly a year later on September 21, 1901. The newspapers had a field day with the hangman’s disquieting demise and certainly his story had all the elements of a horror tale. Amos Lunt was at last released from the demonic creations of his rampaging conscience and imagination. His body was returned to his family in Santa Cruz for burial. Warden Hale left the prison in late June 1899, when his extended term of office was over. He had been criticized for being both too harsh and too easy on his prisoners, but the truth is that he had allowed few escapes and had triumphed over very difficult and trying ordeals. He desperately needed to unwind. Hale’s time had run out, however, and he died suddenly at his Oakland home on July 11, 1900. He was only 58 years old. San Quentin had taken its toll on two of its most dedicated servants As Warden Aguirre settled into his new occupation, there was a pris-


on incident that might qualify as one of the last gasps of the Old West. In November, 1894, Alva Johnson, a Southern California rancher, had been convicted of the Roscoe train robbery in the San Fernando Valley. Serving a life term, Johnson, No. 16289, was an outdoorsman who found confinement very difficult to accept. Although realizing the value of good behavior to shorten his sentence, in a few years he began Alva Johnson. looking about for a way to escape. In the summer of Boessenecker Collection. 1900 Alva, a trusty now, was assigned to some repair work in an old, abandoned adjunct to the prison hospital. Another trusty, Lucien S. Healy No. 16206, was appointed to assist him in the job. Since the prison was extremely crowded as usual, the two prisoners were allowed to sleep in the building while they proceeded with their renovation work. And proceed they did! Healy was also determined to escape and the two convicts now combined their efforts. Working for several months with scraps of rags and twine from the jute mill, the two men managed to braid a rope some sixty feet long. Next they fashioned an “S” shaped piece of heavy wire which was attached to one end of their rope. This was then weighted with a bit of lead, then wrapped with twine so it would not “clang” when it struck the metal hand railing atop the wall. Lucien Healy.

Author’s Collection.

The ceiling of the building was constructed of wood and tin and they soon had cut a hole large enough to crawl out onto the outside roof. From there the plan was to throw their rope across the thirty-foot alley and over a hand railing on the wall. Then the rope would be carefully pulled back until the hook on the end caught on the metal railing. Once it caught, they would pull it taught and anchor the rope to the chimney of the hospital building.

Guard Lee Carpenter. Author’s Collection.

It was after midnight on July 19, 1900 when the two convicts emerged from their hole in the hospital roof. Alva Johnson then heaved the rope across the alley, catching it on the handrail atop the wall. He then made his way, hand over hand to the wall. Once on top, he now


signaled Healey by tugging on the rope. Johnson then dropped over the outside of the wall to the ground. Healy quickly followed, but they had been spotted. SAN FRANCISCO CALL, JULY 20, 1900:

Guard Lee Carpenter, who was on the wall, saw them as they jumped. They ran up the hill to the north of the prison, Johnson being in the lead. Carpenter took a long shot at Healy and brought him down at a distance of over 100 yards. Johnson continued to run up the hill and ran against Guard Sam Randolph. Randolph brought his rifle to bear on Johnson who threw up his hands and was taken back to the prison.

Healy was taken to the prison hospital where it was reported he would recover. The wounded convict said he wanted to congratulate the guard who had shot him on his fast and accurate shooting. The prison bell had been sounded at the first shot and within two minutes sixty guards, some still in their underwear, were in the hills surrounding the prison. Stout-hearted men had answered the call to duty and had not been found wanting. Warden Aguirre thanked them warmly for their alertness and discipline. With the Nineteenth Century now being drawn inexorably to its close, there were those who must have looked back in awe at what an epic span of years it had been for California. The sweeping vistas of deserts, mountains and valleys had seen Indian days, the galleons of the first Spanish explorations, the founding of the missions and the time of the grizzly bear. Stagecoach lines and steamboats once ruled vast regions now crisscrossed by railroad tracks and chugging, smokebelching engines. Although the great gold mining days were over, California was now an agrarian society of farms and ranches with a growing industrial base. Crime had changed greatly, also. Although the prison at Point San


Quentin was still filled with petty thieves, burglars, and stagecoach robbers, sophisticated forgers like Charley Becker and world-class swindlers like “Sir Harry” Cooper now added to the mix. In Spanish and Mexican days all ranches sustained large herds of horses that were freely used by travelers and neighbors. With the arrival of the gold rushers, however, this cordiality all changed. In those early gold rush times many a Mexican was shot or hanged when he “borrowed” a horse from an American rancher. Times had changed greatly since the days of the Dons. By 1900 San Quentin had mellowed much over the years. For prison officials it had been “learn as you go” from the beginning, a violent push or a gentle shove to see what would work. There was no way to go but “up” from those troubled early times when prison officials were more concerned with showing a profit than with showing malefactors the way to a better life. Prison life was indeed much better for the prisoners in 1900, but was the public any safer? In round numbers, recidivists averaged about twenty percent of new prisoners in the 1890s, although in 1900 the number was over twenty-five percent. By then it was generally accepted that criminals are creatures of their environment. Children could now be sentenced to an Industrial or Reform School rather than a “crime school” prison where they were forced to associate with hard-bitten felons from around the world. But what of the young, adult, first and second term convicts? Some of these were theoretically salvageable, yet were still being thrown to the wolves. In those early days when the Stones— that first cellblock— had been built, the goal of housing two prisoners per cell had steadily been sought, but never been achieved. The exasperating and horrifying truth is that to this day San Quentin has never been able to surmount its overcrowded conditions. The transitions at San Quentin from the days of Estill and McCauley were great and still evolving. The Goodwin “credits” bill and the pardon and parole systems had been welcomed by liberal legislators and were a fountain of hope to convicts genuinely seeking to alter the course of their lives. Although a fair balance between punishment and rehabilitation was still being sought and argued, many thought there


were no answers to such questions. Most did not care. Still, so many innovations and wonderful inventions had broadened and enriched California life that it was sad to realize that much of the progress in penal reform at San Quentin had been made in spite of itself. But perhaps some things never change. In his book The New York Tombs, published in 1874, Warden Charles Sutton warned knowingly of the political influence over the city prison which he had superintended; “But how shall we begin to reform these bad boys,” he asked? “First let us beg our rulers to place our penal institutions entirely beyond the reach of politics.” Good advice, but, is that even possible, given the reality that jails and prisons are held and operated by and for the government? A newspaper article at the end of the century clearly made the case that after nearly fifty years San Quentin was as firmly enmeshed in politics as it was in the very beginning. SAN FRANCISCO CALL, AUGUST 9, 1899:

Changes at San Quentin—Governor Gage proves an able second of Warden Aguirre in the work of nepotism now going on here. The howl over the creation of a special office for Don Jose Aguirre has scarcely died away, and yet it is definitely learned that at Gage’s behest Aguirre intends in the future to appoint John Reaves of Los Angeles, a brother-in-law of the Governor, to succeed Victor Gilardin as captain of the lower gate. Reaves is now here and undergoing instructions in his duties from Gilardin. It is understood that Gilardin is to be provided with another position.

But though men come and go, San Quentin just went on. Today it stands as it did in the beginning, a fearsome and much larger collection of walls and buildings spilling over the surrounding scenic shores of lower San Pablo Bay. Much of the pristine grasses, chaparral and scrub oak are gone now, having given way to encroaching developers. None of the original prison buildings have survived. The Porch is long-gone, as is that first cellblock, the Stones, which was knocked down in late 1959. The old hospital, dating back to 1859, was destroyed in early 2008 to make way for a new medical facility. Preservationists and historians were able to save the aged basement dungeon in the old building which had been forgotten and used for storage. What silent ghosts now haunt that ancient ruin? Today only the surrounding walls, fading photographs, convict mug books and aged documents remain to remind us of nineteenth cen-


tury San Quentin. And the cemeteries. There are three of them, all filled with those bodies that went unclaimed after death. Each plot is marked with a stake bearing the convict’s number. Since 1952 unclaimed convict bodies have been cremated. Cool breezes from the bay still waft over these hallowed grounds of California’s first state prison. For some years there has been talk that the sprawling, contemporary prison should be torn down; that it is out of date and the property much too valuable to be used for a prison. Too, a clamor about the inadequate facilities and constant demands for a reduced prison population must be addressed sooner or later. Perched along the filled-in salt marshes of Corte Madera Creek as it spills into the bay, the now outdated prison basks in its colorful past and awaits its fate. Perhaps in time it will also give way to the developers. Then again, maybe it will be there forever.

The End


AFTERWARD

B

ill Miner finally got his act together in 1898. After a vigorous letterwriting campaign to the governor, his lost credits were restored and he left San Quentin on June 7, 1901. Like so many other San Quentin convicts, however, he had no intention of going straight. The fifty-five year old Miner headed north and in September 1903, with three companions he held up a train near Portland, Oregon. A year later Miner and two others made history in British Columbia when they successfully held up the first train in Canada, obtaining $7,000 in gold and currency. He was involved in several more robberies and was finally tracked down by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and sentenced to life in prison. He escaped a year later and took part in another train robbery in British Columbia in 1909.

California State Prison at San Quentin, about 1900. California State Library


Fleeing to Denver, Miner soon turned up in Georgia, where he and two accomplices held up a Southern Railway train on February 18, 1911. Their loot was just over $2,000 in American, Mexican, and Canadian coins and currency. The bandit trio was promptly captured and the sixty-four-year-old Miner sentenced twenty years in prison. After two escapes, Miner died at the Milledgeville, Georgia state prison on September 2, 1913. Dubbed “The Grey Fox” in his twilight years, Miner had become a folk hero by this time, but despite his compelling personality and colorful history, the old man was a chronic liar and career criminal as has been shown. But oh, how delighted he would have been to know that a feature film of his colorful life was made in 1983.

J

ake Oppenheimer remained in the “incorrigible” cells, simmering in his own particular hell. After spending thirteen months sawing through the bars of his cell with a large needle, he escaped on August 15, 1907. Rushing to the mess hall, he assaulted a convict named Wilson with a bread knife, badly wounding him. Already serving a life sentence for previously murdering a Folsom convict, Oppenheimer was this time tried and sentenced to death. After being transferred back to Folsom, he stabbed convict Francisco Quijada to death, then spent the rest of his life trying to evade his death penalty. He attracted a few supporters, including Ed Morrell and Jack London, to his cause, but ultimately he was hanged on July 11, 1913.

E

d Morrell spent several years in solitary at San Quentin, and seems to have reformed when a new warden released him in late 1904. He was made a trusty and began a letter-writing campaign in an attempt to obtain a commutation of his sentence. His efforts were rewarded in 1908 and he was released on March 14. He now joined Jack London and others in trying to save Oppenheimer from hanging. London used Morrell’s prison experiences in his book, The Star


Rover, which convinced Ed he was a celebrity of some sort. Morrell then joined Donald Lowrie, another ex-convict, in a vaudeville act demonstrating the straightjacket and extolling the necessities of prison reform. Other than this, there is little evidence that Morrell ever worked for a living after leaving prison. Afterwards the ex-convict travelled about, apparently living on the charity of acquaintances. He married Mildred McEwen who had worked for Jack London as a researcher and writer. Mildred now apparently supported them both. Ed, obsessed with the idea that he had a great story to tell, dictated his tale to his wife and it was published in 1924 under the title, The 25th Man. The book is as pompous an exercise in exaggerated self-aggrandizement as can be found in such literature. His wife’s name is never mentioned in the book and only Morrell is credited as the author. In Morrell’s self-centered and warped view, benevolent and oppressed convicts and criminals are the heroes, while lawmen and prison officials are cruel, drunken brutes. And this was unfortunate. Morrell’s story, if related truthfully, would indeed have been an interesting one. The book was published under the aegis of something called New Era Penology. Ed was still trying to somehow squeeze a living out of prison reform. The marriage, however, was apparently not a happy one and it was not surprising that Mildred later divorced him after Morrell threatened her with a knife. Remarrying, Mildred published a second printing of the book in 1955, this time announcing that she was the author. After the divorce there were occasional newspaper articles describing Morrell’s travels with a screenwriter while scouting locations for a film. His motion picture fantasies never came to fruition, however. After hanging around the movie colony for years trying to stir up interest in his book, Morrell died in Los Angeles on November 10, 1946. He was 78 years old. The End


Bibliography BOOKS Angel, Myron, and Fairchild, M. D., History of Placer County, Thompson & West, Oakland, 1882. Bancroft, Hubert Howe, The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume XXXV, California Inter pocula, San Francisco: The History Company, Publishers, 1888. Barns, George C., Denver, the Man, The Life, Letters and Public Papers of the Lawyer, Soldier and Stateman, Wilmington, Ohio, 1949. Beccaria, Cesare, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments, E. D. Ingraham, translator, H. Nicklin, Philadelphia, 1819. Black, Jack, You Can’t Win, The MacMillan Company, New York,1926. Boessenecker, John, Badge and Buckshot, Lawlessness in Old California, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, Publishing Division of the University,1988. Boessenecker, John, Bandido, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University, 2010. Boessenecker, John, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen and Vigilantes, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, Chichester, Weinheim, Brisbane, Singapore, Toronto, 1999. Bookspan, Shelley, A Germ of Goodness, The California State Prison System, 1851 – 1944, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln & London, 1991. Collins, William and Levene, Bruce, Black Bart, The True Story of the West’s most Famous Stagecoach Robber, Pacific Transcriptions, Mendocino, California, 1992. Dillon, Richard, Wells, Fargo Detective, The Biography of James B. Hume, Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1969.


Douglass, Royall, Prison Verse by Royall Douglass, “No. 19173, San Quentin,” Alturia Press, Palo Alto, California, 1911 Dugan, Mark and Boessenecker, John, The Grey Fox, The True Story of Bill Miner, Last of the Old-Time Bandits, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, Publishing Division of the University, 1992. Engelbarts, Rudolf, Books in Stir, A bibliographic essay about prison libraries and about books written by prisoners and prison employees, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, N.J. 1972 Ford, Tirey L., California State Prisons; Their History, Development and Management, San Francisco, 1910. Griffith, Griffith J., Crime and Criminals, Prison reform League, Los Angeles, 1910. Hasse, Adelaide R., Index of Economic material in Documents of the States of The United States, California, 1849-1902, Carnegie Institution of Washington, December 1908. Hittell, Theodore H., History of California, Volume 1, San Francisco, Pacific Press Publishing House and Occidental Publishing Co., 1885. Hume, Jas. B., and Thacker, Jno. N., Report of Wells Fargo & Co’s Express Special Officers, Covering a Period of Fourteen Years, giving losses by Train Robbers, Stage Robbers and Burglaries, etc., H. S. Crocker & Co., San Francisco, 1884. Hurt, Elsey, California State Government; An Outline of its Administrative Organization from 1850 to 1936, Bureau of Public Administration of the University of California in Cooperation with the California State Department of Finance, __________ (date). Kramer, William M. and Stern, Norton B., San Francisco’s Artist Toby E. Rosenthal with Rosenthal’s Memoir of a Painter, Santa Susana Press, California State University, Northridge, 1978. Lamott, Kenneth, Chronicles of San Quentin, David McKay Company, Inc., New York, 1961. Lowrie, Donald, My Life in Prison, Mitchell Kennerley, New York & London, 1912.


Lyman, George D., John Marsh, Pioneer, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1930. Mason, Jack, Helen Van Cleave Park, Early Marin, Marin County Historical Society, 1971. McKanna, Jr., Clare V., Race and Homicide in Nineteenth-Century California, University of Nevada Press, Reno, 2002. McConnell, Elisabeth Huffmaster and Moriarty, Laura J., compilers, American Prisons, Bibliographies of the History of Crime and Criminal Justice, No. 1, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, London, 1998. Mortimer, Charles, Life and Career of Charles Mortimer-Revelations of Thirty Years of Crime, William H. Mills & Co., Sacramento, California, 1873. Morrell, Ed, Softening the Heart of a Convict, Published by Ed Morrell, Oakland, California, 1912. Morrell, Ed, The Twenty-Fifth Man, The Strange Story of Ed Morrell, the Hero of Jack London’s Star Rover, Montclair, New Jersey, New Era Publishing Co. , 1924. Morris, Norval, and Rothman, David J., The Oxford History of the Prison, The Practice of Punishment in Western Society Munro-Fraser, J. P., History of Marin County, California and biographical sketches…S.F., Alley, Bowen & Co., 1880. Nichols, Nancy Ann, Delahunty, James, San Quentin Inside the Walls, San Quentin Museum Press, San Quentin, California, 1991. O’Hare, Sheila, Berry, Irene and Silva, Jesse, Legal Executions in California, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2006. Perkins, William, Three Years in California, William Perkins’ Journal, or Life at Sonora, 1849-1852, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, Cambridge University Press, London, England, 1964. Petry, Bonnie L., & Burgess, Michael; editors, San Quentin The Evolution of a State Prison, Borgo Press, Rockville, Maryland, 2005.


Rasmussen, Louis J., San Francisco Ship Passenger Lists, Vol. IV, San Francisco Historic Records, 1204 Nimitz Drive, Colma, 1966. Reed, G. Walter, Editor, History of Sacramento County, California, with Biographical Sketches, Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, 1923. Rosenus, Allan, General M. G. Vallejo and the Advent of the Americans, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1995. Secrest, William B., Lawmen & Desperadoes, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Spokane, Washington, 1994. Secrest, William B., California Desperadoes, Stories of Early California Outlaws in Their Own Words, Word Dancer Press, Sanger, California, 2000. Secrest, William B., Perilous Trails, Dangerous Men, Early California Stagecoach Robbers and their Desperate Careers, 1856-1900, Quill Driver Books/Word Dancer Press, Inc., Clovis, California, 2002. Secrest, William B., Dark and Tangled Threads of Crime, San Francisco’s Famous Police Detective, Isaiah W. Lees, Word Dancer Press, Sanger, California, 2004 Sutton, Charles, The New York Tombs, Its Secrets and its mysteries. United States Publishing Company, New York, N.Y., 1874. Suvak, Daniel, Memoirs of American Prisons: An Annotated Bibliography, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., Metuchen, N.J. & London, 1979. Tabor, Silver Dollar, Star of Blood, self published, Denver, Colorado, no date. Unruh, Jr., John D., The Plains Across, The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-60, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, London. Wilcox, Mrs. B. C., The Death Penalty, The Men who have suffered it at San Quentin Prison, Their lives and Crimes Briefly Sketched., California, privately published, 1903.


ARTICLES and PERIODICALS Ashcroft, Lionel, “San Quentin Prison, Its Early History and Origins,” Marin County Historical Society Magazine, (Spring, 1993). McKanna, Jr., Clare V., “The Case of Bartolo Sepulveda: Mistaken Identity or Doctored Evidence?” The Pacific Historian, A Quarterly of Western History and Ideas, (Fall, 1983) McKanna, Jr., Clare V., “The San Quentin Prison Pardon Papers: A Look at File No. 1808, the Case of Francisco Javier Bonilla,” Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, (Summer, 1985). McKanna, Jr., Clare V., “The Origins of San Quentin, 1851-1880,” California History, (March 1987). McKanna, Jr., Clare V., “The Nameless Ones: The Ethnic Experience in San Quentin, 1851 – 1880,” The Pacific Historian, (Spring, 1987). McKanna, Jr., Clare V., “Crime and Punishment: The Hispanic Experience in San Quentin, 1851 – 1880,” Southern California Quarterly, (Spring, 1990). McAfee, Ward M., “Tennessee’s Private Prison Act of 1986: An Historical Perspective with Special Attention to California’s Experience,” Vanderbilt Law Review, (May, 1987). McAfee, Ward M., “San Quentin: The Forgotten Issue of California’s Political History in the 1850s,” Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, (Fall, 1990). McAfee, Ward M., “A History of Convict Labor in California,” Southern California Quarterly, Historical Society of Southern California, (Spring, 1990). Secrest, William B., “In the Matter of Edward Morrell,” Fresno Past & Present, Journal of the Fresno County Historical Society, (Spring, 1997). Wilkins, James H., “The Evolution of a State Prison,” San Francisco Bulletin, (June – July, 1918).


UNPUBLISHED MATERIALS Byram, Edward, Journals, 1876 – 1908, personal daily journals of a San Francisco Police Detective, Collection of John Boessenecker. Goodman III, John B.,“The California Gold Rush Fleet Encyclopedia,” MS., Beverly Hills. Stanley, Dr. Leo L., “Tuberculosis in San Quentin,” paper read before the California Medical Association at 67th Annual Session, Pasadena, May 9 – 12, 1938. PUBLIC DOCUMENTS Appendix to the Journals of the Senate of the Tenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. The Year 1859; Annual Report of the Board of State-Prison Directors, for the Year 1858. Appendix to Journals of Senate of the Eleventh Session of the Legislature of the State of California. 1860; Report of Committee on Commitments, Statistical Reports. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the Sixteenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. Vol.III, 1866; Report of the State Prison Committee of the Assembly. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the Seventeenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. Vol. 1, 1868; Report of the Directors of the California State Prison, December 1, 1867. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the seventeenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. Vol.II, Sacramento, 1868; Report of the Joint Committee of the State Prison. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the Ninteenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. Vol. 1, 1872; Report of the Directors of the California State Prison, July 1, 1871. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the Ninteenth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. Vol. III, 1872; Report on the State Prison by the Joint Committee of the Senate and Assembly. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the Twentieth Session. Memorial from the Mechanics State Council in Reference to State


Prison Labor. 1874. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly of the Twenty-sixth Session of the Legislature of the State of California. Vol. III, 1885; Warden’s Report. Appendix to Journals of Senate & Assembly, 20th Session ; Memorial from the Mechanics State Council in reference to State Prison Labor, 1874. Biennial Report of The Board of Directors of the California State Prison, commencing July 1st, 1877, and ending June 30th, 1879. California State Archives, Sacramento. San Quentin List of Convicts on Prison Register. California State Archives, Sacramento. Governor’s Pardon Files, San Quentin Penitentiary. California State Archives, Sacramento. Prison Minutes, San Quentin Penitentiary. California State Archives, Sacramento. San Quentin Prison, Record of Punishment. California State Archives, Sacramento. San Quentin Prison, Daily Log Books. California State Archives, Sacramento. San Quentin Prison, Prisoner mug Books. . Document No. 10. In Senate, Session of 1856, Report of Special Committee appointed to ascertain the Amount of Controllers’ Warrants issued During the Year 1855, on Act of State Prison. Document No. 25. In Senate, Session 1855. Report of Committee Relative to the Condition and Management of the State Prison. Document No. 26. In Assembly, Session 1855, Report of Committee Relative to the Condition and Management of the State Prison, Document No. (?). In Senate, Session of 1856, Report of the Directors of the State Prison, and Accompanying Documents. Fifth Annual Report of the State Board of Prison directors of the State of California, for the Thirty-fifth Fiscal Year, Ending June 30, 1884.


In Assembly, Eighth Session, Report of Committee on State Prison, submitted February 25th, 1857. List of Convicts on Register of State Prison at San Quentin, Marin County, Cal. Alphabetically Arranged-Complete, August 31, 1889. Sacramento: State Office, J. D. Young, Supt. State Printing, 1889. Report of Committee on State Prison, submitted February 25th, 1857; with Appendix and various exhibits. Solano County Deed Index, Solano County Archives, Fairfield, California. Twelfth Annual Report of the State Board of Prison Directors of the State of California, for the Forty-second Fiscal Year, Ending June 30, 1891. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1850, Solano County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1860, Corte Madera Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1870, Corte Madera Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1880, Corte Madera Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1900, Corte Madera Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1860, San Rafael Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1870, San Rafael Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1880, San Rafael Township, Marin County, California. U.S. Census Population Schedules, 1900, San Rafael Township, Marin County, California.


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Behind San Quentin's Walls  

It’s one of the most famous prisons in American history, featured in countless movies and novels. Its inmates have included such diverse cha...

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