KanColl Books
   The Twin Hells, by John R. ReynoldsTable of Contents



A KANSAS HELL.


CHAPTER VII.

ESCAPES FROM PRISON.

     OCCASIONALLY there is a man shrewd enough to make his escape from prison. When a convict has almost served out his time he is generally selected to perform the duties of a "trusty," and allowed to go outside the prison enclosure. By good conduct other prisoners gain the confidence of the officials, and there are instances where these men, though they may have several months to serve, are permitted to go beyond the walls, doing duty for the prison. But they are rare. Generally a convict, if he has long to serve, is not trusted to any great extent. At times these "trusties," although they may have but a few weeks to remain, cannot successfully resist the temptation to escape. Ordinarily the escaped convict is overtaken and brought back.

     I recollect an instance where two young fellows were thus trusted. One of them had two months to serve, and the other but twenty-seven days. They were given employment at

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the reservoir, over a mile from the prison; No officer was guarding them. They made an attempt to get away. After being absent a few hours they were missed from their post of duty. The alarm was given, and officers started in pursuit. They were overtaken and caught about five miles distant, hid in the brush. They had concealed themselves in this place, intending to make their escape in the darkness of the coming night. The officers in search accidentally came upon them in this brush patch. They were taken back to prison. They were compelled to work for thirty days with a ball and chain attached to each of their limbs, after which they were taken to Leavenworth, to the District Court, where they plead guilty to the charge of attempting to escape from the prison. Each of them received a sentence of one year at hard labor in the penitentiary for this foolishness. After their present sentence has expired, they will have to enter immediately upon the other for trying to escape. At this writing, both of these convicts are digging coal in the mines. They are not trusted now. Another prisoner, a much older man than these two whom I have described, tried to escape; he got as far as Ohio before the officers

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secured him. During the late rebellion this man was a captain in the army. He became involved in a quarrel with some of his relatives and was sent to the penitentiary for forgery. On account of his previous good character, on coming to the penitentiary he was immediately set to work as a "trusty." Some few months after he was sent to the Missouri River, over a mile from the prison, to do some work. No officer was with him. Going down to the banks of the river he discovered a boat tied to the shore. In a subsequent conversation, he told me when he saw that boat it suggested the thought of escaping. His wife and children were in the State of Ohio. They had removed there since his conviction. "The boat," said he, "seemed to say, 'get in and cross the river.' I thought of my family. Oh, how I longed to be with them! I could not resist the temptation. I had some old overalls, and I drew these on over the stripes. I got into the boat, rowed across, and hid in the woods on the Missouri side until night. During the nighttime I walked, and during the daytime would lay by in the woods, occasionally going out to a house begging something to eat. At last I reached my home in Ohio. I was footsore

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and almost starved when I arrived." Continuing his narrative, he informed me that he had no peace of mind. He was in constant dread of pursuing officers. Every man he saw he took to be a detective in search of him. At last, so great was his alarm and uneasiness, that he telegraphed the prison officials where he was. The warden went and brought him back. For punishment he remained in the dungeon several days and nights, and wore the ball and chain for over a month. This man has not been tried yet for making his escape. It will probably be overlooked because of the change in the prison administration. His original sentence was five years.

     Another prisoner made his escape, was away for five years; was then discovered, brought back, and is at present eight hundred feet below the surface, digging coal.

     One day a young man was brought to the penitentiary under three years' sentence. He was handsome and had winning ways. It was not long before the officers had learned to like him. He was a natural confidence man. It was difficult to resist his influence. After he had been in the penitentiary a short time he was made a "trusty." For awhile he was

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very dutiful and obedient. He was no fool. He gained the confidence of the officers so that many of them would have confided their pocketbooks to his care. He was permitted to go beyond the prison walls to quite a distance. Finally he walked off. That convict has never been heard of since. He was a slick one. After his departure it was found out that he had walked away from the Colorado prison in the same manner.

     The following is an instance of the shrewdness practiced in effecting escapes. A hog-thief was convicted and sent to the prison. He related that while traveling through the southern part of Kansas, a mere tramp, passing by a farmer's residence, he saw a number of hogs in a lot adjoining a grove some distance to the rear of the house. Passing up through the grove, unperceived, he removed one of the boards and drove the hogs,out through the woods into a small pond where they covered themselves with mud. Then driving them around on to the main traveled road, he started with them for town some five miles off. As he was driving along the highway, the owner of the hogs met him and inquired where he was taking them. He replied that he was going to

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market. The farmer said he was making up a car load and would give him as much as he could get in town. After some further conversation the parties agreed upon the price, the farmer buying his own hogs from the tramp, who went on his way rejoicing. An hour or two thereafter the farmer, going out into his field to see his hogs, found they were gone, and upon examining those recently purchased, which by this time had rubbed all the mud off, he discovered it was his own hogs he had purchased from the tramp. He immediately set out in pursuit of the thief, whose whereabouts were soon determined. The thief, after receiving the money, went to town, took a train, but stopped off at a little place near by, and instead of secreting himself for a time, began to drink. While dissipating he was overtaken, arrested, and held for trial. Had he left whisky alone, he could have escaped. At the trial, which soon followed, he was convicted of grand larceny, and on his arrival at the prison was immediately put into the coal mines. After working there for a week or ten days he became dissatisfied, and decided to secure a position on the surface. One morning, as the prisoners were being let down into the mines, apparently in a fit he fell

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into the arms of a prisoner; when he landed at the bottom he was in the worst part of his spasm; the officer in charge ordered him sent to the top as soon as he had partially recovered, stating that it was dangerous to have a man working in the mines who was subject to fits, as he might not only kill himself but be the cause of the death of others with him in the cage. To make his case more plausible, when the convict learned that the officer had ordered him to the top, he began pleading to remain in the mines and work, stating that he enjoyed the work and would rather do service there than on the top. But the officer persisted; he was sent up and reported to the deputy warden, who set him to quarrying rock. This was no better job than working in the coal mines. Providing himself for the occasion, by putting a piece of soap in his mouth, assuming a frenzy and frothing at the mouth, he would almost deceive a physician as to the nature of his malady. Later, it was decided that he was unable to do duty on the rock pile, and was placed in the "Crank House" with the cranks. Those prisoners, who have either lost their mind or are suffering with temporary insanity, not incurable insane, or wholly idiotic, are

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classed as "cranks," and have an apartment by themselves. As a rule this class of individuals are harmless and not guarded very closely. Their cells are not locked up until nine o'clock at night; the others at six o'clock. During the noon hour the officers leave them alone, in fact, being of a supposed harmless disposition they are at no time closely guarded. This fellow improved the opportunities afforded by the noon hour. He would go into one of the towers and work as long as he dared cutting the bars with a saw he had made out of a knife. He labored in this manner until one of the bars was sawed so near off that a little push would remove it. One afternoon he bade the other cranks good-bye, telling them he was going to fly that night. They made sport of him, thinking he was growing more insane. He went so far as to say good-bye to the officer, stating that he had received a revelation from God the previous night, and that an angel was coming to liberate him. The officer, of course, thought he was getting more and more insane. When night came he slipped out of his cell and secreted himself in a portion of the cell house where it was dark, and when the officer came to lack up, the crazy hog-thief was not missed.

Midnight Escape


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     Along in the night he pushed aside the bars and made his escape. This was the last the prison authorities heard of him until they learned he was arrested at St. Joseph, Missouri, and held there on a charge of grand larceny for the same thing that he was in the Kansas penitentiary -- stealing hogs. An officer went up there to get and bring him back to the Kansas penitentiary, but the St. Joseph authorities refused to give him up. He was tried there and sent to the Missouri penitentiary. After his term expires in that place he will have to serve out his original term in the Kansas penitentiary. "The way of the transgressor is hard," even if he does pretend to have fits.

     One of the most interesting and perilous attempts at escaping from the penitentiary was the following: In the evening, after the day's work is over in the mines, the convicts are all lifted to the top, as before stated, and remain in their cells over night. One Saturday night a convict, with a twenty years' sentence, resolved that he would remain in the mines, and try to effect his escape. He had supplied himself with an extra lot of bread and meat, and hid himself in the darkness of the mines

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when the men were marched out in the evening at six o'clock. When the count of the prisoners was made at the evening lock up, this man was found missing. As he had not been seen since the prisoners were taken from the mines, it was believed, correctly, that he had remained below. There was nothing done about the matter that night, the officers knowing there would be no opportunity of effecting his escape during the night-time, as they had carefully closed the shafts at the top. They did not set any watch until the next day. During that Saturday night this convict climbed eight hundred feet to the top of one of the shafts. The wooden beams running across the shaft are about five feet apart. Standing erect on one of these beams he threw his arms over the one above his head, and would swing up to it. In this manner he worked his way to the top of the shaft. When he reached the surface how great was his disappointment, for instead of finding the shaft open, as he supposed it would be, he found that the cover was down and that he was unable to act out of the shaft, and thus out of the coal fields into the woods adjoining. When he discovered this there was nothing to do but descend. This was a perilous undertaking.

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The cross-beams were covered with oil which, dripping down from the machinery above, made them very slippery. A number of times he came near falling, and if he had done so, he would have reached the bottom a mangled mass. It required nearly the entire night for the ascent and descent. When he reached the bottom he took a lunch of bread and meat, went to the base of the other shaft, which is about one hundred yards distant, and began his ascent of it, with the hope he would find it open. It was daylight when he reached the top. Two officers had been stationed there to watch him. Arriving at the surface and just ready to get out, they took charge of, and marched him into the presence of the deputy warden. When the convict related the narrow escapes from death in his efforts for liberty, the deputy warden was so affected he refused to punish him.

     Out in the world, with the blessings of liberty all around us, we do not realize the priceless boon they are to us; but when we stand in the presence of the perils that are undertaken in order to gain them when deprived of their benefits, we begin to comprehend the real value of these sacred immunities of citizenship.




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