THE TWIN HELLS
A Thrilling Narrative of Life in the Kansas and Missouri Penitentiaries
By John N. Reynolds
TO MY DEAR OLD MOTHER AND TO THE MEMORY OF MY SAINTED WIFE THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR.
The following pages treat of hell—A Kansas hell and a Missouri hell. Those who desire to peruse works that tell about Heaven only, are urged to drop this book and run. I was an inmate of the Kansas penitentiary for sixteen months, and make mention of what came under my own observation in connection with what I experienced. While an inmate of this prison I occupied cells at various times with convicts who had served terms in the Missouri prison. From these persons I gathered much useful material for my book. After my release I visited the Missouri penitentiary, and verified the statements of those criminals, and gathered additional material from the prison records and the officials. I have written chiefly for the youth of the country, but all ages will be deeply interested in the following pages. A large majority of the convicts are young men from sixteen to twenty-five years of age. They had no idea of the terrible sufferings of a convict life, or they surely would have resisted temptation and kept out of crime. The following pages will impart to the reader some idea of what he may expect to endure in case he becomes entangled in the meshes of the law, and is compelled to do service for the State without any remuneration. Every penitentiary is a veritable hell. Deprive a person of his liberty, punish and maltreat him, and you fill his life with misery akin to those who wander in the darkness of "eternal night," I think, when the reader has perused the following pages, he will agree with me, that the book has the proper title. That this volume may prove an "eye-opener" to the boys who may read it, and prove interesting and instructive to those of mature years, is the earnest wish of the author.
A KANSAS HELL
CHAPTER I. MY INITIATION AND CRIME
Guilty! This word, so replete with sadness and sorrow, fell on my ear on that blackest of all black Fridays, October 14, 1887.
Penitentiary lightning struck me in the city of Leavenworth, Kansas. I was tried in the United States District Court; hence, a United States prisoner.
The offense for which I was tried and convicted was that of using the mails for fraudulent purposes. My sentence was eighteen months in the penitentiary, and a fine of two hundred dollars. I served sixteen months, at the end of which time I was given my liberty. During the period I was in prison I dug coal six months in the penitentiary coal mines, and was one of the clerks of the institution the remainder of the term. Getting permission to have writing material in my cell, I first mastered short-hand writing, or phonography, and then wrote my book: "A Kansas Hell; or, Life in the Kansas Penitentiary." My manuscript being in short-hand, none of the prison officials were able to read it, and did not know what I was doing until I obtained my liberty and had my book published.
This, no doubt, will be the proper place to give some of my antecedents, as well as a few of the details of the crime for which I was sent to the penitentiary. I spent my youth and early manhood at Indianola, Iowa, from which place I removed to Nebraska. After residing for some time in Columbus, of that State, I was appointed by the governor to assist in organizing the Pawnee Indian Reservation into a county. When organized it was called Nance County, being named for Hon. Albinus Nance, then governor of the State. I held the position of county clerk of that county for four consecutive years. During this time I organized the Citizens' Bank. I was its cashier at first, and, later on, its president. I had a lucrative business and was doing well. My wife's health failed her; she became consumptive. My family physician advised a removal to the South. I closed out my business at a great sacrifice, and came to Atchison, Kansas. Here I located, and made it my future home. Soon after my arrival I commenced the publication of a daily newspaper, known as the "Times." In the county in which I located I found one of the worst and most corrupt political rings on the face of the earth. This combination had controlled the politics of the county for almost a quarter of a century. Soon I became involved in a terrific newspaper war with the members of this political organization. An election of county and State officials was soon to take place. In order to test the strength of the contending elements, in my newspaper, I presented the name of Hon. W. D. Gilbert as a candidate for district judge in opposition to the ring candidate. A sharp fight ensued. Mr. Gilbert was elected by an overwhelming majority. This was the first time for twenty-five years that this ring had been defeated. The members of it were very sore. Looking upon me as the principal spirit, I was the object toward which they directed all their shafts of spite.
Some time before this an insurance company had been organized in the city of Atchison. I was invited to become its president. I examined the books of the corporation, and found it to be organized according to the laws of Kansas; that the company had a charter from the State, and also certified authority to issue policies of insurance, granted by the State insurance commissioner. I accepted the presidency on condition that the company was simply to have the use of my name, and that I was not expected to give any of my time to the company, as I was otherwise engaged. I was editor of a daily newspaper, and could not attend to anything else. While this company was doing business a printed circular was used, stating that the corporation had one hundred thousand dollars PAID up capital. This circular was sent out through the mails over the State advertising the business. It was charged this circular was fraudulent; that the company did not have that amount of capital paid in. My name was attached to this printed circular. For this, I was indicted in the United States District Court, on the charge of using the mails for fraudulent purposes. The advertised capital of this corporation was SUBSCRIBED, but not all paid in, as it was not needed in the business of the company. After indictment I was arrested, and gave bonds for my appearance at the next term of court, which was held soon after.
Not being able to secure the attendance of all my witnesses, my attorney wrote the prosecuting attorney asking his consent that my case be continued. The request was granted. When the case was called, my attorney appeared and introduced a motion to continue the case, filing affidavits necessary in such cases. The prosecuting attorney having given his consent, there was no doubt in the minds of those interested as to the continuance of the case. For some cause best known to himself, the judge would not grant the continuance, and forced me to trial without having a single witness. It was my intention to have some fifty witnesses subpoenaed, to prove that the insurance company of which I was president was not a fraud. Not being allowed to have my witnesses, I was, under the instructions of the court, which were, indeed, exceedingly pointed, found guilty, and sentenced to eighteen months' imprisonment and to pay a fine of two hundred dollars. The political ring now triumphed for a brief period. In order to prove conclusively to the reader that this was a piece of spite work, I have only to state that I was the only one of all the officers of that company that was ever tried for running a bogus insurance company. Why was it that I was the only one sent to the penitentiary when there was the secretary, treasurer, and six directors equally as guilty as myself?
To prove more conclusively that it was political spite work that sent me to prison, let me inform the readers that about the time the insurance company at Atchison was organized, a similar one was organized in Topeka. They were similar in EVERY RESPECT. I was president of the one at Atchison, while a distinguished gentleman by the name of Gen. J. C. Caldwell was president of the one at Topeka. Both of these companies failed. The president of the Atchison company was sent to the penitentiary, while the president of the Topeka company was appointed by the governor of the State to the responsible position of chairman of the State Board of Pardons. Many persons have asked why this difference in the treatment of the presidents of these two companies. The only answer that can be given is that General Caldwell stood in with the Kansas political ring, while I did not. Every sensible man must admit that if it was just for me to serve a term in prison for the offense charged against me, General Caldwell should have been prescribed for in the same manner. I have no fight to make upon Mr. Caldwell. He is an excellent gentlemen. He was in luck. The fates were against me. Had I been a State instead of a United States prisoner, no doubt Mr. Caldwell, as chairman of the Board of Pardons, would have used his influence to secure for me my liberty. That I was sent to prison is wholly due to politics. It is unnecessary, therefore, for me to inform the reader that I am now "out of politics." Having served out my term I returned to my home in Atchison. As to the ring that sent me to prison, some of them are dead, others have left Atchison to make their homes in other places, others have failed financially, and still others have fallen so low that they have scarcely friends enough to bury them should they happen to die.
The big wheel of life keeps on revolving. Those who are up to-day may be down to-morrow, and vice versa. But to continue my narrative. Immediately after my conviction and sentence I was taken to the Leavenworth County jail. Here I remained until the following Tuesday in the company of a dozen or more prisoners who were awaiting trial. On Sunday, while in this jail, my wife, who died during my imprisonment of a broken heart, and an account of which is given in a subsequent chapter, came to see me. I can never forget this visit. She remained with me during the entire day. During the conversation of the day I said to her that, it seemed that the future appeared very gloomy. That it would be a miracle if I ever was able to survive the disgrace that had been so cruelly placed upon me. That all ambition and hope as to the future had fled, and that I could not blame her if she should now free herself by means of divorce, as my conviction of crime was a legal ground for divorce in Kansas. In reply to this, the noble little woman, her face aglow with the radiance of womanly devotion, said, that for twenty years of married life our home had been one of sunshine; that I had been kind to her and made her life one of happiness, and that now, when misfortune came, it was not only a duty, but the highest pleasure, to prove her fidelity. She kept her word. She was true to the last. When dying, her last words were a petition for the blessings of God upon her husband who was far away behind frowning prison walls. On Tuesday morning a deputy United States marshal came to the jail and gave me notice that in a few moments we would leave for the penitentiary. This officer was a gentleman, and did not seek to further humiliate me by placing irons on my person. I have often thought of this act of kindness on the part of this humane official. We took the train at Leavenworth, and in a very few moments were at my future place of residence. Lansing, the small village where the penitentiary is located, is about five miles from the city of Leavenworth. The entrance to the prison is from the west. Under the watchful care of the officer who had me in charge, I passed under a stone archway, to the left of which was a small office, where a guard was on duty during the day time. We were halted by this officer, who inquired if we had any firearms. No one visiting the penitentiary is allowed to carry fire-arms within the enclosure. The marshal who had me in custody handed over a large navy revolver. Between this archway and the western wall of the prison is a beautiful lawn. The walks are lined with fragrant flowers; beautiful fountains send aloft their silvery sprays. Passing up the roadway leading to the entrance door, and looking about me upon the rich carpet of green, the flowers and fountains, I came to the conclusion that the penitentiary was not so bad a place as I had imagined. I changed my mind, however, as soon as I had seen inside the walls.
The prison enclosure contains about ten acres of ground. This is surrounded by a stone wall some fifteen feet high, and six feet thick at the base. It is not more than four feet at the top. At each of the four corners may be found a tower rising some ten feet above the wall. A guard is on duty in each of these towers during the day. He carries a double-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot. In case a prisoner tries to escape he is liable to get a dose of lead, provided the officer on duty is a good marksman. The western wall is almost entirely made of a large stone building with its two long wings. The main building is four stories. The wings stretching to the north and south, each two hundred and fifty feet, contain the cells. On the first floor of the main building are the offices of the warden, clerk, deputy warden and turnkey. The upper rooms are used by the warden's family.
I was first conducted into the clerk's office and introduced to Mr. Jones, the clerk. He is a very pleasant gentleman, and spoke kindly to me, which I can assure all was very acceptable, for just about that time I was feeling very badly. His remark was: "I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Reynolds, but sorry to meet you under these sad circumstances." On his invitation I took a chair and sat down to await the next part of the progamme. As I sat there and thought of the kind words spoken to me by the clerk, I quickly reached the conclusion that if all the officers of that institution were as kind as Mr. Jones, it would not be as bad a place as I had anticipated. I had no experience then that would justify any other conclusion. Soon a side door of the office opened and in came the deputy warden, Mr. John Higgins. Mr. H. is the sourest appearing man I ever met in my life. At least, it seemed so to me on that day. He can get more vinegar on the outside of his face than any other person in the State of Kansas. He did not wait to be introduced to me. He never craves an introduction to a criminal. As soon as he came into the room he got a pole with which to measure me. Then, looking at me, in a harsh, gruff voice he called out: "Stand up here." At first I did not arise. At the second invitation, however, I stood up and was measured. My description was taken by the clerk. In this office there is to be found a description of all the criminals that ever entered the Kansas penitentiary. I was asked if I was a married man, how many children I had, and how much property I possessed. These questions were easily answered. After the deputy warden had discharged his duty he retired. I soon discovered that it was according to the rules of the prison for the officers to talk in a harsh and abrupt manner to the prisoners. This accounted for the way in which I was greeted by the deputy warden, who is the disciplinarian of the prison. I may say, in passing, that all the harsh manners of Mr. Higgins are simply borrowed for the occasion. Away from the presence of prisoners, over whom he is to exert his influence, there is not to be found a more pleasant and agreeable gentleman. In came a second official, and, in the same gruff manner, said to me, "Come along." I followed him out to the wash-house, where I took a bath. A prisoner took my measure for a suit of clothes. After he had passed the tape-line around me several times, he informed the officer that I was the same size of John Robinson, who had been released from the penitentiary the day before. "Shall I give him John Robinson's clothes?" asked the convict. In the same gruff manner the officer said, "Yes, bring on Robinson's old clothes." So I was furnished with a second-hand suit! The shoes were second-hand. I am positive about this last statement, judging by the aroma. After I had been in the penitentiary some four months, I learned that John Robinson, whose clothes I had secured, was a colored man. Being arrayed in this suit of stripes I was certainly "a thing of beauty." The coat was a short blouse and striped; the stripes, white and black, alternated with each other, and passed around the body in a horizontal way. The pantaloons were striped; the shirt was striped; the cap was striped. In fine, it seemed that everything about that penitentiary was striped—even to the cats! Being dressed, I was next handed an article that proved, on examination, to be intended for a handkerchief. It was covered with large blue letters—"Leavenworth Mills. XXX Flour," etc. It was a quarter section of a flour sack! Nine hundred prisoners very soon empty a great many flour sacks. After the flour has been consumed the sack is cut up into quarter sections, washed, hemmed and used for handkerchiefs. No better handkerchief can be invented. They are stout, stiff and durable! They will bear all manner of nasal assaults! There is no danger of blowing them into atoms, and the officials are not afraid to give them out to convicts sent there charged with the use of dynamite! One of them has been known to last a prisoner for five years.
After I had donned my suit and taken possession of my handkerchief, I was ordered to fold my arms. Prisoners marching in ranks, or going to and fro about the prison enclosure, are required to have their arms in this position. The object is to prevent them from passing articles. I was marched to the building known as the south wing of the cell house. In this building, which is two hundred and fifty feet long, there are cells for the accommodation of five hundred convicts. The prisoners who occupy this wing work in the shops located above ground, and within the prison enclosure.
The officer in charge conducted me to cell number one. Click went the lock. The door was pulled open, and in his usual style, he said, "Get in." I stepped in. Slam went the door. Click went the lock, and I was in a felon's cell! These rooms are about four feet wide, seven feet long, and seven feet high. In many of the cells two men are confined. These rooms are entirely too small for the accommodation of two prisoners. A new cell house is being built, which, when completed, will afford sufficient additional room so that each prisoner can have a cell. In these small rooms there are two bunks or beds when two convicts occupy the same cell. The bed-rack is made of iron or wood slats, and the bed-tick is filled with corn-husks; the pillow is also filled with the latter material, and when packed down becomes as hard as a board. When the beds are not in use they are fastened to the side of the wall with a small chain. When down and in use they take up nearly the entire space of the cell, so that it is impossible for the two occupants to pass each other in walking to and fro. The other furniture consists of a small tin bucket, holding about two quarts of water, and a wash-basin. A short-handled broom is also found in one corner of the cell, with which the convict brushes it out every morning. The walls are of stone, decorated with a small looking-glass and a towel. Each cell contains one chair and a Holy Bible. There is no rich Brussels carpet on the floor, although prisoners are allowed one if they furnish it themselves. No costly upholstered furniture adorns these safe retreats! Nothing in that line is to be discovered except one cane-bottomed chair for the accommodation of two prisoners, so that when one sits on the chair the other stands, or occupies a seat on the stone floor. There is not room for two chairs, or the State would furnish another chair. These rooms are built of stone. The door is of one-half inch iron bars, crossing each other at right angles, leaving small spaces about two by six inches; through these spaces come the air, light and heat for the health and comfort of the inmates. When I entered my cell on that eventful morning I found it occupied by a prisoner. He was also a new arrival; he had preceded me about an hour. When I entered he arose and gave me his chair, taking a seat on the floor in the opposite corner. After I had been locked in, before going away the officer said, "Now I don't want you fellows to get to talking, for that is not permitted in this institution." We sat in silence, surveying each other; in a few moments my companion, seeing something in my personal appearance that caused him to lose his self control, laughed. That he might give full vent to his laughing propensities, and not make too much noise, he drew from his pocket his quarter section of a flour bag and put it into his mouth. He soon became as red in the face as a lobster. I was curious, of course, to know what it was that pleased him so much. Rising from my chair, going to the door and looking through the openings I could see no officer near, so I asked my companion, in a whisper, what it was that pleased him so. It was with difficulty and after several trials before he could succeed in telling me what it was that caused him to be so convulsed. I told him to take his time, cool off gradually, as I had eighteen months, and could wait patiently. At last, being able to control his feelings sufficiently to tell me, in the midst of his outbursts of laughter, he said, "You look just like one of them zebras in Barnum's Circus!" When my attention was called to the matter, sure enough, I did look rather striped, and I, amused at his suggestion, laughed also. Soon an officer came gliding around in front of the cell, when our laughing ceased. My companion was a young fellow from Doniphan County. He got drunk and tried to rob an associate, still drunker, of a twenty dollar gold piece. He was arrested, tried and convicted of robbery, receiving a sentence of one year. Directly an officer came, took him out of my cell and conducted him to another department. All alone, I sat in my little parlor for nearly an hour, thinking over the past. My reverie was at length broken by the turning of my door lock. A fresh arrival was told to "git in." This prisoner had the appearance of just having been lassoed on the wild western prairies. He resembled a cow-boy. His whiskers were long and sandy. His hair, of the same color, fell upon his shoulders. As soon as the officer had gone away and everything had become quiet, I asked this fellow his name. "Horserider," was his reply, from which I inferred that he was a horse-thief. "How long a term have you?" was my next question. "Seven years," was his reply. I comforted him by saying it would be some time before he rode another horse.
The next part of the programme consisted in a little darkey coming in front of our cell with a rudely constructed barber's chair. The cell door opened, and an officer said to me, as if he would hit me with a club the next moment, "Git out of there." I went out. Pointing to the barber's chair, he said, "Squat yourself in that chair." I sat down. "Throw back your head." I laid it back. It was not long before my raven mustache was off, and my hair cut rather uncomfortably short for fly time. After this tonsorial artist had finished his work then came the command once more, "Git in." I got in. It now came Mr. Horserider's turn to bid a long farewell to his auburn locks. He took his place in the chair, and the little darkey, possibly for his own amusement, cut off the hair on one side of the head and left the other untouched. He then shaved one side of his face without disturbing the other. At this moment the bell for dinner rang, and the little colored fellow broke away and ran to his division, to fall in ranks, so that he would not miss his noon meal. Once more Mr. Horserider entered his cell and we were locked in. A more comical object I never beheld; he did not even possess the beauty of a baboon; he might certainly have passed for the eighth wonder of the world. When he came in I handed him the small looking-glass and asked him how he liked his hair-cut. Remember, one side of his head and face was shaved close, and the other covered with long sandy hair and beard. Looking into the glass, he exclaimed: "Holy Moses! and who am I, anyway?" I answered his question by stating that he favored Mr. What-Is-It. He was very uneasy for a time, thinking that he was going to be left in that condition. He wanted to know of me if all horse-thieves of the penitentiary wore their hair and whiskers in this style. I comforted him all I could by imparting the information that they did. He was much relieved when the darkey returned after dinner and finished the shaving.
I was next taken out of my cell to pass a medical examination. Dr. Mooney, the gentlemanly officer in charge of the hospital, put in an appearance with a large book under his arm and sat down by a table. I was ushered into his presence. He began asking me questions, and wrote down my answers in his book, which proved to be the physician's register.
"Have you any decayed teeth?" was his first question,
"No, sir," was my reply.
"Have you ever lost any teeth?"
"Have you ever had the measles?"
"Have you ever had the mumps?"
"Have you ever had the chicken-pox?"
"Have you ever had the thresh?"
Well, I didn't know what was meant by the thresh. I knew that I had been "thrashed" a great many times, and inferred from that fact that I must have had the disease at some time or other in my youth, so I answered,
"Have you ever had the itch?"
"What kind?" said I. "The old fashioned seven year kind? Y-e-s, sir, I have had it."
He then continued asking me questions, and wanted to know if I ever had a great many diseases, the names of which I had never heard before. Since I catch almost everything that comes along, I supposed, of course, that at some period during my childhood, youth or early manhood I had suffered from all those physical ills, so I always answered,
"Yes, sir." He wound up by inquiring if I ever had a stroke of the horse glanders. I knew what was meant by that disease, and replied in the negative.
He then looked at me over the top of his spectacles, and, in a rather doubting manner, said, "and you really have had all these diseases? By the way," he continued, "are you alive at the present moment after all that you have suffered?" Mr. Mooney is an Irishman. He was having a little cold-blooded sport at my expense. Whenever you meet an Irishman you will always strike a budget of fun.
His next question was, "Are you a sound man?"
My reply was to the effect that I was, physically, mentally and morally. So he wrote down in his book opposite my name "physically and mentally a sound man." He said he would take my word for being sound morally, but that he would not put that down on the books for the present, for fear there might be a mistake somewhere. Before discharging me, he calmly stated that I would make a good coal miner. All the prisoners undergo this medical cross-examination.
After I had run the doctor's gauntlet, I was conducted from the south wing of the cell-house to the north wing. Here I met for the first time Mr. Elliott, who has charge of this building during the daytime. It is a part of this highly efficient officer's duty to cross-examine the prisoners as to where they have lived and what they have been doing. His examinations are very rigid. He is a bright man, a good judge of human nature, and can tell a criminal at sight. He would make an able criminal lawyer. He is the prison detective. By means of these examinations he often obtains clues that lead to the detection of the perpetrators of crime. I have been told by good authority that on account of information obtained by this official, two murderers were discovered in the Kansas penitentiary, and, after their terms had expired, they were immediately arrested, and, on requisition, taken back to the Eastern States, where the crimes had been committed, and there tried, convicted and punished according to the laws of those States. After I had been asked all manner of questions by this official, he very kindly informed me that I came to the penitentiary with a bad record. He further stated that I was looked upon as one of the worst criminals in the State of Kansas. This information was rather a set-back to me, as I had no idea that I was in possession of any such record as that. I begged of him to wait a little while before he made up his mind conclusively as to my character, for there might be such a thing as his being mistaken. There is no man that is rendering more effective service to the State of Kansas in the way of bringing criminals to justice than Mr. Elliott. He has been an officer of the prison for nearly nine years. As an honest officer he is above reproach. As a disciplinarian he has no superior in the West.
After this examination I was shown to my cell. It was now about two o'clock in the afternoon of my first day in prison. I remained in the cell alone during the entire afternoon. Of all the dark hours of my eventful history, none have been filled with more gloom and sadness than those of my first day in prison. Note my antecedents—a college graduate, a county clerk, the president of a bank, and an editor of a daily newspaper. All my life I had moved in the highest circles of society, surrounded by the best and purest of both sexes, and now, here I was, in the deplorable condition of having been hurled from that high social position, down to the low degraded plane of a convict. As I sat there in that desolate abode of the disgraced, I tried to look out down the future. All was dark. For a time it seemed as if that sweet angel we call hope had spread her wings and taken her departure from me forever. The black cloud of despair seemed settling down upon me. But very few persons possess the ability to make any thing of themselves after having served a term in the penitentiary. Having once fallen to so low a plane it is almost impossible to rise again. Young man, as you peruse this book, think of these things. Once down as a felon it is a miracle if one ever regains what he has lost. I sat brooding over these things for an hour or more, when my manhood asserted itself. Hope returned. I reasoned thus: I am a young man. I enjoy good health. There will be only a few months of imprisonment and then I will be free. I thought of my loving wife, my little children, my aged mother, my kind friends, and for their sake I would not yield to despair. Soliciting the aid of a kind Heavenly Father, I resolved to do the best I could toward regaining what I had lost. My father was a minister of the gospel for fifty years prior to his death. He was not blessed with much of this world's goods. For this reason I began in very early life to aid myself. I spent seven years in college preparing for the struggles that awaited me. I earned every dollar of the money which paid my expenses while securing my education. I carried the hod to assist in building the college in which I afterward graduated. Few men can truthfully make this statement of themselves. While working my way through the institution where I received my education, I learned one useful lesson—self reliance. I learned to depend upon my own efforts for success. Every one must learn this useful lesson before he can become anything in life. After I had met with misfortune and found myself in a prison cell, I was glad that I had learned to rely upon my own efforts.
The question: "What shall I do in the future?" now came to me. That afternoon I laid my plans which I would carry out out in the years to come. I was financially ruined in the great battle I carried on with the Atchison ring. I was aware of the fact that, when I got out of the penitentiary, all the money that I would have with which to make another start in life would be five dollars. The United States presents her prisoners, when discharged, with a suit of citizen's clothes and five dollars. This was my capital. What could I do with five dollars, in the way of assisting me in getting another financial foot-hold in life? After my release it was necessary for me to do something at once to get money. It never entered my mind to borrow. It will be interesting to the reader to know what I did, after my prison days were past, to make a "quick raise." Sixteen months of imprisonment slipped away. I regained my liberty on Monday. I received my five dollars and immediately started for my home, in Atchison. On my arrival, Monday night, I had four dollars and ten cents. On Tuesday morning I went to the proprietor of the Opera House, in Atchison, and inquired how much money was necessary to secure the use of the building for the next evening. "Fifty dollars," was his reply. I gave him all the money I had, and persuaded him to trust me for the rest. I informed him that I was going to deliver a lecture on my prison life. He asked if I thought anybody would come to hear a convict talk. In answer, I told him that was the most important question that was agitating my mind at the present moment, and if he would let me have the use of the Opera House we would soon settle that question. I further told him that if the receipts of the evening were not enough to pay him for the use of the house, that I would pay him as soon as possible. He let me have the use of the house. I advertised in the daily papers of the city that I would lecture in the Opera House the following evening on my prison life,—admission fifty cents. I thought if the good people wanted to come at all they would come even if they had to pay well for it. I was very restless from the morning that I engaged the Opera House until the next evening, at which time I was to speak. I did not know whether I would have any audience. If not, I was fifty dollars deeper in debt. The evening for the lecture came, I went to the Opera House prepared to interest anyone that might put in an appearance; I entered the building in the rear, and took my position on the platform. The signal was given and up went the curtain. I was highly pleased when I saw my audience. The building was packed. The lecture was a financial success. In this manner I secured a nice "stake" for future use. I delivered that lecture for several weeks in Kansas, and made a thousand dollars above expenses. To return to my first afternoon in the cell. I thought of another scheme. I conceived the idea that a book about, a penitentiary, giving its history, and also the history of many of the leading criminals, modes of punishment, escapes, etc., would be very interesting, and would sell. I decided to write such a book while in prison. In order to write a book it became necessary to have writing material. How was I to secure this? It was against the prison regulations for a prisoner to have a lead-pencil or scrap of paper. The officials were very strict on this point. It was essential they should be. If the prisoners could pass notes, it would not be long before a prison insurrection would be the result. The plan that I adopted to secure writing material was rather unique, and perhaps the reader will like to know how I managed this difficult matter. It is wonderful what a man can accomplish, with adverse surroundings, if he wills it. As I have stated before, I had much to do in securing the election of Hon. W. D. Gilbert to the district judgeship. This made him feel very kind toward me. He came often to visit me at the prison. One day while visiting me, I asked him to use his influence with the warden to secure for me the privilege of having writing material in my cell. "What do you want with writing material," said he. The answer I gave was, that I might pass away my leisure hours in learning to write short-hand. He called on Warden Smith, and got his consent. He told the warden that if I would master this useful art while in prison, on my release, he would appoint me his district court reporter, at a salary Of $2,500 a year. The scheme was a success. I sent and got my short-hand books and writing material. I mastered short-hand, and can now write as fast as one would care to dictate. It was not long before I began writing my book in short-hand. The officials, as was their custom, would examine my cell daily to see if anything had crept in that did not belong there. They could not read short-hand. They did not know what so many little straight marks and curves indicated. I persevered, and one month before my time expired I had my book completed, and sent it out by a friend who visited the prison, who kept it for me until I secured my liberty. As before stated, I lectured until I got money sufficient, and then I published my first book on prisons, giving it the impressive title of "A Kansas Hell." This book sold rapidly, and soon the first edition was disposed of. I made enough money out of this book to place me on my feet, financially. But, to return to my cell the first afternoon. I remained alone until time for the prisoners to come in from their work, when I found that I was to have a "life man" for my cell-mate, whose name was Woodward R. Lopeman. I have given his history in a subsequent chapter. I remained in my cell during the evening, until the prison bell rang for retiring. Strange to say, after going to bed, I soon fell asleep, and did not awake until the prison bell rang on the following morning. When I did awake, it was to find myself, not in my own pleasant little home in the city of Atchison, Kansas, but in a felon's cell. I arose and dressed, and then waited and wondered what would be the next thing on the programme.
CHAPTER II. THE COAL MINES
I was next taken to the coal mines. These mines are located just outside of the prison enclosure, and are surrounded by high stone walls and stone buildings, which, by their location, take the place of walls. The coal yards are separated from the prison campus by a partition wall, which constitutes the south wall of the coal department and the north wall of the prison.
Passing from one of these departments to the other, through a large gateway, the gate being kept by a convict, an old man who murdered his son, and who has a life sentence. Reader, how would you like to spend your entire life, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, in the monotonous employment of opening and closing a large gate? When my escort and myself reached the mines, I was placed in charge of Mr. Dodds, the official in control of the mines at the surface. Mr. Dodds is a very competent officer, and has been on duty at that place more than twenty years. From this officer I received a mining cap. This piece of head-wear was turban-shaped, striped, of course, with a leather frontlet, on which was fastened the mining lamp. This lamp, in shape, resembled an ordinary tea-pot, only it was much smaller. In place of the handle was a hook, which fastened to the leather frontlet. The bowl of the lamp contained the oil; a wick passes up through the spout, at the end of which is the light. The miner carrying his lamp in this position has it out of his way. With the cap on my head and lamp lighted, I stood on the verge of a ten by twelve hole in the earth, that was almost eight hundred feet deep. We think that a well one hundred feet deep is quite a distance down into the ground, but here was a hole eight times deeper. In the mining vernacular this hole is termed a shaft—the term that will be employed in speaking of it hereafter. There are two of these shafts, about one hundred yards apart. Each shaft is divided by a wooden partition which descends from the top to the bottom. Two elevators, or cages, as they are called, ascend and descend along the shaft. While one cage is coming up the other is going down. They derive their motor power from two large engines, one for each shaft. The officer in charge inquired, before making my descent into the mines, if I ever fainted. "Never," was my reply. Persons sometimes faint in going down this shaft. "Step into the cage," was the order given. I obeyed, and, reaching up, took hold of some iron bars that went across the top. The signal was given, down I started. After I had descended a few feet a current of air coming up from below put out my light, which left me in the darkness of an Egyptian night. Down, down, down I went. There are a great many things in life that I have forgotten. There are a great many more that I expect to forget, but that first ride down the coal shaft I never can forget. Thug! I had struck bottom. It is said that when one starts down hill in this world he keeps on going until he strikes bottom. My readers will certainly agree with me that reaching a resting place eight hundred feet under the surface I had found the lowest round of the ladder. Whatever I may be in the future, to whatever heights I may ascend, I shall not forget that my starting point was nearly a thousand feet under the Kansas penitentiary. Water seeks its level. You may force one below the surface, and to whatever depth you please, to the extent of your power, but if he does not belong there, you cannot keep him down: in the course of time he will rise.
It was six long, dreary months before I was able to reach the first round in the ladder. Through that period I lay in the penitentiary mines, or at the bottom of "The Kansas Hell." It is said the old fashioned Hell has fire and brimstone; while the "Kansas Hell" has no fire, one thing is certain, it has plenty of material out of which to make it, and an abundant supply of sulphur.
At the end of my descent I found an officer there on duty. He told me to step off and occupy a seat on a small bench near by. He desired to impart some information. He advised me that while I was there, a convict, it would not be proper to assume the warden's privileges or endeavor to discharge his duties. In other words, the best thing to do was to keep my place, revolve about in my own orbit, carefully regarding all laws, both centripetal and centrifugal; otherwise, I might burst by the natural pressure of too highly confined interior forces! I confess that, though not subject to such infliction, I very nearly fainted over these ponderous polysyllables! He also informed me that the beautifully paved highway to popularity in the coal mines was to excavate large quantities of the carboniferous substance contained in the subterranean passages of the mine; the more coal I got out the more popular would I be!
After his lecture was over the officer gave a low whistle, and out from a dark recess there emerged a convict in his stripes. His face and hands were covered with coal dust. He came out grinning, showing his white teeth. As I caught sight of him I thought, surely, this is a fiend from the lower regions. Take one of those prisoners with his striped clothes, a light burning on his head, his face black and shining like ebony, behold him in the weird darkness of the mines, and if he does not call to your mind the picture of one of the imps of Eternal Night there is nothing in this world that will. This prisoner was the runner or messenger for this officer at the foot of the shaft. Each officer in the penitentiary who has charge of a division of men has a messenger to run errands for him. When this messenger came up to the officer he made his obeisance. Convicts are taught to observe good manners in the presence of the officials. He was told to take me to another officer in a distant part of the mines, a Mr. Johns, who would give me work. From the foot of the shaft there go out in almost all directions, roadways or "entries." These underground roadways are about six feet in width and height. I could walk erect in most of them. Along these entries was a car track, over which the small coal cars pass to and from the rooms where the coal is taken out, to the shaft, and hoisted to the top with their load of coal. Some of these entries extend more than a mile out into the earth from the base of the shaft. As my fellow-prisoner and I were passing along one of these roadways to the place where I was to work, he asked me my name and the nature of my offense. At this place let me inform, the reader that the prisoners are given permission to converse with each other in the mines. Their instructions are to the effect that they are not to talk about anything but their work, but in the penitentiary the same rule holds good as on the outside: "Give a man an inch and he will take a yard." So, when permission is given to the convict to talk about his work, he talks about everything else. In answer to my escort's question as to the length of my sentence, I informed him that I had eighteen months. He dryly remarked that was nothing, and if the judge who sent me up could not give me a longer term than that, he should have sent me home to my family. He also remarked that he was afraid I would get into trouble in the mines on account of my short sentence. There were a great many long-term fellows down there, who were envious of short-term men, and were likely to put up jobs on them by reporting their mistakes and violations of regulations to the officer in charge, and thus get them punished. I informed my guide that I thought I would get along some way with the prisoners, and keep out of trouble. I then inquired of him as to the length of his sentence.
"Twenty-five stretches," was his reply. I did not know what he meant by the term "stretches" and asked for information. "That is the prison term for years, a stretch meaning a year," was his reply. I learned that my companion, having twenty-five stretches, was carrying about with him a twenty-five years' sentence. A quarter of a century in prison! This was a young man. He had been in the prison for three years. When he entered this living tomb he had the bloom of youth upon his cheek. When he goes out, at the end of his term, if he lives so long, he will be an old, broken down man. He will not be likely to live that long. The average life of a convict is but fourteen years under the most favorable surroundings, but in the coal mines it cannot exceed five years at most.
Let me tell you of this man's crime, and then you can determine for yourself how easy it is to get in the penitentiary. This young fellow is the son of one of the most respectable farmers in the State. He attended a dance one night in company with some of the neighbor boys at a village near by. While there, he got under the influence of strong drink, became involved in a quarrel over one of the numbers with the floor managers, and in the fight that ensued he drew his knife and disemboweled the man with whom he was fighting. In a few moments the wounded man died. The young fellow was tried, convicted of murder, and sent to the penitentiary for twenty-five years at hard labor. It is awful to contemplate. Young man, as you read this, had you not better make up your mind to go rather slow in pouring whisky down your throat in future?
As we passed along through the mines I thought about that word "stretch," and as I did not like the idea of having jobs put up on me, came to the conclusion that I would render myself popular by telling the prisoners in the mines who might ask me as to my sentence, that I had eighteen "stretches." I did not think that calling a month a "stretch" would be "stretching" my conscience to such a degree as to cause me any particular distress, for I knew that by the time I had served out a month it would seem equivalent to a year on the outside.
After following along the entry for some distance, almost a mile, we came to that portion of the mines where I was to work. Coming up to the place where the officer was seated, the headquarters of this division, my guide made a low bow, and informed the officer in charge that he had brought him a man. Then bowing himself out, he returned to his place at the foot of the shaft.
The officer in whose division I was to work now signaled his messenger, and there came out of the darkness another convict, stripes, cap, lamp and all.
"Get Reynolds a set of mining tools," said the officer.
These were soon brought, and consisted of a pick, a short-handled shovel, two iron wedges and a sledge hammer.
"Take him," said the officer, "to room number three, and tell George Mullen, who is working in that room, to teach him how to mine."
I got my arms around those implements of coal warfare, and following my escort, passed along the entry for some distance, possibly two hundred yards, when the roadway in which we were walking suddenly terminated, and instead, there was a small hole that went further on into the earth. When we came to this place my guide dropped down on his hands and knees and passed into the room. I halted. I had never been in such a place before. I did not know what there was in that dark hole. Soon my escort called out, "Come along, there is nothing in here to hurt you." So I dropped down on my hands and knees and into the dark hole I went.
These rooms where the miners work are about twenty-eight inches in height, twenty-four inches wide, and about fifty feet long. Think of working in such a place as that! Oh, how often have I sighed for room enough to spread myself! How I would have made that coal fly had the vein been on top where I could have stood on my feet and mined. George Mullen, the convict who was to teach me to mine, was at the farther end of the room at work when we entered. We crawled on our hands and knees to him, and when my guide had delivered his message he withdrew and hastened back to his headquarters near the stand where his officer sat.
After he had gone and my room-mate and myself were left alone, about the first question that George asked me was, "How long have you got?"
"Eighteen stretches," was my quick reply.
George loved me dearly from that moment. I very soon discovered that I was very popular with him on account of my long sentence.
"How long are you in for?" said I to him.
"Always," was his answer.
He was a life prisoner. At one time he was marshal of a Kansas town, and while acting in that capacity he killed his man. He was trying to arrest him, so he informed me, and the fellow showed fight, when he took out his gun and shot him. It was claimed by the authorities that the shooting was unprovoked, and that the man could have been arrested without killing him. Aside from the fact that he had killed his man, I must say that I never met a man for whom I had a higher regard. He was very kind to me, very patient, and made my work as easy for me as he possibly could. I remained with him for nearly a month, when, having learned the business, I was taken to another part of the mines and given a task.
"Have you ever mined any?" inquired my instructor.
"No; I never was in a coal mine before coming here."
He then gave me my first lesson in mining. I lay on my right side in obedience to his orders, stretched out at full length. The short-handled shovel was inverted and placed under my right shoulder. This lifted my shoulder up from the ground a little distance and I was thus enabled to strike with my pick. The vein of coal is about twenty-two inches in thickness. We would mine out the dirt, or fire-clay as it was called, from under the coal to the distance of two feet, or the length of a pick-handle, and to the depth of some six inches. We would then set our iron wedges in above the vein of coal, and with the sledge hammer would drive them in until the coal would drop down. Imagine my forlorn condition as I lay therein that small room. It was as dark down there as night but for the feeble light given out by the mining lamp; the room was only twenty-eight inches from the floor to the ceiling, and then above the ceiling there were eight hundred feet of mother earth. Two feet from the face of the coal, and just back of where I lay when mining, was a row of props that held up the roof and kept it from falling in upon me. The loose dirt which we picked out from under the coal vein was shoveled back behind the props. This pile of dirt, in mining language, is called the "gob." I began operations at once. I worked away with all my might for an hour or more, picking out the dirt from under the coal. Then I was tired completely out. I rolled over on my back, and, with my face looking up to the pile of dirt, eight hundred feet thick, that shut out from me the light of day, I rested for awhile. I had done no physical work for ten years. I was physically soft. To put me down in the mines and set me to digging coal was wicked. It was murder. Down in that dark pit how I suffered! There was no escape from it. There was the medicine. I had to take it. I do not know, but it seems to me that when a man is sent to that prison who has not been in the habit of performing physical labor, he should not be put to work in the mines until he becomes accustomed to manual labor. It would seem that it would be nothing more than right to give him an easier task at first and let him gradually become hardened to his work at coal digging. Nothing of this kind is done. The young, the old, the middle-aged are indiscriminately and unceremoniously thrust into the mine. Down there are nearly five hundred prisoners. Among them are boys from seventeen to twenty years of age, many of whom are in delicate health. Here are to be found old men, in some cases sixty years of age. I do not wish to be understood as casting any reflections upon the officers of this institution. They cannot help these things. If Warden Smith could avoid it there would not be a single man sent down to that region of death. The mines are there and must be worked. Let this blame fall where it belongs. I must say injustice to our common humanity, that to work these two classes, the boys and old men, in those coal mines is a burning shame and outrage. It is bad enough, as the sequel will show, to put able-bodied, middle-aged men to work in that pit. The great State of Kansas has opened those mines. Her Legislature has decided to have them worked. It becomes the duty, therefore, of the prison directors to work them as long as they are instructed to do so, even if scores of human beings are maimed for life or murdered outright each year. The blame cannot rest on the prison officials, but upon our lawmakers.
CHAPTER III. THE COAL MINES (Continued)
After we had mined some twenty-five feet we took down the coal. To do this the wedges are set and driven in at the top of the vein of coal, with the sledge hammer. After my companion had struck the coal several times it began to pop and crack as if it would fall at any moment. I became alarmed. I was never in such a place before, and I said: "George, had I not better get out of this place? I don't want the coal to fall on me the first day." His reply was, that if I wanted to learn how to mine I must remain near the coal and take my chances of being killed. This was indeed comforting! Then he informed me that he was going to knock on the coal and wanted me to catch the sound that was produced. He thumped away, and I got the sound—a dull, heavy thud. Now, says he, "when coal sounds in that manner it is not ready to drop." So he continued to pound away at it. The more he pounded the more the coal cracked and the more alarmed I became. I was afraid it would drop at any moment and crush me. I begged of him to cease pounding until I got into the entry out of the way of danger. He tried to make me believe there was no danger. I was hard to convince of that fact. There I lay stretched out on my side next to the coal, he driving in the wedges, and the coal seeming to me to be ready to drop at each stroke of the hammer. "Now listen," said he, "while I knock on the coal once more." I listened. The sound was altogether different from the first. "Now," said he, "the coal is about ready to fall." It is necessary for the miner to know this part of his business. It is by the sound that he determines when it is ready to fall. If he is ignorant of this part of his work, he would be in great danger of getting killed from the coal falling unexpectedly. "Well," said I, "if this coal is about ready to drop, had I not better get out of here into the entry, so that I may be out of danger?" "No," was his reply; "just crawl up behind that row of props and remain in the 'gob' until after the coal falls." In obedience to his command I cheerfully got up behind the props and embraced that pile of dirt. He struck the wedges a few more blows and then darted behind the props out of danger. No sooner had he got out of the way than the coal came thundering down. "Now," said my room-mate "go out into the entry and bring in the buggy." "All right." And out I went on my hands and knees. I soon found my way into the entry, but found no buggy; so back I crawled into the room and reported. At this my instructor crawled out to see what had become of that singular vehicle known as a mining buggy. I followed after. I did not want to remain behind in that coal mine. I did not know what might happen should I be left there in that dark hole alone. After we had reached the entry where we could stand erect my teacher pointed to an object which lay close to our feet, and said to me, "Man, where are your eyes?" "In my head," I calmly replied. "Do you see that thing there?" "Of course I see that thing." "Well, that is the buggy." "Indeed!" I exclaimed. "I am certainly glad to know it, for I never would have taken that for a buggy." It had a pair of runners which were held in their places by a board being nailed across them. On this was a small box; at one end there was a short iron handle. On our knees we pushed the buggy into the room, took up the hammer, broke up the coal into lumps we could handle, filled up the small box, dragged it out into the entry and emptied it into a heap. This is called "buggying" coal. It is the most laborious part of mining. Whenever a new man would be placed with the convicts for instructions in mining he would have to buggy coal just as long as it was possible to get him to do so. After a time, however, he would want to take turn about with his teacher.
After we had finished getting out what we had down the noon hour had arrived. At certain places in the entries or roadways there are large wooden doors which, when shut, close up the entire passage. These doors are for the regulations of the currents of air which pass through the mines. The loud noise produced by pounding on one of these doors was the signal for dinner. It was now noon. Bang, bang, bang, bang, went the door. I had now put in one-half day of my sentence in the mines. Oh! the many long, dreary, monotonous days I passed after that! At the call for dinner the convict, ALWAYS HUNGRY, suddenly drops his tools and makes his way at a rapid pace along the entry until he comes to the place where the division officer has his headquarters. Arriving at this place each convict takes his position in a line with his fellow-convicts. All talking now ceases. They sit on the ground while eating, with their lower limbs crossed. There are no soft cushioned chairs on which the tired prisoner may rest his weary limbs. When seated, a small piece of pine board, about a foot square, is placed across his knees. This is the table. No table cloth, no napkins, no table linen of any kind. Such articles as these would paralyze a convict! Thus seated in two rows along the sides of the entry, with their mining lamps lighted and hanging in their caps, they present a weird and interesting sight. The dinner had been brought down from the top about an hour before on coal cars. Three of the prisoners are now detailed to act as waiters. One passes down between the two rows of convicts, carrying in his hand a wooden pail filled with knives and forks. These culinary instruments have iron handles. Were they made of wood or horn, the convicts would soon break off the handles and make trinkets out of them. This waiter, passing along, drops a knife and fork on each table. He is followed by another who drops down a piece of corn bread; then another with a piece of meat for each man, which he places on the pine board. There is no "Please pass the meat," or "Hand over the bread." Not a word is spoken. After the knives and forks have been passed around this waiter returns and gives each man a quart of water. THIS IS DINNER. The bill of fare is regular, and consists of cold water, corn bread and meat. Occasionally we have dessert of cold cabbage, or turnips or cracked corn. When we have these luxuries they are given to us in rotation, and a day always intervenes between cabbage and turnips. In the coal mines the prisoner never washes himself before eating. Although he gets his hands and face as black as the coal he has been digging, yet he does not take time to wash himself before eating. Reader, how would you like to dine in this condition? The old saying is, we must all eat our "peck of dirt." I think I have consumed at least two bushels and a half! I can never forget my first meal in the mines. I was hungry, it was true, but I couldn't manage to eat under the circumstances. I sat there on the ground, and in silence watched the other prisoners eat. I thought, "You hogs! I can never get so hungry as to eat as you are now eating." In this I was mistaken. Before ten days had gone by I could eat along with any of them. The first day I thought I would do without my dinner, and when supper time came go to the top and enjoy a fine meal. I imagined that after digging coal all day they would surely give us a good meal in the evening. My mouth "watered" for some quail on toast, or a nice piece of tenderloin, with a cup of tea. Think of my surprise, when hoisted to the top at the close of day, after marching into the dining-room and taking our places at the table, when I saw all that was put before the prisoners was a piece of bread, a cup of tea without sugar or milk, and two tablespoonfuls of sorghum molasses. It did not require a long time for me to dispose of the molasses, as I was very hungry, and handed up my cup for an additional supply; this was refused. It is considered in the penitentiary an excess of two tablespoonfuls of sorghum is unhealthy! There is danger of its burning out the stomach! So at each supper after that I had to get along with two spoonfuls. As far as the tea was concerned, it was made of some unknown material whose aroma was unfamiliar to my olfactory; the taste was likewise unfamiliar, and in consequence of these peculiarities of the prison tea I never imbibed of it but the one time, that being amply sufficient to last through the entire period of my confinement. From that day on I took cold water, which, after all, is God's best beverage for the human race. The penitentiary, so far as I know, is the only place in the State of Kansas where prohibition actually works prohibition as contemplated by the laws of the State! There are no "joints" in the Pen. No assistant attorney generals are necessary to enforce prohibition there. I never saw a drunken man in the prison. The Striped Temperance Society of Kansas is a success.
For breakfast in the prison we have hash, bread, and a tin cup of coffee, without sugar or milk; no butter, no meat. The hash is made of the pieces of bread and meat left over from the preceding day. We had it every day in the year for breakfast. During my entire time in the prison I had nothing for breakfast but hash. One day I was talking to an old murderer who had been there for eighteen years, and he told me he had eaten hash for his breakfast during his entire term—six thousand five hundred and seventy days. I looked at the old man and wondered to myself whether he was a human being or a pile of hash, half concluding that he was the latter!
In conversation with the chaplain of the prison I received the following anecdote, which I will relate for the benefit of my readers. It is customary in the prison, after the Sunday exercises, for such as desire to remain and hold a sort of class meeting, or, as some call it, experience meeting. In one of these, an old colored man arose, and said: "Breddren, ebber since Ize been in dis prison Ize been tryin' to git de blessin'; Ize prayed God night and day. Ize rascelled wid de Almighty 'till my hips was sore, but Ize nebber got it. Some sez its la'k ob faith. Some its la'k of strength, but I b'l'eves de reason am on 'count ob de quality ob dis hash we hab ebbery day!"
Accidents are occurring almost daily. Scarcely a day passes but what some man receives injuries. Often very severe accidents happen, and occasionally those which prove fatal. Many men are killed outright. These accidents are caused by the roof of the little room in which the miner works falling in upon him, and the unexpected drop of coal. Of course there are many things that contribute to accidents, such as bad machinery, shafts, dirt rolling down, landslides, etc.
One day there was a fellow-prisoner working in the room adjoining me; he complained to the mining boss that he did not want to go into that room to work because he thought it was dangerous. The officer in charge thought differently, and told him to go in there and go to work or he would report him. The prisoner hadn't been in the place more than a half hour before the roof fell and buried him. It took some little time to get him out. When the dirt was removed, to all appearances he was dead. He was carried to the hospital on a stretcher, and the prison physician, Doctor Neeally, examined him, and found that both arms were broken in two places, his legs both broken, and his ribs crushed. The doctor, who is a very eminent and successful surgeon, resuscitated him, set his broken bones, and in a few weeks what was thought to be a dead man, was able to move about the prison enclosure, although one of his limbs was shorter than the other, and he was rendered a cripple for life.
On another occasion a convict was standing at the base of the shaft. The plumb-bob, a piece of lead about the size of a goose egg, accidentally fell from the top of the shaft, a distance of eight hundred feet, and, striking this colored man on the head, it mashed his skull, and bespattered the walls with his brains.
I had three narrow escapes from death. One day I lay in my little room resting, and after spending some time stretched out upon the ground, I started off to another part of my room to go to work, when all of a sudden the roof fell in, and dropped down just where I had been lying. Had I remained a minute longer in that place, I would have been killed. As it happened, the falling debris just struck my shoe as I was crawling out from the place where the material fell.
At another time I had my room mined out and was preparing to take down the coal. I set my wedges in a certain place above the vein of coal and began to strike with my sledge hammer, when I received a presentiment to remove my wedges from that place to another. Now I would not have the reader believe that I was in any manner superstitious, but I was so influenced by that presentiment that I withdrew my wedges and set them in another place; then I proceeded to strike them a second time with the sledge hammer, when, unexpectedly, the vein broke and the coal fell just opposite to where my head was resting, and came within an inch of striking it. Had I remained in the place where I first set my wedges, the coal would have fallen upon me; it had been held in its place by a piece of sulphur, and when it broke, it came down without giving me any warning.
On still another occasion, my mining boss came to my room and directed me to go around to another part of the mine and assist two prisoners who were behind with their work. I obeyed. I hadn't been out of my room more than about half an hour when there occurred a land-slide in it, which filled the room entirely full of rock, slate and coal. It required several men some two weeks to remove the amount of debris that had fallen on that occasion. Had I been in there, death would have been certain at that time.
Gentle reader, let me assure you, that although some persons misunderstanding me, assert that I am without belief in anything, yet I desire to say, when reflecting upon these providential deliverances, that I believe in the Eternal Will that guides, directs, controls and protects the children of men. While many of my fellow-prisoners were maimed for life and some killed outright, I walked through that valley and shadow of death without even a hair of my head being injured. Why was this? My answer is the following: Over in the State of Iowa, among the verdant hills of that beautiful commonwealth, watching the shadows as they longer grow, hair whitened with the frosts of many seasons, heart as pure as an angel's, resides my dear old mother. I received a letter from her one day, and among other things was the following:
"I love you now in your hour of humiliation and disgrace as I did when you were a prattling babe upon my knee.
* * *
"I would also have you remember that every night before I retire to rest, kneeling at my bedside, I ask God to take care of and watch over my boy."
Of the nine hundred convicts in the penitentiary not one of their mothers ever forgot or deserted them. A mother's prayers always follow her prodigal children. Go, gather the brightest and purest flowers that bend and wave in the winds of heaven, the roses and lilies, the green vine and immortelles, wreathe them in a garland, and with this crown the brow of the truest of all earthly friends—Mother! Another reason I give for my safe keeping in that hour of darkness and despair: In the city of Atchison, on a bed of pain and anguish, lay my true, devoted and dying wife. Every Sunday morning regularly would I receive a letter dictated by her. Oh! the tender, loving words! "Every day," said she, "I pray that God will preserve your life while working in the jaws of death." The true and noble wife, the helpmeet of man, clings to him in the hour of misfortune and calamity as the vine clings to the tree when prostrate on the ground. No disgrace can come so shameful that it will cause the true wife to forsake. She will no more forsake than the true soldier will desert on the battlefield. For those imps in human form that endeavor to detract from the honor belonging to the wives of the country there ought to be no commiseration whatever. Let us honor the wifehood of our native land. It is the fountain of all truth and righteousness, and if the fountain should become impure, all is lost. One more reason: Before I was sent to the prison I was an evangelist, and was instrumental in the hands of God of persuading hundreds of people to abandon a wicked life and seek the good. During my imprisonment I received many letters from these men and women who had been benefited on account of what I had said to them, and they informed me that they still retained confidence in me and were praying God for my deliverance.
Now, I believe, in answer to a mother's prayers, in answer to the prayers of my sainted wife, in answer to the prayers of good men and women, who were converts to "the faith once delivered to the saints" under my earnest endeavors—in answer to all these prayers, God lent a listening ear and preserved me from all harm and danger.
PATHETIC OCCURRENCES IN THE MINES
It is a great consolation for prisoners to receive letters from their friends. One day a convict working in the next room to me inquired if I would like to see a letter. I replied I would. He had just received one from his wife. This prisoner was working out a sentence of five years. He had been in the mines some two years. At home, he had a wife and five children. They were in destitute circumstances. In this letter his wife informed him that she had been taking in washing for the support of herself and children, and that at times they had to retire early because they had no fuel to keep them warm. Also, that, on several occasions, she had been compelled to put the children to bed without supper. But this noble woman stated to her husband that their lot was not so bad as his. She encouraged him to bear up under his burdens, and that the time would soon come when his sentence would expire and he would be permitted to return home again, and that the future would be bright once more as it had been before the unfortunate circumstances that led to his imprisonment. It was a good letter, written by a noble woman. A couple of days after this, as I was mining, I heard a voice in the adjoining room. I listened. At first I thought it was the mining boss, but I soon discovered I was mistaken. Listening again I came to the conclusion that the convict who was working in the next room was becoming insane, a frequent occurrence in the mines. Many of the poor convicts being unable to stand the strain of years and the physical toil, languish and die in the insane ward. To satisfy my curiosity, I took my mining lamp from my cap, placed it on the ground, covered it up as best I could with some pieces of slate, and then crawled up in the darkness near where he was. I never saw such a sight as was now presented to me. This broad-shouldered convict on his knees, with his frame bent over, his face almost touching the floor of the room, was praying for his wife and children. Such a prayer I never heard before, nor do I expect to hear again. His petition was something like the following:
"Oh, Heavenly Father, I am myself a wicked, desperate man. I do not deserve any love or protection for my own sake. I do not expect it, but for the sake of Jesus do have mercy on my poor wife and helpless children."
I have been able, many times in my life, to spend an hour or more in the prayer circle, and, unmoved, could listen to the prayers of the children of God. But I could not remain there in the darkness and listen to such a prayer as that going forth from the lips of that poor convict; so I glided back through the darkness into my own room, and left him there alone, pleading with his Creator for his lone and helpless ones at home.
Reader, did God listen to the wails of that poor heart-stricken prisoner? Yes! yes! yes! For though a prodigal, sinful child, yet he is still a child of the universal Father. Who of us dare excommunicate him? What frail mortal of passing time would dare lift up his hand and say, this poor wanderer is forgotten of his God?
What a glorious privilege is communion with God. What a sweet consolation to know God hears, though we may be far removed from the dear ones we love. And who can tell the glorious things that have been wrought by the wonderful Father of the race by that strong lever of prayer. How often has the rough ways of life been made smooth. How often do we fail to credit the same to the kind intercession of friends with the Father of us all.
But to continue, it often happens that in the coal mines, persons, no longer able to sustain the heavy load that is placed upon them of remaining in prison for a long time, give way, and they become raving maniacs. One day a prisoner left his room, and crawling out on his hands and knees into the entry, sat down on a pile of coal and commenced to sing. He had a melodious voice, and these were the words, the first stanza of that beautiful hymn:
"Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly."
After he had completed the first stanza two of the officers came to him and directed him to go back into the room to work. He replied that he did not have to work; that he had religion, and that when a man had religion he did not have to work. Said he, "We are now going to have a prayer meeting, and" addressing one of the officers, "you you will please lead us in prayer." The officer replied, "I don't pray in coal mines; I pray above the surface so that God can hear." At this the insane convict picked up a large piece of coal and was going to hurl it after him, and threatened that if he did not get on his knees and go to praying he would compel him to do so. While he was thus addressing one officer the other slipped around in his rear and striking his arm knocked the piece of coal out of his hand. Then the officers seized him, one on each side, and forced him to go with them down the roadways to the shaft, from whence he was taken to the top and placed in the insane ward, where he remains at this writing. As he was passing down the entries, away in the distance we heard him singing—
"Other refuge have I none, Hangs my helpless soul on Thee. Leave, oh leave me not alone, Still support and comfort me."
I can never forget the impression made upon me as those words rang down through the dark passages, coming from the lips of that insane convict as they led him away from the confinement of the mines to the confinement of insanity. How true those beautiful words were in his case!
THE COAL MINES A COLLEGE OF INFAMY
The mines of this Penal institution are a college for the education and graduation of hardened criminals, and for illustration, and the instruction of those not familiar with the subject matter referred to, I will relate what came under my personal observation, and some things that I heard while in there. One day, in company with me while engaged in mining, were two other convicts. One of these was a hardened old crook. He was serving out a term on the charge of making and passing counterfeit money. The other fellow-convict was a young man seventeen years of age—a mere boy. Tired of mining, we laid off awhile, resting. During this time the old convict gave us instructions in the manner of making counterfeit money. He told us how he would construct his counterfeit molds out of plaster paris, which he would use in the same manner that bullet molds are used. He would purchase some britannica metal. On some dark night he would go into the forest, build up a fire, melt the metal, pour the melted liquor into the molds, and in this manner make silver dollars. He informed us that it didn't take very long to make a hatful of money. A few days thereafter this young man, who was with us in the room at the time, informed me that when he went out again into the world, if he was unable to secure work, he would try his hand at making counterfeit money. I advised him not to do this, as it was almost a certainty that he would be detected. He thought differently. About a month thereafter he was released from the prison. He went out into the world, and, unable to obtain work, DID try his hand at making counterfeit money. Shortly before my time expired here came this young man to prison again, with a sentence of three years at hard labor for making and passing counterfeit money. He had received his criminal instruction in the penitentiary mines, the result of which will be that he will spend the greater portion of his life a convict.
There are a great many instances where these young convicts, having received their education in the coal mines, go into the world to become hardened criminals. Down in this school of crime, in the midst of the darkness, they learn how to make burglary tools, to crack safes, and to become expert as pickpockets; they take lessons in confidence games, and when their time expires they are prepared for a successful career of crime. It is utterly impossible for the officers of the coal mines to prevent these men from conversing with each other. If these mines were sold, and the money obtained from the sale of them was used in building workhouses on the surface, and these men placed at work there under the watchful care of the official, they would then be unable to communicate with each other, and would be saved from the debasing contamination of the hardened criminals. They would be saved from all this that degrades and makes heartless wretches.
A scene occurred in the mines one day that illustrates the fact that judges sometimes, in their anxiety to enforce the laws, overstep the bounds of justice, and inflict excessive punishment and place burdens upon human beings which they are unable to bear. One afternoon in the city of Emporia ten tramps were arrested and thrown into the county jail. During the succeeding night one of these persons thrust a poker into the stove, and heating it red hot, made an effort to push the hot iron through the door, thus burning a large hole in the door-casing. The next morning the sheriff, entering the jail, perceiving what this vagrant had done, was displeased, and tried to ascertain which one of the ten was guilty of the offense. The comrades of the guilty party refused to disclose the perpetrator of the act. Court was then in session. The sheriff had these ten fellows brought into court, hoping that when placed upon the witness stand, under oath, they would tell which had committed the offense. Even in court they were true to each other, and would not reveal the perpetrator. They were then all convicted, and the judge passed a sentence of ten years upon each of these vagrants for that trivial offense. They came to the penitentiary. The day after their arrival they were all sent to the coal mines. For two years they worked day after day down in the Kansas bastile. One morning, after they had been in the mines for two years, one of the number, at the breakfast table in the dining-room, unperceived secreted a knife in his clothing and carried it with him down to his place of work. He went into his little room and began the labors of the day. After toiling for a few hours he took a stone and sharpened his knife the best he possibly could, then stepped out into the entry where he could stand erect, and with his head thrown back drew that knife across his throat, cutting it from ear to ear, thus terminating his life, preferring death to longer remaining in the mines of the Kansas Hell! Who is there that is not convinced of the fact that the blood of this suicide stains the garments of the judge who placed this unbearable burden of ten years upon this young man, and who, I subsequently learned, was innocent of the offense. I would advise the good people of Lyons County, and of Emporia particularly, after they have perused this book, if they come to the conclusion that they have no better material out of which to construct a district judge, to go out on the frontier and lassoo a wild Comanche Indian and bring him to Emporia and place him upon the ermined bench. I do not even know the name of this judge, but I believe, if I am correctly informed in this case, that his judgment is deficient somewhere. But I must say in this connection, when the good people of Lyons County heard of this suicide, they immediately thereafter petitioned the Board of Pardons for the release of these prisoners, and the board at once reported favorably upon their cases, and Governor Martin promptly granted their pardons and they were released from the prison. If the pardon had not been granted, others of them had resolved upon taking their lives as did their comrade. One of these prisoners was for a time a companion of mine in one of my mining rooms, and told me if he was required to remain in the coal mines digging coal another three months he had made up his mind to follow the example of his comrade, preferring death to the horrors of the mines.
For the further information of the reader, as to the dread of the prisoners of work in the mines, I cite the following which I call to recollection. The gentlemanly physician of the institution, Dr. Neeally, told me that at four different times men had feigned death in the mines and had been carried on stretchers to the hospital; the particulars in one case is as follows: One of these men feigned death and was carried to the hospital, and was reported by his comrades to be dead. He had suppressed his breathing. The physician felt his pulse, and finding it regular, of course knew he was simply endeavoring to deceive. In order to experiment, the physician coincided with the statements of the attending convicts who had carried him from the mines, and announced that he would try electricity, and if he failed to restore him to life he would then have to bury him in the regular way. The doctor retired for the purpose of getting his electrical apparatus. In a few moments he returned, bringing it with him, and placing the magnetic cups, one in each hand, commenced generating the electricity by turning the generator attached to the machine. After a few turns of the crank the prisoner opened his eyes; one or two more and he sat up; a few more and he stood on his feet; another turn or two and he commenced dancing around, and exclaimed, "For God's sake, doctor, do quit, for I ain't dead, but I can't let loose!" Reader, what do you suppose was the object this convict had in view in thus feigning death? What did he hope to gain thereby? Being well acquainted with this prisoner, a few days after the doctor had told me of the circumstances I met him, and asked him what object he had in feigning death the time that he was taken from the mines to the hospital? His reply was that he hadn't the nerve to take his own life, as he believed in a future state of punishment, and that he did not desire to step from the Kansas Hell to the hell of the future, and that by feigning death he hoped to be taken to the hospital, placed in a coffin, then taken out to the prison graveyard, and buried alive, so that he would suffocate in his grave!
There is not a man in those mines but would leave them quickly for a place on the surface.
I now call to mind one instance where a heart-broken father came to the prison and offered one of the leading prison officials one thousand dollars if he would take his son out of the coal mines and give him a place on the surface during the remainder of his term. A man who labors in these mines simply spends his time, not knowing but the next hour will be his last.
As I have stated heretofore the prisoners are allowed to converse in the mines, and as a result of this almost necessary rule, every convict has an opportunity to listen to the vilest obscenity that ever falls upon human ears. At times, when some of these convicts, who seem veritable encyclopedias of wickedness, are crowded together, the ribald jokes, obscenity and blasphemy are too horrible for description. It is a pandemonium—a miniature hell! But worse than this horrible flow of language are the horrible and revolting practices of the mines. Men, degraded to a plane lower than the brutes, are guilty of the unmentionable crimes referred to by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter I, verse 27, which is as follows: "And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lusts one toward another, men with men, working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet." Every opportunity is here offered for this vile practice. They are far removed from the light and even from the influences of their officers, and in the darkness and silence old and hardened criminals debase and mistreat themselves and sometimes the younger ones that are associated with them in their work. These cases of self-abuse and sodomy are of daily occurrence, and, although the officials of the prison take every precaution to prevent such evil practices, yet, as a matter of fact, so long as prisoners are permitted to work in the mines it will be impossible to break up these terribly degrading and debasing practices. Oh, Kansan! you that boast of the freedom and liberty, the strength of your laws, and the institutions in your grand young State, what do you think of this disclosure of wickedness, equalling if not excelling the most horrible things ever pictured by the divine teachers of humanity,—the apostles and their followers? A hint is only here given, but to the wise it will be sufficient, and but a slight exercise of the imaginative powers will be necessary to unfold to you the full meaning of this terrible state of affairs.