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History of the Alton Prison

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser


THE ILLINOIS STATE PENITENTIARY AT ALTON (located along William Street in downtown Alton)


According to the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, 1904, page 16, the earliest punishments imposed upon public offenders in Illinois were by public flogging or imprisonment for a short time in jails rudely constructed of logs, from which escape was not difficult for a prisoner of nerve, strength and mental resource. In 1827, a grant of 40,000 acres of land was made to the State of Illinois by Congress, and a considerable portion of the money received from their sale was appropriated to the establishment of a State penitentiary at Alton. The sum set apart proved insufficient, and in 1831, an additional appropriation of $10,000 was made from the State treasury.
                            Illinois State Penitentiary at Alton
In 1833 the prison was ready to receive its first inmates. The prison was built of stone and at first had only twenty-four cells. The first warden of the State Prison was Samuel H. Denton, who lived in a log house on what was later called Penitentiary Hill. Denton boarded the one or two prisoners in his own home, and worked them during the day in preparations to build the penitentiary. The prison was operated on the “Auburn Plan” – which meant labor in silence by day, and separate confinement by night. The management of the prison was in the hands of a “lessee,” who was paid a set amount by the State, and then the lessee furnished supplies, employed guards, and exercised the general powers of a warden under the supervision of a Commissioner, appointed by the State, and who handled all the products of convict labor.

On August 25, 1835, Deputy Warden David Owens met his death while standing guard over the prisoners who were working in the quarry adjacent to the prison. He had placed his rifle on a nearby rock, and the rifle slipped off and fired. The ball entered his body, taking some of the links of his watch chain with it. Owens tried to rise, but died on the spot.

In April 1836, the prison report stated that the Alton penitentiary was a model prison. It contained 645 prisoners, of which 622 were males. Out of the 218 convicts received from January 1 to April 13, 1836, 60o were illiterate, 175 intemperate, and 11 abstinent (from drinking alcohol).

Additions were made to the prisoner throughout its years of occupation. In 1841, congress submitted a Bill to erect 94 additional cells and sheds, with the right to see excess land not needed for prison use. By the year 1857, the prison contained 256 cells. The State of Illinois decided to build a new penitentiary at Joliet. By the year 1860, the last convicts were transferred from Alton to Joliet. Those who had died in the State Penitentiary at Alton, whose bodies were unclaimed by relatives, were probably buried in the Alton City Cemetery. In 1855, money was allotted to purchase land for a cemetery to bury prison inmates.

During the Civil War, as the number of captured prisoners increased, it was decided to use former State Penitentiary at Alton for a military post and prison. Beginning in 1861, captured Confederate prisoners, deserters, and war criminals were housed in the prison, including a small number of women. In 1863, a smallpox epidemic spread throughout the prison. Some were housed in the prison hospital, while others were taken to a makeshift hospital located on Sunflower Island, directly across from Alton. The island was later called “Smallpox Island.” In May 1862, the prison hospital was moved to a three-story building at the corner of Broadway and Alby Streets. Those who died at the military prison in Alton were buried at the cemetery on Rozier Street in North Alton. Those prisoners confined to the hospital on Smallpox Island were buried there on the island. This island no longer exists, as it was flooded when the Alton dam was constructed in 1926.

At the end of the Civil War (1865) the prison was closed permanently. Those remaining prisoners were sent to St. Louis or released. The prison was then dismantled, except for a small portion of a wall, which was relocated in 1970 near William Street in downtown Alton. This wall still stands, and is now a historical site. Some of the stones from the prison were ground up and used in paving projects in East St. Louis.

Samuel H. Denton – First Warden, 1833
John C. Bruner – Warden, at an early date
David Owens – Deputy Warden, 1835
Benjamin S. Enloe – Warden, 1837 (removed from office and indicted for letting prisoners escape, August 1837)
John R. Woods – Warden (after Enloe removed from office), 1837 - 1838
Isaac Greathouse – Warden, 1840, 1842
Nathaniel Buckmaster – Warden, 1839, 1843
William Fleming - Superintendent of Prison, ? - December 1845 (at his death)
Mr. Wells – Deputy Warden, 1858, 1859
Colonel Samuel A. Buckmaster (nephew of Nathaniel Buckmaster) – Warden, 1854 until the close of the prison in 1860
Mr. Wise (partner to Colonel Samuel A. Buckmaster) – 1854
Friend Smith Rutherford – Superintendent of Prison, 1858




Source: Sangamon Journal, September 21, 1833
At the recent session of the Circuit Court in Madison County, James Hyatt was convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to thirteen months imprisonment in the State Penitentiary at Alton.

Source: Sangamon Journal, September 28, 1833
On Tuesday last, James Hyatt was taken from the jail of Madison County by Deputy Sheriff Dickinson, who proceeded with him to the Alton Penitentiary. Hyatt, though young in years, proves to be an old offender. According to his own account, he has served one term in a penitentiary, and has been familiar with the inside of several jails. He professes to have stolen thirteen horses in his day – one of them no less than three times. He appeared to be destitute of all feeling, and was apparently less unconcerned than any individual of the crowd which surrounded him at the time of his departure.


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 8, 1894
"When Samuel H. Denton, the first warden of the Illinois Penitentiary, was living in Alton in a log house on what we then called Penitentiary Hill, with his one or two prisoners who he boarded in his own house and worked them during the day in preparing to build the penitentiary, I went first to see the picture of the "Piasa Bird" painted on the face of the rock that fronted the river from the top of the Penitentiary Hill, and then up the hill to see my old friend Denton. Though he was a man and I a boy, we were always warm friends." [Notes: Samuel H. Denton was born July 2, 1796 in Greene County, Tennessee. He died March 1, 1869, at the age of 72, and is buried in the Omphghent Cemetery in Prairietown, Madison County, Illinois.]


Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, August 27, 1835
Mr. David Owens, Deputy Warden of the Illinois State Penitentiary, at Alton, came to his death on the 25th ult. in a very singular and unexpected manner. He was standing as guard over the prisoners who were at work in the quarry adjacent to the prison, when his rifle slipped from the edge of the rock upon which it was resting, and in attempting to recover it is supposed to have drawn the cock back by the projection of the rock, and while the muzzle was not more than an inch from his body, the gun discharged itself, and the ball entered obliquely, taking some links of his watch chain with it. The unfortunate man attempted to rise, but expired before his purpose was accomplished. St. Louis Herald.


Source: Alton Telegraph, May 11, 1836
(From the Jacksonville Patriot.) We recently visited the young and flourishing town of Alton. The business that has been transacted in it the present season greatly exceeds in amount the anticipations of its warmest friends. The Legislature, in its liberality to provide a suitable place for the reception of convicts, erected the State Penitentiary on a hill near the present site of Alton, and no doubt supposed that such a large stone structure would stand unrivalled by any buildings the Altonians might think proper to erect. But the individual enterprise of the merchants in putting up large, four and five story stone warehouses, bears indomitable evidence that they are determined not to be outdone in this particular. In fact, the foundations for a large commercial city are already laid in Alton, and all the forced ridicule and unfair opposition that the citizens of St. Louis may array against it cannot keep it down. The merchants of Alton are, generally, a liberal minded, fair dealing set of men, and as such we commend them to the patronage of our country leaders.


Source: Alton Telegraph, April 13, 1836
This institution, ..... [unreadable] ... considered a model prison for all .... contains by the report of inspectors, 645 prisoners, of whom 622 are males. Out of the 218 convicts received this year, 60 were illiterate, 175 intemperate, 11 total abstinent.


Source: Auburn, New York Journal and Advertiser, 1837
A Van Buren Man - Beauties of the Sub-Treasury - Seth T. Sawyer, late Public Printer at Vandalia, Illinois, has been sentenced to one year in the State Penitentiary at Alton for stealing the public deposits.

[Note: Seth T. Sawyer was later a prominent attorney in Edwardsville and Alton. In 1855 he was appointed U. S. Land Commissioner. He died in February 1895.


Source: History of Henry County, Illinois by Henry L. Kiner, 1910, page 674
Spring & Summer of 1837: At the close of each term of court, the sheriff would take the prisoners to the state prison at Alton, a journey of some three hundred miles. There were no railroads in those days. The sheriff took two or more prisoners alone in his buggy from Cambridge to Peoria, on his way to the "pen" at Alton, and some of them were desperate characters. They had no jail, and from the beginning he made it a point to treat his prisoners well, but to depend upon irons to keep them safe. That way, he lost no prisoner during his term of office. He had a two-seated buggy and always placed them on the front seat, with feet and hands shackled; then the two men were shackled together and by a chain their feet were made fast to the coupling pole. He took the back seat, with the lines passing between the men. A man by the name of Wilcox was transported this way and delivered to the warden, who was at that time Samuel Buckmaster.


Source: Alton Telegraph, August 2, 1837
We understand that four of the prisoners confined in the Penitentiary at this place, effected their escape on Saturday evening last. Two were retaken soon afterwards, but the others, we believe, are still at large. We are unable to state how these convicts contrived to elude the vigilance of the Warden on this occasion.


Source: Alton Telegraph, August 23, 1837
We understand that the Board of Inspectors, by virtue of the powers conferred upon them in the act "in relation to the Penitentiary," passed at the late extra session of our Legislature, have removed Benjamin S. Enloe, Esq., from the office of Warden of the above institution, and placed it temporarily under the superintendence of J. R. Woods, Esq., a gentleman believed to be well qualified for the discharge of the duties which will devolve upon him. The number of convicts now under confinement amounts to twelve only.

Source: Alton Telegraph, August 30, 1837
From the Missouri Republican: "Will the editor of the Alton Telegraph undertake to furnish its readers with the facts which transpired upon the trial of the case of the State against Enloe, at the late term of the Madison Circuit Court? The defendant was the Warden of the State Penitentiary, and was indicted for permitting the escape of several prisoners; to which circumstance the former editors of this paper made allusion at the time. He was acquitted, as we have understood - the Attorney General, a party concerned in the affair, having been permitted by the court, at just before the opening of the case, to make a vulgar and abusive speech against the late editors of this paper and those connected with them in politics; and the prosecution having been placed in the hands of a young member of the bar, who, however respectable his attainments, was scarcely able to cope with such vitreous as Field and Semple. Will the editor further inform us, whether the said Attorney General was not, at the same term of the court, indicted by the Grand Jury for being a participant in the misconduct of the Warden? And whether - notwithstanding all his protestations, all his abuse, before the court, and pending the trail - he has now to answer to accusations, deliberately preferred by a Grand Jury upon their oaths very similar to those which were made against him in this paper?"

Answer from The Telegraph: As we did not attend the late term of the Madison Circuit Court, it is not in our power, from our own knowledge, "to furnish the facts" asked for in the above paragraph. We understand, however, that "at, or just before the opening of the case, The people vs. Enloe," the Attorney General took occasion to utter a violent tirade against the Editors of the Missouri Republican - calling them "d----d scoundrels and liars," or terms of similar import; and applying the same courteous epithets to all others who might have copied from their paper certain remarks concerning this functionary. It has been also stated to us, that the management of the prosecution instituted against Enloe, was entrusted to a very young member of the bar, wholly unable to cope successfully with such veteran lawyers as Messrs. Field and Semple, who were employed for the defendant. We have likewise heard, that an indictment against the Attorney Gene4ral was found at the same term of the Court; not indeed for anything connected with the Warden of the Penitentiary, or the escape of the convicts, but for gross negligence in the discharge of his official duties.


Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, September 1837
The Alton Spectator of the 7th contradicts the statement going the rounds of the papers, "that forty prisoners had escaped from the penitentiary at Alton," and says there never was over 12 or 15 convicts in it at a time.


Alton Telegraph, January 23, 1839
The following statement of the condition of the Penitentiary in Alton is from a report made to the Legislature on the 12th ult. The expenses of the Penitentiary over the income for the last two years is $1,493.34, showing a deficit for the last two years of $1,495.31. On the 18th of August 1837, there were in confinement eleven prisoners, and since that time I have received from the several counties hereinafter named, fifty more, and two others who had escaped from former Wardens; making in all that have been under my care, 63. Of these, ten have made their escape. Two have died; two released by order of the Supreme Court; four pardoned by the Governor; and fifteen have served out their time. Leaving now in confinement, 34. Of the above sixty-three convicts:

Sentenced for Larceny 43; Assault with intent to kill 7; Manslaughter 3; Rape 3; Counterfeiting 3; Forgery 1; Assault with intent to commit a rape 1; Robbing United States mail 1; Arson 1.

Of the thirty convicts now in confinement, ___ are natives of New York; five of Kentucky; four of Ireland; three of Ohio; two of Maryland; two of England; one of New Jersey; one of Vermont; one of Massachusetts; one of Missouri; one of the West Indies; one of Scotland; and one of Illinois. The shortest term for which any convict has been committed during the last fifteen months is eight months; the crime was manslaughter, and the convict was released in four months. The longest term for which any convict has been committed is "for and during his natural life." The convict was a black boy, and the crime rape. He died in three weeks after being received.

Of the thirty now in confinement, one is a mulatto; two are black men; and twenty-seven are white men. But eight had trades when they came, and only two of these work at the same now. Thirteen are married men, and seventeen single. The youngest is seventeen, and the oldest forty-five years of age. Twenty-four attribute their present misfortune to the use of intoxicating liquor. But four have ever made a profession of religion, they were members of the Roman Catholic Church. But three have ever attended Sabbath School, and but one has been a member of a Temperance Society. The Sabbath by all has been disregarded since they came to the West.


Alton State Penitentiary
Source: Alton Telegraph, October 19, 1839
John Bolster, one of the convicts in the Penitentiary at this place, was killed on Wednesday morning last, by the Warden, for resisting and endeavoring to take the life of this officer while in the discharge of his duty. It seems that the deceased not only positively refused to go to work when ordered so to do, but also actually wrested a heavy cane out of the Warden's hands and repeatedly attempted to knock him down with it, when the latter was compelled to shoot him in order to save his own life. The following is the return of the inquest held over the body by the Coroner of this county.

Coroner's Inquest, State of Illinois, Madison County
We, the Jury, having been duly sworn by Henry P. Rundel, Coroner of said county, diligently to inquire and true presentment make, in what manner and by whom John Bolster, a convict in the Penitentiary of the State aforesaid, whose body was found in said Penitentiary on the morning of the 16th day of October, A. D. 1839, came to his death, after having heard the evidence, and upon full inquiry concerning the facts, and a careful examination of the said body, do find that the deceased came to his death from a wound inflicted by a pistol shot, which entered his body, immediately at or about the point of the scapula; which ball, it is supposed, passed through the left lung of the said Bolster, which was inflicted by Samuel A. Buckmaster, Warden of said Penitentiary, while in the discharge of his official duty. Given under our hands and seals, this 16th day of October, A. D. 1830. Signed by Andrew Miller, Thomas M. Hope, William S. Lincoln, J. A. Townsend, M. W. Carroll, S. W. Robbins, Thomas G. Hawley, Levi Palmer, George Robbins, Horace Beall, J. D. Smith, and J. Russell Bullock.

The Illinois State Penitentiary opened in Alton in 1833. It was located on William Street. Before the prison was completed, Samuel H. Denton, warden of the prison at that time, housed a few prisoners in his home, and worked them during the day to prepare the prison for opening. By 1836, the prison contained 645 prisoners, of which 622 were males. In 1839, Samuel A. Buckmaster served as warden, and according to the Telegraph article above, was forced to shoot a prisoner, John Bolster, who refused to work and tried to attack the warden. It is unknown where Bolster was buried. The prison closed in 1860, and prisoners were housed in the new prison at Joliet, Illinois. The Alton prison opened once again to house war criminals and Confederate prisoners during the Civil War. The prison closed for a final time in 1865.


Source: Sangamon Journal, November 1, 1839
The day before yesterday, one of the convicts in the Alton penitentiary, whose name was unknown to our informant, became sullen and refused to go to work when requested by the Deputy Warden, saying that he was sick. He was ordered to go to the cell, and receive a visit from the physician. He refused this also, and became abusive. The Deputy Warden then informed the Warden, Mr. Samuel A. Buckmaster, of the facts, when Mr. Buckmaster went to the refractory convict and asked him why he refused to go to work. He replied, “I am not going to work – I’ll never do anymore work for you, G-d, d-n you!” Upon which Mr. Buckmaster struck him with a cane. The convict, who is a very powerful man, grappled with Mr. Buckmaster, and would probably have murdered him had it not been for the interposition of the Deputy Warden, who rushed between them and afforded Mr. Buckmaster an opportunity of drawing his pistol, with which he shot the convict through the lower part of the spine, producing immediate death. A coroner’s inquest was held upon the body of the convict, and the jury returned a verdict of “justifiable homicide.”


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 22, 1840
There have been six convictions to the penitentiary, viz: Reuban Shuster, for larceny, five years; James Smith for counterfeiting, four years; William Bell for larceny, three years; Julius Scott, assault with intent to kill, two years; Jeremiah Doyle, larceny, one year and six months; Joseph Vance, larceny, one year. They were severally arraigned before the bar for the sentence of the court on Thursday morning, which was passed upon them in an appropriate manner, accompanied by a solemn admonition, which went to their hearts and seemed to affect them deeply. Three of them are young men, in the very prime of life, and may, and we hope, will be, after having expiated their sentence, benefited by it.


$100 REWARD!
Source: The Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Advertisement, August 8, 1840
Escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on the night of Friday, August 7, 1840, a convict named Hansel G. Horn. Said convict is 5 feet 8 inches high, slender made, dark hair, blue eyes, slightly pock-marked, about 40 years of age, has a small scar on his right eyebrow, one on his right arm, the third finger of the left hand crooked and cannot be straightened. It is presumed that said Horn will proceed direct to Texas. Any person apprehending him without the limits of the State will be entitled to the above reward, on his delivery to me in the City of Alton; or if taken within the State and delivered as above, fifty dollars will be paid. I. Greathouse, Warden Ill's Penitentiary, Alton, Aug. 8, 1840.


$200 REWARD!
Source: Alton Telegraph, September 19, 1840
Escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on the afternoon of Thursday, July 23d, 1840, two convicts named William Hill and James M. Harrison. Said Hill is about 35 years of age; 5 feet 0* inches high; fair complexion; hazel eyes; high forehead; heavy eye brows and heard, latter somewhat ____; brown hair with high top _____; but had his left ankle broken, which may be discovered on close examination; walks very straight, and rather proud in his carriage. Said Harrison is about 33 years of age; six feet 1 inch high; fair complexion; brown hair; remarkably keen dark hazel eyes; a large scar on the left temple; one on the right side of the under lip, one on the side, and one on the top of the left foot; plausible in his manners, and walks very erect. The heads of the above described convicts have not been shaved. Both are shoemakers by trade. The above reward will be paid for their delivery at the penitentiary, if taken out of the state. One Hundred Dollars if taken within the State. Or, One Hundred Dollars for either, if taken without the State; or, Fifty Dollars for either if taken within the State. J. Greathouse, Warden, Alton, July 23, 1840.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 23, 1841
The following is a copy of the Bill in relation to the Illinois Penitentiary, reported to the House a short time since by Mr. Gillespie, of this county:

Sec. 1. Be it enacted &c., That the Inspectors of the Penitentiary of this State are hereby authorized, and it is made their duty, to cause to be erected, ninety-four additional cells for the confinement of convicts therein, to be built of stone or timber, as the said Board of Inspectors shall determine.

Sec. 2. The said Inspectors are hereby authorized and required, to cause to be erected, in the place designed for that purpose, a house for the Warden of said Penitentiary, suitable for the accommodation of said Warden and his family, so as not to cost exceeding the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars.

Sec. 3. The said Inspectors shall cause to be erected, suitable sheds for the protection of the ordnance and military stores belonging to this State, now or hereafter to be placed in the custody of said Warden, or any person having the care and management of said Penitentiary; said sheds not to cost exceeding the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars.

Sec. 4. The said Inspectors shall cause the walls enclosing the area of said Penitentiary to be repaired, and additions made thereto, conformably to the recommendations of said Inspectors in their annual report in this General Assembly.

Sec. 5. The Warden, or other officer or person, having the care or custody of said Penitentiary, is hereby authorized and required to furnish to each of said convicts, at the time of his or her discharge, suitable clothing, not to exceed in value ten dollars; Provided, however, That a provision, as above stated, shall be made, unless the said convict is wholly unable to procure such clothing.

Sec. 6. The said Inspectors shall receive proposals for the work to be done in conformity with the provisions of this act, and give at least sixty days public notice in at least two newspapers of this State, of the time and place where they will be received; and upon the opening thereof, the contract shall be awarded to the person or persons agreeing to perform such work on the lowest terms: Provided, Said persons shall give good and sufficient security in the satisfaction of said Inspectors, for the completion of said work according to the terms which may be agreed upon.

Sec. 7. The said Inspectors may let out said work in such parcels as they may deem necessary and proper.

Sec. 8. The said Inspectors shall have power to lease the said Penitentiary for any term not exceeding two years, upon the best terms they can obtain, upon giving sixty days’ notice of said leasing, in four public newspapers, one of which shall be printed in this State; and all the duties imposed by this act upon the Warden, shall be obligatory upon such lesson or lessees, who shall give bond and security as now required by law.

Sec. 9. The Governor of this State is hereby authorized to negotiate bonds of this State, to an amount sufficient to raise the sum of twenty thousand dollars, at an interest of six per centum per annum, payable at the expiration of twenty-five years, and for the redemption of which the faith of this State is hereby irrevocably pledged.

Sec. 10. The said Inspectors are hereby authorized, if they deem it consistent with the interest of this State, to dispose of all or a part of the Penitentiary land or property not included within the walls of said Penitentiary, or needed for the purpose of enlarging the same.

Sec. 11. Said Inspectors shall give notice for six weeks in same public newspaper, of the time and place of the sale of said property (if such sale shall be deemed advisable), and the proceeds of such sale when realized shall be applied to the payment of any debts or demands against said Penitentiary, and their amount deducted from the twenty thousand dollars hereby authorized to be borrowed: Provided, Bond and security shall be taken from such purchaser or purchasers, and a mortgage upon the premises sold, for payment of the purchase money.

Sec. 12. The said Inspectors are hereby authorized to draw upon the Treasurer of this State, in favor of the person or persons to whom money may be due, by virtue of this act, and the said Treasurer shall pay the same out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise specifically appropriated, or the fund provided for that purpose.


Source: Alton Telegraph, October 9, 1841
During the severe rain of last week, one side of the Penitentiary wall fell over in the night, and broke in the shops used for coopering. Had the accident occurred during the daytime, while the convicts were at work, the loss of life must inevitably have been great.


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 26, 1842
This establishment is shortly to be released, and a question of a good deal of interest to our mechanics in this city and vicinity is, whether the inspectors intend to have it converted, for the next three years, into a mechanic's shop, to the great detriment and manifest injury of a large, respectable, and meritorious class of citizens, whose chief means of subsistence is their daily mechanical labor. We have no hesitation in asserting that this way of employing convicts is wrong and should not be countenanced. It brings the labor of the honest, industrious mechanic in competition with that of convicts, and in many instances, forces the former to abandon the neighborhood of a Penitentiary, for employment in some other section of country. This question has become, in New York, so serious a one, that the Governor, in his late annual message, recommended an abandonment of the present system, and the employment of the convicts in some way that would not interfere with the mechanics; and the Legislature of New York, at its present session, will doubtless remedy the evil. This subject should be brought to the notice of our next legislature, and we would advise those interested in the question, to pay some attention to it in the approaching campaign. This could not be more effectually done than by bringing out, as a candidate from this end of the county, a good Whig mechanic, or one who was pledged to their interest, for the legislature. Their interest, in our opinion, deserves a representative from their own ranks, as well as that of the farmer, the lawyer, or doctor.


Source: Alton Telegraph, April 9, 1842
There will be a meeting of the Mechanics at the brick schoolhouse in Upper Alton, on Saturday the 23d inst., for the purpose of taking into consideration the good or bad policy of carrying on mechanical business in the Penitentiary by the convicts. The Mechanics of the Altons, the neighboring towns and their vicinities, are earnestly requested to attend. Signed by several Operating Mechanics.


Source: Alton Telegraph, April 16, 1842
1. Is it expedient to support the convicts in the penitentiary in idleness?

2. If not, is there any kind of labor which they can perform, without coming in competition, either now or at some future time, with other laborers?

3. Should the Legislature show a partiality to one class of laborers over another, at the expense of the whole State; or should they employ the convicts in such labors as are most profitable to the State, and can be pursued with the greatest convenience within the walls of the Penitentiary?

4. Is it expedient to re-enact, in Illinois, the farce which has been annually enacted in the city of New York for many years - that of creating artificial discontent in the minds of one class of citizens, for the purpose of controlling their votes?


Source: Alton Telegraph, May 21, 1842
The Penitentiary was leased in this city [Alton] on Monday last, for the term of three years, to Messrs. Greathouse and Buckmaster, for the sum of six thousand dollars, which goes into the treasury of the State. The lessees pay all expenses, and give the above enormous sum out and out as a bonus to the State for the use of the prisoners. We understand they intend, provided they can get the lease extended upon the same terms, to enter largely into the manufacture of bagging and rope. This we should much prefer seeing done, to carrying on the several mechanical branches in which the convicts are at present engaged, to the great detriment of a large class of meritorious mechanics, who are, comparatively speaking, thrown out of employ.


Source: The Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Advertisement, May 23d, 1842
Escaped from the Alton Penitentiary, on the 20th inst. two convicts, Isaac Bell and William B. Ledbetter. Isaac Bell was sentenced from Sangamon County in March 1838 for five years. He is 27 years old, 5 feet 3 inches high, hazel eyes, dark brown hair, a deep scar on the left cheek, and a scar on the right leg, made by the kick of a horse and some small scar on his right hand. He is an old horse trainer, and his whole subject of conversation is about horses. Ledbetter was sentenced from Shelby County, June 2d, 1841, for one year. He is 21 years old, heavy made, 5 feet 5 inches high, dark hair, dark complexion, gray eyes, a scar on the back of the left hand, and another on the calf of the left leg. His parents reside in Shelby County. I will give fifty dollars for the apprehension and delivery of Isaac Bell at the Prison, and twenty-five dollars for Ledbetter. Isaac Greathouse, Warden Illinois Penitentiary. Alton, 23d May, 1842.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 21, 1843
From the Editor - On Thursday last, the 12th inst., Mr. Hickman, one of the members of the committee on the Penitentiary, made a report in answer to a resolution introduced some weeks since by the indefatigable Representative of Bond - Mr. Davis. As this subject has deeply agitated the public mind in the two Altons and vicinity, and to prevent any accusation against me of unfairness by those implicated in the disreputable letting that took place in June last, as well as to enable each individual to form his own conclusions in regard to the determination to which the committee on the Penitentiary in the House arrived, I have procured a copy of the report, which is in the words following:

"The committee on the Penitentiary, to whom was referred certain resolutions, beg leave to present the following as their report. The committee are of opinion that the leasing of the Penitentiary was legal, especially under the circumstances in which the Inspectors were placed. We are of opinion that the law implied that privilege, and as the last Legislature made no provisions for said institution, the Inspectors conceived it to be their imperious duty to do the best they could with said Penitentiary. And with the advice and consent of the Attorney General, they leased the same for the term of three years, from the 10th of June 1842, for a bonus of $6,115 - the only bonus that has ever been received by the State. And that the bids, especially the one accepted by the Inspectors, was unusual and unfair, by one of the partners in the lease holding out inducements to other bidders that they should come in as partners in the lease if they would not bid, and were afterwards rejected as partners.

It appears from the testimony before the committee, that the bids were as follows: The first bid was for a certain definite sum, $800 the first year, $1,100 the second year, and $1,200 the third year, making the sum of $3,000, and if there should be a higher bid, $100 was to be added to each bid until the bids reached $6,015. The other bid was $100 more than any other responsible bidder, which bid made the sum of $6,115, and was the bid accepted by the Inspectors. Your committee have no testimony before them, that there was any higher bid than the one accepted by the Inspectors. We are likewise of opinion that it was not let at its intrinsic value; there was one witness that stated to the committee he would now give ten thousand dollars for a lease of three years, with the privilege of working the convicts as under the former lease.

The committee are of opinion, from the testimony before them, that there was one company that wished to lease the Penitentiary, who designed to employ the labor of 50 convicts in the manufacturing of hemp, soy bale rope and bagging. We would take occasion here to recommend to the consideration of this Legislature, the propriety of changing the labor of convicts to the manufacture of hemp, as it may prove advantageous to the citizens of Alton as well as the surrounding country.

We are likewise of the opinion that the convicts are treated as the law requires, so far as it can be done in their present situation, except that the convicts have been taken outside the walls, and sometimes out of the city, to perform labor, and at times unattended by guards, which may be considered a violation of law.

We find, from evidence, there are 131 convicts in the Penitentiary, with only 56 cells, originally designed for one person, with now two in each cell. Upwards of twenty have to be kept in a cellar together at night. There is likewise two female convicts that have to be kept in the cook house in the daytime, and in a cellar at night. We would recommend to this Legislature some provisions to be made for the safe keeping, health, and comfort of convicts, by making such improvements as would be necessary for that purpose."

The limits of this letter will not allow me to devote more space than I have already done to this subject. It is, however, to be hoped, that the rebuke visited upon the Inspectors by this report, for departing from the plain path of duty in receiving unfair, if not dishonest bids, will have the effect of guarding against a repetition of such gross impropriety.

Since writing the fore part of this letter, Mr. McClernand, from the committee on Finance, has reported a bill relative to the Penitentiary, which has been twice read and referred to a select committee of seven. It provides for re-letting the labor of the convicts, and for a total change in the mode of their employment, requiring that in six months from the passage of the Act, one third of the convicts shall be employed in the manufacture of bagging and rope; in twelve months, another third in the same manner, and within eighteen months, the residue. Lessees are prevented under a very heavy penalty from taking a convict out of the walls of the Penitentiary; and the mode of bidding is expressly defined in the Act. The principles of the bill are generally approved of by those members who have examined it, and I understand it meets the united support and approbation of our delegation. It is greatly to be hoped that it will pass, as it will secure the mechanics and laboring man of Alton and its vicinity from further imposition, and at the same time open a new market for an article of product which will prove to our farmers a source of great profit, if not wealth. I perceive by St. Louis papers that the Missouri Legislature has, during its present session, leased the Penitentiary of that State for the term of ten years, for the sum of fifty thousand dollars, the lessees binding themselves to employ the convicts exclusively in the manufacture of hemp and tobacco. Illinois, if the present fraudulent lease is set aside, can obtain equally as good an offer for the labor of the convicts in her Penitentiary. All depends upon the action of our Legislature, and it is for them to say, whether this large sum shall go into the Treasury of this State, or into the pockets of Buckmaster, who claims it, because he is now a brawling Loco Foco [Democrat].


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 28, 1843
To the Editor:
As the subject of State Prison discipline is now under discussion, not only in this community but by our Legislature, permit me through your columns to make a few remarks in relation thereto, which if they do no good will do no harm. The main end of justice is to prevent crime, rather than to vindicate it through pain and punishment on the offender. And it is a subject of serious consideration, whether for the culprit in undergoing his punishment, some efforts should not be made to restore him, as far as practicable with his nature and disposition, to the confidence of society again. The mode for consideration is whether the prisoner, by time and good conduct, may not be indulged in liberties, Alton prisonas a reward for such, and even be promoted to the station of guard, with some allowance of pay. It is a part of human nature for a person to sustain himself in any confidential station bestowed in the way of a benefaction. And it is not to be supposed that the spark of gratitude is obliterated from all of those who may have chanced to fall under the severity of the laws as to be confined in the Penitentiary. The convict who is rigidly confined and secluded from all intercourse with his fellow men, on his liberation, is distrusted and suspected by everyone - has no kind hand to give him countenance or employment wherewith to provide clothes or food, and he is ultimately driven to crime again for his daily wants, and the punishment he has undergone has again to be repeated him. Out of the numerous convicts in our Penitentiaries, we can hardly suppose that there are not a portion composed of a better principle of human nature than to be condemned to such an unrelenting fate - and the voice of humanity and every principle of pure Christian religion calls for a remedy. To prove that there are trusty convicts, I will merely call to the minds of the citizens of this vicinity a few examples. Let them look at Bell, the teamster, who is daily in the streets alone with his team, and often sent into the country for miles on errands, or to drive a carriage with ladies. Then look at Bill, the colored man, who has once been a body servant of the gallant General Worth. Who of us would not employ either of them as soon as anyone of similar condition now at large? For one, I have no hesitation in saying that I would make no distinction, and for the reason that I see that they can be trusted by those who have the control of them. I will then take the case of Parker, who, within the walls, is entrusted with counting lumber, and in all respects answers the purpose of a guard or general overseer for the interest of the prison. Who would not willingly take him by the hand and say, come and prosper, instead of go and hide from the face of man? Let the heart that can oppose this species of divine charity, no more look to the head of all mercies and expect to arrive at that place where there is more rejoicing over one sinner that repenteth than ninety and nine that need no repentance. The individuals named can no more be considered without a parallel than one man without, with an ounce of charity can be found without an equal, or that one religious sect with particular notions of duties, can be found without its direct opposition with equal plausibility of argument and pertinacity of adherence, and all working upon truth. If the individuals cited were discharged or removed, there would be others to take their places, of equal or more merit; and it seems to me that society can lose nothing by encouraging such individuals to put on a character above the slough of souls they must be ranked among, if kept down without allowing any efforts to rise, of any avail to the unhappy outcast. Signed by Z.


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 11, 1843
From the Editor, Springfield, IL - The standing committee on the Penitentiary to whom was referred the Inspectors' Report, on Thursday last, made a report to the House of Representatives, in which they recommended the immediate increase of the number of cells to a sufficient extent to insure the health and security of the convicts; also, an amendment of the law prohibiting under a severe penalty the employment of convicts without the walls of the Penitentiary, and a further amendment providing for an immediate change of the work at which the convicts are at present employed. The report was referred to the Select Committee, having under consideration the whole subject connected with the Penitentiary. Colonel Buckmaster was requested by the Select Committee to furnish them with a proposition in writing, stating the terms upon which he would commence the manufacture of Hempen articles, and keep fifty convicts employed exclusively in that way. He has declined doing so - clearly showing that all his vain and bombastic talk here and at Alton, as to what he intended doing in this respect, was deceitful and insincere; and solely for the purpose of obtaining an extension of the lease that he might ask and obtain from some person, worthy and competent, to have the control of such an institution, a bonus twice as large as what he expects to realize from it, if he does not succeed in his attempt to overreach the State in getting an extension, by making promises which he has not the slightest idea of keeping. In fact, he has admitted to two different persons now in this city, that his only object in securing an extension of the lease is to make money out of it by selling out immediately at a big price. His designs, however, are thoroughly understood by the prominent men of both parties in each branch of the Legislature, and he will be dealt with accordingly.


$175 REWARD!
Source: The Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Advertisement, February 27, 1843
$100 reward will be given for Wilford J. Palmer, a convict, escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on Sunday morning, February 26th. Said convict is 33 years old, 5 feet 7 3-4 inches high, light hair, grey eyes, fair complexion, has a scar above the right temple, and is very heavy made. $50 reward will be given for Thomas White, a convict, that escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary, on Sunday morning, February 26th. Said convict is 18 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, black hair, grey eyes, dark complexion, has a scar on the left temple, and also one on the right shin bone, and is very slender made. $25 reward will be given for Adam Guidal, a convict, that escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on Sunday morning, February 26th. Said convict is 22 years of age, 5 feet 6 1-2 inches high, light hair, grey eyes, light complexion, heavy set and stout made, and is a German. N. Buckmaster, Warden, Ill's Penitentiary, Alton, February 27, 1843.


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 4, 1843
On Sunday morning last, three convicts escaped from the Penitentiary by scaling the wall by means of a ladder which they had prepared for that purpose. One of them is a most hardened and scientific villain, and who never for a moment should have been permitted to be out of sight of the guards. On the night of the day of their escape, the house of George B. Arnold, Esq., at Middle Alton, was broken into, and about thirty dollars, several articles of bed clothing, and all the men's wearing apparel taken, that the burglars could lay their hands upon. No doubt exists but what the convicts above referred to were the perpetrators of the outrage. The escape certainly in additional evidence why the Legislature should extend the lease of the present lessee, upon its present terms. For the last three months he has been absent to Springfield, hanging about the Legislature, traducing our citizens, and those who dared to interpose objections to his securing the means of breaking up the mechanics and laborers in this city for the next ten years, instead of attending to his business about the Penitentiary, and prevent the escape of convicts to again prowl upon community and commit, as in this very case, renewed depredations upon society before they get beyond the limits of the city. A reward of one hundred and seventy-five dollars has been offered for their detection and return to the Penitentiary.

[Notes: The prison lessee at this time was Nathaniel Buckmaster, and there was opposition to his lease of the prison being extended. Buckmaster was working prisoners outside of the prison, and according to Alton businessmen and workers, was taking the work of laborers and mechanics. There was a fight in Springfield over the extension of his lease, and Buckmaster lost. Later Nathaniel's nephew, Col. Samuel Buckmaster, would take over the prison as lessee.]


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 4, 1843
We are rejoiced in being enabled to announce to our readers that the project of Buckmaster to get his lease extended and thus swindle the State, has been defeated by an overwhelming majority. For particulars the reader is referred to the letter of our correspondent. In behalf of the Mechanics, laborers, and citizens of Alton, generally, we tender our grateful acknowledgments to Messrs. Davis of Bond, and Koerner, for their vigorous support in defeating Buckmaster in entailing upon the people at large in this vicinity the scourge at present visited upon them by the manner in which he employs the convicts.


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 4, 1843
The bill for the regulation of the Penitentiary, with an amendment consisting of an entirely new bill, making an appropriation for the payment of certain claims of Dorsey & Greathouse, on account of services rendered or buildings, &c. erected, for the use of the Penitentiary - ordered to a third reading, after a few explanatory remarks from Mr. Buckmaster. By the same - The bill in relation to the Penitentiary, with a substitute, extending the powers of the inspectors, and requiring them to visit the institution regularly, and more frequently than heretofore - prohibiting the employment of the convicts outside of the prison walls, except in labor immediately connected with the business of the Penitentiary, or when their health or safe-keeping requires their temporary removal to some other place - making provision for the erection of additional cells - and authorizing the inspectors, in case of the surrender of the present lease, &c., before the expiration of the term thereof, to re-lease the Penitentiary to some competent person, for the unexpired portion of the term. The substitute having been read, Mr. Ficklin called for the reading of the original bill, which was accordingly done. Mr. F. then moved to refer both the bill and substitute to the committee of Finance, with instructions to report a plan whereby the Penitentiary would be able to sustain itself from its own resources. The motion was agreed to.

Mr. Arnold, from the committee on Finance, reported back the different bills in relation to the Penitentiary, with a substitute for the same, empowering the Governor to extend the present lease for a term not exceeding ten years, on such conditions as to him shall seem best adapted to advance the interests of the State &c., The original bill from the Senate was then read the third time, and passed. Much credit is deservedly due to Mr. Koerner, for his valuable services on this occasion. They should not be forgotten by the people of Madison County. An amendment to the bill included provision for religious instruction in the Penitentiary; to increase the powers of the Inspectors, and require them to visit the prison oftener than heretofore; to invite proposals for construction of additional cells, and give the contract to the lowest responsible bidder; and to prohibit the inspectors, in case of the surrender &c. of the present lease, from re-leasing the Penitentiary for a period longer than the unexpired portion of the term. This service was cheerfully and promptly performed, and the suggested amendments unanimously concurred in by the committee.


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 25, 1843
On Saturday night last, about half past 10 o'clock, our citizens were alarmed by the cry of fire. It occurred in the workshops attached to the Penitentiary on the inside of the walls, a part of which, together with the tools and a quantity of dressed material ready to put up, were destroyed. The fire doubtless originated from one of the chimneys in the cooper shop, which, we are informed, was in an unsafe condition. The loss to the lessee cannot be less than two thousand dollars, in addition to the loss of the work of the convicts for some days to come. This is the fourth fire we have had in Alton this winter, and we do hope it will arouse the Common Council to action, to compel by ordinance every owner of a house or store to furnish to his building at least two fire buckets. Those that will not comply with the ordinance, let them be made to.


Source: Alton Telegraph, June 24, 1843
Two convicts escaped from the Penitentiary during last week in the middle of the day. They were employed outside the walls, piling staves, in direct violation of the law of the Legislature passed at its last session; and so long as the convicts' labor is permitted to be brought in competition with the labor of the honest laborer and mechanic of this city, by working the felons without the walls, just so long will their constant escape be rendered inevitable.


Source: Alton Telegraph, July 8, 1843
On Friday of last week, another convict escaped from the Penitentiary from among those who were at work without the walls, making three in the short space of two weeks.


Source: Alton Telegraph, September 23, 1843
Mr. Editor - I have frequently heard the present lessee of the Penitentiary complaining of combinations, enemies, &c. against him, as proprietor or lessee of that public institution; and I have heard other citizens of this place that have an interest here, complain of the same combinations, and justify the system of working the convicts confined in the Penitentiary in the manufacture of such articles as are sold and consumed in this market. And now, Mr. Editor, I ask you and every honest thinking man, if it is any wonder that the mechanics [manual laborer] of this place do form combinations, when by chance they are placed here with a family to support, and wishing to support them in a respectable manner and educate their children suitable to their station in life, and having no other means to defray the expense of their support and education than their labor in that branch of mechanism to which they have been brought up, and for which they toiled and labored in their younger days to acquire a knowledge of, and now when they expected to reap the reward of previous years' labor, they areAlton Prison met by an unnatural competition, not the competition of the labor of men in like circumstances with themselves, families to support and educate, but slave labor, the labor of men who have no one to support but themselves, and according to the law that confines them, are to have the cheapest and most common kind both of food and raiment, no house rent to pay, no firewood to buy to warm the good wife and children, no taxes to pay to support the government, and a thousand other contingent expenses for the good of society that must be paid by the community of which they compose a part. I call the competition unnatural. It is so from the fact that it is slave labor, and of the very worst kind of slave labor, being a monopoly that cannot be rivaled. And is it possible for a man with a family to support to compete with such labor? You see, sir, it is impossible to do it successfully. But what I am more astonished at, Mr. Editor, is to see the course pursued by some of our citizens in giving their patronage to that institution in preference to an honest mechanic out of the walls of that school of vice. They exhibit nothing but a narrow, contracted, selfish, sordid mind, too narrow contracted to see their interest beyond the present moment, too selfish to let an honest, industrious mechanic prosper by his patronage; he would rather see him raise his children in ignorance, that they may be fit subjects for the Penitentiary, than to extend his patronage to the honest mechanic so as to enable him to feed, clothe and educate his children. Some of those same men talk long and loud about the Tariff and European pauper labor, but do not think that the slave labor in our Penitentiary has the same effect upon this community that the pauper labor of Europe would have upon this nation without a Tariff law. To show that those men do not understand their true interest, will not take a Solomon to comprehend, in the general prosperity of the community in which they live. I have no doubt but that there is more true happiness in that soul that can look with pleasure upon a community that is happy and prosperous, than possession the gold of Opher at the expense of the comforts and happiness of those he has to see and associate with every day. Deliver me from such a sordid, selfish disposition. I have attempted to show, Mr. Editor, that we have a common interest in the general prosperity of the community in which we live. I will endeavor now to show you that every person in Alton (the lessee excepted) will be benefited in a pecuniary manner by discontinuing the manufacture, in the Penitentiary, of such articles as are sold and consumed in this market. There are at least one hundred men employed at this time in the Penitentiary at mechanical labor that would give employment to one hundred mechanics outside in the same branches of mechanism, and three fourths of them would have families that would average at least five to a family, making four hundred additional inhabitants in the town, making a demand for 75 houses to be built, and that will give employment to 50 more house carpenters and masons, &c. 36 of them will be men of families, they making a demand for 30 more houses, and adding to our population about two hundred more inhabitants; this 112 families will make a demand for about 75 common laborers in cutting and getting wood, &c. 50 of them will be men with families that will make an additional demand for 50 houses and increase the population about 250, and that again making an additional demand for mechanics, materials, &c. These 800 or 1000 additional inhabitants will make an additional demand for about 10 as good stores as we have at this time, with what they would consume themselves and the trade they would draw to the place. Now, Mr. Editor, would not that give life and prosperity to the place, and is not life and prosperity an advantage to every person in the place; even the loafer is benefited by it. I might have extended this calculation much farther. The schoolmaster, the minister and various other interests too numerous to mention here, would be benefited by it. But what is the picture on the other side. We are a few poor mechanics, care-worn and dejected, struggling with this great monopoly, with half-starved, half-clothed and half-educated families, too poor to live here and too poor to get away, sneered at and jeered at by those that should encourage them, driving them to vice and dissipation, which is the main road to the Penitentiary, with heartbroken wives and ragged children, not able to pay their rent nor buy fuel and clothing to keep their families from suffering. And, who is benefited by all this? The lessee of the Penitentiary, and no other person. But he will ask the question, who will buy all the raw materials if the Penitentiary does not buy them? I answer the mechanics outside will require as much and will pay as much for them. And in what way are the convicts to be employed to defray the expense of their confinement. I would answer, by setting them to work at manufacturing those articles that are not consumed here, the manufacture of which requires a large capital. But those persons that think the Penitentiary is not in the way of mechanics, nor an injury to the place, will ask, why there is no surplus work? Let us stop the making of mechanics in our Penitentiary. The different Penitentiaries of the United States turn out about 6,000 mechanics yearly. What an influence that must have upon the morals of society, besides the bad effect it has upon the character of mechanics. It is high time we were waking up to this thing, and have the system changed. I will say no more on the present occasion, hoping you will excuse the liberty I have taken of troubling you with this, and the imperfections of the same. Signed by A Mechanic.


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 24, 1844
One of the convicts in the penitentiary committed suicide on Sunday night last by hanging himself. He was a hardened case, and must of the time of his imprisonment was to have been solitary confinement.


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 23, 1844
On Monday night last, about twelve o'clock, a fire broke out in a kiln attached to the penitentiary, in which a quantity of cooper's stuff was undergoing the process of ouring [sic]. By the praise-worthy exertions of the firemen who promptly repaired to the spot, the ravages of the devouring element were confined to the place where the fire commenced, and ultimately checked without having done as much damage as might have been apprehended. The actual value of the articles consumed, we are pleased to learn, is inconsiderable, but being much needed at this time, their loss is a matter of public inconvenience.


Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, August 2, 1845
It is supposed that Birch and Sutton, alias William Fox, two notorious villains, who have been roaming the lines of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois for the past four years, are two of the gang who murdered Col. Davenport. Birch is said to be the man who sold a cream-colored horse at Peru, not long since, is the same man with whom Bridge (now in Rockford jail) exchanged the money with that he robbed Mulford of. We cannot yet get the name of the person at Peru who has the horse, but he is kept on the Island, and could tell the strange stories if he could talk. In this same gang is "Devin, the Kentuckian," who was in Lee county late in November last. He was arrested in Iowa last year, and with irons on his feet, was sent out to chop wood, with a guard. He struck the guard over the head with an axe, then got off his shackles and ran off to Bridge's in Washington Grove, Ogle Co., with his head shaved. He stayed at Bridge's, and wore a black handkerchief over his head until his hair grew out. He then went to Indiana and persuaded a man to come to Lee and Ogle counties, with several yoke of oxen and a cart to sell apples. The man had about $500 with him. He proposed to West to go with him and kill him. West would not go, and so the man was spared. This Davis, about six years ago, with a man by the name of Searls, found out that a man was traveling between Princeton and Hennepin with money. They awaited in the brush near Leeper's mills and shot him from his horse as he rode along the road. They got his money, from $600 to $800, dragged him to within 30 rods of the creek on the left-hand side of the road, and left him behind a log. This murder was never [unreadable], nor has the body ever been found. This Davis may be known by having one of his ears bit off. At Bridge's, in the [unreadable], near the house, a caucus was held which decided on the murder of Campbell. Bridge was present, as also were several of the Driskills, Birch, and Sutton. It was voted that young Driskill kill Campbell, as he did. Bridge was at Inlet Grove on the night of the murder, and West was making [unreadable] and selling it two for one for Michigan money at Flatteville, Wisconsin. West got clear when arrested for his [unreadable] there by getting Dewey and [unreadable] of Inlet Grove, to go his [unreadable] and he ran away. [unreadable] and Dewey are now in Alton Penitentiary.


Source: Alton Telegraph, September 20, 1845
The lessees of the Penitentiary in this city are making preparations to commence the manufacture of hempen articles by the convicts. This will open a cash market here for another staple product of the country.


Source: Alton Telegraph, November 22, 1845
There are at present in the Penitentiary in Alton, one hundred and twenty-six convicts. Of this number, between thirty and forty have been sent there during this fall, and many of them for very long terms.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 6, 1845
Died on Monday morning last, after a very short but severe illness, William Fleming, Esq., one of the Aldermen of this city, aged nearly 40 years. The deceased was a native of Pennsylvania, but had resided several years in this city. As an active and enterprising business man, he had few or no superiors; and at the time of his decease, he was one of the principal Superintendents of the Penitentiary. He has left a deeply afflicted widow, an infant daughter, and many friends and relatives to deplore his loss. His remains were committed to the grave on the Tuesday following, attended by his colleagues of the Common Council as mourners, and a large number of citizens.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 25, 1846
On Monday evening last at about six o'clock, a fire broke out in the third story of the new building in the Penitentiary yard, used for the manufacture of bagging, &c. The fire companies and other citizens promptly repaired to the spot, and by their unceasing and skillfully directed exertions, the destructive element was not only prevented from spreading to the row of buildings connected on three sides with that in which it originated, but also restricted in its ravages to the two upper stories. Part of the hemp and other valuable articles in the stories consumed was saved, and the large steam engine in the lower story escaped without any injury whatever, and was again in successful operation on Wednesday morning - thirty-six hours after the commencement of the conflagration.

When the combustible nature of the articles contained in the building in which the fire broke out is taken into consideration, and when it is recollected that it was nearly surrounded by, or connected with other buildings constructed of wood and also filled with combustible materials, it must be conceded that, in proportion to the means used, no greater triumph than this was ever achieved by man over the devouring element, and too much praise cannot be awarded to the members of the fire department, and the citizens who cooperated with them, for the zeal, courage and energy with which they saved a large amount of property from what at one time seemed to be inevitable destruction. The loss is estimated at between $1,500 and $2,000. Should the weather prove favorable, it is expected the manufacture of bagging will be resumed in about two weeks.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 1, 1847
About 50 feet of the upper, or Western wall of the Penitentiary fell in yesterday, at or about twelve o'clock, owing probably to the late rains. It is believed that about 50 feet more will also fall soon, if not taken down. As no person was then standing near the part which gave way, the only injury sustained was the killing of a valuable cow which was crushed to death by the falling mass.

Source: The Daily Star, Syracuse, New York, January 15, 1847
About fifty feet of the wall of the Penitentiary at Alton, Illinois fell down a few days ago. A cow was the only victim of the damage, and none of the convicts had an opportunity of benefiting by the unexpected enlargement of their boundaries.


Source: Prison Discipline in America, by Francis Calley Gray, 1848
About a year ago, a clergyman from Alton, in Illinois, visited the prison [in Charlestown], and was requested by the chaplain to perform the evening service; after which he made a short address to the prisoners, a mark of attention from a stranger, which always gives them pleasure. He expressed his high gratification with the neatness, order, and contentment which prevailed there, and his particular delight in seeing the library, observing that they were much better off in this respect, than the inmates of the State Prison at Alton, who had no books at all. The next day, as the chaplain was walking through one of the workshops, a prisoner having asked leave to quit his work and speak to him, told him, that he had some books, which he could spare, and should like to send to the prisoners at Alton, if permitted, and so had some of his shop mates. The chaplain, having conferred with the warden, stated in the chapel, after evening prayers, that such an application had been made to him, and added, that if any prisoner had books which he wished to send to the Alton prison, he might leave them in the adjoining room, on coming to prayers the next morning. He also sent word to his friend the clergyman, that if he would call at the prison the next day, he would find some books for Alton. The Reverend gentleman went accordingly, and took with him a large silk handkerchief to carry off the books. What was his astonishment to find in the room adjoining the chapel more than four hundred bound volumes, besides tracts and pamphlets! The silk handkerchief would not do; and the prisoners requested permission to make boxes to pack the books in.


Source: Alton Telegraph, July 27, 1849
We learn from an authentic source that the total number of deaths from cholera, which have occurred in the above institution since the disease first broke out in this place, amounts to three only – every one of which had been previously affected with chronic diarrhea. As the convicts number 130, the mortality among them may, therefore, be considered remarkably small, especially when compared with that in the Ohio Penitentiary. Whether this striking difference should be attributed to the superior healthiness of the location, or to the fact that, in compliance with the advice of the attending physician, Dr. Hart, the institution has been kept well limed since early in the Spring, we shall not undertake to say. We understand that nearly one-half of the convicts have had the premonitory symptoms, but none of them are seriously ill at this time.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 21, 1849
Fear of the penitentiary appears to be the main cause of the opposition to Alton, by some of our contemporaries in the Southern and Eastern portions of the State. They seem to hope to escape their inevitable fate of being occupants of that institution, by abuse of Alton, and all it contains in advance. Be easy, gentlemen, you shall be dealt with as you deserve.


Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, January 9, 1850
Nine convicts arrived at Alton from Chicago a few days since, and were safely lodged in the Penitentiary. The Alton Telegraph says "Chicago is coming out."


Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, August 2, 1850
Four prisoners, on their way to prison at Alton, Ill., leaped from the steamboat into the river. Two were recaptured, one drowned and one escaped.


Source: Alton Telegraph, August 9, 1850
We understand that a man arrived here from Pope County, day before yesterday, who has taken up his residence among us for the space of ninety-nine years! His quarters are in the State institution upon the brow of the hill, under the charge of Mr. Samuel A. Buckmaster.


Source: Alton Telegraph, September 12, 1851
Our Circuit Court, now in session at Edwardsville, has disposed of the following criminal cases:

David Scanland indicted for larceny, plead guilty. Sentenced to one year in penitentiary.
Richard Fleming indicted for larceny, plead guilty. Sentenced to five years in penitentiary.
Antoine Erhardt indicted for assault; tried and acquitted.
Samuel M. Hare indicted for larceny; tried and acquitted.
Felix Hirsch, Thomas Carter, and Jacob Six – cases dismissed.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 19, 1851
Mrs. Olmstead, who was recently sentenced to two years imprisonment in the Penitentiary at Alton for the murder of her daughter by starvation, when taken to the prison was refused to be received by the Warden. No reason is stated for the proceeding. She is now at her father’s house in Cumberland County.

Yes, it is true, Mrs. Olmstead was very properly refused admittance by the excellent and humane Warden of the Penitentiary – Samuel A. Buckmaster, Esq., and for the all-sufficient reason, that when she was presented for incarceration, she was accompanied by an infant, for whose sustenance and care no provision had been made by the county from which she was sent, and as it had not been convicted of any crime, the Warden, with great propriety, refused to receive it; whereupon both mother and child were taken back again.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 2, 1852
A large portion of the old part of the East wall around the Penitentiary fell down on Saturday night.


Source: Alton Telegraph, June 11, 1852
The penitentiary received ten convicts from Cook County yesterday. There are now over two hundred prisoners in the institution.


Source: Alton Telegraph, September 17, 1852
We learn that there were received during the month of August in the above institution, 10 prisoners; discharged 11 – of whom 2 were pardoned, and one deceased. The total number now in confinement is 191.


Source: Alton Telegraph, October 8, 1852
During the month ending October 4, 11 convicts were received and 21 discharged. The total number now there is 180.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 15, 1852
The report of the Warden of the Penitentiary for the month ending Sept. 6th, shows the following result for the month: 9 received, 11 discharged, 8 by expiration of sentence, 2 by pardon, and 1 died. Number remaining, 190. The report for the month ending Oct. 4th, shows the following: 11 received; 21 discharged: 2 by death, 1 by pardon, and 18 by expiration of sentence. Number remaining, 180.


Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, January 10, 1853
We learn that fifteen convicts from Chicago were brought to Alton on Saturday by the [railroad] cars. There was seventeen altogether when they left that city, three of whom were females, but upon reaching Springfield, the Governor pardoned two of the women, and they were released.


Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, February 16, 1853
We have been favored with a copy of the Report of the Warden of the Illinois State Penitentiary for the years 1851-1852, presented to the Legislature at its late session. We learn from this document that on the first of January 1851, the institution contained 170 convicts. Since that time, 38 have died, 41, have been pardoned by the Governor, 1 has escaped, and 168 have been discharged by expiration of sentence – making the whole number discharged within the past two years, 248. During the same period, 285 have been received, and the whole number now in confinement is 207.

Of these convicts, 38 were born in New York; 29 in Ireland; 19 in Ohio; 18 in Germany; 14 in Illinois; 13 in Pennsylvania; 12 in Kentucky; 11 in England; 10 in Virginia; 6 in Tennessee; 5 in Indiana, Vermont, and New Jersey; 4 in Maryland and Missouri; 3 in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Canada, and France; 2 in Main and Scotland; and 1 in Delaware, Alabama, Mississippi, Michigan, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, and Switzerland. The principal offenses of which they were convicted were the following: larceny, 135; burglary, 20; murder, manslaughter, or attempt to conduct the same, 19; forging, counterfeiting, or attempting to pass spurious money, 15; robbery, 6; and robbing or violating the mail, 6.

It appears from the report of Dr. B. K. Hart, the physician of the Penitentiary, that of the 38 deaths which occurred there during the two years ending on the 31st of December last, 19, or just one half, took place during the prevalence of the cholera in the institution in June 1851. The number of cases which required active medical treatment during that period amounted to 72, of whom nearly three-fourths recovered; but the diarrhea prevailed to some extent, in a chronic form, during the years 1848, 49, 50, and 51. Dr. Hart speaks in very high terms of the conduct of the Rev. S. Y. McMasters, the much-esteemed Rector of the Episcopal Church in Alton, whose time – in the absence of the Chaplain, who was detained at home by sickness in his family during the visit of the cholera – was mostly spent in the prison, and who was untiring in his endeavors to administer consolation to the sick and dying.

The report of the Chaplain states that all of the convicts, with the exception of 20 or 25, can read and write; that a number of them have a good English education; and some have more than ordinary literary acquirements; and that each cell is provided with a Bible and other suitable books; but that, notwithstanding these advantages, many of them are extremely ignorant of the great principles of morality and religion. He states that the room occupied for public worship is quite unsuited for that purpose, and suggests the propriety of recommending to the Legislature to make an appropriation for the erection of a more convenient building for religious instruction.

According to the report of the inspectors, the lessee, since January 1, 1851, has so far completed, at the cost of $15,500, a range of sixty-eight cells as to be fit for occupation. He has also extended the hospital building, so as to make an excellent cellar; a series of work rooms on the first floor for the exclusive use of the female convicts; and two ranges of new cells on the second floor. His bill for money and clothing furnished to discharged convicts, since January 1, 1851, is $1,350.70; and the amount paid to the Chaplain and for books if $480.80. They recommend as necessary the following improvements: to rebuild a large section of the East wall, which has been down for some time; to build a large eating house and kitchen; to grade the yard and pave a portion of it; and to build an additional number of cells. They also suggest that, as the lessee has already paid his bonus for a year or two in advance, and in view of the pressing necessity for additional improvements, it would be proper to make an appropriation for the above purpose at least equal to the same which he paid in cash at the commencement of his lease. This recommendation has been acted upon by the Legislature, and $5,000 appropriated accordingly.

Upon the whole, the document before us seems to show very clearly that the Penitentiary is very well managed, and in a condition creditable to the State and its efficient Warden.


Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, March 22, 1853
Yesterday morning, a team belonging to the Penitentiary took fright while passing through our principal street, and soon broke into a rapid run toward the lower part of town, spilling its two occupants out of the wagon before reaching the Alton House. The animals proceeded down the river, and finally ran upon the sandbar, where they were caught. Luckily, the men who fell out were not materially injured.


Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, April 6, 1853
The Warden of the penitentiary reports that for the month ending on the 4th inst., 11 convicts have been received, 8 have been discharged, and 3 have died. The whole number now in the prison is 228.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, April 15, 1853
A convict by name of Boyne from Hillsboro, Montgomery County, was received at the Penitentiary yesterday. He was the same person who was brought down from Chicago by Sheriff Bradley a few weeks since, and taken to Hillsboro for trial.


Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, June 15, 1853
The workmen commenced active operations yesterday in rebuilding that portion of the Penitentiary wall fronting on William Street, which fell in during last Spring.


Source: Auburn, New York Christian Advocate, August 20, 1853
[From an Illinois Correspondent, a description of his journey on the Mississippi River]
We found the business part of this city [Alton] in water, the under part of the stores and warehouses being deserted. Alton is rendered famous as the place where the philanthropic Lovejoy met an untimely fate, by the violence of a ruthless mob. I could but realize that a martyr's blood was upon that city. Here also is the State Penitentiary. It occupies a position on the terminating slope of the great bluffs mentioned above. As we receded from the city, we had a fair view of the interior of the massive enclosure. The poor convicts, who are not so unfortunate as to be incarcerated in a dungeon, can, without doubt, enjoy an occasional view of the river scenery below. The tedium of their confinement and toils may have been relieved by a shy glance at our own gallant steamer, as she moved like a thing of life over the blue waters.


Source: Lyons, New York Gazette, December 28, 1853
On Saturday morning, as the reinforcement for the cells of the Alton Prison were brought out of the jail, and coupled together, it happened that Charles Brown, the hack driver, who had robbed a man, beating him so that he left him for dead was chained with Leo Gender, who killed Jacob Schieb in his own house at Blue Island, and then retired to bed with the victim's wife. It was their first meeting, and the following conversation ensued: "What's your name?" "Leo Gender. What's yours?" "Charles Brown. What did you do?" "Shot a man, and killed him." "How many years you got?" "Four."

"My G__ ! I only robbed a man, and I got ten. I wish I had killed him, for then they might have let me off as easy as you." "Yes, very likely." Chicago Dem.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph Centennial Edition, January 15, 1936
During the summer of 1854, Colonel Buckmaster, superintendent of the Alton Penitentiary, was having his prisoners put pieces of wet cotton batting or cloth in the crowns of their hats for the prevention of sunstroke, which had visited many Altonians as well as prisoners that summer.


Source: History of Walworth County, Wisconsin by Albert Clayton Beckwith, page 564
Rev. John William Vahey: In 1854 he received priest's orders at Dubuque. He served at the federal military prison at Alton as chaplain.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 4, 1854
Messrs. Buckmaster & Wise are making extensive preparations for the manufacture of brooms by the convicts in our State Penitentiary. Mr. Spencer, of Ohio, has been employed to superintend the work. They have already purchased two tons of broomcorn, from which they will be able to manufacture 2,666 brooms, allowing one and a half pound of material to one broom. They are making arrangements with neighboring farmers to raise broom-corn the coming season, and offer $50 per ton for the material after the seed is removed, the purchasers to remove the seed and take it as a compensation for their labor. It is said to make a good article of feed when ground. They wish to secure two hundred and fifty tons of material, which, reckoning as above, will be sufficient to manufacture 333,333 brooms. These, at 15 cents each, will amount to $50,000. They will probably manufacture the handles, as they have the necessary machinery. Lind, and if practicable, cotton wood, will be used for handles, as such timber grows in this vicinity. Some of the manufacturing in the penitentiary has been a cause of complaint on the part of mechanics in our city, because of the competition which they are called upon to contend with in consequence. We think this new enterprise is calculated to show that the warden of the penitentiary is desirous to avoid such a state of things, and that while, as in duty bound, he endeavors to avail himself of the business advantages which he possesses, he is willing, as far as lies in his power, to protect the interests of our city.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 18, 1854
Yesterday, as the convicts were returning to their workshops from the dining-room in the prison, four of them, named Cooper from Galena, and Rainsford, Chalk and Douglas, from Chicago, made an effort to escape by placing a long plank against the newest part of the north wall of the prison, upon which they mounted to the top of the wall; and four of them jumped off and ran up the hill. The other was shot while on the top of the wall by one of the guards, and jumped or fell back into the yard. His name is Cooper. The others were immediately pursued by Mr. Buckmaster, with some of his guards, and assisted by Marshal Filley and several of our citizens, the four were soon brought back. The wounded convict is not dangerously hurt, although two balls took effect in his back and one in his arm. His wounds were dressed by Dr. Metcalf, the Prison physician, assisted by Dr. Arnin, who think he will recover in a week or two. The convicts were all engaged in the blacksmith shop, and had knives concealed upon them, which they brandished at those who endeavored to arrest them. Several shots were fired at them by the guards, and it is singular some of them were not killed.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 22, 1854
The Sheriff of Cook County brought down six State Prison convicts on the cars yesterday from Chicago. Four men were sentenced one year each for larceny; and a man and his wife two and a half years each for murder, according to the commitment, though we imagine such a sentence for a capital offense will not appear from the records of the Court.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, February 8, 1855
Although many of our readers reside within view of the walls of our State Penitentiary, but few have much knowledge of its operations, and still less of the results of the system. We do not propose at this time to go into an inquiry as to the best system, when considered as to its effects upon the Convicts themselves, or the interest of the State, but merely propose giving a few extracts from the report of the Inspectors of the Prison, which has been printed and laid upon the tables of the members of the Legislature. By an act of the Legislature, passed in 1845, the Prison was leased to the Hon. Samuel A. Buckmaster for eight years, at the yearly rent of $5,100. In 1851, the lease was extended five years, making thirteen years in all. The present lease will expire in 1858. The Inspectors, in the report before us, say:

To the proper working of the prisoners, their health and moral advancement, some further improvements are necessary, one of which, viz: The erection of a large additional number of cells, cannot longer be delayed, without resulting in the most serious consequences to the prisoners, and frustrating the objects had in view in building of the prison. Into the causes of the increase of crime in our State, it is not our province to inquire; but the facts, as exhibited upon the books of the prison, we wish to place prominently before your honorable body, and respectfully, but earnestly, urge your immediate action. Two years ago, at the date of our last report, the number of convicts in the prison was 217, and now they number 332, being an increase of upwards of fifty percent in the two years, and more than double the natural increase of our population, great as that is shown to be. Every convict should have a separate cell. His health and morals imperatively demand it, but in the present condition of things it is impossible. The number of cells is 152. Supposing every convict to be in good health, and two of them placed in each cell, there will still remain 28 of them totally unprovided with cells of any kind. The cells are very small, being three and a half feet by seven feet, and are barely large enough for one. To continue this state of things would engender disease in winter, and in summer invite, and almost insure, a deadly epidemic. With two in a cell, in a great majority of cases, the hope of the moral reformation of the convict is destroyed. The comparatively innocent are placed in the closest relations with the most hardened and desperate, and come out of prison at the expiration of the time for which they were sentenced, educated in the ways of crime, and ready for any desperate deed, and thus the object of their incarceration, aside from the public security, will have totally failed. To accommodate the present number of convicts will require the erection of one hundred and eighty additional cells, and if the same ratio of increase in crime is continued, not less than two hundred and twenty-five additional cells will be required during the coming year. Another improvement which would add greatly to the health and comfort of the convicts, and which we recommend to be done, is the paving of a portion of the yard. In wet weather portions of the yard much in use are almost impassable. Several cases of insanity having occurred in the prison, and there being no provision made for the proper treatment of such cases within the prison walls, we would respectfully represent the propriety of some legislative action on that subject, by which the insanity of the convict can be tried, and if so pronounced, that some provision be made for their admission into the State asylum, or otherwise disposed of, as your honorable body may think best. There is another class of cases to which we would invite your attention and immediate action. We refer to a class of female convicts who come into the prison pregnant. The laws passed for the government of the prison do not appear to have contemplated such an event, and no provision has been made for such cases. The prison is neither provided with a lying-in-hospital or nurses. The convict and her off-spring are an incumbrance on the warden. The child cannot be separated from its mother, and yet it has no proper place there. The inspectors and warden have no power in the premises; and if it should be understood that executive clemency could be successfully invoked in such cases, the evil would only be increased, for it is not to be doubted that such as are convicted of crime, or expect to be convicted, would not long hesitate to commit one crime to escape the penalty attached to the commission of another.

The present Prison Physician, Dr. R. L. Metcalf, was appointed about fourteen months ago, so that his report is not as full as it would otherwise have been, but his report presents several very interesting facts, not only as to the prevailing diseases of the prison, and his method of treatment, but also in relation to its policy. He says:

At the time I entered upon my duties as physician to the prison, you are probably aware that the condition of prisoners, especially those who came under my care and treatment, was poor. The first day of my attendance there were from twenty-five to thirty in the hospital, many of them, I supposed, were only complaining for the purpose of avoiding their duties, but some really needing medical attention. To discriminate between those who were entitled to commiseration and medical care, and those only, the enforcement of prison discipline was not so easy a matter as might be supposed. It required not only my most constant care and watchfulness, and the vigilance of those connected with me, to detect many of them in the impositions which they endeavored to practice. In order to justify myself in my opinion of the various cases as they were presented, and wishing to adopt such means as would not likely injure the cases in any way, I thought best to institute some means by which I would be enabled to detect those who were practicing deceit, for the purpose of avoiding work. Upon reflection, I concluded to adopt the cold bath, at the same time of using it as a matter of punishment. I endeavored to impress upon the minds of those who were subjected to its use that they were undergoing a thorough course of medical treatment. The cold bath I have used ever since my first month's attendance, and have no reason, thus far, for adopting any other, as those who present themselves, only pretending sickness, after one or two applications, almost invariably ask to be discharged from the hospital. By adopting the above named means, I feel confident that the mortality has been much less than otherwise would have been if everyone coming up had been permitted to lounge about the hospital; as then, their systems become so deteriorated for want of proper exercise, that it generates disease, and many die from the consequent general debility, a consequence which might, in many cases, be avoided with necessary care, and the enforcement of the rules and regulations laid down by the warden. As to the diet of the convicts, I recommended little or no change until just before the prevalence of cholera last spring. On hearing of the rapid approach of the disease, instead of the constant use of wheat, I recommended the alternate use of corn bread, new potatoes; most all kinds of fresh meat strictly prohibited; fresh pork and other fatty matter not used at all. The character of the diseases which have prevailed have been mostly of a chronic nature, and the greater number, so far as I have been able to judge (such as dropsy in its various forms, pulmonary affections and diseases of the bowels) have been produced by the too free use of alcoholic drinks. I think I may safely say that two-thirds of the deaths which have occurred during my attendance have been produced by the above-named cause. You will perceive from looking over the list of deaths and causes assigned, that although cholera prevailed in our city to an alarming extent during the past summer, yet not a case occurred within the prison, and but one or two cases came up presenting the premonitory symptoms. This result I can attribute to no other cause than the change and the particular attention paid to their diet during the prevalence of the disease in our midst. But two cases of dysentery have occurred within the last six months, which is an unnatural thing, as it is a disease which almost always prevails as an epidemic after the subsidence of cholera. The only reason I can imagine for the almost entire exemption from this disease, is that the discipline and means used for the prevention of cholera, also operated as a propalactic to dysentery.

The Chaplain, Rev. J. B. Randle, has also made a report, but it is a matter of regret that it is not more full and explicit. No doubt the Chaplain has been attentive and unremitting in his duties, but it would have been much more satisfactory if he had given more particulars. He says:

I become more and more impressed with the importance of this work. No people of whom I have any knowledge more imperatively demand the faithful labors of the minister of the gospel than the inmates of a State prison. I labor, not without hope. However, depraved the human heart, there is power in the "cross of Christ" to subdue it; and in that power I trust. Most of the men here have a common education. Some of them are well educated, and but very few of them but that are able to read. They have each of them the "word of life" in their cells, and other proper books. They listen, most of them, with apparent interest to the preaching of the gospel. Since my last communication a building has been erected of sufficient size, which affords us a very pleasant and convenient place in which to worship. Every facility has been afforded me by the warden and officers in the discharge of my duties. To them I shall ever feel grateful. The prisoners are treated with kindness, and yet there is no want of promptness in the management of the concern. The moral elevation of these fallen degraded human beings is a work worthy of our untiring efforts - especially when we reflect that man is immortal. This great number of prisoners are well provided for. Special care is taken of their health. Every prisoner that has a heart that can feel must feel kindly treated.

A joint committee of both Houses of the Legislature was appointed to examine into the condition of the Prison, and performed their duty several days ago, but we have not, as yet, seen their report. It will doubtless be published, and should there be any matter of particular interest in it, we will recur to this subject again.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, March 8, 1855
The Warden of the Penitentiary reports that the present number of convicts in the Penitentiary is 336. During the month just ended, five were received, and eleven discharged as follows: seven by expiration of sentence, two pardoned, and two died.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 7, 1855
We learn from Mr. Sargent, the obliging Clerk at the Penitentiary, that the number of prisoners received during the month of May was 19; discharged 15, of which 13 were by expiration of sentence, 1 by pardon and 1 escaped. The number now in prison is 382, of whom 12 are women. The health of the prisoners is very good, as is evident from the fact that at divine service on last Sabbath, every prisoner was present.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 14, 1855
Marion county, Ill., last week sent five convicts to the Penitentiary, viz: Thomas Grooms, two years for forgery; Ferdinand Hang, two years for grand larceny; Charles Thayer, two years also for grand larceny; Charles Grenville, one year for grand larceny. Grooms was disposed of in short order. The forgery was discovered on Friday, on Saturday the case was sent before the Grand Jury, the indictment was found at once, the trial was had on the same day, he was found guilty and on the following Wednesday he was on his way to the Penitentiary. The forgery was only a ten-dollar promissory note.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 19, 1855
A convict named David J. Johnson, escaped from the Penitentiary yesterday morning during the storm. The Warden offers $50 for his arrest. He is described as 29 years of age, five feet five inches high, spare built, light complexion, dark brown hair, blue eyes. He was clad in prison attire, but may succeed in changing it for others. He was sent down from Will county under sentence for larceny.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 26, 1855
We noticed last year that Messrs. Buckmaster & Wise, lessees of the Penitentiary, had commenced the manufacture of brooms. Several farmers last year made an attempt to raise broom corn to supply the necessary material, but in the drouth that crop in common, with all the late crops, failed. Only about eight tons of broom corn were raised in this vicinity, and about twelve tons were purchased abroad at exorbitant prices. The business has therefore been limited. About 3000 dozen or 35,000 brooms have been manufactured. The work of the past year cannot be considered a fair experiment. Broom corn has been planted to considerable extent this season, and with the coming year, the plan of manufacturing will doubtless be fairly tested. It is probably, nay almost certain, that with the advantages of soil for growing all kinds of corn, which Illinois farmers possess, this necessary branch of manufactures will ere long be more extensively and profitably prosecuted in this State, than in any other portion of the Union. Messrs. Buckmaster & Wise have been so fortunate as to secure the services of Mr. Spencer, a gentleman from Ohio, who has been engaged for upwards of ten years in this branch of manufacture, to superintend this part of their business. He has turned out the very best work in his line that we have ever seen. It is heavy, substantial and durable, and finished with a neatness that cannot be surpassed.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 6, 1855
By the report of the Warden of the Penitentiary, it appears that during the month just ended, five prisoners have been received at the prison, and eighteen have been discharged. Of the latter, one died, three escaped, thirteen were released on expiration of sentence, one was shot dead while attempting to escape. The present number of convicts is 385, of which number ten are women. The health of the convicts is good, there being but four cases in the hospital.


Source: Laws of the State of Illinois Enacted by the General Assembly, 1855
To each member of the joint committee of the senate and house of representatives, to visit the state prison at Alton, the sum of twenty-five dollars.

The inspectors of the penitentiary are also authorized to purchase a lot of ground, in some convenient place, without the limits of the city of Alton, not to exceed two acres, to be used by the penitentiary as a burial place for the convicts that die: Provided, that said ground shall not cost to exceed three hundred dollars.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 6, 1855
On Saturday morning, at an early hour, when the gate of the Penitentiary yard was opened by the keeper to admit the bearer of the prison supplies, a colored prisoner named Wilkeson, and a white prisoner named George Clark rushed out and attempted to escape. The gate keeper followed and arrested Wilkeson, but Clark was fast making his escape. He was discovered by the guard who ordered him to stop. He disregarded the call and was shot dead. An inquest was held over his body. The jury returned a verdict that he came to his death by a shot from the prison guard, in the discharge of his duty. Clark was a young man about 22 years of age. He was sentenced at the April term, 1855, of the Cook County Criminal Court to eight years in the penitentiary for larceny. He had a wife, now in Louisville, Kentucky, as appears from a letter addressed to Clark, written from that city, under date of August 24th. It also appears that the last letter Clark had written to her was directed to Detroit, Michigan. Clark was an American by birth.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 4, 1855
J. D. Kennedy, Esq., Sheriff of Kendall county, brought down two convicts for the penitentiary yesterday. Their names are Mitchell Jordan and John McCune. Their offense was larceny. Sentenced for one year each. Deputy Sheriff Norton, of Cook county, brought down on the noon train yesterday, from Chicago, 29 convicts - 28 men and 1 woman. They were sentenced at the recent term of the Recorder's Court in Chicago. Deputy Sheriff Dawson, of McLean county, brought down two on Wednesday. There are now 423 convicts in the penitentiary.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 25, 1855
In the afternoon, no business of general importance was transacted except the selection of the Church of the Atonement at Chicago as the place of meeting of the next annual convention, the time of holding which will be appointed by the Bishop. The convention adjourned at an early hour, for the purpose of proceeding, agreeable to the polite invitation of the warden, to the penitentiary, in order to be present at the administration of the solemn rite of confirmation to a large number of the convicts, who have manifested a deep repentance of their sins for some months past. As about one half of these had never been baptized, this sacred ordinance was, in the first place, administered to twenty-three of them, by the Rev. Dr. McMasters, the Chaplain of the prison, under whose ministrations they have been brought to a sense of their guilt; followed by a solemn exhortation from the same gentleman, and another from the Rev. Dr. Arnett, of Milwaukee. The candidates for confirmation, forty-five in number, were then desired to kneel around the benches upon which they sit at their meals; when the Bishop proceeded to lay his hands, with the customary invocation, upon each of them successively. After the close of this truly affecting ceremony, the Bishop addressed the recipients for the space of perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, in one of the most powerful and eloquent exhortations to which it ever has been our privilege to listen, and which, we are persuaded, can never be forgotten by anyone who heard it, but of which we feel unable to give even a slight sketch. Suffice it to observe, that the strong walls and barred windows of the hall in which the rite was performed - the kneeling prisoners, nearly all of whom were bathed in tears - the deep and sympathetic emotion visible in the countenances of the members of the Convention and other spectators - the solemn and earnest language of the Bishop, and the deep tones of his voice, as he briefly alluded to the past lives, the present condition, and the future destiny of the persons to whom he was speaking, altogether formed a scene such as probably never before has been witnessed in the United States, or perhaps any other country; and which, we think, cannot fail to make a most salutary impression, not only upon those most interested in it, but also upon every beholder. We add no more.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, December 13, 1855
Since the beginning of the present month, including seven days, 73 convicts have been received at the Penitentiary. Of these 7 were from Lasalle, 3 from McHenry, 2 from Pike county, and 25 from Chicago. The Recorder's Court in that city has just adjourned, and has sent down the quarterly delegation for that city. The number of convicts now in the Penitentiary is 451. The prisoner Crosby, who escaped a short time since, was run over and killed by a railroad train at Pontiac. He was stealing his way east. A wood pile fell against him, knocking him under the cars.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph Centennial Edition, January 15, 1936
In the penitentiary, Col. Buckmaster's prisoners were bending over their part of the work. The carpenter shop inside the prison walls turned out chairs, tables, window frames, etc., the blacksmith shop turned out fancy iron gates, horseshoes, foot-scrapers, and the tailor shop produced a number of high-grade garments - all to be placed on exhibition at the Fair, to increase the fame of Alton abroad.


For the Month of December 1855
Source: Alton Weekly Courier, January 17, 1856
During the month of December 1855, 44 prisoners were received at the Penitentiary, and 21 were discharged from it, viz: 4 were pardoned, 2 died, 1 escaped, and 14 were released on expiration of sentence. The number remaining at the close of the month was 440.

During the year just ended, thirteen prisoners died - two in February, two in March, one in June, one in August, four in September, two in November, and one in December. Two of these deaths were by suicide. One man shot himself; another destroyed himself by eating a mixture of cheese and glass. Three-fourths of the other deaths were from chronic diseases, contracted before coming to prison.

Considering the number of prisoners, which has ranged from 300 to its present number, 440, and taking into account also the previous character, habits and modes of life of the convicts, it must be admitted that the proportionate mortality in the prison is remarkably small.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, April 3, 1856
On Monday morning, a convict in the Penitentiary named Edward Austin disappeared immediately after breakfast. The officers of the prison supposed he had hidden himself somewhere in the yard, and kept up a vigilant search on Monday and a close watch on Monday night, but no trace of him could be found. Yesterday morning the convict who occupied the same cell with Austin, having related some conversations which had taken place between them, the officers were induced to examine a large cistern in the prison yard, when the body of the convict was found. The water in the cistern was about six feet deep. He had given no intimation of his intention to commit suicide. His frequent and particular inquiries about that cistern, and the despondent state of his mind on account of not hearing from his relatives, suggested the idea of suicide. Austin had only been in prison about ten days. His sentence was for five years by the Court of Winnebago County. He was convicted of an assault with intent to kill. At the request of the prison authorities, Coroner Pinckard held an inquest. The verdict of the jury was in accordance with the above statement.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 15, 1856
During the month of April thirty-nine prisoners were received at the Illinois Penitentiary and forty were discharged. Of the latter, twenty-seven went out by expiration of sentence, eleven were pardoned, and two escaped. The number remaining on the 1st of May was four hundred and seventy-five.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, August 14, 1856
The report of the Warden of the Illinois Penitentiary for the month ending August 4th, shows that during the month 19 were received and 15 discharged, viz: 3 pardoned; 5 escaped, and 9 by expirations of sentence. The number now in prison is 477.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 4, 1857
The new Penitentiary Commissioners, having located the new prison at Joliet, and having determined to see the Alton Prison if a price approaching to the value of the ground can be obtained, it would be well, in view of the great object to be attained, for our citizens to be on the alert, and be ready with some proposition for the purchase of the ground when the Commissioners arrive. We are informed they will have a meeting in this city next week for the purpose of taking this matter into consideration, and much will depend upon the action of our citizens whether a removal of the old prison is effected or not. Would it not be well for the Mayor to call a meeting of the citizens to consider this matter?


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 4, 1857
A deputation of eleven convicts from the prolific county of Cook were yesterday received at the Penitentiary. Their names and crimes are as follows: William Lowell, James Smith, William Smith, Henry Moore, William Wright, alias William Bell, each one year for larceny. Oscar Livingston, passing counterfeit money, one year. Patrick Fitzpatrick, crime against nature, two years. Alexander Cooper, forgery, two years. Ernest Roth, larceny, two years. Harrison G. Bowen, burglary, three years. Samuel Gillmore, sentence commuted from hanging to imprisonment for life for the murder of his child.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 25, 1857
Yesterday morning Robert Sharpe, alias Joseph Watson, convicted at the recent term of the Madison County Court of complicity in the murder of Jacob Barth, was brought to the Penitentiary at this place, his sentence of death having been commuted by Gov. Bissell to imprisonment for life, in accordance with a numerously signed petition.


Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, December 8, 1857
Brayman, the Chicago editor who was sent to prison at Alton, Illinois, for stealing letters from the post office, is engaged in teaching some fifty or sixty fellow prisoners, most of them old men who are too infirm to labor.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, January 8, 1857
We have been permitted to examine the report of Dr. Hez. Williams, who has officiated during the last two years as physician at the Illinois State prison. The report embraces a period of two years, commencing with the first of January 1855, and ending with December 31, 1856. The number of deaths among the convicts during that period was 23. The number of cases treated was 1200. The deaths were from the following causes, viz: By consumption, 2; general dropsy, 2; inflammation of the lungs, 2; inflammation of the stomach and bowels, 1; chronic diarrhea, 3; inflammation of the brain, 1; chronic disease of the liver, 1; tuberculosis mesenterica, 1; cancer, 1; congestive fever, 1; general debility caused by masturbation, 3; dropsy of the abdomen, 1; casualties, 3. In January 1855, the smallpox broke out in the prison, the contagion having spread from a convict who had been exposed who was sent down about that time from one of the northern counties. There were twenty-five cases in all, ranging through all the classified degrees of severity. A temporary hospital was established where patients suffering from the malady were as far removed as possible from the other convicts. All the convicts were promptly vaccinated, and were required to conform to a system of dieting usual in such cases. No death resulted from this cause. Early in the same year some twenty-five cases of scurvy are recorded, none of which proved fatal. The number of prisoners during these two years ranged from 350 to 500. It is claimed that the sanitary arrangements within the prison during the last year will compare favorably with those of any other prison in the country, and judging from the facts as set forth above, we think the claim is just.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 29, 1857
An attempt to escape was made yesterday morning by the prisoners in the State prison. They commenced by throwing stones and other missiles at the guard house on the east wall, partially demolishing it. The guard shot three times, killed George Armstrong, who was sent from Chicago last March, and wounding two others, one it is thought fatally, when the disturbance was quieted. It is apprehended that a further attempt to escape will be made, but the guards are prepared for any emergency. Esquire Middleton held an inquest on the body of Armstrong. Verdict, that he came to his death by being shot by the prison guard in the performance of his duty.


Source: Utica, New York Daily Observer, March 25, 1876
The career of Walter Sheridan is a most wonderful one, considering the life of an ordinary criminal as a comparison. Sheridan is now thirty-eight years old. He was born in New Orleans of respectable parents, and received a very fine education. He is about five feet seven inches in height, weighs about one hundred and sixty-five pounds, has light complexion, blue eyes, light hair, sandy mustache and beard, and is of a gentlemanly address. He has friends at Sandusky, Ohio, and his wife and one child live at Hudson, Mich.- When a mere boy he drifted into crime, and made has first appearance in the character of a criminal in Western Missouri as a horse thief about sixteen years ago. Then be became so accomplished general thief and confidence man, but especially distinguished himself as a bank sneak. In 1858 he was arrested in company with Joseph Moran, a noted Western robber, for a bank robbery, in Chicago, convicted and sentenced to five years in the Alton Penitentiary, which term he served.


Guard Dangerously Stabbed by Convict!
Source: Alton Weekly Courier, March 11, 1858
The State Penitentiary in this city has just been the scene of one of the most extraordinary cases ever placed upon record. From its commencement until its tragical end, the most intense excitement pervaded all classes of our citizens, and although it was known that the management of the case was in the hands of men distinguished for discretion and courage, yet it was recollected that the life of an innocent, worthy man hung as it were by a thread. The extraordinary boldness of the scheme, and the determined demeanor of the convict, kept up the excitement for twenty-eight hours. For the purpose of giving our readers this morning the full particulars of this extraordinary case, we republish our statement of yesterday morning, and also our statement issued in an extra yesterday afternoon:

(From the Courier of March 10, 1858)
One of the most singular cases which ever came under our observation, or in our reading, occurred yesterday morning at the Penitentiary in this city. A convict named Hall from Chicago, who is now serving out a second term, formed the idea of acquiring his liberty in the following method. He watched his opportunity shortly after breakfast, and when no other guard was in the hall surrounding the cells except Mr. Crabb, whom he knocked down and stunned by a severe blow on the head, then dragged him into one of the lower cells, tied Crabb's hands behind his back, fastened the cell door by means of a stick of timber, previously put in the cell by some confederate, then drew a huge knife from his bosom, assisted Crabb to rise, put him against the door, and threatened him with death unless he was allowed to go at liberty.

This most daring attempt was soon known, and promptly brought Col. Samuel Buckmaster and his guards to the spot. The convict threatened Crabb with instant death if any attempt was made upon the door, holding his knife within a couple of inches of Crabb's breast. For upwards of an hour, Col. Buckmaster and his guards watched an opportunity to shoot him, but there being but one opening in the door, and that quite small, he kept Crabb constantly between him and the opening, so that he could only be reached through Crabb's body.

Thus, matters continued until noon, when Crabb made some effort to open the door, but was immediately cut severely in the hand by the convict. During the day the convict stated his terms of submission to be a revolver, leaded by himself, a full suit of citizens dress, $100 in money, and to be driven out of town in a close carriage, accompanied by Crabb, to such place as he should designate; all of which were of course inadmissible. In the meantime, however, Col. Buckmaster procured a pardon from the Governor, to be used in his discretion, but up to 12 o'clock last night, no information of it had been given to the convict. All day the guards were on the watch to shoot the scoundrel, but as he had positively declared he would kill Crabb if he was not instantly killed himself, great care had to be taken, for fear he might put his threat in execution. Crabb had no arms whatever, the yard guards not being allowed to carry any, and had nothing whatever to defend himself from any attack of the desperado. About eleven o'clock last night, one of the guards got a shot at him, but averted his fire upon a change of position, for fear of shooting Crabb.

The entrance to the cell is very narrow, the door of plate iron, with a small grating at the top for ventilation. The door opens inwards, and is very strongly fastened. It is impossible overcome the scoundrel without using great force, which we learned would be applied this morning unless he should be shot during the night. During the day great fears were entertained that he would kill the guard, and for fear of that, active operations were not pushed forward. Those best-informed think there is now very little danger of his putting his threat into execution, as he must know that death would instantly be his lot. Hall, the convict, is represented to be a most desperate scoundrel. In view of his character and his threats, our citizens were yesterday much alarmed for the safety of Crabb, who is well known and highly appreciated, and who has a family residing in the city.

Yesterday everything was done which could be done consistently with Crabb's safety. No chance would the convict give for any injury to himself, as he either studiously kept the guard between him and the grating, or laid down against the door and out of the reach of a shot. He professed to have no ill feeling to Crabb, but had deliberately planned this method of gaining his liberty, and would kill Crabb and then kill himself unless he was pardoned and taken out in the manner stated. Before our readers see this account this morning, the desperado will either have been taken or killed. In either event, it is to be hoped that Mr. Crabb will not be injured.

In our reading, we have no recollection of any case similar to this. The first impression on hearing the case would be that the convict was crazy, but no crazy man could have so deliberately planned and carried on such a scheme with such apparent determination. His mind appeared to be made up, and he went about it cool and collected. His first proposition was simply for a pardon, but learning that the citizens were aware of his attempt, he saw at once that if set out of the prison, probably five hundred men would be ready to shoot him, and changed his demands to being carried out of town, dressed as a citizen, armed, and with money. This does not look like a crazy man, but is simply a keen calculation of the chances. The discipline of the prison demands that an example should be made of him, and we hazard nothing in saying that Col. Buckmaster is just the man to see that those demands are fully satisfied.

(From Our Extra of Yesterday, March 10, 1858)
The revolt at the State Prison, or rather the insubordination of the desperado Hall, was brought to a tragical termination this morning. The effort throughout was to save the life of Crabb, and at the same time to preserve the discipline of the prison. About nine o'clock this morning, Mr. Rutherford, the State Superintendent, and Col. Buckmaster, the Warden, undertook to get into the cell by stratagem. Breakfast was set down at the cell door in vessels of a larger size than ordinary. The convict refused to open the cell door until the hall was cleared, which was done. The warden, superintendent, and guards were on each side of the cell, but out of sight and motionless. The convict slowly opened the door, nearly enough to admit the food, when a crow bar was instantly inserted, and Crabb, the imprisoned guard, told to fight for his life. He accordingly sprang to the opening, and was eventually dragged through, but not before he was stabbed by the convict nine times in the back and twice on the arm. When he was dragged out, the convict at once barred the door and refused to yield. He was then given a few minutes to reflect, and continuing to rebel, he was shot by the Warden after considerable dodging. The ball struck the skull just below the left ear, glanced round and lodged under the skull. He fell instantly, was dragged out, but soon recovered and talked as sensibly as any man we ever heard. After the convict was taken out of the cell, his knife, about eight inches long, and doubled-faced, was found in the cell. On his person was also found a large knife with a blade four inches long.

Mr. Crabb was immediately taken to the hospital, his wounds examined and dressed by Dr. Williams, the prison surgeon, and Dr. Allen. The left lung was found to be twice perforated by the knife. The other wounds were not of so dangerous a character. After his wounds were dressed, he felt quite comfortable and conversed very freely. He expressed to us a sense of his dangerous situation, but was calm and hopeful. His wife visited him about eleven o'clock. He bore himself with much fortitude throughout the interview. His physicians consider his case a very critical one, the chances being against his recovery.

The convict was laid on a mattress in the prison hall. He said that he hoped Crabb would live, and in the next breath, that he had put five men in the same fix he was himself. Dr. McMasters was present, and endeavored faithfully to turn his attention to immediate death. He exhibited no penitence, no remorse, but said he hoped that God, if there was any, would forgive him. He sent for one of his confederates, advised him to behave himself when he got out and not bring himself to what he saw before him. The steady unfaltering voice of the desperado, his utter indifference to spiritual advice, and his well-know desperate character, almost induced us to believe that he was still playing out his desperate game. The general regret, and we fully participate in it, is that the warden's shot did not finish the scoundrel at once.

The taking or killing of a single man, however powerful and well-armed, looks like an easy task, but when it is recollected that every movement had to be made so as, if possible, to save the life of Crabb, the case was one of unusual difficulty. The plans of the Warden and Superintendent were well conceived and carried out with as much promptness and decision as was possible. Every possible regard was had to the safety of Crabb, and that anxious regard was alone the cause of the delay. The calm, collected and determined character of Col. Buckmaster is well known, and was fully developed on this occasion. Mr. Rutherford, the superintendent, was constantly present and showed that he was equal to any emergency which might call his nerve into requisition.

Up to a late hour last night, Mr. Crabb, the guard, showed a considerable improvement in his condition. His pulse was firm and steady, and his general symptoms much improved. His physicians now think there is considerable hope of his recovery. He felt quite comfortable and suffered but little pain. The convict Hall lies in about the same condition as he appeared in shortly after being shot. There is little expectation of his recovery. That Hall had confederates, he admits, but the number or extent of their participation previous to the daring attempt of Hall has not yet been ascertained. A rigid investigation will be made, the results of which we will lay before out readers.

Upon the convicts the moral effect of this defeated attempt of Hall's must be of the most salutary description. They now see that not even to save the life of an innocent and worthy man would the discipline of the prison be violated, and will restrain the most violent from any attempt of the kind in future. Had Hall's demands been complied with, every convict in the prison would have been devising some scheme to obtain his liberty, probably ending in a general revolt, and the death of several innocent men and many guilty ones. The lesson is important, and will doubtless be duly impressed.

[Note: The prison guard, Clark C. Crabb, survived his wounds. Hall died at the prison, and is probably buried in the Alton City Cemetery. Hall's skull was kept as a memento by Colonel Buckmaster, and ended up in the cigar store of George A. Sauvage, as seen below.]

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 22, 1912
During the process of cleaning up the cellar at the cigar store of George A. Sauvage on Piasa Street, a skull was found which had a history connected with it. The skull was that of a six-time murderer who tried to add a seventh to his list of killings when he tried to murder in the old Alton penitentiary in 1858, Clark C. Crabb, who has a daughter, Mrs. Thomas Rowan, still living in Alton. John Buckmaster, who formerly owned the cigar store, inherited the skull from his father, Samuel Buckmaster, who was warden of the Alton penitentiary at the time of the bloody incident. It was the story that Buckmaster himself shot and killed the owner of the skull after a series of incidents that had the whole community worked up to a state of frenzy. A prisoner named Hall, who had killed six men according to his own confession, made a desperate plan to escape. Crabb was turnkey, and one night was locking up the prisoners in their brick cells when Hall slugged the turnkey, seized him and dragged him inside his cell and slammed shut the steel door. Then Hall proclaimed his intention of gaining his liberty or murdering Crabb. For 36 hours Hall kept the form of the turnkey between himself and the steel grating as a shield, and the men outside dared not shoot for fear they would kill the turnkey. Efforts to poison Hall failed during the 36 hours because he would compel Crabb to eat and drink before him. Finally, by a ruse, the door was opened, but Hall began stabbing Crabb, and before he could be shot Hall had stabbed Crabb fourteen times. Hall was killed, it is said, by Warden Buckmaster, who afterward took the murderer's skull and kept it as a memento. For years it served as a container of balls of twine in John Buckmaster's cigar store, and George Sauvage threw it down the cellar. It was brought up from the cellar Sunday, and many people saw it.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, March 18, 1858
A week ago two convicts in the Penitentiary absented themselves at night from roll-call, and succeeded in secreting themselves in the yard until yesterday. They were found under the floor of the dining room, with a fair store of provisions. One of the convicts is under a sentence of seventeen years. Whenever a convict hides, which has of late become somewhat common, the night guards are stationed outside the walls so that any convict is sure to be seen and fired at.


Source: The New York Times, April 26, 1858
From the Chicago Times. Mr. J. R. Coudry, Deputy United States Marshal, of Wisconsin, arrived in this city yesterday, having in custody a German named Charles Reisner, alias Charles Herse, who is charged with the crimes of burglary, robbery, arson, and murder, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Reisner was arrested at Peoria, where, under the name of Herse, he has been carrying on the business of a butcher. In the Summer of 1855, he was arrested in this city by officer Rehm and Sauier, for larceny, for which he was convicted and sentenced for the term of two years to the State Prison at Alton. After serving out his time, he went to La Crosse, where in less than six weeks after his arrival, the murder was committed for which he is now arrested.


Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, June 21, 1858
The work of removing prisoners at the old penitentiary at Alton has already commenced. About sixty went up [to Joliet, Illinois] two weeks since. Within six weeks from now cells will be constructed [at Joliet] for more than two hundred. Capt. Pillsbury, formerly of the Connecticut Penitentiary, at Wethersfield, and more recently from the prison at Albany, N. Y., has been selected as a thoroughly competent and experienced man to whom to entrust the entire discipline of the Penitentiary. He has entered upon his duties, and in company with Mr. Casey is urging on the work of building and providing requisite accommodations for the prisoners now at Alton.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 22, 1858
Yesterday morning S. K. Carry, the lessee of the new Penitentiary at Joliet, took fifty convicts from the prison here and carried them to the new prison. One hundred and fifty have now been removed.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, August 12, 1858
From Friend S. Rutherford, Esq., Superintendent of the State's Prison, we learn that the number of convicts in the Illinois State Penitentiary, in this place, on the first day of July last, was 614. During July four were received, twenty were discharged, and three died, leaving a total of 595 on the first day of August, of which number eight are females. The number at the new prison, at Joliet, is 148, leaving 447 yet in the old Penitentiary in Alton. The severe hot weather has produced an unusual amount of sickness - principally fevers - among the convicts. Three deaths occurred during July, being a greater number than during the whole of the preceding seven months.


Source: The Alton Democrat, August 14, 1858
The most severe fire that has visited Alton for many years occurred here last night within the Penitentiary walls. At about dusk, and some fifteen minutes after the convicts had retired from the yards and shops, and the night watch having been on guard for some ten minutes, fire was discovered bursting out in two or three places, from a room in the building near the gate, designated as the drying-house for the cooperage. In an instant, as it were, the flames spread through the rooms and the adjoining rooms of a large, long building. The alarm being given, the fire department and a large number of citizens speedily collected about the walls. So filled was the building with cooperage stuff, machinery & etc., that the flames were beyond control ere the firemen got fairly at work upon it. Their efforts were then directed at saving the adjoining buildings, our readers being aware that several large buildings, comprising different branches of business, are bound together within the prison walls, with alleys or roadways between them.

The fire by this time presented a grand and fearful sight. The combustibles made an immense blaze, the glare beaming over the city, the river and the hilltops, making all as light as day. The wind blew gently up the river, wafting the dense volume of flame and smoke and sparks, and burning cinders, into the river, and over Messrs. Mitchell’s mill. The eating hall and arsenal building was now on fire, there not being sufficient hose to reach it from the gateway. Hose was taken up through the Warden's house, and past grated windows, and thus a stream was directed at the dining room floor, but too late - for the roof and upper-story window frames were on fire. The burning brands, alighting on the roof of Messrs. Mitchell’s mill, fired it in several places, but the Pioneer Engine Company, with several citizens, preserved the buildings.

Thus, for several hours, from 8 until 1 o'clock, the firemen and citizens toiled at the engines and inside, for the heat had become so intense inside the walls as to drive the engine companies outside, until they were quite exhausted, and the flames being tolerably well under, many retired to their homes. But a vast pile of staves, some 300,000, had taken fire, and were not to be subdued. It commenced burning afresh, and the long cooper shop near to it was in great danger. A new alarm was given, guns fired, bells rung, and drums beat, and the citizens and firemen again assembled and went to work. Long before this, however, the city military was called out, about forty men of the Yaeger Company, with loaded arms, to aid in preventing a rebellion among the four hundred prisoners. A portion of the Yaegers mounted the walls, and guarded other weak points, and also stood sentry over about one hundred short term and best [illegible] of the convicts, the latter being sent to work on the engines, & etc., when were again brought within the walls. The heat and smoke now enveloped the main prison building, in which the prisoners were locked up for the night, causing such an intense heat that the convicts began to call loudly for deliverance. To prepare for frustrating all possibility of escape, Deputy Warden Wells placed a strong guard upon the walls, with orders to shoot any convict who even showed a spirit of insubordination. The most infernal noises now rose from the Penitentiary of convicts in their cells yelling for fear; of the singing of others while working at the brakes; and of the shouting through trumpets and the general noise of the crowd. The noise was distinctly heard at our residence in Sempletown, one mile from the spot, and it seemed as if a general rebellion and revolution was going on.

The main cell building was not ignited but the upper floors of tiers and cells became so heated and full of smoke the convicts in them were turned into the halls of the lower stories, where the heat and smoke were less intense. They were very fearful of being burned alive apparently. No escapes were effected, although two or three attempts were made by prisoners changing clothes, and trying to pass out among the firemen and citizens, while saving wagons and other property. The roll was called at 10 o'clock today, and every man answered to his name.

The loss is about one third of the buildings of the prison, valued with their contents at between $20,000 and $30,000. We can learn nothing definite as to the insurance, the lessees of the prison not being here. One report is of no insurance, another of $30,000. There is no insurance on the premises at any agency in Alton. The pile of 50,000 alone was worth $11 per thousand. The Alton fire department worked manfully.

In conclusion, we remark that the opinion generally prevails that the fire was the work of one or more of the prisoners; was started and was so concealed that it had not gotten under full head before discovery. Since writing the above, we learn that it was started in the keg-shop, a two-story plank shed adjoining the stone building. Some prisoners seemed to act in concert with it, by throwing missiles out their cell windows, but desisted when the Yaegers paraded before them, and were ordered to fire at any window from which a missile came. Some of the convicts had taken in stones in their pockets; others threw out padlocks, which had been left in the hasty unlocking of the cells.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, November 4, 1858
One of the dwellers at the State Hotel on the bluff evidently not liking his quarters, concluded to attempt a change yesterday. So, while working with a number of his fellow prisoners upon the Levee, he took leave of them very unceremoniously - not even bidding them or the guard Good bye. The guard thought this a very reprehensible performance, and accordingly invited the other laborers to rest within the Penitentiary walls while he sought the missing one, who had started up the river. Chase was given and he was soon caught, and much to the joy of Messrs. Sanger & Casey, we have no doubt, persuaded to return to his old quarters. But we very much fear that he found their joy his sorrow.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, December 23, 1858
The quarterly report made to the Governor by Hon. Friend S. Rutherford, Superintendent of the Illinois Penitentiary, for the quarter ending on the last day of November, gives the following statement as to the number of prisoners:

[Numbers include Alton and Joliet prisons]
Number of convicts at close of last quarter - 602
Number of convicts received during September - 22
Convicts discharged 45, died 4, escaped 1 = 50
Total number, October - 574
Received during October - 80
Discharged 23, died 2, escaped 1 = 26
Total number November - 628
Received during November - 47
Discharged 21, died 1, escaped 1 = 23
Total number December - 652
Total at Alton, males - 448
Total at Alton, females - 2
Total - 450

It further states that the cost of the new workshops and buildings erected to take the place of those destroyed at the late fire in the Alton prison, together with the cost of the repairs made upon those damaged, is $13,404.34. As to who shall bear the loss consequent upon this fire, the Superintendent says it is a question over which he has no control, but that it is probably that the matter will be brought before the next Legislature by the Warden. The report also notes that most of the prison library was destroyed by fire, and that there is a great deficiency in Bibles at the Alton prison, while at Joliet there are none at all, though certain citizens have contributed four hundred and eighty pamphlets.

Attention is called to a defect or omission in the state law in relation to female convicts who are brought to the prison in a state of pregnancy. It is suggested that either a lying-in hospital should be provided, or that the convict be committed to proper persons outside of the prison. The Superintendent questions the propriety of the interposition of the pardoning power in such cases. The question is incidentally raised whether a woman after delivery can be detained longer in the prison, as certainly the Warden has no control over the child, and the attention of the mother is essential to its existence. Besides the Warden is under no obligation to support the child.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, February 10, 1859
Fire was discovered in the southeast corner of the Penitentiary yard about 7 o’clock last evening. The alarm being raised, a crowd of people and the fire engines were soon upon the ground. The fire was confined to a shed in which was drying barrel timber – staves and heading. The hose of the Pioneer Company being some way out of condition, it was some time before they got any water upon the flames. The Altona boys, however, mounted the wall and threw a full stream down, which did good execution. The fire originated accidentally. Loss – about one hundred dollars.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, February 10, 1859
The Edwardsville Press, in noticing that a citizen of that place had been robbed of a horse lately, says, “He is now in Alton searching for it.”

Wonder if the residents of Edwardsville think that because the penitentiary is here, the inhabitants of Alton are all thieves, or that the place in which first to look for stolen property is necessarily here. Let them look at home. More likely they will find it there, for they are all villains at best - every man, woman and child of them.

The Edwardsville Press of yesterday says that the neighborhood is teeming with horse thieves – no less than half a dozen cases of theft having come to its notice within the past ten days. It instances that on Friday night last, two horses - one a light sorrel and the other a dark sorrel - were stolen from Mr. James Chandler, who lives on the American Bottom Plank Road, about one and a half miles from Venice. They were stolen from his stable, the blind bridles belonging to his harness being taken at the same time. It also states that on Thursday night, a man by the name of Joseph Fisher ran off from near that place, with a team of two mules and one horse and two wagons – a double and a single wagon. The horse, a large, grey animal, was the property of Henry Low of Edwardsville, who will pay a reasonable reward for his recovery.

It is not to be supposed that the rascals will confine their depredations to the country – horse owners in the city should take all necessary precautions to protect their property.


Source: Alton Weekly Courier, February 10, 1859
Superintendent Rutherford communicates the particulars of a case which occurred in the Penitentiary last week. On Tuesday, one of the prisoners, for insubordination, was sent to his cell. Soon after being sent there, word was communicated to the guard that he had a knife secreted about his person. This fact was put in possession of Deputy Warden Wells, who gave orders that the prisoner should strip himself in his cell, leave his clothing upon the floor, and come out, that it might be searched. This order he refused to comply with. Every effort was made to induce him to obey, but he was obstinate – swearing that he would die first. It was accordingly ordered that no food be given him till he yielded. The officers became convinced that he had the knife, and would use it if he got a chance. During the following day, he was expostulated with, through the grated door, by the Deputy Warden, by the Superintendent, and by others, for his conduct, but remained stubborn, declaring that he would starve himself to death before he would obey the order. Strict watch was kept over him to see that he did not injure himself, and during repeated conversations with him, the Penitentiary Physician, Dr. Williams, was to note if he was becoming delirious. The confinement commenced on Tuesday, immediately after dinner. Through Wednesday, through Thursday, through Friday, he held out. Going to his cell about one o’clock on Saturday afternoon, the officers asked him to rise from his bed. Attempting to do so, he fell, and it being discovered that he was then so weak that he could not use the knife, the door was opened, and in a few minutes, it was seen that he was a little delirious. He was immediately cared for. Upon being searched, the knife was found upon him. The blade was about four inches long, and ground down to a dagger point, making it a very dangerous weapon. It will be observed that he took no food for about 97 hours – over four days.

Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Journal, February 16, 1859
The Alton, Ill. Courier states that a convict in the Penitentiary at that place, who had been punished for insubordination and confined in his cell, was found to have a knife secreted about his person. The Warden ordered him to strip in his cell and walk out naked. This order he stubbornly disobeyed, and declared that sooner than do it, he would die. The Warden concluded to try the "hunger cure" upon the desperado, and food was withheld from him during the day. This did not reduce him to submission; he still declared that he would starve, but would not yield. The penitentiary physician was ordered to watch him, and the starving process was continued ninety-seven hours, more than four days, when the man was so weak that he could not rise, and the courageous officers then entered his cell and he was disarmed. The physician found the convict was becoming delirious, and at once attended to his case. The knife had a blade four inches long, ground to a sharp point.


Source: Syracuse, New York Central City Courier, May 16, 1859
A few weeks since, Thomas Morgan, a wealthy resident of Scott County, whose estate is valued at $85,000, was incarcerated in the penitentiary, at Alton, for an assault with intent to kill. The Courier of Wednesday mentions the death of Mr. Morgan, in the prison, and that his remains were sent up the river Wednesday evening for interment at his former home.





Source: Alton Telegraph, June 29, 1867
[In June, 1867, a proposal was made to the Illinois Legislature to return at least a part of the prisoners housed in the Joliet prison to Alton. Colonel Samuel A. Buckmaster, former lessee of the penitentiary, and others, were called to testify before the Legislature. It was discussed that there were too many prisoners at Joliet to be worked to the advantage of the State, and that many of the prisoners were old and feeble, and could not be worked extensively to pay for the food, clothing, and costs of the guards. During the early years of the history of Illinois, the State prison was leased to private citizens, who would then in turn work the prisoners and sell their labor or products to make money to house them. When the Telegraph was asked by a Penitentiary Commissioner what their opinion was, this was their reply:]

We answered, that if they did so, they would have every man, woman, and child in the city [Alton] against them, and that they would fight it to the bitter end. He then inquired if there would be any objection to the removal of the female portion to Alton. We replied, that this city had been cursed with the institution for twenty-five or thirty years, and we thought that as much as we ought to endure for the State, and that our people would never consent to have the old Penitentiary ever used again as a prison – either for males or females. We further informed him that the city had paid a large bonus to get the prisoners removed from Alton, and that the State neither had the moral nor legal right to impose it upon us again. He then replied, that under such circumstances, he could not, nor would not insist upon doing so. This we had hoped was the end of the matter, until we read the testimony as taken by the Legislative committee.

Now, we are no alarmist, and it will be recollected that last winter, when so many of our citizens were so concerned about the Illinois Southern Penitentiary being located at this place, that we assured them there was not the slightest danger from that source, but we are well satisfied that there is now real danger of having this incubus to our future growth and prosperity foisted upon us. Although we believe that it may be prevented by prompt action on the part of our citizens, to succeed against the inducements which will be held out for bringing it here will require energy, wisdom, and perfect unity among ourselves. Those friendly to the movement are wide-awake and sleepless to accomplish their purpose. There is no question but the whole scheme originated with Messrs. Steele & Casey, the present owners of the old Penitentiary grounds and buildings. They wish to sell, and of course they can do better with the State than any other part or parties. From the low figure at which they purchased the property, they can afford to sell to the State and make a large profit, at one-fourth of what it will cost to erect new buildings.

The next point which is urged in favor of Alton, is the fact that relief to the present crowded state of the Joliet prison may thereby be afforded at once, whereas, it will be a year or eighteen months before a new penitentiary could be erected in any other part of the State. Still, another strong inducement, which is thought to bear on the minds of those having the matter in charge, is the assumed fact that the prisoners can be worked to better advantage to the State at this point than at any other. These are all strong and influential reasons, and will necessarily have force with the members of the Legislature, not directly influenced by local bearings. But still, we have too much confidence in the moral integrity and sense of right of a majority of the Legislature to be willing to believe they are prepared to over-ride the clear and distinct understanding between the State and the people of Alton, that the institution should never be imposed on us again, for the mere sake of saving a few dollars to the State treasury.

There are sometimes higher and more important obligations than simply to take care of the revenue of the State. But it would be no less an act of bad faith to the friends of the Southern penitentiary, to bring the prisoners here than to the people of Alton. The act authorizing the erection of that building was passed by both houses of the Legislature, and received the approval of the Governor, and he is, therefore, under as much obligation to have its provisions carried out as he is that of any other law on the statute book, yet it is obvious to everyone, if the prisoners are brought to Alton, that will be the end of that enterprise.

Our people feel rightly indignant and outraged at this proposed scheme, of locating a branch of the Penitentiary here, because it is a clear violation of good faith on the part of the State, and its influence, if consummated, will be most injurious and disastrous upon every industrial pursuit in the city. But at the same time, we hope our people will not resort to any unlawful acts or riotous proceedings to prevent it. There are legitimate and lawful means, which if properly applied, will, in our opinion, prove availing in averting this great calamity from our city.

What we want, in our judgment, is to keep cool, and go to work like wise men, acting on the presumption that the members of the Legislature are reasonable and honest men, and that they do not wish to injure us, but at the same time are bound to act for the best good of the State, so far as they can do so consistently with higher and more binding obligations. Let there be a respectful petition gotten up and signed by the Mayor and Common Council, and all of our citizens, setting forth all the facts in the case, and protesting against the great wrong and injustice which the Legislature propose to inflict upon us; and then let a few of our most judicious and influential citizens go to Springfield and lay the matter before the Committee on the Penitentiary, in a calm, dignified, and gentlemanly manner, and we believe the whole thing may be averted.

Danger Passed
Source: Alton Telegraph, July 5, 1867
The adopting last evening by both Houses of the Legislature of the Penitentiary Bill – the project of removing a portion of the Joliet prisoners to the old prison in Alton, has been completely foiled, and the great danger which thus threatened the commerce and manufactories of the city entirely averted. The citizens of Alton have certainly great cause to rejoice at the defeat of this infamous attempt to again saddle the city with such a terrible incubus to its growth and prosperity. The moral to be gleaned from this experience is that the existence of the old penitentiary building within the city offers too great a temptation to selfish and designing men, and needs careful watching.


Source: Alton Telegraph, July 12, 1867
When the Penitentiary was proposed to be removed from Alton, one objection which was made on the part of the State, to its removal to another point, was the fact that it possessed no title to the grounds after it ceased to use them for Penitentiary purposes. But such was the desire on the part of our citizens to get rid of antimutation which was sapping the very foundations of our growth and prosperity that the City Council, at the cost of some fourteen thousand dollars, purchased the reservatory right from Mr. Allen, the legal representative of William Russell, who first conveyed the property to the State. The title thus being perfected, the State sold the old Penitentiary grounds, buildings, &c., to Messrs. Sanger, Casey & Co., with a full knowledge of all these facts, for a stipulated sum regarded by said parties to be just and fair, under all the circumstances of the case. The purchasers, of course, supposed they had made a good thing of it, or they never would have made the contract.

Now, with a full knowledge of all these facts staring said purchasers in the face, what are they called upon to do with this property as honorable and fair-minded men? Certainly not to hold it a few years, then to try and form political and other combinations to induce the State to purchase it back from them at a very large profit, for Penitentiary purposes, and thereby become guilty of an act of bad faith to our citizens. Would any honorable and upright men stoop to such a piece of bad faith and chicanery, for the purpose of putting money in their own pockets, at the sacrifice of every principle of fair-dealing, and to the disadvantage and loss to an entire community, which had been heavily taxed to get the curse removed? We know not how others may regard this matter, but it looks to us very much like a violation of a most sacred obligation – an obligation the violation of which will seriously affect every citizen of Alton. Yet, it we rightly understand this matter, it is just what Messrs. Casey & Steel have been moving Heaven and earth at Springfield to accomplish.

But failing in this unblushing and outrageous scheme, simply because there were too many honest men in the Legislature, who scorned to be guilty of perpetuating such an act of bad faith on the part of the State, they hurry down to Alton, hoping to take advantage of the excitement prevalent here to get a good bargain out of the city, or some of our citizens.

And we are sorry to say, they have so far succeeded here, as to induce some to advocate their interests, to the disadvantage of parties not in the slightest degree interested in the matter. If Messrs. Casey & Steel have made a bad bargain, let them pocket their loss like men, and cease their efforts to either frighten or bed others to share their loss with them. After their efforts at Springfield to impose the Penitentiary upon Alton, against the solemn protest of almost every citizen in the place, we should think they would be ashamed to show their faces here, let alone to seriously ask the city officers or our citizens to help them feather their nest out of the old Penitentiary property. We regard it as a gross insult to the intelligence and self-respect of our people for them to make any such proposition. Mr. Steele holds the grounds and buildings at seventy-five thousand dollars. He offers to form a joint stock company with those of our monied men who desire to keep the Penitentiary away from Alton; take ten thousand dollars himself, and have the remainder made up by the other members. When the sum is raised, he would appoint three of the subscribers – himself excluded – to take charge of the property and dispose of it to the best advantage.

This is in fact offering insult to injury. But we rather think the people of Alton know their rights too well to be either frightened or cajoled into making any such contracts. There is no possible chance for a single prisoner to be brought here, under the present Penitentiary law. It is nearly two years before another Legislature comes together, and we have but little to fear even then, unless we should from some unaccountable reason be afflicted with a Democratic Legislature, which judging from the past, would be sure to vote to send a portion of the prisoners here. But there is not much more reason to fear this than there is that the rebels shall conquer the loyal men of the North. But with as large a majority of Republicans in the next Legislature as was in the last, these gentlemen would be totally unable to produce any effect upon the members.

We are anxious, however, that some early steps be taken by the city authorities, consistent with their self-respect and best interests of the community, to have those unsightly stone walls removed, and that portion of the city opened up for business purposes. If the proprietors continue to refuse to lay those grounds out in lots and offer them for sale, we trust that the city authorities will proceed to run streets through the grounds, so as to demolish the walls and forever prevent the buildings from being either used for a Penitentiary or a city work house.


Source: Alton Telegraph, July 19, 1867
We rejoice that our State has at last taken charge of the prisoners in the Joliet penitentiary, and has made some slight provision for their moral improvement and reformation. A chaplain has been provided, and for the first time in history of the State, is to be paid a sufficient salary to give him a decent and respectable support. He is also authorized, at the expense of the State, to provide for each cell a common Bible for the use of the prisoners. Corporeal punishment, as a means of discipline, is likewise forbidden by the provisions of the new law, and that of solitary confinement and dieting is to be substituted in its place. This is a vast improvement over the late barbarous and inhuman practice of leasing them out to the highest bidder, as so many slaves, to be driven at the crack of the whip, and to be worked alone for the personal benefit of the lessess, without the slightest means provided by the State for their moral improvement. It is true that a chaplain was there and labored efficiently for the good of the inmates, but to the shame of the State, it must be confessed, he had to look to a local association, created for the purpose of furnishing him a support and otherwise laboring for the moral elevation of the prisoners.


Source: Alton Telegraph, April 17, 1868
On Saturday last, Hon. Samuel A. Buckmaster of Alton, purchased of Messrs. Steel, Sanger, and Casey of Joliet, the entire Penitentiary property. The price paid is not yet made public. This property transfer is an important one in many respects.


Source: March 10, 1871
We noticed some days since the fact that a bill has been introduced into the Legislature changing very materially the mode of carrying on the Penitentiary, and among other things, providing that the commissions be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of the Senate, instead of being elected by the people, as provided in the present law, and that they be subject to removal by the Executive for cause. We likewise noticed the fact that Mr. Casey had moved a substitute for this bill, and that both the bill and substitute was laid on the table and ordered to be printed. We are indebted to the Chicago Tribune for the following synopsis of Mr. Casey’s substitute, which will no doubt be read with interest by our citizens.

“It provides for leasing the [Joliet] prison to Samuel A. Buckmaster for eight years, he and his assigns, and to pay all expenses for clothing, feeding, &c. Provision is also made for three inspectors, as under the old law, to receive $5 a day while employed, but who are not to interfere in the management. All articles on hand are to be appraised and inventoried, and turned over to the lessee.

If the number of convicts at Joliet is thought to be too large, some may be removed to Alton, provided the old penitentiary can be put in order for $150,000, which amount is appropriated. The inspectors appointed by the Governor are to make a purchase of the Alton prison as soon as necessary; the State House Commissioners are required to continue to get stone from Joliet, and convicts may be worked outside of the walls when necessary. The Inspectors for the Alton penitentiary are to be appointed from Madison County.

Mr. Casey then went on to speak on the amendment, stating he should address simply as a taxpayer and Senator desirous of the good of the State, without being influenced by personal considerations of any kind. From his own personal knowledge of prison matters during many years, he would state certain facts going to show reason for his substitute.

In 1857, he and others leased the Alton prison for five years, at $3,100 a year. Soon after, the Joliet prison was ordered to be constructed. At this time, the Alton penitentiary was sold to Sanger for $60,000. In May 1858, he went to Joliet with convicts, and began the erection of prison buildings. Up to the time of which the State took possession, the State had spent $1,112,845, and had received from the lessees $25,510. That expenditure in a few years had built the prison – one of great strength, completeness, and beauty, which the Senator thought it would cost a million and a half to build new. It had also purchased machinery and covered all the running expenses of the prison. Since the time when the lessees turned over the prison, the State had appropriated $1,091,486 on the prison; and, deducting the value of materials on hand, was a loser to the amount of $585,089, and was running behind hand at the rate of $500 a day. They are _______ [unreadable] Mr. Buckmaster, and none of them would doubt his honesty. Personally, he had no interest in the matter. He also considered that the number of convicts at Joliet was too large to be profitably employed, but that it would be better to buy back the Alton penitentiary for $150,000, and put four hundred men there, than to spend a million in the building of a new prison. During his connection with the prison, where he had been only one partner, but sole warden, and with the entire responsibility, he had made only a fair profit and no more.”

There are two or three points well taken in Mr. Casey’s proposition, to which brief reference may be made, without entering into a general discussion of the subject of the return of a portion of the prisoners to Alton. The first of which is, that the Joliet penitentiary is too much crowded to work the prisoners to advantage. Second, that Alton is the best point in the State for carrying on all kinds of manufacturing with profit. Third, that the old prison could be fixed up and put in good tenantable order at one-fourth of the expense to the State that a new penitentiary could be built for at any other point. Fourth, that it could be put in order almost at once for the reception of inmates, and thereby relieve the Joliet prison immediately of its overcrowded condition. We state these things with no view of advocating the re-establishment of the penitentiary at this point, but as facts which will, to a greater or less extent, influence the votes of members of the Legislature.

This has been a subject, in times past, which has excited a great deal of feeling and opposition, and we have no doubt would now be bitterly opposed by a large portion of our citizens, if a serious effort was made to re-establish a prison in our city. It would be opposed in the first place, because it is regarded as injurious to the interests of the laboring classes of our population. Secondly, because the city paid a heavy bonus to the State to have it removed, and it would be regarded as an act of bad faith to bring the prison back, unless the State would refund to the city, with interest, the amount paid out. Thirdly, because the old prison is located directly in the business part of the city, and to use it again as a prison would materially affect the value of property in the immediate vicinity.

But the greatest objection to Mr. Casey’s proposition is that it proposes to return to the old barbarous mode of selling out the prisoners to the highest and best bidder, to be driven and forced to produce the largest possible amount of work, without the least regard to humanity or the reformation of the inmates. We are satisfied the people of the State are unalterably opposed to returning to this system.

But, from the best information which we have been able to obtain, the substitute of Mr. Casey’s will meet with but very little favor with the Legislature, and there is but very little reason for our people to be excited over the subject. Several leading members of that body, and some of them Democrats, informed us that they would never give the proposition their support until they were convinced that the citizens of Alton most directly interested in the matter were in favor of it, and we are satisfied they represented the views of a decided majority of the members of both Houses of the Legislature.


Source: The Phelps County New Era, [Rolla, Missouri] December 4, 1875
The crumbling walls of the old State Prison [in Alton] may be seen looking like the remains of some ancient feudal castle. A trip through the cells above and beneath the ground will well repay one's trouble.


Source: Utica, New York Daily Observer, March 25, 1876
The career of Walter Sheridan is a most wonderful one, considering the life of an ordinary criminal as a comparison. Sheridan is now thirty-eight years old. He was born in New Orleans of respectable parents, and received a very fine education. He is about five feet seven inches in height, weighs about one hundred and sixty-five pounds, has light complexion, blue eyes, light hair, sandy mustache and beard, and is of a gentlemanly address. He has friends at Sandusky, Ohio, and his wife and one child live at Hudson, Mich.- When a mere boy he drifted into crime, and made has first appearance in the character of a criminal in Western Missouri as a horse thief about sixteen years ago. Then be became so accomplished general thief and confidence man, but especially distinguished himself as a bank sneak. In 1858 he was arrested in company with Joseph Moran, a noted Western robber, for a bank robbery, in Chicago, convicted and sentenced to five years in the Alton Penitentiary, which term he served.


Source: Alton Telegraph, March 24, 1881
The work of tearing down the old penitentiary buildings progresses steadily, and every vestige of the main building, which has been a landmark for many years, will soon disappear.


Source: Auburn, New York Daily Bulletin, July 5, 1889
A ghost with the lockstep is one of the rarities of spiritualism, but that is what they say has been heard near the old prison at Alton, Illinois. [Note: a lockstep is a way of marching in very close file, in which the leg of each person moves with and closely behind the corresponding leg of the person ahead.]


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 8, 1894
When Samuel H. Denton, the first warden of the Illinois Penitentiary, was living in Alton in a log house on what we then called Penitentiary Hill, with his one or two prisoners who he boarded in his own house and worked them during the day in preparing to build the penitentiary, I went first to see the picture of the "Piasa Bird" painted on the face of the rock that fronted the river from the top of the Penitentiary Hill, and then up the hill to see my old friend Denton. Though he was a man and I a boy, we were always warm friends.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, March 14, 1895
Up-to-Date, the paper published by the inmates of the Joliet Penitentiary, this month prints an article giving details of the first year’sAlton prison ruins existence of the old penitentiary in Alton, when John C. Bruner was Warden. There are two cuts of the old prison, one as it appeared in 1859, at the time of its abandonment, and the other of the ruins in 1894. The first prisoner received was William Hess in 1833. A month later the second prisoner was received, James Hyatt, who is described as "about 30 years of age and very talkative." Hyatt escaped about three weeks after his arrival and was never heard of after. No. 3 was the first colored man ever received. He was sent up from Monroe County under sentence of one year for manslaughter. His name was James Mitchell. Prisoners came very slowly, as there were less than a dozen in the first two years of the prison's establishment. Up-to-Date compares the manner of keeping the records in the early days of the Alton prison with the records of the Joliet prison, as now kept. A footnote describes the walls as 35 or 40 feet high, which is considerably wide of the mark. The walls at the highest point (near the corner of William and Short [Broadway] Street) were probably not over 20 or 25 feet in height. The little paper is for sale in the bookstores, and will be interesting to many of our old citizens as well as to the generation which has grown up since the removal of the prison to Joliet.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, May 7, 1901
Graders who have been grading the lots of J. H. Raible on Summit street have been employed today driving long steel bars into the ground in the lot in a search for three old caverns that were formerly used by the United States government as magazines [a room or place for keeping gunpowder and other explosives] for powder and ball, when the old penitentiary was used for a prison for captured Confederate soldiers. On the brow of the bluffs a cannon was mounted for purposes of defense of the prison in case of an attack from Missouri, and the three caves were made in the ground for use as magazines for ammunition. Many years ago, the caves were walled up by Mr. Raible, as they had become the roosting place for tramps and boys and had become nuisance. It is now desired to locate these caves and fill them up so that they will not endanger the limbs and lives of horses that are working on the lots grading them. Old residents of Alton remember these magazines and their discovery will be full of interest.


Tragedy Retold by Deputy Warden
Source: Rochester, New York Democrat Chronicle, December 7, 1902
One of the many prisoners received at the Alton Penitentiary when I was deputy warden was a man named Horton. He was editor and proprietor of a weekly paper. He was a pretty strong writer and made many enemies. The article which led to its author's imprisonment was a five-line squib ridiculing a local doctor. The doctor railed to demand a retraction, a fight ensued, and the editor had the misfortune to kill his man. He was sentenced to be hanged, but the Governor commuted it to imprisonment for life. When Horton reached the prison, he was in such a bad state of health that he had to go to the hospital, but after a few weeks he was made librarian to the prison library. After a year or so, Horton's wife got a divorce, his friends ceased to call, and he was virtually dead to the world. As far as I could judge, the man submitted to the inevitable without a murmur, and it has ever since been a sore thought with me that I made such a mistake in sizing him up.

Subsequent events proved that he began plotting from the very first, and we were to learn that he was a man willing to take the most desperate chances to regain his liberty. There was living in the town in which the prison was situated a young lady named Calhoun. She used to come in every Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock, with papers or other things for the prisoners, and sometimes she had company and sometimes not. Saturday afternoon was a holiday with the prisoners - that is, all were locked up in their cells after the noonday meal and could read, write or sleep. This order did not include the librarian and certain other "trusties." One Saturday afternoon Miss Calhoun was an hour late. It was in April, and the day was dark and foggy. The order was to pass her in and out without question. At 7 o'clock in the evening, some of her friends called at the prison to say that she had not returned home. At midnight, after a search of the town had been made, Miss Calhoun's friends returned to the prison. Horton was the first to be consulted. He said she had come in late, bringing two books and some tracts. The books were left in the library, but he went with her to the west corridor to distribute the tracts. We verified his statement by going to the corridor. The countryside around the prison was searched all night long, and soon after daylight the mystery was solved. The dead body of the girl was found in the prison yard. On the second floor of a storehouse lay the half-naked body, while hat, dress, skirts, and wrap were in a heap beside it. In spite of my good opinion of Horton, I suspected him of this awful deed. There were nine other "trusties" who might possibly have had opportunity, and so the deed could not be brought home to him. Whoever had killed the poor girl had dressed in her clothes, but afterward had taken them off. If he had planned to go out in the disguise, his nerve failed him.

About eight months after the murder, when Horton had been with us for three years and four months, he made his escape by means of a tunnel which he had been over two years digging. It began in a clothes closet of the library and ended ninety-three feet away outside the prison walls. What was done had to be accomplished between 7 A. M. and 6 P.M. Horton could not bar anyone out of the library, nor could he tell what minute someone would enter. No convict ever worked for liberty with such odds against him. He simply took the one chance in a thousand. There were times when he descended to his tunnel and worked for an hour before coming out. After coming out, he had to wash his hands and remove all dust and dirt, and he must have had nerves of steel and a will of iron to bear up under the hourly fear of discovery. That tunnel was more than a nine days wonder after discovery.

You will want to know how I learned of certain things. A year after Horton's escape, we heard of him in Montana. He had joined a small band of trappers and hunters and was living among in the mountains. After he had been located, it was decided that I should be sent out to attempt his capture. When I reached Gallatin, I learned that Horton's party was in the mountains to the north, and enlisted two men in the search for him. We were on the trail of the hunters for a month before we found them. One evening we rode into their camp prepared to capture or kill the fugitive murderer, but he was not there. Two days before, he had started out alone to inspect some traps and had not returned. The rest of the party, numbering six, had been out looking for him on the day of our arrival, but had found no trace. The search was resumed next day, and along in the afternoon we found him. He had fallen over a cliff and landed on a shelf about forty feet below. His fall had been broken by a bush, but he had been severely injured and was almost dead when we got him up. He had broken a leg and an arm, and as there was no way to get a doctor, we knew that death soon must terminate his sufferings.

During the last day of his life Horton was not only conscious, but talkative and free from pain. He insisted on telling me all about the tunnel business, and of course I was interested in the details. I plainly told him that I had suspected him from the hour of finding Miss Calhoun's body, and that, figure it out as I might, no one else had the opportunity that he had. He did not answer me for several minutes, and then quietly said:

"I will give you my idea of that affair, though of course it may be all wrong. When Miss Calhoun and I separated, she started for the exit and I for the library. There were several ‘trusties’ about, and no doubt one of them spoke to her, and she may have turned aside. It was a dark, foggy day, you remember, and the man might have clutched her by the throat to prevent an alarm and carried her to the storehouse. He took great risks, but was not discovered. I have always felt much grieved over the fate of that poor girl."

"What motive do you think the murderer had?" I asked.

"Probably to don her clothes and pass out to liberty."

"But why didn't he carry out his plan?"

"Probably something threw him off his nerve as he approached the wicket. He could have gone out unquestioned, but something happened to make him suspect that he would be nabbed."

"And you will not confess, realizing as you must, that death is not far away?"

"My dear man," Horton replied as a smile played over his pale face, "let's talk about that tunnel and drop all dismal subjects. So, all of you called it an excellent bit of civil engineering, eh? Well, I think it was. I was very proud of that tunnel, and sometimes I felt like going back to have a look at it."

Four hours later he was dead, passing away as peacefully as if he had never shed a drop of human blood.

I have been unable to discover any further information on Horton or the murder of Miss Calhoun. Horton went to his grave never fully admitting his guilt. The State Penitentiary in Alton was located on Williams Street, and first opened in 1833. It closed as a State prison in 1860. It reopened in 1861, during the Civil War, as a military post and prison, and closed for a final time in 1865.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 18, 1908
Alton is about to carry out another metropolitan idea through its enterprising park commission, that of a model playground for the children of Alton. The Penitentiary Plat on William street, now used as a residence section and occupied by a number of small houses, may be leased from the owners for a term of years, and with funds to be raised for the purpose made into a model playground. Grass and trees and flowers and shrubs and swings and many other play things for children would make it a pleasant place for mothers to take their children to spend a delightful cool morning, afternoon or evening. The plan is just in the rough at present, but it is that far advanced that arrangements will be made for taking over the property, and if not carried through this year it will be carried out next summer. If the plan proves a success it will be Alton's first children's playground, and will be another proof of the fact that Alton is fast growing larger.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, December 1, 1908
The Parks commissioners have secured from Mayor Beall an order that the prisoners who have been heretofore employed on the streets be used to help in cleaning up the old penitentiary plat grounds which have been leased by the city as a playground for children. The grounds need much cleaning up and there will be enough work to keep prisoners busy a long time. It is proposed to clear away the old stone foundations which project above the ground, and remove or burn the rubbish that has been accumulating there for many years. One big ruin of the penitentiary wall will be left standing, and it is planned to train vines over this ruin and make it appear attractive. The ruin will serve as a historic monument of bygone days and a bygone institution. Alton was very glad to be rid of the old penitentiary. Officer Pack, the man-herder, can work a good number of prisoners and he desires to give notice that all who come will be welcomed by him and will be given plenty to do.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, March 22, 1909
A few days ago, Charles Wade found a queer shaped tool deep in the ground under the place where the old penitentiary wall stood. Wade is operating a stone quarry there. The tool was about four feet below the surface. It was apparently filed out of hard steel. On one end was a narrow hatchet-like blade, and on the other end was a strong hook, such as might be used in digging in a wall. Some prisoner, it is believed, either lost it or had secreted it and was never able to use it. The tool has marks on it indicating it was handmade and that crude working tools were used in fashioning it. Mr. Wade is keeping it as a curio.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 7, 1909
Uncle Remus Park is the name to be bestowed on the old penitentiary grounds next Friday evening at a formal naming of the place. The park commissioners have had the place cleaned up, and they have decided to put the White Hussars band in Uncle Remus' Park Friday evening to give a concert. In connection with the concert, brief talks will be made by Mayor Beall and Chairman P. W. Coyle of the parks commission. The concert will begin about 7:30 o'clock and last until 10, being interrupted just long enough for the two short talks by the officials mentioned in recognition of the change in name of this place that so long has borne a name filled with a horrible retrospect. The grounds have not been equipped as a playground for the children, but will be very soon, it is planned by the parks commission. The public is invited to attend the concert and formal naming of the playground for a friend of childhood.


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, October 24, 1910
Everett Pennington, aged 4, while playing around at Uncle Remus park, accompanied by his father, picked up an old brass key which probably belonged to one of the cells of the old penitentiary. The key was partially buried and was pulled out of the ground. It is 7 inches long. The key was badly corroded by having lain in the ground so long. The boy's father says he will let his son keep the key as a relic, and yesterday the child had it down town and it was shown to a number of people. The boy lives at 553 east Third street. [Note: Uncle Remus Park was located in downtown Alton on the site of the old State Penitentiary/Civil War Prison. After the prison was dismantled, it was turned into a park, and later paved over. It is located on Williams Street in Alton.]


Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 29, 1916
Percy Lewis, employed by the Kinloch Telephone Company, discovered two skulls and a part of one skeleton of a human being while digging in Uncle Remus Park yesterday, to set an anchor for a guy wire of the telephone system. The two skulls were close together. Both of them were badly decayed. It is not believed they could be Indian bones because of the fact that the place where they were found was doubtless far below the surface of the earth, before the penitentiary was put there. There was undoubtedly an excavation made for the penitentiary, and as the bones were about three feet below the surface of the ground now, it is supposed that the bones are of two persons who died in the early days of the penitentiary at Alton.


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