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And Now for Something Really Different

W. Scott Cole

Posted on November 14, 2018 20:02

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Do you remember those words from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”? If you do then you also remember Sherman and the Professor with their Wayback Machine. Join me as I borrow the Wayback Machine and take a trip to investigate the history of the Colorado correctional system.

Cañon City was chosen for the location of the first prison in Colorado on January 7, 1868, nine years before Colorado became a state. It was called The Colorado Territorial Penitentiary and is still in use as a medium prison. Today it is simply called Territorial.  The federal government built the first cell house in the middle of a 25 acre site donated by one of the first settlers in the area.

The first male prisoner, named John Shepler, was admitted on January 31, 1871, convicted of larceny. The first female prisoner, named Mary Salanden, arrived on March 12, 1873. She had been convicted of manslaughter. The first escape was on December 15, 1871 and the first walls were not built until 1875.

The youngest inmate to have ever served time in the (adult) system was Anton Woode. He arrived at Territorial in November of 1892, aged 10 years old. Seems he had been hunting and came across a fellow hunter who had a gold pocket watch and a shotgun that young Anton decided he had to have, so he shot the other hunter in the back and took both watch and gun. He was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 25 years at hard labor.

Anton made the most of his time there, educating himself and learning a trade. On January 22, 1900, a week after his 18th birthday, Anton and three other men escaped, but were recaptured within days. Anton convinced a judge that he had escaped only because the others threatened to kill him if he didn’t leave with them, since he had seen them kill a guard and could have blown the whistle on them, so no more time was added to his sentence. Anton was paroled on September 2, 1905, at age 23. He moved to New York, changed his name  and never saw the inside of a prison again.

October 3, 1929 saw, for almost 50 years, was the deadliest riot in the United States, in which seven guards and five convicts died. It started when Danny Daniels and four other inmates captured and disarmed several guards, then holed up in Cellhouse Three. A short time later, other inmates set fire to the mess hall, two other cellhouses and the chapel.

Daniels started killing the captive guards when the warden refused to negotiate.  He killed one guard and then put his gun to the head of the second guard. Before he pulled the trigger, he looked at the guard, said, “oh, it’s you”, and lowered the gun, then sent the guard out of the cellhouse carrying the body of the first guard. The accepted story is that Daniels spared the guard because he had seen the guard give an inmate who was in the hole a sandwich out of his own lunch. The riot ended when Daniels killed his four cronies and himself.

This is just a couple of highlights, but I hope you enjoyed our trip in the Wayback Machine.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on November 14, 2018 20:02

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