Transcribed from A History of Meade County, Kansas by Frank S. Sullivan. ; [c1916] ; Crane & Company. Transcribed by Carolyn Ward, September 2006.

1916 A History of Meade County, Kansas



(I have not been able to find anyone who would vouch for the historical accuracy of this chapter. This story was suggeted by the old calaboose itself, and if the incidents related did not actually occur, no doubt a true recital of the facts would be even more interesting and more startling.)

Standing in the rear of a modern building facing Main street, and used as a storeroom for various odds and ends, is a small old weather-worn building of peculiar construction, a glance at which excites one's curiosity and impels a closer examination. In dimensions it is about twelve by sixteen feet, eight feet high in front and sloping to six feet in the rear. It is built of pine boards, or planks, two inches thick and eight inches wide, commonly known as 2x8's, laid flatwise one upon the other and spiked together, forming a solid wall eight inches thick. In one end is a window about twelve by fourteen inches, iron-barred, giving the structure the appearance of a prison. And a prison it is—or was. In the early days, when the city was composed largely of saloons and dance-halls, and infested by cowboys, gamblers, and bad men and women, it served as the "bastile" in which were imprisoned temporarily the murderer, the cow-thief, the drunkard, the common bum, and in fact all who for any reason came within the grasp of the strong arm of the law—the law as administered by the Justice Court of Hiram Smith, J. P.

In those wild days, when drunkenness, carousing gambling, thieving and kindred crimes and misde-



meanors were common, and murder was by no means uncommon, many of the leading citizens, and many officers of the law, sought to court favor with the "bad men" by closing eyes to many of the lesser crimes and brawls. But there were some who loyally and steadfastly stood for law and order, and demanded prompt and efficient enforcement of law, and speedy and adequate punishment for law-breakers.

Among those who talked most and loudest for law enforcement, and who did much to subdue the lawless element, and was one of those who were most active in originating the crusade which ultimately drove out the saloon, dance-hall and other houses of vice and iniquity, was Joseph Randall. He publicly and vigorously condemned vice and immorality in whatsoever form it was manifested; he was a pillar of the church, and, if one were to take his word for it, a righteous man and one without sin. He it was who headed the subscription list by which funds were raised to build the calaboose to which the reader is introduced in the first paragraph. And it is the irony of fate that he was the first inmate, being confined therein for seventy-two hours, awaiting a requisition from the Governor, under which he was taken back to Ohio to face trial on a charge of bigamy, of which offense he was duly convicted.

Of this and many other things connected with the old calaboose I leaned from an old-timer to whom I applied for information concerning the early history of the town.

It was here, my informant told me, that Sam Howell and Bill Evans were confined while awaiting their preliminary examination on a charge of holding up an ex-


press wagon and killing the driver. Across the street still stands the old building in which Justice Smith held court and bound them over for trial; and yonder, a half-mile away, still stands the lone tree on which they were hanged, the populace having decided to waive the formality and expense of a trial by jury, and incidentally to guard against a possible miscarriage of justice.

It was in this selfsame prison that the eastern dude, whose name my informant had forgotten, was confined, charged with having stolen Pete Stringer's horse. In those days murder was sometimes condoned, but horsestealing, never. And my informant related how in the dusk of evening a mob was formed for the purpose of lynching the aforesaid dude. Urged on by Pete, and emboldened by liberal potations, a crowd of about twenty armed cowboys, bad, courageous and desperate men, secured a rope and marched en masse from the Red Dragon Saloon to the calaboose, with the avowed intention of wreaking vengeance and ridding the country of "one more hoss-thief." At the door of the bastile, however, they encountered "Banta" Sims, the diminutive, bowlegged City Marshal, who had drawn a dead-line twenty feet in front of the building, and, with a six-shooter in each hand and determination in his mien, he informed the "committee" that he was the custodian of that jail and the guardian of the peace and dignity of the city; that the accused should have a fair and impartial trial by a jury of his peers, and that he, "Banta," would shoot the first "galoot" who set foot across the dead-line.

The crowd knew "Banta" and grumblingly retired,


and the case against the dude was afterwards dismissed, Pete having found his horse in a neighboring pasture, whither it had strayed.

He told me of the evening when Ike Lewis and Dan Pillsbury rode their horses into the Blue Crane Saloon and shot out the lights. Ike was arrested and thrown into the "cooler," but Dan, although the Marshal had emptied his gun at him when he refused to halt, rode away, but returned later in the night, shot the lock off the prison door, liberated his pal, and they both escaped to their ranch in No Man's Land, from which point, a few days later, Dan sent the Marshal two dollars to pay for the lock he had broken.

He told me how Mike Winters had been arrested and thrown in, for no worse crime than that of wrapping his billiard cue around the hand of an innocent bystander, and how the Marshal had forgotten to search him, and the next morning he was gone, having with his hunting-knife dug his way out beneath the walls. After this a cement floor was placed in the building, to guard against another such jail-breaking.

He related an incident of three gamblers who were arrested for plying their vocations and sentenced each to thirty days in Jail. A few days later the Mayor decided to pardon them, on condition that they would leave town. When the Marshal went to the jail to offer them this proposition, he found two of them entirely destitute of clothing. Some one had passed a deck of cards through the window, and one of the inmates had won the entire wardrobe of the other two, in a friendly game of poker, and had insisted upon an immediate delivery of the goods. When this informa-


tion was conveyed to the Mayor he promptly revoked the pardon.

He recounted a romance in which the participants were a man and a woman, convicted on the same day,—he of disorderly conduct, she of vagrancy. Both were fined, and sentenced to stand committed until fine and costs were paid. Neither party having the necessary funds, the court was in a dilemma, as the jail was not provided with suitable accommodations for lady guests. The defendants relieved the situation and solved the quandary by offering to get married. A collection was accordingly taken up, a license procured, the Justice performed the ceremony gratis, and the honeymoon was celebrated in the old calaboose.

Perhaps the saddest occurrence in the history of the old building was the late of Jake Cowan. Jake had had trouble with a neighbor, Dave Williams, over a boundary fence; hot words and threats had passed. One morning Dave was found dead in the road a short distance from Jake's house, with a bullet in his brain. A post-mortem examination disclosed that the bullet had been fired from a 38-calibre Colt's revolver. Such a weapon was found in Jake's possession, with one empty chamber. This circumstance, together with the known enmity existing between the two men, and Jake's inability to prove an alibi, resulted in his conviction. The jury returned its verdict at midnight, and Jake was led back to the jail to await sentence. On the following morning when the jailer unlocked the door he was confronted with the lifeless body of Jake, swinging from a rafter, his feet scarcely more than three inches from the floor. The jail was furnished with sleeping-cots, the




bed of which, instead of the ordinary wire spring, or canvas, consisted of rope; and of this rope the prisoner had secured a sufficient length to pass around his neck and attach to a rafter, after which he had kicked away the box on which he stood to adjust the noose, and was left suspended.

Years afterwards another man, on his deathbed, confessed to having fired the shot that killed Dave Williams, and the circumstances and particulars which he related left no doubt of his guilt. His confession, however, came too late to help poor Jake, except to clear his memory from the ignominy of crime.

In the rear of the modem building facing Main street still stands the old calaboose The storms of many winters, the scorching suns of many summers, have left their marks upon it. Men have come and men have gone, but it still stands, mute reminder of the thrilling incidents of pioneer days. If those gray and weather-beaten walls could speak, what tales they might unfold of crime, of intrigue, of adventure, of suffering, of remorse, and of repentance. It is the one ancient landmark by which the bustling city of today is recognized as the grown-up village that marked this spot a quarter of a century ago; the one link that connects the present with the all-but-forgotten past; the "open sesame" that unlocks the door to memory's cavern and brings forth the rich treasures of early local history for the entertainment and information of the curious or reflective minds of this generation.



[Note: The following listing was prepared by transcriber.]

Ballard, John P. and wife
Ben, Uncle
Bird, M. A. and family
Bisbee, B. F.
Bros, Perry
Byrns, A. Jack
Cash, L. C.
Club, The Meade Checker
Cordes, John and family
Dalgarn, Chester
Damon and Pythias
Edwards, Don T.
Ellis, J. H.
Fick, F. W.
Hulburt, Chet
Jobling, Billy
Keith, J. O. and family
Kirchner, H. H.
Murphy, Tom
Paden, A. J.
Painter, R. M.
Pick, Louise
Price, J. S.
Price, Mrs. J. S.
Pythias and Damon
Roberts, A. B.
Roberts, G. W.
Sourbeer, Frank and family
Stamper, J. I.
Steele, R. E.
Stevens, O. R.
Stout, Bert
Sullivan, Frank Seymour and family
Underwood, C. A.
Underwood, Mrs. C. A.
Way, M. M.
Wilson, Morton
Wilson, Mrs. Morton
Wolfe, Willis
Wysong, D. P.
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