Highlights from the
Leadville Weekly Herald
140 Years Ago
Eleven Prisoners Make a Desperate Attempt to Leave the City Jail,
But Find Themselves
Surrounded by a Cordon of Unsympathetic Police.
Saturday, Sept. 3, 1881
Yesterday morning, the thieves and thugs, bunko steerers and dead-beats confined in the city jail made a dash for liberty, which, however, was unsuccessful. Jailor Haas received information from one of the better-behaved prisoners thirty-six hours before that the attempt was to be made at breakfast time to get away. Mr. Haas notified the marshal and preparations were made accordingly.
At the breakfast hour there is usually nobody on deck at the jail but the cook, William Robinson, and the night jailor, Hanson, but in anticipation of the break, the guards Billy Olds and Jim Roberts remained at the jail overnight, and Captain Flood, Sergeant Connolly and Officers Bradbury, Rafferty and McCallum were on hand for the fun. Believing that they would first attempt the back way, Flood, Connolly and Lafferty took stations there, while Bradbury, McCallum and the two jail guards were on guard in front.
The prisoners, a gang of eleven, about half of those now in the jail, had finished their breakfast and were about to be marched from the dining room to the jail below when the break was made. Harry Mack and Dan Laughlin were on the lead, closely followed by Mike Collins and others of the gang. Eight of them had gone out of the dining room when they broke for the back entrance to the yard. Three were yet in the dining room, and Robinson, the cook, pulled from his pocket an old broken pistol that could not be cocked and not a cartridge in one of the chambers, and presenting it at the three men who were not yet out, crying, “Get back you male descendants of a female canine!” or words to that effect. The three men got back without delay.
Meanwhile, the other eight had rushed toward the back door, and in an instant stood face to face with Flood, Connolly and Lafferty, each of them with cocked revolvers presented and all grinning as though they had funny thoughts about something. The jail birds could see nothing laughable in looking into the muzzles of six big pistols, however, and they made a right-about-face with military promptness. Those who noticed Mike Collins’ face said it was pale as death and he was evidently the worst scared man in ten states.
The men were not disposed to give up the attempt so easily, however, and made a break for the hall leading to the front office, but just as they opened the door and Mack and Laughlin sprung forward at their head, the cook shouted, “Look out for them!” and Bradbury, McCallum, Olds and Roberts confronted them with a pistol apiece. This effectually dampened the ardor of the prisoners, and they walked sullenly back to the jail.
Collins kindly explained to the officers that he was only looking for a little fresh air, and he wouldn’t try to get away, O no! Mack, however, gave them divine warning that he would escape the first chance he got, and that he expected to get a chance before long. He was assured that the men were running a big risk of their lives. “Why, you wouldn’t shoot a man for simply running away from a guard, would you?” queried Mack of Olds and Roberts. “Most assuredly we would,” they replied.
There is no doubt but that these men will make a more determined effort to escape at some other time. The jail is not well guarded at all times, and those men know it. At night Mr. Hanson is there alone, and there is more business at night than in the day time. Very frequently policemen have brought law-breakers to the jail, delivered them to Hanson, and then gone back to their beats, leaving the jailor to take the man below and lock him up. It would be easy when he unlocks the prison to put the man in for the fellows inside to knock him down or run over him and effect their escape. The policemen who make the arrest will hereafter stand guard over the jail while the jailor locks the new men in. But there ought to be another guard on duty at night. Olds and Roberts have their hands full in working the chain gang and attending to the other duties of the prison in the day time, and there should certainly be an additional guard. Especially should there be at the present time, for there is a harder and more villainous gang in the jail now than was ever known to be there before.
The fellow Laughlin, though the smallest man in the crowd, has the biggest spirit, and has the courage to lead in such a desperate enterprise, while Mack is not far behind him. Collins is not so much to be feared. He is a sneak and a coward, and while he might cut a man’s throat in the dark, he will not hurt anybody very much when there is danger to his own precious body.
Had the matter been kept secret by the villains, the attempt to escape yesterday would have proved successful. A second attempt would be accompanied by more danger than the first one was, but these men are willing to take some desperate chances. Most of them have been high-toned, well-dressed thieves, and it galls them to be obliged to work on the streets, or in fact to work at all. Fastening a ball and chain upon them is also very bitter, and the added proposition to set them to work on Harrison avenue, right in view of their old associates and the men they have fleeced in times past, is simply horrible. So far they have been employed in shoveling gravel down in California gulch where nobody sees them and it is not so hard on them. The three heavy balls and chains ornament the ankles of Tom Sullivan, Harry Mack and Dan Laughlin, and the smaller ones are worn by Mike Collins, Frank Anderson and C. W. Dickenson.
The marshal has telegraphed to Chicago for six more of this kind of jewelry, which will be attached to the ankles of others of the prisoners when they arrive. A lot of new locks have also been procured, and the chaps who try to make a living by preying upon the property of other people will learn that they are not wanted in Leadville.