Front Cover
 Front Matter
 General editor's preface
 Half Title
 Title Page
 Publisher's preface
 Chapter I
 Chapter II
 Chapter III
 Chapter IV
 Chapter V
 Chapter VI
 Chapter VII
 Chapter VIII
 Chapter IX
 Chapter X
 Chapter XI
 Chapter XII
 Chapter XIII
 Chapter XIV
 Chapter XV
 Chapter XVI
 Chapter XVII
 Chapter XVIII
 Chapter XVIII
 Chapter XIX
 Chapter XX


American Siberia
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00101149/00001
 Material Information
Title: American Siberia
Abbreviated Title: Bicentennial Floridiana reprint series
Physical Description: 355 p. : illus., port. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Powell, J. C. (James Clatie) ( Author )
Rogers, William Warren ( Introduction, Index )
Publisher: University Presses of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: 1976
Copyright Date: 1976
Edition: Reproduction of 1891 edition
Subjects / Keywords: Convict labor -- Florida   ( lcsh )
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 2923402
lccn - 76044514
isbn - 0813003725
System ID: UF00101149:00001


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Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page i
        Page ii
    Front Matter
        Page iii
        Page iv
    General editor's preface
        Page v
        Page vi
        Page vii
        Page viii
        Page ix
        Page x
        Page xi
        Page xii
        Page xiii
        Page xiv
        Page xv
        Page xvi
        Page xvii
        Page xviii
        Page xix
        Page xx
        Page xxi
        Page xxii
        Page xxiii
        Page xxiv
        Page xxv
        Page xxvi
    Half Title
        Page xxvii
        Page xxviii
    Title Page
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Publisher's preface
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
    Chapter I
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
    Chapter II
        Page 27
        Page 28
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page 44
        Page 45
    Chapter III
        Page 46
        Page 47
        Page 48
        Page 49
        Page 50
        Page 51
        Page 52
        Page 53
        Page 54
        Page 55
        Page 56
        Page 57
        Page 58
        Page 59
        Page 60
        Page 61
        Page 62
        Page 63
        Page 64
    Chapter IV
        Page 65
        Page 66
        Page 67
        Page 68
        Page 69
        Page 70
        Page 71
        Page 72
        Page 73
        Page 74
        Page 75
        Page 76
        Page 77
        Page 78
        Page 79
        Page 80
        Page 81
        Page 82
        Page 83
    Chapter V
        Page 84
        Page 85
        Page 86
        Page 87
        Page 88
        Page 89
        Page 90
        Page 91
        Page 92
        Page 93
        Page 94
        Page 95
        Page 96
        Page 97
        Page 98
        Page 99
        Page 100
        Page 101
        Page 102
        Page 103
    Chapter VI
        Page 104
        Page 105
        Page 106
        Page 107
        Page 108
        Page 109
        Page 110
        Page 111
        Page 112
        Page 113
        Page 114
        Page 115
        Page 116
        Page 117
        Page 118
        Page 119
        Page 120
    Chapter VII
        Page 121
        Page 122
        Page 123
        Page 124
        Page 125
        Page 126
        Page 127
        Page 128
        Page 129
        Page 130
        Page 131
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
    Chapter VIII
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
        Page 147
        Page 148
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
    Chapter IX
        Page 154
        Page 155
        Page 156
        Page 157
        Page 158
        Page 159
        Page 160
        Page 161
        Page 162
        Page 163
        Page 164
        Page 165
        Page 166
        Page 167
        Page 168
    Chapter X
        Page 169
        Page 170
        Page 171
        Page 172
        Page 173
        Page 174
        Page 175
        Page 176
        Page 177
        Page 178
        Page 179
        Page 180
        Page 181
        Page 182
        Page 183
        Page 184
        Page 185
    Chapter XI
        Page 186
        Page 187
        Page 188
        Page 189
        Page 190
        Page 191
        Page 192
        Page 193
        Page 194
        Page 195
        Page 196
        Page 197
        Page 198
        Page 199
        Page 200
        Page 201
        Page 202
        Page 203
        Page 204
        Page 205
    Chapter XII
        Page 206
        Page 207
        Page 208
        Page 209
        Page 210
        Page 211
        Page 212
        Page 213
        Page 214
        Page 215
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        Page 217
        Page 218
        Page 219
        Page 220
        Page 221
        Page 222
        Page 223
        Page 224
        Page 225
        Page 226
        Page 227
    Chapter XIII
        Page 228
        Page 229
        Page 230
        Page 231
        Page 232
        Page 233
        Page 234
        Page 235
        Page 236
        Page 237
        Page 238
        Page 239
        Page 240
        Page 241
        Page 242
    Chapter XIV
        Page 243
        Page 244
        Page 245
        Page 246
        Page 247
        Page 248
        Page 249
        Page 250
        Page 251
        Page 252
        Page 253
        Page 254
        Page 255
        Page 256
        Page 257
        Page 258
        Page 259
    Chapter XV
        Page 260
        Page 261
        Page 262
        Page 263
        Page 264
        Page 265
        Page 266
        Page 267
        Page 268
        Page 269
        Page 270
        Page 271
        Page 272
        Page 273
        Page 274
    Chapter XVI
        Page 275
        Page 276
        Page 277
        Page 278
        Page 279
        Page 280
        Page 281
        Page 282
        Page 283
        Page 284
        Page 285
        Page 286
        Page 287
        Page 288
    Chapter XVII
        Page 289
        Page 290
        Page 291
        Page 292
        Page 293
        Page 294
        Page 295
        Page 296
        Page 297
        Page 298
        Page 299
        Page 300
    Chapter XVIII
        Page 301
        Page 302
        Page 303
        Page 304
        Page 305
        Page 306
        Page 307
        Page 308
        Page 309
        Page 310
        Page 311
        Page 312
    Chapter XVIII
        Page 313
        Page 314
        Page 315
        Page 316
        Page 317
        Page 318
        Page 319
        Page 320
        Page 321
        Page 322
        Page 323
        Page 324
        Page 325
        Page 326
        Page 327
        Page 328
        Page 329
        Page 330
    Chapter XIX
        Page 331
        Page 332
        Page 333
        Page 334
        Page 335
        Page 336
        Page 337
        Page 338
        Page 339
    Chapter XX
        Page 340
        Page 341
        Page 342
        Page 343
        Page 344
        Page 345
        Page 346
        Page 347
        Page 348
        Page 349
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        Page 351
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        Page 353
        Page 354
        Page 355
        Page 356
        Page 357
        Page 358
        Page 359
        Page 360
        Page 361
        Page 362
        Index 1
        Index 2
        Index 3
        Index 4
        Index 5
        Index 6
        Index 7
        Index 8
        Index 9
        Index 10
Full Text








published under the sponsorship of the
SAMUEL PROCTOR, General Editor


All rights reserved

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Powell, J C
The American Siberia.
(Bicentennial Floridiana facsimile series)
"A University of Florida book."
Photoreprint ed. of the ed. published by H. J.
Smith, Philadelphia, which was issued as no. 1 of
The golden series.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Convict labor-Florida. I. Title. II. Se-
ries. III. Series: The golden series ; no. 1
[HV8929.F7P823 1976] 365'.65'09759 76-44514
ISBN 0-8130-0372-5


Governor Reubin O'D. Askew, Honorary Chairman
Lieutenant Governor J. H. Williams, Chairman
Harold W. Stayman, Jr., Vice Chairman
William R. Adams, Executive Director

Dick J. Batchelor, Orlando
Johnnie Ruth Clarke, St. Petersburg
A. H. "Gus" Craig, St. Augustine
James J. Gardener, Fort Lauderdale
Jim Glisson, Tavares
Mattox Hair, Jacksonville
Thomas L. Hazouri, Jacksonville
Ney C. Landrum, Tallahassee
Mrs. Raymond Mason, Jacksonville
Carl C. Mertins, Jr., Pensacola
Charles E. Perry, Miami
W. E. Potter, Orlando
F. Blair Reeves, Gainesville
Richard R. Renick, Coral Gables
Jane W. Robinson, Cocoa
Mrs. Robert L. Shevin, Tallahassee
Don Shoemaker, Miami
Mary L. Singleton, Jacksonville
Bruce A. Smathers, Tallahassee
Alan Trask, Fort Meade


Edward J. Trombetta, Tallahassee
Ralph D. Turlington, Tallahassee
William S. Turnbull, Orlando
Robert Williams, Tallahassee
Lori Wilson, Merritt Island


Use the pruning knife with "a fearless and impartial
hand" was the strong recommendation of George F.
Drew, Florida's Redeemer governor, to the legislature
in 1877. He deplored the $40,000 a year that it cost to
maintain the state penitentiary, and he urged that con-
victs be leased to private employers who would care
for them and also pay an annual fee to the state. The
lease system was not new to Florida; it had been util-
ized in a limited way even before the Civil War.
Florida, however, was the last southern state to adopt
the system officially. The legislation in 1877 inaugu-
rated a state convict leasing system and authorized a
similar arrangement at the county level.
From an economic point of view, leasing of convicts
made sense. In the first year of operation, the system
saved Florida $4,600. But there were other problems,
not the least of which were the safety and mortality of
the prisoners. For an able-bodied man to be leased out
for as long as seven years was the equivalent of capital
punishment. Prison mortality figures were usually hid-
den, but an observer needed no document to substanti-
ate the horrors of the system. The prisoners were
worked from daylight to dark, and punishment was in-
flicted on the slightest provocation. According to one

eyewitness: "Theirs is a grievous lot; a thousand times
more grievous than the law ever contemplated."
Yet with all the cruelty, there were many apologists
for the system. Some argued that the convicts benefited
from being worked regularly, and that since most of
them were accustomed to outdoor life, it was more
humane and healthful than cooping them up within
walls. The convicts were more reliable and productive
than was free labor, and it was argued that they were
needed on the railroads, in the turpentine camps, and
in the mines that were so essential to the New South's
economy. The biggest asset, however, in the minds of
the Democratic Bourbons, was that Florida enjoyed a
clear profit. There was little concern for the economic
and political corruption which the system spurred, and
neither the politicians nor the public cared too much
about the fact that the prisoners all too often suffered
from malnutrition, vermin, beatings, and from inde-
scribable filth. Nevertheless, opinion slowly formed
against leasing the convicts when experience showed
that the abuses were virtually impossible to eliminate.
The system began to be discarded around 1890 in state
after state throughout the South, being replaced by the
contractor public account systems. In 1904, only four
southern states-Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Vir-
ginia-still utilized the lease. Virginia moved to end it
by legislative action in 1901, Georgia followed in 1908,
and Florida in 1924. Alabama closed the door on this
"relic of barbarism" in 1928.
The Progressive period saw many social changes
occurring on the American scene. These included a



much more enlightened attitude toward care and re-
habilitation of convicts. It is ironic that Florida, which
had participated so actively in the brutal convict lease
system, established a model penitentiary at Raiford.
J. S. Blitch, who had helped organize the political
campaign which made Sidney J. Catts governor in
1917, became superintendent of the prison in 1918 after
first serving as the governor's secretary. Catts took a
genuine interest in prison conditions, frequently visiting
the facilities at Raiford. He and Blitch made Raiford a
national model of penal reform. One student of Florida
prison reform concluded that the convicts there were
"better cared for than they had ever been." Blitch was
described as "one of the outstanding prison superinten-
dents in the United States." There was, of course, an-
other side to the story. The disappearance of "the
American Siberia" from the Florida and southern scene
did not eliminate the persistent evils that characterized
it. Prisoners still suffered neglect and brutality, but in-
creasingly in the twentieth century persistent efforts of
public-spirited citizens, women's and civic clubs, and
trained criminologists have sponsored reforms in the
South and throughout the nation.
The story that John C. Powell tells in The American
Siberia, the volume which Professor William Warren
Rogers has edited in the Facsimile series, is a horrifying
one. Based as it is upon Powell's own actual experiences
in Florida, it calls for reflection as the state and nation
celebrate the Bicentennial. It is a time to remember not
only the great moments of our past, but to reveal the
valleys of our history also, and to determine the prog-



ress that we have made in the direction of change and
reform. The ultimate has not yet been achieved; con-
tinual support and concern are needed.
Powell's The American Siberia or Fourteen Years'
Experience in a Southern Convict Camp is one of the
volumes in the Bicentennial Floridiana Facsimile Series
published by the University Presses of Florida for the
American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Flor-
ida. The full series includes twenty-five facsimile vol-
umes of rare, out-of-print books which detail Florida's
rich and exciting past. Each volume has been edited by
a specialist, and in the case of The American Siberia by
Professor Rogers. The editor has written a comprehen-
sive introduction and has compiled an index.
William Warren Rogers, a native of Alabama, holds
his degrees from Auburn University and the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has received a
number of important research grants and has published
widely in the areas of Southern, Florida, Georgia, and
Alabama history. He is the author of a multi-volume
history of Thomas County, Georgia, Stephen S. Ren-
froe; Alabama's Outlaw Sheriff, The One Gallused Re-
bellion: Agrarianism in Alabama, 1865-1896, and is co-
author of Labor Revolt in Alabama: The Great Strike
of 1894. He has also contributed articles to numerous
scholarly journals. He is professor of history at the
Florida State University.

University of Florida SAMUEL PROCTOR
General Editor




The American publishing house of H. J. Smith &
Company produced an unusual book in 1891. The pub-
lication, printed in London at the same time by the
firm of Gay and Bird, bore the lengthy but provocative
title of The American Siberia, or Fourteen Years' Ex-
perience in a Southern Convict Camp. Authored by
John C. Powell, the book contained fifteen illustrations
by the artist, H. Mayer.
Powell, then a man of forty, did not look like a liter-
ary person. A full, slightly drooping mustache, a hair-
line that receded far back along his skull, and a gaunt
look combined to give him the appearance of a clerk
or perhaps a farmer. If his countenance was not that
of a writer, it revealed even less his true occupation:
captain of a Florida convict camp.
The details of Powell's biography, particularly his
later life, are almost unknown. He was born and raised
in south Georgia. He and his wife, Lizzie, also a native
of south Georgia, had at least two children, both boys
(another child was accidentally burned to death at the
age of five months). During the period that Powell
writes about, his family maintained residences at dif-
ferent times in Suwannee County, at Live Oak in Madi-
son County, and at Monticello in Jefferson County.'
Working with him from time to time as guards were


his brother, W. F. Powell, and a brother-in-law, R. A.
Nothing is known about Powell's educational back-
ground, but it was singular, if not unprecedented, for
a convict captain to write a book. No doubt his pub-
lishers had editors who aided Powell with his manu-
script, but the writing has a certain style that must
have been the author's own. Obviously, the book was
published in the expectation of attracting readers and
making money. In 1891 the muckraking era was still a
long way from high tide and Progressivism had barely
begun. Across the South the Bourbon Democrats were
at war with the emerging Populists, and while the
agrarians' program included a strong plea for penal re-
form, the main thrust of their demands was for eco-
nomic and political reform. Still, there were a number
of southern editors, politicians, writers, and critics who
condemned the convict leasing system. In The Silent
South, published in 1885, George W. Cable called con-
vict leasing "a disgrace to civilization."2 Mississippi had
abolished the system in 1890, and Tennessee would do
so in 1895.3
The publication of Powell's recollections was un-
doubtedly prompted in part by the success of George
Kennan's recent book on Siberia. Kennan, an author,
lecturer, and newspaperman, had shocked American
readers with his revelations of crime and punishment,
Russian style. A book similar to Kennan's Siberia and


the Exile System, but based on conditions in America,
seemed reasonably sure to attract readers.4
Whatever the motivations of Powell or his publish-
ers, the captain's product was a unique and important
work of lasting value. In his narrative Powell described
from his own experiences what it was like to be a con-
vict captain in the Florida penal system. In doing so,
he detailed how the prisoners were housed, fed, and
clothed, how they were cared for medically, how they
were worked (his description of the brutal "turpentine
process" is both excellent and excruciating), and how
they were disciplined. The system, as Powell explained
it, amounted in fact to an American Siberia. His con-
vincing premise was that the only differences between
the two regions were geographical and climatic.
Powell's story deals with the last half of the nine-
teenth century, but Florida's experience with the in-
carceration of human beings dates back to 1570 when
Spanish soldiers built a prison at St. Augustine, the first
one outside Mexico on the North American continent.5
Much later, as a territory and a state, Florida lagged
behind most of the other southern states in developing
a prison system. For that matter, the South as a whole
lay outside national efforts at prison reform. A large
part of the explanation stemmed from the institution
of slavery. Planters meted out private punishments, al-
though there were also special slave courts. Even so,
all of the southern states except Florida, North Caro-



lina, and South Carolina had established state prisons
by 1860. Florida and the Carolinas then relied on a
system of county jails.6
The end of the Civil War saw an increase in crime
by the whites. If this were not problem enough, the
black population, now free, was no longer subject to
private punishment. Such a situation heavily taxed the
resources of the southern states. Seeking relief, the
South turned to the convict lease system, an expedient
that would become a national scandal before it was
finally abandoned. As the system operated, the state
leased to the highest bidder for a fixed sum all or many
of its convicts. The lessee assumed total responsibility
for the prisoners. Usually, the leases went to mining
companies, planters, politicians, railroad companies, and
lumber and turpentine industries. Not only was the
state relieved of an economic burden, the prisoners be-
came an actual source of income.7 As George W. Cable
acidly wrote, "the penitentiary whose annual report
shows the largest cash balance paid into the State's
treasury is the best." Cable saw the system as "a shame-
ful and disastrous source of revenue."8
Convict leasing victimized both races, but was par-
ticularly harsh on blacks. Negroes were more fre-
quently arrested than whites, and, once brought into
court, were more likely to be convicted. Once the
Bourbons had regained control of state governments,
they enacted laws providing harsh penalties for petty
crimes against property. Blacks were sure to be en-
snared. Lessees were more interested in production



than in the welfare of their prisoners, and one historian
has written that in some ways "the lease system was
harsher than slavery for blacks."9
Immediately after the war, the military and provi-
sional governments in the South experimented with
the lease system, and the Republican regimes that fol-
lowed continued it. Florida had briefly tried leasing
prisoners in the antebellum period, but was the last
southern state to adopt the system officially.10 Republi-
can Governor Harrison Reed saw the need for a state
prison in Florida, and after securing the use of Federal
Arsenal property at Chattahoochee, he supported a bill
establishing the system. Passed in 1868, the act organ-
ized the prison as a military post. It was not long
before complaints were issued about the expenses of
the prison. As a result, the Reed administration leased
some of the prisoners to private contractors and so
inaugurated in Florida the convict lease system.11 In
1871 a law repealed the 1868 legislation and created a
civil institution to replace the military organization,
but the practice of leasing continued.12
Powell's story begins with the transferring of the
reins of political power from the Republicans to the
Democrats. Marcellus L. Stearns, the carpetbagger act-
ing governor from Maine, departed Tallahassee and
was succeeded by a conservative, George F. Drew of
Ellaville, Madison County. Among the problems facing
the Redeemer Democrats, who were committed to a
policy of financial retrenchment and frugality in gov-
ernment, was that posed by the prison population.


Their solution was to continue, extend, and refine what
the Republicans had begun. A law passed in 1877
legally established the state convict lease system. The
same session enacted legislation creating a similar ar-
rangement at the county level.13
Although Powell's book is not concerned with
county prisoners, the system there was, if possible,
worse than that of the state.'4 Besides the distinction
between state and county convict leasing, a separate
but related practice was that of peonage. Complex and
confusing, peonage rested on debt. In some states a
sharecropper unable to pay his debts could be forced
to remain on the owner's plantation. Another form of
peonage originated out of local jails. Inmates squared
their debts by allowing an employer to pay their fines,
and they, in turn, worked out their obligations.15 Not
publicized in Florida until the twentieth century, peon-
age was a direct outgrowth of convict leasing. Un-
scrupulous Florida contractors, especially at the county
level, forced prisoners into debt and retained them as
workers long after their sentences were completed.l6
State implementation by putting the prisoners up for
bids sets the stage for Powell's work. He describes how
Green Chaires, a wealthy planter of Leon County,
leased part of the prison force, while Major H. A.
Wyse obtained the remainder. Wyse used the prisoners
to construct a railroad in northeast Florida, and he
hired Powell as his captain. The prisoners were also
used to work in the endless tracts of pine forests that
covered north Florida. Wyse agreed to supply the firm



of Dutton, Ruff & Jones, headed by Charles K. Dutton
of New York, with "gum." Dutton's firm dealt in tur-
pentine, rosin, and naval stores, and it was up to Powell
and the guards to see to it that the orders were filled.
Soon turpentine camps and subcamps were established
-they were moved from time to time amid much in-
efficiency-as bases. The main camp in the early years
was near Live Oak and bore the melodic but hardly
descriptive name of Sing Sing. The name was probably
derived from the older state prison at Ossining, New
Some three years later the state put the convicts up
for bids again. Major Wyse did not renew his contract,
but Powell stayed on as captain for his new employer,
the East Florida railroad. When in 1882, Charles K.
Dutton became the lessee, Powell was retained once
again. Powell's career was interrupted by a jurisdic-
tional dispute with his superiors, and he resigned, with-
out hard feelings, to engage briefly in farming and the
mercantile business in Jefferson County. In 1890 E. B.
Bailey of Monticello became the lessee. Bailey sub-
leased some of the prisoners to four men who con-
tinued to use them in the turpentine camps. Those he
employed in his own operations were put to work in
the much less demanding business of farming. Yet it
would be Bailey who shifted some of his prisoners to
working in phosphate mines and added a new dimen-
sion of horrors to the system." In need of an experi-
enced captain to supervise the convicts, Bailey turned
to the logical man, John C. Powell. At the time his



book was written, Powell was a convict captain once
Relying almost exclusively on his own recall, Powell
makes spelling errors-Governor Stearns becomes
"Sterns," Major Wyse "Wise," Green Chaires "Cheers,"
and so on. There are examples of awkward punctua-
tion, and many of the principals mentioned are not
supplied with first names. Yet Powell writes clear,
direct sentences, depending on the incredible stories he
is relating to sustain reader interest. On occasion a sort
of sensational, dime-novel construction and mood mar
the prose, but such intrusions are rare. More than mak-
ing up for such shortcomings are the book's strengths.
Certain colloquialisms keep cropping up with re-
freshing regularity. (This editor's favorite is Powell's
penchant for declaring the inevitability of some event
as "morally certain.") His descriptions of subtropical
Florida are vivid, even haunting. Snakes, alligators,
birds, maddening winged insects, and wild animals
come to life in Powell's pages. Florida's relentless heat
can be felt, and its swamps-tangled masses of jungle
vines, luxuriant flowers, trees, treacherous bogs, bushes,
and palmetto clumps-cut through by dark rivers are
authentically portrayed. Powell is good at depicting
the encompassing characteristics of the camps: their
forlornness, how they looked, the materials they were
made of, how they smelled. One can almost hear the
chains rattle and the prisoners moan as they are locked
in after a killing day of work and lie in the darkness
waiting for the strange night sounds to begin. It is im-
possible to remain unmoved by Powell's accounts of



prisoners inadequately clothed and fed and of sick men
and women virtually untended (some camps were deci-
mated by epidemics). Sadistic guards backed by the
authority of gun and lash moved among the prisoners,
always demanding more production.
The author's command of both cracker and black
dialects and speech patterns is sometimes overdrawn
but always believable. His brief but sharply etched
portraits of the people he writes about-country folk,
city rowdies, moonshiners, captains, guards, prisoners,
trusties, employers-provide added authority. The ap-
proach is ruminative and basically chronological.
Within this framework appear episodes and vignettes.
Powell's work is especially valuable for its compel-
ling disclosures. The reader learns that the guards were
usually young men recruited from the neighborhoods
of the camps and poorly paid. One example is given of
a prisoner who escaped and eventually became a guard
himself in Georgia. Most of the prisoners were blacks,
but there was little racial segregation. There were
women prisoners, the vast majority of them Negroes,
and there was little distinction made as to sex. The
prisoners were lumped together regardless of the na-
ture of their crimes. Hardened murderers worked and
lived side by side with youths whose offenses were
often so petty that they defy classification as crimes.
If one goal of incarceration is to reform the prisoner,
the opposite result was achieved in Florida's camps.
Quite possibly the book's main attraction for the
reader of its time was the many accounts of prisoners
who escaped and the subsequent efforts to recapture



them. Powell observes that few prisoners attempted or
committed suicide. Although no official records were
kept of the escapes, many convicts tried to gain their
freedom, and a few succeeded. Powell recounts the
names, personalities, and physical descriptions of es-
capees and the circumstances of their flights. Most
breakouts were desperate and unimaginative: a prisoner
would sever his chains with a work instrument and
dash madly into the woods, or failing that, hobble pain-
fully away, hampered by the ever-present chains, an
easy victim to recapture. Escape would be followed by
an alarm and the quick pursuit by guards and their
dogs (curiously, foxhounds proved to be more effec-
tive trackers than bloodhounds). Then came the tense
moments of overtaking and recapturing the fugitive or
fugitives. So many episodes of escape are treated that
they become the book's major theme. Given the cruel-
ties under which the typical prisoner lived and the fre-
quently unfair severity of his punishment, the reader
follows any given flight with the hope that the con-
vict's escape will be successful.
Deviating from his story line to become philosophi-
cal, Powell speculated on what it was that drove a man
to attempt escape. That some men condemned to life
imprisonment had nothing to lose by taking off was
easily comprehensible. Yet others, having almost com-
pleted their sentences, made impulsive, inexplicable
attempts. Baffled by such behavior, Powell concluded
that at some point life in a turpentine camp could be-



come absolutely unbearable. A man would then be-
come capable of any act, no matter how irrational.
There is no end to the incredible, unpredictable, and
unsuspected information that emerges from the book.
Lessee Green Chaires and his family lived upstairs in
his home while the downstairs was used to house some
thirty or so convicts; if it is not common knowledge
that Lamont is a community in Jefferson County, it is
even less widely circulated that the settlement was also
known as Lickskillet; without detection one prisoner
used his camp time to counterfeit coins so perfect that
they easily passed for the real thing; few men ever
lived so varied an existence as the prisoner Richard
"Dick" Evans, formerly the sheriff and marshal of
Pensacola; Taylor and Lafayette counties were such
havens for escapees and desperadoes that law officials,
fearing for their lives, refused to serve warrants in
them-district judges would convene court in the
counties on Monday and adjourn on Tuesday without
a single case on the docket; Captain Powell's favorite
dogs were named Loud and Music; and in the historic
annals of bribing guards to insure successful escape,
one of Powell's charges may have been unique in offer-
ing an orange grove in return for safe passage out.
Powell emerges as a conscientious but not a cruel
man, certainly a man of personal courage. Although he
often punished prisoners by whipping them or having
them whipped, he did not engage in mindless torture.
He records one example of having shot a man fatally,



but even that was the result of a fusillade laid down by
several guards. He writes of having shot one other man
who later recovered. Without doubt he was unpopular
with the inmates, and in 1879, he, along with several
other men, was indicted for cruelty to prisoners. The
case was dismissed.
The impression emerges from the book that Powell
did not relish his job. At times he defended the system,
but he comprehended that it was barbarous, inflicting
savage physical punishment and laying open psycho-
logical wounds whose scars would never heal. Yet he
was part of a system, and to the best of his abilities,
which were considerable, he carried out his job. In
ending his "desultory memoir," Powell accurately
called it a "frank recital," but he was unhappily in-
accurate in proclaiming convict leasing in Florida "an
institution that is rapidly passing away."
How widely The American Siberia was circulated
is unknown, but it had some impact. In England the
London Spectator's slightly incredulous reviewer
praised it highly, and in 1893 the book was repub-
lished.18 Powell's work may well have influenced Dun-
can U. Fletcher, a young state representative from
Jacksonville. In 1893 Fletcher, later a United States
senator, joined seventeen of his colleagues in an un-
successful attempt to pass an act abolishing the lease
system and creating a state prison.19
The process was a slow one, but as the twentieth
century began, pressure mounted to rid the state of the
inhuman and embarrassing system. More and more



prominent Floridians voiced public opposition to an
institution that would have dishonored the Middle
Ages, and the first real progress came at the county
level. In 1910 Hillsborough County voted to end leas-
ing. Even so, the system died hard, and in 1911 Gov-
ernor Albert W. Gilchrist vetoed a measure that would
have abolished the leasing of state prisoners. Yet during
the Gilchrist era lands were purchased for a state peni-
tentiary at Raiford. Construction went forward, and in
the next few years prisoners who were not leased were
housed there. Elected governor in 1912, Park Trammell
favored ending leasing and supported a bill to that
effect. The administration-backed measure passed the
Florida House but failed in the Senate.20
A legislative act of 1915 limited state leasing to black
males, and finally, in 1919, the system was abolished,
and the prisoners were shuttled into a state convict
road force. Leasing at the county level and its by-
product, peonage, continued.21 Although delayed too
many years, passage of the measure marked the culmi-
nation of a long reform campaign. Aware that humani-
tarian motives were prominent, a close student of Flor-
ida's prison system has suggested the presence of other
impulses. At the time Florida, like other states, was
undergoing a boom in highway expansion. The ad-
vantage of utilizing state convicts in the expensive
process of laying down a network of roads was not
lost on certain officials.22
The tragic and sensational case of Martin Tabert
brought the lease system to its final end. Some counties



had followed the lead of Hillsborough in abolishing
leasing, but others, among them Leon, had not. In
December 1921, Martin Tabert, a twenty-two-year-old
North Dakotan who was exploring the South, was
arrested for hopping a freight train in Tallahassee. Un-
able to pay his fine, Tabert was sentenced to sixty days
in the Leon County jail and then leased to a lumber
company. He was sent to a camp at Clara in Dixie
County and died there in February 1922, flogged to
death by a whipping boss. The young man's parents
were informed that he had died of "fever and other
complications," and more than a year passed before the
real facts were revealed by a fellow convict who had
witnessed the torture.
The New York World ran a series of articles ex-
posing conditions in Florida's convict camps, and news-
papers in Florida published irate editorials. Responding
to a request from the North Dakota legislature, the
Florida legislature established a joint House and Senate
committee to investigate the Tabert matter and con-
sider whether the leasing of county convicts should be
abolished. Certain officials implicated in the case either
lost their jobs or suffered humiliating publicity. The
whipping boss was found guilty of second degree mur-
der, but two years later was granted a new trial and
acquitted. The principals in the Tabert affair got off
light, but even so, the end result was the abolishment
of leasing and of corporal punishment. In 1923 Gov-
ernor Cary Hardee signed separate bills forbidding the



whipping of prisoners and ending forever the lease
In the decades that followed, Florida's prisons, like
those in the rest of the country, would become in-
creasingly overcrowded and inadequate. Yet the con-
vict lease system, as described by John C. Powell in
The American Siberia was no more. As one scholar has
written, it was a system of "cruelty and brutality," one
rarely "equalled in modern times."24

The Florida State University


1. Manuscript Census, 1880, Population, Suwannee County,
Florida, p. 115.
2. George W. Cable, The Silent South (New York, 1885),
p. 172. Curiously, Cable analyzed convict leasing in all the
southern states except Florida. Earlier in the 1880s Cable had
spoken out against leasing both publicly and in the pages of
Century Magazine.
3. Fletcher M. Green, "Some Aspects of the Convict Lease
System in the Southern States," in Essays in Southern History,
ed. Fletcher M. Green (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1949), p. 121.
4. Kennan, a long-time Associated Press reporter, had written
widely for Outlook. His book on Siberia was published in
1891 by the Century Company.
5. James Bacchus, "Shackles in the Sunshine," Orlando (Fla.)
Sentinel Star Sunday Magazine, June 17, 1973. The next two
issues of the magazine, June 23 and June 30, 1973, continued
the series by Bacchus. The prize-winning articles are pene-



treating and well written. They were the outgrowth of a sem-
inar in race relations taken by Bacchus at Yale University and
taught by Professor C. Vann Woodward.
6. Kathleen Falconer Pratt, "The Development of the Florida
Prison System" (M.A. thesis, Florida State University, 1949),
pp. 1-4; N. Gordon Garper, "The Convict-Lease System in
Florida, 1866-1923" (Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1964),
pp. 1-8.
7. For perceptive comments, see C. Vann Woodward, Ori-
gins of the New South (Baton Rouge, La., 1951), pp. 212-15;
see also Hilda Zimmerman, "Penal Systems and Penal Reforms
in the South since the Civil War" (Ph.D. diss., University of
North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1947), passim.
8. Cable, The Silent South, pp. 124, 126.
9. Bacchus, "Shackles in the Sunshine," June 17, 1973.
10. Carper, "Convict-Lease System in Florida," pp. 3, 10.
11. Florida Acts and Resolutions, 1868, c. 1635, pp. 35-43;
Carper, "Convict-Lease System in Florida," pp. 14-15; see also
Jerrell H. Shofner, Nor Is It Over Yet: Florida in the Era of
Reconstruction, -1863-1877 (Gainesville, Fla., 1974), p. 217.
12. Florida Acts and Resolutions, 1871, c. 1835, pp. 17-23;
Carper, "Convict-Lease System in Florida," p. 27.
13. Florida Acts and Resolutions, 1877, c. 3034, pp. 92-95;
c. 2090, p. 32; c. 2092, p. 38; for data on convict leasing in the
mid-1880s, see U.S. Congress, House of Representatives, House
Executive Documents, 49th Congress, 2d, sess., vol. 1, part 5, pp.
52, 381-93.
14. Carper, "Convict-Lease System in Florida," pp. 187-217.
15. Pete Daniel, The Shadow of Slavery: Peonage in the
South, 1901-1969 (Urbana, Ill., 1972), pp. 24-25; for demon-
strating the difference between peonage and the convict lease
system, Daniel gives substantial credit to Dan T. Carter, "Prison,
Politics, and Business: The Convict Lease System in the Post-
Civil War South" (M.A. thesis, University of Wisconsin, Mad-
ison, 1964).
16. Carper, "Convict-Lease System in Florida," pp. 204-329.
17. Ibid., pp. 97-98, 109.
18. London Spectator, January 30, 1892, pp. 143-44. The sec-
ond publisher was the Chicago firm of W. B. Conkley Com-
pany. The American Siberia has been reprinted twice in re-
cent years. In 1969 Arno Press and the New York Times
reprinted the work without an introduction or an index. In
1970 Patterson-Smith of Montclair, N.J., brought it out in the



Reprint Series in Criminology, Law Enforcement, and Social
Problems. The Patterson-Smith edition has an index and a brief
but informative foreword by Blake McKelvey, an authority on
American prisons.
19. Wayne, Flint, Duncan Upshaw Fletcher: Dixie's Reluc-
tant Progressive (Tallahassee, Fla., 1971), p. 28.
20. Carper, "Convict-Lease System in Florida," pp. 273, 281-
85; Pratt, "Development of the Florida Prison System," pp.
21. Florida Acts and Resolutions, 1915, c. 6916, pp. 255-57;
1919, c. 7833, pp. 101-2; Carper, "Convict-Lease System in
Florida," pp. 294-95, 301-3.
22. Bacchus, "Shackles in the Sunshine," June 17, 1973.
23. Florida Acts and Resolutions, 1923, c. 9332, pp. 413-14;
c. 9202, pp. 231-35. Bacchus, Carper, and Pratt all cover the
details of the Tabert case well. See also Carper, "Martin Tabert,
Martyr of an Era," Florida Historical Quarterly 52 (October
1973): 115-31. For the case's larger setting, see George Brown
Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 1913 -1945 (Baton
Rouge, La., 1967), pp. 213-14.
24. Green, "Aspects of the Convict Lease System," p. 115.




Fourteen Years' Experience in a Southern Con-
vict Camp





Fourteen Years' Experience in
vict Camp

a Southern Con-



H. J. SMITH & Co

Entered according to act of congress in the year eighteen hundred and
ninety-one, by H. J. Smith & Company, in the office of the Libra-
rian of Congress, at Washington, D. C.


The countless thousands who have read George
Kennan's sketches of exile life in Siberia with awe
and interest will be surprised and shocked to learn
that the terrible cruelties he there depicts have
their counterpart in the convict-lease system of one
of our Southern States. Were it not for climatic
and race conditions the reader could easily fancy
that. "The American Siberia" is taken from Mr.
Kennan's writings so far as working, feeding,
sleeping, guarding, and punishing the prisoners are
To the horrors with which Mr. Kennan has made
us acquainted Captain Powell has added the track-
ing of the fugitives with trained blood-hounds-a
system compelled by the vast extent of uninhabitable
forest and morass abounding in Florida-and has
given us pen-pictures of the lawlessness which
obtains not only among the desperadoes of that
region but among the untutored backwoodsmen as
well, which will prove a revelation to the reader.
Being an advocate of the convict-lease system as
the one best suited to the present state of affairs
in Florida, Captain Powell cannot be charged with
exaggeration in his presentation of the actual work-
ings of that system; his volume is, therefore,
worthy of careful consideration.
Abounding in thrilling anecdotes of daring advent.


ure, desperate deed, narrow escape, ludicrous sit-
uation, humorous repartee, pathetic incident, pictur-
esque description of southern scenes and simple rus-
tic life among a people, many of whom have never
been beyond the confines of their own country, the
"American Siberia" is offered to the public with the
full conviction that it will prove an interesting and
an instructive volume.
The Publishers.
Chicago, April i, i891.


Before inviting the attention of the readers to
this little work, I beg to offer a few words of ex-
planation. It is not a record, not a running his-
tory, but simply a narrative of those incidents in
fourteen years experience which, by virtue of their
unusual character, have retained a fixed place in my
memory. My first object has been to present them
in an entertaining form, and while I have adhered
strictly to facts, I have largely omitted those
dates and statistics which might give my work
official weight at the cost of interest.
I have devoted the best years of my life to the
management of the lease system of Florida, and my
most earnest thought to its improvement. None
know its defects better than I, and none are better
aware that they spring from conditions alone. We
have little material for skilled labor among the crim-
inals of the South. The bulk of our convicts are
negroes who could not by any possibility learn a
trade, and how to employ them at anything save the
simplest manual toil is a problem not yet solved.
The camp system involves a discipline peculiar to
itself. There are many things about it which may
seem harsh, stringent and cruel, and would be, in
a northern penitentiary, but are stern necessities


here. Without them the prisoners could not be
kept together for two consecutive days. There is
a vast difference, in short, between stone walls and
open fields, and what follows should be construed
in that light.
I feel this much due not only to myself but to
those lessees who have been my principals, and
whose good faith I never had occasion to question.



In the fall of 1876 a singular spectacle might
have been observed at the little town of Live Oak,
in Northern Florida. A train had just arrived, and
from one of the cars some thirty odd men disem-
barked and formed in irregular procession by the
road-side. The sun never shone upon a more abject
picture of misery and dilapidation. They were
gaunt, haggard, famished, wasted with disease,
smeared with grime, and clad in filthy tatters.
Chains clattered about their trembling limbs, and
so inhuman was their aspect that the crowd of
curiosity seekers who had assembled around the
depot shrank back appalled.
These thirty starved and half-dying wretches
were about half of the convicts of the State of
Florida. They were those who had emerged alive
from as awful an experience as men were ever fated
to undergo. Florida had shortly before passed from
radical rule. Governor Sterns had been superseded
by George F. Drew, now a merchant in Jacksonville,
and with the change of administration came a gen-


eral overhauling of state institutions, including the
penal system. Prior to that time a penitentiary
had been maintained in a very old building at Chat-
tahoochee, since remodeled and used as an insane
asylum. The state was poor, largely unsettled,
torn with political strife, and as might have been
expected, the prison was run in a rather happy-go-
lucky fashion, and the history of its early years is
a story of experiments, expedients and make-shifts
of which little or no record was kept.
I do not pretend to say whose fault it was. A
man named Martin was warden, and the place was
horror's den. He had been placed in charge of the
building during the war, at a time when it was used
as an arsenal. The state got rid of its criminals
by turning them over bodily to him, and paid him
bonuses amounting to over $30,000 for accepting the
charge. He had vast vineyards and worked the con-
victs in them, manufacturing all kinds of wine, at
which he made a fortune. There were no restric-
tions whatever placed upon him by the state. The
punishments consisted of stringing up by the
thumbs, "sweating" and "watering." The first ex-
plains itself; sweating was shutting up in a close
box-cell without ventilation or light; and the last
named was no less than the celebrated torture prac-
ticed during the Spanish Inquisition under the
name of the "ordeal by water." Accounts of it
given by historians are almost identical with the
method then in vogue at Chattahoochee. The pris-



oner was strapped down, a funnel forced into his
mouth and water poured in. The effect was to enor-
mously distend the stomach, producing not only
great agony but a sense of impending death, due to
pressure on the heart, that unnerved the stoutest.
When deaths occurred, as they did quite frequently,
the remains were wrapped in a blanket and buried
in a shallow trench that barely covered the remains
from the air. Some horrible stories, too revolting
to repeat in detail, are told of graves desecrated by
domestic animals, and there wa& no record kept of
the dead or those who escaped. In brief, the state
turned over its charges body and soul, and thence-
forth washed its hands of them. And this was not
in the middle ages or Siberia, but in these United
States, about a decade and a half ago.
During this administration escapes were frequent,
and there are some tragic stories connected with
them. The guards were often negro convicts, and
the old maxim of slavery days, that a black overseer
was the cruelest to his race, was proven time and
again. One day a prisoner, a white man, made his
escape and succeeded in penetrating the wilds of
La Fayette County, some seventy miles to the
south. In that section of Florida there are not
only dense and trackless forests, but they are inter-
sected by wide lagoons and palmetto flats, in which
the tropical monotony of the scene is such that a
man may wander for days and not be positive that
he has made any actual progress. None dare vent-



ure into these wastes save trained backwoodsmen,
and even they are often lost in the forest laby-
In this natural man-trap the convict found him-
self. It was impossible to track him through such
a jungle, infested as it was by wild beasts, alliga-
tors and horrible reptile life from the swamps, and
there he was left to his fate. Months afterward a
party of adventurous hunters discovered a sodden
bundle of rags in a very lonely spot in the woods.
They disturbed the unsightly rubbish and lay bare
the bones of a man. The tatters of clothing bore
the tell-tale prison stripes, and by a peculiarity of
the shoes, one of them being a convict's brogan
and the other a gaiter, the remains were identified
as those of the fugitive who had disappeared in
the forest. It was a dreadful death, alone in that
awful solitude, and could the story of what he suf-
fered be told in its entirety it would doubtless put
romance to shame.
The story of this regime is one of almost unre-
lieved barbarity, and the absence of records make
it almost impossible to give an idea of the state of
affairs, except by isolated instances. For example:
the guards were armed with muskets and bayonets.
The latter were carried fixed, and when the squads
returned at night they were called into frequent
requisition to keep laggards in line. Often a man
would drop of fatigue, and he would be instantly
and mercilessly prodded with the cruel steel.



The legs and backs of nearly all of the convicts
were covered with the scars of bayonet-wounds.
The squads were run in, in this manner, to make it
possible to work them up to the latest moment.
On one occasion there was a prisoner who gave con-
siderable trouble by reason of his frequent attempts
to escape. His name has been lost, but his number
was forty-seven. At last he formed a plot to levant
through one of the windows, and a fellow-prisoner
who was in his confidence betrayed him to the offi-
cers. This furnished a good opportunity to get rid
of him, and guards were stationed before the win-
dows all night, to kill him as he came out. How-
ever, he suspected something wrong, and did not
come. Next morning he was placed in the black-
smith shop and purposely left alone near an open
window. The temptation was too great and he
made his way through, to be shot dead by a guard
who lay ambushed for him outside. I have these
statements from the then deputy warden of the
prison, who is now a resident of Jacksonville, and
there is no doubt of their accuracy.
At last, shortly before the close of Governor
Stern's administration, a great scandal, growing out
of these atrocities, became so imminent, that a sort
of compromise between the prison and the lease
systems was effected. The convicts were divided;
about half were sent to build a railroad between St.
John and Lake Eustace, and the balance were left
under Martin. It was hardly an improvement.



The line of the proposed railroad was through a
virgin wilderness; there seems to have been no at-
tention whatever paid to proper equipment, and
the story of that terrible journey stands unparal-
leled in criminal annals. Dozens of those who
went into the tropical marshes and palmetto jun-
gles of Lake Eustace went to certain death. There
was no provision made for either shelter or sup-
plies. Rude huts were built of whatever material
came to hand, and in the periods of heavy rain it
was no unusual thing for the convicts to awake in
the morning half submerged in mud and slime.
The commissary department dwindled into nothing.
I do not mean that there was some food or a little
food, but that there was no food at all. In this
extremity, the convicts were driven to live as the
wild beasts, except that they were only allowed the
briefest intervals from labor to scour the woods for
food. They dug up roots and cut the tops from
"cabbage" palmetto trees. Noble Hawkins, a ten-
year Nassau convict, lived for fourteen days on
nothing but palmetto tops and a little salt, and his
case was but one of many.
Of course there is a limit to human endurance.
It was not long before the camp was ravaged by
every disease induced by starvation and exposure.
The pestilential swamps were full of fever, and
skin maladies; scurvy and pneumonia ran riot.
Dysentery was most common, and reduced the men
to a point of emaciation difficult to describe or to



credit. Every stopping-place was a shambles, and
the line of survey is punctuated by grave-yards.
The camp was at different times in charge of va-
rious captains, and under some of them the pun-
ishments were excessive. Hanging up by the
thumbs was usually resorted to, and this led, one
night, to a grisly tragedy. A negro convict was
strung up for some infraction of the rules. Whip-
cords were fastened around his thumbs, the loose
ends flung over a convenient limb and made taut
until his toes swung clear of the ground. The
scared convicts huddled about the camp-fire and
watched their comrade as he writhed, and yelled ex-
pecting every moment that the cords would be un-
fastened and his agony ended. But the captain had
determined to make a salutary example, and he let
the negro hang. Meantime the poor wretch's an-
guish was a hideous thing to see. They say his
muscles knotted into cramps under the strain, his
eyes started from his head, and sweat ran from his
body in streams. An hour passed-then two. His
shrieks had ceased and his struggles grown feeble,
so they let him down and he fell to the ground like
a log-dead.
It was then that the captain realized what a mon-
strous thing he had done, and he deserted his post,
slunk away in the night, and was never heard of
again. Here was a study for an artist. Night in
the palmetto woods, the flaming camp-fire outlin-
ing the circle of frightened convicts and the miser-



able barracks where they slept, the distorted corpse
upon the ground, and the panic-stricken officer
creeping away among the trees.
Soon after the Drew administration assumed the
state government, the horrible condition of affairs
which I have outlined forced a change of some
character. The building at Chattahoochee was en-
tirely unsuited for prison purposes, and the lease
system was turned to, as a last resort, very much
as was the case when Georgia was saddled with
that institution. Advertisement was made for bids
and the Lake Eustace gang hired to Major H. A.
Wise, a general merchant of Live Oak. The bal-
ance were sub-leased to Green Cheers, a farmer who
lived in Leon County. My brother, W. F. Powell,
and myself were employed by Major Wise to take
charge of his camp, and thus began the system
which has been more or less under my eye ever
The ragged battalion who disembarked at Live
Oak were the survivors of those who had penetrated
the wild morasses of Lake Eustace. The major
part of them were negroes, but it was impossible to
tell, as they stood, who were white and who were
black, so incrusted were they all with the accumu-
lated filth of months. The sight staggered me, but
I saw at once that the first business on hand was to
get them clean, and I ordered them to strip. It was
not a difficult task, as scarcely a man of them pos-
sessed a whole garment, and I burned the vermin-



swarming rags as fast as they were removed. Tubs
of water were placed along the line; they bathed,
and clean clothes were given them.
While this operation was in progress, my atten-
tion was attracted in particular to two white men,
by reason of the singular appearance of their hands.
They resembled the paws of certain apes, for
their thumbs, which were enormously enlarged at
the ends, were also quite as long as their index-fin-
gers, and the tips of all were on a line. This deform-
ity was occasioned by stringing up, and when one
stops to consider the amount of pressure necessary
to stretch out a man's thumb fully three inches,
some idea can be formed of the severity of the
punishment. The names of these two men were
Robert and Eugene Weaver. They were natives of
one of the northern states, and subsequently served
out their sentence and were discharged by me.
Another member of the squad was a negro named
Cy Williams, and as he had had a rather extraor-
dinary history, I may as well tell it at this point.
He was the first prisoner received by the State of
Florida, and was entered in the books as No. I.
He did not know his age, but when he was a mere
pickaninny, running about in the one garment that
forms the costume of all negro youngsters in the
South, he was arrested for stealing a horse. He
was not large enough to mount the animal, and was
caught in the act of leading it off by the halter, for
which he was duly sentenced to twenty years impris-



onment. Warden Martin was somewhat puzzled to
know what to do with so small a convict, but he
finally invented a task that certainly reflects credit
upon his ingenuity. He placed two bricks at each
end of the prison yard, and giving the black baby
two more, ordered him to carry them to one of the
piles, lay them down, pick up the other two, which
in turn he carried to the further end, exchanged
again, and so on back and forth all day long, always
carrying two bricks. He was warned that he
would be whipped if he failed to pile the bricks
neatly or broke any of them. He grew up at the
task, and the constant abrasion of merely picking up
and laying down wore out four sets of bricks be-
fore he was put to other labor. Owing to the ab-
sence of all system, he received no commutation upon
the first ten years he served, but on the balance of
the sentence he received what is called in Florida
"gain time," making the entire sentence seventeen
years and some months.
Major Wise leased the prisoners with rather
vague speculative views, and the squad was sent
originally to the Santa Fe River, where they were
employed for some months in "ranging" timber.
Meantime he closed a contract with Dutton, Ruff
& Jones, dealers in turpentine, rosin and naval
stores, by which he engaged to deliver "gum" from
the vast tracts of pine woods owned by the firm
in the vicinity of Live Oak. The leading spirit of
the firm was Major Charles K. Dutton, of New York


City, who subsequently occupied about the same
relation to the lease system in Florida as that of
Senator Joseph Brown in Georgia.
It was evident that very few of these men were
able to stand the exhausting labor of turpentine
culture, and that it would be necessary to first get
them into condition. However, we went into camp
in the woods near a little station called Padlock.
There we built a rude log-house, twenty by forty
feet, for sleeping quarters. Like Solomon's temple,
it was erected without the sound of hammer, and
the roof was secured by a curious system of pegs
and weights. There was not a nail in the structure,
and it was altogether a fine specimen of wild wood-
craft. On each side two sloping platforms ran
from end to end, one built over the other, like berths
in a steamboat. The prisoners slept on them, and
midway between the two a long chain was stretched
at night-time, on which they were strung by means
of smaller chains fastened to their leg-irons. These
latter were technically known as "waist-chains," and
were attached in turn to the "stride-chain," which
passed from shackle to shackle, with play enough
to enable a man to walk by taking fairly short
steps. As both stride and waist chains were riveted
on, it would appear at first glance impossible for a
man to remove his pants with his ankles thus
fastened together, and in fact, when we first
received the convicts, they wore them buttoned down
the outside of the leg, like Mexican vanqueros.



But in time they learned to draw the garment down
between the ankle and the iron, and then up and
out; a simple but ingenious process, and slashed
trousers were abandoned.
The front of this "cell-house," as it was
termed, was not sealed solidly, but slatted, so as
to permit a view of the interior at any time.
At night it was lighted by pine knots burned on a
sort of pyre in the middle of the floor, and a watch-
man sat with loaded rifle in front. The routine of
locking up the men was about as follows: As they
returned from work they filed in and took their
places on the sleeping-platform. The building
chain was then passed through a ring at the end of
each man's waist-chain and made fast outside. A
squad of guards were ready, torches in hand, and
proceeded to rapidly scrutinize each link of the
irons, a process familiarly known in camp as "chain
search." This over, supper was served and eaten,
and after a short interval a bell rang for every man
to lie down. That was the last thing in order for
the night, and if any convict desired to move or
change his position thereafter it was required that
he first callPto the night guard and obtain his per-
mission. I may say that the same system, with
some immaterial modifications, is the one in vogue
at the present day.
We named our camp "Padlock," after the station.
Besides the cell-house, there were buildings of the
same primitive character for the guards, but there


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was no stockade, and the cooking was done hunter-
fashion, on a bank of dirt under a lean-to shelter.
The kettles and pots were suspended over it by bits
of wire, and, in brief, all the other appointments
were on the same scale. The food consisted of fat
"white bacon," corn-bread and cow-peas-the latter
a small red variety indigenous to the South. They
were wretchedly prepared, of course, and in summer-
time I have often taken my penknife and scraped
off a literal stratum of gnats from the top of the
pea pan before sending it to the men.
We discarded the old methods of punishment from
the start, and adopted the strap, which has been
used ever since to enforce discipline, and has of
late years been adopted by state law. It consists
of a section of tough leather about a foot and a half
long by three inches broad, and attached to a wood-
en handle. The castigation is applied below the
loins, and the convict placed upon his knees with his
palms on the ground. The clothing is then drawn
back and the leather applied until, in the judgment
of the captain, a sufficient punishment has been ad-
ministered. There is no legal restriction, and never
was, as to the number of blows, the frequency of
punishment or by whom it shall be applied; but
the rule has been that the warden, his assistant or
the captain in direct charge of the camp, shall do
the whipping. During the time that I was at the
head of the lease system, I allowed no one else to
administer punishment, as the matter was always un-



avoidably the source of more or less outside criticism,
and I did not wish responsibility to be divided.
To return to the camp, the prisoners were worked
in the woods in a radius of a few miles, and con-
veyed to and from the spot on what was known as
a "squad-chain." In principle it was similar to a
building-chain, but it was shorter and lighter, and
the men were strung upon it by the rings of their
waist-chains like ribs from a central vertebrae.
Every man went on a trot. They kept this gait up
all day long, from tree to tree, and as the labor is
exhausting in the extreme, I have frequently seen
men on their way back to camp drop of fatigue, and
their comrades on the squad-chain drag them a
dozen yards through the dirt before the pace
could be checked so as to enable them to regain
their feet. There would be a prodigious clatter of
iron, a cloud of dust, a volley of imprecation, and
the fallen man would stagger up, dash the dirt
out of his eyes, and go reeling and running on.
But these scenes came later on, for the camp was
for a long time virtually a hospital. I found the
dysentery, with which most of the men were af-
fected, almost impossible to check, and the mortal-
ity was terrible. The disease was of the same char-
acter as that which was so prevalent on both
sides during the war, and many a corpse interred
at Sing Sing was almost literally nothing but skin
and bones. No records were kept of the number
of deaths, and I am unable at this lapse of time to



estimate them with accuracy, but it was a large
proportion of our prisoners, and it was nearly a
year before the balance were in what might be
termed fairly good condition.
I shall frequently have occasion in this narrative
to speak of trailing convict runaways with hounds,
and I know that there is a prevalent impression
that bloodhounds are employed for the purpose.
This is an error, and I believe that the first and only
experiment of that sort was made at the beginning
of the Wise lease. Major Wise sent to New York
and procured two imported blood-hounds of pure
strain-one a male and the other a female. They
were sent originally to the Santa Fe River, to the
logging-camp, but afterward transferred to us at
Padlock. The male died from the effects of the
journey, but the other arrived in tolerably fair condi-
tion, and was certainly a formidable brute. She was
as large as a calf, pied like a leopard, and looked
less like a dog than some unknown wild beast. She
spread consternation among the natives, and when
they happened to encounter me with her they would
abandon the road and take to the tall timber. I
called the dog Flora.
The experiment was not a success. Beyond the
intimidation of her appearance Flora had no espe-
cial value, and was vastly inferior to a deer-hound
as a trailer. The hot climate proved too much for
her, and she eventually succumbed to it and took
the hydrophobia. I shut her up in a shed upon



the first appearance of the symptoms, and the great
brute, howling, foaming and dashing herself against
the walls in her paroxysms, was a spectacle of such
terror that none dare approach her. She crunched
some heavy boxes that happened to lie inside abso-
lutely into splinters, and in one of the fits she
The fact is that fox-hounds are used for man-
hunting in nearly all the southern convict camps.
They are probably a trifle less keen of scent than a
deer-hound, but they have also a slower gait, which
is an advantage, inasmuch as it enables the horse-
men to keep up with them. But at any rate, their
marvelous powers of following a trail hours after
it has been made, holding it through turns and
back-tracks and over traveled roads, almost sur-
passes belief. The fox-hound used for the purpose
is slightly larger than a full-blooded pointer, and
built a little heavier about the shoulders, but resem-
bles it in general contour of the body. The head,
however, is that of the typical hound-long-eared,
sad-faced and deep-jowled. I can affirm that some
of them are natural man-hunters, just as a colt is
occasionally born with a natural trotting-gait. In
training puppies at the camp it was my custom to
order one of the "trusties" to run a few miles through
the woods, and then put the dogs on his track. I
have known them to trail the man over the most
intricate routes, and eventually follow up his track
into the cell-house and pick out the identical trusty



where he lay, among a hundred other men, upon
the sleeping-platform.
Another popular error in regard to chasing with
hounds is that they attack the prisoner when they
run up upon him. Such is by no means the case.
The hounds are always closely followed by horse.
men, and if they once get out of sight and sound
the pursuit might as well be abandoned. In brief,
they are simply guides, and when once the game is
brought to bay, they are too wary to venture close
enough to run the risk of a blow. I have known
cases where dogs have been killed, but the convict
invariably employed some strategy to entice them
in range. On one or two occasions men have hid-
den behind trees, and the hounds, intent upon the
trail, have been brained as they rushed past.
By what faculty they follow a track is a disputed
question. They seem to have no difficulty in dis-
tinguishing the trail of one man from another, and
it is certainly not in all cases by reason of an odor
left upon the earth. I have one dog at the present
writing that trails entirely by air; that is to say,
he never touches his nose to the ground but invari-
ably holds his head high, and in this attitude runs
at full speed, immediately distinguishes cross-trails,
and rarely makes a mistake.
There have at different times been some few men
under me who, by a freak of nature or some inexpli-
cable condition, left no trail and could not be fol.
lowed by any hound. I do not attempt to explain it,



but simply state it as a fact-one, by the bye, that
has a bearing upon several cases I will detail fur-
ther on. Whatever emanation lingers in the wake
of the average human being and furnishes the mys-
terious clue to the dog was certainly lacking in
their make-up.


In addition to the reasons that appeared upon
the surface, there was another, and a potent one, for
the employment of convict labor in the turpen-
tine woods. The work is severe to a degree almost
impossible to exaggerate, and it is very difficult to
control a sufficient quantity of free labor to properly
cultivate any great number of trees. The natives
follow it more as a make-shift than a vocation, and
are only too glad to abandon its hardships for any
other character of work that comes to hand. The
variety of pine from which the gum is obtained
covers immense areas of Georgia and Northern
Florida, and the process, which is curious and not
generally understood, is as follows:
Early in the spring large oval cups, technically
termed "boxes," are set into the trunks of the trees,
close to the ground. They are several inches deep
and hollowed out at the bottom to receive the sap.
All this is done with a peculiarly shaped axe, hav-
ing an extremely long blade, and it is needless to
say the operation requires both strength and dex-
terity. When properly cut, the box has the appear-
ance of having been made by a chisel, yet it is pos-
sible to hew one out with as few as nine blows of
the axe. This of course requires a great expert, and


few acquire that degree of skill. The average
daily task of a convict is from sixty to ninety
Directly after the box is cut a triangular wedge
is chopped out on each side immediately over the
top. This is called "cornering," and is usually done
by two men, one of whom strikes a right-handed
and one a left-handed blow. The object is to ex-
pose a fresh surface of the trunk from which the
sap may flow, running down into the concavity of
the box. The sap is of a pearly color, thick and
viscid, and the cornering usually fills the box for the
first time. It is then dipped into buckets with
a large lance-pointed tool known as a spoon," and
almost a fac-simile, on a magnified scale, of a steel
ink-eraser. The buckets are emptied into barrels
which are collected by teamsters who range the
woods with their wagons and deliver the products
to the stills.
After the first flow is dipped a new incision is
made by slicing out two slanting lines at the top of
the cornering. A short tool called a hack, weight-
ed at one end and armed with a crooked blade at
the other, is used, and the operation is termed "chip-
ping." The fresh flow refills the box, after which
the chipping is repeated, alternating with dipping
until the face of the box is so high from successive
slicing that it cannot readily be reached. "Pulling"
is then resorted to. This is identical with chip-
ping, except that a very long-handled tool with a



double blade at the end is used to cut the streaks,
the workman reaching up and sometimes raising
the face as high as twelve feet.
About the first of October the faces of the boxes
are thickly coated with coagulated sap, and other
work is suspended while this is removed, chopped
off with implements something like gardeners'
trowels. This occupies three or four months, and
the routine is commenced over again. The entire
product is distilled as gathered, heated in retorts
and the vapor condensed through worms into the
commercial spirits of turpentine. The residue left
in the vats is rosin.
Chipping is the hardest work of all. It requires
a man of immense stamina and in perfect physical
condition, for he not only has to stoop continually,
but drive the hack through the wood with one
muscular exertion. The crooked blade curves the
cut upward and inward, "shading," it is called, the
purpose being to cast a shadow on the incision and
prevent the sun from drying the fresh surface too
rapidly. Each branch of the work is done by differ-
ent squads, and they are worked as nearly as possi-
ble in lines-"drifting," it is called, and the word
well expresses it-through the timber, some cutting,
some chipping and some dipping. The guards
follow at a little distance behind. Occasionally
thick patches of undergrowth are encountered.
Hills and dales are to be crossed and swamps skirt-
ed, and altogether, a cool head, good judgment and



steady nerve are needed to prevent continual es-
capes. But these qualifications were seldom ob-
tainable, for guarding was very poorly paid, and
this, as well as the other details I have entered in-
to, have an important bearing upon numerous de-
liveries which subsequently took place.
We had not been long in camp at Padlock before
I discovered that we had an exceptionally danger-
ous and desperate class of men to deal with. Most
of them were "Cracker" outlaws and cut-throat ne-
groes, sentenced, as a rule, for crimes of the most
atrocious character. The case of John Ponde will
suffice as an illustration and indicate the bloody
nature of certain of these wild woodsmen and their
contempt for law. Ponde was a white man, and had
settled in Bradford County, where he lived with
his wife in the style of the average squatter. He
was not on good terms with his father-in-law, but
nothing serious was thought of the matter until one
morning he saw the old man riding by on a horse,
and called his wife to the door.
"Do you see him?" he said.
*'Well, take a good look at him; this is the last
time you will ever see him alive."
He was as good as his word. He followed the
old man to town, got on a spree, with him and the
two started back riding double, Ponde behind.
When they were nearly home Ponde wrapped his
arms around his victim and held him still while



he slowly and deliberately cut him to death with a
pocket-knife. For this crime he was sentenced to
prison for life.
It goes without saying that this type of men were
continually plotting for liberty, and many things
conspired to favor escapes-the wild nature of the
surrounding country, the necessity of working the
convicts out of doors, and most of all a deep-seated
and bitter prejudice among the citizens against
the lease system. Frightful stories of cruelty were
constantly bruited about; and while it was easy for
a fugitive to obtain a hiding place and assistance,
every possible obstacle was thrown in the way of
those engaged in pursuit.
The first serious trouble we had of the kind oc-
curred in December. A guard named George Tur-
ner had charge of a squad working in the woods, and
in which was a white man named Freeman and
two negroes named McPherson and Perry, all des-
peradoes of the first order. Louis Fennison, a trusty,
accompanied the party, and had the privilege of
coming close to the guard to give him water, when
he desired it. At their first opportunity, Freeman,
McPherson and Perry took the trusty aside and
sought to enlist him in a plot to murder Turner
and set the quads at liberty. The plan was for
Fennison to seize him while he was drinking and
prevent him from using his rifle, while the others
rushed in and brained him with their axes.
The trusty pretended to agree-it would have



been suicide to refuse-and anxiously looked for an
opportunity to warn the intended victim. He was
watched so closely, however, by the plotters, that
none occurred until at the very moment fixed for the
deed. The squad was at the time on the skirts of
the dense pine forest, and Turner, all unsuspicious,
called for a drink of water. As he raised the dip-
per the murderous trio began to close in upon him,
axes in hand.
"Look out, boss!" yelled Fennison; "they're
goin' to kill you! "
The guard leaped back, leveled his rifle and called
a halt, just in time to save his life. Word was
sent into camp, each of the ringleaders whipped
and ornamented with a fifty-pound ball and chain.
While in the woods next day, Perry, who had, by
the way, only one year to serve, made some pretext
to step aside, and picking up the huge ball attached
to his leg, started off on a lope. The guard fired
after him a few times, but the bullets flew aside, and
finally a trusty set off in pursuit, yelling as he ran.
Our commissary-man, Rodger Wah, hearing the
uproar from the camp, leaped on a horse and gal-
loped in that direction. He was not long in over-
taking the fugitive, whose act was simply madness,
for handicapped as he was by his irons, he stood
not a ghost of a show of success. Wah shouted
to him to stop, but he paid no attention to the order,
and when the horse was close at his heels, began
to run like a coursed fox, wheeling and doubling,



until the commissary-man finally fired his revolver
over his head to frighten him. But Perry was made
of stuff not easily frightened, and he ignored the
bullet as he had the order. Then Wah fired point-
blank at him and sent an ounce of lead through his
spine. The negro reeled, clutched at the air and
fell, mortally wounded. A little while afterward
he died.
This tragedy enormously intensified the popular
feeling against the camp. The shooting was re-
hearsed with the invariable embellishment of rumor,
and generally denounced as murder. At the next
session of the grand jury a true bill was returned
against Wah, but before the case was called sen-
timent had somewhat subsided, and the matter lan-
guished in court and was finally dropped.
We were at Padlock camp for a year, and this
was the most serious affair of the kind that occurred
during that period. But there was no lack of other
excitement, and it was during this sojourn that I
had a most curious adventure. I was working a
squad of fifteen negroes "dipping" turpentine gum
in the woods. It had been a pleasant day, warm and
genial, with no indication of storm, but just before
quitting work I heard a dull, roaring sound and
saw a singular figment of cloud bearing rapidly
down upon us from the southwest. It was the
dead-black color of soot and shaped like a vast
balloon, the lower end sagging almost to the ground.
I had never seen such a thing before, but I recog-



nized it from descriptions as the famous funnel-
shaped cloud that has figured in the history of so
many terrible tornadoes, and I shouted to my men to
lie down.
As the monstrous apparition approached us the
noise increased to a roar and crash of sound that
beggars all description. The earth vibrated under
us, and I could see pine trees and innumerable de-
bris turning over and over in the black swirl, like
chaff in a puff of wind. I took it for granted that
we were lost, but with one supreme shock the great
cloud passed us and tore away with a strange bound-
ing or hopping motion, and finally disappeared.
During the passage of the cyclone it was impos-
sible to see or even think, but as it receded I found
myself standing in the midst of my prostrate squad
with at least half a dozen of the negroes clinging
to my legs like scared children. They were fright-
ened half out of their wits, as well they might have
been, for we were right on the edge of the tornado,
and the difference of a few yards would have swept
us all into eternity. As soon as possible I started
out to see what damage had been done, and made
an amusing discovery. An old negro known as
"Brit" was employed hauling gum barrels with a
four-mule team, and was quite close to us at the time
the storm-cloud appeared. He was in fact directly
in the track, but in one of the jumps I have alluded
to the monster passed over his head, tearing out
a swath on each side and inclosing him in a tangled



circle of broken tree-trunks, like a barricade.
When we arrived on the spot the mules were lying
flat on the ground like frightened rabbits, and the
old man was on his knees, his eyes glued tight shut,
his very wool uncurled with terror, and his voice
lifted in that fervent prayer that only an African
can command:
"Oh, Hebbenly Fadder! he moaned, "spar' yo'
sarbent! Take de mewls an' take de convicts;
dey all sinner-men, oh, Lawd! but I'se a berry use-
ful man in dis community, Hebbenly Fadder! Dey
can't well spar' me! You'se done teacher me a les-
son, Lawd; you'se skeered me pow'ful, but don't
take me jist yet. Don't do nuffin' you might great "
We had hard work persuading him that the peril
was past, and harder work extricating his team
from the mass of rubbish that surrounded it. This
was the first and only storm of the kind that had
visited Florida in the memory of man. Its track
was well defined, from three to four miles long and
about 200 yards wide. It is swept clear of timber,
and this boulevard of nature's cutting can be easily
and perfectly traced to the present day.
I have frequently observed, during my entire
prison experience, that the period of the greatest
despondency and desperation in a convict's term
is immediately after he is received. The rude sur-
roundings of the camp, the hard fare, the chains,
and the grinding toil combine to form an overwhelm-
ing conviction that he can never live to serve out



his sentence, and he is either seized with dull, de-
spairing apathy or nerved to escape at any cost, ac-
cording to what manner of man he is. Conse-
quently I have made it my business to keep a close
eye upon new men, and an incident which occurred
about this time furnishes a good illustration of the
We received a negro on a five-year sentence, and
I put him to work in the woods. He was afflicted
with an incurable malady, which, while it did not
prevent his getting about, greatly preyed upon his
mind, and a few days after he arrived, he called
to me during one of my visits to the squad and
asked me if I would do him a favor. I replied that
I would if it lay in my power. Upon that he bared
his breast. "Shoot me then," he said; "don't
wound me, but shoot me through the heart. I can't
do this work and there is no use trying. The
sooner I am dead the better for me."
I told him that I could not shoot him down in cold
blood, but if he was really anxious to court death,
all he had to do was to run or make an attack on me
and I would do my utmost to accommodate him.
This view of the case did not strike him favorably,
and 1 closed the interview by giving him a whip-
ping and telling him to go back to work. In the
course of the day he endeavored to get hold of a
knife, for the avowed purpose of cutting his throat;
but failing in that, he lapsed into a morose, brood-
ing state, from which he rallied in a month or so,







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Siberia, Page 37.


44" I ii,1


and eventually served out his sentence pretty cheer
fully. His case was a sample of most others.
In the course of a year we had the woods well
marked out in the immediate vicinity of Padlock,
and built a new camp, called Sing Sing, four miles
further on. In all of its appointments it was a con-
siderable improvement on Padlock. We built two
cell-houses, each a hundred feet long, and discarded
the uncomfortable and inconvenient arrangement
of double bunks. A single sleeping-platform was
built on each side, and the building-chain run
through eyelets in posts sunk at intervals in the
ground. No stockade was considered necessary, and
the yard was guarded by a man stationed at each
of the four corners.
Everything was done by convict labor, and when
the buildings were nearly completed and work in
fact commenced in the adjacent woods, the first
escape of the new camp took place. A negro, whose
name I have now forgotten, but who was at any
rate detailed for yard work, seized an opportunity
one morning and dashed past the nearest guard.
He was fired upon, and the sound of the shot reached
my ears where I was working a squad at no great
distance off in the woods. One of my most posi-
tive orders was that no weapon should be discharged
on the premises, unless in case of escape; so I knew
at once what had occurred, and surmising that the
runaway would be apt to come in our direction, I
called the squad instantly together, put them on



the squad-chain and ordered them to lie down. As
soon as they were all well concealed, I rose up
cautiously through the underbrush and looked to-
ward the camp.
Sure enough, there was the man coming full-tilt
toward us and heading a ludicrous procession.
Every available man on the yard, including trusted
prisoners, had joined in the pursuit. First came
the cook, flourishing a huge butcher-knife with
which he had been cutting meat at the time the
alarm was given, and after him, in order, were sev-
eral trusties and guards, all red-faced, panting and
yelling frantically at every bound. I sallied out to
head off the fugitive, but as soon as he saw me he
made a sudden tack at right angles with his course.
This was a cue to his pursuers, who also swerved
to intercept him in the new direction, but the move-
ment was observed and he tacked again, bringing
him in line with me.' Thus he was between two
fires, but he repeated his maneuver so persistently,
gaining a little every time, that I finally shot at him.
At the sound he turned a somersault in the air and
fell with a crash upon his face. I supposed, of
course, that I had killed him, and the next instant
the cook, who still led the procession, was astride
of his back. When I reached the spot the negro
had twisted his head around and was glaring up at
the cook, who had his big butcher-knife poised in
the air and swore he would kill him if he moved.
It seemed that my bullet had barely grazed the fel-



low's head, but such an impact will easily knock
a man over, and he was positive for the time being
that most of his brains had been blown out. The
cook was also a convict, and I shall frequently have
occasion to refer to cases where one prisoner assisted
in capturing another. Some of them were very
remarkable instances of zeal, where zeal would
naturally be least expected, but it was invariably at
the cost of universal hatred among the balance of
the men. The convict who so distinguished him-
self was marked for every affront that could be
offered him, and in one case for death itself.
But I never gave too much credit to these self-
appointed officers. It was not a sense of duty that
prompted them, but axes of their own that they had
to grind, and in many cases they would prevent an
escape in order to inspire confidence and pave the
way to getting away themselves. The trusty who
figured in the instance I have just narrated was
named Henry Stevens. Major Wise, the lessee,
thought so well of the act that he naturally took
him to Live Oak to drive one of his teams. This
was the chance Stevens wanted, and he turned up
missing one morning and has never since been heard
of. Louis Fennison, the trusty who frustrated the
plot to murder a guard in the woods, escaped not
long afterward, and was next heard of in the city
chain-gang at Albany, Georgia. We reclaimed him
at the expiration of his sentence, and in later years,
under a new lease, he escaped again with two oth-



ers, and is still at large. Thus instances might be
cited at a tiresome length, but these suffice to make
the point plain.
Very shortly after the camp was moved en masse
to Sing Sing we received two prisoners named
John Roberts and William Revel, farmers' boys
who were sent to prison for one year each. They
had relatives living all through that part of the
county, and Major Wise being well acquainted with
their families, ordered me, very much against my
judgment, to make them both trusties on the spot.
A few days passed and one morning they started
out to get wood. They did not return, and by night-
time it became evident that they had violated their
paroles and ran away.
Here was a ticklish situation. They belonged, as
I have said, to an immense system of intermarriage;
it was only too likely that the whole neighborhood
would be up and in arms to protect them, and such
was the sentiment against us, that there was not
a settler in a radius of fifty miles but would have
deemed it a pious act to give them shelter. In
brief, none of my guards would consent to join
in the chase, regarding it as an open invitation for
Roberts' father lived no great distance away, and
thinking it probable that the fugitives had gone
there, I persuaded a backwoodsman named Buck
Harder to guide me to the spot. We reached it
at about eleven o'clock, by a long, tortuous route



through the forest. It was a one-story log cabin,
standing in the midst of a little clearing and flanked
by a few dilapidated out-buildings. A stick-and-
dirt chimney rose above the ridge-pole of the dwell-
ing and a few dried skins were extended against
the walls. Beyond the outlying pines the moon
swung high, and all was silent as the grave.
I ordered Harder to the rear and hammered on
the front door. At last, after repeated knocking,
a quavering voice called out:
"Who's there?"
"Strike a light," I answered, "and see."
"But what do you all want?" drawled the voice.
Strike a light and I'll tell you my business."
There was a long pause, and then came the slowest
und of match-striking I ever heard in my life. It
seemed an interminable time before light shone
through the chinks, and then, determined to face the
music at once, I burst open the door and rushed in.
The cabin contained only one room; a few withe-
bottomed chairs stood on the floor, the bare cross-
logs formed the ceiling, and a long, old-fashioned
rifle, that had no doubt killed many a deer, hung
with its accouterments against the chimney-piece.
A fire was smoldering on the hearth, and some one
lying before it covered with a quilt. An old,
wrinkled-faced man, bent and grizzled, but tough as
a knot, his white hair and beard disheveled and
his whole aspect that of one just aroused from slum-
ber, stood holding a light. His sly little eyes



blinked against the flame as he regarded me, and
rightly surmising that he was Roberts' father, I
told him, pretty briefly, what my errand was.
"Sakes alive!" he exclaimed with every signal of
dismay; "I can't believe it! Ye don't mean to say
that thar fool boy's done cleaned up an' runned
away? "
"That's it exactly," I replied ; "and, furthermore,
I want to find out what you know about it."
"Me! he said in a grieved tone; 'why, I don't
know nothing' 'tall 'bout it. Ain't seed hide nur
hair of the boy."
I looked around, and noticing a spare bed in one
corner with the cover disturbed, asked who slept
"My darter," he drawled; "but she got cold and
kim down 'fore the hearth."
This struck me as suspicious, and at any rate I
made up my mind to know who was under that
quilt. So I seized the corner and pulled it back,
and instantly a pretty face, a pair of eyes, cute and
black as a weasel's, peered up at me. It was a
young girl en dishabille, and I dropped the quilt
and retired in some confusion.
I did not leave altogether, but hid in the woods,
after a search of the out-buildings, and watched
the house. It was one of those bitterly cold nights
that are occasionally experienced in sub-tropical cli-
mates, and by morning I was thoroughly benumbed
and forced to go without making any discoveries,



But in after times I heard a curious story from this
same girl who slept under the quilt. Her brother
had gone straight from the prison to the house and
told of his escape. During the day he remained in
hiding, while a plan was carefully laid for his
journey out of the country. Meanwhile he changed
his clothes, hiding the convict stripes under the
shucks in the corn-crib, and at dark a ruse was pre-
pared to deceive me in case I should put in an
appearance. To that end the spare bed was pur-
posely rumpled to lead me to believe that he was
concealed somewhere about the premises, and detain
me there as long as possible-which afterward
turned out as arranged. In point of fact, he left
the house a short time before I arrived and made
straight off. Not only this, but the lonely road be-
tween the clearing and the camp was patrolled by
sympathetic neighbors, armed with their long-
barreled rifles and prepared for a rescue at any cost
in case I captured my man. Had I known this as I
rode through those midnight aisles, I confess my
feelings would have been peculiar.
Roberts was never heard of again, but Revel
made his way to Georgia, where, strange to say, he
sought and procured a position as guard at Jones' con-
vict camp, near Waycross. We learned of his pres-
ence there and prepared to go after him, but he got
wind of it and fled, and is probably still under
cover in some of the abundant fastnesses of the
neighboring states.



Meantime, what of the thirty and odd convicts
turned over to farmer Green Cheers of Leon County,
something over a year before? Mr. Cheers un-
derstood his business, but unfortunately his busi-
ness was not the handling of convicts. He was a
farmer simply, with very indistinct notions as to
either the difficulties or responsibilities of the
charge he had undertaken. There was a large, old-
fashioned house on his place, and he used the upper
story for his family, and the lower for the convicts,
who were at that time known by numbers instead
of their names-a plan since discarded. After the
prisoners were once turned over to him, there was
practically no inquiry made as to their welfare,
certainly none by the state, which followed the
good old custom in this regard; and they might as
well have been in Africa, for all that was known of
them until in the second year of the lease, when
suddenly, by some means or other, the ugly secrets
of the farm and manor-house came to light; and
startling they were indeed.
It was learned that these miserable people had suf-
ered constantly for food and clothing and the com
mon necessaries of life. No attention was paid to
cleanliness, or the conditions necessary to common de-


cency. The sick suffered and died without attention,
and the well were worked with less consideration
than is accorded to cattle. These are simply facts.
There were three or four women in the squad, and
what they endured cannot be easily or decorously
described in words. There was no system, no
records, and little or no management. I believe
Mr. Cheers lost considerable money by the enter-
Among other things, the very unwise course of
arming prisoners and using them as guards was
pursued, and this led to one of the most remarkable
deliveries on record. One of the squads was com-
posed of twenty workmen and six guards-all con-
victs. Among the guards was a man named Joseph
Alston, who had been at one time quite rich and
what is familiarly termed a "high-roller."
Before the war he belonged to the close corpora-
tion of aristocrats who controlled all the large
Floridian plantations, but labor reverses gradually
absorbed his property acre by acre, and he sunk
lower in the social and financial scale, until at last
he committed a larceny of some sort and was sent to
the penitentiary for a term of fiveyears. When he
was trusted with a gun he immediately began to plot
for liberty, and as he was a superior man mentally
to the balance, he soon had the other five guards
in his way of thinking.
When everything was ripe for action, these six
men, who had the full liberty of the place and



access to the stores, slipped one night into a room
that was used as a sort of arsenal, and purloined
all the spare weapons they could lay their hands
on. They took guns and revolvers, old-fashioned
army pistols, and plenty of cartridges, powder and
shot and percussion-caps, nearly enough in all to
arm the entire squad. These were concealed some
little distance away, where they could readily be
found, and when they took their squad out next
morning they halted at the spot.
"Boys," said Alston, "who's tired of prison?"
"Here! Here!" cried everybody except one man.
"Have you nerve enough to stand at my back,"
continued the leader, "in case of a skirmish?"
"Yes! yes!"
Still one man was silent.
'All right. They are sure to come after us, and
I guess we will have to fight our way out. We have
weapons here for nearly all of you. Let every
true man step out and get a gun."
With that the arms were distributed. The man
who had not joined in the demonstration was sharp-
ly questioned, and for a while he had to talk for his
life. He pleaded fear of failure, and it was finally
decided to compel him to go along as a precaution-
ary measure. Thus the fugitives started, headed
by the six guards and making for a thickly wooded
and swampy cleft not far from the Cheers place.
As they penetrated it, the unwilling runaway man-
aged to give the balance the slip in the underbrush,



and ran back. The others halted, intrenched them-
selves and awaited developments.
It was not long before the convict reached the
farm. He was breathless and wild with excitement,
and when he told his story Mr. Cheers immediately
gathered together a posse of neighbors and started
in pursuit. In a short time they reached the spot
where the fugitives were massed, and were greeted
by a volley that poured into them from behind
palmetto trees, back of logs and every available
lodgment in the thicket. They returned the fire,
and a pitched battle ensued that raged for hours.
The combatants on both sides were trained back-
woodsmen as a rule, and versed in the tactics of
Indian warfare. They sought shelter and every
moment drew a galling fire. Gradually the posse
began to gain. They pushed by sallies into the
swamp, and hand-to-hand fights took place in the
thick of the morass, until at length the convicts
were routed. A number were captured, others shot
down, and the rest took advantage of the confusion
to push deep into the swamp and thus made good
their escape.
The facts of this strange fight were hushed up as
soon as possible, but it is reasonably certain that
there were several killed on each side and quite a
number wounded. Among the captured was Alston.
He eventually came under my management. I found
him a tall, slender, black-bearded man, with a cold,
determined face and quiet manners. He served out



a few years of his sentence, and through the influ-
ence of powerful friends at the capital obtained a
pardon upon the condition that he would not drink
"intoxicating liquors" in the future. Whether he
fulfilled this unique condition I cannot say. He
passed out of sight.
All these things resulted in the convicts being
taken away from Mr. Cheers in the second year of
his sub-lease. They reached us in about the same
condition as those received from Lake Eustace, and
some of them were clad in the filthy remnants of
the very clothing they had worn at the time they
received their original sentence in court. I had
about the same experience in getting them into
condition for the turpentine work, and will not
dwell upon its details.
There were a good many odd stories connected
with the convicts we had, that came to light from
time to time, and I recall a singular accession to
our ranks at about this period. During the old
penitentiary regime at Chattahoochee, one of the
negro sects at Live Oak desired to build a church.
The congregation, with infinite pains, collected all
the necessary material except the nails. This was
a matter of great tribulation to them until one of
the deacons, a big, tall, and very bow-legged Afri-
can, produced a keg of the necessary article. He
maintained strict silence as to where the nails came
from, and the rest of the flock were divided in opin-
ion between a miracle and a special interposition



of providence. However, by a singular coincidence,
Major Wise, who had a general store at the place,
missed a keg of nails from his warehouse, and he
proceeded to have the law on the good deacon.
The jury refused to accept the miracle theory, and
gave him two years in the penitentiary.
After doing a little of his time the prisoner es-
caped and was not heard from again until, years
after, Major Wise happened to be at Eufala, Ala-
bama, and noticed an extremely bow-legged black
man hanging about the depot. It was the deacon.
The Major recognized him at once, had him arrested,
in spite of his pious protestations, and he was
brought to our camp on a requisition. He served
out the balance of his time without further trouble.
I have had occasion to mention the state of pub-
lic feeling against the camp and, indeed, it has an
important bearing in much that is told in this nar-
rative. An incident occurring at this time is direct-
ly in point. Not only were the people exceeding-
ly bitter on the subject of the lease, but stories of
dreadful cruelties were freely circulated and gener-
ally believed. Among them was one in which it
was said that I had killed a negro convict, stamped
his brains out with my boots, and hid the body un-
der an old church until I had an opportunity to
bury it at night. This tale was told with every
circumstance of truth, and eventually reached the
ears of the Governor. Consequently I was very
much surprised one day to receive a visit from a



legislative investigating committee. I at once had
the men drawn up in line and the roll called, which
showed that none were missing, and, of course,
settled the question, but I was anxious to learn who
had started the story.
At last I traced it to a young man named Fry,
but I could never find him. He had always "just
gone," every place I inquired. One day, however,
while working a squad near what was called the
Macedonia Church, I learned that he was at a neigh-
boring house and sent a trusty after him. A man
named Hurst was lounging near the church door.
"Tell Fry to bring his shot-gun with him when
he comes," he called after the trusty.
"What have you to do with this affair?" I asked him.
He replied, pretty stoutly, that Fry had told
no lie about me and that he was prepared to vouch
for him or for anything he said. Some further
words passed in which I think I said that I could
whip him and Fry together, if necessary.
"You can't whip me alone, yet," retorted Hurst;
and, seeing myself in for it, 1 handed my gun to
a guard and set to, not exactly according to prize-
ring rules, but actively enough to soon leave me
in possession of the field and put a stop forever to
the murder story. Fry remained discreetly in-doors
during the combat. Hurst afterward hired to me
as a guard and made a good one. He was involved,
later on, in an exciting shooting affray, which I
will narrate at the proper place.



One great need at the camp at that time was a
pack of reliable fox-hounds for trailing escapes.
We kept a look-out for such animals, and one morn-
ing an old woman went past with three puppies
bunched together in her arms. My brother called
to her and offered ten dollars for the litter, which
she accepted with alacrity, and thus We obtained a
start. To any one interested in dog-breeding, the
subsequent career of this little pack would be at
least a novel story, and the history of the progeny
that sprung from it is closely interwoven with the
history of the camp. They were pure-blooded
hounds, and also natural man- trailers, a thing that
does not always follow, by any means. When they
were still quite small I had a chance to test their
power in a man-ner that would seem quite incred-
ible to those not familiar with the traits of these
Early one warm, pleasant morning, when the air
was wonderfully still, but a dense fog hung over the
lowlands, I was preparing to ride to the squads on
my daily trip of inspection, when I heard the report
of a rifle. This being the signal of danger, I list-
ened to determine the direction. Such was the won-
derful tranquillity of the atmosphere, that the sound
seemed to pass me like something palpable and
and go echoing for miles beyond. I knew about
where the squads were; hastily gathering the three
puppies' in my arms, I leaped on my horse and put
off at a gallop, when I was again arrested by two



more shots from a different quarter. I faced about
and made for the direction of the last reports, and
reached a squad drawn close together in the woods.
The guard informed me briefly that a convict
from some other gang had run past them, and that
he had fired upon him, but that the fog was so dense
that he could see nothing but a shadowy form
through it and was unable to aim accurately.
This indicated only one escape, and getting the
direction, I rode over to where the fugitive had
passed and put the puppies down upon the trail.
They were so small that I was doubtful of the re-
sult, but to my surprise, they took scent immedi-
ately and started off. I followed and was obliged
to constantly check my horse into a walk to keep
from stepping on them. It was a slow and proba-
bly a comical procession, but the little fellows
stuck to it like veterans, toddling along on their
short legs, until we had traversed a mile or so,
when I saw our man looming through the fog right
ahead. He had tired of running, and at the time
was pursuing his way at a leisurely walk, imagin-
ing himself perfectly safe and little crediting the
ability of my baby dogs to hunt him down. I shall
never forget the look of disgust that came over his
face when I shouted to him to halt and he saw who
his pursuers were.
Convicts naturally enough hate the animals that
have nipped so many hopes in the bud, and not long
after this all three dogs were taken violently sick



Siberia, Page 56.


with every symptom of poisoning, and two died. I
ferreted the matter out and discovered that one
Cyrus Cooks, then known as "number thirty-four,"
had given them powdered glass-a favorite prison
poison. The survivor of the pack flourished to be-
come the sire of a race of dogs famous in southern
prison annals.
While we carried on the work steadily in the
woods, Major Wise started a brick-yard on a small
scale at Live Oak, and by the way, manufactured
the first brick used in that place, which is now a
flourishing little city. We sent over a squad of
eight men in charge of a guard named Hurst (no
relation to the man with whom I had a fight at
Macedonia Church) to operate the brick machines.
Hurst was a native, and apparently more richly en-
dowed with good nature than good sense. The sun
was very hot one day, and thinking to give his squad
a treat, he sent to a neighboring house and pur-
chased a quantity of buttermilk. The milk was
passed around, and finally he and a convict named
Sol Love stood drinking the balance. Love had
once before escaped and was not only a desperate
fellow but a conniver of the first water. He plied
Hurst with smooth talk, and while the guard had
his head in the buttermilk-can, imbibing the grate-
ful fluid, all the rest of the squad took to their
heels. Hurst, in his consternation, started after
them, firing as he ran, and as soon as the coast was
clear Love departed in the opposite direction.



This completed the guard's bewilderment, and he
ran first one way and then the other, until all were
out of sight.
The case was quickly reported, and Major Wise,
a guard named McIntyre, and I started in pursuit.
We held the trail up to the vicinity of the town
of Sanderson, near which it became obscure, and we
concluded that several, if not all, of the convicts
were. in hiding thereabouts. Not far from the town
there is a railroad bridge, and as night was coming
on and it was likely that some of the party would
attempt to cross under cover of darkness, we con-
cealed ourselves close by and watched. After it be-
came quite dark, Major Wise and I went to town
to get some supper, leaving McIntyre on guard. It
subsequently transpired that he also got tired and
left; but at any rate, as we came back, groping our
way along, we ran directly into three men coming
down the road. The surprise was mutual, but as
they attempted to run we each seized one, and saw
then that they were in prison garb. The third was
rapidly making off in the darkness, and both the
Major and myself drew our pistols and fired at
him. The black figure seemed to reel for an in-
stant, but at the next the night had swallowed him
The men we caught were two of the brick-
yard fugitives, named Peter Reddick and George
Gomez, and the other was the redoubtable Sol
Love. We were satisfied with what we had bagged


that night, and it was altogether too dark to
search further for Love; but next morning we
looked over the ground and found indisputable
evidence that he had been wounded. We discov-
ered a place where he had stretched himself by a
log and bled freely, but the trail took us to a dense
swamp in which it was lost.
About two weeks later a rumor came that a
strange man had died under mysterious circum-
stances in a house on the outskirts of the town of
St. Mary's. Investigation proved that it was Love.
Our bullets had pierced his chest, but as he was a
man of herculean strength, he had dragged himself
from the swamp to the dwelling where he died,
which was occupied by a friend of his. He was so
far spent with suffering and fatigue when he arrived
that it was impossible for him to rally, and thus
ended a desperate man.
Reddick was shortly after the principal in
another attempt to escape, that terminated rather
grotesquely. He seized a favorable opportunity to
make a rush from the yard, and was tearing along
at a furious rate when a guard saw him, called on
him to halt, and then fired. The bullet went right
through his hat, stunning and scaring him so badly
that he dropped on all fours and ran like a monkey
to a corn-crib which was sitting on piles above
the surface of the ground. He scrambled under-
neath and stretched himself carefully at length, for
dead. He was dragged out as stiff as a poker and



revived with the strap. Reddick is still in prison,
now on his fifth sentence, and has made innumera-
ble attempts to escape, but has always been unsuc-
cessful. Between terms at the Florida prison, he
did one at Albany, New York, and is at present
under twenty years sentence for thirteen burglaries.
He is an expert at what is known as "second-story
It might reasonably be supposed that among so
many men willing to risk life for liberty there would
be others nerved by desperation to a further step,
and that suicides would be frequent. But this
was not the case. During my fourteen years expe-
rience there has been no instance of the kind, and in
this particular our prison records are unique. How-
ever, there have been attempts-three during our stay
at Sing Sing, and they were sufficiently harrowing.
We had a negro preacher named Watson, sent from
Madison County for stealing cotton. One day his
guard threatened him with a whipping for laziness,
and the dread of it preyed greatly on his mind. At
last he determined to kill himself. He was in the
woods at the time, cutting boxes, and seizing his
box-axe by the helve, he sawed the keen edge
back and forth a dozen times into his throat, com-
pletely severing the windpipe and inflicting a hor-
rible wound through which his tongue dropped.
The pain unnerved him and he let the axe fall and
tried to call for the guard, but only a ghastly,
whistling sound came from his mutilated throat.



Thus he stood for several minutes, a picture for a
nightmare, staggering, beckoning with his bloody
fingers and pointing to the open gash. The guard
recoiled in horror, refused to go near him, and sent
for me. I sewed up the wound as best I could, and
as the jugular vein had escaped by the merest
chance, the man eventually got well; but suicide
was ever after a subject in which he took no inter-
The next case was that of Thomas Jump, a
Hernando County backwoodsman, who was sent to
prison for murdering his brother-in-law. He had
lived the usual life of a shiftless "Cracker," hunting
and fishing, and hard work did not agree with
him. He was put to "chipping," and presently
stopped in disgust. The guard told him to go to
work or he would have him whipped. At the word
"whipped," the wild backwoodsman, who had never
in all his life suffered a blow in anger, started as
if a bullet had struck him. His eyes flashed fire.
"Do what?" he cried.
"Have you whipped," replied the guard coolly.
Jump pondered awhile in silent rage.
"Then it will be the first time," he said, "since
my mammy used to do it."
The bare possibility of such a thing stuck in his
mind and in a few moments he called wildly to the
guard to shoot him, and then attempted to knock
his own brains out with the weight attached to his
hack. He struck himself hard enough to fell an



ox, but his skull was too thick and he survived the
hammering. He was afterward pardoned out and
lived to be glad of his failure.
The third would-be suicide was Simon Moody, a
Bradford negro, who, under circumstances of pecul-
iar atrocity, murdered a white man who had raised
him. For this he was sentenced to prison for life;
and when the camp-agent called for him at jail, he
made some excuse to borrow the jailer's knife, with
which he cut his throat from ear to ear. He was
stitched up and lived, but, like the preacher Wat-
son, he ever after abhorred the very name of suicide.
While, as has been seen, there were few who
were willing to deliberately end their career, there
were many who were willing to resort to desperate
expedients to avert labor. The most curious case
was that of a man named Clow, a druggist and a
very well-informed man, who was under seven years
sentence for school-record forgery. He was incor-
rigibly lazy, and having but one eye he determined
to totally blind himself to escape work. He
procured a needle and tried to hire a fellow-pris-
oner to hold it while he drove it into the pupil of
his remaining eye. He was afraid to undertake the
job alone, for fear of mutilating himself without
accomplishing his ends. I learned of the matter
and punished Clow severely, promising him a good
many repetitions if he tried the experiment. This
stopped him, but he moped and pined away until
he finally died in prison.



James Peterson, a professional thief sent from
Gainesville, was a man of the same stamp. He made
up his mind not to work, and when sent into the
woods to cut boxes, drove his axe through his foot.
It was a very severe gash, but was healing and he
was able to hobble about, when I sent him into the
yard one day to split wood. He grumbled a good
deal, and when he reached the woodpile placed his
foot on a block and deliberately cut it again across
the old wound. The blood spouted out in perfect
torrent and he was carried into the hospital depart-
ment. For this act he paid a dear penalty. The
wound, reopened as it was, refused to heal; both
foot and leg swelled to enormous size and finally
gangrene set in. After lingering in great agony,
he died.
Feigned insanity and pretended sickness were
also common dodges. We had a giant of a convict
in camp named Jim Johnson, and one morning while
in the woods he stuck his axe under his arm and
began to gibber idiotically at a tree-top. He
could not be moved or silenced, and finally the
guard chained him to a pine, clearing the ground
round about of sticks and stones, and went on with
his squad, first sending a trusty after me. When I
arrived he was still talking gibberish to the boughs,
and as insanity does not usually set in that way, I
concluded the gentleman was shamming. I laid my
whip on him pretty vigorously, and presently he
came to his senses and begged to be allowed to go



to work I told him to go ahead, but in a few min-
utes he resumed his tactics and began wildly cut-
ting down a tree instead of cutting a box in it,
making strange noises at the same time. On this
occasion I prolonged the punishment until he
admitted the ruse and promised to drop it in the
future. He had no more attacks after that, and
made it a point to take new prisoners aside and
warn them in a fatherly way against the insanity
A female prisoner also tried it on in a some-
what similar manner. She simulated epileptic
fits and did it to perfection, writhing, shrieking,
and finally lying so still and inert that her breath-
ing could not be detected. On one occasion,
while she was in this condition, I put my finger on
her pulse and found the tell-tale artery beating as
steadily as ever, proving conclusively that there was
no collapse. She was punished, and that ended the



Of the native outlaws who were in our camp dur-
ing our stay at Sing Sing, no three more conspicu-
ous examples could be found than Columbus See,
John G. Lippford and John Williams. See was a
twenty-year man, and Lippford and Williams for
five years each. Of the three, Lippford was the most
intelligent; he had been convicted of some com-
plicated land fraud; but they were all fearless,
determined, inured to hardships from childhood-
in short, typical specimens of the wild, southern
backwoodsman. It was this trio who plotted and
carried out a very original and remarkable prison
By good conduct and an oily tongue, See man-
aged to inspire sufficient confidence to obtain the
position of cook, and as such he had the run of the
yard. Shortly afterward the guards began to miss
rifle cartridges, but as these are always in considera-
ble demand for hunting, they jokingly laid the loss
at one another's door, and nothing much was thought
of it. I had at the time a small squad composed
exclusively of white men, and Williams and Lipp-
ford were members of it. They usually worked in
the woods, but one day I left all but one of them
on the yard to build a shed. Including some


negroes, there were, in all, fourteen or fifteen con-
victs about the premises, and they were guarded by
W. J. Hillman, since captain of a convict camp.
Hillman had in some way managed to incur the
enmity of nearly all the white convicts, and they
hated him very cordially. There was only one
other guard on the place-the night watchman, who
was asleep in his room in the guard-house. The
commissary-man had gone bird-hunting that day.
This, then, was the situation when See came
through the yard, apparently on some errand con-
nected with the kitchen. He passed close to Hill-
man and the instant he was behind him wheeled and
grabbed him around the waist, pinioning his arms
to his side. The next moment they were fighting
like tigers for possession of the guard's gun.
Hillman, who realized fully the feeling of the
men toward him, and the small chance he would
stand when once disarmed, struggled with the
strength of desperation, and would probably have
worsted his assailant had not two other men
dropped apparently from the clouds and taken a
hand in the fray. They were Lippford and Williams,
who had deliberately leaped from the top of the
high shelter where they were working, and escaping
injury by a miracle, joined with See and soon had
the gun.
Lippford instantly cocked it, and pointing it at
Hillman's head, ordered him to lie still. It is
needless to say he obeyed. See then ran into the



guard's quarters, secured the nigh-twatchman's
rifle, and going to the rear of the cell-house, dug
up a lapful of cartridges, which he had been bury-
ing, one by one, for weeks.
By this time they were joined by five others, and
the camp was in their hands. After See dug up his
ammunition he made a bee-line for the kitchen,
with the full intention of then and there killing a
negro named Henry Duncan, who was assistant
cook, and whose life he had often sworn to take on
account of some fancied affront. Duncan saw him
coming, and realizing his extreme peril, rushed out
and ran like a deer, taking the direction in which
the commissary-man was hunting. Common pru.
dence now dictated that the men leave at once, but
the temptation to "get even" with Hillman was too
strong; the long-restrained hatred broke forth, and
they cursed him in every vernacular they could lay
their tongue to.
His life, for the moment, was not worth a copper,
and See covered him with his rifle where he lay on
the ground, and attempted repeatedly to shoot him,
but Lippford snatched the muzzle away.
"I can't live satisfied until that man dies," cried
the convict, seeking to bring the rifle-sights on a
line with the guard's head.
"For God's sake, See!" urged Lippford, "don't
put our necks in a halter for a grudge."
At length this counsel prevailed, and the eight
men took their departure in a sort of triumphal


procession, singing at the tops of their voices.
Before going they broke into the dog-kennel and
took with them two hounds used for trailing. Sev-
en or eight negroes refused to go, and remained.
I had a house near by and my wife witnessed the
whole scene from the front door. When she saw
Hillman disarmed, she ran to a bureau and taking
out a revolver of mine waved it to him. A few
moments later one of the escapes, a negro, dashed
"Jim," she called, "go back to camp!"
"Can't do it, Miss Lizzie," answered the darky
grinning; "dis yere too good a chance! "
Finally Hillman came for the pistol and started on
horseback for Live Oak after help. As he rode off
the yard Duncan and the commissary-man came rush-
ing over a wooded slope. The harrowing experience
had so changed Hillman and he had turned so black
in the face from suffusion of blood that Duncan
thought he was a negro in the act of escaping, and
shouted to the other to shoot him down. The guard
yelled out his name just in the nick of time, and
galloped away.
As soon as possible after we received the news,
we formed a posse and started in pursuit. We traced
the convicts to the Suwanee River, which they
crossed, and there the trail was broken; so we were
obliged, reluctantly, to abandon the chase. None
of the eight men were recaptured, although we oc-
casionally heard from them as they pushed south.



The fact was that, while repeatedly seen, they were
such notorious and acknowledged desperadoes that
no citizens dared to halt them. I should explain
that when I speak of citizens, both here and in other
places in this narrative, I use the word in the sense
applied in my calling. Just as in Utah all who
are not Mormons are known as Gentiles, so in pris-
on vernacular all who are not convicts are alluded
to as citizens. The party of fugitives would enter
the lonely and isolated cabins of the section they
traversed, and force the settlers to give them such
food and shelter as they required. At one place they
traded one of our guns for a load of provisions.
Of the two dogs they took with them, one, a fe-
male, returned and afterward had a litter of puppies
that were destined at a later day to participate in
some exciting scenes themselves. The other, the
sire of the litter, which they carried along or made
away with, was the last of the three purchased, as
I have related, by my brother to start a pack. He
was a magnificent trailer, and I regretted to lose
It may be interesting to trace the subsequent ca-
reer of the three ringleaders. Lippford went to Mar-
ion County, and in time the officers learned of his
whereabouts and a posse went to capture him. He
had cleared a little place in the woods, built him-
self a cabin and was living the life of the ordinary
settler. He was in the house at the time the posse
appeared, and when they reached the edge of the


clearing he made a sudden dash from the door and
rushed toward a dense and trackless swamp that
bordered on the place. When the officers saw that
he was about to escape in its impenetrable recesses,
they fired on him, and a bundle he was carrying on
his back fell to the ground. Lippford staggered
on and disappeared in the morass. That was the
last ever seen of him, but as two buckshot holes
were found passing clear through the bundle, it is
safe to say that his bones lie somewhere in the dark
morass that swallowed him up.
Williams met his fate at Brookville, Florida.
He was hiding in the vicinity, but in the course of
time he grew bold and would occasionally come into
town for a spree. His identity was at the time un-
suspected, but on one of these carousals he went too
far, and in a spirit of pure drunken deviltry he shot
down an inoffensive negro upon the street. He
took flight, sobered by the enormity of the act, and
was instantly pursued by a throng of citizens and
officers. A running fight ensued, and a deputy sheriff
named John Steele shot him dead. His body was
subsequently identified.
I have reason to believe that See is still alive,
and shall have occasion to again allude to him. He
went into an unsettled portion of Taylor County,
where he lived the life of a wild man, terrorizing
the few who met him and holding his domain by
force of his sinister reputation. Occasionally the
citizens of the county would appeal to the officers



to remove so undesirable a resident, but, as far as
I know, no one ever had the hardihood to attempt
Time and again during these days, the turbulent
and desperate nature of the prisoners broke forth.
Some weeks after the capture of the camp which I
have detailed, I sent a squad of eight men into
the woods in charge of a new guard named W. B.
Phillips, a tall, raw-boned, wild-looking native-
rather harum-scarum, but a nervy fellow and a dead
shot. They had not been out very long before three
of the squad-John Jacobs, James Goings and Will
iam Alexander-dropped their tools and ran.
Phillips was instantly all excitement and began
whooping like a Comanche, but he retained enough
presence of mind to open fire. He first drew down
on Goings, and at the shot the man fell to the
ground, pierced through both legs. It was the
shock, however, more than the wound that upset
him, and he staggered to his feet again and disap-
peared in the underbrush. Phillips' next shot was
at Alexander, and he also showed signs of being
hit, but kept on nevertheless. We afterward
learned that the bullet had struck him in the side,
inflicting a painful but not a serious wound. By
this time Jacobs was nearly 300 yards away, lum-
bering along and greatly hampered by his chains,
which were so short as to prevent him from taking
a running gait. It was one chance in a hundred,
but the guard took a farewell shot at him, and by a



curious accident the bullet struck the stride-chain,
cutting it in two. Thus unexpectedly relieved of
his impediment, the fugitive bounded like a deer
and soon vanished. We did not hear anything more
of him for years, and my subsequent experience
with him, which was to say the least peculiar, I
will relate further on. Alexander also made good
his escape and was last seen in Mobile, Alabama,
but Goings was less fortunate.
The night following the delivery, I was sitting
in my house when a little girl from a neighboring
settler's rushed in, as pale as a ghost.
"Oh, Captain Powell! she exclaimed, "there's a
wounded prisoner just passed our house! "
"How did he look?" I asked, hardly able to be-
lieve that any of the runaways were still in the vi-
"He has both legs broken," she said, "and is
pulling himself alo-i~ with sticks."
Still incredulor. ,at willing to investigate, I
went back with he:, and, sure enough, found the
track of a man in the dew that lay heavy on the
grass. He had been half-crawling and half-drag-
ging himself, by thrusting two sticks in the ground,
and the marks were very plain to be seen. By that
time it was too dark to do anything that night, but
early next morning we took the trail. It was easily
traced by the crushed herbage and occasional spots
of blood, and much to my surprise, for I knew the
man must be very weak and badly wounded, it led