The American Siberia

Material Information

The American Siberia or, Fourteen years' experience in a southern convict camp
Series Title:
The golden series, no. 1
Powell, J. C
Place of Publication:
H. J. Smith & co.
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
355 p. : illus. ; 20 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
Convict labor -- Florida ( lcsh )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Statement of Responsibility:
by J. C. Powell.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
025039010 ( ALEPH )
01180960 ( OCLC )
AJD4123 ( NOTIS )
07030310 ( LCCN )

Full Text





Fourteen Years' Experience in a Southern Con-
vict Camp


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 oice 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 daripg advent-


ure, desperate deed, narrow escape, lludicrous 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, x89x.


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
d pot 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. G4agrnor Sterns had been superseded
by George F. Drew, now a merchant in Jacksonville,
and with the change of administration came a gen-
1, 7


eral overhauling of state institutions, including the
penal system. Prior to that time a penitentiary
had been maintained in a very old buildingat Chat-
;ahoochee, 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 chargeof 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 $3o,ooo 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 was no record kept of
the dead or those who escaped. In brief, the state
turned over its charges hody and soul, and thence-
forth washed its hands of them Andl this wa nont
in the middle ages Siberia,-but in-these United
States, about a decade and a halfago.
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 :>e 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.great scandal, growing out
of these atrocities, became so imminent, that a sort
of coiipromise 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 thelmen
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 t mbs, the loose
ends flung over a convenient liho 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 outlip-
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 airs
which I have outlined forced a change of some
S -'haracter. 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. y brother W P ell,
and self were employed by Maor Wise to take
chagof his cam and t ..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
he 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 theywere 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 I
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 bafy
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 soon back and. forth all daylong, 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


ity, who subsequently occupied about the same
elation to the lease system in Florida as that of
senator Joseph Brown in Georgia.
It was evident that very few of these men were
ble to stand the exhausting labor of turpentine
culture, and that it would be necessary to first get
hem into condition. However, we went into camp
n the woods near a little station called Padlock.
There we built a rude log-house, twenty by forty
eet, for sleeping quarters. Like Solomon's temple,
it was erected without the sound of hammer, and
he roof was secured by a curious system of pegs
nd weights. There was not a nail in the structure,
and it was altogether a fine specimen of wild wood-
raft. 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
a 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
I 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 call to 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

N; N

* 1.
4 .4

. 14


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 diseasewas 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
ear 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
loggirig-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 adog 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 innearly 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 hive 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 fullspeed, immediately distinguishes cross-trails,
and rarely akes a mistake.
There ha e at different times been some few men
under me w o, by a freak of nature or some inexpli-
cable conditi n, left no trail and could not be fol-
lowed by an 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 usuallydone
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
Sa 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"
Sis 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 he-
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. Pondewas a white ma, 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
surrouridng 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
SFennison 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 figinent 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 grotind.
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, Lawdl but I'se a berry use-
ful man in dis community, Hebbenly Fadder! Dey
can't well spar'me! You'se done reached me a les-
son, Lawd; you'se skeered me pow'ful, but don't
take me jist yet. Don't do nuffin' you might 'gret "
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 be 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 whichoccurred
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 I 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,

eria, Page 87.-


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-


ow'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, #nd such
was the sentiment against us, that there, was not
a settler in a radius of fifty miles but w uld 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
"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 sonie 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
man 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 canipot 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, wko 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, othersshot
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. IF had
about the same experience in getting them into
condition for the turpentine work, and wi-l not
dwell upon its details.
There were a good qiany 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 tho 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 on4 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 cmme
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 hive 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, I handed my gun to
a guard and set to, not exactly according to prixe-
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.
e kept a look-out for such animals, and one morn-
ng an old woman went past with three puppies
punched together in her arms. My brother called
o her and offered ten dollars for the litter, which
he accepted with alacrity, and thus we obtained a
tart. To any one interested in dog-breeding, the
subsequent career of this little pack would be at
east 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
pounds, 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 tohunthim 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


~ 'Y~rl


with every symptom of poisoning, and two died. I
ferreted the matter c'dt and discovered that one
Cyrus Cooks, then known as "number thirty-four,"
had given tb m powdered glass-a favorite prison
poison. i Le survivor of the pack flourished to be-
come the sire -A 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. Tle 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


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


hus he stood for several minutes, a picture for a
nightmare, staggering, beckoning with his bloody
agers and pointing to the open gash. The guard
:coiled in horror, refused to go near him, and sent
)r me. I sewed up the wound as best I could, and
i the jugular vein had escaped by the merest
iance, the man eventually got well; but suicide
as ever after a subject in which he took no inter-
The next case was that of Thomas Jump, a
[ernando County backwoodsman, who was sent to
rison for murdering his brother-in-law. He had
ved the usual life of a shiftless "Cracker," hunting
id fishing, and hard work did not agree with
im. He was put to "chipping," and presently
opped in disgust. The guard told him to go to
ork or he would have him whipped. At the word
shipped," the wild backwoodsman, who had never
i all his life suffered a blow in anger, started as
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
ly mammy used to do it."
The bare possibility of such a thing stuck in his
ind and in a few moments he called wildly to the
guard to shoot him, and then attempted to knock
is own brains out with the weight attached to his
Ock. 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 'ho
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 determine
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 rigorously, 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 cimp.
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, ho
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 ten
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 bad
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 uqed 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 dqwn. 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 *nd
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 bf
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 spiritof 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


o remove so undesirable a resident, but, as far as
know, no one ever had the hardihood to attempt
Time and again during these days, the turbulent
nd desperate nature of the prisoners broke forth.
Some weeks after the capture of the camp which I
ave detailed, I sent a squad of eight men into
he woods in charge of a new guard named W. B.
hillips, a, tall, raw-boned, wild-looking native-
ather harum-scarum, but a nervy fellow and a dead
shot. They had not been out very long before three
f 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
Sand 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'sa
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-ig with sticks."
Still incredulot ut willing to investigate, I
went back with her, 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 spou
of blood, and much to my surprise, for I knew the
man must be very weak and badly wounded, it led





us clear to Live Oak. There it was lost on the
hard roads, and we made diligent search for some
hours, but were unable to get trace of our man.
We were about to leave when we learned that the
night before some one had broken into the house
of Colonel White, afterward Judge White, a promi-
nent citizen of the place. There was something
peculiar about the burglary. The thief, whoever
he was, had made no effort to take any valuables,
but had stolen nothing but food and was apparently
in a great hurry to get away. All things consid-
ered, I concluded to search the premises. They in-
cluded a large vineyard, in the rear of which was
what is called a "sink-hole." These are common
in the lime stratum that underlies much of North-
ern Florida, and are simply deep caverns open at
the top and often having a spring of living water
at the bottom. This one was densely masked by
trees growing in crevices and luxuriant vegetation,
and we clambered down to explore it. Crouched
upon the slippery rocks at the bottom, and utterly
exhausted by pain and fatigue, was our missing
We carried him back to camp and he eventually
recovered, but how he made so long a journey in
his condition is a mystery only to be explained by
indomitable nerve.
It so happened that other shooting affrays fol-
lowed in close order. The convicts knew full well
that when they ran they took their lives in their


hands, but there was no lack of men prepared for
such a risk. The guards, in emergencies of the kind,
could not leave their squads, and the only messen-
ger they could send was a bullet. It was hard, I
admit, but if blame attached to it, it was the sys-
tem that should receive it.
Two cases of the sort occurred in one day. In
one of them a guard named Hurst, whom I have
already mentioned, figured. He had in his squd a
veteran sailor named Williams, and the men were
chipping pines. This operation necessitates stoop-
ing, and finally Williams stuck hishack into a tree
and faced about.
"Look here! he said to the guard, "do you fel-
lows expect a man to work standing on his
"I don't care what you stand on," replied Hurst,
"just so you chip those pines."
With that the sailor dashed off through the
woods. Hurst fired and the bullet struck him in
the hip, knocking him head over heels. In time
the wound healed, but Williams persisted that the
leg was entirely paralyzed, and went hobbling about
on crutches, doing no work at all for the balance
of his time-some two years. I frequently accused
him of shamming, but the prison physician thought
otherwise. On the day of his discharge my judg-
mept was vindicated. He made perfectly sure that
he was free, and then broke both crutches across
his knees, roaring with laughter.


"Ha! ha! hal" he shouted; "a man that can't
eat his way in prison ought to be fried in oil! "
On the day that he was wounded, a negro named
rank Johnson also attempted to run, but was shot
own by his guard, Louis Richard. It was a coin-
idence that he also was wounded about the thigh,
nd it turned out to be a serious matter for him,
or the joint stiffened permanently. He suffered
greatly, and was discharged at the expiration of his
sentence lamed for life.
It may be well to note, in connection, that this
narrative is the only existing record of escapes.
Strange to say, no official register was kept or au-
horized by the lessee, and when the convicts were
turned over by Major Wise to his successor he
was unable to furnish anything but a list of the
men he then had. In consequence it is an undenia-
le fact that there are at this day dozens of escaped
onvicts living throughout Florida, who could not
e successfully reclaimed by process of court,
through inability to trace their cases or prove that
hey ever did escape.
It goes almost without saying, that in the rude
ack districts there was many an atrocity perpe-
rated in the name of the law, and instances of a
monstrous nature frequently came under my obser-
vation. Such a case was that of a negro named Tony
Tucker, who to my certain knowledge died from
the effects of an almost incredible piece of barbar-
ity. We received him from Sumpter County at about


this period in events, and when he arrived at camp
-he presented a singular and horrible appearance. He
seemed to be suffering from an enormous goitre,
if a goitre can be imagined consisting of a circle
of separate swellings that puffed his neck out of all
semblance to anything human, and extended up upon
his head. It was caused, in this wise: When
arrested he was some distance from the jail, and
the officers bound his hands and fastened one end
of a long chain around his neck. They attached
the other end to their buggy and started off at a
brisk trot. By a desperate effort the negro kept
up for a while, and then he fell repeatedly and was
dragged through the dirt for yards before the horse
could be slowed down to enable him to regain his
feet. He reached the jail more dead than alive,
and in a little while he was in the condition I
hhve described.
Each separate link had ground into his flesh and
produced an abscess, and the pressure threatened
eyery moment to strangle him, besides producing
intolerable pain. I lanced the neck in perhaps
twenty places and gave him some relief, but he was
mortally hurt and really dying by inches when re-
ceived. He lingered for a long time, being a man
of powerful physique, but eventually expired in the
greatest agony. This is no overdrawn or highly col-
ored picture, but simply a statement of facts. I
never learned the names of the officers who to
cruelly misused him.


It may be remembered that 'r cell house at
Sing Sing was a double structure-two buildings
side by side. The doors were not customarily locked
at night; the fact that the prisoners were linked
on the building-chain, and an armed guard patrol-
ling the front wing being deemed sufficient protec-
tion. One night a convict, whose name has been
lost, cut his chain in two and crept off his bunk
toward the door. The guard was slowly pacing
from one house to the other, and when his back
was turned the prisoner made a sudden dash for
liberty. He flung the door wide open, thus inter-
posing it between himself and the guard, and
whipped around the corner of the house. Before
the night watchman could fire a shot he had dis-
appeared in the darkness.
We had the dogs on his track directly; but he
was the fleetest footed man I ever followed, and he
beat us in a fair race-the first and last case of the
kind on record. Not only did he outrun the swift
hounds through the pitchy darkness, but he did it
so easily that as he passed through watermelon
patches he would sit down and refresh himself
with a melon or two before resuming his flight.
We concluded it was no use chasing such a cham-
pion sprinter, and gave him up.
It was about this time, or near it, that a curious
affair, hushed up as speedily as possible, came under
my notice.
One day six prisoners were received in camp from


Brevard County on a five-year sentence each, for
cattle-stealing. They were middle aged, substan.
tial looking, and while they had the rough-and.
ready exterior of frontiersmen, they were of an
altogether different type from the class that usually
finds its way into prisons. Two days later a mes-
sage came in hot haste to send the men to Live
Oak, as they had been granted a new trial. Ac.
cordingly they were sent away, and that was the last
I ever saw of them. The explanation was after-
ward made that there had been some irregularity
about their first trial, but I subsequently learned
that the "irregularity" in question consisted of an
extraordinary conspiracy, made possible by the pe-
culiar condition of affairs in the section where they
lived. In order to understand it, it must be known
that Brevard and several adjoining counties were
largely given over at that time to the cattle busi.
ness. The market was Cuba, and vast herds ranged
through the cane brakes and grazed on the rich up-
lands. Those who engaged in the business on a
large scale grew rich, and it was no unusual thing
for rude backwoodsmen, almost reared in the sad-
dle and often not able to write their own names,
to have from twenty-five to fifty thousand dollars
in Spanish gold in their rough log cabins. The
retainers of these cattle barons formed small armies;
they were entirely isolated from the world, and they
ordained things to suit themselves. Of courts, law-
officers, or any restraining influence whatever except


force, there was none. Occasionally feuds 'would
spring up, usually arising from some quarrel over
the ownership of cattle, and were settled Indian
fashion, by a merciless bushwhacking warfare in the
woods. Many a skeleton lies moldering among the
palmettos to-day, the fruit of such encounters, and
many a smoke-stack stands as a monument of the
cabins burned and pillaged in these fierce internal
It was in this country and amidst these condi-
tions that the six men who were so briefly my pris-
oners lived. They were all stock-raisers on a small
scale, and in that capacity incurred the enmity of
some of the cattle barons I have alluded to. As
they were desperate and determined fellows, it was
deemed inadvisable to attempt to frighten them out
of the country, and a plot was finally formed to get
rid of them by sending them to prison. I have said
that there were no courts. They proceeded to or-
ganize a bogus one in a cabin belonging to one of
the rich stockmen. Judge, jury, court officers and
lawyers were impersonated by his cowboys, and a
pretended sheriff was sent out to arrest the victims.
Of course such a ruse would not have deceived a
man of experience for a moment, but not one of the
six had ever been in a court before in his life, and
while they held the principles of law in contempt,
they had a superstitious awe, common to natives,
of its outward forms. Consequently they came in,
hats in hand, and gravely faced the spurious judge


and villainous-looking cowboy jury. Lawyers were
furnished them, and they were arraigned on the
charge of cattle-stealing. The solemn farce of trial
was proceeded with, and it is needless to say that
they were promptly found guilty and the judge
sentenced them to five years apiece in prison. Had
the least suspicion of the truth entered the minds
of the prisoners, there would surely have been blood-
shed then and there, but they saw nothing wrong
and were overwhelmed with grief at their conviction.
No time was lost, but one of the conspirators, person-
ating a deputy, started at once for prison with the
party. I cannot say exactly how they came to be
received without the fraud being detected, but it
was probably due to carelessness in handling the
commitment papers. At any rate, when the matter
leaked out, the state officials were horrified at the
boldness of the act, and lost no time ordering the
release of the prisoners and in as far as possible
suppressing the facts of the affair. It is possible
that a damage suit was feared, but if so, the state
was mistaken, for once they learned how they had
been duped, the half a dozen quondam convicts
were intent on nothing except to get back and take
personal revenge.
It was said that there were lively times in Bre-
vard County when they returned, and that it needed
a good deal of hot lead as salve for their wounded
feelings; but the stories came up from the wild
country by word of mouth and varied considerably in


detail. I am only sure of the fate of one of the
six. His -name was Jonnaker, and very shortly
after his release he was riding at break-neck speed
on an Indian pony when they fell headlong into a
sink-hole, and both man and beast were instantly


Of all our prisoners at camp Sing Sing, the one
whose case attracted the widest attention and who
was, in many respects, the most remarkable charac-
ter, was Richard or "Dick" Evans, ex-sheriff and
ex-city marshal of Pensacola, who received a five.
year sentence for as cruel and barbarous a murder
as was ever committed in Florida, which is saying
a good deal. He was the singular creation of very
singular circumstances. Coming originally from
the North, very poor and altogether obscure, he
grew to be a political power of the first magnitude
in his city. He arrived at just the right time
for an unscrupulous adventurer to make money.
Florida was under radical rule; wholesale looting
of the public funds was going on everywhere, and
Pensacola was a hot-bed of political corruption and
general immorality of every description. The city
never saw wilder days, even when the Spanish buc-
caneers used its harbor for an anchorage and built
their fortifications on its hills. The land-sharks,
outlaws, blackmailing officials, and desperadoes
from every state that thronged the approaches of
the harbor were as rapacious, infamous and unre-
strained as the pirates of other times ever dared
to be.


It was while affairs were in this condition that
Dick Evans put in an appearance, and soon opened
a saloon and dance hall on Polifax street, a thor-
oughfare given over bodily to vice. His establish-
ment was in the midst of similar dives, bagnios,
groceries and every sort of dead-fall in which the
drunken sailors, who formed the main patrons,
might be lured and robbed. Evans himself was a
man of desperate courage and considerable intelli-
gence, and his place soon became the headquarters
of the political rowdies, wire-pullers and ward-
heelers of the town. There was a cluster of rooms
in the rear where gambling was carried on, and he
naturally gravitated into the position of "boss" of
the politics of his section.
As'he prospered he was not content with one
place, and opened another establishment for negroes,
which was speedily the rendezvous of all the black
ruffians in Pensacola. It was known as "The Tin
Roof," and a sort of variety performance with col-
ored performers was given every night. It was an
infamous den, and run ostensibly by a negress with
whom Evans lived openly as man and wife.
It seems incredible that such a character could be
elected to any position of trust, but he was neverthe-
less made at different times both sheriff and city
marshal. One night while he held the latter office,
a political meeting was held in the city and broke
up in something !ike a riot. The street was full
of men fighting, when Evans rushed into the thick


of the fray, whipped out his revolver and shot five
men. Such, however, was his political influence
that he was never prosecuted, and the crime for
which he was sent to prison was the murder of a
young man named Calvin Griffin, in his own saloon.
Griffin was intoxicated at the time, and reeling up
to the bar, seized a pitcher and said in drunken
"I am going to break this pitcher and pay for it."
Thereupon Evans sprang on him like a tiger and
beat his brains out with a chair. It was undoubt-
edly due to his powerful political friends that he
escaped the gallows and secured his comparatively
light sentence.
I found him a sturdy, athletic man, on the right
side of middle-age, with a set, hard face, black
hair and mustache, and a very restless eye. He
was sullen and embittered over his sentence, and I
have no doubt determined from the first to escape;
but he had sense enough to adopt some strategy,
and conducted himself so well that he was eventually
made hospital steward. The hospital department
was merely a division of the cell-house, and the
whole building was guarded at night by one man
who sat with his rifle before the slatted door and thus
could see at all times what was going on inside.
One night the guard heard a suspicious grating
sound, and located it as proceeding from where Evans
lay stretched on the sleeping-platform, covered
with his blanket. In a few moments he was convinced


that the convict was sawing his chain in two, and
he naturally supposed that the next thing would be
a dash ior-the door. Here he used very bad judg-
ment, for, instead of immediately giving an alarm,
he sat perfectly quiet, his finger on the trigger,
ready to shoot down the man on the first demon-
I have never approved of leading convicts on to
proceed with any infraction of the rules after I have
once discovered it, but the guard gave Evans every
opportunity to make the dash he supposed he con-
templated, desiring to catch him red-handed. The
sawing continued for some time and then stopped,
and the prisoner, after tossing about a little, finally
lay quite still. Satisfied that the door was about
to be besieged, the guard feigned sleep at inter-
vals, and then would walk a little distance away and
back again, but every time he looked through the
slats he could see the rigid outline under the blank-
Several hours passed thus, and the watchman grew
puzzled. He was morally certain that Evans had
cut his chain, but why he did not make the dash
was something he could not understand. At last
he sent for me and explained the situation. Much
annoyed that he had not summoned me before, I
rushed immediately into the cell-house to investi-
gate, and the instant I laid eyes on the bunk some-
thing about the profile of the blankets struck
me as peculiar. I went to them and found they


were hung across a bunk plank, which had been
raised out of its place and set up edegwise, a gap
where it had been leading beneath the platform.
The bird had flown.
There was a trail through the sand under the
bunk, showing where he had crawled, and I followed
it, expecting every instant to encounter the fugitive,
until it led me to the rear of the cell-house. There
a hole had been cut through the logs and masked
by a board set up before it. Evans had crawled
out and vanished, dropping in his hurry a pair of
pants, most ingeniously fashioned out of an old
blanket. These we picked up in front of the
I called the hounds, and as soon as possible rode
off in pursuit. They took the trail well, although
the night was extremely dark, as happened upon
many another chase. In fact, fortune seems to favor
fugitives in that particular. Our direction was to-
ward the Suwanee river, and from the actions of
the hounds there was no doubt but that we were
close in Evans' wake. It afterward turned out that
the baying had just reached his ears, and here a
thing occurred that shows the desperate courage
and illimitable nerve of the man. The moment he
heard that fatal sound, a bold and perilous ruse
flashed into his brain. I can best explain it by
telling what he did. He never hesitated an instant,
but whirled about in his tracks and came running
back to meet us. As I have said, it was partly


ere almost face to face, he gathered himself to-
ether and leaped far to one side of the road. He
rarely struck the earth when we swept past, the dogs
keeping the old track, as he had anticipated they
Nould, and leaving him there.
The fugitive did not wait, but rushing into the
oad again, pursued his course toward the camp
ver the same track that he had originally taken
n his flight. Meantime the dogs ran steadily,
until they reached the point where he had heard us
nd turned, and, without slackening their speed,
hey also turned and followed the scent back.
Evans was almost midway to the camp when the
baying sounded in his ears again. Thiswas exactly
what he had calculated upon, for it was his plan,
is it subsequently proved, to double the hounds
ack, expecting that they would continue on the
rst track clear to the cell-house, thus giving him
n opportunity to retrace his route to the Suwanee
iver. Once there, he knew he was comparatively
safe, for water effectually breaks a trail.
Again we pressed him close, and again he faced
about and ran back. For the second time he
cleared the road with a wide bound, and we passed
him. But human cunning is no match for the mar-
velous instinct or perhaps marvelous intelligence
Df a hound trained to the hunting of men; and
instead of following the first track back to the
:amp, the .dogs merely ran to the point where he


had doubled upon himself, and doubled also. All
this was done without the slightest hesitation, and
proves conclusively that a good dog has no diffi.
culty in distinguishing between two trails made a
few hours apart by the same man, even when one
overlaps the other.
It was bewildering, this weaving back and forth
in the darkness, but I had conceived some notion
of Evans' plan and trusted implicitly to my
guides. In perhaps half an hour we pressed the
fugitive close again. This time the melancholybay-
ing meant to him failure of his subterfuge, so in-
geniously planned and daringly carried out; but his
indomitable nerve never left him. Hunted down
and exhausted as he was, he turned and came up
the road. A less determined man would have sur-
rendered then and there, but he coolly determined
to try the same tactics over. He leaped aside and
we passed, but only for a moment. The dogs, weary
of this game of hide-and-seek, and after running
for a few yards, they stopped, seemed puzzled,
sniffed the air, and then made for a tree that stood
dimly outlined by the roadside. They circled
round it, loudly giving tongue, and I knew I had
my man at last.
It was too dark to see, but I was convinced that
he was behind the tree-trunk and called on him to
come out. There was no reply.
"I see you, Evans," I called again, "and if you
don't come I will certainly shoot you."


bibria, Page 91.


...; .


Still silence, save for the barking of the hounds
nd blowing of my winded horse-in the road.
To approach in that profound gloom would have
een simply-an invitation for him to brain me with
he first knot he could lay his hands on, and at
ast, at a venture, I fired my revolver in the direc-
ion of the tree. The explosion filled the midnight
oods with echoes, and Evans, while he made no
ove to come out, stirred sufficiently to expose the
white outline of his shoulder. I dropped my
revolver sights as nearly as I could upon this
"Come out!" I shouted, "or I will kill you!" and
red again.
This time there was an immediate response.
"Stop! Captain," came a voice from the gloom;
"that last bullet knocked the bark in my face. I'll
ive up."
Upon that he stepped to the edge of the road.
ust then Mr. Mills, of the camp, rode up, and
leaving my horse with him, I walked over and
searched the runaway. I was afraid to remount,
for once in the saddle I could not see him, and,
linking arms with him, we made our way back to
camp in that fashion, arriving just before day-break.
During the balance of our stay under that
management, Evans made no more overt attempts,
but his bull-dog determination never left him, and,
asit afterward proved, he was only waiting: for a
favorable opportunity.


About this time I had a guard named Bill New.
land, who was the hero of two surprising adventures,
one of which resulted in a long, arduous and' thrill.
ing chase. We had been using double-barreled shot.
gun'in guarding and had just then substituted Win.
chester magazine rifles. Newland had never handled
a repeating gun before, and it was an entertaining
novelty to him. Armed with the weapon, of which
he was as proud as a boy with a red sled, he took
a squad of eight men and a trusty into the woods
and immediately sat down on a log to examine the
mechanism of the magazine. Presently he tried
to see how rapidly he could operate it, and in jerk.
ing the lever up and down a shell was discharged
on the "carrier" before it reached the barrel, and as
it set off several others in the magazine, the explo-
sion was something tremendous.
The gun was blown to pieces; a fragment of the
wreck struck Newland a smart blow on the chest,
his face was filled with burnt powder, and fully be-
lieving he was killed, he fell backward over thelog
and lay there. General escape would undoubtedly
have taken place but for the extraordinary fidelity
and presence of mind of his trusty, a man named
William Filer. Before the eight convicts, several
of them desperate men, recovered from their sur-
prise and realized the situation, he had them strung
on the squad-chain, the end locked, and was stand-
ing guard over them with a bludgeon. In this order
he got them back to camp, the guard bringing up


the rear and looking like the sole survivor of a big
railroad wreck.
Newland was not much the wore except for his
burns, and thinking he had learned a good lesson
in caution, I put him to guarding a squad that
worked near a marshy place called Gum Slough.
One of his men was a villainous negro named
Griffin, who in addition to being a desperado was a
cunning schemer, always plotting mischief, and I was
surprised to find that Newland had apparently taken
a great liking to the fellow. I warned him that the
man was a sly rascal who probably had some dev-
iltry in his mind at that moment, but Newland
scouted at the idea.
"Why, Griffin'is one of my very best men," he
said; "there's no more harm in him than in a little
four-year-old child."
"There's no more harm in him than in a little
four-year-old wolf," I replied; "and you had best
keep him .under the gun."
I failed to convince him, and in brief he made a
sort of pet of the man. This he had occasion to
bitterly regret.
One afternoon Newland was sitting down in the
woods reading a letter, his gun leaning against his
shoulder, when Griffin offered him some "chink-a-
pin" nuts he had just picked.
"Come and give them to me," said the guard-
thus violating the rule that a convict shall never
be allowed to approach within a certain distance.


He held out his hand abstractedly, still reading the
letter, and Griffin with a quick movement dropped
the nuts into his outstretched palm and seized the
gun. He leaped back, cocked it, and presented it at
his head.
Newland was thunderstruck, but Griffin paid no
attention to his plaints, and as he was immediately
joined by a couple of the other convicts, the three
forced the balance of the squad to accompany them,
and all moved off. Newland followed, begging and
pleading for his gun and recalling his numerous fa-
vors, until Griffin finally turned on him.
"Yes, you white he said menacingly; "you
were very kind to me, and if you will just follow me
down into this swamp I will show you how kind I
can be to you."
At this the victim of misplaced confidence con-
cluded that discretion was the better part of valor,
and not only dropped the chase but left the country,
and I have never laid eyes on him since.
After proceeding a short distance, the five men
who had unwillingly accompanied Griffin and his
party found an opportunity to give them the slip,
and hurried back to camp. They arrived at about
nightfall, and when they told their story I instantly
gathered my dogs together, and with Major Wise
and T. J. Leverett, a guard, started in pursuit.
The hounds took the scent beautifully, and we fol-
lowed them through the dense forests, the tortuous
lagoons and tangled brakes of Gum Slough, heading


toward the town of Houston. We kept the pace
all night long, guided by the yelping of the dogs,
and day broke on the chase. At last, tired out and
discouraged, Leverett left us, and Wise and I pressed
on toward Live Oak, the trail still hot. Meantime,
however, the dogs began to show signs of fatigue.
The long and closely sustained effort was too much
for them and they gave out. But I felt that I had
gone too far to give up and I resolved to see it
through, if I had to go alone.
Now that we were without the dogs, we were
forced to follow the trail by such scraps of infor-
mation as we could pick up on the road. Fortu-
nately we were so close behind the fugitives that
we encountered numerous people who recollected
seeing them pass, and in this connection a curious
incident occurred. We encountered a party of ne-
groes driving in an ox-team, and Major Wise checked
his horse to make some inquiries of the driver, a
weazened and cunning looking old darky. I was
impatient, and called out at a venture:
"Don't talk to that old rascal! He is the very
man that knocked their shackles off."
This random shot struck home, and the effect
upon the old fellow was electric. His eyes bulged
out, and he attempted to stammer a denial, but the
wordsdied on his lips, and he too evidently regard-
ed me as a conjurer of a very high class; for only
a short time before, he had actually knocked the
leg-irons off the runaways, and was subsequently


arrested for it, and the very dints of the hammer.
ing found on his wagon-tire. But, df course, we
knew nothing of this at the time, and rode on.
At Lake City, Major Wise was so overcome with
fatigue that he stopped and took the train back to
his home at Live Oak; but I pressed on, and by dint
of careful inquiry, I got track of my men on an old
public road running to Gainesville. This was a
valuable clue, for I remembered that I had heard
one of the fugitives, a man named Thomas Net-
tles, often speak of one Prince, his brother-in-law,
who followed the trade of shingle-maker at Gaines-
ville. I felt sure that they were on the way to his
house, after help and clothes, and without taking
the trouble to make many more inquiries, I hurried
on in the direction of the town. Night fell. black
as ink, when I was near the Santa Fe River. I did
not know the country, the water was high, and the
question was how to cross. A settler whom I en-
countered directed me to where he said the stream
was spanned by a natural bridge, and I soon located
the place by his landmarks, but could see no cross-
ing. I had no idea what the natural bridge looked
like, and time was too pressing and the darkness
too extreme to make a prolonged search; so, taking
chances that the water was shoal, I urged my
horse in. The next moment he was carried off his
feet and swimming wildly for the other side.
It was a situation to make one's hair stand on
end. A few belated stars shone in the sky, but their


faint light did not penetrate the murky darkness
that hung above the waters. I felt the flood swirl
and lap about my legs, and my ignorance of the lo-
cality and of the extent of the inundation forced the
realization home, that good luck alone could extri-
cate me. Could the runaways have seen me whirl-
ing down that inky current, they would no doubt
have considered their chances very much better
than mine.
The truth was that the river was so swollen by
freshets that it could no longer pass under the
natural bridge, and had overflowed it, spreading
over the adjoining woods and palmetto flats, and
converting them into an enormous swamp. Although
I did not dream it at the time, the top of the
bridge was almost beneath us as my horse strug-
gled along, and at length I found myself among a
growth of partially submerged trees on the other
side. My horse floundered up to a little palmetto
"tussock," lifting above the rock,.and I let him
stand and blow a while. I peered about, through
the gloom, and gradually I discerned near me what
appeared to be the stranded remains of an emigrant's
outfit. A wagon was caught between two trees and
hung with one side canted up, half in water and
half out, while boxes, bedding, and household uten-
sils floated about in melancholy confusion.
As I surveyed this flotsam, I noticed a light glim-
mering in the distance and made for it. It proved
to be a camp-fire at which two bedraggled men and