Thursday, October 20, 2016


Statue of Copper John on top of Auburn Prison.

"Striped" prisoners at Auburn Prison.
Oliver Curtis Perry.
Cortland Evening Standard, Tuesday, April 4, 1893.


A Dreadful Revolt in Auburn Prison.
Sanguinary Encounter Between Keeper's and Convicts.
Frenzied Felons Fight Like Demons—A General Uprising Throughout the Prison—The Fire Part of the Plot—Thwarted by a Fellow Convict and the Brave Stand of Guards and Keepers—How It All Ended.
[From the Auburn Advertiser April 1.]
   One of the most appalling scenes ever enacted in Auburn prison was precipitated at a late hour this afternoon and at one time it possessed all the sanguinary features of a fierce clash of arms between rival soldiery in full battle array. It was a general uprising of the convicts under the leadership of that arch fiend, Oliver Curtis Perry, the notorious train robber and desperado and eclipsed in magnitude and suddenness, and in its dire result, any revolt that has ever taken place in any of the penal institutions of this state. It is only remarkable that more lives were not lost and that the city is not today at the mercy of a horde of desperate villains. At one time the prison enclosure swarmed with the striped forms of hundreds of convicts fighting like demons, all engaged in a mad struggle for liberty. Clubs, knives, sledge-hammers and revolvers were wildly brandished and freely used by the frenzied felons, and the air was full of flying bullets from the short carbines and revolvers of the guards and keepers in the effort to repulse the insurgents. Many convicts were mowed down, killed and maimed in the terrific engagement and several keepers were carried to the hospital fatally wounded.
   For several days before the recent fire, the keepers had been suspicious that some plot was brewing. Nothing tangible came to their notice but the air of workshop and corridor seemed impregnated with an indefinable something that breathed trouble. It was like the dire mutterings that precede the coming storm. But the plotters guarded their murderous intentions so well that not an inkling of the proposed [events] came to the surface. A change of wardens always brings about a feeling of unrest among the convicts and no doubt they had obtained some knowledge that the prison management was about to pass into other hands. It is now thought the destructive fire of Wednesday last was a part of the plot but that it failed of its purpose. It may have been that just before marching to dinner slow fuses were ignited by the convict fire bugs, counting upon the fire not getting under good headway until they were on the return march to the shops after mess. But the fire burned too rapidly and the 'victs were packed off to their cells without a chance to rebel. They were not dismayed by this miscarriage of their plans, however, and they have ever since been busy organizing the awful revolt of to-day and which was undoubtedly fully matured and ready to spring in case the incendiary scheme failed.
   The denouement came at 3:30 o'clock this afternoon. As the hour approaches the keepers in nearly all the shops became cognizant of the fact that some of the convicts were laboring under undue excitement. In one or two instances these suspicions were communicated to the principal keeper and he had just prepared to make an investigation when the storm broke. Simultaneously in all the shops a half dozen of the more desperate convicts who had been assigned to accomplish this act, fell upon the keepers, disarmed them, threw them to the floor and soon had them securely bound and pinioned to benches and heavy machinery or else left them helpless upon the floor tied in a figure 8. The stout sticks of the keepers, their revolvers and keys were then appropriated by their captors.
   This was the first act of the conspirators and it had been effected at a signal between confederates in each shop. The next step in the plot was for all to arm themselves with such weapons as were at hand and to quickly apprise the other convicts of the full extent of the uprising, for not more than one-tenth of the whole number had been let into the secret for fear of treachery. It was very naturally surmised that after the keepers had been overpowered the ranks of the rebels would be augmented by nearly all of Copper John's forces. This crafty reasoning proved correct for when the first act of the drama had taken place, those who knew nothing about the revolt were thrown into the wildest confusion, but when they learned the uprising was general throughout the prison they were not slow to join in the fight for freedom. Quickly picking up anything that would serve as a weapon—knives from the shoe-shop, clubs from the cabinet shop, standards from the brass foundry and even pieces of the machinery which they had dismantled, they made their way to the open air and flocked about the leaders, awaiting orders for the last and decisive attack upon the gates that barred their progress to liberty. A pistol shot was the signal.
   Oliver Curtis Perry then placed himself at the head of the striped army, revolver in hand and urged his followers to stand firm and to stop at nothing that stood between them and freedom. "On to keepers' hall" was the cry that went up and the insurgents, now numbering nearly a thousand strong, were ordered to advance on the double-quick. Perry looked as resolute as when he had one hand upon the throttle of a locomotive while firing his revolver at his pursuers with the other, at the time he made his famous attempt to escape on a stolen engine after robbing the express car. The howling mob at his back yelled like so many demons as the march was taken up and if any luckless keeper had fallen into their clutches his life would have paid the penalty. Only one chance was afforded for the inflamed mob to gratify its brutal instincts. The noble mastiff belonging to the warden's wife was gamboling in the yard and set up a bark at the rioters, when one of their number—a life man, brutally butchered the faithful dog with a shoe-knife, an act that seemed to meet with the approval of his fellows. More bludgeons were then obtained from the debris of the great fire and the determined malefactors marched on unmolested.
   Up to this time the officers on day duty in the main hall of the prison were still in ignorance of the thrilling scenes taking place in the shops and in the yard. The principal keeper was on the point of visiting the shops to investigate the cause of the seeming feeling of unrest that had been reported to him when he heard the signal shot fired by Perry, and the next moment he was astounded to see the stripeds flocking in the yard like a herd of wild zebras. Their menacing air and the weapons carried did not long leave him in doubt as to the terrible import of this strange spectacle. An organized revolt, with all its attendant horrors of murder and blood-shed was unmistakably well under way. He realized that heroic measures must be taken on the instant or the desperate stripeds would force their way out and swarm over the city 1,300 strong.
   Meantime, something was going on in the deserted shops upon which the insurrectionists had not reckoned. There was one convict who had held aloof, quietly refraining from joining his fellows in the uprising and who now proved himself worthy of unconditional pardon. His name is Charles H. Towns, the ex-revivalist and pious fraud of this city who is now serving a term for grand larceny. He had determined to do all in his power to thwart the schemes of the conspirators. As soon as they had left the broom shop where he is employed, he cautiously crept out of his place of concealment, grasped a knife and quickly cut the thongs which bound the prostrate keeper. Then the pair took several knives from the work benches and proceeded to liberate the other keepers. So cautiously was this work accomplished that every keeper was freed without a suspicion of the fact entering the minds of the howling mob outside the shops. The elated keepers then took a round-about way to a private door in the north wing which they entered and then made a rush for the arsenal in the main part of the prison.
   By this time the principal keeper had marshaled his forces and was preparing to repel the assault of the invaders just as the reinforcements dashed into the room, every man doubly armed. It was right in the nick of time, too, for at that instant the heavily barred-door yielded to the terrific blows of the sledge hammers in the hands of strong convicts and the leaders sprang forward into the room, while the area outside seemed black with the surging crowd of striped demons. Their yells of triumph were answered by a deafening roar of musketry as a score of carbines at short range poured their deadly contents into the advancing hosts. A dozen of the assailants who were crowding into the door fell to the floor writhing in pain and filling the air with imprecations. Perry, as usual, seemed to bear a charmed life and escaped with a bullet hole in his hat. This staggered the attacking party for a moment and it fell back paralyzed at the fall of its leaders. The mob hesitated momentarily and then another deadly volley was poured into its midst by the determined keepers, whose blood was now up. Several more convicts threw up their hands and went down in a heap and that settled it with the remaining rebels on the stone steps leading to the hall. Despite the stentorian commands of their intrepid leader, they retreated precipitately to the yard.
   But it was not to abandon the fray, however, and there they stood in sullen silence awaiting the expected sortie of the keepers. It was not long in coming for they soon charged upon the now thoroughly enraged convicts in the effort to disperse the mob. The scene that followed beggars description. Its only parallel must have been during the reign of terror in France. It was a fierce hand to hand conflict in which the primitive weapons of the convicts played an important part. It must be remembered they also had revolvers among them, and bullets were thick as rain, while the carbines, Winchesters and six-shooters of the keepers banged away until that end of the town imagined war had been declared.
   Messengers had been dispatched to call out the police force, and to find Captain Kirby to order out the Wheeler rifles and the news of the revolt spread like wild-fire. At every volley the striped form of some convict was seen to go down and now and then a luckless keeper would fall with a fractured skull.
   When the battle was at its height and the rattle of musketry seemed loudest, rivers of blood already reddening the ground, the redoubtable Perry gave the order in commanding tones, "Set fire to the prison!" The ranks of the rebels broke in wild disorder to comply with the command, and just as Perry turned to lead a detachment toward the oil tanks be was shot in the neck by a well directed ball and the chronicler of this horrible tragedy awoke from dreamland to find he had been afflicted with nightmare on the morn of the first of April.

[Cortland] Board of Trustees.
   At the meeting of the board of trustees last evening a petition from the majority of the taxpayers on Richard-st. was read requesting that the board change the name from Richard to Sands-st. because the land was at one time wholly owned by George N. Sands and that there was another street in the village by the name of Rickard, which was confusing. As no objection was raised the name was changed.
   The bond of Frank J. Peck for $85,000 as village treasurer was received.
   The matter of having the janitor give a general alarm of fire after the regular alarm has been given, fully described in last Friday's STANDARD, was put in the hands of the chief of the fire department who is to investigate the matter by inquiring among the various companies and suggest the best plan to the board. The following appointments were made:
   Clerk—Fred Hatch.
   Street Commissioner—Byron D. Bentley.
   Board of Health—Daniel L. Lucy, first ward; Daniel Geer, second ward; J. D. Doran, third ward; Dr. Isaac A. Beach, fourth ward.
   The following walks were ordered:
   James S. Squires, N. side Squires-st,
   James S. Squires, W. side Owego-st.
   Duane Call, N. side Tompkins-st.
   W. J. Hollenbeck, N. side Railway-ave.
   B. F. Tillinghast, E. side James-st.
   W. W. Kelsey, W. side Reynolds-ave.
   Mrs. Ella Johnson, W. side Frank-st.
   D. Hatfield, S. side Park-st.
   William Woodard, N. side Railway-ave.
   James S. Squires, N. side Squires-st.
   Mrs. F. Reynolds, W. side Owego-st.
   Mrs. Sylvia Bell, E. side Reynolds-ave.
   John Ellison, N. side Squires-st.
   The clerk was instructed to buy a new account book.
   The following bills were allowed and ordered paid:
   Street commissioners' pay roll, $117.65
   J. B. Sager, meals, etc. for lockup, 1.71
   John Callihan. cleaning walks, 4.00
   Holden & Seager, coal, 27.75
   C. S. Bull, three months' salary,  250.00
   Frank M. Samson, salary, 25.00
   Police force 98.00
   E. D. Parker, taking Harry Beers to Rochester state Industrial school, 8.26
   Fred Hatch, salary, 25.00
   William J. Moore, recording, etc., 16.00
   Fabric Fire Hose Co. mittens and patent respirators, 36.90
   Cortland STANDARD, advertising and printing, 112.00
   Charles W. Collins, sundries, 9.65
   John Garrity, hauling Hook and Ladder truck 5.00
   Cortland & Homer Electric Light Co., 406.60
   Dorr C. Smith, services rendered, 2.25
   The following were admitted to the Water Witch Steamer & Hose Co., Harley Hubert, Edward Butterfield, Charles Van Bort, Charles W. Cook, Herbert DeClercq, Torry Allen, Charles Deremer, William Harvey and Edward Parmiter.

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