Archive | October, 1929

Massive prison riot in Canon City partially destroys prison

3 Oct

8 Guards Killed

Insurgents Commit Suicide Under Siege

CANON CITY, COLORADO, October 3, 1929: One of the bloodiest prison riots in U.S. history erupted when prisoners took guards hostage in an attempt to force an escape, and ended up destroying much of the prison and killing eight guards before the riot was put down by force. Five prisoners died.

The riot began as the result of an escape attempt planned by Jimmie Pardue and Danny Daniels. It has been difficult to determine their entire plan because the prisoners involved were killed. However, through the testimony of other prisoners and guards following the events, the prison administration was able to piece together the escape plan that triggered the events. It is believed the escape plan was put together when Jerry Jarrett, a prisoner who was being transferred to Reno, Oklahoma, was held at the prison in Cañon City. (2) Jimmie Pardue, #12822; (3) West Gate, August 4, 1932 Jarrett was an old friend of Daniels. While he was being held in Cañon City, the three men decided on a plan in which Daniels and Pardue would take several guards captive to be used as hostages. The hostages would be used as a shield to escape through the West Gate where Jarrett would have someone waiting in a car to bring the two of them to Oklahoma.

The three men also created an elaborate system to sneak money and weapons into the prison. The testimony of several prisoners indicated that $200.00 of this money was used to pay a guard who was to be in the West Tower and allow the escape. Testimony also indicated that on the day of the escape the guard who took the money did not show up and instead James Pate was the guard in the tower. Pate did not allow the escape and instead fired on the prisoners, throwing a wrench in the escape plot.

Pardue and Daniels had slipped away before the lunch count, put civilian clothes on under their uniforms and armed themselves with six shooters they had hidden in the coal pile. They went to the trustees’ dormitory, which was located over the dining room in the central building, and waited quietly while the prisoners finished their lunch. When lunch was over, the armed guard in the sealed crow’s nest in the center of the dining room allowed the prisoners to walk out with other guards. (4) Hole in the prison wall where guns were hidden; (5) A. H. Davis, #14847 He then followed procedure by removing the shells from the shotgun, leaving it in the crow’s nest, locking the trap door, and descending the stairs. On October 3, 1929, the guard in the crow’s nest was Elmer Erwin. As he got to the bottom of the stairs, he found Pardue and Daniels waiting for him. They demanded Erwin’s keys but he refused, asking them to turn over their weapons. Erwin tried to reach for Pardue’s gun and because of this attempt Pardue shot him.

This single incident changed everything because the prisoners knew killing a guard carried a death sentence and that meant they had nothing to lose from this point forward. There was an indication that other prisoners were involved in the escape plan but that they backed out.

Daniels and Pardue were able to capture eleven guards in the dining room and proceeded to Cellhouse One where Daniels had several weapons hidden in the wall of cell number eighteen. Prisoners A. H. Davis and Charles Davis took these guns in order to assist with the break. Charles Davis was reluctant to participate and eventually Daniels disarmed him calling him a coward because he refused to use the weapon.

Pardue took the rifle from the crow’s nest up to the chapel and shot and killed Guard Walter Rinker who was on the top of the administration building. He also shot Guard Ray Brown who was stationed in Tower Nine. Realizing the guard in Tower One still blocked their escape, he took a group of prisoners between Cellhouse Two and Three in order to get a clear shot at the guard. However, Myron Goodwin was in Tower One and was able to shoot Pardue in the hip before Pardue could hit him. (6) Mutiny at Colo. State Penitentiary Oct. 3 1929 Pardue was carried back to Cellhouse One where Daniels waited and was put in a cell where he lay in terrible pain from his wound.

Daniels realized Goodwin was still a problem and decided he could get a better shot from Cellhouse Four. Daniels then took three of the guards and the two Davises to Cellhouse Four. A. H. Davis went to an upper window and shot Goodwin who died within twenty-four hours. Daniels then returned to Cellhouse One with his hostages and the prisoners in his group.

(7) George 'Red' Reilley, #12720

There were about five hundred prisoners on the prison grounds at the time of the riot, and most of them were not in their cells because they were returning from lunch. At one point the prisoners were instructed by the guards to move into the bullpen and wait quietly until order was restored. Most of them followed these instructions, but about one hundred refused to return to their cells and instead joined the uprising.

George “Red” Reilley was one of these men, and he had gone to the kitchen to arm himself with a knife. He led a group of men to the chapel on the third floor of the Central Building where they started a fire with the kerosene they had acquired from the kitchen. The resulting fire destroyed both the Central Building and Cellhouse One and Two. Daniels was outraged when he found out about the fire, as it was definitely not part of his original plan. When he asked what “idiot” started it, Reilley did not step forward. By that time Reilley had gained Daniels’ confidence and Daniels had given him a gun. Reilley had become one of the leaders in the riot and intended to keep the position he had acquired.

At this point the fire caused the prisoners and their hostages to move to Cellhouse Three where they remained throughout the rest of the night. Here Daniels put the hostages into cells and many of the prisoners piled into the rest of the cells in order to stay out of the way. (8) Warden Crawford and others Daniels sent a note to Warden Crawford demanding he put three fueled cars at the West Gate in order to facilitate the escape. He said he would release the hostages when they were a safe distance from the prison. If his demands were not met, he threatened to kill one hostage every half hour.

Warden Crawford was forced to decide whether or not he should save the lives of guards he had known for thirteen years or allow the criminals to escape. He refused to meet the demands of the rioters, condemning the guards to death.

(9) National Guard

Crawford called in the National Guard, civilian volunteers, and trained police from Colorado Springs and Pueblo. They were armed with a French 75 cannon, dynamite, tear gas, and weapons. However, they did not feel they could lay siege to the prison. The decision was made to wait it out until later in the night when they finally decided on a course of action.

Daniels gave Crawford two chances to meet his demands, and then not only did he follow through with his threat to kill the guards. He began by shooting Guard Jack Eeles. Daniels went to the cell where he held Eeles and said:

(10) French 75 Cannon“Jack, you’ve hanged a lot of people; some of them were my friends. I’ve been told the warden didn’t like to hang people, so you helped him out. Now do you think you have any influence with him.”

“I don’t know, but I can try.”

“All right step out here, as I am sending you out with a message.”

Eeles then moved out in front of Daniels as he was instructed where Daniels shot him in the head. Daniels then had one of the hostages and three other prisoners take the body of Eeles to the warden. Daniels then turned to another guard indicating that in fifteen minutes he would be next. He then proceeded to shoot the remaining hostages one by one and would have killed them all had he not begun to run out of ammunition. (11) Ambulances waiting for victims One guard, Jack O’Shea, was permitted to live due to his having given his sandwich to a prisoner who had been deprived of a meal. Two of the survivors faked their deaths by lying flat on their back all night while others were severely wounded and only survived because Daniels thought they would die of their injuries.

Crawford considered a number of plans to regain control of the prison as the night progressed. It was finally decided to use a charge of dynamite on the cellhouse wall in order to make an opening in which to shoot at the leaders of the riot. The charge included one hundred and fifty pounds of dynamite. The blast was heard ten miles away and many windows in the town were broken but the wall of Cellhouse Three remained standing. Finally, Marion Keating, an officer from Pueblo, suggested using tear gas. He climbed to the roof and threw it in the windows. This act convinced Daniels that they were doomed.

Daniels told his friends, “My God boys, they’re going to blow us out of here. We better finish off the screws (term used by prisoners referring to the prison guards) and get the gang together for the finish.” Pardue had been in great pain from the wound in his hip the entire time and said to Daniels, “Danny end it for me before the screws get me.” Daniels shot him in the head. The rest of the gang agreed they did not want to be hung. (12) Albert Morgareidge, #15000 Following their decision Daniels shot the rest of the guards except for Officer O. A. Earl to whom he said, “We’re at the end of the rope, and I want you to go out and tell those folks outside that we are all dead. I want you to look at us before you go and make sure we are all dead. Don’t go before daylight. They will tear this place down and kill a lot of cons if there ain’t nothing done.” With that he killed Davis and Reilley and then shot himself.

Albert Morgareidge, another prisoner, who did not seem to have participated in the riot except to guard a door, was also killed.

The deaths and injuries were:

Danny Daniels (suicide)
A. H. Davis (suicide)
Albert Morgareidge (killed)
James Pardue (suicide)
Red Reilley (suicide)
John F. Hickman (injured)
8 guards killed
9 guards and policemen wounded