In 1929 the Colorado State Penitentiary had the biggest riot in its history. The events on October 3 shocked the country and caused the death of eight guards and five prisoners. Warden William Crawford, who happened to be in Colorado Springs at a meeting on that day, arrived back at the prison to find a hostage situation and a large part of the physical plant destroyed.
The riot began as the result of an escape attempt planned by Jimmie Pardue, #12,822, and Danny Daniels, #14,227. It has been difficult to determine their entire plan because the prisoners involved died. 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 Caņon City. Jarrett was an old friend of Daniels. While he was being held in Caņon 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 had no intention of allowing the escape and was actively firing at the prisoners whenever he had the chance. Daniels and Pardue obviously felt betrayed and angry that the guard they had paid betrayed them.
The attempted escape was doomed from the beginning. 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. 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 they backed out telling Pardue and Daniels they did not want to be part of an escape that involved killing guards. Daniels' anger at these men contributed to his violent actions and to the general hysteria of the riot.
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. He made the prisoners, A. H. Davis and Charles Davis, take 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. 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.
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 simply roamed the grounds and caused trouble. 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. 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 dangerous criminals to escape. He made the only decision he could and refused to meet the demands of the rioters. Crawford and his associates did not believe Daniels would carry out his threats, but they were wrong.
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 because so many people would be put in danger. Therefore, 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 but he was also cruel and calculating in the process. He began by shooting Guard Jack Eeles. Daniels went to the cell where he held Eeles and said:
"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. 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. 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. It was unclear whether a stray bullet may have killed him during the night or perhaps Daniels shot him in a fit of anger because he was not willing to be more aggressive.
The deaths and injuries were:
|Ray B. Brown||J. J. Eeles|
|E. G. Erwin||Myron H. Goodwin|
|J. W. McClelland||Walter Rinker|
|Charles Sheppard||R. A. Wiggins|
|Danny Daniels||A. H. Davis|
|Albert Morgareidge||James Pardue|
|John Allen, Chief Clerk, wounded by ricochet bullet|
|George Berger, Pueblo policeman, shot grazed top of head|
|Albert Boukatcher, guardsman, shot in neck|
|Warden F. E. Crawford, buckshot in forehead and right breast (bullet never removed from his breast)|
|Marvin Duncan, shell shock|
|John F. Hickman, convict, left arm|
|E. J. Hollister, shot through the jaw|
|D. F. Osborn, shot in the cheek|
|Detective Robert Wraith, Colorado Springs, leg wound|
|Sergeant C. E. Young, Denver, hip wound|
Slaughter in Cell House 3: The Anatomy of a Riot, a book written by Wayne K. Patterson and Betty L. Alt was an invaluable source of information for this piece. Patterson was the warden for the penitentiary from July, 1965 through March 1972 and the book was based on research taken from prison documents containing testimony from prisoners and guards following the riot. Patterson indicates there are several causes of this riot including: inept management, inadequate training of personnel, insufficient constructive activities for prisoners, lack of sufficient rewards for work done or compliance with rules, inadequate segregation of prison population. Patterson acknowledges, "It must also be remembered that prisons are a mirror of outside society." Not only did the riot happen shortly before the worst depression in this country's history but also during the 1920s there were prison riots in Ohio, New York, and Kansas. Certainly the rioters in the Colorado Penitentiary were aware of these riots in other states.
As for the guards and prison officials involved in the riot, it was a nightmare. During the twelve to fifteen-hour ordeal they did not expect to see their families again and their families waited in agony as one by one the bodies came out of the prison. E. J. Hollister, a hostage, told his family, "It all seems too ghastly to talk about. It doesn't seem possible that fate should bring such horror to any man. Daniels was fiendish in his cold-blooded slaughter. After he had shot me through the jaw, he could see that I was still alive, but his ammunition was getting low, and my life was not worth it."
The prison buildings had more than one million dollars worth of damage and the next several years were spent rebuilding these structures. New buildings were changed to contribute to the safety of employees and to guard against similar incidents in the future.
Could the riot have been handled differently to avoid some of the death and destruction? Patterson and Alt believe there were mistakes made including the lack of training for personnel. They question why the hostages would wait and be slaughtered one by one rather than trying to overtake their captors. But they also recognize that the "wait and see" philosophy did work in saving some lives. Why did some guards decide to escape while their fellow guards were being taken hostage rather than try to help them? Should action have been taken earlier by those outside the prison? Patterson and Alt also question the actions of food steward Joseph Schillo. Daniels sent him with the first message to the warden, and Schillo's actions in the beginning and during the riot seemed to indicate prior knowledge. However, the investigation of the riot gave no proof that Schillo was involved. Patterson and Alt acknowledged these discrepancies but they concluded that participants in the riot have long since died leaving us to rely only on the written record to tell the story of the worst riot in the history of the Colorado State Penitentiary.
Patterson, Wayne K. and Betty L. Alt. Slaughter in Cell House 3: The Anatomy of a Riot. Vandergeest Publishing and Distributing, Arvada, CO, 1997.
Whitmore, Julie. A History of Colorado Sate Penitentiary 1871-1980. Printing Plus, Caņon City, CO, 1984.
The Local History Center would like to thank Warden Wayne Patterson for contributing his time in helping us with the publication of this information on our web site.
LHC = Local History Center, Caņon City Public Library
1 LHC: Photograph of Warden William Crawford.
2 LHC: Photograph of Jimmie Pardue, #12822.
3 LHC: Photograph of the West Gate outside of the prison grounds.
4 LHC: Photograph of the hole in the wall where the prisoners hid the guns used during the riot.
5 LHC: Photograph of A. H. Davis, #14847.
6 LHC: Photograph of prison on fire.
7 LHC: Photograph of George "Red" Reilley, #12720.
8 LHC: Photograph of Warden William Crawford among other men.
9 LHC: Photograph of National Guard in uniform.
10 LHC: Photograph of the French 75 Cannon.
11 LHC: Photograph of ambulances waiting by the gate for victims.
12 LHC: Photograph of Albert Morgareidge, #15000.
13 LHC: Photograph of the funeral conducted for the prisoners on Woodpecker Hill.
14 LHC: Photograph of fire damage to the cellhouse corridor.
15 LHC: Photograph of Memorial for the killed and wounded, erected by Warden Roy Best in 1937.