C.P. Hoyt was the warden of the Colorado State Prison during three different terms spanning the period 1883–1900. The album of photographs presented here represents his work during these three terms and was donated to the Cañon City Local History Center by his descendents. These photographs provide insight into the events and practices that shaped the Colorado state prison system during its early history.
Colorado's territorial prison first opened on June 7, 1871, one year after the first meeting of the National Congress of Prisons. Although this Congress published a declaration, which was enlightened in its views and loosely based on the prison reform movement that began in the 1830s, it had little effect on the actual practices in prisons around the country. The declaration promoted smaller facilities, better treatment for the insane, industrial training for prisoners, education for prisoners, and most importantly the end of political appointment of prison officials. The Colorado Territorial Prison was more influenced by principles inherited from eastern institutions than on the enlightened views in the declaration. (To read a Summary of the Principles of Prison Discipline considered by the 1870 National Prison Congress, click here.) Colorado accepted many eastern practices and economic measures based on keeping the prison economically self-sufficient. In some cases the prison in Colorado actually avoided mistakes made by eastern institutions while in others it simply repeated them. Elinor Myers McGinn in her book, At Hard Labor: Inmate Labor at the Colorado State Penitentiary, 1871-1940 indicates that, "Although the newly transported westerners patterned the traditional eastern systems, they avoided some incarceration failures – if not by superior leadership, then through the adaptation to a new environment." Looking at its early history the Colorado penitentiary is a good example of a western penal institution with its inherent flaws and successes.
Colorado's first male inmate, John Shepler, arrived on June 13, 1871, from Gilpin County to serve a one-year term for larceny. Shepler was the first of two hundred twenty six prisoners to be incarcerated in the first decade of the prison's existence. While eastern prisons of the time were huge architectural fortresses, the first prisoners in Colorado Territorial Prison were housed in a small structure with forty cells, built quickly from stone quarried near the prison in the Cañon City area. The prison followed the eastern practice of mixing prisoners who had committed different types of offences. Daily expectations of prisoners were also inherited from the East. Prisoners were expected to work and eat in silence, wear striped uniforms, and when walking outside their cells to use the lockstep. They received clean bedding and clothing and bathed once a week. Warden Felton (1881-1882) commented, "I think it would be difficult to find another place, of equal population, so healthy as the Colorado penitentiary." Prisoners were subject to corporal punishment if they broke the rules. One method involved the "Old Grey Mare" which was a sawhorse, onto which the prisoner was required to bend over and there he was spanked with a leather strap. The leather strap was embedded with brads and was soaked in water before striking the prisoner. According to Hoyt's Biennial Reports to the legislature this type of punishment was used only as a last resort for extreme discipline problems. Colorado wardens also saw employment of prisoners as a necessity to keep order and maintain the prisoner's mental health by eliminating boredom. This excerpt from Hoyt's 1888 Biennial Report is typical of what many wardens from the period believed:
"The discipline during the term has been good, and I have not been compelled to resort to any very severe punishment; in fact, I am very much opposed to it, and have endeavored to impress upon the minds of the prisoners the fact that if they are obedient, and comply strictly with the prison rules, (which is not hard to do) they will be treated with as much kindness as possible, and I am glad to say that the majority of them are learning to appreciate good treatment. Doubtless there are a few prisoners, as there are horses, vicious, and ungovernable by kind treatment and must be subdued or conquered by severe methods. It has been my purpose to find employment of some kind for every man each day, believing as I do, that industrious and regular habits, combined with proper example of officers and employees, will greatly conduce to the development and improvement of morals and discipline."
"The discipline during the term has been good, and I have not been compelled to resort to any very severe punishment; in fact, I am very much opposed to it, and have endeavored to impress upon the minds of the prisoners the fact that if they are obedient, and comply strictly with the prison rules, (which is not hard to do) they will be treated with as much kindness as possible, and I am glad to say that the majority of them are learning to appreciate good treatment.
Doubtless there are a few prisoners, as there are horses, vicious, and ungovernable by kind treatment and must be subdued or conquered by severe methods. It has been my purpose to find employment of some kind for every man each day, believing as I do, that industrious and regular habits, combined with proper example of officers and employees, will greatly conduce to the development and improvement of morals and discipline."
The first female inmate did not arrive at the prison until 1873. Her name was Mary Solander, and her number was 60. Solander's occupation is listed as "abortionist," and she was convicted of manslaughter. Solander spent only five months in prison before Governor Elbert pardoned her. Female prisoners were treated differently than male prisoners and were not expected to do remunerative work. Instead women prisoners were expected to do laundry, mend prison clothing, etc. In comparison to the male population, the female population of the prison was very small. The following chart shows the number of women serving time in specific years before and shortly after 1900:
|Date||Number of Female Prisoners||Cells Available|
|*November 30, 1888||4||6|
|*November 30, 1900||9||40|
|November 30, 1906||18||40|
|November 30, 1908||16||40|
|November 10, 1910||24||40|
|November 30, 1914||28||Unclear|
|*Indicates Hoyt's term of office.|
In 1895, as a result of pleas from the prison wardens, a forty-unit cellhouse was built to house women prisoners. In 1910 the women’s cellhouse was remodeled into the prison hospital and the women prisoners were moved to a new building, which had been built between 1908 and 1910. The number of female prisoners has continued to increase after 1914, although it stayed under 40 for many years.
Overcrowding was a continual problem throughout the early years. The Biennial Reports discuss these difficulties as the number of prisoners increased. Cellhouse One and Cellhouse Two were completed between 1879 and 1884 but this did not eliminate the overcrowding problem. Hoyt states in his 1884 Biennial Report just one year after the completion of Cellhouse Two:
I would call your attention to the crowded condition of the prison, there being 372 prisoners in confinement and only 312 cells for their use, many of the cells having two inmates, which, for the maintaining of discipline, should not be.
In Hoyt's 1888 report he once again called attention to the fact that there were 412 prisoners and 306 cells. (This figure most likely excludes the six female cells in Industry Row. Although it is unclear where female prisoners were held at this time because the female building was not completed until 1893.) Single cells were seven feet wide and eight feet deep and mixing prisoners in this confined space intensified the overcrowding problems. Hoyt declared that out of necessity when he had to put more than two prisoners in a cell it brought into contact "those that should be separated; retards discipline and moral development, and is unhealthy."
During his tenure Warden Hoyt was responsible for numerous improvements to the prison complex. He lived with his family in the Warden's house on the prison grounds and several improvements were made to this structure during his three terms in office. Among the improvements made to the prison complex during Hoyt's terms were the completion of Cellhouse Two in 1883, a self-confined water works system, and the completion of the prison's electric plant in 1888. In 1888 he also extended the east wall to the north and built a guard tower connected to that extension. Hoyt built a new boiler house in 1888 and 1900 and opened a new stone quarry. According to the Biennial Reports written to the legislature, Hoyt was also responsible for many general maintenance improvements. He made repairs to the boilers, the Cañon City Hydraulic Ditch in 1888 and 1899, the women's building, the limestone kiln, and many other structures in the prison complex.
Hoyt also completed the prison chapel on July 22, 1883, and requested the appointment of a prison chaplain. Prior to this, the prison relied on volunteer clergy and the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Cañon City to perform religious services. In response to Hoyt's request, a new office was created for a permanent chaplain. The chaplain described his duties in 1888 as consisting of "daily inspection of mails, the daily rehearsal of the orchestra, jubilees and choir; also the supervision of the evening school and preaching; also personal visits at such times as circumstances and time will allow." Hoyt considered religion to be an important aspect of the moral development of the prisoners and an asset to maintaining discipline. Hoyt never required prisoners to attend church services although the majority attended regularly.
The prison became a tourist attraction in the later part of the nineteenth century, and the public was allowed inside the grounds for tours. These patrons paid twenty-five cents per person in 1897. The money was added to the prison's income under the label of visitor's fund in the Biennial Reports. In 1888 Hoyt reported receiving $641.38 from visitors, which would be approximately 2,656 visitors coming to the prison, assuming the visitors paid twenty-five cents per person.
Throughout the first thirty years, Colorado's prison development continued to be dictated by financial issues rather than prisoner reforms. Early wardens, including Hoyt, professed to support humanitarian and reform goals although their actions were dictated by legislative pressure to make the prison self-sufficient. In 1874 the state legislature appointed an investigative committee to go to Cañon City and make recommendations concerning the warden's use of prison money. The committee's recommendations included planting the forty acres of land attached to the prison grounds in order to produce vegetables and fruits to feed the prisoners. The prison gardens were created at this time and have continued to expand from this point forward. Eventually land was leased outside the prison walls to feed the growing number of prisoners. In 1888 Hoyt was given $5,000 to purchase land for the prison in order to extend these gardens. Hoyt also built a large storage cellar for items from the garden and other foodstuffs during his second term. Along with these agricultural enterprises, the prison maintained a pig farm, which began in 1880, and a dairy, which was started by Warden Cameron (1885-1886). These enterprises provided food for the prisoners and the hog farm even produced a small income for the prison.
The 1874 Investigative Committee also recommended that the prison administration find ways to employ prisoners through contract labor. Colorado's first experience contracting inmate labor was in January 1878 at which time the prison signed a three-year contract with A. Cohen, owner of Colorado Shoe and Boot Company. The company first opened in a building on Cañon City's main street, but after one year, it moved to a prisoner constructed building on the prison grounds. Warden Magrue (1877-1880) and Warden Felton (1881-1882) soon began to experience the same difficulties eastern prisons experienced with contract labor. Contraband and difficulty with the shoe company management undermining prison rules resulted in the prison administration terminating its involvement with Cohen Shoes eight months before the contract officially concluded. (To read the portion of Warden W.B. Felton's 1880-1882 Biennial Report on the Rules for the Government of the Officers and Employees of the Colorado State Penitentiary, click here.)
In 1879 William Catlin contracted inmate labor for his brick plant, which was across the Arkansas River and about a mile from the prison. Hoyt indicates in his biennial reports to the legislature that the cash earnings from the brick plant were $5,573.38 in 1884 and $12,345.22 in 1888. In 1887 the Colorado Legislature passed a new statute which forbid the use of prisoners off of prison grounds "except as incident to the business and management of the penitentiary." In order to continue the relationship with Catlin's brick plant, Hoyt simply wrote a contract leasing the plant from Catlin. The conditions of the lease provided for prison use of the physical plant, while providing labor and wood. Catlin was to receive $5.00 for every thousand bricks. This lease continued to be lucrative for several years and was second only to limestone in its earnings.
The prison's most important business during this period was from the limestone quarry, which was purchased from the Colorado, Fuel, and Iron Company in 1881. During that same year, Smith and Stiff requested and received an exclusive distributorship of limestone produced in the prison quarry. The prison agreed in order to get a railroad switch to the kilns behind the prison. Smith and Stiff paid half the cost for the track and the prison paid the other half. This agreement gave the prison access to all stops along the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Guarding the prisoners loading the train cars also necessitated the building of two new towers, Garage Tower and Soda Springs. The limestone business proved to be the largest source of income for the prison for many years, especially between 1882 and 1910. Companies moved into the Cañon City area in order to have easy and cheap access to limestone for their smelters, and stone was shipped to Salida, Leadville, and as far away as Denver. In Hoyt's second term, when the brick plant earnings were $12,345.22, limestone earnings totaled $58,520.82. During the period between 1892 and 1900, the earnings from the limestone kiln began to decline from 62.5 percent to 50 percent of total earnings. Warden J. Lamping (1889-1890) determined that it cost over half as much to keep the kilns in working condition as the prison made from their earnings. Lamping was not convinced the limestone quarry employed enough prisoners to continue working it. However, Hoyt still saw the potential for the limestone business as late as 1900 and relined the kilns during his last term. At that time the kiln employed 75 out of the 585 incarcerated prisoners, a figure much lower than it employed in previous terms. In her book, At Hard Labor, McGinn agrees with Hoyt's decision to continue to invest in this industry and points out that smelting and ore made up 43.4 percent of Colorado's Industry in 1900. Hoyt's investment was well founded and, in fact, in the next decade the earnings from this industry rose to 56 percent. The final sharp decline in the earnings came between 1912 and 1920 when it dropped to 5 percent of the prison's total earnings. At this point labor unions were beginning to make progress in Colorado, and many companies were closing under the pressure. The limestone reserves were also in decline.
Looking carefully at the record of the lease with Catlin and other liberties that Hoyt and the board of commissioners of the prison began to take in response to legislative restriction, a pattern begins to appear. There are several examples of what the prison administrators would consider "technical violations" concerning legislative control of the prison. The 1884 Biennial Report includes this statement from the Prison board:
"Some of the improvements we have made have been done under a technical violation of the law, but were so necessary that we have been forced to use our better judgment and make a virtue of necessity. Under a strict construction of the law the addition of boiler room and female department would not have been allowed, but the necessity was so pressing as to make us feel justified in our course. It is hoped the board will be allowed more latitude in the future."
Concerning money not allocated by the legislature in 1884:
"The warden's report shows a decrease in earnings. . . . Again, the last Legislature restricted us from employing convict labor away from prison grounds, which at the time our estimates were made, was a source of considerable revenue."
In spite of these transgressions, Hoyt was appointed by the legislature to serve two more terms. Perhaps it was because he was willing to take the action necessary to make the prison self-sufficient or perhaps he was simply a good politician.
During Hoyt's last term, he had difficulty complying with laws passed in 1891 and 1897 to restrict sales of prison-made goods within the state. The following legislation as taken from Mill's Annotated Statutes apply:
Acts of 1891, Section 4165 provides that convicts in the State reformatory shall, as far as practicable, be engaged in the manufacture of articles not manufactured elsewhere in the State.
Acts of 1897, Chapter 5, provides that able-bodied convicts in the state penitentiary shall be employed in work, which may least conflict with the free labor of the state.
Adherence to this statute looks simpler on the surface than it was in practice. As McGinn points out it led to the "most animated meeting ever held within the wall." The Colorado Federation of Labor made an accusation against Hoyt's unlawful use of inmate labor and a meeting was held at the prison to discuss the accusation. In 1899 Governor Charles Thomas and the Penitentiary Board of Commissioners attended this meeting to hear the Federation's complaints. The accusation made by the Colorado Federation of Labor accused Hoyt of using prison-made brick and stone and inmate labor to build houses and businesses in the Cañon City. He was also accused of selling prisoner-made products such as cigars. Hoyt denied selling cigars and building homes, although he admitted that he was making bricks and selling stone in order to provide jobs for the prisoners. The prison board made the argument that the lack of funding had pushed Hoyt into taking these actions and the legislature would have to agree to extended funding in order to employ prisoners by other less competitive means. The governor promised to help the union work toward meeting its goal of eliminating competition from prison made goods. Governor Thomas agreed to try to shift the prison workforce into these less competitive businesses. Hoyt comments in his 1899 report to the United States Industrial Commission:
"The main difficulty arises from a lack of employment for prisoners. How to employ our prison populations is one of the vexed problems of the day. How shall prisoners be employed so the product of their labor will not be brought into competition with free labor? Convicts during confinement need constant employment to save them from destruction and degradation. Must prisoners be confined in idleness, driving them to insanity--driving many to such infractions of the rules as make punishment necessary? This is a matter that should receive careful consideration."
Regardless of the attention given to difficulties concerning inmate labor, few solutions were found. In 1903 Colorado tried to make strides in alleviating the problem by passing a law requiring licensing and labeling of prisoner made goods both from inside and outside the state. The federal government at the suggestion of the U.S. Industrial Congress also made efforts to pass such a law. However, the controversy surrounding the issue caused the House to pass the statute, but the Senate never adopted it. Licensing laws were virtually impossible to enforce due to discrepancies in use and practices concerning inmate labor in different states. (To read the sections of the Mill's Annotated Statutes that apply to prisons, click here.)
Hoyt also had his own set of political difficulties in 1900. On May 17, 1900, Governor Thomas arrived in Cañon City to meet secretly with the Prison Board of Commissioners to discuss recommendations to have Hoyt removed from office. The charges against Hoyt included mismanagement, favoritism, and conspiracy. It was rumored that this was purely a political move on the part of the governor because Hoyt supported his Democratic rival, Alva Adams. Hoyt was cleared of the charges by July.
At the end of Hoyt's last term the enlightened goals of the 1870 National Prison Congress remained unrealized in Colorado and elsewhere in the United States. Although Hoyt and his counterparts may have recognized the validity of many of the goals of the Congress they could not or would not in some cases act upon them. The legislature in Colorado did not finance "small prisons and separate institutions for different types of offenders" or "adequate prison architecture, providing sufficiently for air and sunlight, as well as for prison hospitals, etc." Laws were not passed relating to the treatment of the insane or discrepancies in sentencing. The National Prison Congress had also named political appointment of prison administration as the biggest deterrent to reform, but Colorado continued to use this for the appointment of its wardens. Colorado wardens and the prison board were persistent in acting according to the financial and economic dictates of state politics. Teaching the prisoner "industrial skills" or giving them an education remained secondary goals. Future administrators in the Colorado State Penitentiary encounter the same problems and changes came slowly and were often made in response to disasters like the 1929 prison riot.
McGinn, Elinor Myers. At Hard Times: Inmate Labor at the Colorado State Penitentiary, 1787-1940. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1993.
Mill's Annotated Statutes. Report of the Industrial Commission on Prison Labor. Volume III of the Commission's Reports. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900.
Wines, Enoch C. Editor. Transactions of the Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline: Held at Cincinnati Ohio, October 12-18, 1870. Albany, New York: Weed, Parsons, and Company Printers, 1871.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1881-1882. Denver, Colorado: Times, 1883.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1883-1884. Denver, Colorado: Times, 1884.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1885-1886. Denver, Colorado: Collier and Cleaveland, 1886.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1887-1888. Denver, Colorado: Collier and Cleaveland, 1888.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1893-1894. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1894.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1895-1896. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1896.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1895-1896. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1896.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1899-1900. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1901.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1901-1902. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1902.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1903-1904. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1904.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1907-1908. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1908.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1909-1910. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1910.
Biennial Report of the State Penitentiary of the State of Colorado. 1911-1912. Denver, Colorado: Smith Brooks, 1912.
CSA = Colorado State Archives
LHC = Local History Center, Cañon City Public Library
1 LHC: Portrait of C.P. Hoyt, 1882-1884.
2 LHC: Photo of Warden Hoyt Family, Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.
3 LHC: "Birds Eye View of Cañon City, Colorado," Binkley and Hartwell, Southern Colorado--Historical and Descriptive of Fremont and Custer Counties with Their Principle Towns (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1879).
4 LHC: Photo of John Docherty #792.
5 CSA: Photo of Joseph Lyon #930.
6 LHC: Photo of Prison Dining Room.
7-9 LHC: Photos of Laundry/Bath House, Lock Step, 'Old Grey Mare', Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.
10 LHC: Photo of "A Tall Lady Visits Prison".
11-13 CSA: Photos of Mattie Lemmons #1138, Mary Kafford #992, Annie Crow #1106.
14 and 15 LHC: Photos of a Woman's Cell and "Female Dept."
16-18 LHC: Photos of Women's Building, Cell Houses One and Two, Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.
19 LHC: Drawing of "The Colorado State Penitentiary, Canon City, CO, Warden w. B. Felton," The Heritage Collection and Biography From Unigraphic (Chicago: A. T. Baskin & Company, 1881).
20-25 LHC: Photos of Warden's Residence, East Wall/Gate, Boiler House (inside and outside), Crank House, Fourth of July Services in the Prison Chapel, Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.
26 LHC: Photo of Services in the Prison Chapel.
27-33 LHC: Photos of Visitors at the Prison, Storage Room; Prison Gardens, Hog Farm, and the Diary, Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.
34 LHC: Photo of the Prison.
35-39LHC: Photos of Garage Tower, Soda Springs Tower, Limestone Kilns, Administration Building, Stable and Administration Building, Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.
40 CSA: Governor Charles Thomas.
41 LHC: Photo of the Prison, Hoyt Family Album, 1898-1900.