STATE PRISON BREAK
Sept. 19, 1871
[From our Extra of yesterday]
At 6 o’clock last evening, when the wind was blowing a gale and the whole valley was filled with a blinding dust, a desperate break was made by the convicts in the State Prison, which terminated in the death of Matt Pixley, of the Warm Springs Hotel, the wounding of nearly all the officers of the State Prison and several of the prisoners, and the escape of twenty-nine as desperate villains as ever trod the earth.
At the hour named, all the prisoners being in the cell-room, Volney D. Rollins, Captain of the Guard, entered the room as usual for the purpose of locking the convicts in their respective cells for the night. Just as he stepped inside the door a prisoner struck him on top of the head with a bottle, cutting a gash three inches and a half long, almost at the same instant another struck him with a slung-shot over the left eye, cutting to the bone. He fell bleeding but not senseless; and as he sank, half a dozen convicts rushed at him to deal the death-blow, when Pat Hurley gathered Rollins by the body and threw him into an adjacent cell and closed the door, thus saving his life. All this took place without alarming the guard outside. The prisoners then climbed to the top of the upper tier of cells, and proceeded to cut a hole large enough to admit the passage of a man’s body through the wall into one of the rooms occupied by the family of the Lieutenant Governor. Each prisoner had provided himself with a slung-shot (a piece of iron or steel sewed up in his clothes, the piece being so torn as to form a loop around the wrist), and some of them had knives of their own manufacture.
Rushing into the room occupied by Mrs. Denver, her mother and daughter, the break of prisoners was first discovered, and the alarm given. Instantly they were met by Lieutenant Governor Denver, who commenced firing at them. The break appeared to be under the leadership of Frank Clifford, a 10 year horse thief from White Pine, and at him the Warden directed his fire. The Lieutenant Governor had been followed up stairs by Robert Dechman (or Deadman), a young man in for life, who was acting as servant in the officers quarters. Denver shot Clifford near the navel and stunned him, but the tide poured on, and soon the Lieutenant Governor was struck in the back of the head with some sharp-pointed instrument that penetrated to the skull, and on the forehead above the eye by a slung-shot which opened the scalp to the skull for a distance of three inches and a half. This felled him to the floor when the convicts rushed upon him, seized his pistol and fired at him. As the officer fell, Bob Deadman (in for life) seized a chair and fought like a tiger, knocking down no less than five of the prisoners, one of whom he knocked over the balustrading and down the stairs. His heroic conduct doubtless saved the life of the Lieutenant Governor, and was the theme of universal praise in this city as soon as it became known. Deadman himself was eventually knocked senseless and left for dead — but we are glad to know that he was only slightly injured.
Wounded as he was, Clifford made his way down stairs, followed by the crowd, who at once seized the armory of the prison, office, clothing, ammunition, etc. It being Sunday and the prisoners under lock and key no guards were on the outer wall, and but few of the officers were under arms, most of them being outside the building and unable to get at the armory after the alarm was given.
F. A. Isaacs, a guard from Gold Hill, was in the yard and had a 6-shooter. With this he confronted the prisoners as they emerged from the main building, and the fire became general. Isaacs stood like a stone column, firing steadily into the motley crowd and receiving volley after volley with the coolest indifference. A ball passed through his right knee, breaking it and lodged in the rear of the left knee. At this Isaacs straightened himself up, threw the weight of his body on the left and only unbroken leg, and fired again. By this time the armed desperadoes at whom he was firing were almost within striking distance of him, were steadily approaching and as steadily firing at him with 6-shooters. Another shot the heroic Isaacs in the hip and sent him to the earth. The prisoners seized his pistol, but out of sheer admiration of his heroic courage spared his life.
While this was going on, John Newhouse, another guard from Gold Hill, was coming to the rescue with all speed, regardless of danger. He rushed in at close range and opened on the convicts with a 6-shooter, his first shot taking effect in the body of E. B. Parsons, one of the Verdi car robbers. The nature of the wound is not known, but it is doubtless serious. Newhouse, the next instant, received two wounds almost simultaneously, one in the back of the head and the other in the back. These wounds knocked him down and rendered him helpless.
By this time Perasich (a Slavonian), a guard from this city, who was outside of the prison yard and unarmed, had run into the Warm Springs Hotel and procured a 5-shooter. With this he rushed into the yard and commenced firing. Three of his shots, he is certain, took effect, as he saw as many men squirm and stagger as he fired. As he fired the fourth shot he received a ball in the left hip, which passed forward and downward through the groin and lodged half-way down the thigh and between the femoral artery and the bone. His wound is a serious one, but not fatal unless the artery is injured. The shot disabled him and left him helpless near the prison door.
Matt Pixley, one of the proprietors of the Warm Springs Hotel, and one of the noblest young men of the country, hearing the firing, and imagining the cause, seized a 6-shoot, and in company with Perasich, rushed into the prison yard to assist the officers. The convicts were still inside the guard room firing through the main door of the building at Isaacs, Newhouse and Perasich. Pixley rushed up to the window and commenced firing at the prisoners inside, when Charles Jones, a 10 year young man from White Pine fired at him through the window,. The ball, probably from a Henry rifle, carried away two panes of glass and struck Pixley just below the left eye, passing entirely through his head. He fell upon the stone porch in front of the prison—dead.
C. W. Burgesser, bar keeper for Pixley, also rushed into the fray, and met some hair-breadth escapes. A ball shaved close by each ear, and a third shot struck his pantaloons in the front of the crotch and tore away the whole seat of both pants and drawers.
Another guard, a little Frenchman (whose name, we regret to say, we have been unable to learn,) fought heroically to the last, and escaped without a scratch. He fired a number of shots—all he had—and then rushed into the crowd and dealt many telling blows. Thus he kept up until the prisoners were outside the outer wall, regardless of the shower of shots that whistled about him and cut his clothes into shreds.
All accounts of the affair condemn in the strongest terms the conduct of the Deputy Warden.
Dr. Lee went to the prison to attend the wounded officers—all the wounded prisoners having been carried away by their comrades. He found that, in addition to his other wounds, Lieutenant Governor Denver had received a shot in the right hip which passed up the back ten inches and lodged near the spine. Dr. Lee extracted the ball and brought it to town. Dr. Waters dressed the wound of Perasich (who was brought to town), but was unable to find the ball.
Henry S. Phillips was at the prison in a buggy when the firing commenced and drove rapidly into town to give the alarm. Sheriff Swift and twelve or fifteen armed men started immediately, but were too late to prevent the escape. Twenty nine prisoners left, the balance remaining inside the building. Of those who escaped, 22 marched off in a body, two abreast, and passing nearly due east to the high ridge beyond the prison, turned to right and followed around the ridge. What direction the other seven took is not known. Report says that two of them past west through the southern portion of the city and that five struck across the railroad between this city and Empire.
As soon as the extent of the break was known, C. H. Belknap, Private Secretary to Governor Bradley (his Excellency being absent), telegraphed to General Batterman at Virginia to call out the organized militia and come immediately. The dispatch was sent at 7 o’clock and the troops arrived here by special train three hours afterward.
Meantime the State Armory was brought into requisition.
E. B. Rail furnishing ammunition, and a large force of citizens was soon under arms. A portion of this force was dispatched to the State Prison to guard against an attack from the insurgents and others were detailed to patrol the city. Mr. Blount of Lake Valley at 9:20, was dispatched for Genoa to alarm the people, but two miles out he was stopped by the convicts, only two of whom he saw, when he wheeled and made escape, one of the convicts snapping a cap at him as he wheeled. Major General Van Bokkelen came down with the troops, which consisted of 27 men of the National Guard, under command of Captain C. C. Batterman and First Lieutenant, James Lyman, and 15 men of the Emmet Guard, under command of Captain Richard Arnold and Second Lieutenant William Noonan.
The prisoners took with them two Henry rifles, four double-barrelled shot guns, five 6-shooters and between 2,500 and 3,000 Henry rifle cartridges.
At 10:30 last night (just after the troops arrived, and while the programme was being made out by General Van Bokkelen and Batterman,) Deputy Sheriff Gus Lewis and a mounted squad of six armed citizens, started in the direction of Genoa, with the intention of reaching the town and calling out the citizens.
At 12:30 this morning, Lieutenant Lyman, of the National guard, Virginia, started south with eleven of the Guard mounted, accompanied by Deputy Sheriff Tom Harkin of Storey.
At 12:55 this morning, Colonel Batterman left in the same direction with thirteen of the Nationals mounted, and a few citizens.
At 1 o’clock this morning, a riderless horse, with bridle and saddle on, made his appearance in the southern part of the city, and was brought to Benton’s stable.
Most of the Emmet Guard was dispatched to the State Prison, to remain until daylight and then follow the track of the refugees, while several men of that company were held in reserve in the city.
A solitary shot was heard some miles to the southward about 2 o’clock this morning, or a little more than an hour after the last squad troops started in that direction.
Sheriff Swift returned from the prison at 5:37 this morning, and reports everything quiet. The impression prevails there that all the prisoners went in a body toward the Mexican dam on the Carson river.
At 6:20 this morning a messenger came in for Dr. Lee, stating that F. M. Isaacs was thought to be in a dying condition. Isaacs was shot through the right knee, the ball lodging in the left leg; another shot struck him in the hip and passed through the body, lodging the left thigh.
The troops were ordered to march steadily southward until daylight, then turn, spread out and scour the country back toward the prison. Up to 7 o’clock this morning, no tidings had been received from them.
At 7:25 yesterday morning, Sheriff Atchison of Storey, Chief of Police Downey of Virginia, detective Ben Lackey and a party of well armed, well mounted and determined citizens of Storey came into the city for breakfast. They had been scouring the plains to the north and east of the city. About the same time a squad of the Emmet Guard, under Lieutenant William Noonan, returned from an extended reconnoissance up the Lake Bigler road. After breakfast Sheriff Atchison’s party left for the State Prison, where they took the track of the fugitives with the intention of following it as long as it was distinguishable.
Early in the morning a squad of the Emmet Guard made a reconnoissance in the direction taken by the prisoners. One mile from the prison they found a coat formerly belonging to one of the guards, and a mile further on came upon a disabled Henry rifle. Not far from where the coat was found, a short, prison shoe track was found to diverge to the left from the track of the main body and enter into a road leading north along the Mexican ditch.
A man living at the Mexican dam (about three miles from the prison) states that between 9 and 10 o’clock Sunday evening a convict entered his cabin and requested him to dress a wound, caused by a ball passing through his thigh, but not injuring the bone. The wound was dressed, when the refugee asked if the gentleman would not protect him, as he was unable to travel. The man replied that the officers would be there inside of ten minutes, and advised his wounded customer to “move on” with all possible speed. At the dam a number of the refugees broke off their shackles with tools found there.
At the prison, the scene was appalling, even yesterday morning, when everything was still as the grave. Blood—great blotches and pools of human gore—greeted the eye everywhere; along the porch of and in the hotel, on the main gateway, over the rubble-stones of the inner walk, on the prison porch, door steps, window and door sills and facing, wain-coating, walls, bolts, bars, beds, floors, stairs, and even the little shade trees and the green grass of the front yard were stained with blood. Everywhere marks of the heroic struggle of the few brave guards against overwhelming numbers of superiorly armed desperadoes were visible.
When the shooting commenced up stairs, little Jennie Denver, daughter of the Lieutenant Governor, aged six years, ran down stairs and out into the yard. Soon the conflict of arms followed her. The noise confused and frightened her, but with a heroism truly wonderful in one so young, she rushed in between the murderous guns and the brave Isaacs, who stood out upon the green in front of the door, as if anxious to shield him from the shots that were raising a cloud of dust about his feet. Seeing this, a little French prisoner from Storey, who was himself in the break, rushed out in the leaden storm, seized the little girl and started with her along the prison building toward the west gate, with the intention of putting her outside the wall and returning to his comrades. He ran but a few steps with child (seeing which from her window, Mrs. Denver thought his intention was to kill her child,) when he saw a young lady who was in yard at the time running toward the prison door, to reach, which she would have to pass in front of four guns belching streams of fire from two windows. The gallant little Frenchman, having removed the child from immediate danger, dropped her and seized the woman, thus saving her from instant death. By this time, and while this was going on, Pixley had fallen dead and Perasich and Isaacs badly wounded before the deadly guns whose muzzles were crossed in the windows. Burgesser alone, of all the citizens who entered the yard, was left standing. Isaacs was lying helpless upon the sward; and still the deadly bullets were plowing up the ground about him. Seeing this, the little Frenchman again rushed into danger, and seizing the head of the wounded man he sang out to Burgesser: “Here, barkeep, help me take this man out of danger!” Burgesser obeyed instantly, and himself and the prisoner bore the wounded man safely to the hotel. Then returning to his first love, his fellow-convicts, the Frenchman started back into the prison yard to rejoin his comrades, Burgesser stopped him by telling him he would certainly be killed if he returned after what he had done. The Frenchman took the advice, and even allowed “Burgy” to lock him up in a room of the hotel until the affair was over, when he was returned to his cell.
Isaacs will certainly lose his right leg above the knee, and the chances are decidedly against his recovery. Of the others, the wounds of Governor Denver are most serious, but his ultimate recovery is confidently looked for.
Wellington Bowen, stage driver from Genoa, brought in Tom Carter, one of the absent without leave fellows, last evening. He was captured by Sheriff Bollen of Douglas, who saw two other convicts near the place of the capture, but was so situated (being in buggy and accompanied by his wife) that he could not pursue.
About noon yesterday a portion of Colonel Batterman’s command came upon what is believed to be the main body of the refugees, who had taken refuge in a kind of natural fortification at the top of a sharp mountain peak beyond the Carson river, in the direction of Pine Nut, and about nine miles from this city. A courier was sent to the city for recruits, which were promptly dispatched to the front, and it is more than likely that ere “these few lines” see daylight most of the gang will have been recaptured.