On the Rock: Alcatraz – Episode 2: The Incorrigibles


– Problem Wards with Tin Cups – A Death on the Island – “Who’s a Son of a Bitch?” – Milk Sugar and Eggs – Feeding Seagulls – Spanish Dungeons – Barbershop Sheers –

“A caged animal turns mean. If you taunt it deliberately, it becomes dangerous” – Alvin Karpis

There weren’t many ways off Alcatraz, especially in the short term. No prisoners were ever paroled out of the prison, the thought was: if you’re bad enough to be on Alcatraz, what business do you have being set loose on the public. Serving out a sentence was usually a long term prospect given the gravity of many of the inmates records.

Being stuck on Alcatraz was enough to drive a man crazy. Dreams of flight would inevitably cross a prisoner’s mind. The options were limited: get a medical transfer, serve your time, die or escape. With the additional pressures of the guards, the rule-of-silence, the threats of being locked away in a dungeon dramatically increased the thoughts of getting off the island.

Over the course of Alcatraz’s time as a Federal Prison 28 prisoners would be transferred by boats in body body bags to the morgue in San Francisco. The records kept, the guards, and those who survived sentences on Alcatraz would tell their tales.

Norman T Whitaker, Brains of the Mutiny Plot after the death of Jack Allen on January 17th, 1936.
Georg “Machine Gun Kelly” Barnes (AZ-117), Imprisoned on Alcatraz from 1934-1951.
Al Capone (AZ-85)
Jimmy “Tex” Lucas, Ring Leader of the 1936 Alcatraz Strike. Capone’s tormentor along with other “Texas Cowboys”
Former Alcatraz Dungeons
Joseph Bower (AZ-210)
“Capone Stabbed in Prison” Daily News June 24,1936

Alcatraz References:

Books:

Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Burrough, Bryan. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. Penguin Book, 2005.

Denevi, Don, and Philip Bergen. Alcatraz ’46;: The Anatomy of a Classic Prison Tragedy. Leswing Press, 1974.

Johnston, Warden James A. Alcatraz Island Prison And The Men Who Live There. C. Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Karpis, Alvin, and Robert Livesey. On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz. Musson Book Co., 1980.

Quillen, Jim. Alcatraz from the Inside. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, 1991.

Newspapers:

San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco 7-12 February 1936.

Moxon, Robert B. “What’s Coming at Alcatraz.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Jan. 1938.
Theme music“Speedy Delta” by Lobo Loco is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

On the Rock: Alcatraz – Episode 1: The Warden and the Rock


– The Recurring Problem of Crime – Anastasia Scott’s 47 Minute Swim – The Bureau Takes Over the Island – A Kingpin’s V8 and the Cook County Sheriff – Kansas Union Transfer Massacre and Dead Public Enemies – Moving Furniture –

As dusk settled on the era of prohibition, the United States was in the midst of a crime wave that spread across the nation. Would be bootleggers turned their attention to other vice trades including holdups, bank robberies and kidnappings. The introduction of powerful getaway cars and high capacity Thompson submachine guns allowed criminals to outrun and outgun the law.

FDR’s New Deal program created public works projects with the hope they would help move the nation out of the Great Depression that hit the economy in 1929. A part of this program would be to focus on stopping cross-state crimes that were the calling card of the modern gangster and bank robbers. Laws were created for this purpose and their enforcement would be left to a small, then unknown agency, that would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

As the Federal Prison population swelled and the prisoner’s names became more infamous, there was a clear need for a place to house the worst of the worst from across the nation. The opening of Alcatraz Federal Prison signified a major change in the way the U.S. Government handled mobsters and outlaws. The reign of gangsters bootlegging, running brothels, speakeasies, protection rackets, gambling wires and cold blooded gangland killings were coming to an end. Most of the criminals would not survive being hunted by the law, but many of those that did would find themselves in the state-of-the-art prison: Alcatraz.

Attorney General Homer Cummings. Along with FDR, helped push for the further the power of the FBI by creating a series of new laws that made kidnapping, crossing state lines with stolen goods and bank robbery federal laws. He would come upon Alcatraz in 1933 and convert the island to house the new class of federal inmates.

 

Alcatraz in 1920, thirteen years prior to being taken over by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Warden James A. Johnston. Warden of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary from 1933-1948.
After math of the Kansas City Massacre – June 17, 1933.
Al Capone and U.S. Marshall Henry C.W. Laubenheimer playing cards during prison transport from Chicago to Atlanta.
Map of Alcatraz Island.
Mess Hall (1950s) being inspected by a guard before prisoners are brought in.
The chow line in the mess hall of Alcatraz.
Inmates enjoying recreation time on the yard.
A guard looks over the yard.
A cell on Alcatraz

“It was the toilet paper I use first because , after the long trip, I need to sit on the “crapper”. I look across the corridor to see most of the guys doing the same thing. It’s a strange situation for all of us, takin a shit while staring at someone else a few feet away doing likewise, but just one of the things we will have to become used to.” – Alvin Karpis, “On the Rock”

Alcatraz References:

Books:

Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Burrough, Bryan. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. Penguin Book, 2005.

Denevi, Don, and Philip Bergen. Alcatraz ’46;: The Anatomy of a Classic Prison Tragedy. Leswing Press, 1974.

Johnston, Warden James A. Alcatraz Island Prison And The Men Who Live There. C. Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Karpis, Alvin, and Robert Livesey. On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz. Musson Book Co., 1980.

Quillen, Jim. Alcatraz from the Inside. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, 1991.

Theme music“Speedy Delta” by Lobo Loco is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

 

Empire of the Summer Moon (Book Review)

 

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne

“In one sense, the Parker’s are beginning and the end of the Comanches of U.S. history.”

The clash between the Comanches and Westward bound settlers in Texas. S.C. Gwynne creates a panoramic view of the place, the people and the era. This book covers a wide range of topics including the rise of the Comanche, Westward expansion, the creation of the Texas Rangers, the life of the most famous white captive Cynthia Ann Parker and her son, the last chief of the Comanche’s Quanah Parker and ultimately the fall of the Comanche  and Quanah’s adoption of the settlers ways.

The events of the book are set off in 1833 when John Parker moves his family from Illinois to Texas in return for a large plot of land. Parker’s Ranch would be setup past the  traditional western front of settlement. In the 1830’s the Comanches were by far the most feared Native American nation on the southern plains. Their territory was protected by savage acts of gore as well as the finest horseback combat strategies known in history. These two characteristics would captivate and terrorize the people of East Texas, the area known as Comancheria, including the Parker family.

“When the Pueblos pushed out the Spanish from New Mexico, the horses were abandoned, thus thousands of mustangs ran wild into the open plains that closely resembled their ancestral Iberian lands. Because they were perfectly adapted to the new land, they thrived and multiplied. They became the foundation stock for the great wild mustang herds of the Southwest. The event has become known as the Great Horse Dispersal. The dissemination of so many horses to a group of thirty plains tribes permanently altered the power structure of the North American Heartland.”

The Parker’s made treaties with the local Native American nations in an attempt to assure peace. The Parker’s had no way of knowing how many nations of Native Americans surrounded their recently acquired land. They also didn’t know that the Comanches were in a long standing war with the Texas Rangers, who would spend time at the Parker’s Fort.

“It is one of history’s great ironies that one of the main reasons Mexico had encouraged Americans to settle in Texas in the 1820s and 1830s was because they wanted a buffer against Comanches, a sort of insurance policy on their borderlands.”

Reconstruction of Fort Parker (Postcard 1950)

On the morning of May 19, 1836 there was a was a large war party of Native Americans lead by the Comanche. The nation’s of Comanche, Caddos, Kiowas and Witchitas approached the Parker’s land, one single member leading the way with a white flag. The Comache’s were not there to surrender, they were there to raid the Parker’s land and to take captives and kill the men. The successful raid included the capture of two women, three children and killing of five of the men. The family patriarch, the 77 year old John Parker, was one of the men murdered, his genitals cut off and his head scalped during the raid.

One of the children captured was 9 year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, daughter of one of the men killed during the raid. She would become the wife of the Comanche chieftain Peta Nocona. They would have a children together, one would grow up to be one of the final war leaders of the Comanche, Quanah Parker.

The book follows Cynthia Ann’s adoption of Comanche life, her capture by the Texas Rangers and her unhappy life away from her Comanche family. Gwynne follows the rise of Quanah, the war leader, who would live to take vengeance for the capture of his mother. Quanah would lead the Comanche and continue raids through 1875, when he had a vision that convinced him to lead his people to the reservation.

Quanah Parker

The cornering of the Native nations onto reservations would ultimately force Quanah and the Comanche to hang hang up their war-centered traditions and spend more time on the reservation. The cross contamination of different nation’s cultures and traditions, plus those of the whites, would shape the end of Quanah’s life. From his days as a young warrior to his days of hosting President Roosevelt during a hunting trip, Quanah sits in the center of a changing a country, culture and people for better or worse.

This was a great read from start to finish. The story is sad in many respects, but tells a captivating story with many interesting detours along the way. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the West, Native American and pioneer relations or general American History of the 19th century.