Old West Myth & Fact Archives

The Woman in Black in Sing Sing Prison

SHE FREQUENTLY VISITS SING SING PRISON.
A Mysterious Woman Whose Repeated Visits
to the Famous Penal Institution Have
Excited Interest as to Her Identity.


Woman In Black in Sing Sing PrisonFebruary 9, 1894, Chief, Red Cloud, Nebraska
Sing Sing Prison has a mysterious woman visitor, but that is not remarkable, because seven-eighths of the visitors to the convicts there are women.  They all have burdens of sorrow to bear, but rarely of their own making, and they come and go year in and year out, to see beloved ones whom the world does not love and has put behind bars.  The gray prison walls hold all that is dear in life to these mothers, wives, sweethearts and sisters.

The husband who has committed crime that his wife may have luxurious surroundings usually retains the affections of that wife, even when he dons stripes and is close cropped.  The professional burglar often is a model family man and does not sever his family ties when he “does time.”  The man who kills his fellow man for the affections of a woman and is paying the penalty for that crime has surely a right to expect that that woman will care enough for him to remember and visit him while he is the servant of the state.

Then there is mother’s love, never failing, never even wavering in its unassailable constancy, and that accounts for one-half the visitors to the Sing Sing convicts.  Thirteen hundred men are confined at Sing Sing, and the army of women—sad women who are sad because of the thirteen hundred—must easily equal the convicts in number.

Many a romance brought to a tragic climax by the merciless hand of the law is suggested by these untiring visitors.  Even the ubiquitous hackmen who infest the Sing Sing railway station seem to appreciate this, for when these unhappy ones alight from the trains and look uneasily and self-consciously about, the drivers realize intuitively the nature of their errand and treat them with a deference rarely met within their class.  They approach respectfully, and in subdued tones say kindly, “To the prison, madam?” or, “Right this way to the prison.”

About one visitor only is there any mystery.  Others give their names and go to see some convict who is known to the keepers.  This one goes veiled, and no one knows who it is she goes to see.

A tall, lithe, graceful woman, attired all in black and wearing a heavy black veil, occupied a seat in a car directly in front of and opposite that of the writer recently.

She was uneasy and restless, though not obtrusively so; she carried herself with the fine reserve of a woman of breeding accustomed to do just such things.  Sometimes she would look anxiously about the car, as if in fear of being recognized, though with her veil recognition, even by an intimate friend, would have been clearly impossible.

An old-time hackman at the Sing Sing station approached her as she alighted.  She got into his ramshackle conveyance as if she had been in it before, and it rattled up the hill and over the stony road along the bluff to the prison a few hundred yards in advance of the equally noisy conveyance of the writer.

It was the hour at which the convicts, having finished their evening meal in the great feeding hall—it would raise the ghost of Brillat Savarin to call it a dining-room—march in lock-step to their cells, in long, single files.  They come through the stone-flagged prison-yard with a steady, machine-like shuffle of their heavy prison shoes.  Keepers stand about with heavy sticks in their hands.

By the entrance to the long granite building containing the tiers of cells are two great open boxes of bread.  Each striped miserable reach out and takes a piece with his left hand as he passes.  Slung on the right arm of each is an iron solp pail on which is painted the prisoner’s number.  The shuffle of the slowly-moving line continues for perhaps twenty minutes, at the end of which time each of the 1,300 has, with his supper in one hand and his slop-pail in the other, been locked in his cell.

The woman had been shown to the yard, and stood, a keeper by her side, under the portico of the inhospitable-looking hospital building.  The long lines of convicts marched toward her and turned not ten feet from where she stood, and marched past the bread-box into the building.  She supported herself with one daintily gloved hand against the stone wall, and, leaning forward in an attitude of eager interest, faced down the approaching line.

She tapped the pavement impatiently from time to time with the tow of her neat boot.

Some one in that long line riveted her attention; but there were hundreds there, and the veil prevented any one from seeing which striped one it was.

The prisoners all turned away their heads as they passed the woman.  Was it a prison rule that prompted this, or a sense of shame that has survived hardening crime?  Not one did otherwise.  Many faces flushed, and if any one in that line recognized the trim figure and graceful pose of the strange woman he could never be detected by the flush, for flushed faces were too numerous.

When the last man on the last line a Negro on crutches, who killed a policeman on Wall Street, had disappeared in the door, the woman was escorted out by the keeper.  She thanked Principal Keeper Connaughton for his courtesy, which to all visitors, men and women, is always the same.  Her voice was pleasant, and there were no tears in it.  Her manner indicated nothing in particular, and certainly not grief.  She was driven away to the station and returned to New York.

This woman’s visits occur once every two months.  Sometimes the interval between them is longer, and sometimes, but seldom, she misses one.

She has been coming for nearly three years, and her visits are always at the same hour.  She sees all the prisoners in their lockstep march, and no one connected with the prison knows her name.  No one in the prison has ever seen her face.

There are two ways of accounting for the periodical visits of this mysterious unknown.  She either loves or hates, with a greater love or a greater hate than ordinarily, someone of the Sing Sing convicts.  Perhaps it is love that impels her to remain veiled, and thus to spare the object of her affections humiliation and shame.  Unrequited love, perhaps, leads her to conceal her face.  Possibly her hate of some one in that long line of erring men derives a certain pleasure from the sight of him in the moment of his disgrace.

Who can tell why she hides her face?  Is it because of love or hate?

Dave MatherIt is said of Dave Mather that he spent as much time in jail as he did in the occupation of putting others there. Dave is known as “Mysterious” Dave Mather, because, supposedly little is really known about his life. But we know enough that if he notched his pistol each time he assisted in sending someone to their reward, he would have had to carry a couple of guns.   
 
In 1876 he assisted in the lynching of an innocent man. In January of 1880 he killed two men and seriously wounded another. Three days later he killed another man. February of that year he helped lynch three men. In 1884, during a stint as a lawman in Dodge City, he got crossways with Thomas Nixon and killed him. Dave was heard to mumble, “I ought to have killed him six months ago.”      
 
An example of the scrapes Dave got into and his method of getting out of them happened on May 10, 1885. Mather had been playing cards in Ashland, Kansas with a grocer named David Barnes. After Barnes won two out of three hands, Mather threw the cards at Barnes and picked up the pot of money. David Barnes pulled his gun and put a hole in Mather’s hat. Now, obviously, that wasn’t where he was aiming.       
 
Meanwhile, Mather’s brother, who happened to be the bartender, pulled his gun and started shooting. Dave Mather did likewise. When the shooting stopped, and the room cleared of gun smoke, David Barnes, the card player, was dead… and two innocent bystanders had holes in their legs. 
 
The Mather brothers were arrested. But, after posting a $3,000 bond, Dave mysteriously rode out of town to seek more notches for his gun. And so was born the legend of Mysterious Dave Mather into the lore of the Old West.

An Interview With Wild Bill Hickok

Interview with Wild Bill HickokThis is an interview by Henry M. Stanley, African explorer who uttered the famous line “Dr. Livingston, I presume?”  He met James Hickok while working for the Weekly Missouri Democrat.  At the time of his interview with Wild Bill Hickok he was a scout for the Seventh Calvary.

April 4, 1867, Weekly Missouri Democrat – James Butler Hickok, commonly called “Wild Bill” is one of the finest examples of that peculiar class now extant, known as Frontiersman, ranger, hunter and Indian scout.  He is now thirty-eight years old and since he was thirteen the prairie has been his home.  He stands six feet one inch in his moccasins and is as handsome a specimen of a man as could be found.  Harper’s correspondent recently gave a sketch of the career of this remarkable man which excepting a slight exaggeration, was correct.

We were prepared, on hearing of “Wild Bill’s” presence in camp, to see a person who would prove to be a coarse, illiterate, quarrelsome, obtrusive, obstinate bully; in fact one of those ruffians to be found South and West, who delights in shedding blood.  We confess to being greatly disappointed when, on being introduced to him, we looked on a person who was the very reverse of all that we had imagined.  He was dressed in a black sacque coat, brown pants, fancy shirt, leather leggings and had on his head a beaver cap.  Tall, straight, broad compact shoulders, Herculean chest, narrow waist, and well formed muscular limbs.  A fine handsome face, free from any blemish, a light moustache, a thin pointed nose, bluish-gray eyes, with a calm, quiet almost benignant look, yet seemingly possessing some mysterious latent power, a magnificent forehead, hair parted from the center of his forehead and hanging down behind the ears in long silky curls.  He is brave, there can be no doubt; that fact is impressed on you at once before he utters a single syllable.  He is neither as coarse nor as illiterate as Harper’s Monthly portrays him.

The following verbatim dialogue took place between us: “I say Bill, or Mr. Hickok, how many white men have you killed to your certain knowledge?”

After a little deliberation, he replied, “I would be willing to take my oath on the Bible tomorrow that I have killed over a hundred a long ways off.”

“What made you kill all those men; did you kill them without cause or provocation?”

“No, by Heaven!  I never killed one man without a good cause.”

“How old were you when you killed your first man, and for what cause?”

“I was twenty-eight years old when I killed the first white man, and if ever a man deserved killing he did.  He was a gambler and counterfeiter, and I was in a hotel in Leavenworth City then, as seeing some loose characters around, I ordered a room, and as I had some money about me, I thought I would go to it.  I had lain some thirty minutes on the bed when I heard some men at the door.  I pulled out my revolver and Bowie knife and held them ready, but half concealed, pretending to be asleep.  The door was opened and five men entered the room.  They whispered together, ‘Let us kill the son of a b—h; I bet he has got money.’

“Gentlemen,” he said further, “that was a time, an awful time.  I kept perfectly still until just as the knife touched my breast; I sprang aside and buried mine in his heart and then used my revolvers on the others, right and left.  Only one was wounded besides the one killed; and then, gentlemen, I dashed through the room and rushed to the fort, procured a lot of soldiers, came to the hotel and captured the whole gang of them, fifteen in all.  We searched the cellar and found eleven bodies buried there-men who had been murdered by those villains.”

Turning to us he asked, “Would you have not done the same?  That was the first man I killed and I was never sorry for that yet.”

The Masterson – Peacock Shootout

From 1879 to 1881 James Masterson, Bat Masterson’s older brother, was the marshal of Dodge City. However, on April 6, 1881, because of a change in city government, James was dismissed. However, this wasn’t James’ only income. He owned a piece of the Lady Gay Saloon. His partner was an A. J. Peacock. Now, theirs wasn’t the most cordial partnership. Peacock had hired his brother-in-law, Al Updegraph as bartender, and James didn’t like it. On April 9, the dislike turned to gunshots between James, Peacock and Updegraph. In this Masterson – Peacock shootout no shots hit their mark, but the damage was done. 
 
Like with many a schoolyard squabble, I’m sure James probably said something like, “I’m going to tell my brother, and he’ll beat you up.” Because right after the incident, Bat Masterson, who was in Tombstone, Arizona at the time, jumped on a train, and traveled the 1,100 miles to Dodge City to avenge his brother.      
 
Peacock obviously knew that Bat was coming, because Peacock and Updegraph were waiting for Bat when his train arrived on April 16. Guns were drawn, and bullets started flying. Soon more gunshots were heard from another direction as some of Peacock’s friends enter the fray. And then more shots as James Masterson and his friends joined into the rukus.    
 
As the shootout participants were reloading their empty guns, the mayor and the sheriff showed up with loaded shotguns, and demanded the shootout stop. Which it did. Unfortunately, brother-in-law, Updegraph was killed during the shooting. 
 
The outcome of the Masterson – Peacock Shootout was that Bat Masterson was arrested, and charged for discharging a pistol upon the streets of the city. He pleaded guilty, and was fined $8 in costs. Bat paid the fine, and the two Mastersons wisely left town on the next train, and onto more incidents to add to their legend.
Masterson - Peacock Shootout

Marion Hedgepeth and H.H. Holmes

Marion Hedgepeth was born and raised in Missouri. As a young man, he went out west to Montana, Wyoming and Colorado where he learned the art of rustling, robbery and killing. Afterward, Marion headed back to St. Louis where he formed a gang known as “The Hedgepeth Four.”    
 
Marion was one of the most debonair outlaws ever to appear on a wanted poster. He was always immaculately groomed with slicked down hair hidden by a bowler hat. He wore a well-cut suit with topcoat. His wanted poster noted that his shoes were usually polished.   
 
The Hedgepeth Four committed a series of train robberies. Eventually Marion was caught and put on trial. Because of his dapper dress and good looks, the courtroom was filled with women and his cell was filled with flowers. But he was still sentenced to 25 years in the state prison. 
 
While waiting for transfer to prison, Marion’s cellmate was a H. H. Holmes, who was awaiting trial for swindling. Holmes confessed to Marion that he had murdered several women. Marion shared the information with the authorities, hoping it would lighten his sentence. This, along with petitions from women, got him pardoned after 12 years.
 
Riddled with tuberculosis, Marion continued his life of crime, and was arrested in Nebraska, where he served two more years. Now a physical wreck, on the evening of December 31, 1910 Marion entered a Chicago saloon with the objective of robbing the cash drawer. Unfortunately, a policeman interrupted the robbery, and Marion was shot dead.
 
Hearing of his death, Allan Pinkerton said of Marion Hedgepeth, “He was a bad man clear through.”    
Marion Hedgepeth and H.H. Holmes
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