Sunday, June 15, 2014

Hello, everybody!

I hope you are all doing well on this beautiful day, and I hope that all of the fathers out there are having a great Father's Day!

Today, I was reading through letters that we keep in a filing cabinet. These letters are ones that were sent with donated keys. I found one letter that was particularly interesting. As I was searching for the key that went along with the letter, I discovered another related key. The first key was donated by John E. Tidwell, and his letter says that the key was to "Number 10", a prison car, which was used by United States Marshals in transporting prisoners from the United States Jail at Muskogee, Oklahoma to penitentiaries in Leavenworth, Kansas, Columbus, Ohio, and Jefferson City, Missouri. The key was given to Tidwell by E. H. Hubbard, the Chief Deputy United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.

The related key that I found was actually donated by E. H. Hubbard himself. He also sent a letter with his key, and both letters are dated on July 23, 1936. Hubbard writes that he decided to donate a key after hearing about the collection from J. E. Tidwell. Hubbard's donated key was used in the United States Jail at Muskogee, Oklahoma to unlock cell locks. Hubbard says that the jail was built by the United States Government during 1902. Many notorious criminals, including bank robbers, train robbers, murderers, and kidnappers, have been incarcerated in this prison. I'm going to talk a little bit about some of these prisoners, Bill Doolin, Al Jennings, Henry Starr, Dewey Gilmore, and Rufe McCain.

Bill Doolin was an American bandit and founder of the Wild Bunch, an outlaw gang that specialized in robbing banks, trains, and stagecoaches in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas during the 1890s. When the Wild Bunch was taken down by three Deputy U.S. Marshals and Bill Doolin was killed, one of the members, Richard West, joined Al Jennings and the Jennings Gang. The Jennings Gang was not very successful. The Gang conducted a series of failed train robbery attempts, one of there last being a case where they blew up an entire train car, only to find that there was no money in the train's safe. Interestingly Al Jennings also worked as an attorney and in politics, and he later became a silent film star. Henry Starr might have been the most successful of the robbers that I have mentioned so far. He robbed more banks than both Bill Doolin's Gang and Jesse James's Gang put together. He started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. He stole over $60,000 in more than 21 bank robberies.

Dewey Gilmore and Rufe McCain are both criminals who eventually ended up at Alcatraz. From the mid 1930s until the mid 1960s, Alcatraz was America's premier maximum-security prison, located on Alcatraz Island, one and a half miles offshore from San Francisco. Dewey Gilmore, a kidnapper, was sent to Alcatraz shortly after the death of another inmate, Joseph Bower. Bower tried to make a nearly impossible escape and was shot down. Bower was the first person to try to escape after Alcatraz Island became a federal prison. Other criminals at Alcatraz at this time included Al Capone and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. Another criminal who ended up at Alcatraz after spending time in the the jail in Muskogee was Rufe McCain. McCain was confined in cell 14-D at Alcatraz for over three years after an escape attempt. Cell 14-D, a place where rebellious prisoners were confined in total isolation, is the most famous cell for being haunted. When McCain was released from the cell, he murdered another inmate. It is said that cell 14-D had done irreparable damage to his psyche.

I hope you enjoyed learning about these two prison keys as much as I did! I'm constantly discovering new fascinating keys here in the Key Room. If you have a favorite key, please let me know so I can learn about it, too!

Have a great day!

Key Room Museum Curator