Government turned prison over to Territory of Montana
to Federal Government
Prison turned back to State of Montana
- - - - - - - - -
at the Prision
Kay Lenz, Tim McIntire
Louis Gosset Jr
Rourke, Lori Singer
Listed on the National
Register of Historic Places, the Old Montana Prison was built by
inmate labor, this turn-of-the-century fortress was home to at least
one member of Butch Cassidy's "Wild Bunch". Guided and
self-guided tours lead you through the intimidating Cell House and
into the chilling slide bar cells and black box of Maximum Security.
See what it was like to live amongst the turreted stone towers and
iron gates at the "Prison Life" photo exhibit, then view
the galloping gallows.
Stout iron bars slammed shut and locked for the first time on
July 2, 1871. On that day, Montana's Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge
incarcerated its first occupant.
Guards no longer occupy the
turrets set in each corner of the The Wall. The thud of heavy footsteps marching along the
topmost barbed-wire- enclosed walkway is no longer heard.
Emptied of prisoners in the late 1970s, the buildings stand now
as silent sentinels to justice, a museum complex dedicated to law enforcement.
Now open to the public for most of the year, this museum presents
a chilling, bleak glimpse at life behind bars.
A pamphlet distributed by the museum interprets each building
and how it was used. Guideposts state the facts in a few brief sentences.
Guns and shackles and restraints
can be viewed behind mesh partitions, along with artwork prepared by
former inmates, and lethal weapons fashioned from kitchen forks and simple
Daily log sheets, in glass cases, describe in detail how guards
and prisoners alike spent their days. Permission had to be granted by
state authorities to grow mustaches, and there were written guidelines as to permissible length
One display shows sturdy work shoes with concrete soles
instead of leather ones. These shoes, weighing 20 pounds each, were
ordered to be worn by convicts thought to be potential escapees.
Convict labor built large portions of the prison compound. Over
time, inmates fashioned 1.2 million bricks by hand for use in erecting the original 1896 cell
house and other buildings. Stone was quarried nearby and hauled to the site. Convicts cut the
timbers and dug the lime for use in cement.
Inside the cell blocks are corridors painted a drab industrial
gray, a broad yellow stripe along the floor defining the prisoner's walkway.
The basement shower room is cold and damp, a dripping spigot the
Heavy metal doors in the solitary confinement cells block out all
light and sound. These doors insulate the guards on duty inside steel mesh cages from
the rage of the isolated men.
Not all the memorabilia is without humor or humanity. Cell No.
1 was occupied by Paul "Turkey Pete" Eitner. Convicted of murder and
sentenced to life in 1918, Turkey Pete became a model prisoner and was placed in charge of the prison
turkey flock. Losing touch with reality, at one point he "Sold" the
entire flock for the sum of 25 cents per bird, beginning a new career
as the prison entrepreneur.
Humoring his mental condition,
inmates were allowed to print Eitner checks in the prison print shop and he was permitted to
"purchase" the prison and run it from his cell. He "paid" all prison
expenses and "paid" the guards salaries.
At age 89, Turkey Pete died in 1967 after 49 years behind bars.
At his death, Cell No 1 was retired from use. His was the only funeral
ever held within the walls of the prison.
During its tenure, visitors entered the compound from Main
Street, passing through arched doorways cut in the solid, high walls, into a
small inner room. Here, a hole cut in the ceiling could open and the
guard would pass down a key on a long rope. The key could open only
the second door into the grounds of the prison.
Surrounded by chain link, steel
mesh, brick, concrete and barbed wire, it is a relief to conclude the
tour and step into the grassy center yard. Scratched into the bricks in one sheltered corner
are names, dates and prison numbers, a reminder of men serving out their time.
A flagpole stands in the middle of the yard, the guy wires for the
flag snapping against the post, the pulley mechanism clicking rhythmically in time. Wind whines
through chain link fencing, trapping scraps of paper against the fence.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the
Old Montana Territorial Prison is open year round.
schedule for opening hours.
• Lyle Gillette
• Lem Oehrtman
• Allan Walters
• Anne Bogut
• Therese Fries
tour's are available during the summer months only. Self-guided
tour's are available year round.
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"Doin' Time" Sticker
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