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OLD MONTANA PRISON: EARLY BEGINNINGS 4

On August 1, 1874, U. S. Marshall Wheeler returned as the Prison's administrator after the operational responsibility was restored to the Federal government on June 20.

In that same month, Congress "made an appropriation to complete fourteen cells...in the Penitentiary at Deer Lodge." Marshall Wheeler's description of the north wing in 1877 indicates that Congress' appropriation proved sufficient:

"The building is of stone and its length is eighty and its width by forty feet on the outside. The walls are two feet thick and twenty-two feet high. The mansard roof makes a story and gives room for a third tier of cells. When the building was accepted it had but one tier of fourteen cells built in the center of the ground floor...Since then I have constructed a second tier of cells, above the others at a cost of $6,000.00."


Wheeler also enclosed the Prison yard with a twelve-foot high board fence. According to Wheeler, the inmates performed all the work on the Prison. They made their own clothes, cooked, cut lumber, and performed "all that is done for the prison and themselves." Yet, Wheeler bemoaned, "the greatest misfortune to the prisoners is that they have no regular employment." Wheeler found Deer Lodge residents either unable or unwilling to hire prison labor.



Montana endured these inadequate prison facilities for more than a decade. On July 7, 1884, the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act appropriated only $15,000.00 "to erect the unfinished portion of the U.S. Penitentiary at Deer Lodge." Accordingly, Governor John Schuyler Crosby appointed John T. Tiggs and W. Y. Simton to the newly formed Commission of Examiners. The commission reported the wing to be in a weakened state.


"We found the end walk at the north and south built in substantial stone foundation. The side, or east and west, walls of the tiers of the cells have no stone foundation (of) sufficient (strength to) support another tier--in fact, scarcely any. The brick walls extend down eighteen inches to the ground and are now, and it is...always damp. We do not find that any cement was used in laying them...The brick below the surface is all soft and wet. The mortar and all material have lost whatever adhesive qualities they may have had."


The Commission was "decidedly of the opinion that it would not be safe to erect thereon another additional tier of cells...nor to materially increase the present weight on the stone foundation."


Despite the dire necessity for additional cells, the governor abandoned the project. Instead, the governor transferred the funds to the construction of a central administration building, a decision the new U. S. Marshall Alexander B. Botkin vehemently opposed because of the overcrowding of the prison and the delay in the construction of additional cells.


But the central admin building was contracted on October 10, 1884 and was fulfilled within just 6 months. The three-storied middle building, built of stone, was 35 to 50 feet and housed the guards sleeping quarters, warden's office and a visitor's reception room.

After seventeen years only two-thirds of the Penitentiary was finished--and that sorely fell short of Montana's needs.

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