Entertaining Women Honored as Spur Award Finalist

Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West by best selling author Chris Enss is among more than two dozen books recognized by Western Writers of America as a finalist for the 2017 Spur Award. Entertaining Women is a finalist in the category of Juvenile Nonfiction.

Spur Awards are literary prizes awarded annually by the Western Writers of America. The purpose of the Spur Awards is to honor writers for distinguished writing about the American West.

Enss’s book Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West tells the stories of the most popular female entertainers of the mid- and late 1800s who performed in boomtowns across the frontier. Entertaining Women will be honored at Western Writers of America’s upcoming convention in Kansas City, Missouri, June 21-24.

Entertaining Women: Actresses, Dancers, and Singers in the Old West is available through National Book Network (1-800-462-6420) and wherever fine books are sold.

 

The Last Inning

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The Death Row All Stars:

The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder

 

On Friday, May 24, 1912, Wyoming citizens awoke to the news that the execution of Joseph Seng had been carried out and that his body had been shipped to his aged mother. Below an article about the hanging posted on the front page of the Wyoming Tribune was a column announcing the scores of the National and American League baseball teams that had played the day before Joseph was put to death. In stories that appeared about Seng’s execution in newspapers as far away as Wellsville, New York, writers included a few sentences about how well the former inmate had played the game of baseball. Alston’s All Stars never played again.

By the end of 1911, two of the infielders and two other players had served their time and had been granted parole. Utility player Ora Carman’s sentence expired on September 15, 1911, as did that of the left fielder Earl Stone. Third baseman John Crottie was released in November 1911, and second baseman Frank Fitzgerald was released in December 1911. In 1912 several more players departed the prison. Left fielder H. A. Pendergraft was granted parole in January 1912. Center fielder Sidney Potter’s sentence concluded in June 1912, and so did that of pitcher Thomas Cameron. Cameron moved to Colorado and went to work as a coal miner. Shortstop Joseph Guzzardo was pardoned in July 1912 after helping to extinguish a fire at the penitentiary.

In early January 1913 team manager George Saban petitioned the State Board of Pardons for a reprieve, but his request was denied. Saban watched as Warden Alston’s first baseman, Eugene Rowan, was granted parole in November 1913 and returned to his home in Rock Springs, Wyoming. On December 17, 1913, Saban escaped from the prison road gang he was working with near Manderson in Big Horn County. According to the December 25, 1913, editions of the Thermopolis Record and the Big Horn County Rustler, Saban had help with his getaway. On January 16, 1914, the Carbon County Journal joined them in pointing out that Warden Alston had extended to him “all the privileges that any man serving a penitentiary sentence of twenty years could expect and then some.” The Journal article continued:

D. O. Johnson, a special prison guard, was assigned to escort Saban back to the prison in Rawlins. Saban asked to be allowed to visit Basin to attend to business at the bank. This was granted, and he and Johnson stopped at a hotel. About 7 o’clock that evening Saban was allowed to go out and see some friends and that was the last seen of him.

For some reason Johnson did not give the alarm until 11 o’clock the next morning, explaining his action by saying that he thought his explaining his action by saying that he thought his man would return and that to report him would be to take away his credits.

Saban seems to have evaporated. There are plenty of rumors but nothing authentic can be learned of his movements after leaving the hotel. It is said that an auto passed through Greybull [Wyoming] that night, but that might or might not mean anything. It is also said that his plan was to reach the coast and take passage for South America. There is another theory that he is hiding at the home of some friend in Basin.

All these stories are vague and may mean nothing. One thing is certain and that is that he ought to be easy to get if he is trying to make the getaway. The fact that he is a large man with a pleasant voice and manner, has a habit of smiling and showing a handsome set of teeth when he speaks, and has crippled hands ought to attract the attention of any officer who has his description.

Death Row All Stars

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To learn more about inmates who played ball for their lives read the book

The Death Row All Stars:

The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

 

 

This Day…

1912 The Yankees announce they will begin wearing pinstripes on their uniforms. The new look will take a few seasons before the vertical lines become a reality, making their first appearance in a 5-1 loss to Washington during the team’s home opener in 1915.

Seng at the Gallows

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The Death Row All Stars:

The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder

 

In the summer of 1911, the grass around the baseball diamond at the Wyoming State Penitentiary was a brilliant green. The slabs of canvas at home plate and at all three bases were faded white and dented by cleats that had tramped over them or slid into the sides. The walls surrounding the field were covered with scuff marks from fly balls and home runs. Ivy vines crawled along the stone backdrop in spots, breaking free to the other side.

By the summer of 1912, the outfield grounds were discolored and dominated by weeds. Only a handful of photographs existed to show that the Death Row All Stars had ever played there. Some of the pictures featured team members circling the bases after smacking the ball hard. “All baseball loves a hitter,” a reporter at the Wyoming Tribune wrote about the game in April 1912. “The skill of a pitcher is rejected. The successful defensive work of infield and outfield, the one-handed stop or the running catch must ever arouse enthusiastic cheers; but when all is said and done, the wielder of the big stick is the giant that stirs the imagination and the hero worship of the fans.

“No thrill equals that which comes when a home player sends the ball ringing off his bat safely to the outfield. As the number of bases gained by such a hit increases, so does the excitement mount. When one of those drives wins a game, its maker is a hero—the fan can conjure no reward that is adequate. Those low in spirit whose countenance is lifted by such an achievement cannot fully express their appreciation for helping them to see, if only for a moment, beyond their despair.”

Professional baseball clubs like the Boston Rustlers and the Saint Louis Browns, teams that ended the year of play with a 0.300 record or worse, could set their sights on improving when the 1912 season began. Not so with the All Stars. Once the ball club was disbanded in 1911, there would never again be a baseball team at the Wyoming State Penitentiary organized and managed by the warden. Inmates could gather players together for solitary games but would never again gather players together for solitary games but would never again be allowed to compete outside the walls of the prison.

By the time the 1912 baseball season rolled around, Warden Alston’s thoughts were more on keeping order at the facility than playing the game. Prisoners were refusing to work, and many had been disobeying orders and had been placed in solitary confinement in the prison’s dungeon. According to the May 8, 1912, edition of the Wyoming Tribune, Rawlins was thrown into a high state of excitement when ten convicts burrowed out of that dungeon. “The appearance of the men from the break in the dungeon wall at about 11 o’clock last night prompted the summoning of the guards,” the article reported. “It resulted in the immediate capture of eight of the ten convicts. Two of the convicts, however, got over the prison wall and as of noon today have not been captured, although a posse was sent to scour the country immediately upon a count showing that two men were missing.

“While none of the convicts captured in the yard were armed and were placed in their cells without difficulty, it is believed that the men who got away must have had some assistance, as no trace has been obtainable of either of them.”

Inmates who continued to be unhappy about the demise of the penitentiary baseball team and who were upset with what many convicts referred to as inhumane treatment and conditions at the prison wrote letters to Governor Carey asking that he “appoint an impartial non-political body of men to investigate the conditions at the prison.”

 

 

Death Row All Stars

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To learn more about inmates who played ball for their lives read the book The Death Row All Stars:

The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

 

 

This Day…

2010 A Kansas man, who sat six rows behind the third-base dugout, files a lawsuit against the Royals as a result of being hit in the eye by a hot dog thrown by Sluggerrr, the team’s mascot. The suit is seeking $25,000 in damages for injuries caused by the flying frank, which includes a detached retina and the development of cataracts in the left eye.

Dead Man at the Plate

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The Death Row All Stars:  The Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

 

In November 1911 winter weather had moved in, and the Wyoming State Penitentiary infirmary was filled to near overflowing with violently ill inmates. Patients with no beds to lie on sat on the floor, propped up against the wall. Some were drawn into a fetal position and others were draped faced down across thin pillows scattered around the room. The air was pungent and oven-hot. The sound of sick convicts retching into buckets and tin pans echoed throughout the crowded medical unit.

Joseph Seng hurried from one patient to another, assisting Dr. Maghee. He mopped the damp sweat off the prisoners’ heads, gave them drinks of water, and fed them chips of ice. Guards escorted more ailing men into the medical unit and dropped them wherever they could find space. The sick inmates moaned in pain and some cried out for relief.

After several hours of listening to the suffering, collecting the vital signs of each patient, and analyzing the symptoms, the doctor and his assistant determined that the men, including several members of the baseball team, had been poisoned. News of their illness and speculation that the poisoning might have been a deliberate act spread quickly throughout the prison. Several prison guards, including D. O. Johnson, considered the possibility that someone with a grudge against the penitentiary baseball team and its chance to compete in future games might have orchestrated the poisoning. There was some chatter between the guards and prisoners that Otto Gramm could be behind the trouble.

Gramm, naturally, was not unhappy about the news that problems were still plaguing the prison under Warden Alston’s watch. He was rumored to have been offended by a column that had appeared in the November 3, 1911, edition of the Lander, Wyoming, newspaper the Lander Eagle. The headline read Carey Saving Good Money—Better Than Gramm. The article that followed contained a statement of the affairs of the Wyoming State Penitentiary and showed significant improvements on financial and other fronts. “The people are entitled to know and the books of the administration are open to all,” Governor Carey was quoted in the report. “The results of the administration of the penitentiary under the new arrangement can best be summed up by presenting a statement of what the penitentiary [would have] cost the state had Otto Gramm been allowed to remain in his position there,” the article continued.

“It’s shown that the average daily per capita cost to the state was $.61 cents for the year ending September 30, 1910, made up by the $.50 cents per day per prisoner paid to Mr. Otto Gramm, lessee, and the $.11 cents per day per prisoner paid for permanent improvements, discharge money, etc. Had the Gramm contract continued the expense to that would have been more than $25,000.00.”

Luckily, with Seng’s help, Dr. Maghee was able to relieve the prisoners of their misery. The pair mixed a concoction of mustard and Coca-Cola that helped to purge the toxins from the sick convicts. Patients and prison officials praised the doctor and Seng for bringing an end to the outbreak. Within twenty-four hours of the incident occurring, health had been restored and inmates returned to their cells. According to the November 6, 1911, edition of the Laramie Daily Boomerang, the cause of the poisoning turned out to be contaminated food. “A quantity of kraut had been allowed to remain in a metal pot overnight,” the article read, “and along the edge had absorbed poison and in a few minutes after eating it many prisoners were in intense pain.”

George Saban kept himself clear of any disputes with fellow inmates and aligned himself with more than one guard who had an allegiance to Otto Gramm. Saban had a problem with other prisoners only when they stood in the way of his money-making ventures. News that law enforcement was cracking down on illegal gambling throughout the state was the basis for his frustration that fall, beginning in September 1911.

To learn more about the inmates who played ball for their lives read

The Death Row All Stars:  A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder.

Death Row All Stars

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This Day…

1880 George Wright signs a contract with the Boston Red Caps, which he states allows him not to travel with the team on western road trips, but just participate in games played in New England and Troy. The arrangement will allow the Hall of Fame shortstop to devote more time to his sporting goods business.