The present day Lincoln County Detention Center is a fine facility. Not perfect, but a fine facility.
Most people know much of the story of the historic Million Dollar Courthouse in Pioche, about the continual cost overruns that just kept elevating the construction prices. Built in 1872, it served the county until 1938, when the present courthouse and jail was opened.
If walls could talk, many a good story would be told from the jail in the old courthouse building. Author Leo Schafer has several in his book Law and Disorder in Pioche.
The mining boom in the town of Pioche was just after the Civil War and into in the early years of the 1870s. Pioche had plenty of lawbreakers who were sentenced to jail for various lengths in those days of yesteryear.
Schafer writes, “The jail (located in the basement of the courthouse) was described as a dark dungeon where inmates could sit or recline on the floor, beds, or stools. The cells were for solitary, or almost solitary confinement.”
Inmates often played cards with each other to pass the time. Schafer notes “one of the prisoners even lost a knife in a bet.”
Late 1872 and nearly all of 1873 was an eventful period in the early life of the jail.
Schafer writes that in November, 1872, “Black Hawk” Oreamuno committed suicide in his cell. He had been arrested a few days prior for “displaying indications of a disordered mind,” having even gashed his own neck with a knife.
Locked in a cell one day, “the very next night,” Schafer wrote, “Black Hawk tore a two-inch wide strip from his bed tick, tied one end to the grate on his cell door, made a double turn around his neck with the other end, stood on a bucket and stepped off. Efforts to revive him failed.”
“Chicken-Thief Charley” Roddo was a frequent visitor to the jail during that same period. Schafer relates he was a kleptomaniac, “prone to take anything that wasn’t nailed down, obviously including chickens.”
Then there was Frank Perry in January, 1873. He had been tried and convicted of robbery earlier that fall, had spent several months as a guest at the jail and was considered “harmless.” Perry even helped out around the courthouse, pushing broom, emptying trash, etc. One day, Schafer relates, Perry complained of not feeling very well, asking to go to vomit or some such thing. Sanitary conditions in the overcrowded jail were not good, and Perry was allowed to go outside. Seeing the road unguarded, Frank took off running. He made it almost to Panaca, heading toward Utah territory, before officers caught him again. He was returned to the jail to finish out his sentence, plus what was added on for escaping. He did, and was not given a chance to escape again.
A most interesting escape attempt was discovered in the late spring of 1873.
The jailer noticed inmates in one particular cell all seemed to sleep in one place, up against the east corner.
Being suspicious, the jailor found that the inmates “had loosened all the stones at the south exterior wall. An escape could have been made in moments.”
The sheriff was notified and made arrangements for repairs which included installing iron bars where the stones had been loosened. Schafer writes, “Until the repairs were completed, the jailor temporarily slept in that same corner providing extra security.”
Even more elaborate was James Harrington, but that is a story for another time.