The Eureka April 1902


Wesley Elkins Stepped Out a Free Man Last Saturday Morning.

At half-past eight o'clock last Saturday morning, Wesley Elkins went forth from the Anamosa penitentiary a free man. Gov. Cummins had forwarded the parole papers to Prof. Harlan, of Mt. Vernon, on Friday, and the latter drove over in the afternoon, a distance of eighteen miles. The warrant for discharge was forwarded to Warden Hunter at the same time, and Wesley was informed of the fact at supper time Friday evening. Of course he was greatly pleased, though he showed it by face and manner rather than by words. Wesley is naturally reserved and never talks much, and so, as the warden says, when he does speak he can be depended on as expressing his real sentiments.

As Wesley was marching out from breakfast Saturday morning, Receiving and Discharging officer C. I. Nelson called him aside and took him to the office for the purpose of changing his suit. It did not take long to perform that agreeable task and he was soon ready to walk out. The warden took him to the house to bid good-bye to Mrs. Hunter and of course she expressed hope for his future and gave him some motherly admonition, which he evidently appreciated. When he passed out of the entrance to the prison to get into Prof. Harlan buggy, he stopped to admire the front. Someone asked, "Have you never seen this before?" He smiled and replied, "No, I never have seen this before."

Warden Hunter, Deputy Warden Gurley, H. M. Vaughn, the clerk, H. R. Churchill, the warden's stenographer, and several others were present, also Mr. Moorehead, of the Des Moines Capital, and all shook his hand and extended their cordial well wishes. Prof. Harlan drove up town and stopped a moment at the Eureka office and at E. J. Wood's store in order to give Wesley the opportunity to express thanks to those who , as he said, had interested themselves in his behalf. They then proceeded to Mt. Vernon and Wesley is in his new home, where he will remain for the present and probably attend school for a time until further plans are developed.

Wesley is a handsome penman and has learned to operate a type-writer. For a long period his work has been in the library, but the confinement affected his health and for about a year he has been in the machine shops, where he has performed such duties as were assigned to him.

Referring to one of the conditions in his parole he said: "I'll never go near Clayton county." Nevertheless he has some friends there. Although the remonstrance against his parole contained 1700 names, still it must be remembered that Clayton county contains 25,000 people and only a small proportion signed the paper, while in a number of instances parties wrote to the warden requesting that their names be stricken off.

Wesley, after being in the penitentiary twelve years, five months and three days, was given the usual suit of clothes and $5 in money. Somebody in Indiana recently sent him a postal note for $5. He had nearly three dollars besides, making in cash assets less than $13 with which to start out in life. Warden Hunter says he is satisfied Wesley is thoroughly determined to do his best to meet the expectations of his friends. A big problem is before him and he has a vast amount to learn in the ways of the world, both good and bad. As he said when released on that pleasant Saturday, "Isn't it beautiful?" And when asked how he felt he replied, "Like a fish out of water: I don't know what to do or how to do it."

Elkins is a little more pale and rather thinner in flesh than usual, but this is not strange in view of the tremendous strain that he has suffered during the past few weeks.

The reporter of the Capital gives a long account of Elkins and we clip the following paragraphs:

"When Wesley was brought in here at the age of 11, Warden Barr hardly knew what to do with him; he was so young of years and so slight of body. But he made him an orderly or errand boy in the warden's office and worked at that for a time. Then he was placed in charge of the library by Warden Madden and remained there until the library was destroyed. He had opportunity of working among the best books and reading them, and he took advantage of this. After the library was destroyed Wesley was put to work helping around in the chapel; keeping it in repair and clean; we always have a man to do just that work. I restored the library and we now have about 7,000 volumes there and I put Wesley back in charge.

And this has been Elkins' life for over twelve years, since he was first incarcerated, in 1890, when he was a mere knee-breeched youngster of 11. His life has been devoid of all the experiences and observations that make up the lives of others.

It is five years now since Prof. Harlan and Wesley Elkins first met in the penitentiary at Anamosa, as a result of a letter which young Elkins wrote to Carl Snyder of the Council Bluffs Nonpareil, and which was republished in the local paper at Mt. Vernon. Since that time Prof. Harlan has visited Anamosa on an average of twice a year and has worked with two legislatures, ever striving to make Elkins a free man. Now that he has succeeded he is even happier than is Elkins himself.

Five years ago a discussion was going on in the newspapers of the state as to the state's care of the juvenilely criminal and vicious and Mr. Snyder of the Nonpareil came out in a letter advocating better care by the state and segregation. The letter was copied and recopied and finally came to the attention of Wesley Elkins, convict No. 1900, then a boy only 18 years old in the Anamosa prison. Mr. Madden was warden then and the letter which young Elkins wrote to Snyder in regard to the article, impressed the warden as being so good that he determined to have the letter published.

"I thought possibly it might strike the attention of some man or woman in the state that would interest themselves in Elkins and his case as a result of his letter," said Warden Madden recently in discussing the letter, "and time showed that my hopes were right, that letter was the cause of Prof. Harlan taking up the battle for young Elkins."

Prof. Harlan corroborates Warden Madden in this. He saw the Elkins letter republished in the Mt. Vernon paper, and a short time afterwards drove over to Anamosa and visited Elkins for the first time in his prison cell. Then for five years the visits continued and Prof. Harlan labored with general assemblies until Elkins walked out of prison Saturday a free man.