He began work there April 15, 1881, and has been employed continuously for forty-seven years. For nearly forty-five years of that time, winter and summer, he paced the narrow path at the atop the twenty-seven foot wall, gun in hand, ready to thwart any attempt to escape on the part of the prisoners.
And finally, when he deserted the wall for a less strenuous job inside, it was at the suggestion of Warden J. N. Baumel, for McCarty, now 75 years old, refuses absolutely to admit that any of the younger generation has anything on him either in nerve or ability to get his man.
Often Used Artillery
However, McCarty, who was judged well worthy of promotion to a position as guide for visitors at the reformatory, recalls vividly the old days when he was called upon repeatedly to use his "artillery" either to save an other's life or his own, or to demonstrate his proposition that "no wall is as good as a gun."
The keen-eyed, pleasant and somewhat deaf little man recounts in detail the surroundings which greeted him when he first landed at Anamosa. "The place was called the additional penitentiary," said McCarty. "It was nothing but a stockade, made of sixteen-foot boards, stood on end. There were 175 prisoners and no discipline. They were a bad lot - murderers, gunmen, desperadoes, toughs and the like. It was no picnic to be a guard in those days, but I had five years of experience as city marshal at Osage, so I was not exactly a novice with a gun or a pop." McCarty insists on calling a revolver a 'pop."
"They began to build the wall in 1881, and the next year McCarty had a chance to show he had a cool head and iron in his blood.
"I was on guard on the completed part of the wall," he said. "Suddenly Bill Ward, a Negro, and Joe Phillips, Frank Winne and Shepard Taylor grabbed Mr. Dusey, the contractor. He once worked on the Iowa state house at Des Moines. Using Dusey as a shield, they started for an opening in the stockade.
The prisoners knew I wouldn't shoot as long as they had Dusey between me and them. But Dusey kicked and fought so wildly that he upset the whole four, and they fell and dropped him. No sooner had they done this than I fired. The bullet cut a crease in Howard's skull. My next bullet got Phillips.
"Meanwhile, unknown to me, Red Winters - in for twenty-seven years - was stealing up behind me with a pinch bar intending to brain me. The other prisoners yelled, "Kill him, Red. Get McCarty."
"My gun was empty. But I whirled on Red and stuck the muzzle in his face. "Get off this wall or I'll blow you off!" I yelled. Red threw up his hands, dropped the bar, and jumped. Afterward I told him the gun was unloaded, and he admitted that the joke was on him."
Only a year later, McCarty saved the life of Deputy Warden Carl Barr and won the commendation of Governor Larrabee and Warden Marquis Barr. The deputy warden was attacked by Charlie Williams, a third termer from Johnson county. The prisoner had a butcher knife poised to plunge into the warden when a bullet from McCarty's rifle cutshort Williams' career.
Another time a convict named Mitchell led an attempted prison delivery through a big hole in the stockade caused by a runaway freight car. McCarty stopped the rush for the hole, but Mitchell refused to stop until he was mortally wounded by McCarty's gunfire.
Lonely Life Eight Years.
McCarty for eight years perched on top of a sixty-foot tower in the prison yard, keeping lonely vigil over his desperate wards breaking rock on the ground far below. He had to be pulled up in the morning and lowered at night. His only communication with civilization was a tin tube which was secreted in the tower. This enabled him to communicate with guards below, and to get advance notice when there was trouble brewing in the yard.
McCarty was the ideal guard, according to officers of the penitentiary. He was humane, cool, fearless and a man of rare judgment and understanding. He never took life needlessly, was liked even by the men he guarded, and took a kindly interest in any man who showed an inclination to go right.
Philosophy of Job
McCarty's philosophy of his lifetime job was expressed in the laconic sentence, "Treat 'em right but watch out for yourself."
McCarty, who has seem prison conditions "close up" for nearly half a century, is thoroughly converted to the parole system. "Its is a great lever for discipline," he said. "It gives the first offender a chance to come back. Under the old system the prisoner had no hope. He knew he must serve out his time and it made him a shirk and a renegade. He had no incentive to improve himself.