It was one of the most singular affairs that has occurred inside those walls, and we will give the facts as they were given us by the chief officer of the institution.
A convict named C. W. Williams, known familiarly among his fellows in penance as "Nosy Williams," on account of the size of his nasal organ, was the victim of the bloody episode.
Williams had been a member of a "floating gang," employed in the miscellaneous work on the penitentiary grounds, and had been principally engaged wheeling coal from the south end of the cell house, where it is dumped off the cars, to the boiler-room, about a hundred and fifty feet north.
The boilers were being reset, and the brick around them had been removed and piled in the yard in front of the boiler-room door.
At 7 o'clock Saturday morning Williams was loitering at this brick pile, when a guard maned Boswell approached him and ordered him to go to work wheeling coal. Williams replied that he had been excused from doing that work.
The guard told him he must go to the office of the deputy warden, Ben Barr, and explain his refusal to work. Williams went to the Deputy Warden's office and made a statement. The Deputy Warden told him he had not been excused from wheeling coal and he must do the work. Williams replied: "I'll be G-d d-d if I'll do it!"
The Deputy then said: "Come with me!" meaning that Williams should go with him and be shut up in the "solitary" in the cell house, where mutinous convicts are disciplined by being hung up by the wrists.
Williams replied: I'll be G-d d-d if I'll go, and you can't take me there alive!"
At this juncture Williams went out of the Deputy's office and returned to the brick pile where he had been loitering when Boswell found him.
The Deputy followed Williams, pistol in hand, repeatedly ordering him to surrender, and threatening to fire upon him, we suppose, for Williams shouted : "Shoot and be G-d d-d, you coward!"
As soon as Williams reached the brick pile he began throwing bricks at the Deputy, who dodged the missiles as they were being hurled by the enraged convict.
While this scene was being enacted, a convict named Baker, a twenty-year man from Fort Dodge, attempted to steal up behind Williams and seize his arms.
But Williams saw him coming and drove him off with a shower of bricks.
Then turning upon the Deputy, he began throwing bricks at him again, and pulling out a black-handled pocket knife with a long sharp blade, made a rush at the Deputy with the evident intention of stabbing him.
At this moment the crack of a rifle was heard on the east wall north of the cell house, and Williams fell dead after walking four or five steps toward the Deputy.
He had received the rifle bullet in the left breast. The ball struck him on the nipple. passing entirely through his body, perforating his heart and killing him instantly.
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Williams was serving a term of eight years for shooting a policeman in Cedar Rapids who was trying to arrest him for a misdemeanor. He was sentenced by Judge Griffon at Marian, and began his term, November 8, 1880.
This was not his first sentence to penal servitude. Prior to this he served a term of three years for larceny. Williams was a man about 28 years old, of medium complexion. It is claimed he had few friends in the penitentiary, and that he was a chronic kicker. However it is admitted the officers of the penitentiary never had any serious trouble with him before.
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ANOTHER VERSION Yet there is another version of this affair afloat having a good deal of human nature in it which we give for what it is worth.
This version says Williams was working at the brick pile and was ordered to wheel coal by the guard Boswell.
Williams refused, saying Dr. Adair, the penitentiary physician, had excused him from doing such work because he was sick and unable to do it.
The Guard said he could not accept this excuse and ordered him to present himself at the Deputy Warden's office.
Williams went to the office of the Deputy Warden and said he had been excused from wheeling coal by the Physician.
The Deputy said he did not know of Williams having been excused, and said he must go and wheel coal till the Physician came.
Williams insisted that he was sick and had not strength to do that kind of work, and would not.
The Deputy said he must when coal. Williams swore he would not and left the office, retreating to the brick pile where he had been at work.
The Deputy followed, accompanied by the assistant deputy, Passwater.
As he followed Williams the Deputy ordered him to surrender and go with him to "solitary."
With an oath, Williams declared he would not go, and that he could not be taken there alive.
On reaching the brick pile Williams gathered up and armful of bricks, and as the Deputy, the Assistant Deputy, the convict Baker, and Moreland, the superintendent of the cell house, closed in on him he retreated toward the carriage hose, bringing himself in range of Martin McCarthy, the guard on the east wall north of the cell house.
The convict Baker tried to seize Williams' arms, but was driven off.
A guard in the cell house brought the Deputy a pistol, which that official fired twice in the air to frighten Williams into submission.
But Williams' fury was unbounded. He said the men who were following him were cowards, and dared them to shoot.
Other pistol shots were fired at Williams by those following him, but were ineffectual.
Finally, in the climax of his madness, Williams drew a knife. Then the Assistant Deputy called out: "Let McCarthy shoot."
McCarthy cried out to Williams: "I'll shoot!" and Williams replied in the hoarse accents of ineffable rage: "Shoot! and be d-d! you coward! my life is nothing to me anyhow."
All the pistols in the hands of the officers had proven ineffective. Williams had declared he would rather die than be hung up by the wrists in the "solitary." He was rushing upon the Deputy, knife in hand, and would have killed him, when the ground was cleared at Passwater's call. McCarthy leveled his rifle and sent a slug of lead through his body, and Williams died the death of a dog.