(from the January 14, 1905 Anamosa Prison Press, written by the inmate editor)

At Hard Labor -- Cutting Stone

Along two sides of a long, low shed in the northeast corner of the yard, twenty-three men are engaged cutting stone for the buildings which the State needs to provide shelter and workshops for her wards.

Four men called 'bankers' slid the south door open and shoved a small flat car out to the derrick. They were 'taking away' a finished stone from a cutter and piling it with its kind in the stone-yard.

I looked into the shed. Down the center, the full length of the shed, is a track. The twenty-three cutters, six feet apart, were hewing stone.

Cutting stone is hard labor. I know by experience. Our sentences are particular to specify 'at hard labor.' You couldn't close your eyes and throw a stone at the Warden's fine residence without hitting a product of my two and one-half years of 'hard labor.' I laugh now as I think of the millions of sighs I paid for that grand pile of rock.

In those days the old shed stood on the site of the present ballground. It stood there for twenty-five years. When I entered it for the first time, eleven years ago, 'Old' Dilley was foreman. John Archibald was boss-in-chief of the works. The three guards have gone long since.

I had been waiting trial ten months, and felt as if I had been tasting that length of time. They happened to need a good man in the shed the day I arrived.

Four husky 'bankers' came with a car and deposited a huge stone of irregular shape on a pair of horses in front of what Old Dilley said was my bench. The bankers blocked up the stone to waist-height and then left me and Old Dilley to hew the rough stone into shape.

Sigh No. 1.

I was given an apron made of bedticking. The first thing Old Dilley told me was to make a 'bed' on the top side of the stone.

On a bench which projected just below the windows reposed my kit of tools: chisels of various shapes and sizes, a square, tooth-ax, bush-hammer, two straight edges, and a 2-foot rule.

My feet got cold while Old Dilley was telling me how to make a 'bed' on the top side of the stone. I looked at the big stove ten feet away. The guard looked at me. He appeared to be absorbing the heat enought for two, but his look was cold, I thought.

In the meantime Old Dilley had gone to attend to someone else. They kept him on the jump. "Make a bed," was all I had heard of his instructions, and that much was Greek to me.

I took up the smaller of the two mallets. It was heavy.

Sigh No. 2.

On both sides of me and across the track from me my fellow artisans were swinging their mallets as if a penny a minute were the regular wage. It was plain to me that they and I were working for the wages of sin.

I looked wistfully toward the big red-hot stove. My feet were cold, and my teeth were chattering. The guard looked coldly at me.

Old Dilley came to see how I was getting along with my 'bed'-making. The irregular mass on the horses was unscratched.

"How long have you to stay?" I asked Old Dilley, as he proceeded to show me how to cut a 'draft'.

His hair was gray. Age and care were depicted plainly in his face. He appeared to miss my 'fresh fish' inquisitiveness. I wanted to hear him say "a year or two", so I could tell him my tale of woe. Old Dilley did not answer. He handed me the mallet and chisel and went away.

Before night I learned that Old Dilley was a 'lifer'. He had twenty years of it already in. That was why the prisoners called him "Old' Dilley. That was why he looked so aged and careworn.

About the time (1876) the Younger brothers went into harbor in Stillwater, Old Dilley anchored in Anamosa. When the silent, grizzled veteran of the shed was initiating me into stonecutting, I did not think that I should live until January, 1903, and write his obituary.

I was heartbroken. The thought of his being in twenty years already crushed the feeble hope I had.

Presently Old Dilley returned to show me how to cut a draft to the straight-edge. That was the beginning of the 'bed.' The mallet was heavy. The chisel was nearly as cold as my feet. I handled the tools awkwardly. Instead of cutting a flat draft, I slanted it toward the center of the stone. Every time I cut over the draft I would try the straight-edge on it. The same high places were just as high. The red chalk on the straight-edge pointed out the high places.

I laid the mallet on the stone and looked toward the stove. I could see no sense in freezing, so close to a hot stove.

"Raise your hand after this and get permission before you leave your place."

I stood by the stove and listened to the guard's admonition. I was too cold to talk coherently and too disheartened to care for consequences. The guard's coldness was intensified by my seeming indifference. He repeated his first words, and added, as I was about to go to my place, "Get warm this time, but don't leave your place again without permission."

Sigh No. 3.

I looked at that stone and sighed again. All my life I had roamed at will. Now I was to confine my wanderings to a circuit the dimensions of a stone. I wished the stone were in a mill-pond with me under it.

Old Dilley has twenty long, weary years already served. I am just beginning. He looks 60 at 43. I am 25. Twenty years hence I may look like Old Dilley. To end it now will save a lifetime of suffering. I'll wait until I get in my cell.

My meditations were not the reflections of a strong, brave man.

The erstwhile 'Marco' man was my left-hand neighbor. The guard told him to show me. John would step over occasionally and give me a lesson. He told me to take it easy -- "it won't be so bad in warm weather."

Toward evening my wrist was lame. My bones ached. My head ached. My feet were cold. I was in misery. Through my mind kept running with persistent iteration the judge's works: "Life at hard labor. Life at hard labor." Old Dilley interrupted my meditations by telling me I was doing fine. "You'll make a good stonecutter," he added by way of good measure. John had squared up my slanting drafts and jointed the tow ends of the stone. The only good cutting I had done was to mar and bruise my left thumb.

Evening came. The guard rapped with his club on the railing of his stand. The sound of mallets and hammers ceased. I sighed a sigh of relief, and wished that I should die before morning.

Around the stove we waited the order to 'fall in.' John told me I'd be sore for a day or two. I was -- for a month or two.

At the tap of the deputy's bell we formed in line and marched lockstep* to the dining-room for supper. At that time the dining-room was where the Dynamo-room now is. I ate no supper.

After I got in my cell I changed my mind about ending it all. Meditation is good for a man. It occurred to me that I was adding to my burdens by worrying.

The cheerful "good evening" that Major Gill and 'Tip' Patterson, bid me, together with the thinking which I did that first night sent me to work next morning in better spirits. I did not then think, however, that I should ever develop into a "good stonecutter." I was about as awkward an apprentice as one could imagine. Neverthless, in two and one-half years' time, I helped building the Administration Building, the Central Building, and the water-tower.

*(the lockstep was abolished at Anamosa, to the relief of all confined, on August 15, 1904).

Last Modified : 8/27/98 4:32:41 PM