LIVE BY THE SWORD, DIE BY THE SWORD, PART 3

MOST DESPARATE AND SUCCESSFUL PRISON MUTINY EVER IN THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY!

Reporters wrote some stellar headlines in the coming days. They declared the prison break “the most successful prison mutiny” and compared it to the “border ruffian days”. The guards were hyped up and ready for the manhunt. Twenty-six prisoners had escaped. The twenty-seventh (Quinn FORT, one of the three ringleaders) lay dead at the new prison construction site having been shot by WALDRUP. Guard Joseph B. WALDRUP died shortly after being shot in the forehead by Quinn FORT. The escapees made it to the edge of town and released their hostages. As fate would have it, Warden R. W. McCLAUGHRY was gone when the riot broke out. He was in Kansas City arranging for the annual convention of the National Prison Reform Association’s convention planned for the following day. When he learned of the escaped prisoners he immediately came back. He arrived three hours after the escape and right away began planning for the recapture of the convicts. He laid no blame on his guards but rather blamed the fact that the prison did not have a sufficient number of guards. He made sure to let the press know that he had as many guards as he was allowed to have and was hopeful that in the next congressional session the number of allowed guards would be increased. He claimed he should have had twice as many guards as he currently had.

Meanwhile the convicts were headed for Indian Territory at “breakneck speed”. They used relays. Their relays consisted of stealing a farmer’s horse (and/or wagon), riding it at high rates of speed until the horse gave out then abandoning the horse and stealing another. In this way they were keeping ahead of the guards and police who were searching for them. As I said before, on the evening of the escape the hunt was called off due to rough terrain and darkness. Through the night the warden had the prisoners’ photos and descriptions telegraphed out to surrounding towns and districts. He asked that the districts have police out looking for the prisoners all night and that guards be posted at bridges in order to cut off the escapees at the Kansas River. There were not enough police so farmers were armed and posted to guard bridges. There were $60 rewards for capture of the convicts. Work on the new prison was suspended and the remaining prisoners were kept in their cells in order to have the largest number of guards to participate in the manhunt.

This is likely the photo and description of Willard that would have been telegraphed out to other districts.

Willard Nelson Red Drake.jpg


Leavenworth Times, 8 November 1901- found at Newspapers.com

As word got out that the escapees were infiltrating the countryside, citizens became fearful and armed themselves. Everyone was on edge and on the lookout. The prisoners were stealing what they needed wherever they could even if they had to hold up people at gunpoint to get it. The prisoners were armed with the guns they had taken out of the guard towers during the riots. They were stealing horses, vehicles and wagons, clothing, and food as needed. The warden advised that the majority of the prisoners were headed for Indian Territory and surely Willard was too since that’s where his family was. The prisoners had over 100 miles of rough and increasingly guarded terrain to cover to get there.

SHOOT OUT BETWEEN FARMERS AND PRISONERS! 8 NOVEMBER 1901

On the day of the escape (November 7th) the weather was forecast to be fair and cooler. On November 8th, the day of the shoot out, the weather was forecast to be “partly cloudy and colder”. Temperatures that day (November 8th) were in the low 50’s for a high and dipping down to freezing at the coldest. Willard was originally traveling with a group of 8 men. On the evening of the escape, the men stopped Mail Carrier FERGUSON on the west end of Leavenworth and stole FERGUSON’s horse and mail cart.


This is an image of a circa 1901 rural horse-drawn mail cart I found online (Pinterest).

By November 8th, the 8 men had in their possession some of the weapons stolen from the prison and one weapon stolen from a farmer which they obtained while they were on the run. The firearms included two shotguns and a Krag-Jorgensen rifle.


An 1898 Krag-Jorgensen rifle.

While other groups headed west or southwest out of Leavenworth, Willard’s gang decided to go northwest into the countryside. A few miles west of Leavenworth, the group split up into two groups of 3 and 5 men each. Willard’s group was the group of 5. These five men were described as:
Willard DRAKE, white man, convicted of Larceny at age 19 and sentenced to 5 years. Willard was listed as being 23-year-old white man but I believe he was only 21 years old at the time based on the date of birth on Willard’s death certificate and his tombstone.
James HOFFMAN (who was named by one guard as playing a prominent role in the mutiny although he was not named as a ringleader), 25-year-old white man, convicted of Robbery at age 20 and sentenced to 5 years.
John GREEN, 25-year-old white man, convicted of Larceny at age 21 and sentenced to 7 years.
Fred MOORE, 17-year-old negro man, convicted of Larceny at age 16 and sentenced to 5 years. He was the youngest of all escapees at 17 years old.
Jay J. POFFENHOLZ (sometimes spelled POFFENKOLZ) was a white man. He was a German soldier who had come to the United States and enlisted in the army at the start of the Spanish American War. He was a military convict- unlike the others who had been sent to Leavenworth by non-military courts. He was the only one of the group for whom there was no physical description published in the newspapers. He was convicted of Burglary and Violating Article of War 68 (Failure to Suppress Mutiny) at age 25 and was sentenced to 5 years. He was 25 years old at the time of the escape. The oldest escapee was 28 so J.J. was one of the older escapees.

Willard and his group took refuge in farmer John WEISHAAR’s barn about ½ mile southwest of Nortonville, Kansas- about 28 miles from Leavenworth. About one o’clock in the afternoon, Fay WEISHAAR (John WEISHAAR’s son) saw the five men enter his barn. Fay didn’t know about the prison escape. However, John WEISHAAR had already been alerted to the escaped convicts so when his son told him about the five men who went into the barn, he knew right away what he was dealing with. John rushed to town and gathered a posse of six men to go get Willard’s gang out of his barn. At 2:30 that afternoon, the seven men- Walter MOXLEY, John HAYES, Henry W. SKINNER, Clarence “Cal” DILL, Ren WAGGENER, Roy KIRKPATRICK, and John WEISHAAR- rode out to the WEISHAAR farm armed with Winchester rifles and shotguns. The plan they devised was that Fay WEISHAAR and another citizen, John EVANS, would enter the barn on the pretext of Mr. EVANS buying some hay. The two men entered the barn as planned. The convicts brandished their weapons and ordered the two men out of the barn or they would be killed. The two men retreated and met up with the rest of the posse to discuss the situation. The posse was positioned where they were covering the door of the barn. The men chose to make one more attempt to get the convicts to leave the barn on their own and surrender. EVANS and the younger WEISHAAR entered the barn again. They told the escapees they were surrounded and it would be wise for them to surrender. The convicts refused. WEISHAAR and EVANS again retreated from the barn and met up with the posse to discuss how best to proceed.

Suddenly the barn door flew open! John GREEN made an unarmed dash for freedom. The posse shouted a warning cry and then began firing. James HOFFMAN came out of the barn door immediately after GREEN and was carrying the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. Both sides were firing at each other. J.J. POFFENHOLZ and then Willard came out of the barn immediately after HOFFMAN. POFFENHOLZ and Willard were both armed with shotguns. A running firefight ensued. About 150 yards out from the barn, HOFFMAN suddenly dropped his weapon and threw up his hands. He stumbled and staggered forward a few steps and then dropped to the ground, dead. A rifle ball had pierced his heart. POFFENHOLZ ran past the dead man another 50 yards before he, too, fell dead. He had also been shot in the chest. John GREEN made it about 300 yards before he was brought to the ground with a shot to his right leg. Willard was the last man out of the barn. He made it less than 50 yards out of the barn. While his comrades were being shot down, he raised his gun to shoot posse member Roy KIRKPATRICK. Cal DILL saw Willard raise his gun. Cal took aim with his rifle and shot Willard in the right arm. Willard dropped his gun but picked it back up and ran into the barn where the remaining convict, Fred MOORE, remained.

The shooting subsided. The posse called in to Willard and Fred MOORE to surrender. Fred MOORE walked out with his hands held above his head in surrender. Willard, carrying his weapon with his uninjured left arm, came out with his hands above his head in surrender also. In later versions of the story it was reported that Willard told the men, “If you fellows had not winged me I’d given you a fight yet.” That same later report also claimed Willard was “in an ugly mood”; his injured arm was hanging limp and he was in pain from his wounds. Both men were taken to town by some of the posse. MOORE was taken to jail and placed under guard there. Willard was taken to Dr. GROFF where his wound was treated. The other members of the posse stayed behind to guard GREEN until he could be taken to the doctor to be treated too. The two dead men were taken to a warehouse room in town until the law could come and get the bodies.

The three men who splintered off form Willard’s original group of 8 men had been spotted elsewhere and were being trailed when Willard’s gang of 5 was caught. No one in the posse that caught Willard’s gang was injured or killed in the shootout- at least not according to the newspaper accounts. Each posse member received $50 for the capture of Willard’s gang. The whole firefight was said to have only lasted about 5 or 6 minutes. The 17-year-old (MOORE- the youngest escapee of all) never left the barn and was never injured. He was said to have talked freely after his surrender about the location of the three ringleaders and about stealing the mail carrier’s horse and cart. After the fight, Willard and his group were described as being “utterly without fear”. As more prisoners were recaptured and details came out, it was learned that one prisoner was shot but not killed as he was escaping. Willard would later identify that prisoner as his friend, Lol SOUTHERLAND.

By the end of the day on 8 November 1901 (or at least by the time of publication for the local newspapers) a total of 11 men (including Willard) had been recaptured or killed. Warden McCLAUGHRY vowed he would capture them all. He almost succeeded. In the end, he and his men recaptured all but five escaped convicts as of the fourth anniversary of the prison break. Because of Willard’s escape attempt, he forfeited any chance of early release for good behavior. He returned to the prison on 10 November 1901. Because of his wounds he spent time in the infirmary as opposed to solitary where the other prisoners went.

By the time the November 8th edition of the Leavenworth Times came out, 11 of the 26 escapees had been accounted for and that included Willard. The story of the shootout ran in the papers for days alongside stories of the captures and exploits of the other inmates. No doubt some embellishment of the stories crept in here and there. For instance, later versions of the story said that Willard and J.J. scaled a barbed wire fence before J.J. was killed and Willard surrendered. I find the original story more credible therefore that is the story I told in this blog post. Later versions also state that Willard was shot twice- in the wrist and in the arm (which I do believe to be true), that J.J. lived for 40 minutes after being shot in the heart, and that James HOFFMAN was shot twice as well. Later versions also have a few different names listed for the posse members who caught Willard’s gang. However, the names of who shot the men in Willard’s gang remained consistent. Willard did try to shoot Roy KIRKPATRICK and Cal DILL did shoot Willard to stop him from committing murder. Another change in story was of how Quinn FORT died. Initially it was reported that he was shot by the same guard he shot (the guard who later died)- they shot each other at the same moment. Later the story was changed to say Quinn was shot by “a fellow mutineer”.

More details came out as more men were recaptured and began talking. It was also reported that the day of Jay J. POFFENHOLZ’s escape, he received a letter from his mom who lived in Chicago. He didn’t get the letter because he chose to escape. The letter implored him to be on his best behavior because she was trying to convince one of the Illinois senators to take up Jay’s case with the war department and secure a pardon for Jay. The love of a mom, right? I’m not sure we ever consider beforehand how our decisions will affect our loved ones, do we? By the end of the ordeal, the total count of the deceased was one guard (WALDRUP), one prisoner shot before escaping (FORT), and two men from Willard’s gang (POFFENHOLZ and HOFFMAN).

You might think this is the end of Willard’s story. It isn’t. I’ll leave the remainder of his story until next time, though. There are more exciting moments to come so don’t miss it!

Until next time,
Lisa @ Days of Our Lives

Leave a Reply