Archive for Thursday, July 13, 2006

Main St. excitement in 1929

July 13, 2006

With all the construction and excitement happening on Main Street, I thought this would be a good time to take you back to Aug. 9, 1929, on the same street in Lansing.

There was a shootout between Kansas State Prison inmates and the prison guards like you would see in an old western movie.

The shootout followed a prison break that began at the coal mine, about a block from the prison's main buildings. Two inmates obtained guns that had been smuggled into the prison. There was a total of six inmates involved, plus four others that were forced to go along.

The prisoners came up out of the mine with the two smuggled guns and took four guards as hostages. The four guards, W. L. Heslop, George Fulton, Levi Day, and my dad, Frank Young, were forced to run between the prisoners and the armed guards on the prison walls. The guards on the walls opened fire despite the possibility of striking their fellow guards, however none of the prisoners or guards was wounded.

They cut a padlock on a gate on the mine with large bolt cutters and left the prison grounds on the north. They continued west to Kansas Highway 7 near Seven-Mile Bridge. When they reached the highway, they forced two disabled soldiers from their car and prepared to escape in it.

Before the prisoners could climb into the car though, Deputy Warden Robert. H. Hudspeth with two other guards approached the highway in a car from the penitentiary. Hudspeth stopped about a block away and advanced on foot.

The two groups were separated by about 25 yards. The guards and inmates opened fire on each other.

Robert Collins, a 30-year-old bank robber serving 10 to 50 years, and William Webb, a 39-year-old highway robber, serving 20 to 42 years, were the two with the stolen guns. Hudspeth and Collins stood straight up and shot at each other. Collins fell with bullet wounds on both sides of his heart. He turned his last bullet on himself, as he did not want to get captured. Webb was shot and killed by one of the other guards.

J. B. Knight was a 49-year-old bank robber. He fell to the ground pretending to be dead. Hudspeth approached and kicked him saying "you can't play possum on me."

Knight sprang up and lunged at Hudspeth with a knife he had made from a file at the prison. Hudspeth struck Knight with the butt of his empty revolver fracturing his skull, but Knight did not die.

The only guard wounded at this time was Heslop.

The four prisoner hostages returned to the prison on their own during the fight. The other three prisoners hid in the weeds along the creek bed and were later captured.

The years during the '20s and '30s were tough both inside and outside the prison walls. This break followed closely behind a riot at the federal prison in Leavenworth the previous week in which one prisoner had been killed.

I was only a year old when this took place and this information came from a Kansas City Star newspaper article that my mother had saved.

Later Robert Hudspeth became warden at the U.S. Disciplinary Barrack. He followed that job as warden for a year at the Leavenworth Federal Prison, from which he retired. He came back to be warden at Lansing from 1943 to 1952.

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