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W. Va. Penitentiary controversy, 1869

W. Va. Penitentiary controversy, 1869


from the Wheeling Intelligencer, Sept. 22,1869:


A Card from Mr. Peter Yarnall, Late Clerk of the Superintendent.

An Inside View.

MOUNDSVILLE, W. VA., Sept. '69.

To the Editor of the Intelligencer:

I notice in your paper, dated September 13th, a piece from the pen of G. S. McFadden, now one of the guardians of the "dear people," and Superintendent of the State Penitentiary at Moundsville. The piece abounds with reflections and imputations against the Hon. J. M. Phelps and his company, while engaged as Chairman of the Committee appointed by the Legislature to investigate the Penitentiary matters at Moundsville, and intimates that it was not respectable. Now, all I have to say upon this point is, that the character of Senator Phelps requires nothing from my pen to sustain his reputation; but that he was so particular in this respect, together with his brother members of said committee, that, in order to avoid the ruffianism of the present Superintendent, the said committee came very near keeping no company with one G. S. McFadden during the investigating of the aforesaid matters; and no doubt would have avoided it altogether, but for considerations of public necessity and the urgent solicitations of Gov. Stevenson and the Auditor. As I was clerk at the Penitentiary for about nineteen months, I am somewhat conversant with the maters transacted while so employed; and I purpose sating some things for the public eye through your paper, by way of a replay to the said McFadden.

Let me say that his whole piece misrepresents the truth, in regard to that on which he undertakes to enlighten the public. I will also say that I am the person who last winter preferred charges against G. S. McFadden as Superintendent, both for his incompetency and dishonesty: but I am not the person who was discharged for "General unfitness and continued drunkenness," as alleged by McFadden. I was not discharged, but left the place, and was solicited by Senator Burley to return, he being one of the directors at the time, Burley saying to me in his room at the McLure House in Wheeling, a few days after I left the place, "Peter, give me those charges, (referring to the charges I had with me to present to the Legislature against McFadden,) and I will attend to them tomorrow night, at the meeting of the directors, which will be at my room, in the McLure House; and I will charge McFadden with all the items, and make him pay for them, as I have suspicioned him, that things were not altogether right. It will avail you nothing to put the charges before the Legislature, as my influence will smother them, as none of the members will listen to them, and put them through without my consent." And at my house in Moundsville, Burley said to me, when I told him that there was great extravagance at the Penitentiary, that the directors knew nothing of. "I know that, and we are trying to hush it up as much as possible. It is impossible for McFadden to get every man to do as he says. If every person was like McFadden it would be a very queer world;" -- he (McFadden) was a very good man in some respects, but not in others, -- that a gentleman by the name of Gordon had applied for the place, who was a first class mechanic, "and really ought to have the place; but I got it for McFadden; his (Gordon's) politics did not suit the Board;" -- that he was very glad that I had got the situation as clerk, and hoped that McFadden and I would cool off, and I go go back. "Do you wish me to anything for you to go back?" My replay was, not under such a man as McFadden, but, if the Board of Directors wished it, I would go back, if I could be independent of McFadden, but not otherwise. I then took the charges to Senator Chapline, at his request, and read them to him, and he told me that he was a candidate for a Judgeship, and would prefer that I would give them to some other member. I then inquired for Senator Phelps, and gave them to him, and he presented them to the Legislature.

A committee was appointed by the Legislature to investigate the charges and the committee did investigate said charges, and reported to the Legislature that the said G. S. McFadden should be removed from the position as Superintendent of the Penitentiary. -- And afterwards by the same Legislature another committee was appointed to investigate more thoroughly those charges, and all matters connected with the Penitentiary management, of which Senator Phelps was chairman.

The latter committee have just closed their labors, and unanimously signed a report, the synopsis of which so troubles the Superintendent that he furiously belabors him in the piece referred to, intimating that his habits were of such a character as to incapacitate him for the honorable position to which he had been assigned by the Legislature of the State. The billingsgate of McFadden, however, and his reputation for truth thrown in for good measure, it is hoped will not much disturb the slumbers of the distinguished Senator from Mason.

Now let me see what has been done by these committees that so much frightens the said McFadden when a mere synopsis of the last report is made public, and why the books were found in a bad condition. I was ordered to charge nothing on the books but what McFadden told me, or persons that he sent to me with directions to have charges entered. So what charges are made on the books were made virtually by McFadden, and those omitted were his neglect, if not something worse, as the fats will show which have been elicited by the investigations and known to exist. The using of convicts to dig cellars, working at his house, and away from the penitentiary -- driving his cows -- the using of State teams to haul lumber and brick, using the convicts for that purpose also -- keeping a stallion and have him serve inside the stockade in the presence of convicts -- have the convicts engaged in painting and glazing windows, all for his benefit and at the State's expense -- taking stone from the State and using them in constructing and repairing houses for himself, also at the State's expense -- keeping two horses, cows and hogs on State grain and forage, having from fifty to sixty head at a time of hogs -- fattening the said hogs on State grain, and then selling them in the market and pocketing the proceeds; yes, selling some of the said hogs to the commissary of the very prison of which he is Superintendent and receiving the pay for that, which according to all rules that I know of, really belonged to the State. Look at the testimony of James H. McGill, accompanying the report and taken before the Committee and others, on the hog question, and tell me if G. S. McFadden is not the best paid officer in the State. And let me ask him, if he would not much prefer his pickings to his regular salary? I think myself that the State would gain very much, in reputation at least, if she would give both to some respectable gentleman, and then drown McFadden. The keeping of beef cattle in the stockade to supply the prison with beef, feeding the same on State feed, &c. ; for you must know that this "queer" being plays sometimes High Butcher to the establishment, and, as I don't know much about the cattle market, I don't know how great were his profits. But, Mr. Editor, I believe if the people had not got after him with their committees of investigation, and placed too much business on his hands, that he never would have quit the butchering business. I do know that he bought bulls at three cents per pound and sold the meat to the prison at the price of eleven cents per pound, and I think that his profits were large enough; and it may be that he holds a kind of grudge against the Committee because they disturbed him, for to my certain knowledge he is a great "fancier" of bulls. I will say here, that he charged me twelve cents for some of the said beef.

McFadden says that it was not the custom to chastise convicts with raw hides. I wonder if he recollects the day that Mr. Burley compelled him to stop lashing Thomas McCaully with a raw hide; does he remember the 17th day of March, 1868, when some twenty-five convicts made their escape from the Penitentiary? You, McFadden, were in Wheeling at the time. When they were all recaptured but about three, did you not, when they were being returned to the prison, throw off your coat and cow-hide several of those engaged in the raid, even until you became exhausted, and then ordered Capt. Williamson to continue the raw-hiding business, which he did, inflicting such punishment that many of the citizens present turned from the scene in disgust? How about the convict Simms, between Christmas and New Years, 1867 and '68, to whom, after taking his shirt off, you giave thirty-nine lashes upon the back, and when Simms fainted you threw a bucket of water upon him and then finished your bloody work, and that too with two raw hides plaited together. I believe a hundred cases of using the raw hide would not excuse you at that prison; it was almost a daily occurrence for awhile. Do you recollect two different times of flogging Jetter, a convict, with a raw hide, two plaited together at that, and one of the times the poor wretch ran away from you, and you with pistol in hand followed him up and yelled out, "Stop, you son of a bitch, or I will shoot you!" when the bare back could stand your raw hides no longer? Take the testimony of Mr. A. W. Best and Dr. Thomas, the physician of the prison, and what will it prove? Dr. Thomas proves that on the 17th day of March, 1868, after the raid before spoken of, that McFadden came into the stockade in a great rage -- one of the convicts had been shot and killed and several wounded, and the Doctor was engaged in administering to one of the wounded men who died in a few days from his wounds -- and said to the physician, "You are not going ton issue medicine to that G-d d----d son of a bitch; if you do I will see that you never issue another dose in the penitentiary." But I will say no more on the treatment of convicts and raw hides, believing it unnecessary. Nor concerning his competency -- the tearing down of walls before Mr. Wark became the foreman on stone business, and afterwards, may be, acts of competency, but I judge otherwise. The recutting of stone that had been formerly cut to certain dimensions may be acts of competency, but I would not care much to have them for a recommendation as a master builder and mechanic. The cutting of stone for certain places, and where they proved entirely useless for the places designed; the putting them under ground, so that they could not be seen, might have been a master stroke, but I always failed to see it, Mr. McFadden, and you dare not deny it.

Now, how is it about the brick used in the Penitentiary building. There has been about one hundred and fifty thousand at least used. McFadden furnished the same, after the clay had been dug out of the foundation of the warden's building by the convicts, and hauled out to McFadden's brick-yard by the convicts with State teams, at the very moderate sum of $10 per thousand. And the testimony of Mr. E. Lindsay, an old and practical brick-maker, shows that he (Lindsay) would have furnished the brick, having the clay furnished as McFadden had, at the sum of $5.42 per thousand; and that he did offer to furnish the said brick inside the stockade, and he furnish clay and all, at from $7 to $8 per thousand, while the State has to haul said brick from McFadden's kiln inside the stockade, and he pockets the neat little sum of $10 per thousand. The State in this item of brick loses almost one hundred percent. But, then, the sum goes into McFadden's pocket. And I assert that the testimony accompanying the report will prove what I say, when it is spread before the public. The synopsis has come, and the report will come also, even if it does offend the celebrated Competent from West Middletown, Pa., who appears so incensed at the publication of the synopsis. Why did not the State consult him about the publication of the synopsis? Suppose he did offer to sell brick at his kiln in small quantities, at $8.00 per thousand, he ought to have more from the State, because he never had a lick at the State before on a brick contract; and it ought to go down to posterity, but I doubt whether posterity would have known so much about the matter, but for the ventilation by the committee of investigation. Why should McFadden now try to put the blame upon me, so far as the books are concerned, when in last June he told two of the committee, Mr. Phelps and Rollins, that I was as good a clerk as they could get anywhere, and asked them to employ me as clerk to the committee? If I did not do my business correctly, while employed as clerk, papers coming from me to the Board of Directors were correct, and all my accounts kept were likewise correct during the entire time I was so employed.

Now for another item in reference to sharp practices of this said McFadden. There is on the minute book of the Board of Directors, a charge of $116.00 paid to Morgan Garrett for the delivery of Samuel Ferguson, a convict, from Wayne County, by G. S. McFadden, and McFadden got credit for that amount while the Auditor also has a receipt for paying the said amount to the said Morgan Garrett, Sheriff of the said County, for the delivery of the said Ferguson. The Superintendent does state one thing which will appear in the report, that is, that he is deficient in money to the amount in round numbers on contingent fund in his accounts with the Penitentiary $4,500. And the committee so doubt can inform him why the receipts, known as the McGahan and Williamson receipts, were not allowed, and it will be, that he had already received credit on former receipts for the same. It happened this way. When McGahan and Williamson first signed receipts it was in a small receipt book. After they were at the prison a year or more McFadden got McGahan at the time he was discharged to sign for his full time upon the time book, and the same day I believe, got Williamson to do the same, remarking at the time that each signed, that the receipts he now claims credit for, were null and void. I posted the committee, and they were fully convinced, that he McFadden frequently attempted to shove in receipts that were not genuine. As McFadden wants to lay all the blame upon me, so far as the condition of the books goes, I would like to know who kept books for him before I went there and was engaged as clerk? And then let him tell how his books have been kept since I theft them. It may be, however, that since the Committee have been after him that he does keep things received by him and his friends fully charged up on the books. I am not conversant with things there since I left. There was nothing said about the books being improperly kept by me until it became necessary for McFadden to shield himself behind that dodge, and now you hear it. For who would presume that he could do any wrong? Or, that any other clerk could be found that would be perfectly competent, and at the same time, play the servile tool to the said Superintendent? I undertake, however, to say that whoever fills the office of clerk at that institution and be subjected to the dictations of McFadden, had better seek some other field of operation if he has any respect for himself, and I speak what I know. I pass over, however, without notice, many things at present for want of time.

His striking the physician inside the stockade, when, in the discharge of his duty, the physician did not prescribe to suit the vindictive disposition of the said McFadden; his attempting to hire a certain guard to go and assault and beat the author of this piece, to satiate his vengeance; his insulting of a woman, of which the Governor has an affidavit from one at least in his possession at the present time, or had to my certain knowledge; his using convicts to measure stone at the Penitentiary, and then have the State take them at their measurement, when the convicts were paid by persons outside, and so operated upon, as frequently to measure the stone twice to the advantage of the contractors, and the loss of the State; his being engaged in stone contracts and the renting of quarry, &c. I must indeed leave out, for the present, but when I come again I will have more time to ventilate things at present passed over.

I would like to say that in his threat in the commencement of his article, in reference to the Senator from Mason having to take the responsibility for publishing a synopsis of the report, that I presume that the chairman thought that the people of the State were as much interested in knowing something respecting the committee's labors as Mr. McFadden could be in suppressing the report or preventing its publication. And as the people pay the said committee for their services they don't think that they are the slaves of McFadden, or that his threats will frighten them much. Or, in a word, they do not believe that McFadden is the State. I do hope that the committee, and especially Mr. Phelps, may survive Mack's epistle to your paper. One thing more, I think the people of the State are much indebted to him, the said McFadden, for, and that is this, that when the committee were unable to proceed with the investigation, he arose, as he says, and told them how to proceed. Charity does cover a multitude of sins, but the cover is too short for you, Mack, in this matter. I would like to say something about the stone contracts, but it will be much better after the report is published, which, I understand, the Board of Public Works will have done, so soon as some exhibits are copied by the clerk to accompany it. And until the publication of the report, or more leisure than at present, I must bid you all adieu.

Mack, if you in the meantime commit any more blunders, or something worse, blame them all on Peter Yarnall.

Respectfully Yours,PETER YARNALL.

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