The Day We Went to Prison – Part I

Lost Mule Lodge

… a journey that began with a cabin in the woods

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate our anniversary than to surprise my husband with a visit to a prison…

You know – to prove to him that life could be worse!

The Missouri State Penitentiary has earned the nickname, “The Bloodiest 47 Acres in America”.

What we saw that day will be forever seared into our hearts and minds.

Typically, I try to keep this blog uplifting, I want you to feel happy when you read it.

I will warn you, there is nothing uplifting or happy in what I am about to share.

Opening its doors in 1836 – located in Jefferson City, Missouri – it was the only prison west of the Mississippi.

Every criminal from the Mississippi River to the California Coast was housed there.

There were as many as six men per cell, 5,600 prisoners with no plumbing and no heat.  Over the years plumbing and heat were added and inmates were reduced to 2 or 3 per cell.

It stayed in continuous operation until 2004 when all the prisoners were transported to other prisons.

Having that many men under one roof with no plumbing presented many challenges, including the monthly bath.

Yes, once a month…  whether they needed it or not.

They had one metal stock tank outdoors. The prisoners would carry buckets of water from the nearby Missouri River up the hill and fill the stock tank.

The men bathed, 6 at a time.  The first ones got to bathe in clean water but felt the shock of the icy cold water.

 The last men to bathe came out smelling worse than before, as hundreds had bathed in the same water before them.

Disease was rampant and death was a common occurrence.

Before plumbing or heat, each prisoner was given a buffalo hide for warmth and each cell was equipped with a bucket of clean water for drinking and a chamber pot.

Since the conditions were so harsh, the sentences were less than today.  A prisoner may be sentenced to 3 years compared to getting 50 years today.

The severity of the crime didn’t matter – if they were convicted of robbery or if they murdered several in cold blood, they were all brought here together as inmates.

There were very few repeat offenders.

The day came when a female prisoner was delivered.

This left the Warden and staff all scratching their heads trying to figure out what to do with her in a prison of 5,600 men, already 6 to a cell.

Not able to come up with a good solution they walked her out the door…  turned her loose.

The same day she walked in, they turned her around and walked her out.

It wasn’t long until a few more female prisoners were presented.  Realizing they couldn’t just keep letting them go, the staff started taking them home.

Can you imagine that conversation, “Hi honey, I’m home.  Oh, and this is Betty.  She is going to be staying with us for exactly 2 years 3 months and 6 days.  Don’t allow her near the children…  and keep her away from sharp objects.”

Soon, they had to section off a separate area for the female prisoners.

Downstairs is death row where those waiting to be executed stayed.

They were not allowed to have even a bed sheet as they would use it to commit suicide.

In the early years public hangings were conducted in the middle of town.  These hangings got to be quite the spectacle, attracting various vendors.

The Governor decided to do away with the carnival like atmosphere and ordered the prisoners to build a separate stone building housing a gas chamber, constructed from parts of a WWI submarine.

There were 40 executions that took place there.

Those executions were done at midnight and the people living nearby were told to keep their windows & doors shut to prevent any cyanide from creeping into their homes.

If a prisoner was considered incorrigible he would spend time in the dungeon in total darkness.

Many would go insane, never knowing if it was night or day, not able to count the days, alone in total darkness.

There will be a Part II to this post.

It will tell the history of the infamous inmates, Sonny Liston and James Earl Ray among others.

And remembering one six year old victim you will never forget.

Our day in prison was a fascinating journey, thanks mostly to our guide.  He spent over 20 years working at the prison and shared a multitude of captivating stories.

I would sure appreciate it if you would share this site with your family and friends!

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All photos, thoughts, experiences and opinions are my own unless otherwise stated

Copyright © Lost Mule Lodge 2017 All Rights Reserved


  1. Katie

    Wow! I bet that was quite the tour! I can’t wait for part two. Reminds me of touring Alcatraz a few years ago. Hauntingly fascinating.


      Katie – this tour far exceeded our expectations! We toured Alcatraz years ago and it was amazing too. Speaking of Haunting – they offer a haunted tour too – you can check out the various tours at


      Maddy – Thank you – our guide was fantastic, he lived many of the tales he told. He made it come to life, I think that made it so interesting.


      Vicki – Typically I try to remember there are victims families to consider, but we all know a few of these inmates were possibly innocent. It was an interesting tour for sure.


      Mary Kay – You are right about it being an eye-opener. For most of us – it is a glimpse into a tabu world.

  2. Mary Jones

    Thank you for sharing your anniversary “event” Teresa and one of your best prose of the life of these men at that time!!! Goodness and WOW. We (the sum of us) are so very blessed and I thank you for another reminder to not take our ‘today’ for granted!!!
    – We (Steve and I) so look forward to our journey in your direction in a few months!!! Can’t wait to visit!

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