What’s a Mexican anarchist and revolutionary doing in a prison in Puget Sound? Twice?
We’ve just added two new federal prison records databases to our collections: Leavenworth, Kansas, U.S. Penitentiary, Name Index to Inmate Case Files, 1895–1931, and Alcatraz, California, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, 1934–1963. We’ve also updated the McNeil Island, Washington, U.S. Penitentiary, Photos and Records of Prisoners Received, 1875–1939, database with about 3,000 photo ID cards. Add all these to our Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Penitentiary, Prisoner Index, ca. 1880–1922, and you have access to almost 75,000 federal prison records—and just as many stories.
Some of the names are already well known: Robert “The Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud or Al Capone. But I had never heard of Roy Gardner, last of the Old West train robbers and prison escape artist. Roy is one of the inmates included in the photo cards just added to the McNeil Island database. These are some great records. First you get a photo:
And many of the photos (though not all) include a write-up on the back:
There’s a trick to using the McNeil photos. Your search will typically bring up the back of the photo card, where the prisoner’s name appears. Use the left arrow key by the Go button (at the top right of the page) to move back one page for the picture.
Roy escaped on his way to McNeil Island and later broke out of McNeil itself. This propensity for releasing himself from the custody of the state helped land Roy in Alcatraz. The new Alcatraz records are only an index to the larger case files you can order, but saying “only” in this case sells them a bit short. Here’s Roy’s entry:
I’ll take an index entry like that any day.
My Mexican revolutionary imprisoned at McNeil was Ricardo Flores Magón.
Magón came to the U.S. after his writings opposing Mexican president Porfirio Diaz landed him in jail in Mexico, but he kept right on agitating for change back home. He did his first stint at McNeil in 1912, sentenced to a year and a day for violating neutrality laws. In 1918 he was back, and this time the charges—and the sentence—were more serious: 21 years for mail and espionage violations:
Magón was eventually sent to Leavenworth, where he died in 1922. He shows up in the Leavenworth index as well, though it’s nowhere near as detailed as the Alcatraz index. This one gives me just the information I would need to order Magón’s case file:
The case files themselves can be very detailed, and something tells me Ricardo’s could be a thick one.
I know prison records can be a double-edged find. It may be one thing to discover that your relative was a storied revolutionary and quite another to learn he was imprisoned on a narcotics charge or for manslaughter. But if you’re ready for whatever might turn up, the details you can uncover in one of our federal prison records databases can really make crime pay. You can read about all four of the prisons in our databases here: www.ancestry.com/blacksheep.
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