Richard Perkins was born in Kentucky around 1845. As a young man, he answered the call of the West and headed to California to seek his fortune. Things didn’t go as he had planned, so he decided to take the alias of “Dick Fellows” and supplement his income by robbing stagecoaches.
In 1870, he was convicted of robbery and being an accessory to murder. He was sentenced to eight years and was sent to San Quentin State Prison on 31 January 1870. He was paroled after four years.
After being released, he tried various pursuits, but never with much luck and he returned to robbing stagecoaches. Unfortunate for him, his luck at highway robbery wasn’t much better than his luck in lawful work. Dick Fellows has been described as “California’s most unsuccessful highwayman.” In one attempt on a Wells Fargo wagon, he was bucked from his horse and knocked unconscious. A later attempt at a different wagon was marginally more successful. He got the treasure box… but had forgotten to pack the tools to open it. Thrown from his horse (do you see a pattern here?), he tried to lug the box all the way back to town. He broke his leg, stole another horse, and was later captured when investigators tracked the stolen horse. Fellows was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent to Folsom State Prison in April 1882. (He was pardoned and released in 1908.)
The new collection California, Prison and Correctional Records, 1851-1950, has records about Dick Fellows and his cellmates in Folsom and San Quentin state prisons, along with the California School for Girls, the Ventura School for Girls, and the Whittier State School.
In addition to the photographs in the collection, many of the registers have physical descriptions of the inmate along with biographical information. The records of the California and Ventura girls schools often name a parent or guardian.
As you go through the California prison records, be sure to follow all of the records for an individual. Records from different times of being incarcerated can have different information. For example, Dick Fellows’ physical description is much more detailed in his admission at San Quentin than it was at Folsom.
Looking for troublemaking ancestors who stayed back East? Read about our new collection of New York prison records.