Posted By admin on April 16, 2009
It’s just after 7:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and if this were 50 years ago, the riot at Montana State Prison would be four hours old. Deputy warden Ted Rothe is dead, the first of three fatalities in what will turn into a 36-hour siege. Warden Floyd Powell was taken hostage but with the aid of a convict charged with holding him escaped unharmed. He’ll re-enter at 9:15 p.m. to to talk with Jerry Myles, the leader of the uprising.
According to news accounts of the day, before the warden goes back in he’ll shout to the prisoners: “Those who want to fight get in one corner. Those that don’t get in the other.” Myles doesn’t show, and after waiting 20 minutes, Powell walks back out.
Gov. J. Hugo Aronson in Helena has flatly turned down a request from the convicts to come to Deer Lodge to confer with them. Instead, he’s called out the National Guard and said he won’t negotiate until the 18 prison guards held hostage are released. Lt. Gov. Paul Cannon will arrive in Deer Lodge at 10 p.m. but tells reporters, “I am here only as an observer.”
The night gets cold, temperatures heading down to the high teens. The rioters, led by Myles and his prison boyfriend Lee Smart, are holding the prisoners in three small cells in Cellblock 1. They ‘ve coerced other prisoners to start digging a tunnel from the northwest tower of the cellblock and under the northern prison wall, a project that will never be completed. The inmates have a few guns but are also armed with bottles of naptha, a highly explosive cleaning fluid with which they concoct Molotov cocktails. They wave these threateningly at the hostages. Myles and Smart have yelled to newmen outside that they will burn the hostages alive if an attempt is made by National Guardsmen to storm the prison gates.