Read A KANSAS HELL: CHAPTER XI. CANDIDATE FOR THE STATE SENATE of The Twin Hells, free online book, by John N. Reynolds, on

The author of this book has been guilty of a great many bad breaks during the course of his earthly pilgrimage up to the present date. Making the race for State senator from the Atchison district while an inmate of the Kansas penitentiary, actually an occupant of a felon’s cell, and robed in the livery of disgrace, probably eclipsed anything that maybe charged to my account in the past.

One Sunday afternoon, after the usual exercises of the day were over, I was sitting in my little 4x7 of stone. The outside world was in convulsions over the presidential campaign. There were no convulsions, however, where I was. It was painfully quiet. Everywhere, all over the broad land, except behind prison walls, politics was the all-absorbing topic. As I sat there in my solitude the question came to my mind as to what part of the great political play I would be engaged in were I a free man. Some months prior to this a petition signed by 5,000 people had been forwarded to President Cleveland for my pardon. Had I secured my liberty it was my intention to make the race for State senator in my district for vindication. Mr. Cleveland interfered with my plan by refusing my pardon.

Thinking over the matter in my cell that Sunday afternoon, I determined that while the President had the power of keeping me in prison he should not keep me from making the race for the position I coveted. Immediate action followed my decision. Within thirty minutes I had written a letter for publication, stating my intention of becoming an independent candidate. But how was I to get this letter out of the prison and into the newspapers of my district.

It is expected of the convict that during Sunday afternoon he will sit quietly in his cell and meditate about his past misdeeds. I would be dishonest if I did not state that my thoughts were now more taken up with the probable outcome of the course I had adopted than of lamenting over my past shortcomings. I reasoned that I was not only pursuing an original, but a safe course. Original, in that no one, so far as my knowledge extended, had ever made the race for office while a convict; safe, in that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I will frankly confess that when the thought, suppose I should not get more than a dozen votes, would rush into my mind, I would feel as if I had better not be so fresh while in limbo. Several times during the afternoon and evening I took up the piece of paper, on which was written my announcement, to tear it into shreds, and as often I would lay it down. I viewed the subject from almost every conceivable standpoint. I reasoned as follows: Prior to this I had decided to write a book on my penitentiary career, as well as to deliver a lecture at various points in the State on the same subject. To be successful in these enterprises I must be advertised. And I knew that should I announce myself as a candidate for such an important office while in the penitentiary I would get a good ventilation. In this I was not mistaken. When the announcement appeared in the Leavenworth “Times” it was quickly copied and commented upon by the newspapers all over the country. Some of these newspapers in their comments stated that I had more “cheek” than should be allotted to ordinary mortals. Some said “he is a nervy cuss.” Others said his back isn’t broken. Now and then one could be found that predicted my election. So the matter was discussed, pro and con, for several weeks, not only by the newspapers of Kansas, but whole columns would appear in the St. Louis, Chicago and Denver papers, as well as those of other cities. I was advertised. It would have cost me thousands of dollars to pay for the ventilation I received just for making that little simple announcement, had I been forced to pay the regular rates of advertising.

But to return. It was at a late hour of the night when I closed my eyes in slumber. Before doing so I had made the final decision; I had crossed the Rubicon; I had looked the ground over, and had my plans well matured. The next morning, after the day’s work had commenced, and the warden had come down to his office, I asked permission of my officer to see Captain Smith. The officer wanted to know what my business was with the warden. My reply was, “Official and strictly private.” My request was granted. I was soon standing in the presence of the big-hearted Warden Smith, and being asked as to what I wanted, I said, “Captain, I thought I would come in and get your opinion as to whether I was crazy or not, and if you think I am not beside myself I would like to make a statement to you and ask your advice.” A few days before this I had had several interviews with him as to my pardon, and other business matters, and I suppose he thought he was going to get something more along the same line. “Go ahead, John,” he said, “and let me know what it is.” I then told him of my intentions and plans. He made no reply until I had gone over the whole subject. Then he said. “You are certainly on the safe side, for you can lose nothing. I always thought,” continued he, “that it was practical to engage in any enterprise where all was gain and nothing to lose. And, furthermore, knowing your standing at home, it would not surprise me very much if you would receive more votes than your competitors.”

This was encouraging. I then asked permission to write letters to a number of my friends, and also to receive letters from them. He informed me he could not do this, as it would be a violation of the rules of the prison, but if any of my friends should come down I could send out anything by them I wished. I then wired a personal friend, A. S. Hall, Esq., of Atchison, who called at the prison, to whom I gave my letter of announcement, and several letters I had written to political friends.

The news spread rapidly, and in a few days I was squarely before the people as an independent candidate. Shortly after this announcement I wrote an article for the papers, stating my reasons for making the senatorial race. When writing this communication I forgot I was a prisoner, and said some things that reflected seriously upon some of the warden’s personal friends. Here, I made a mistake. The warden, on reading this article, became enraged, and took away my writing material. At this juncture the senatorial outlook was rather discouraging. My friends championed my cause. Being an independent candidate, and my name not printed on any ticket, I received no accidental votes. An elector voting for me had to erase the name of my competitor and insert mine. There were four candidates in the field. While I was not elected, I was far from coming in last in the race. I received twice as many votes as one of my competitors. He is one of the best men in the senatorial district, one of the old settlers, and a gentleman highly esteemed. To receive twice as many votes as this man was highly complimentary to me, I certainly felt flattered. When the vote was made known I received an official copy of the returns, and forwarded it to President Cleveland. My term was then almost ended, and I felt confident that because of the splendid vote I had received, and consequent endorsement of the people who were personally acquainted with me, Mr. Cleveland would certainly grant a pardon. He did not so much as answer my communication.

No one can imagine the anxiety I felt during that campaign. Had I received but a small vote it would have required more nerve than I possess to have induced me to return to my old home. But when the vote was counted, and I received the returns, I must write it down as one of the happiest hours of my life. I had many true friends, and they demonstrated that fact by voting for me. Although in the garb of a felon, was not the vote I received a grand vindication? Any person of sense must answer in the affirmative.

Looking over the past, I can now see that I made no mistake in carrying into effect the scheme to which my mind gave birth on that Sunday afternoon as I sat in my little-cell.

I will close this chapter by tendering my friends who voted and worked for me at the time when I so much stood in need of their aid, my heartfelt gratitude.