Sunday, August 4, 2013

Doin’ Time

Helena, MT  High  85  Low 56

We had some severe storms go through last week but we lucked out and even though we got hail twice, they were only about pea size so no damage. The storms helped to cool the temperatures down and it’s been almost perfect. However, more severe storms are predicted for next week.

Deer Lodge, MT


One day last week the four of us headed over to Deer Lodge (sister and hubby)

Deer Lodge was named because of the salt lick at the base of a Warm Springs Mound that attracted hundreds of deer. Indian hunting parties, approaching the crests of the surrounding mountains called it — IT SOO-KE EN CAR-NE—"The lodge of the White-tailed deer".

Just twenty miles north of Deer Lodge, gold was discovered in 1852 on what is now Gold Creek. This was the first discovery of gold in Montana.


Deer Lodge is also the home of the Montana State Prison. There are actually two prisons – one is now a museum and the other which houses inmates. We chose to visit the museum.


The complex includes the Old Montana Prison, Powell County Museum, Frontier Montana Museum, Yesterday's Playthings and the Montana Auto Museum. One fee ($9 for seniors) covers all five museums.

P1060194We only had time to visit three of the museums (we had to get back to check on the girls). We started with the Montana Auto Museum but I’m going to make a separate post for that. Then we headed into the prison yard.

The prison was built by the very prisoners it was meant to house. Over the years, it has been estimated that the inmates hand-made more than 1.2 million bricks in the construction of the prison that many would call their home for the rest of their lives. On July 2, 1871, the prison took in her first "guests."

P1060277The walls of the prison are 24 feet high, 3 feet thick at the top, and 4 1/2 feet thick at the bottom. They are 4 feet underground to discourage anyone from trying to dig their way out.


Any inmate that crossed this line without authorization would be shot.



The most famous inmate at the prison was Paul “Turkey Pete” Eitner. He was incarcerated for two counts of murder at the age of 40 in 1918.  A model prisoner, he was assigned to tend to the prison turkeys and soon garnered the nickname of "Turkey Pete." During his stay, he went a little mad and "sold" the entire flock of the prison's turkeys to an inmate for twenty-five cents per bird. This ended his turkey tending days.


The other inmates liked Pete, as did the officials, so they were allowed to print "money" from the prison's press to barter with him. After a while, he amassed so much of the bogus dough that he was allowed to "buy" the prison and run it from his cell. Using his version of money and checks, he "paid" all the prison expenses and guards, and was regarded as a loveable old kook by everyone within the walls.  He would also tell anyone who would listen that he had the coffee crop in Brazil one year, sold pink alligators, ships to the navy, and grasshopper legs to Fidel Castro. he died in 1967 at the age of 89, his was the only funeral ever paid for and held by the prison system. His cell (#1) was retired.






2013-07-23 10.56.12

The Hole – inmates serving time in the hole were fed only bread and water.

the hole

This is getting way too long, but there are a couple of other things I want to tell you about the prison so I’m going to make a second post.


  1. Hope you didn't get to familiar with the prison. They may have liked to offer you a free stay... :cO

  2. How interesting!! Pete certainly sounded
    like a real character. I can't wait to hear more!

  3. So I guess the 'out of bounds' sign was the DEADLINE!

  4. Hmmm. a prisoner allowed to print money. Doubt that would be allowed today.

  5. Glad they didn't keep you. I visited 3 years ago and thought this was about as cold a place as one could be kept.

  6. Hmmmm....makes prisons today look like 5 star hotels. I like your story of Turkey Pete...sounds like a neat guy. Ha ha! Check on the girls boy does that sound familiar but we call it the kids, since a boy and girl. And I know they don't like storms either.

  7. We were there last summer when we were on our way to South Dakota. Great tour!

  8. Thanks for the tour. We were there a few years ago. It is the kind of place that encourages you to stay straight:)

  9. The Yuma Territorial Prison was also built by the prisoners themselves. Nice post, Sandie!

  10. Turkey Pete sounds like a real Entrepreneur. Thanks for the tour. I think even Paul would enjoy this one.

  11. Sound like great tour, and a very interesting day, thanks for taking us along.

  12. Big Timber got a nasty storm Friday or Saturday night, Nat will probably need a new roof on his house.

  13. It was a drizzly cold day when we visited it but we enjoyed it. Did you get a chance to see the Grant Kohr ranch while you were in the area.

  14. We have visited the prison too. It sure would not have been a place to be incarcerated.

  15. That's an interesting story about Turkey Pete and the prison! Handmade bricks...I bet they are pretty.

    We give ourselves a 6 hour window to get out and about. It sure flies by sometimes when we are exploring.

  16. Free room and board was available there. Wonder if some of the panhandlers on the streets today who say they are homeless, considered such a place.

  17. Great tour, Sandie. Interesting fellow that Turkey Pete.

  18. I guess anyone staying in prison that long would go a little bit crazy.

  19. It sure was different serving time back in those days. I'm sure many ex prisoners thought twice about doing wrong and being sent back there.

    The prisoners now have gyms to workout with weights and such. The brick building idea seems like it would be more beneficial to everyone if they adopted that in the prisons of today. Fat chance of that happening.

  20. I'll have to take a look at Deer Lodge.

  21. Rich and I visited Deer Lodge. The prisoners of today live in spas compared to the old prison there. We also went through the auto museum. At the time, it claimed to be one of the larges collection of antique cars in the country--if I remember correctly, I think they had part of the colleciton in California. I especially remember and have pictures of the first RVs. We spent a very enjoyable day there. How great it must be to live within driving distance. Lucky you guys. :) Scratches and hugs to S&S.

  22. Sounds like an interesting place to visit. So glad they did not keep you and Jim.

  23. "We chose to visit the museum" tee hee hee!

  24. Too bad Pete couyldn't buy his way out of prison.


Thanks for visiting today. I look forward to reading your comments. Have a beautiful day.