The 1923 Prison Riot at Eddyville

Author’s note: Though most reports, including the death certificate, list Walters’ first name as Monte, there were reports that his name was actually Chester Walters. Additionally, these reports refute the Texas listing as his place of birth and list him as being born in Iowa. For this post, Walters will be referred to as Monte “Tex” Walters.

Names of the Officers Killed

Hodge G. Cunningham of Cadiz, Kentucky
Verner B. Mattingly of Breckinridge County, Kentucky
William M. Gilbert of Breckinridge County, Kentucky

At 7 o’clock in the morning, the people of Eddyville were rising and starting a new day. Unbeknownst to the officers at the Kentucky State Penitentiary, a small group of men would lead a rebellion to escape the confines of the prison; their actions would result in the deaths of three Kentucky State Penitentiary officers and wounding of another officer. The group was led by Monte “Tex” Walters along with Lawrence Griffith and Harry Ferland. The leader, “Tex” Walters was a convicted murderer sentenced to life in prison for willful murder in Louisville. Walters’ criminal history spanned years and states and included a charge of burglary in Des Moines, Iowa, a stabbing in Boone, Iowa, and a murder in Texas. It was also reported that Walters’ first name was not Monte but rather Chester; his mother, W. B. Grandstaff lived in Guthrie Centre, Iowa. Walters’ father, Jack, died in a collision in Denver.

Monte “Tex” Walters in 1922. Image from the Akron Beacon Journal, 5 August 1922.

Monte “Tex” Walters was born on March 2, 1890, in San Antonio, Texas. When his father, Jack Walters, died his mother married W. B. Grandstaff where they returned to Des Moines when Monte was 14 years old. Reports showed that when Walters began high school he fell in with a bad crowd and would eventually leave school altogether. Though there were no specific dates, Walters first served a term in prison for burglary. After that, he stabbed a man in the streets of Boone, Iowa, and served another prison term. Upon completion of his second prison term, Walters moved south to Texas. While there he was sentenced to prison for murder; while there he would make an attempt to escape but was shot. Walters would eventually be paroled and went back to Des Moines where he was married to Lillian. Later, he and his wife were suspects in a murder case involved a Colorado rancher. Charges, however, could not be placed on the couple and they were soon free to go elsewhere. In 1921 in Akron, Ohio, Walters and his wife were charged with the murder of Dr. Gustave A. Theiss. Walters, however, was lodged at the Kentucky State Reformatory in Frankfort when Ohio officials signed off on the charges. By 1922, overcrowding at Kentucky State Reformatory in Frankfort resulted in Walters being transferred to Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville.

One of the three holes bored through the walls of the prison mess-hall by machine guns and high powered rifles in the hands of soldiers. The body of Monte “Tex” Walters was found against the wall observed in the picture, located to the left of the double windows. Image from the News-Democrat, 9 October 1923.

According to Kentucky State Penitentiary officer W. P. Gillihan, who was wounded during the incident, reported that “the rebellion opened in one of the rooms of the shirt factory about 8 o’clock.” There were between fifty and one hundred men in the room. Monte “Tex” Walters, followed by Harry Ferland of Newport, and Lawrence Griffith of Mayfield, seized officer Lee Scholes, age 55. Scholes was the only officer present in the room and the trio bound and gagged him and then, with automatic pistols drawn, made a break for the main entrance to the prison grounds, firing at every guard they passed. Accordingly, the guards immediately returned fire at the convicts which forced them to find shelter in the kitchen and mess-hall building, a two-story brick building. The trio shot and killed officer Hodge Cunningham of Cadiz and fled to the second-floor mess-hall room and began firing from the windows. Gillihan said, “I was on the grounds about fifty yards from the mess-hall room and, as I returned to open fire, one of the men got me in the left hip and I fell to the ground. Being unable to rise, I dragged myself around behind a small tank to safety.” According to witnesses, the trip yelled from the second floor, “Come on out and get us, you hundred dollar men, if you are not afraid. We just dare you.” As the men were well-protected behind a brick wall, none of the officers moved forward.

Officer Gillihan managed to fire a round at Lawrence Griffith where the man promptly collapsed. From his position, Gillihan was unable to see if Griffith was still alive. Later reports revealed that Griffith laid in his position for about six hours before he was taken in. Officer Gillihan spent three hours lying on the floor and hemorrhaging. He said, “I finally summoned enough energy to drag myself to shelter and was taken to the hospital.” Gillihan posited, early on, that Walters’ wife likely had something to do with the incident; reporters questioned where the prisoners could have gotten so much ammunition and Gillihan noted that Lillian Walters had “been hanging around the penitentiary entirely too much during the last ten days or two weeks.” Gillihan also lauded the Warden, Mr. John B. Chilton for his “clear headed” manner of handling the incident.

Hodge Cunningham, the first guard killed by the three Eddyville convicts in their dash for liberty was standing near the platform observed in the picture. Image from the News-Democrat, 9 October 1923.

After Hodge Cunningham was shot, he yelled, “Let me out of here quick, I’m shot all to pieces.” Cunningham fell against a door and, by the time officers reached him, he was dead. Cunningham had four gunshot wounds in his body. The trio then fled back into the prison yard where officer Mattingly emptied his revolver in their direction. Prison Steward, Mr. Louis Hill, witnessed the attack from the prison yard. When the trio ran upstairs to the mess-hall on the second floor, Hill crept for safety into a coal shed which is built as a lean-to against the first floor. Hill stayed there all day, unseen by the trio, and afraid to venture into the open area. At 5 o’clock, Hill dashed to the prison chapel. Hill reported that he retreated to the outhouse when the mess-hall was first invaded by Walters and he crouched in the small building all day and into the night keeping a close watch on the second-floor window and firing his weapon whenever he thought he saw one of the convicts.

Early in the investigation, authorities did not believe that Walters’ wife Lillian had anything to do with the attempted escape. Prison Warden Mr. John Chilton said he was confident that no weapons or ammunition were passed the last day that Lillian met with her husband. Lillian came from Paducah where it was reported she was employed as an attendant at a benevolent institution. Reports came flooding in, however, that Lillian had been seen in nearby towns in the days leading up to the attempted escape, despite her having plans of going to Louisville for a visit. Warden Chilton, however, reiterated that any rumors at that point were simply just that; they were unfounded and without verification. That would, of course, change in the days and weeks following the incident.

On October 23, 1922, Monte “Tex” Walters was stopped in an attempt to escape the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville. Walters and another prisoner, who was working on the third floor of the workshop, obtained permission from the guards to leave the building. They went into the basement and constructed a ladder from scantlings and wire. The ladder was received through a basement window and carried to the wall, which is sixty feet from the building. The guard saw them as they were climbing the ladder and commanded them to stop. Walters, closest to the top, kept climbing, while the other prisoner descended and ran back into the prison. The guard fired two shots at Walters with one bullet entering his right lung and exiting on the left side. Though his condition was serious, Walters survived the shooting.

Sending in the Troops

Kentucky National Guardsmen from Hopkinsville. Image from the Courier-Journal, 4 October 1923.

The unscathed wall clock at the prison. Image from the Courier-Journal, 8 October 1923.

The Fifty-Fourth Machine Gun Squadron was activated from Hopkinsville and made it on the scene in Eddyville to assist prison officers. A battle ensued in which the armed militiamen fired approximately 700 rounds of ammunition. Louisville Police were activated, and gas bombs were sent to be deployed into the prison. In addition, grenades were thrown into strategic locations where the prisoners were believed to be barricading themselves. At approximately 5:20 PM, the armed militiamen stormed the mess-hall only to find that all three men were dead. Physicians on the scene determined that none of the convicts had survived more than thirty-six hours. Sgt. Gilbert McCollum made the call, crying out “all dead,” which was followed by cheering and shouting. According to newspaper reports, at the right of the door, under a platform against the wall, Lawrence Griffith and Harry Ferland lay stretched out, side by side, their legs, rigid, sticking out from under the platform. Above them, a little wall clock ticked regularly, untouched by the bullets. Against the right-hand wall, approximately 25 feet from Griffith and Ferland, lay the body of “Tex” Walters. His right arm was stretched behind his head, his finger still holding his pistol. Clotted blood covered him and the floor about him. Face and clothing had been burned by a grenade, a bullet hole pierced his head, through his blood-drenched cap. Two additional bullet holes were in his chest. Griffith and Ferland, aside from their post-mortem rigidity, looked as if they had gone to sleep side by side. Each of their arms was loosely folded across their chests as if they had been laid out for burial. A paper covered Ferland’s face, and it is thought he must have died first. Several bullet holes were in each body, but one in Ferland’s chest and one in Griffith’s cheek showed powder burns, indicative of suicide.

Next to Walters was a stack of six slices of bread and a few pieces of bologna sausage. Griffith and Ferland’s weapons were each .38-caliber police positive guns with the barrel of one weapon considerably longer than the other. One weapon had four unused bullets and the other had five. It was reported that a guard had taken Walters’ gun as a souvenir and authorities were rushing to locate it as proving previous ownership of the gun would mean that Walters’ wife Lillian was involved. The weapon in question was a 38-caliber mounted on a 45-caliber frame and was returned to Lillian by the Louisville Police Department after her husband had been sent to the prison. All three bodies had begun to decompose, and it was reported that the mess-hall was completely wrecked as a result of the siege. It was reported that there wasn’t “a whole pane of glass in any window, the floors are strewn with mortar and pieces of brick, scattered from the four large holes cut in the walls by machine-gun bullets. Only the little wall clock has escaped.” Before the militiamen were sent into the mess-hall, a number of prison trustees volunteered to assist officers with great risk to their well-being.

Kentucky State Police marching out prisoners once the all-clear had been given. Image from the Paducah Sun, 14 December 1986.

Once the bodies were discovered they were promptly removed to the prison’s morgue and locked up prison physicians were going to perform autopsies the following day. It was believed that none of the three men were alive when the heavy fire was taking place. Members of the Mayfield and Hopkinsville companies that assisted returned to their home bases shortly later. In all, the mess-hall was under siege for eighty-one hours and required the assistance of more than 50 Kentucky National Guardsmen who volunteered their services. Four guards were wounded, three of them fatally. “Through four days and three nights, the roar of barrages of rifle and machine-gun fire rolled at intervals over the Lyon County hills. Such a withering hall of steel-jacketed bullets was sent smashing into the beleaguered building from the high-velocity weapons of the besiegers that it seemed impossible the mess-hall tenants could escape death.

The Plot Thickens

Louisville Police were able to get a confession out of “Tex” Walters’ wife, Lillian. In addition to Lillian, two others were listed as conspirators: a discharged convict, Jim Sparks, and an African American trusty, Andrew Hawkins. Mrs. Walters’ confession was read to Warden Chilton at a distance and the warden confirmed that it corroborated with the evidence available. A warrant, prepared by C. C. Molloy, the Lyon County Attorney, charged Lillian Walters with murder and was promptly forwarded to Louisville Police. Evidence showed that Jim Sparks financed the plot while Hawkins placed the weapons inside prison walls. Hawkins disappeared before the siege took place; Walters knew that a number of guards would be sent to look for Hawkins which meant there would be fewer officers on duty inside the prison. Further investigation revealed that the real name of Jim Sparks was Cellond Henry Knudson, a 22-year-old from Grayson County. He was sentenced to two years for horse stealing and the term expired September 14, 1923. He was a World War veteran and was discharged as disabled.

Sparks was due an overdue pension of $741.78, equal to $11,288.46 in 2020. This amount was sent to him while he was still in prison and it was placed in the prisoner’s fund. News of Sparks’ wealth circulated quickly and that is when “Tex” Walters struck up a friendship with the newly rich man. Sparks drew on his account to pay for snacks and cigarettes, but he also sent a $100 check to his mother, Mrs. Morris Eldridge in Lake Odessa, Michigan, and then another check for $30. Officials were more interested in a $35 check sent to a Mrs. Minnie Sweeney in Paducah, however. When the check came back, it was endorsed by Mrs. Sweeney but also by Mrs. Lillian Walters. (Police officials, including Warden Chilton, never located the mysterious Mrs. Minnie Sweeney and it was presumed that the name was made up.) Upon completion of his term, Sparks had $515.52 left and was given a $400 check and $115.52 in cash and then went to Paducah. Lillian Walters introduced him to Citizen’s Savings Bank and the $400 check was cashed there the same day Sparks left the prison. Mrs. Walters made a telephone call later that made bank officials suspicious. According to witness statements, Lillian Walters was overheard saying, “He got it and everything’s alright.” By September 14, Lillian had $3030 in cash to deliver her beloved husband his freedom.

Prison records noted that Sparks had a “weak character,” and was a petty thief; prison officers repeatedly reported him for “shiftlessness” in the prison shirt shop where he was supposed to work. His only other criminal offense occurred in Montana when he stole a bicycle. Police surmised that based on prison records revealing Sparks’ character, it was no surprise that “Tex” and Lillian Walters were able to use Sparks as a pawn in their game. Andrew Hawkins, a life termer, was convicted of willful murder. He was noted as being an expert mechanic and “his cleverness in that regard together with his amiability and apparent resignation to his lot, caused him to be made a trusty.” Hawkins worked at the prison pump house on the Cumberland River. Warden Chilton believed that Hawkins brought the weapons in and hid them at a place previously designated by Walters and that Walters and Griffith got possession of them. However, it was unclear just how many weapons Hawkins left within the prison walls.

Lillian Walters approached Warden Chilton the Monday before the siege and asked him to allow for more time than usual with her husband. “I am going away and will be gone for a long, long time,” she was reported to have told him. The warden granted her request however two officers, instead of one, was placed in the room with “Tex” and Lillian: one of those guards being Hodge Cunningham. Warden Chilton said he kept close tabs on Walters and that all incoming and outgoing mail of prisoners was read and passed on by the officers. Chilton noted that he personally read every letter written or received by Walters; this was because of the dangerousness of the prisoner and he said he did this with other dangerous prisoners as well. Chilton said he never discovered anything in the letters written or received by Walters.

A Wife’s Confession

Lillian Walters in 1922. Image from the Akron Beacon Journal, 5 August 1922.

Note: The use of dashes “—–” in Walters’ confession represent names that were redacted by the police. Based upon public records, it can be surmised that Walters’ two alleged co-conspirators, Sparks and Hawkins, likely represented the redacted names.

“On the date —– was released from the Eddyville Prison, I met him at Paducah, Kentucky at the train which arrived at 8:30 AM. I believe the date September 14. I had been told by Tex Walters, my husband, to meet him, and assist him to get a check cashed for $400. Previous to this meeting Tex had told me there would be some firearms purchased to effect Tex’s and a man named Harvy’s escape. —– and I went to the Citizens’ Bank and cashed the check for $400. We then had lunch and took a train in the afternoon for Metropolis, Illinois. We remained in Metropolis for several days, passing as brother and sister, he as —– and I as Lillian Walters, were registered at the Julian Hotel. We then went to Cairo, Illinois, I registered at the Commercial Hotel under the name of Mrs. M. C. Walters.

“We were there a few days during which time —– purchased two revolvers, one a 38 cal., the other I think was a 32-20 cal., from a store either under the hotel or a few doors from it, and I think it was four boxes or a hundred rounds for ach [sic] pistol. I wrapped the two pistols and ammunition in separate packages in cloth and green crepe paper. On Saturday we left Cairo, Illinois at 5:35 PM, arrived at Paducah at 8:10 PM. I left Paducah the following morning at 1:20 AM, on Sunday, September 23 on the train for Eddyville, arrived at 2:06 AM, was met by the taxicab driver, Thomas Hanberry, went to the Lester Hotel and registered. I left —– at Paducah and he had the revolvers with him.

“Sunday morning, the 23rd, I visited “Tex” Walters at the prison. I told —– him the guns had been purchased and would be put over the wall that night by —– and “Tex” told me they had planned to climb a pipe which runs up along the death house roof and escape over the wall, and that no shooting was to be done. After a while I was to meet him somewhere by arrangement. On the same date at 3:00 PM, I left Eddyville for Paducah. I met —– at the depot, left again on the 1:30 AM train with —–, changed at Nortonsville for Evansville, Indiana. I got off at Kuttuwa, a place the first stop the other side of Eddyville. He was to proceed to Eddyville, put the guns over the wall, but instead of that he came to Evansville and met me at the Acme Hotel I was under the name of Phillys Santon. I think he registered under the name of —–. He told me that he had been trailed from Kuttawa and that it was impossible to put the pistols over the wall, and he asked me what I should. I told him I didn’t know, until I had seen “Tex.” I went to Eddyville on the following Wednesday and told “Tex” we couldn’t get them over the wall and asked him what we should do. He told me to go to Nortonville, call —– from Nortonsville to come down on the next train leaving Evansville, and to wrap the guns in oilcloth and bury them under the bridge. He told me —– would get them. —– met me in Nortonsville and we left Nortonsville in the 2:13 AM train, got off at Eddyville, walked to this bridge, which is near the depot on main road to the prison, buried the pistols and ammunition under the bridge by digging a hole with his hand and covering them with dirt and put a stick up in the ground near them.

“We couldn’t get a train out of Eddyville until 7:00 AM, so we walked to Eureka, which is eight miles from Eddyville, and caught the train there for Paducah arriving there at 8:50 AM, leaving at 2:40 AM for Cairo, Illinois, and registered at the Rickets Hotel under name of Mrs. M. C. Halters and —–, still as brother and sister. I left Sunday morning at 7:00 AM, or thereabouts, on the train for Paducah leaving —– at Cairo. I remained at Paducah until 4:00 PM, same date and took the train for Eddyville. Arrived at Eddyville at 5:19 PM. Went right to the hotel and stayed until Monday morning, when I went to the prison, where I stayed two hours talking to “Tex” in the presence of the guards. He told me at this time that he had one of the guns and that he did not know how soon the other one would be in but he knew it would get it all right. I left the prison, returned to the hotel and left on the 12:14 PM train for Louisville the same day; arrived at Louisville at 8:00 PM, I went to my sister’s house on Franklin Street. All expenses, such as railroad fare, hotel bills, and purchase of revolvers and ammunition during this entire time was paid by —– as I had no funds except $19 which I received from sale of clothing, etc., as I had been ill since July, having quite my post at the Volunteers of America at Paducah in July. Because I am giving this voluntary statement, I do not want anybody to think that I am shifting responsibility to anyone else and are ready and willing to share my part of the burden, and I feel that I have done no more than any wife should and would do toward their husband.”


Mrs. Lillian Walters

Last Words

Lawrence Griffith

The following statements were scrawled in pencil by Lawrence Griffith before his death:

“Remember you didn’t kill us, we all killed ourselves. L. E. G.”

“Lawrence Griffith–I killed the cell house fellow and killihan [sic], tryed [sic] my God damndest to kill–as he wint [sic] in the hospital.”

“If they was ever a game bunch its L. G., T. W., H. F. (The initials of the three men.)

“Now ha ha L. B. Chilton I guess you and some one will keep me locked.”

“Defiants [sic] from the dead. Tex. Harry. L. E. G. signed.”

Monte “Tex” Walters

“Tex” Walters’ dying message to his wife Lillian:

“Love, to you, beloved. I am wounded and surrounded by guards. Goodby [sic], I know you will be surprised. Yours forever —–.” The note was interrupted as it is suspected Walters died while writing these final words.

The Bitter End

The bodies of Monte “Tex” Walters and Harry Ferland were buried at the Kentucky State Penitentiary Cemetery. Lawrence Griffith’s body was shipped to Dresden, Tennessee, his former home and where his relatives lived.

On May 10, 1924, a Princeton jury in the Lyon County Circuit Court found Mrs. Lillian Walters, widow of Monte “Tex” Walters, not guilty of conspiring to promote the plot that ended in the death of three prison officers, wounding one, and the death of Tex Walters and his two companions. As the unanimous verdict was read aloud, the courtroom broke into applause which was partly quelled by Circuit Court Judge Bush. Lillian Walters cried happily as friends and counsel congratulated her. The defendant faced two other indictments, but her counsel was confident of her dismissal. Walters’ counsel was successful at arguing that Lillian was a victim of “criminal hypnotism” in doing her late husband’s bidding. The acquittal of Mrs. Walters was the result of a long and bitter legal battle between the Commonwealth and Walters’ counsel. The verdict, in the face of her confession, was quite significant. By 1924, Lillian had returned to Louisville and was working at the same restaurant that she and her late husband had worked at before his imprisonment. She said to reporters, “I have closed the door of the past and am simply trying to forget in a new world that is wholesome and clean. I am earning my own living and going straight. That’s all the world can ask me to do. It’s all I can do to prove that the high ideals of my childhood are the rule of my life today.” Lillian said she still loved the memories of her late husband and believed that he was a victim of a warped fate. Lillian Walters would go on to remarry and have two children. She relocated to Indiana. Cellond H. Knudson, also known as Jim Sparks, was found guilty for his role in aiding the trio in the prison riot and was sentenced to one year. The only update located for Andrew Hawkins was on May 10, 1924 in the Paducah Sun-Democrat which simply said “Hawkins has not been found.”

Death Certificates

Contributed by Phil Tkacz & Shawn Logan |

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
  1. The Owensboro Messenger, 24 October 1922, p. 1.
  2. Chicago Tribune, 7 October 1923, p. 1.
  3. The Courier-Journal, 4 October 1923, p. 1.
  4. The Courier-Journal, 10 October 1923, p. 1.
  5. News-Democrat, 9 October 1923, p. 1.
  6. The Paducah Sun-Democrat, 8 May 1932, p. 11.
  7. The Akron Beacon Journal, 5 August 1922, p. 1.
  8. News-Democrat, 10 October 1923, p. 1.
  9. The Courier-Journal, 7 October 1923, pp. 1-4.
  10. The Paducah Sun, 14 December 1986, pp. 1, 16.
  11. Kentucky, U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.

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