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Cool Things - Fake Pistol

Fake pistolAn inmate of the Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing carved this fake pistol out of wood, then used it in an aborted escape attempt.

The prisoner covered the "pistol" with foil from cigarette packages to make it appear more realistic. Other carved features include cross-hatching on the grip, and bullets in the cylinder.

Joseph Tomlinson was warden of the prision when the pistol was confiscated. Tomlinson had been an Ottawa County attorney before accepting the warden's post at Lansing in 1899.

The "pistol" may have been used during a mutiny at the prison in 1901, Tomlinson's final year as warden. Early that year, over 280 convicts employed in the penitentiary's coal mines went on strike. They subdued their unarmed guards using picks, shovels, and other mining tools. The strikers demanded three square meals a day, better quality of food, and a reduction in daily work quotas.

The revolt was quelled by Tomlinson and a group of guards, who entered the mine late one night. The prisoners, having only mining tools, were quickly overcome by the guards with firearms. Two prisoners were wounded in the fray.

The local press lauded Tomlinson for having successfully subdued the mutineers. He resigned from the warden's post shortly thereafter, and returned to the legal profession.

The "pistol" was donated to the Kansas Museum of History by a descendent of Tomlinson.

Entry: Cool Things - Fake Pistol

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1998

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.