Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that always hits a home run… as long as no one is in the stands to see it!
I’m your host this week, Aaron, and with me are Steve & Shea!
I’m Steve, and I find myself unable to NOT focus on what’s happening in Ukraine right now, and as a result, I now realize how much I thought I knew that I didn’t and how much more there is to learn. Okay, Aaron and Shea, good luck making funny from that.
I’m Shea, and this week I learned that if you have trouble remembering whether or not you should slam your nuts in the car door or not, just remember that “Genital” sounds like “Gentle”.
So round table this week doesn’t have much, but in doing some number crunching this week I can say with some accuracy that thanks to the support of our patrons we were able to donate an amazing $1473.70 to WyoAIDS in 2021! Thanks to all of you for your support and if you’d like to kick on that you’ll hear WyoAIDS info in the mid-show bumper as well as our Patreon pitch!
We also need to say thanks to Dr. Eric who wrote in to let us know that the discussion on Art and Arpad was, apparently, spot on. He’s a professional knower of Anthropological facts with a CV longer than I am tall, so it’s safe to say we got an approving email from a proper expert. Thanks for listening, sorry you have to deal with these idiots on a professional level. He also sent an article from Forensic Magazine he describes as “awful” and yeah… Check the notes for a link https://www.forensicmag.com/583512-Adding-Scat-to-the-Missing-Persons-Identification-Forensic-Toolbox/
Speaking of professional things, let’s talk about sports!
Today I’m going to talk about America’s pastime… no, not exporting violence and ignorance — its old-timey, traditional, pastime. The Great American Pastime as it were. Deathball!
Err, no, sorry…
I’ve always contended baseball, and other stand-around sports like cricket, golf, and — while decidedly less standy-aroundy — soccer, would be dramatically improved by the random placement of land mines.
I don’t remember who made that joke originally, but indeed, nothing adds that little touch of Jeux devives like arbitrarily placed explosives.
Or at least, that was my hope. In reality, making people play sports for their lives a la Snake Plissken in Escape from New York is just kinda sad and reprehensible.
Still, against that backdrop of … some kind of sportsmanship anyway, we need to talk about Wyoming’s favorite baseball team, the Death Row All-Stars.
Basically, if you win, the government won’t kill you that week.
We’ve talked briefly before about Laramie having the territorial prison. Butch Cassidy and other famous outlaws lived there and, if you own a handmade broom, it’s almost certainly from Laramie Wyoming… or China. Our little prison became the hub of yee-oldie broom manufacturing after they set out to make some money off those lazy, good-for-nothing, inmates. I have one for sweeping my shop counter, it’s nice.
These days the profits go to keeping up the prison as a historical site so I feel a little better about that twelve bucks, but ya know.
Wyoming also has another relatively famous prison, though for decidedly less quaint reasons.
The Wyoming State Penitentiary is in Rawlins, a terrible little town nestled between the foothills of sadness and a vast expanse of loneliness.
I’ve been there — to Rawlins, not prison — and can confirm that the entire place smells like stale regret soup. It’s a dirty town full of stabby people. Unless you’re a local-ish listener from Rawlins, then you’re cool. Some of my best friends are from Rawlins.
We’re friends because they escaped.
And if you’ve ever visited Rawlins, you know escape is on everyone’s mind — literally and figuratively. I’m pretty sure U-Haul is the most lucrative business in town, though there are a lot of drug dealers if you can’t physically escape. Still, there are plenty of people stuck there trying to escape their terrible fates, just like the 12 people on the Prison’s 1911 baseball team.
The deal was a simple one. If you win, you live. And escaping the hangman, literally, was a fantastic motivator. Back in the pre-appeal days, it took a month-ish to get you from sentencing to hanging, so the prospect of earning a pass for a week was popular among prisoners.
So, the year is 1901 and the prison has just been opened. Over the next decade, it would collect prisoners of all stripes and Felix Alston, who would become the Warden. Felix was a forward thinker with a massive blind spot for his bad ideas.
The original Warden, Jerky McJerkface was a jerk who seemed to delight in tormenting prisoners. Felix had plans to run a more compassionate prison.
A fan of baseball Felix thought it would make a good break for the prisoners, many of whom had spent nearly 23 hours a day in confinement and most of whom hadn’t been outside since the prison opened 10 years prior. He saw baseball as good exercise and a way to give the men something to do other than agonizingly waiting for death’s sweet embrace.
Some of the men had, at least in Felix’s eyes, a real knack for the game. So much so that he partitioned his friend and then Governor of Wyoming, Joseph Carey, to allow him to field a team in local games.
Now, normally requests like “can I let 12 prisoners out of jail and give them baseball bats?” are the kind of thing that gets shut down whole cloth, but Joseph had a gambling problem and immediately recognized an opportunity to lose all his money. He permitted the team to be formed and immediately set out to place and take bets.
Another local team, the best around according to contemporary remarks, the Wyoming Supply Company Juniors, agreed to play the convicts in their first game.
The team consisted of 12 death row inmates.
Now, I’d love to read you the roster, but the history doesn’t want you to remember them. DeathPenaltyInfo.org doesn’t think state-sanctioned murders pre-1976 are worth counting. WyoArchives.wyo.gov just doesn’t list the people Wyoming has killed, I guess it would be a downer or something eh. The Albany County Library historical archives start in… 1912, literally the year after the information I needed — also the link to the actual document is broken because the pony express forgot to deliver it. I did find some interesting metadata from those docs that supports the state’s portions of the rest of the story, so I guess there’s that.
If you’re chomping at the bit — hehe, cowboy joke — for the info that I couldn’t find, I can’t promise it’s in Death Row All-Stars: A Story of Baseball, Corruption, and Murder by Chris Enss, but there’s a much better chance that the research department of a New York Times Best Selling author is better than my Google-foo.
When the team took the field in their disheveled prison uniforms — complete with chains, they did so to a lackluster crowd in the stands and armed guards ready to shoot anyone who looked like they might make a run for it.
The team consisted of three rapists, a forger, five thieves, and three killers.
First up to the mound (that’s where they throw the ball from right Shea?) was Pitcher and rapist Thomas Cameran. He was dying up there in more ways than one. From the aforementioned author Chris Enss: “Individual errors that cost the team the win, would result in death.”
Rawlins was, “at the time” I guess I should add, particularly willing to dispense their kind of justice. Again from Enss:
“Desperadoes caught in the act of robbery, rape, or murder in the town were not only hanged but sometimes actually skinned. Various items were made from the hides of these unfortunate lawbreakers, sold as souvenirs, and used as a warning to other would-be felons.”
So unless you want the next pitcher’s mitt to be made out of your mug, you best throw the ball extra goodly. Luckily for Camera, a convicted rapist, he threw the ball goodly.
The prisoners bested the local team by 11-1!
The victory was thanks largely to the team’s star player, right fielder, and murderer, Joseph Sneg. If you look at your phones you can see a yee-oldie prison baseball player doing his best Seinfeld impression.
In that first game, Sneg hit two home runs, one of them a grand slam. While the stands weren’t packed for this first game the various interested parties, including the Governor, had gone to some trouble informing the press of the event. Following their rousing victory, Sneg was pictured in papers across the country, notably, the Washington Post ran the headline “Slayer Scores Home Runs.”
The local paper, The Carbon County Journal, said the team, who they referred to as “The Cons” played a classy game:
“Joseph Seng, who was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death, played a classy game all the way through. He will petition the governor to commute his sentence to life imprisonment sometime this month.”
Team captain George Saban, a murder, who, thanks to local sympathies and celebrity, was allowed to leave the prison in his civilian clothes and visit local bars to collect bets (including those from the warden). Of course, he often gambled heavily on the games as well.
Saban was convicted of shooting three sleeping sheepherders “in their faces” at close range. The killings came as an escalation of the local dispute between cattle and sheep ranchers over grazing lands. Saban’s killings were seen as justified by many, including his best friend turned then-arresting officer, and now warden, Felix Alston.
Sentenced to 20 years, Saban enjoyed a great deal of preferential treatment. From being team captain to having a standing day-pass, he was seen as the face of the team and the player you could have a drink with — as long as you also bought one for D.O. Johnson, a guard whose family was deep in the cattle business.
Using his celebrity, both from the diamond and the grazing field, Saban roused fans and inspired wagers — of which he was allowed a 20% cut.
While all of this sounds like a good deal for Saban, I lay it out because it’s also the beginning of the end for the team. Johnson, the guard, was at best a fairweather friend. He was a sheepman you see, and therefore no fan of Saban’s off-field deeds. He was also an informant for the old Warden who wanted his cash cow back (he’d earned nearly 250,000 old-timey broom dollars in his time running the place). Johnson and the old Warden collected evidence of Saban’s illegal bets and lumped Alston and Governor Carey into what was described to political opponents as a get-rich-quick scheme of sorts.
Now tensions are mounting both on and off the field. At practice some of the prisoners aren’t taking things seriously — which team captain Saban took very seriously, hounding them to improve so harshly that at least one prisoner tried to assassinate him during game two with a garbage can.
That second game, by the way, they also won 11-1. Because this isn’t already a confusing story. By now many of the men had seen their execution dates come and go. They would win their third and fourth games against the Juniors as well. As summer peaked Sneg was set to be executed on August 22 but was still alive, well, and collecting bets on the 23rd — the general assumption being that he was spared to play on their next game on the 29th.
This didn’t sit well with some prisoners, most notably non-players like the Ferret — a diminutive man Warden Alston used to inspect tiny holes, spaces between walls or under floors, basically anywhere a prisoner might escape from but a guard wouldn’t venture into. There were others, though not named, that I could find. One prisoner’s resentment of Sneg’s special treatment tried to kill Sneg on the 23rd with a shiv. The team would win 39 of their 45 games eventually moving from local celebrity into the amateur Western Division Championship.
Unfortunately, their last win against the Juniors was a nail-biter. They managed to pull it out 15-10 but their luster had been tarnished. This, combined with the rumors I mentioned earlier had become something of a scandal for Governor Carey. His approval of the team in the first place, as well as the hundreds of thousands of yee-oldie dollars he and his fellows had made from gambling and other related endeavors, was likely to cost him his office and by extension Warden Alston’s job. More than a few guards, betting civilians, and prisoners were starting to feel the pressure too.
So Gov. Carey aired his concerns to Warden Alston and shortly thereafter the Gov. announced a state-wide crackdown on illegal gambling. Likewise, Alston announced the prison would be replacing baseball with educational programs aimed at reforming criminals.
Of course, these measures were thinly veiled attempts to quell rumors and accusations until the heat died down. Unfortunately for the prisoners, the education program became wildly popular with Wyoming’s citizenry and the gambling crackdown proved sufficient for Gov. Carey to absolve himself in controversy.
With their talents no longer needed, the Death Row Allstars were executed.
I mentioned not being able to read an archived article earlier, but its metadata and surrounding info supported the last of the 1912 executions. Sneg, for all his privilege and savvy, was hanged on May 24th, 1912.
The Carbon County Journal, ever Sneg’s fans, described his stoic approach to the hangman’s noose with the same admiration they’d applied to his sportsmanship:
“His steps were steady, and he went to his death in a manner which stamped him as a brave man.”
So there you go, a story of guilt, games, and glory from a time when we were all a little more honest about our bloodsport.
Thanks for listening to Interesting If True, if you like what you heard and think your friends might too, share us on the socials, leave us a good review wherever you’re listening, or subscribe at Patreon.com/iit where, for as little as a dollar a show, you’ll get a patron-exclusive story each week, outtakes and more!
You can contact us, find out more, and see what else we do at InterestingIfTrue.com
Thanks to the patron support of listeners like you Interesting If True is a proud supporter of Wyoming AIDS Assistance, a registered 501(c)3 charity that provides support to Wyomingites living with HIV/AIDS. Find out more at WyoAIDS.org and thank you for listening, sharing, and donating.
Interested in what we have to say about this story?
Good news, it’s available right now to subscribers at Patreon.com/iit!
Have you had to write a rent check lately? Or maybe fax some important documents? Despite things like Venmo and email that normal people use every day, these ancient bits of tech and culture just keep hanging on. If you look around you will see all sorts of obsolete things gathering dust in the corners of society and today I’m gonna dust off a few and introduce you to some amazing words we need to bring back. Like technology, words also have a lifespan. Some that we use today are thousands of years old and originate from a time before English even existed. Others have since changed, been replaced, or completely ditched. With that in mind, I have written a quiz for my illustrious co-hosts to see how well their esoteric vocabulary knowledge stacks up.
Comes from the combination of two ancient Greek Words
Beyonce and J Lo are incredibly talented and famous callipygian women.
Hint: This word was famously used to name a statue of the Greek Goddess of Love, the so-called Aphrodite Kallipygos, who raises her robe to moon the observer.
Used in the 1640s, it means to have a beautifully shaped buttocks
What obsolete word would you use to describe a good looking person?
B. Snoutfair, Scapegrace-a mischievous person, Wellaway-expression of sorrow or lamentation
Used in a sentence: “I was completely delighted to see just how remarkably snoutfair my blind date was! What a knock-out!”
Sometimes old words stick around but their meaning changes drastically, kind of like this next word. Hailing from Victorian slang a slut-hole was a household necessity. I too often find myself making multiple trips to my own slut-hole regularly through the day, I even use the slut-hole in my classroom. What do you put in your slut-hole?
Garbage, slut’s original meaning was actually literal dirt, get your head out of the gutters!
On our show we have regular stories about quacksalvers, an archaic word meaning what?
Hint: This apparently comes from middle Dutch from the work Kwaken meaning to boast or brag and the word salve.
One falsely claiming to possess medical or other skills, especially one who dispenses potions, ointments, etc., supposedly having curative powers; a quack. Not gonna lie, this might be my new favorite word and has an amazing even older less used synonym Medicaster. Late Latin medicaster, from Latin medicus (“a doctor, a physician; a surgeon”) + -aster (“suffix forming nouns expressing incomplete resemblance, which are thus usually pejorative”).
Quocker-wodger appears in the middle of the nineteenth century, apparently originally an English dialect term for which no antecedents are known. The English Dialect Dictionary of the end of the century has quocken, to vomit or choke, and quocker, a man who goes harvesting at some distance from home, neither of which is any help at all in explaining this word which means what?
The only instance of this being used, that has survived, is from a book of satires published in 1880; “The shameless arts of the sycophant are not monopolised by Mr. Quocker-wodger and his congeners.” To make it fun this is the slang usage of the word, I will accept either definition though.
It is recorded best in John Camden Hotten’s A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words of 1859:
“The term quockerwodger, although referring to a wooden toy figure which jerks its limbs about when pulled by a string, has been supplemented with a political meaning. A pseudo-politician, one whose strings of action are pulled by somebody else, is now often termed a quockerwodger.”
The 1600’s were a more romantic time, maybe… Lots of sailing and exploring and waring and probably suffering. But there were some pretty sweet words like twitterlight from England. No this has nothing to do with the social media giant but instead means what?
We took a pleasant walk in the woods at twitterlight.
Hint: This word is still used today but has lost a few of its letters.
Twilight, yep pretty easy. Though this word doesn’t conjure images of sparkly vampires and terrible acting.
Origin officially unknown but some suspects that perhaps it is derived from the word “tittle” which itself is from Latin titulus, which was used in Medieval Latin
Waste not, want not is the way to be, leave not a tittynope, you’ll never be in need!
Hint: It has a scrabble score of 23…
a small quantity of something left over
Back when I could live and breathe I would often go for a nice lunt through the town, unfortunately it’s not in the cards these days. From 16th century Dutch meaning a slow match or fuse, lunting was and still is a popular pastime for many nicatinos, how does one lunt?
You go for a walk while smoking, specifically a pipe but either work.
You need to be extra careful pronouncing this next word especially if you are using it to describe a woman, especially if you are using it to describe your wife, especially if she is within earshot. And if she is cunctipotent she is always within earshot. C-U-N-C-T ipotent is from the Latin cunctus and potents, if you know your Latin this will be easy. What does it mean?
All powerful, just another way of saying omnipotent
There are times when you stumble upon words so prolific it causes you to rethink your entire lexicon; this is not one of those times. Once a common word during the Tudor period in England, hugger-mugger has severely fallen out of fashion. The earliest known usage of hugger-mugger is in John Skelton’s play Magnyfycence, which was presented at the Henry VIII’s court in 1519:
Thus is the talkyng of one and of oder
As men dare speke it hugger-mugger.
Given the level of intrigue at Henry’s court the term hugger-mugger had good reason to be commonplace. As a quick aside, this week I also learned that back in the Tudor period people played fast and loose with their spelling and i’m pretty sure it was illegal to spell the same word the same way twice, look at how Shakespeare signed his name in the few known signatures. Anyway… What does hugger-mugger mean?
To do something hugger-mugger is to do it in secret; in a clandestine manner. With the most unsexy un-spy worthy word i have ever heard ever heard. I mean, just think… James Bond the world’s greatest hugger-mugger… gross.
Made popular by Mark Twain who probably liked to drink it, spunk-water was a folk remedy for warts in Tom Sawyer, Tom’s preferred prescription, actually. Where Huck had a different approach… “Why, you take your cat and go and get in the graveyard ‘long about midnight when somebody wicked has been buried; and when it’s midnight a devil will come, or maybe two or three . . . and when they’re taking the feller away, you heave your cat after ’em and say, ‘Devil follow corpse, cat follow devil, warts follow cat, I’m done with ye!’ That’ll fetch any wart.” There may be some truth to the effectiveness of spunk-water but you wont find me rubbing it on myself anytime soon. What is spunk-water?
Stagnant water from a tree stump…
In other words you shouldn’t use in front of your wife we have Wonder-wench a lovely term used in the early 1900’s and then promptly taken behind the woodshed and shot. I’d like to use it in a sentence but then my wife would know I used it in a sentence and even though she technically is my wonder-wench I’m never going to let her know. Emma I know you don’t listen often, but just in case I love you and just keep listening for the answer… So who is your wonder-wench and what does this deservedly dead word mean?
Sweetheart, see Emma! Not that I’d ever call you that
I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.
Find out more about the show, social links, and contact information at InterestingIfTrue.com.
Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.
The opinions, views, and nonsense expressed in this show are those of the hosts only and do not represent any other people, organizations, or lifeforms.
All rights reserved, Interesting If True 2020.