Author captures world of Death Row All-Stars
A review of “Playing for Time: The Death Row
All-Stars” by Chris Enss
Special to The Union
My parents went to Wyoming and all I got was this lousy pair of human skin shoes.
I beg your pardon? Well, back in the late 1800s, Rawlins, Wyo., was known for taking a tough stance on criminal behavior, and sometimes the townspeople skinned the people they hung and made various items out of their skin.
This served two purposes. It was supposed to be a deterrent to other would-be criminals; it also provided some pretty nifty souvenirs. But that was before there were any prisons there.
If you’re going to choose a place for a prison, it’s smart to pick a location whose people know how to treat criminals. Rawlins was just such a place. In 1901, The Crossbar Hotel became Wyoming’s first prison and housed some of the worst criminals of the time – male and female.
In 1911, Warden Felix Alston, like the rest of America, was obsessed with baseball and decided to form a team of players chosen from a very large pool of death-row inmates. Their incentive to play? Nothing short of temporary stays of execution. Play well, and you live. Play poorly, and you’re a dead man. Now that’s motivation! It also might be where the idea of playing hurt comes from. After all, if you’re injured, you’re of no use to the team. Thus, you play hurt or you die.
Word of the Death Row All Stars and their skill spread far and wide, and they gained quite a following. They were the team to beat and made quite a bit of money for anyone who bet on them, including the warden.
But apparently it’s unethical to stop the wheels of justice from turning, even if you are making a lot of money doing it. Families of the victims grew impatient for justice, and the press began to investigate. So the truly inspired idea of Warden Alston came to an untimely end.
Grass Valley author Chris Enss has once again done a great deal of research and condensed yet another saga of the Old West into easily digestible bits of information for the layperson. Included are brief bios of the inmates and players, details of their crimes and, of course, their mug shots. You end up feeling as though you actually know some of them.
A short 126 pages, filled mostly with photographs and captions, leaves readers with quite a bit of information but still wanting more. So Enss provides a detailed bibliography so readers can investigate on their own, if they so choose.
This is a great summertime read and may become a motion picture.
Carol Dexter lives in the little Town of Washington and occasionally reviews books for The Union.
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