Sunday, November 2, 2014

Two Convicted for Sodomy, One Escapes

I'm rooting for the lad
Were they a couple? That’s one of the questions that is simply unanswerable about two young men who were charged and convicted of sodomy in Washington State in 1910. An October 26 article in the Yakima Herald refers to them as “lads,” and on November 2, the Herald supplies that one of the two, James Nichol, was twenty-one. Unfortunately, even with the biographical detail the Herald supplied, I haven’t been able to make any certain identification of the two.

The name of the other man is given as James S. Ryan, and Washington had an ample supply of men of that name, most of them of about 20 years of age. I was able to find 11 men over the age 17 and under the age of 30 in the 1910 Census. Some were married, most were single. The one James Ryan in Yakima County in 1910 has the improbable origin of “Greece,” as does everyone else in his railroad crew, a few of whom do have Greek surnames. I’ve also checked the 1920 Census to see if any of them vanish from the record, but it wasn’t all that helpful. No Greek Ryans in Yakima in 1920.

They certainly vanish from the Herald. After the October 26 article, there are two articles in the November 2 edition. After that, nothing. What happened to the two men? This is what we were told on October 26, 1910:
Lads to “Pen.”
James Ryan and Frank Nichol, two lads convicted of sodomy, were sentenced from two to five years in the state penitentiary at Walla Walla.
The shorter article on November 2 gives an age for James Nichols.

In the custody of the state penitentiary traveling guard, Frank Nichols, the 21 year old lad who with James S. Ryan, was convicted of sodomy two weeks ago, left Monday morning for Walla Walla to begin serving out his four year sentence. On the even of leaving for the state prison, Ryan escaped, Saturday night, and thus far has completely eluded the officers. Both men were sentenced from four to 15 years by Judge Prebel but according to the sheriff’s office, it begins to look as though Ryan will at least not get an even start with his pal.
The implication here is that the were tried and sentenced together, and the Herald even refers to Ryan as Nichol’s “pal.” Nichol did not escape, and I’ve used that version of his name because he is listed in the digital records of the Washington State Department of Corrections under that name. His prisoner number was 5884, and the charge was “attempt to commit sodomy.” The 1910 Census for Washington doesn’t have a Frank Nichol, though he may have arrived in the state after the census.

James S. Ryan seems to have evaded capture, as there is no corresponding record for him, even when I broadened the search to 1920. He clearly decided that Washington State was not the state he wanted to be in. The records will probably never divulge who James Ryan was or what happened to him. We do have the story of his escape though.

Youth Sentenced to Two Years in Penitentiary, Makes Successful Dash for Liberty.
Hiding Behind Improvised Screen, Prisoner Takes Jailer By Surprise and Makes Clean Getaway—Darkness Lends Aid.

Biding his time, James S. Ryan, a lad convicted of sodomy and sentenced to from two to five years in the state penitentiary, last evening sprung from behind a carefully constructed screen through the open cell door to liberty almost before County Jailer Armsworthy was aware that anything was wrong. The escape was made shortly after dusk while the jailer was engaged in feeding the prisoners.

Ryan with a dozen other criminals, occupied a wing on the ground floor of the jail. At feeding time last night, the jailer went into the main room leaving the outside door unlocked behind him. Unlocking the wing door, he was about to pass in the prisoners’ evening meal when Ryan who had concealed himself behind an improvised screen, ducked under the jailer’s arm and was out of the room before a call to the men outside could be raised.

Eludes Trusties.
Dashing into the kitchen, Ryan met two trusties who tried to intercept his flight but without any degree of success for a moment later he had eluded them and disappeared in the dusk. According to the trusties, the fugitive ran straight across the lawn into the alley in the rear of the Elk’s temple. This was the last they saw of him.

Not a deputy was around the jail or court house at the time of the escape and it was necessary for Jailer Armsworthy to run to the police station to spread the alarm. Chief Kinnaman immediately dispatched half a dozen officers to scour the part of the city in which Ryan disappeared but the darkness was with the fugitive and the efforts of the officers were fruitless.

Ryan with another lad, was recently convicted of sodomy. Both were sentenced to from two to five years in the penitentiary and should been on their way to Walla Walla Saturday morning, had it not been for the penitentiary traveling guard having been delayed in reaching the city.
I was rooting for James Ryan.

The Yakima Herald gave us no details about how they came to be on trial (other than that they were caught attempting sodomy). There’s no story of what lead to their trial any more than there’s a story of what happened to either after the escape of James Ryan.

In the absence of any real information, imagination gets to take over. James and Frank were friends who realized that they really liked each other in a different way. Over time, they went from looks to having sex. They knew they were breaking the law in what they were doing, but it felt so right to them. One fateful day, when they were in the midst of things, they were caught.

They were tried together, since if one was innocent, they both were, and likewise, if they both were guilty, they both were. Caught in the act, there wasn’t much to deny.

I don’t know what happened to them after, but I’d like to think that after Frank got out of prison, he too left Washington state and they found each other again. Maybe they assumed new names. Perhaps they fled to Portland, Oregon, maybe further. I’d like to think that they met again, even though that probably didn’t happen.

After all, what happened to Frank Nichol and James Ryan wasn’t justice, but a miscarriage of justice. Many times when a sodomy case is detailed in newspaper accounts of the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth centuries, it’s a rape case. This certainly doesn’t seem to be, but was instead the consensual act of two men in their 20s. It’s not criminal in the State of Washington now; slightly over a century later, Nichol and Ryan could get married. It shouldn’t have ever been criminal.

I hope he got away and had a good life.
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