On April 16, 1959 prisoner Jerry Myles and his accomplices, Lee Smart and George Alton, took control of Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. The riot was started when the prisoners seized rifles from the guards in both cell houses and began taking hostages. It was done quickly and quietly with guards being overtaken one by one and led to the hole. Within half an hour, everyone who knew a riot was taking place had either been captured or killed. (The first casualty was Deputy Warden Ted Rothe, murdered by Myles and Smart.)

Myles had a hostage call Warden Floyd Powell, who was across the street from the prison, and tell him that there was a “disturbance” at the prison. Once inside, Powell was captured by Myles and Smart and forced to call the governor of Helena; however, the governor was not in and Powell was able to leave a coded message that warned the governor of his situation without alerting his captors. Powell was placed under the watch of an inmate named Walter Trotchie who was ordered to kill the warden with a kitchen knife if the governor didn’t call by 8pm. Instead, Powell convinced Trotchie to give up his weapon in exchange for amnesty and the warden made his escape outside.

With Warden Powell free and Deputy Warden Rothe murdered, it seemed unlikely that the inmates would be allowed to escape. Myles organized a team of prisoners to try tunneling out of the prison to no avail. A deal was made between Powell and Myles that a team of reporters would enter the prison to take pictures and interview the inmates but none of what they gathered would be printed until the hostages were set free. (It has been theorized that unlike other inmates, Myles never intended to escape but instead started the riot for the notoriety.) As per their agreement, Powell let three members of the media in to interview the inmates but when it came time for Myles to release the hostages, he refused and threatened to kill them if more reporters did not show up to cover the event. Powell refused to renegotiate with Myles and a standoff ensued.

On the third day of the riot, the Montana National Guard stormed the prison. Most inmates did not oppose the guardsmen and all of the hostages were led out of the building unharmed. The riot ended with the murder-suicide of Myles and Smart who would not be taken alive.

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