That time I found out my Great Great Grandfather served time in the Missouri State Penitentiary

I’m in a lot of genealogy-related groups on Facebook. One night there was a message that Missouri had recently put records from the Missouri State Penitentiary online. The website notes:

The Missouri State Penitentiary was the first state penal institution west of the Mississippi River. It opened its doors in 1836 and operated continuously until 2004. The Missouri State Penitentiary, also called MSP or the Walls, was a notoriously brutal prison. In 1967, Time Magazine named it “the bloodiest 47 acres in America.”

I decided to hop over there and search for some last names, just to see what I would find. I started with “Hopper” and got 13 hits. As I scrolled down, I saw the name Jasper Hopper – the name of my Great Great Grandfather. Then I noted the birth year and the location of the court. Yep, that is him.

Margaret and Jasper Hopper-1

He was sentenced to two years for Grand Larceny starting May 23, 1879, but he was discharged December 23, 1880 and it is noted that he was discharged under the 3/4 law.

He is listed in the 1880 census at the Penitentiary. Later census records indicate he married Sarah Margaret Bly in 1879, but in 1880 she is living with her mother and stepfather and is said to be single. There is a 1 year old named Jesse in the house too.

Someone else researching this line interviewed Jasper and Sarah Margaret’s daughter Mary Jane Hopper in the 1980s, and learned that Jasper was married before he married Sarah Margaret, and had a son named Jesse in 1879 or 1880. The story is that Jesse went to Indian Territory in Oklahoma and died there, and Jasper went to retrieve the body.

I can’t find record of Jesse anywhere – unless he is the Jesse living with Sarah Margaret in 1880, which seems unlikely. In the 1910 census Jasper is indicated as having been married twice. I sent for the prison records, which have a bit more information than is available online, and it is noted that his “wife and mother live in Taney Co near Forsyth.” His wife is not living *with* his mother, at least according to the census. Unfortunately Taney County records were lost in an 1885 fire, so records of both marriages are lost. Regardless, he was married to Sarah Margaret soon after his release from the Pen because their first child was born 13 months later.

Other tidbits from the prison record – he was 5’9.5″ and had a 10″ foot. He had light brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion.

I have a lot to figure out about Jasper and Sarah Margaret and their many children.

Also, it appears that Jasper’s brother Isaiah G. Hopper served time in the Pen too – a lot of time. He was sentenced in November of 1884 to 15 years for 1st degree robbery. He was discharged under the 3/4 law too. Under “Former Imprisonment” it says “Two Terms Mo. Pen” but those aren’t in the database.

If you want to search for your own relatives, go to:

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