Ball & Chain

Ball & Chain

Locking metal manacle connected to a steel ball, eight inches in diameter by a chain fifteen links long

A restraint device consisting of a heavy metal ball, chain and cuff, which when fastened to the ankle of a prisoner, hampered mobility. Ball and chain restraints, leg irons, and other such devices were used by the North West Mounted Police to shackle the legs of prisoners arrested for serious crimes or those deemed as escape risks. The weight of the ball created enough of a hindrance to the speed of a convict that it discouraged prisoners from fleeing.

Police presence in the Territory ensured there was little crime in the Yukon. In fact, most crime in the Klondike during Gold Rush dealt with petty theft or public drunkenness. The North West Mounted Police fully enforced the law and punishments were strictly enforced. The police routinely imposed two to seven years confinement for theft, or two to six months on the woodpile for vagrancy. There were only a few murders in the Yukon and all of these cases were solved. Most were caught because the Yukon had few ways in or out of the Territory and few men had the skills to survive off the harsh land.

Leg shackles and ball and chains restrains were reserved for serious criminals in the Yukon such as Remolo Cesari, Italian immigrant and murderer. In the summer of 1914, Remolo Cesari was arrested when the body of his business partner Dominic Melis came floating down the Yukon River. Cesari was tried and convicted of murdering his friend, stringing him up on a wooden frame and stashing his lifeless body in an ice cavern along the river's edge. He was sentenced to death by hanging but got a stay of execution after he was declared insane.

As a prisoner of the most serious nature, Cesari was kept in 'leg irons' in his Whitehorse jail cell. One evening, Constables York and Hayes went into the cell to tend to the prisoner. Accordingly, they removed his irons so that he could change his trousers, at which time the prisoner bolted up, hit them with the table and ran out the door. The constables followed suit. Hayes fired once in the air then three times at the prisoner. Cesari was hit in the abdomen and the thigh. The constables brought him back inside the NWMP headquarters but Cesari died some four and a half hours later.


MacBride Museum of Yukon History, Whitehorse

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