Its one of the most famous prisons in American history, featured in countless movies and novels. Its inmates have included such diverse characters as Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, Eldridge Cleaver, Merle Haggard, and Neal Cassady. Its the one of the oldest continually operating institutions of California state government. San Quentin State Prison is as iconic a symbol of California as the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hollywood sign, yet few people today know the prisons origins or colorful early history. Noted Old West historian William B Secrest uncovers the forgotten beginnings of San Quentin in this book. Going back to original source material of public records and contemporary newspaper accounts, Secrest tells of San Quentins unlikely beginnings as a real estate scheme and its essential role in taming the violent and lawless California of Gold Rush days. Behind San Quentins Walls presents the history of San Quentin as a microcosm of the settlement of California. Planned during the wildest days of Barbary Coast anarchy and Vigilante Committee lynch law in 1850s San Francisco, the state prison at San Quentin was the new states first attempt to impose the rule of law on a violent frontier society. Featuring numerous citations from contemporary accounts, plus period photos, illustrations, newspaper clippings, and maps, Secrest chronicles the political calculations that created San Quentin; the outsize egos of the men who built it; the mismanagement and frequent escapes that marred San Quentins early years; and the notorious ruffians and cutthroats who were housed there. Filled with exciting true stories of gunfights, brawls, prison riots, daring escapes, and intrepid manhunts, this is also a rip-roaring Wild West tale of how men and women with immense talent for both good and evil tamed a new state and each other. The book offers a bold mix of serious history and lively writing that no fan of Western history should miss.