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Veteran Oklahoma journalists recall 1973 prison riot in McAlester

The 1973 prison riot in McAlester remains one of the most memorable stories for Mike Shannon, managing editor of The Oklahoman.
by Phillip O'Connor Modified: July 28, 2013 at 12:26 am •  Published: July 27, 2013

In an interview Friday, Argo said he remembered at one point during that tour seeing prison guards carrying the body of man whose throat had been cut from ear to ear. It was then he said his escort, a highway patrol spokesman, drew his pistol and said “We're going to back out of here very slowly because this area isn't secure.”

Argo, 75, said it was one of only two times in his life he's felt scared, the other being when he stood atop a burning car at the scene of the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing to capture some photographs.

In the days before cellphones and computers, Shannon filed his prison riot updates to the newsroom by telephone.

“Smoke from burned buildings still clung to the air and armed National Guardsmen — wearing gas masks — ringed the area as newsmen entered the prison,” Shannon wrote in a story that appeared in that Sunday's paper.

Camera film was flown by airplane back to Oklahoma City for processing.

Even today, Shannon still considers the riot, which sparked reforms that reshaped the Oklahoma corrections system, among the more memorable stories he's covered during his long career.

“It was life and death and destruction on a grand scale,” Shannon said.

by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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