Whether you’re reading a western romance or watching a western movie, you’ll find that jails play some part in most of the storylines. And for good reason. Law enforcement was so crucial in the settlement of the West. There were lots of lawbreakers who had to be made to see the light so to speak.
I wrote about jails in two of my single titles and my story in the upcoming Give Me a Texas Ranger anthology that’ll release July 2010 features a jail break. I didn’t really set out to put jails in my stories. It just happened, you know kinda like not intending to gain weight happens. 🙂
There are tons of original old jails here in Texas. Some have been turned into museums, but surprisingly others are still in use after more than a hundred years. Just think how big the spiders are in those lockups and how smelly! Here’s one still being used that’s only 35 miles from where I live at Dickens, Texas.
Some of the hoosegows resembled huge fortresses with thick walls and consisted of several stories and the sheriff and his family lived in them. These had a gallows built in.
McCullough Co. Jail 1909 Archer Co. Jail
Ellis Co. Jail built 1888
Others gave the appearance of being added as an afterthought. In very poor counties lacking access to funds they only had what’s called as a strap-iron jail created by strips of metal and must’ve been fashioned by a blacksmith from the looks of things. Strap-iron hoosegows were usually outdoors with no protection from the elements. Those had to have been really miserable places. The first one of these pictures below is from Mobeetie, Texas (or Hide Town which was its name first.) It was a wild and wooly place that entertained Bat Masterson and Pat Garrett among others.
The website www.texasescapes.com is a great source of information on early Texas towns and jails if you’re interested.
One special tidbit I gleaned from that site was that in some counties prisoners were farmed out to willing citizens to keep in their homes for $3.00 a day. I’d never heard that before. Of course, as you well imagine, my mind started whirling, thinking of all sorts of scenerios I could put in a story sometime!
Here’s one that was at a lawless place called The Flat, a town that sat below Ft. Griffin. In the 1870’s the commanding officer declared martial law and tried to clean up the little town that harbored men like John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garrett, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp. And women like Lottie Deno and Big Nose Kate. The Flat was a Butterfield Stage stop as well as a refuge for buffalo hunters and drovers since it sat smack in the middle of the cattle trails.
Do you have a favorite jail scene from a book or movie? Mine is the John Wayne movie El Dorado with James Caan and Robert Mitchum. Three-fourths of that movie took place in the calaboose.