The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003

The Governor and the Bat: Prison Reform during
the Oscar B. Colquitt Administration,
1911-1915
PAUL M. LUCKO*
"Each of us wish for you, and all others unfortunately situated like yourself as
merry and happy a Christmas as is possible under the circumstances." Governor-
elect Oscar B. Colquitt to convict "Happy Jack," December 19, 1910.1
D URING THE YEARS 1908-1915, PRISON MATTERS BECAME CONTENTIOUS
issues in Texas politics. Muckraking journalists George Waverly
Briggs, Tom Finty Jr., and Frank Putnam called public attention to wide-
spread corruption, mismanagement, financial woes, and brutal conditions
on prison properties. Progressive-era governors Thomas Mitchell Campbell
(1907-1911) and Oscar Branch Colquitt (1911-1915), dealt with prison
matters amid much criticism, while committing their administrations to a
policy of state-owned and operated farms as replacements for the prof-
itable but controversial convict lease system and as alternatives to industrial
penitentiaries. The state legislature conducted an extensive investigation in
19o9 and enacted a sweeping reform bill in 1910 that abolished convict
leasing, reorganized administration, and included several measures
designed to promote more humane treatment of prisoners.2
The task of implementing the reforms fell largely upon the Colquitt
administration. Due in part to inadequate fiscal provisions and to the
* Paul M. Lucko is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Murray State University in
Murray, Kentucky He received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas at Austin. His
dissertation is entitled "Prison Farms, Walls, and Society: Punishment and Pohlitics in Texas,
1848-1910." He presented an earlier version of this article as a paper at the 1998 annual meet-
ing of the Texas State Historical Association in Austin and wishes to thank outside readers for
their helpful comments and suggestions.
' Epigraph from Oscar Branch Colquitt to convict "Happy Jack," Dec. 19, 1910o, box 2E og,
letter press, Oscar Branch Colquitt Papers (Center for American History [CAH], University of
Texas at Austin). This collection is hereafter referred to as Colquitt Papers.
Texas Legislature, Report of the Penatentiary Investigating Committee (Austin: 191o); and An Act
Establishing a Prison System in the State of Texas (Austin: 1910o). On the new law and for a summary
of the Texas convict lease system, see Donald R. Walker, Penology for Profit (College Station: Texas
A&M University Press, 1988), 188, 19-199.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/. Accessed November 28, 2014.