The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 403
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The Governor and the Bat
Colquitt and Cabell accepted the conventional notion that prisoners
should labor in order to free taxpayers from supporting idle lawbreakers.
Cabell reminded a conference of social workers that convicts "should be
expected ... to give ... as much energy and interest to ... work as the
free man." Most Texas reformers similarly valued labor as a therapeutic
measure and as a means for making the penal system self-supporting.
During the Colquitt administration the state rapidly phased out the con-
vict lease system as well as the iron works at the Rusk penitentiary. Out of
slightly less than four thousand prisoners, approximately four hundred
lived in either the Rusk or Huntsville penitentiaries. The remaining con-
victs engaged in farm labor on properties the state either leased or
owned. During harvest seasons, physically able inmates who resided with-
in the walled penitentiaries joined other convicts who worked in a gang-
labor fashion reminiscent of chattel slavery, picking cotton or cutting and
loading sugar cane on Gulf Coast plantations. African Americans com-
prised about 6o percent of the convict population, Anglo-Americans
made up nearly 30 percent, and ethnic Mexicans composed the remain-
der. Only sixty convicts were women. Penal administrators continued to
employ corporal punishment in the form of brutal whippings on the
"bare rump" or back of convicts guilty of either insubordination or, as
was usually the case, poor work habits. The 191o law permitted lashing
with a leather strap, two and a half inches wide and twenty-four inches
long attached to a wooden handle. Beatings were not to break the skin,
although prison officers often ignored that section of the law.
Maintaining that "kind treatment and a ray of hope to the forsaken felon
in the penitentiary is more potent and effective in his reformation than
the lacerations made by the inhuman application of the strap," Cabell
and Colquitt were able to reduce the number of whippings, but the prac-
When Colquitt ran for reelection in 1912, he was the first incumbent
in more than twenty years to face a serious challenger. That state of
affairs stemmed to a large degree from disputes between the propo-
nents and opponents of prohibition, the issue that dominated Texas
politics for at least three decades. For his leadership role in defeating a
War general, W. L. Cabell, who became mayor of Dallas, Ben Cabell was also the father of anoth-
er mayor, Earle Cabell. The latter also served in the United States House of Representatives. See
Dallas Times Herald, Sept. 25, 1975; Dallas Mornzng News, Sept. 25, 1975, Ben E. Cabell, "The
Texas Penal System As It Is Now Administered (An Address Before the Society of Correction and
Charities m Session in Waco, April 1912)," Colquitt Governor's Records (ist and 2nd quota-
tions); and Houston Post, Apr. 21, 1912.
1 Houston Post, Apr. 21, 1912; Cabell, "The Texas Penal System As It Is Now Administered,"
Colquitt Governor's Records (1st quotation); R. M. Colquitt to Waco Tmes Herald, July 12, 1911
(2nd quotation), box 2E io, letter presses, no. 382, Colquitt Papers; Texas Prison System,
Annual Report (191 i), 2g-31; and An Act Establzshing a Pnson System in the State of Texas, 1-2o.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/471/: accessed March 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.