Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 3, Number 3, September, 1993 Page: 113
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
Indigent Care and the County Poor Farm
by the commissioners court. The first county farm opened on October 1, 1883.6 There
is no record of the number of residents, but over the course of the next year, the county
paid Neal a total of $741.80, or about the contractual cost of five paupers for a year.
So dramatic a reduction in the county's pauper list is difficult to explain.
Interestingly, the same phenomenon seems to have occurred in Fayette County.
According to Frank Lotto, the county spent less than $6 per month per individual to
support paupers in 1880, then opened its first county farm, on which paupers were main-
tained at a considerably higher rate in 1881. Lotto wonders about the higher rate but
goes on to state that "this contract had one beneficent result; it decreased the number
of paupers; either they must have died under [the poor farm's] care or must have
preferred not to be under it." He speculates that before the establishment of the county
farm "a great many people were supported by the county who were not in need of
support, and when they were placed on the farm ... to work, they preferred to forego
the county's hospitality."7
Lotto's explanation notwithstanding, it is hard to believe that nearly 90% of
the people who had been on Colorado County's pauper list the preceding February could
have been "welfare cheats" who were able to voluntarily remove themselves from it nine
months later simply because they were then expected to work. But it is quite clear that
the establishment of a poor farm presented the indigent with a serious dilemma. The
county's paupers, most of whom were aged, had to find a way to subsist without public
support or vacate their homes and suffer the ignominy of relegation to the county farm.
One might imagine that resistance was resolute. Ben Williams and his wife tried to
circumvent the new system by claiming that, though they needed public assistance, they
were disabled and unable to go to the farm. So, in December 1883, the county sent a
doctor to the Williams' home with the proviso that if they judged well enough they were
to be stricken from the pauper's list or sent to the poor farm. The Williams case shows
not only a reluctance to accept housing on the poor farm, but suggests another possible
explanation for the surprisingly low number of first year residents. The fact that, had
their health been found wanting, the Williams' could have remained on the dole and at
home, indicates that the county did not force all its paupers to live on the farm. Still,
the commissioners court minutes contain no pauper lists or records of payments to
individual paupers after Neal's farm was set up. The minutes do, however, contain the
names of individuals approved for residency on the county farm. But in the first year
of operation, only one person, Emma Dykmann on November 12, 1883, was admitted
to the poor farm. Since Neal was paid for five residents, it can be assumed that the farm
opened with a few residents taken from the old pauper list, or that not all the new
admissions were recorded.
There are many other questions that must be considered when dealing with
the sudden reduction in the number of paupers being supported by the county upon the
opening of the poor farm: Why would the county agree to spend $12 per month to
support a pauper on a county farm when it had been supporting at least three paupers
for the same amount the year before? How could the county have known that the number
of paupers it supported would be so drastically diminished that the total cost would be
reduced? Was there some ancillary benefit expected by the county, perhaps the
6 See contract in Commissioners Court Minutes 2, pp. 274-275, Office of the County Clerk,
Colorado County, Texas.
7 See Frank Lotto, Fayette County Her History and Her People, Schulenburg: Sticker Steam Press,
1902, pp. 157-159.
Here’s what’s next.
This issue can be searched. Note: Results may vary based on the legibility of text within the document.
Matching Search ResultsView 35 pages within this issue that match your search.
Tools / Downloads
Get a copy of this page or view the extracted text.
Citing and Sharing
Basic information for referencing this web page. We also provide extended guidance on usage rights, references, copying or embedding.
Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 3, Number 3, September, 1993, periodical, September 1993; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151389/m1/5/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed September 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.