Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 3, Number 3, September, 1993 Page: 117
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Indigent Care and the County Poor Farm
the course of the next year, Burttschell and his gang of convicts began working on county
roads. In June, they repaired and improved the road south of Columbus, and in July,
that leading from Weimar to La Grange.
In February 1897, newly elected County Judge Joseph Jefferson Mansfield
released a financial statement on the county farm. According to his figures, the farm had
generated 104 bales of cotton, valued at $3,693.34, and $214.80 worth of cotton seed.
In addition, the convicts had made improvements to the farm, among other things,
clearing ten acres of land and selling the wood thus produced for $174. They had also
done $1,245.95 worth of road work around the county. In all, however, after salaries
and the interest on the debt of the land were considered, the farm had lost $1,228.80
on its operations. When the first of the four note payments on the land and the amounts
paid to equip and outfit the farm were considered, the county had lost more than
$8,000.00 on the deal.14
Still, though the new farm was nominally for the use of convict labor, it also
was designed to house the insane15 and the indigent. By purchasing the farm and hiring
a superintendent to manage it, the county effectively eliminated its expenses for the
support of the poor. Mansfield estimated in his financial report that, had the farm not
been purchased, the county would have had to pay $750 to support paupers in 1896.
For 1897, probably motivated by the unprofitable nature of the farm in its
first year, the county revised the method by which it was operated. Instead of hiring
a superintendent, it rented the farm. On December 23, 1896, the court voted to rent
an unspecified but apparently quite a large part of the farm to Jeff Smith for his own use.
On January 8, 1897, August Burttschell, the previous year's superintendent, agreed to
rent the remainder of the property. Burttschell's lengthy contract called for him to "keep,
support and maintain all the paupers and lunatics now in charge of the county and all
those to be hereafter committed ... for and during the year 1897" in lieu of paying rent.
In addition, Burttschell agreed to "hire all the county convicts that may be offered to me
by the county Judge of said county at the usual and legal rate of seven dollars and fifty
cents per month." Burttschell was apparently not to be compensated beyond his housing
and what he could produce on the land.16 By 1898, the county was back to hiring a
superintendent. On November 30 that year, the commissioners hired Smith to run the
farm in 1899 at a salary of $50 per month plus housing. They continued to hire
superintendents for most of the rest of the active life of the farm.
In the year beginning December 1, 1898, ninety-eight convicts worked off
their fines, which ranged from one cent to seventy-eight dollars, at the county farm. Over
the next few years, convicts continued to provide the bulk of the labor force at the farm.
In addition, such convicts worked on county roads under the direction of the various
county commissioners, and, until May 1903, were hired out to local farmers and others.
Most of the convicts who were sent to the county farm were guilty of minor offenses
like stealing chickens or riding on a train without a ticket. At one point in 1902, there
were some forty convicts on the farm. In the next five years, however, the number
14 See report in The Weimar Mercury, February 20, 1897.
15 The commissioners sent the first three "lunatics" to the county farm on February 12, 1896. The
three, identified as Burrell Henderson, Susan Gay, and "Crazy Lizzie," were only sent to the farm after "having
been declared not dangerous by the County Physician." See Commissioners Court Minute Book 6, p. 171,
Office of the County Clerk, Colorado County, Texas.
16 See contract in Commissioners Court Minute Book 6, pp. 277-281, Office of the County Clerk,
Colorado County, Texas.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 3, Number 3, September, 1993, periodical, September 1993; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151389/m1/9/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed July 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.