Jailhouse Life

Salt Container

Minnie Beall Long was the daughter of Fred Long, who served as Hill County’s sheriff from 1915 – 1918.  During that time, she and her family made their home in the living quarters of the county jailhouse, which has since been converted to the Cell Block Museum.

In 1986, Minnie recalled what life was like in the county jail:

"In 1915, Fred Long followed Jim Freeland (Onata Caskey’s uncle) as Sheriff of Hill County (1915-16 – first term; 1917-18 – second term).

Prisoners were served breakfast about 7:30 A.M. and noon meal about 12:00 noon.  They were not served an evening meal.  If they wanted something for supper, they could save some from these meals.

Recipes from the Jailhouse
Recipes from the Jailhouse for
Frito Pie, Baked Beans, and more

Breakfast consisted of 5 biscuits about the size of a saucer, 2 pieces of dry salt bacon, 2 eggs per prisoner which were usually scrambled, and always plenty of coffee.  Daddy always insisted the food be hot.

The noon meal consisted of a 6-inch square of cornbread, some kind of meat, and Irish potatoes or yams, dried beans, or something green from the garden which was in the northeast corner of the jail yard.  Sometimes fresh apples were served.

In the bins there were always 100-pound sacks of coffee, blackeyed peas, butter beans, flour and meal.

Always on Thanksgiving, the noon meal was the traditional turkey, etc.  On Christmas, a slice of homemade fruit cake was added.  Mama and the cook had the fruit cakes cooked by Thanksgiving.

Kitchen cabinet

Each prisoner had a tin cup, teaspoon and plate.  After each meal the teaspoons and plates were collected and counted.  Also, they were washed and scalded by the cook in the kitchen.  Daddy or a deputy did the feeding.

Daddy always wanted his prisoners to be "well fed." The County Commissioners provided a specific amount of money for groceries for prisoners. Daddy often felt that the amount was insufficient, so he had a big garden, and lots of chickens and hogs.  Trustees often tended the garden.

The sheriff’s family ate the same food as the prisoners ate; of course with additions.  We loved the Irish stew and cornbread.  I still make "jail house stew!"


There were levers in the box outside the entrance door to the cell block – this could control the movements of the prisoners. They could be locked in the cells individually or everyone at one time.

The "Side Jail" was used for drunks and non-violent cases.  Extremely violent prisoners were put in the dungeon.

In 1915-18, prisoners who were sentenced to the penitentiary at Huntsville were kept in jail until there was a vacancy for them.  A penitentiary van – all closed in and heavily guarded – came "around" counties and picked handcuffed and leg ironed prisoners when there was a "place" in the penitentiary for them.  These prisoners were held in the death cells until they were picked up.

If a prisoner became ill, he was attended by a Dr. Hunt, county health doctor.  Dr. Hunt was a local doctor.  (He may not have been called the county health doctor then.)

The jail proper was heated by a coal burning furnace in the cellar.  It was ordered by several tons at a time.  It was delivered over the north high plank fence.  Prison trustees, under supervision, would hand shovel this coal into the cellar.   The sheriff’s quarters were heated by coal stoves.

 Coffee Grinder
  Coffee Grinder

There were no indoor bathroom facilities in the sheriff’s quarters until Mr. Freeland had them installed at his expense.  When we moved there, Daddy bought the bathtub.  They had to be placed on the platform to get water pressure.

When the jailor was not on the premises, a large key was left in the pass-thru wall opening on the north side of the door from the kitchen into the jail office.

There was a hand coffee mill on the wall behind the south door to the kitchen.  The cook or Mama, or one of the children ground the coffee for the next morning’s coffee.

The uncovered plank floor in the kitchen was so worn and splintery that it was more than easy (to get a splinter) in a bare foot!

We loved to slide down the wooden doors to the cellar.

One Sunday morning one summer, a long frame building caught on fire. The building was where Beard Cadillac is now. It was L. H. Walter's piano building. Mama, my two brothers and I were in church and someone called the church and told us to come home. Mr. John Goodman took us home. The wind was blowing from the south. This blew the black smoke into the jail.

Swinging Butter Churn
Swinging Butter Churn would be hung from a tree and the wind would swing the churn  

There were 72 prisoners in jail. Most were drunks picked up at the Hill County line. Hill County was a "dry" county, so people would go to "West Station" as it was called. Mostly they were arrested to keep them from having a wreck. McLennan County was "wet".

Daddy told the prisoners that if the situation warranted it, he would turn them out. He stressed that if he did he expected [them] to come back. However, it did not become necessary to turn them out.

Mrs. Ernest Brooks
  Mrs. Ernest Brooks

Mr. Walter Frank and Mr. Walter Curtis were deputies for Daddy 3 1/2 of his 4 years as sheriff.

In the summer, often church groups came to the jail and sang song and have a short (sermon) service. They made arrangements with the sheriff first."

Later, during the 1950’s, the wife of Sheriff Ernest Brooks was in charge of the cooking.  As in the 1910’s, the prisoners got two meals a day.  Cornbread and beans were always served at the noon meal, for the "diners" who numbered between 2 and 24 at any given time.  Fresh vegetables from the garden were often included, and some of the "fellows" said that the jail house cooking was as good as any you’ll find.

True Texas Tales of the People, Places, and Events of Hill County, Texas