Rough Beginnings 1848-1861
You cannot fail to digest a code of criminal law which will not only supercede the savage practice of whipping posts, but will deter the wicked among us from violating the rights of others. – Governor George T. Wood, 1846
A Prison for Texas
The idea of building a state prison in Texas dated back to the time of Mexican rule. But neither the Mexican government nor the Republic of Texas could ever manage to organize a penal system, much less raise the funds to construct a prison. In the meantime, local sheriffs and juries dealt with wrongdoers. The most common punishments were whipping and hanging.
In 1848, the Texas Legislature passed a law providing for the establishment of a state prison. A new penal code abolished corporal punishments and restricted the death penalty to the crimes of murder, treason, inciting a slave rebellion, and breaking and entering. Other felonies would be punishable by a prison term. To control the prison system, the governor would appoint a three-member board of directors and a superintendent to manage the day-to-day operation.
Photo: Unidentified prison official (no date). Topical photographs, Photographs, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Commissioners chose "a beautiful eminence in the town of Huntsville" as the site for the state prison. By the summer of 1848, they had obtained deeds to the land along with the timber rights and "rock privileges" (mineral rights)