Fear, Force, and Leather: The Texas Prison System&rsquot;s First Hundred Years 1848-1948


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Colquitt and the Bat

In Texas, prisoners who were destructive or unwilling to work were flogged with 10 or more lashes of the “bat,” a leather whip that measured two feet long, four inches wide, and a quarter-inch thick. The exact origins of the bat are uncertain, but the 1909 investigation made it notorious. Opponents called the bat inhumane and barbaric, while supporters said that it was a swift and effective disciplinary tool and more humane than dark cells or solitary confinement.

During his successful campaign for governor in 1910, Oscar Colquitt decried the bat’s brutality by demonstrating its use on an imaginary prisoner. Colquitt was a fairly small man, and many people who witnessed his campaign appearances remembered how he struggled to wield the heavy instrument. The bat’s use was banned by Colquitt when he became governor but reinstated by his successor, James E. Ferguson. The bat continued in use until it was finally banned for good in 1941.

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Page last modified: February 10, 2016