|Bud Rhone, a deputy at the time the jail was completed in 1902, was
the first law officer to place a prisoner in the jail. We do not
have a record of who that prisoner was. Rhone attended an open house
at the jail in observance of its 50th anniversary on September 21, 1952.
Over 1,000 visitors toured the jail on its 50th anniversary according to
Ray Masters, Sheriff.
There was no privacy in the cells. Prisoners lived four to a cell, 12 to a block with a sink, tub and commode, all in the open. There was no cooling system - just open windows. The building had gas stoves and electricity. A cardboard fan was provided for each inmate and was the basic cooling system.
The third floor housed the gallows which was intended to be used in carrying out capital punishment. Soon after the jail was built, all executions were moved ot the state prison. No one was ever hanged in the old jail.
Mose Denman was sheriff in 1910. One morning, the milkman asked the Sheriff's wife if they were hanging laundry out of the upper windows to dry. When she looked she discovered that two prisoners had cut through the bars and used bed sheets for a rope to escape.
The maximum number of prisoners recorded in the jail at one time was 90 prisoners. During the time when Camp Bowie was occupied, 56 were arrested and jailed on one Saturday night. Most of the time all the cells were not taken.
On cold nights in the winter there were homeless men who came to the jail and asked if there was room for one more person. Most of the men the Sheriff knew and would give them a bed and lock them in for the night. The next morning the cook at the jail gave the man a cup of coffee and something to eat. They did not have homeless in hot weather. It was cooler out under a bridge than in the jail.
Escape in 1927
Carl Adams, a former deputy sheriff, recalled an escape made in 1927 by Dave Rutherford, charged with killing Santa Anna Constable Joe Griffin. Rutherford, who was in a cell next to an outer wall of the jail, sawed his way out one night. He was later recaptured and taken to the state penitentiary at Huntsville to serve out his time.
Escape in 1939
O. M. Smith, deputy sheriff when Jack Hallmark was sheriff during the thirties, said the most famous escape from the county jail came in 1939. Two prisoners, called Jailer Pinkney Taylor, asking for medicine. When he came to their cell, they slugged Taylor, took his keys, stole a car outside the jail belonging to a Howard Payne College ministerial student, and left town. The men were finally captured several months later.
James Troy Braswell Escapes Jail
James T. Braswell broke out of the county jail at 8 p.m. on July 5, 1955. He brushed by Jailer Doug Jarvis just after the jailer had unlocked the door to the second floor "bull pen" to deliver a fresh five gallon trash can. Braswell ran down the metal stairs, through the jail office, then through a connecting hall between the office and the jailer's apartment. He left the jail through the kitchen door on the north side, jumped over the metal fence and ran toward Adams Branch northeast of the jail.
He kept out of sight along the Santa Fe railroad tracks by crawling under some brush. Braswell later hopped aboard a slow moving freight train and got off at Temple. He then hid in a corn field and the next day he took a freight train to Fort Worth. He was later captured near Roby, TX, after being hit four times by bullets. Officers in the posse shot at least 15 times at Braswell. The bullets cut into or grassed his left shoulder, right cheek, left rib, and right thigh. Doctors found his wounds not to be serious. At the time of his surrender, he had a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver.
He was brought back to Brownwood by Sheriff Ray Masters on Saturday, August 6, 1955. During his short freedom he had been involved in at least one robbery of B & B Grocery Store of $200.
Gilbert Amos Tried Jail Suicide
Gilbert Amos had written a five-page letter "To the Press and To Whom it May Concern after notes to my dear wife" prior to trying to commit suicide in the Brown County Jail on October 26, 1955. Jailer Doug Jarvis found Amos unconscious with a gas hose in his mouth. He hose had been removed from a gas heater in the cell. Gas was spewing from the hose at full capacity when it was removed from his mouth.
This took place on the third floor of the jail and the jailer discovered what was happening when he approached the cell with breakfast at about 8 a.m. He smelled gas and immediately found out what was going on. Amos' cell mate was asleep at the time. He had replaced James Troy Braswell as Amos' cell mate Both Amos and Braswell had been charged as partners in a number of crimes in the Brown County area.
Dr. H. L. Lobstein, Brown County health officer and Fire Chief Charles Alford responded to the emergency. They brought a portable resuscitator with them. Dr. Lobstein said that Amos was a "pretty sick man" after regaining consciousness. Amos had become despondent after his wife and five children had visited with him the previous afternoon for about 30 to 40 minutes. He felt that the only way he could help his family was through Social Security, and that the only way this could be accomplished was if he was dead. Thus the suicide attempt.
The following afternoon, Amos was taken back to the Texas penitentiary at Huntsville after an examination by Dr. Lobstein that his condition was good enough to permit his travel to the penitentiary.
Escaped Through Light Fixture Hole
Three men escaped the jail in July 1957 through a light fixture hole in a cell and slid down blankets tied to the roof. They were captured three days later near Hasse in Comanche County.
The Brownwood Bulletin reported on August 25, 1957, that two prisoners had been on a hunger strike at the jail for several days. The prisoners were R. B. Crow and Robert Emerson. Billy Lane Barton of Comanche was also a participate in the strike, but he was transferred to San Patricio County jail in Sinton, where he was wanted by officers there. They started their strike on a Wednesday, but Baton was moved on that Friday, and by Saturday evening, Robert Emerson started eating. At that time, R. B. Crow had not given up on his strike. Ray Master, Sheriff, felt that they had gone on a hunger strike because they were moved from the bull pen on the second floor to the third floor because they were causing fear among the other prisoners.
Locked Jailer In Cell and Escape
According to the Brownwood Bulletin, May 3, 1965, two prisoners escaped from the Brown County Jail on a Sunday, May 2, 1965, about 10 a.m., when they locked the jailer, Doug Jarvis, and a trusty, Cecil Hamlett, in a cell and fled from the city in an automobile stolen at a nearby church. They were Jerry Gage, 28, of Houston and Eugene Wilson, 34, whose mother resided in Brownwood. The jailer and trusty had gone to the "bull pen" to get something stored in it when Wilson lunged at Jarvis and put a knife to his throat and said "You can take it easy or you can take it hard." Jarvis told Wilson to go ahead, the jail was all his.
The escaped prisoners took a 1954 car owned y Mrs. Royce Newcomb parked at St. John's Episcopal Church. The car was later found abandoned about 5 p.m. Sunday in Brady. It was 30 minutes before a woman went ot he jail to see a prisoner and Jarvis yelled out the window to the woman to go to the police and call the sheriff.
The most famous prisoner was Rae Bourbon, 76, a female impressionist that had worked with Mae West. He had left 70 dogs, 5 cats, and 2 skunks with an animal shelter in Big Spring, run by a man named Blount. He did not like the way the animals were being treated. So Bourbon to two of his "friends" from Kansas City named Crane and Crisco to go to Big Springs and one of them shot Blount. Bourbon was brought to Brownwood for trial. Bourbon was tried and convicted by a Brown County jury of conspiracy to commit murder and Bourbon died while the case was on appeal. Bourbon was a person who claimed to have known and helped Pancho Villa smuggle guns from Texas and was a personal friend of many of the movie stars in Hollywood. Bob Hope even called William B. Bell, his attorney, one day, about him while Bell was in a pre-trial hearing. Bell's daughter, Susan, has written a screen play about the case.
An escape he made from the jail in December 1970, made the headlines. One day he asked to make a phone call, and when finished he looked for the jailer but did not find him. The outside door had been left standing open, so he walked out. After he got down the street, he reasoned that maybe they had let him escape so that they could shoot him and it would all be over. After he was discovered by law enforcement officers just a short distance away from the jail in a pickup, he was merely escorted back to his cell.
For more information on Rae Bourbon, go to "Don't Call Me Madam: The Sad and Crazy Life of Rae Bourbon."
Taking Wood Alcohol Kills Two
A story in the Brownwood Bulletin, dated April 18, 1974, stated that two inmates from the jail were taken to Hendrick Memorial Hospital in Abilene in critical condition after having apparently consumed wood alcohol in the jail. Three other inmates were still in the Brownwood hospital that morning in fair condition. Five others also drank the wood alcohol but showed no symptoms of being ill.
According to Brown County Sheriff Danny Neal, the wood alcohol was given to the inmates by a trusty, who took the bottle from the supply closet and substituted water for the contents of the bottle so the jailer could not know the difference. The bottle in the closet was marked with cross bones and skull on its label. The word "poison" was written and the statement on the label said "wood alcohol is a violent poison. It cannot be taken internally without causing blindness, serious physical decay resulting in death."
Both of the prisoners, Tommy Newton, 18, and Jim Edwards, 18, died as a result of drinking the wood alcohol. Thirteen other inmates ended up in the hospital as a result of drinking the poison.
One day B. W. Ellis, the son of Sheriff Ivan Ellis, and his cousin, Marvin Bishop, answered a call to come upstairs to the cage. The prisoners asked for two rolls of toilet paper. The boys went downstairs, went ot the dumpster, picked up two buckets of corn cobs and took them upstairs. The boys set the cobs down where the prisoners could reach them. The inmates threw the cobs at B. W. and Marvin. The cobs were still wet with corn juice and when they hit the floor or wall, cornstarch splattered every where.
Sheriff Ellis heard the fracas and went upstairs to see what was happening. He found corn cobs laying on the floor and was told what had happened. B. W. and Marvin had to get the toilet paper, buckets of water and mops, and they spent several hours getting the dried cornstarch off the floor and walls.
Inmates Start A Matrimonial Bureau
"Brownwood, Texas. Eight prisoners in the Brown County Jail started a matrimonial agency through a letter to the Chief of Police at Camden, New Jersey.
"In their letter to the Camden officer, these jail birds represented themselves as eight hard working cowboys, living on a lonely ranch, and they wanted to get in correspondence with some nice girls with a view of matrimony. The Camden officer turned the letter over to the Camden Newspaper which published the love pleading epistle under the caption the eight lonely Texas Cowboys were wanting brides in New Jersey."
Small Flower Pot
When the prisoners were moved out of the jail in 1981, the Brown County Historical Society asked permission to give a tour of the old jail just as it was vacated. No cleaning was done, they just toured of all four stories of the jail to see what it looked like and what they had to do to clean it up for a museum..
Mrs. Elzina Welch was one of the ladies who helped with the tours one day. In one of the rooms there was a small flower pot with a plant that was almost dead. She said to some of the ladies that she believed she could revive the plant and make it grow. She took the pot home with her and put it in good soil, a bigger pot, watered it good, and set it by her front door in the sunshine. Soon the plant took off growing and became a healthy bush, about four feet tall. A friend came by to see her and when she left she ask Mrs. Welsh why was she growing the marijuana plant. To Mrs. Welsh's surprise she was growing an illegal plant and did not know it.
Immediately, the plant was destroyed, but Mrs. Welsh had proved her point. She has nursed the plant back to life and it had become a beautiful plant.
Prisoner Escapes - But Soon Caught
We want to thank Lurene Bishop and the Brownwood Bulletin for providing us with many of the stories told here. Also Susan Bell for the photo of Rae Bourbon.