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Bandera County's first jail

By Raymond V. Carter, Jr. Bandera County Research ©2017

In August of 1874 notices for bids and specifications for a county jail was posted in five prominent places in Bandera by order of the Police Court (as the County Court was titled during reconstruction) of Bandera County. On Tuesday, August 25th, 1874, the Court met and present were: William Hudspeth, J.P. Precinct No.1; M.C. Click, J.P. Precinct No.3; W.A. Weatherby, J.P. Precinct No. 4; and Charles Montague, Jr. County Clerk.
The specifications required by the court were as follows:
"To be two stories high, eight feet between upper and lower floor and eight feet between upper floor and the ceiling over head. Floors to be constructed of two tiers of live oak lumber two inches thick one lain across the other. The walls to be two feet thick for the lower story and 18 inches for the upper story and built of good solid rock, well put up with lime and sand and the lower story to be lined inside with two (2) inch live oak lumber. The rooms to be 12X14 feet in the clear. One window in each side and one in each end of lower story, said windows to be five inches wide and 2-1/2 feet high. Secured by a bar of iron in the centre (center), 3/4 inches thick by three inches wide (the) whole length of the windows. The stone used around each window to be of sufficient dimensions to extend solidly clear through the wall. One window on each side of upper story to be two by four (2X4) feet secured by four (4) three quarter (3/4) inch iron bars, running lengthwise and passing transversely through two (2) bars of iron. One door in end of upper story opening outward upon a platform at the head of a flight of steps made of two (2) inch lumber. Door shutter made of two (2) inch live oak lumber and lined inside with sheet iron and hung with good substantial shop made hinges. One trap door in centre in centre of upper floor. Same material and construction as other door. Foundation of said jail to be three (3) feet up (thick) or to solid rock. The roofing to be well put on of good shingles, at least be of an inch thick. The upper room to be ceiled (sealed) with good sound lumber over–head. The entire job to be finished in good workman like style, subject to approval of the county court and to be completed by the first day of March A.D., 1875." The court also stated that the written contract is to be entered into the Court minutes and the original to be filed in the County Clerk's Office.
The bids for building the jail according to specifications adopted by the Court at the July term A.D. 1874 where opened and the following bids received: B.F. Langford 's proposal was for $995.00; H.C. McKay and Edward Crutchfield's proposal was for $1,200.00; Henry Stevens' proposal was for $1,600.00; William E. Westerfield's proposal was for $920.00; and T.C. Rine's proposal was for $1,600.00. At this time the specifications for the jail were amended to read: "the floor for the lower story to be constructed of stone not less than nine inches thick, substantially fitted in and joining with the foundation and the lining for the walls of the lower story to be either two inch live oak lumber, fastened with budge spikes to girders two and a half feet apart or to be sheet iron.
It appeared to the Court that the bid of B.F. Langford "was the lowest and best bid for the erection of said jail." Therefore, it was ordered that the contract for the erection of the jail be awarded to Mr. Langford, upon his signing the contract and giving bond. Then came a problem. It appeared to the Court that there was no deed to the County of Bandera on record for the lots know as the Public Square in the town Bandera. So, it was ordered by the Court that the filing of the contract and bond for building the jail be postponed until the 24th of October, 1874.
The Police Court met on October 24th, 1874 and was opened by Sheriff, C.H. Frick. This statement was entered into the Court records: "In the matter of building a jail for the use of said County, the Court having been advised by the District Judge of the 24th District, that the County of Bandera did not need a deed for the public square in the town of Bandera and that the fact of the lots comprising said square had been set aside by the parties owning the land as a public square for the use of said County and so described on the map of the town of Bandera now on file in the Clerk's Office of said County and had been so set aside and described for many years. It is therefore ordered that B.F. Langford, the contractor, proceed to erect said jail upon Public Square in accordance with the contract...and that the time for the completion of said jail be extended until the first day of June, 1875." Bond was later filed and approved by Langford for the sum of $2,000.00 with H.C. McKay, S.H. Jones, J.R. Preston and J.L. Sutherland as his securities.
In the January term of 1875 of the Police Court it was recorded that prisoners of Bandera County were being held in the Bexar and Kerr County jails, because ''there was no jail in Bandera County." Prisoner, J.W. Lee was held by Bexar County Sheriff, H.D. Bonnett in San Antonio. Sheriff John M. Ledford of Kerr County did not list his prisoners, but was paid $213.75 for their safe–keeping. During the same court, an ad valorem tax of 25 cents per each $100.00 worth of property value was set for the purpose of building a jail. Also, C. Gersdorf was paid $5.00 for making two pair of shackles for the safe keeping of prisoners. In 1875 Bandera County was still a "Frontier County" struggling with unpaid taxes by non-resident land speculators for the years 1870 thru 1874, and requested help form State Comptroller Stephen H. Darden and the Governor Richard Coke for a remedy.
During the May term of 1875 of the Police Court, B.F. Langford reported that the jail was completed. It was accepted and he was released from his bond. At the November term of the
Commissioners Court the minutes stated: "For boarding prisoners J. Merritt and M. Gonzales – in all 20 days, amounting to ten dollars and for the purchase of a ladder and bucket for jail and ink for use of Grand Jury -two dollars and 65 cents."
In the February term of 1877 at the Commissioners Court (reconstruction had ended), Charles Montague, Jr. presented a petition to the court and "in it an exhibit made by the Sheriff showed the jail to be paid for.
As the years went by the state and condition of the jail became uncertain. It was noted by Sheriff Henry "Buck" Hamilton after the arrest of George W. Bell, who murdered William H. (B.) Rowland on November 14,1877, that the Bandera County Jail was unsafe. So, it was ordered that the "said applicant be placed in the County Jail of Bexar County for safe keeping...." On February 11, 1878, Sheriff Hamilton was reimbursed by the County Court for boarding, guarding and making repairs to the jail, etc.
The County court recorded, "It is ordered by the Court that the Sheriff do sell at public auction before the Court House door of Bandera County on the second day of May 1881, between the hours of ten o'clock a.m. and two o'clock p.m. to the highest bidder for cash in Scrip of said County, the building known an used heretofore as the County Jail-the same being worthless – and the purchaser to remove the said building, or the material of which it is composed from its situation at his own expense.
It was at this time (May 9th, 1881) that the Commissioners Court decided to build the 1881 jail. The County Commissioners Court, the Friends of the Old Jail, and the Bandera County Historical Commission, are working to preserve the "Old 1881 Jail" and could use any support and help in the process. I say thanks to all of you that have and are working on this community project. One more project in the works that is preserving Bandera's wonder history.