Keeping a jail forty years ago was not the prosy sort of business it is likely to be at the present time. Unlikely as it may seem, however, there were at that time a number of liquor violators. Discrimination was not show in the treatment of them as described by one candidate for sheriff at the fall's elections, "ordinary prisoners fed on 60 cents a day and prohibition violators on a dollar a day." Times in the middle west in 1890 were hard for the farmer and there were to be political organizations born of this unrest, the F.M.B.A. and later the Grange. As in the present economic crisis, commodities were very cheap. However, I do remember remember paying 40 cents for a quart of gooseberries and in cutting steak the butcher would "commence at the horns and proceed to the tail" as my mother used to say.

Life for a Girl

My father was elected sheriff on the F.M.B.A. ticket in 1890, which caused the Democrats particularly many a sigh of disgruntlement. Political rallies then were occasions of some importance and on F.M.B.A. rally filled a five acre grove overflowing with people and bands and bonfires. When our family moved from the farm to the county seat, I thought more of the boys than I did of politics. I was not certain whether I wished to be the sheriff's daughter if that meant living next to the county jail. The jail was connected with our dwelling by a hall. It was a single story building constructed of concrete blocks and was covered with a tin roof.

On more than one occasion, I have wished that the jail and everything connected with it were banished to Jericho. My beau would come and we would spoon a little in the parlor. Before long, there would be a regular chorus of smacks and kisses coming from the direction of the jailhouse. Some of the young misses of the present day could be nonchalant over this matter but not I. I was brought up differently. Sometimes when my sweetheart and I would quarrel he would walk past the house and pretend not to stop. The prisoners would yell out to him then, "You've passed the gate." That would mortify me so that I was ready to fall through the floor. Sometimes the Salvation Army would come on Sunday evening, the time of all times. At one of the meetings in the jail "Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight?" was sung so many times, I thought we would all go crazy.

A few of the men in the town that craved excitement would slip whiskey through the jail bars. The prisoners would get drunk and raise cain. They ripped and tore and yelled "Fire" until people came running in their nightgowns to see what was going on. My cousin, who was a young blade, and not above setting the prisoners up to things of this kind, made a hurried return to Missouri after one such incident.

Humor, Pathos and Tragedy

The prisoners treated most of our family like dogs. No one knows what we went through who has not had a similar experience. Humor, pathos and tragedy came in such rapid succession that one could hardly follow them. I never saw such a look of sorrow on anyone's face as on that of the mother of a murderer who came to bid him farewell before he went to the pen. My sympathy for him was short lived; his contrition in the presence of his mother disappeared. In spite of his being handcuffed to another prisoner, he picked the pockets of several of men on the train.

Visitors at our home were always eager to go through the jail and took a great deal of interest in what they saw. They would ask the prisoners what they had to eat. The reply was invariably, "cornbread and fat meat." The truth was that the prisoners were fed better than we fared ourselves- chicken, oysters, puddings, and custards. When there wasn't enough cake to go around, these delicacies were served to the prisoners only. This doesn't sound like the traditional "beans and bread" and the explanation lies in the fact that my mother had a big heart and wanted the prisoners treated as her own boy would be. She made a slave of herself and let us hope for nothing. In this connection I remember one prominent attorney saying, "Ella must have a strong arm. I saw her carrying five bushel of biscuits into the prisoners this morning."

Once I had the opportunity to take revenge for what the men had said about their fare. For one week while Mother was visiting in the country, I prepared the food for the prisoners. That time it was cornbread and fat meat. You can suppose they were indignant and hoped and prayed to high heaven that my mother would return. I took a grim satisfaction out of this and even enjoyed a laugh about it. The most amazing thing happened when there was but one man in the jail. The place seemed so lonely and deserted as my sister and I stood in an upstairs window of our dwelling looking down at him. He, having nothing to do, in an exasperation of ennui said, "Now you don't think I'll do it, but I will. I'll hang myself. I'll tear up these sheets and make a rope." His antics and tone of voice were irresistible and Sis and I had to lie down on the floor and roll we laughed so much.

The prisoners did everything to annoy us. It would be hard to tell what they didn't do. The jail was heated by a very long horizontal smoke pipe that ran from the stove above both rows of cells. One of the diversions of the prisoners was to take a broom and knock down this stove pipe. Then they would yell, "Fire" and raise all sorts of cain. Father would then have to go and put up the pipe. One time the pipe was knocked down when Father was gone; Mother said, "Ella, don't you let on. We'll just smoke them out." We paid no attention to the commotion in the jail. The smoke filled it shortly when they began to cough and swear. The men finally had to wrap their heads in blankets to keep from suffocating. Father came home but not a word was said until late that evening about the smoke pipe being down.

Aunt Lizzie, who was visiting us, offered to prepare dinner one day. There was a vast air of mystery about the proceedings which caused word to be passed around the jail that a fine chicken dinner was in the offering. The chicken turned out to be a mess of pickled pork and bread. The prisoners would have none of it, and from the grimaces and noises they made, Aunt Lizzie decided they were "vomiting their innards." Needless to say, the "chicken" had to be thrown away.

The men would ask for writing materials occasionally to "write home." Father told them he would send their letters if they "wrote what they should." In spite of that warning, the men would write that they were shut up in a dark room and got fat meat to eat.

Raising Hell on Tuesdays

One particularly noxious custom of the prisoners was "raising hell on Tuesdays." Why Tuesdays came to be selected for this purpose I cannot say; but I do know that it was all the name implies. The prisoners would break up whatever they could get ahold of-chairs, washtubs, tin cups, dishes, or anything else. They screamed and swore and called us all liars, etc.

So many dishes were broken that mother had the tinner make up little tins for the men to eat from- "dog pans" they called them. One prisoner was so bad that Father said, "Now girls, don't you give him anything but fat meat and bread." He went into the yard and got a shingle that was as black as any tar. We took the prisoner's dinner into him on that. I never saw anyone look so hurt. It did him more good than any whipping could have.

Locking up at Night

Locking the prisoners in at night was a trying task for me. Father would say, "Ella, let's go and lock the prisoners in." We would go in among them while Mother stood outside at the door. One man was a half Indian and as fierce looking as could be. My hair would fairly stand on my head as I passed him. It was all that father and I could do to throw the big levers that locked each row of cells.

In spite of our apparent helplessness among so many strong men, there was never any trouble at locking up. My father had risen from Private to Captain during his four years in the Union Army during the war of the rebellion. He knew how to command men. Only once while he was sheriff do I remember his really losing his temper so that he was uncontrollably angry. That time he would have killed a man if someone had not intervened. I do not remember what the prisoner did but I do remember that he had rare impudence and was lazy beyond words to express. He used to chain his bunk near the ceiling in order to get "as close to heaven as possible." When I said father would have killed a man, I say it advisedly and recall the one real thrashing he ever gave me. I used to tie up our old cow's tail to a stauncheon in the stable when I went to milk her. I frequently forgot to untie her and would be reprimanded for it. However, one morning the cow grew impatient from waiting and broke loose and came out of the stable leaving most of her tail tied up inside. That time I got it with a thick halter strap.

The Prisoner at Home

The prisoners amused themselves with innocent and harmless diversions as well as vicious activities. The one that was fed on a shingle made a clever little an out of an oyster can. They made chains by tying up meat skins. Some were very clever at carving.

At this period, cards were considered "an instrument of the devil." Even men in jail were not immune to the stigma attached to "a gambler." In order to hide this popular pastime from us, a comfort would be hung at the door. Fights were too common to merit much comment, except that one man got his jaw broken. The doctor swore when he came and said they all ought to have broken jaws.

Many of the men and boys too- one was only 13 years old- would bang and curl their hair. They would doll themselves up and then say they were going to turn over a new leaf. The new leaf would stay turned only so long, however, and then there would be backsliding. A fire would be made of their pants or the bedclothes or the hose would be attached to the pump and passersby would be drenched with water. They would out the tops of their shoes and run strings made of torn up bed clothing through the eyelets. The missile so arranged as to be easily recovered would be thrown through the long hall to turn over the water bucket, or to do any other possible damage. The men always asked for dime novels to read but they never got any as I always burned them whenever I got the chance. Instead I gave them my Sunday school paper every Sunday morning.

One old fellow that was to be put in the insane hospital made an outrageous noise one day. Mother said, "Ella, go and find out what is the matter with him." When I got to the door I heard "What in the devil does this mean? Why did that old sheriff put me in here?" I was obliged to laugh in spite of his pathetic condition. The boys would call him "Uncle" and "Slick" and pretend to want to buy his farm. Another, a well-to-do prisoner, received a nice suit of clothes from his family. He tore up the shirt and collar the first thing; then he raffled off the coat for 15 cents; and then he burned his pants. I remember spending a whole day mending a skirt for one poor wretch who was a bootlegger. But lo and behold, if he didn't have thirty-five dollars sent to him the next day. After that I thought a long time before I spent so much time mending a shirt.

After all who would not be young again even if they did have to live in a jail?