Texas Attorney-General's Office:
An Inventory of the East Texas Penitentiary Construction Letter Book at the Texas State Archives, 1877-1879
The Texas Office of the Attorney General was first established by executive ordinance in 1836. In the Texas Constitution of 1876, the attorney general is one of seven officers constituting the executive department of state government. As the chief legal officer of the state, the attorney general protects state interests through judicial proceedings and legal advice. Whenever the interests of Texas state government are involved in civil law, the attorney general must represent and defend those interests. The state of Texas is represented by the attorney general in the courts of Texas and of the United States. The office influences all Texas government agencies through its advisory-opinion function, whereby the attorney general provides specified officials with guidance on how to perform their duties legally.
On November 12, 1866, the legislature enacted a measure that established a five-member Board of Public Labor to administer the penitentiary. The governor, secretary of state, comptroller, attorney general, and state treasurer composed this body.
(Sources include: James G. Dickson, Jr., "Attorney General," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed on June 11, 2015; and the contents of the records.)
"An Act to Establish a State Penitentiary" was passed in 1848 by the 2nd Texas Legislature. The prison system began as a single institution located in Huntsville, known as the Huntsville Penitentiary. The East Texas Penitentiary, also known as Rusk Penitentiary, was the state's second enclosed penitentiary and was authorized by the 14th Legislature in 1875 to relieve overcrowding in Huntsville. Construction took place between 1877 and 1883. Civilian laborers employed by the Ohio firm of Kanmacher and Denig, and convict workers used by the Cunningham and Ellis Company of Texas combined to build the penitentiary. Morrow, Hamby, and Company operated the facility between January and March 1883, when the state cancelled all penitentiary leases. From January through September 1884 the state leased the penitentiary's iron industry to the Comer and Faris Company, which directed convict workers but failed to profit from the enterprise. After the termination of this contract the state managed the Rusk Penitentiary until its closing in 1917. In 1879 the legislature required the governor to name three directors, with state senate approval, to serve two-year terms. Also, pursuant to the 1879 law, a superintendent, appointed by the governor with senate approval, was to serve as chief executive, assisted by an officer responsible for inspecting prisoner labor camps operated by private employers. The legislature amended this law in 1883 to allow the governor to appoint two officials, subject to senate confirmation, who with the governor would constitute a Board of Prison Commissioners.
(Sources include: Paul M. Lucko, "Rusk Penitentiary," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed on June 15, 2015; and the contents of the records.)
The Texas Office of the Attorney General was first established by executive ordinance in 1836. In the Texas Constitution of 1876 the attorney general is one of seven officers constituting the executive department of state government. As the chief legal officer of the state, the attorney general protects state interests through judicial proceedings and legal advice. These records consist of a letter book with copies of correspondence and receipts related to the construction of the East Texas Penitentiary, dated 1877-1879. While it is not clear why this letter book is within the records of the attorney general, he was one of five members that comprised the Board of Public Labor that administered the penitentiary. The letter book may have been submitted to his office in the case of an investigation into the practices of the penitentiary.
Letters were written by S.N. Pickens of Anderson County and John W. Grant of Dallas County to Governor R.B. Hubbard. Pickens and Grant were inspectors appointed to superintend construction work and to make monthly reports to the governor. Subjects include progress of work, the quality of materials and workmanship, work done by the contractors, and associated costs. Also included are letters to Henry Kammacher and Rush S. Denig, contractors for the construction. Subjects include approval for items requested, extra work assignments, and substitution of materials. In addition there are budgetary estimates provided by the contractors, a copy of the final construction report, copies of receipts, and memoranda of estimates.
Copies of some of the letters and the final report submitted to Governor Hubbard can also be found in the collection Records Relating to the Penitentiary, sub-series Construction of East Texas or Rusk Penitentiary, 1877-1879. See Box 022-10, folders 17-19. This ledger, however, includes additional letters.
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(Identify the pages), East Texas Penitentiary construction letter book, Texas Attorney General's Office. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession number: 1991/004
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division by the Attorney General's Office on September 12, 1990.
Finding aid by Aditi Worcester, June 2015
Detailed Description of the Records