Texas Department of Criminal Justice:
An Inventory of Texas Prison Rodeo Records at the Texas State Archives, 1931-1986, undated (bulk 1973-1980)
"An Act to Establish a State Penitentiary" was passed in 1848 by the Second Legislature. The act established a governing body of the penitentiary as a three-member Board of Directors, appointed by the Governor, with the approval of the Senate. The Board was responsible for creating and distributing a set of rules and bylaws for the administration of the penitentiary, overseeing the treatment of convicts, preparing an annual inventory of property, and making an annual report to the Governor. Over the years, the name and composition of the Board changed. While its basic functions were not greatly altered, some duties were added. These included acquiring land for the Huntsville and Rusk facilities, purchasing machinery, effecting repairs, leasing the penitentiaries, leasing convicts for outside labor, purchasing and/or leasing farms for the employment of convicts, and providing for the transfer of convicts from county jails to the penitentiary. During the 19th century the direct management of the prison was through the inspector, later known as the superintendent. Other officers included assistant superintendents, inspectors of outside camps, the financial agent, and physicians. The superintendent and financial agent had the most direct dealings with the Board and the Governor in the management of the prison system.
The prison system began as a single institution, located in Huntsville, known as the Huntsville Penitentiary. Convicts were put to work in various shops and factories housed within the institution. In 1871, the legislature directed that the penitentiary be leased to private individuals (Chapter 21, 12th Legislature, 1st Called Session). These men, known as lessees, paid the state for the convict labor and use of facilities, and in turn, managed the system, including clothing and feeding the convicts and paying the guards. It was during this period that the outside camp system was firmly established as part of the prison system. In addition to the use of convicts in and around the prison, the convicts were hired out to large labor employers, mainly plantation owners and railroad companies. A second prison facility, Rusk Penitentiary, was built between 1877 and 1882. It began receiving convicts in January of 1883.
In 1881, the Legislature reorganized the prison system, abolishing the Board of Directors, and creating in its place a Penitentiary Board, consisting of the governor, the state treasurer, and the prison superintendent (Chapter 49, 17th Legislature, Regular Session). In April 1883, the administrative system was again reorganized, with the board comprised of the governor and two commissioners appointed by the governor (Chapter 114, 18th Legislature, Regular Session). In 1885, the board composition changed once more, now consisting of three commissioners appointed by the governor (House Bill 562, 19th Legislature, Regular Session). This board was succeeded by the Board of Prison Commissioners in 1910, which was composed of three commissioners appointed by the governor (Senate Bill 10, 31st Legislature, 4th Called Session). The legislation that created the new board also directed the prison system to begin operating again on state account, i.e., lessees no longer managed the prison system, effective in January 1911. Convicts, or inmates, were housed and worked in one of the two prisons or on one of several state prison farms. The shop industries slowed down while the prison farms expanded. This arrangement made it more difficult to provide education and other reform measures. Such measures were generally practiced at Huntsville, with some teaching extended to a couple of prison farms by the early 1900s.
The Texas Prison Board replaced the Board of Prison Commissioners as the governing body for the Texas Prison System in 1927, increasing in size to nine members (House Bill 59, 40th Legislature, Regular Session). The members of the board were appointed by the governor, with senate approval, to six year overlapping terms. The Board formulated the policies and the manager carried them out. During the Board's tenure, 1927-1957, the Board made changes in the system including more emphasis on prison reform, teaching, recreation--including the establishment of the Texas Prison Rodeo--and a new method of classifying inmates. The Texas Prison System became the Department of Corrections in 1957 (Senate Bill 42, 55th Legislature, Regular Session). This Department was governed by the Board of Corrections, composed of nine members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate to six year overlapping terms.
In 1989, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and the Board of Criminal Justice were created (House Bill 2335, 71st Legislature, Regular Session). The Board is composed of nine members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate to six year overlapping terms. The governor may not appoint more than two members who reside in an area encompassed by the same administrative judicial region. This new agency absorbed the functions of three agencies: the Department of Corrections, the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and the Texas Adult Probation Commission. The Department of Corrections, which was responsible for the operation of the prison system, is now the Institutional Division of the Department of Criminal Justice. This Division still manages the housing of inmates within the prison system. Offenders are currently housed in 73 facilities--59 prison units and 14 transfer facilities, that include five women's units, four medical units, three psychiatric units, a diagnostic unit for initial processing, two boot camps, and two work camps. TDCJ also contracts with seven privately operated facilities to house inmates. As of July 1998, approximately 124,000 offenders were housed in TDCJ units; 6,168 in private facilities.
The other divisions of the Department of Criminal Justice are the Parole Division (including the Board of Pardons and Paroles), the Community Justice Assistance Division (former Adult Probation Commission), the State Jail Division (created in 1993), the Executive Division, Internal Affairs, Programs and Services, Victims Services, Office of the General Counsel, Financial Services, Health Services, Internal Audit, and State Counsel for Offenders. Direct management of the prison system is through an executive director, with each division headed by a director and each individual prison unit managed by a warden.
The prison system has changed since the 1900s. A major penal reform program was initiated in 1947, modernizing agricultural production, initiating industrial production by inmates, and providing improvements in physical facilities for inmates and employees. A Construction Division was created in 1948 to make use of inmate labor, prison-made brick, and concrete for new building projects. In 1963, the Prison-Made Goods Act authorized an Industries Program to produce materials for internal use and for sale to qualified agencies in the state while providing occupational skills training to inmates. Other services available to inmates include education, recreation, religion, and physiological and psychological health care. The Windham School District was created in 1969 to offer GED certificates or high school diplomas to inmates. Junior college and senior college classes are available. Rehabilitation programs offer vocational training, work furlough programs, and community services to aid inmates in securing work upon release and making the adjustment and transition into society. Legal services are also available to inmates through the Office of the General Counsel.
In 1978, a class action suit was filed by inmate David Ruiz and others on behalf of the inmates confined in the various institutions operated by the Texas Department of Corrections against the director W.J. Estelle, Jr. and the Texas Department of Corrections. The courts found the conditions of confinement violated the United States Constitution and appointed a special master and monitors to supervise implementation of the court-ordered changes. These changes have included reduction of crowding in the prisons and the development of better living, health, and working conditions for inmates. TDCJ is still monitored by the federal government to insure continued compliance with the court orders.
Records consist of rodeo programs, clippings, brochures, and photographs documenting the Texas Prison Rodeo, dating 1931-1986, undated (bulk 1973-1980). Specific items present are black and white and color photographs from rodeos, primarily 8 x 10 prints, dating ca. 1934-1984; contacts sheets and negatives, ca. 1975-1980; a scrapbook of black and white photographs, dating 1941-1945; rodeo programs dating 1939, 1941-1942, 1947-1986; clippings about the rodeo, dating back to the first rodeo in 1931; and some undated brochures about the rodeo, dating ca. 1978-ca. 1986. Scenes shown include shots of prison officials, dignitaries, and clowns, and shots from rodeo events performed by inmates in the prison system, such as calf roping and bull riding.
The Texas Prison Rodeo was begun in 1931 by the Texas Prison System. Convicts performed traditional rodeo acts, such as bull riding, calf roping, acting as clowns, etc. Competition was limited to male inmates until 1972, when female inmates began participating. Over the years nationally-known musical performers, such as Dolly Parton, performed at the rodeo as well. The rodeo ceased operation in 1986.
A related series from the overall TDCJ finding aid is The Echo, the prison system newspaper that reported regularly on the activities of the prison rodeo. A series in a separate TDCJ finding aid, Photographs, has additional photographs from the prison rodeo. The Department of Criminal Justice holds scrapbooks about the prison rodeo, dating from 1948 to 1955.
The Texas Prison Rodeo records were removed from the overall TDJC finding aid due to the electronic file size limitations imposed by the online finding aid web site (TARO). If you are reading this electronically, click on the following link to access the overall finding aid, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Records. If you are reading this in paper in the Archives search room, the finding aid, Records, is found in the first divider within the same binder.
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Researchers are required to use gloves provided by the Archives when reviewing photographic materials.
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted and may be freely used in any way. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
(Identify the item and cite the series), Texas Prison Rodeo records, Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession number: 1998/038
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on November 17, 1997.
Laura K. Saegert, October 1999
Detailed Description of the Records