By Bob Jamison

Liberty County, Texas has been known for some very interesting prisoners. These are just a few. Incarceration of suspected or convicted thieves, murderers, bank robbers and prisoners of war are all that will make a fascinating book some day, I believe.
A point of interest might be in the excellent book entitled, “Liberty, Liberty County, and the Atascosito District” by the late Miriam Partlow. Much of this information is taken from that documentation. In this book there is a photo of a prisoner in nearby Batson, Texas. This prisoner might not have had the luxury of being in a comfortable cell for there likely was none in those days long ago. He was lying on the ground under a large tree asleep. Around his neck was a locked chain and the chain was tied and locked around the tree. Surely, he was not going anywhere so he apparently just took a nap.

One of the most famous concentrations of prisoners was housed just east of Liberty, Texas on what was then called the Old Beaumont Road. Currently, this is the area of U. S. Highway 90. As you leave Liberty going east towards Beaumont and just prior to entering the city of Ames, you will see a historical marker entitled “Mexican Hill”. There, some sixty Mexican prisoners were incarcerated after the army of Mexico was defeated at San Jacinto. They were under the command of none other than the president of Mexico, General Santa Anna.
In this group of prisoners on Mexican Hill was one of Mexico’s top generals, General Martin Perfecto de Cos. They arrived here around August l836. There they were held under the supervision of William Hardin, commander of the Liberty Post. A document dated April 28, l837 of all prisoners who were admonished to join into a sworn statement as a condition of their release: We the undersigned prisoners of war having been released by the government of Texas upon condition that  we shall not take up arms during the continuance of the present  war with Mexico, pledge ourselves as gentlemen, officers, and soldiers, that we will be guilty of no infraction of this parole of honor---In witness whereof we hereunto affix our signatures and seal—done in the town of Liberty, day and date above written—

Jails in Liberty County have grown from tiny “lock-ups” that were comprised of four cement walls; floor and ceiling that might contain only two separate cells made of bars or steel straps. For many years Dayton had its own just behind what is now the Dairy Queen restaurant. Each town had one similar that were intended for temporary jails awaiting transportation to the main jail in Liberty or simply giving adequate time for the sobering process or a cooling off period after altercations.

Likely the largest of all prisons was the German POW camp just south of Liberty at the present site of the Trinity Valley Exposition or, in those days, it was best known as the “Fair Grounds.”  Most of these prisoners were captured in the North Africa campaign. Many of them were very young and were obviously amazed that they were treated humanely and fed as well as any of our own soldiers.

Plumbers were virtually non existent during the war days as most were off to the services or working in the Houston ship yards. Pete Bruner in Dayton was a retired plumber and was called upon to do some pipe fitting for showers inside the prison camp. He was told that he would be furnished an interpreter and they would work under his direction. He took along a kid, his nephew, who happened to be this writer, as a ‘swamper’. 

The work went well with the prisoners and we were shown around the facilities including the mess hall. The cooks were also German prisoners and the area was spotless. One could not help but notice full sugar bowls on the tables which, for us, sugar was strictly rationed. Then the question of language was often discussed. Actually, the young Germans mostly wanted to learn English words that we would consider naughty. My uncle was quite talented in that.

The area was very wet after much rain. I remember a German officer, a major, came up to a U. S. Army lieutenant and smartly saluted and said in perfect English, “Sir, we would like your permission to collect some small stones that are out on the street in order that we may build some sidewalks across muddy areas”. 

“What are you talking about, Major?” The German officer remained at attention as he answered, “Sir, there are huge piles of small stones on the road way.” “Oh, that pile of rocks belongs to the Texas Highway Department for road repairs, we can’t take those.” A quick reply was, “But Sir, we are the army.” The kind lieutenant smiled and softly replied, “It doesn’t work that way here, but thank you.”

Some have said that it is fairly common for former prisoners of war to move to the U. S. and become permanent and productive citizens. Not the least of these was Werner von Braun and a multitude of his colleagues who surrendered to the U. S. troops. Indeed, this scientist contributed tremendously to this nation’s advancement in space and elsewhere. Many others became some of our best citizens.