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Local History

Hoosgow on wheels

County Court has movable jail for sale 
Hoosgow-on-wheels in disuse since road gang was discontinued

“Anyone wishing to accumulate a perfectly good portable jail, perhaps a bit rusty from long disuse and exposure to the notorious vagaries of Ozark Mountain weather and in need of a new garment of paint, but otherwise all that could be asked for in a movable penal institution, might get a bargain by applying to the county court of Greene County.

“Perhaps not many persons recall that Greene County owns a peregrinating prison, but it does. The jail-on-wheels was purchased several years ago, exactly when no one seems to remember without consulting old records. It was bought at a time when the court wished to work county prisoners on the highways, and when there were more county prisoners than now. And it was used extensively for half-a-dozen years or more.

“Drawn by four capable mules or a traction engine, and packed to its bars with a cargo of unwilling but constrained humanity, the steel cage was drawn hither and yon wherever roads needed repair. A force of three or four guards accompanied it to see that the county’s ‘road hands’ did not quit the job without asking for their ‘time.’

“A culinary department traveled with the jail, and when it was too far out to get back to town in the evening there was bedding for the prisoners and a job of standing guard through the stilly watches of the night for the officers.

“But with the best that could be done in the way of watchfulness now and then some fellow whose hands did not properly fit a pick or spade handle would make a break for liberty through the friendly brush; and often he ‘got away with it’ and from it.

“Judge W.R. Gorsuch, president of the court, said recently that there are now too few county prisoners to justify the employment of guards for the portable jail.

“‘When I came into the court in 1913,’ said judge Gorsuch, ‘there were 40 to 60 prisoners in the jail regularly. Now there are generally 15 to 25, and many of them for brief terms.’ The judge believes this falling off of county prisoners is due to the prohibitory liquor law.

“The county can work county prisoners only on the road, and then only when they have been sentenced for slight offenses. Men convicted of felonies were never taken to work on roads, for [fear] of their escape. City convicts could not be worked outside the corporate limits.

“For several years the old wheeled cage has been on the retired list. It now stands far out in Springfield Avenue [now National Ave.], rusty and abandoned with nothing about it reminiscent of the turbulent hearts and rebellious brains it formerly bore to various parts of the county where the vehicles of supposedly law-abiding citizens sank into mud holes or bumped over stones. It is rapidly on the way to oblivion where it will join the wallipus [a street paving machine], the magalosaur[sic], the pterodactyl, the sabre-toothed tiger, the krken[sic] and the Republican Party.” Leader August 22, 1920.

"The cage" image is used with permission of the Oconee County S.C. History Museum

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