Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prisoner contributions to state capitol construction sparked labor dispute

My great-grandfather worked as a cowboy on the XIT Ranch, which was famously traded to a group of Chicago investors to finance construction of the Texas state capitol. Our family lore surrounding the capitol's construction, however, didn't generally include prisoners significant role: Says the Texas State Historical Association, "Between 1885 and 1887 about 500 prisoners quarried granite and limestone for construction of the new Capitol in Austin; prisoners at the Rusk Penitentiary manufactured the building's interior cast-iron features." Grits should have known that, I suppose, but I was unaware. What's more, the use of prisoners in these capacities was the source of a major labor dispute dubbed the Capitol Boycott, and reading a description of that protracted quarrel, it's a wonder the capitol was ever built at all!

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