By Buddy Hazell
Thirteen years old and I am locked in this old jail. It is hot and dark in here and I am wondering if anyone is going to come and let me out.
Now let me explain:
Rockdale, Texas was founded in 1873, and in 1875 they had a need for a jail. The town’s marshal, Peter Ledbetter, happened to walk into the bank one afternoon and interrupt a robbery. Three men were robbing the bank. One of the men turned and shot Marshal Ledbetter in the shoulder and the marshal returned fire, killing the robber. One of the others ran out the door and the other threw up both hands and surrendered. Mr. Ledbetter arrested him, but the town had not yet built a jail. The nearest jail was in Cameron, Texas so they had to transport him there.
The town leaders decided it was time to build a jail and Marshal Ledbetter was appointed to oversee the construction. The site chosen was in an alley near the railroad, on a small rise which was a big flat solid rock. The building was laid out to be 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. There were two cells constructed of rock walls, a low pitched roof, and two steel doors, one for each cell. Each door was to have a window with bars and be 18 inches square. There was to be one lantern and one slop-jar for each cell, but no water jug. An office for the marshal was to be built across the alley, facing the jail. Now how much of this story is true I don’t know, but it has been passed down from father to son for generation to generation.
It was also told that the notorious outlaw John Wesley Hardin was once caught by some Texas Rangers and confined in the Rockdale Jail, but escaped the first night by scratching the mortar out from around one of the larger rocks and crawling out through the hole.
But, back to me:
Dave and I had gone to town one Saturday, and while he was tending to some business, I went walking around town. Some other boys and I were just messing around like boys tend to do, and one boy said, “Let’s go over by the Old Jail (long since abandoned) and see what we can find.” Away we went, looking for any type of treasure we might see. I looked in one of the jail cells and it was real spooky. We started playing Texas Rangers and John Wesley Hardin. I was picked to be John Wesley and was arrested and thrown in jail and one of the boys closed the door on the cell I was in, and I heard a strange click and a “thonk” as the door locked. Everyone took off running, that is everyone except me. I was locked in “jail.” It was hot and dark in there, and worse, Dave did not know where I was. I hollered and screamed as loud as I could, but no one heard me. It was beginning to get dark when two men walked by and I cried out, “Help, help, I’m locked in here.” They yelled, “We found him, in the old jail.”
No one knew where the keys to the old jail were and they had to get a man with a cutting torch to come get me out. We didn’t get home until way after dark, and Nettie had to do the milking and feeding by herself. Man was she mad.