Crime & Punishment in 1912

Aug 23, 2012 - 9:03 am
The Austin Marshal's arrest ledger from 1912 can be viewed at the Austin History Center using call number AR.P.001
The Austin Marshal's arrest ledger from 1912
The Austin Marshal's arrest ledger from 1912

The justice system one hundred years ago was a different beast than it is today. Each of the City’s 16 policemen received a salary of $720 annually, according to “Highlights of Austin Police Department History”, a document created by the Police Department.

Arrests were managed and documented at the time by City Marshal J T Laughlin in his large handwritten ledger, which still can be viewed today at the Austin History Center.

Laughlin’s neat handwriting chronicled arrests for modern crimes such as theft and assault as well as 20th-century crimes such as abusive language, gaming, keeping a vicious dog, vagrancy and interfering with the Dog Catcher.

Fines for these crimes could be steep for the time, but sometimes the Marshal would forgive jail fines.  

One hundred years ago, this week, on Aug. 22, 1912, the Austin City Council dropped fines against residents at the request of the City Marshal. Some of the reasons for the requested fine forgiveness were peculiar by today’s standards.

Excerpts from the list the Marshal provided City Council that day:

Name Reason for debt forgiveness
Pearl Jackson Washed blankts (sic) for City jail
Mariah Carina Dead
E.H. Loughry Habitual drunkard
Will Lewis Mentally unbalanced, released
Christian Doehring Realeased, promised to be good
J.H. Moore Ordered to leave town, gone for good.