About Our Museum

The Texas Prison Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the state's imprisoned citizens. The museum features numerous exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system, featuring a look inside the operations behind the fences and walls.

Huntsville's prison museum is frequented by a cross-section of the public, ranging from grade-school students on field trips, to tourists from around the world. Come see our expanded museum and see what our 36,000 annual guest find interesting and unknown about the Texas Prison System.

The Texas Prison Museum, in existence since 1989, is a non-profit business, overseen by a board of trustees. Staffing consists of one full-time employee, several part-time personnel, and some dedicated volunteers. The museum depends on your support. You can help by becoming a patron.​

Why Huntsville?

The Texas Prison Museum is located in Huntsville, Texas due to the East Texas town of Huntsville was where the first prison “The Huntsville Unit”, (more informally referred to as the Walls) was built for the newly established Texas Prison System in year 1848. The State of Texas Congress made a decision to create a commission to identify a location within Texas to establish its prison system. The commission was given some particular and specific requirement needs to support a prison system of operations and report such a location back to the Texas Congress. Sam Houston, legendary leader of Texas Independence from Mexico and statesman lived in the East Texas town of Huntsville and with his influence the Texas Congress settled and established the town of Huntsville as the operating headquarters of the newly created prison system. The state prison system is now known as the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and is the only State of Texas agency not headquartered in Austin, Texas, the Capital of Texas. Within the city limits of Huntsville, Texas there are five prisons and within a thirty-mile radius of Huntsville is an additional five prisons.

In 1985 the idea of establishing a Texas Prison Museum began. That idea became fruition in year 1989 with the Texas Prison Museum officially opening its humble beginning doors via rental of a small building on the square in Huntsville. 

 

In year 2002, due to many contributing volunteers, donors and patrons, the Texas Prison Museum relocated to a new structure designed, built and owned by the Texas Prison Museum, a 501 (3) charitable organization, to become the new home of the museum. The structure encompasses the museum displaying the many one of a kind prison artifacts and exhibits, an excellent gift shop showcasing prison made inmate craft items from leather goods, metal goods and wood products. We recommend you visit our Gift Shop page, as well as our Become A Patron page.

The Texas Prison Museum has been blessed to be able to expand our ability to further inform and educate the public regarding the Texas Prison Systems history. In year 2019 the museum expanded its exhibit show room by an additional 5,000 square feet. The entire Texas Prison Museum building now consist of approximately 8,000 square feet of exhibit space which includes the gift shop, a 2,400 square foot conference room with an adjacent kitchenette, a research lab. We hope that you will come visit us!

The Board of Directors

The Texas Prison Museum Board oversees the operations of the museum. The Board members are: 

  • Tom Pierce, President

  • Henry Henderson, Vice-President

  • Cindy Loeffler, Secretary

  • Tony D'Cunha

  • S.O. Woods

  • Shawn Blair

  • Bill Stephens

  • Michael Upshaw

  • Paul Brown

Must See

Lee Simmons, The Texas Prison Rodeo, and Bonnie & Clyde

At the end of the Roaring ‘20’s the Texas penitentiary was in bad shape with overcrowded conditions and money problems. The root problem during these specific times was due to poor leadership and management of what little resources the prison system had to work with.Enter Lee Simmons in 1930 as the General Manager. Mr. Simmons appears to have been the first to make positive changes for both inmates and guards. With all of the operational improvements that Lee Simmons established for the prison system, he is most known for two things that did not have to do with the daily operations. Mr. Simmons conceived the idea of a prison rodeo in Huntsville. Beginning in 1931 at the inmate baseball park adjacent to the Walls Unit, the Texas Prison Rodeo quickly became known across the nation and around the world as the Wildest Show Behind Bars. It was the prison system’s premier public relations event, held every Sunday in October. The rodeo lasted through 1986.

Lee Simmons is also responsible for the demise of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. After their raid of the prison system’s Eastham Unit caused the death of one of the guards, Mr. Simmons hired former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer to find and put an end to Bonnie and Clyde. Mr. Hamer did just that. Upon his return, Mr. Hamer presented a pistol from the Bonnie and Clyde death car to Mr. Simmons.

Now, thanks to the Simmons family, treasures from the Lee Simmons era can be viewed at the Texas Prison Museum. The family has graciously loaned us several artifacts and an album of pictures. A nickel plated pistol found in the death car of Bonnie and Clyde, a five barrel shotgun (at left) handmade by some inmates who were hoping to escape, and a homemade pistol are examples of items now on special display. We urge you to come see these unique items on loan to the museum by the Simmons family.