About the Museum
The Texas Prison Museum offers an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the state's least-loved citizens. The museum features numerous exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system, both from the point of view of the inmates as well as the men and women who worked within the prison 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. Since moving to the new museum building in 2002 the number of visitors has risen each year.
The Texas Prison Museum, in existence since 1989, is a non-profit charitable corporation, overseen by a board of trustees. Staffing consists of one full-time employee, part-time personnel, and several dedicated volunteers. The museum depends on your support. You can help by becoming a patron.
Jim Willett is the director of the Prison Museum. Jim spent 30 years with the prison system and retired as the warden of the historic Huntsville “Walls” Unit. Riley Tilley is the gift shop supervisor and retired with 26 years prison system experience. Sandy Rogers is our registrar and retired with 20 years with the prison system’s school district. Jerry had 23 years with the prison system and Carolyn worked seven years there. Vernette is retired from the prison system after 25 years of service. Kathryn, Elizabeth, Terry, Rita, Lara and Ashely have become quite familiar with the history of the Texas prison system.
The Board of Directors
The Texas Prison Museum Board oversees the operations of the museum. The Board members are:
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. As usual, the administration of the prison system was not providing good leadership. 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.
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.