Ben’s remark about Requiem for a Nun drove home for me how strong the similarities are between the description of the frontier jail in Jefferson is to the jail B. Traven describes in the first of his Jungle Novels, Government.
You may be somewhat familiar with Traven from his novel Treasure of the Sierra Madre (or perhaps the John Huston movie staring Humphrey Bogart). That novel is one of a large body of work. In the thirties, Traven wrote a series of novels about the Mexican Revolution, the Jungle novels. Here’s his account, from the first of the Jungle novels, Government, of the construction of a jail in a Indian community in the years just before the Mexican Revolution:
The door of the prison was made of roughly hewn planks, which were fitted together without nails. The grating consisted of heavy pieces of wood, cut out at the intersections so they fit into one another. Each opening was wide enough for a prisoner to put his head through if he wanted to.
The door had no lock. There was an iron staple on the door-post, so emaciated by rust that it seemed to have galloping consumption. If anyone had put a stick through this staple and given it a twist, it would have yield up the ghost with a faint crack and been of no further use in this world or the next.
There was a chain looped around the bar of the grating nearest the doorpost. It suffered from the same tubercular complaint as the staple. Its links were so eaten away with rust that any of them could have been crusthed between the finger and thumb.
A padlock was passed through the last link of the chain and the staple. The lock did not work, for its mechanism was rusted and immovable, but that did not enter into the question, for don Gabriel had no key. When he shut a prisoner in he merely lowered the hoop of the padlock as far as it would go. Since the works of the lock had long since fallen out of the race, there was no click to show that it had gone home. When don Gabriel released a prisoner he simply raised the hoop of the padlock.
This really brought to mind the account of the settlement of Jefferson and the Square in William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun, where notorious bandits are caught and placed in the.. Continue reading Literary frontier jails– B. Traven and William Faulkner