Transcribed by : Tina Easley





Thos. Norswerther - Wilson Farm - John Bomar - Conditions of County Farm -


Source - July 30 , 1909 - Jonesboro Evening Sun


Craighead Co. - Weak minded Thos. Norswerther while playing in fire burned to death he had been at the Poor Farm for ten years.

Thos. Norswerther an inmate at county poor farm was burned almost to death this morning by his clothes catching on fire while playing around a bon fire that had been built by some other inmates near the horse lot.

Some of the boys who are confined at the poor farm had built a fire near the lot and Norswerther who is about 27 years old , but a weak minded fellow , had gone to the fire and was punching it with a stick when his clothes caught fire , they were extinguished by another inmate , but until he was seriously burned.

Dr. Haltom went out this morning and pronounces his condition serious and does not believe that he can recover. Norswerther has been on the poor farm for more than ten years.


Source - September 11, 1910 - Jonesboro Evening Sun


County Judge Jason L. Light at Paragould is in receipt of a letter from C.A. Cunningham , attorney, representing Lee Wilson of Mississippi County , contractor for the convicts of Greene and other counties stating that on Aug. 8 , Mr. Wilson will turn back to Greene county all convicts now in his employ , Mr.Cunningham states that on account of recent criticisms of the conditions at the county farm , which Mr. Wilson feels to be entirely unjust , he has decided to quit employing convict labor. He further states that Mr. Wilson's interests are so large and varied that he says he doesn't care to have them jeopardized with antagonistic talk and probably endless litigation.

The immediate cause for this action on the part of Mr. Wilson is a recent alleged exposure at Newport of conditions at the convict camp. Under the terms of the contract with Greene county and this county also , either party may cancel the contract by thirty days notice . Judge Light says he has made investigation of the treatment of the prisoners at the Wilson farm and finds the charges of cruelty to be groundless . He says it costs the county 75 cents per day to care for the prisoners, and he believes the county will be the loser by the abrogation of the contract.


Source - January 28, 1913 - Jonesboro Evening Sun


Paragould , Ark. Jan. 27 - County Judge A.D. Jackson closed a contract for the hire of the county prisoners to John Bomar , a large planter in Mississippi County . Two years ago a contract of this character was made with R.E. Lee Wilson of Mississippi county , but on account of continous complaints and lawsuits filed against Wilson for alleged mistreatment of the prisoners , he threw up the contracts . Since then this county prisoners. Bootleggers , blind tiger operators and others convicted of petty offenses have lain out their fines in the jail. Thus becoming a burden to the taxpayers of the county. Judge Jackson has determined that those who violate the law shall be punished more severely than merely being deprived of their liberty and also to rid the taxpayers of the burden of feeding and caring for these characters. Under the terms of the contract with Bomar he is to feed , clothe and care for the convicts and pay 75 cents per day for their services.


Source - May 14, 1913 - Jonesboro Evening Sun


Judge Edwards this morning made an order cancelling the lease with the convict farm in Mississippi county made for the convicts of this county. The order was made after the report made by the county judge of Greene county by the committee appointed by him in investigate the condition at the farm had reported .

The following is a copy of the report made by that committee as published in the Paragould Press yesterday.

Sheriff Al Grooms , T.R. Willcockson , J.W. Spurgeon and K.C. Adams , appointed as an investigating committee by Judge A.D. Jackson to investigate the Bomar convict farm near Wilson , Mississippi county , went to the farm last Saturday returning Monday and that afternoon filed the folowing report with the county clerk:

To the Honorable members of the Greene county prison board and the Honorable members of the Greene county court .

We the undersigned committee appointed by the Greene county prison board to investigate the treatment and care of prisoners entrusted to the care of Jno Bomar , superintendent of the Wilson convict farm , beg leave to report our findings as follows :

We make no attempt to convey to you our individual opinion or claborate this report , contenting ourselves with the relation of the absolute facts.

We arrived at the farm commissary about ten o'clock . Sunday morning , April 27th . Jno. Bomar and several trusty prisoners were seated on the porch of the commissary. After greetings the committee invaded the commissary , which is the home of the farm supplies . There were no clothes or shoes or wearing appearel of any kind in the commissary. The food supplies on hand consisted of a few cans of baking powder , a few packages of soda and a few sacks of salt. This constituted all of the food supplies that could be located by the committee. We were informed that there was absolutely nothing to eat on the place , and that a man by the name of Suffel had gone to town for food supplies.

Next we proceeded to visit the stockade. Upon reaching same Bomar informed us that Suffel had the keys with him and that he could not let us in. We let him known that we were content to wait and proceeded to inspect unoccupied quarters and quarters occupied by women and trusties that were open . Messrs. Grooms, Spurgeon and Adams visited the womens quarters first . We found one bed were torn and filthy and we were warned that the handling of bed clothes would get us lousy. In addition to the mattresses , the bed clothing consisted of two dirty comforts. The bed clothing for the cot consisted of dirty comforts and some old ragged , filthy women't garment .

This room in which these sleeping units are located is 16 by 30 feet with on small window . At present a white woman and one negro woman occupy this room . There are no receptacles for these prisoners to answer nature's call and we found three piles of human droppings on the floor.

We next visited what we were informed were the negro quarters. It is a room sixteen by thirty feet containing nine double bunks , bunks three rows high strung out three in a row. The bunks measured six and a half by four feet.

The room has but three air holes , twelve by twelve . The high water has recently been in the room , and it was so filthy that it was impossible for us to even guess its natural condition . Mr. Wilcockson was seated in an old hateau talking to Bomar at the foot of the stairs when we completed this part of our investigation. We sat down on the steps leading to the main cell in which the prisoners were located and what is known as the parlor or the stockade . Bomar was telling Mr. Willcockson of the early history of that section of the country and of the Wilson family , and of the days when he earned his living as a "highly esteemed bootlegger" of that community.

He stated that he had made lots of money while he was a bootlegger. He would take a barrel of whiskey to a negro picnic and would always clear a hundred dollars. He stated he had a cousin who was a magistrate and he would whack up with him and that the sheriff would fix it for him any time he got caught. He stated that indicted a number of lines , but always managed to pull through all right . We have waited about two hours for the guard to return. Bomar suggested many times that we go over to his house and sit down in chairs , but part of the committee remained on the stockade steps so as to prevent any lightning changes. At last Bomar himselt started to the house . Sheriff Grooms was talking to trusty prisoners on the porch of Bomar's house . Mr. Willcockson left with Bomar. Mr. Spurgeon and Adams remained on the steps of the stockade. Arriving at the house Bomar suddenly discovered the key to the stockade in his pocket , which weighed about a pound and made his way back to the prison . He called a negro guard who is also a convict to bring him the pistol . The guard brought the pistol and all together we entered the stockade with the exception of the negro guard who stood on the outside with the pistol in his hand.

Just inside the door sat two washtubs filled with human droppings , rotton cotton was much in evidence in the tubs it being used for toilet paper. The foul smell was something terrible. There where three white men and fifteen negroes lying about on the floor on dirty filthy and lousy matresses.

they had for cover dirty , filthy comforts and in some cases ducking. They had their clothes open and were busy killing lice. They were the poorest clad set of men we have ever seen in our lives. Their shoes were all in pieces , no socks and a prisoner that were a top shirt had no undershirt and vice versa. The breakfast utensils were in the room. They had eaten breakfast as we are told is the custom over these tubs. The utensils consisted of two one gallon cans the bottoms of which were covered with coffee grounds and one ordinary iron cooking pot the bottom of which was covered with burnt corn meal . There were no cups plates knives or forks or tinware for eating purposes of any kind in evidence. These alone constituted the vessels in which these men had been served their corn meal and coffee breakfast. There was no place to wash and no drinking water provided.

We know of our own personal knowledge that Bomar is permitting convicts to guard the prisoners which is a violation of the law. The place is unsanitary and so unfit for the housing of humanity that one would have to see for himself to appreciate the deplorable condition of the convicts . The stockade could not be made sanitary. It is absolutely impossible . The ventilation is the worst this committee individually or collectively has ever met with. We do not believe that Bomar , a self confessed violator of the law is the proper person to have charge of any prisoner , no matter what crime he is charged with. We are united in our opinion that the the contract with this institution should be abrogated and that the law should be applied in Bomar's case. This spot is so disgraceful that it is impossible for a human being to conceive of its unfitness without a personal visit.

After meeting Bomar and viewing the condition of the men confined in this institution and the manner of conducting same we are of the opinion that anyone with the same evidence would be justified in believing any tale of cruelties or improper treatment that concerns the method in vogue on this farm , no matter how inhuman or unusual the tale apparently seems to be. Sheriff Grooms of the committee was so thoroughly disgusted with the farm and Bomar that he brought the remaining prisoner back to Paragould with him.

Trusting that this report will serve as sufficient evidence for the abrogation of the Greene county contract and that it will be of use and benefit to adjoining counties that use this farm as a penal institution we remain , respectfully.