Friends of the Llano Red Top Jail

History of the Red Top Jail

The jail has virtually not been altered since it was built in 1895. It was used as a jail until 1982. Graffiti dating back to 1918 has been found. The jail cell keys and hammocks slept on by prisoners have also recently been discovered. Come experience the raw feeling of being locked up in the 1890’s! The Llano Red Top Jail is actually the 4th jail in Llano. When the City of Llano became incorporated in 1892, one of the first orders of business was to condemn the county jail, which was built on the courthouse square and reeked of sewage. In 1895, the County Commissioners’ Court approved the J. Pauly Co. bid of $11,500 to build the new jail. Metal bars were shipped from the Pauly plant in St. Louis, Mo. to the Llano railyard depot. These prefab parts were transported by mule from the depot across the Llano River. The parts were assembled on site into jail cells, metal doors, etc. Granite for the exterior of the jail was quarried locally. The entire jail was built in 8 months.

The 1890s saw an increase in population from a few thousand to 10,000, due to the “promise” of iron ore in the hills around Llano. In addition, the discovery of virtually every mineral in Llano County in the early 1900s brought other prospectors. The intriguing possibility of getting rich from ore brought many denizens wishing to profit quickly. Llano saw a bevy of ore speculators, from the hapless to the learned. The Badu House has the largest polished granite surfaces of a unique Llanite rock, found only in this area, prospected by Dr. Badu.


The Red Top Jail was used as the county lock-up until 1982. Conditions were extremely harsh, especially for women. A thin curtain separated women inmates from the men, all on the same floor. The sheriff and his deputies were embarrassed to bring prisoners, especially women to this facility.

Nevertheless, the last jailor of the Llano Red Top was a woman, Betty Graham. Her reputation was “do not mess with Betty”. A prisoner who had “stayed at the Red Top” once before was brought there a second time. After dozing in the back of the patrol car, he suddenly became agitated and begged not to go back. On his first stay at the Red Top, he tried to escape by pocketing a supper spoon and used it to pick a cell lock. Betty met him on the stairs and beat him up with a pool cue!

Repairs to jail in 1978

Red Top Jail Repair 1978

This photo was in the January 4th 1979 issue of The Llano News

Kim Webb 325.247.5354

Rich Houston 512.695.2014

Llano...The way Texas used to be

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