Historic jail door on display at Panhandle Plains Historical Museum

We're finishing up our special series on the newly constructed Pioneer Town at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum with a look at the sheriff's office.

In particular when you go to visit, you'll see a cell door that's got a history that goes back more than a hundred years.

While the old west in story and film was an adventure, truth is, life was hard and often times the outlaws went back and forth on either side of a badge. Gunslinger or law abiding citizen, pioneers were tough as nails, according to J. Paul McFadden, Adjunct Curator of Firearms at the museum.

"Charles Goodnight was a tough as a two bit steak and had to be."

Outlaws were often arrested and thrown in jail. And whether it was called the hoosegow, pokey, lock-up, stockade, slammer or hole, at that time, jail was anything but hospitable. At the pioneer town, they've tried to re-create it, but admit they didn't want it too factual.

"We tried to create it as best we could of the way it really was," adds McFadden. "Of course, its hard to really make it as rank and nasty as it really was, because folks would be totally repulsed by it. But this is as close as we could get it."

Over in Vega, there's an historical marker noting the lawlessness of the old west, and how the county jail now there... was originally at Old Tascosa, where Boys Ranch now stands. That's where the cell door at the museum came from.

"The old Tascosa jail from the 1870's...and it wasn't very nice."

At Old Tascosa, the jail was in the back of the county courthouse which is now a museum. It is believed that people such as Billy the Kid, the Earps, and Doc Holliday all traveled through that area and probably visited those cells on either side of the law.

"Billy the kid made it through there, Doc Holliday was known to go through there. Had quite a few criminals and for everyone you heard of, there were a thousand you didn't," says McFadden.

While researching the jail, we found a unique display in a back room. A supporter of Boys Ranch donated a number of items, including old playing cards, dice and poker chips from the area, when they were mistakenly sent out for auction. Boys Ranch officials found them, and bought them and included in one display, the key that fits the cell door from the old Tascosa jail cell, possibly the one at the museum.

"Gives you a feeling of what it was really like."

A tough as iron reminder of what it was like back in those good ole days.