Convict Hill

Convict Hill Road, Austin

We made our monthly Whole Foods trek to Austin today. One of the pleasures of living in a rural (and I mean r-u-r-a-l) area is the need to travel for some conveniences. Fortunately, we’re about equidistant from Austin and San Antonio, but it is still a good 1.5 hour trip…one way.

It’s always a beautiful drive and LOTS of open space where the deer and the antelope play. We also see a lot of cows (didn’t see the oreo cows today; so named because they’re black on front and hind quarters, white in the middle), goats, and sheep. We usually don’t see the buffalo that graze on the LBJ Ranch property, but today we did see them and there were baby buffalo in the herd! Needless to say, I’ve never seen a baby buffalo before! They are very cute.

Usually my husband is chauffeuring, so I read the signs for creeks and streets. Just as we come into suburban Austin, we pass Convict Hill. There are signs for several churches and it’s the street we take to make our monthly Starbucks run as well. Of course, I’ve been wondering for almost three years, what the story is there! Plus there is the irony of convicts and churches in the same breath. I finally succumbed to my curiosity and did some research.

I thought I was in luck when the first article I found was from the Anomaly Archives of the Scientific Anomaly Institute! For real. Streets of Fear approached the Institute to verify the legend that the 8 convicts who died or were killed while working the quarry in the 19th century and, who were buried there, still haunted the road.

Here’s what local expert James Bankston has to say about it:

Some men died on the site, while others tried to escape and were shot dead. Eventually a legend grew up that these dead prisoners were buried under limestone cairns on what came be known as “Convict Hill.”

In the 1980s when real estate developers got interested in that area, they found they had to confront this question head-on. We’ve all seen enough scary movies to know that bad things happen to people who build on abandoned burial grounds.

Archaeologists, historians, and geologists were all brought out to see if they could literally find out where the bodies were buried. Soil tests and other methods concluded no one had been buried on Convict Hill, but a study of the historic record did offer another explanation to the mystery.

Derricks had been employed to move and haul stone at the quarry. They had been secured by guy wires and heavy timbers. Since the soil was so rocky that the timbers could not be buried in the ground, they had to be stabilized by heavy piles of rocks.

The timbers themselves were called “dead men,” so it’s easy to see how that spooky name, tomb-sized piles of stones, and notoriously cruel working conditions could form in the public mind this legend that convicts had been buried on Convict Hill.

What is even more interesting and timely, given the current political environment and hostility being levied against unions, is Texas’ use of inmate labor in a budget-tight situation and labor strikes that subsequently ensued. There is truly nothing new under the sun!

Oh well. I am surprised I didn’t find an article by the churches capitalizing on the marketing opportunity of their location!

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