In the Clint Eastwood movie Hang ’em High, a “tumbleweed wagon” picks up prisoners to haul them off to jail. Did such wagons actually exist?
Yep, a tumbleweed wagon was a jail on wheels used to transport prisoners to the calaboose. A man with roving proclivities was also called a “tumbleweed,” and that might have something to do with the naming of the vehicle.
Before Hang ’em High, Eastwood starred in the TV series Rawhide. In a 1959 episode, “Incident of Tumbleweed Wagon,” the cowhands encounter a jail on wheels. That same year, Bat Masterson (starring Gene Barry) aired an episode called “The Tumbleweed Wagon.”
Elmer Kelton, the great author of Western novels, wrote Hanging Judge about Judge Isaac Parker. In the 2002 book, he wrote: “The tumbleweed wagon always attracted a crowd as it rumbled through the streets of Fort Smith on its way up to the federal courthouse.”