had already recommended Mr. Sitton's Texas High Sheriffs
to our readers, although it has long been out-of-print. It sold
out in its first year and only a buyout of the publisher prevented
its second printing. We were happy to learn of this book, Mr. Sitton's
Eleventh. Opening our copy, however, we were a little disappointed
to find that there are only 213 pages. Relax and buy it. Mr. Sitton
is an economic writer who makes every word count.
The book could
be considered to be an anthropological study of rural behavior with
the sheriff playing the role of "firm but fair" tribal leader and/or
community father figure. Indeed, in our telephone interview with
Mr. Sitton, he described himself as a Rural Social Historian. He
also speaks as economically as he writes.
feature chapters on individual personalities, as he did in Texas
High Sheriffs, Sitton uses a cross-section of Sheriffs from across
the state. More than a few are from East Texas, an area Mr. Sitton
knows well. Nothing is invented and the actions both benevolent
and occasionally brutal show our society for what it was - frequently
benevolent and occasionally brutal.
Many of the
facts come straight from the [sheriff's] mouth. Sitton interviewed
many of the subjects in person. Mr. Sitton has said "You didn't
get to be sheriff by being an introvert." While that fact might
not be surprising, many others are. The millionaire sheriff of San
Augustine might surprise you or the fact that many of the sheriffs
inherited obligations and responsibilities not covered in any law
over-tipping the courthouse shoeshine boy and driving an elderly
couple to the annual family reunion were things that needed to get
done. Sometimes the Sheriff was the only one who could or would
make things happen.
served two-year terms, they were continually running for re-election.
Frequently they were at odds with County Commissioners. As Wharton
County's "Buckshot" Lane put it: "It's hard to get along with County
Commissioners when you count the gravel trucks." This friction sometimes
reached the point where Sheriff's salaries were cut, heat was turned
off to county jails and in at least one case, the Sheriff threatened
to put the prisoners up in a hotel if Commissioners didn't fund
needed jail repairs.
This is not
a Cops and Robbers book. The subject is interesting enough without
embellishment or resorting to detailed descriptions of shootouts.
It's a window open on a part of the 19th Century that in some cases
lasted into the 1960s.
The book contains
as many exceptions-to-the-rule as there are stereotypes of lawmen.
Many wore boots, but in some cases they wore wingtips and loud hand-painted
ties. This is an essential book for any Texas library, and can show
other Rural Social Historians how Rural Social History should be
The book is
rife with things you never thought of. The era of change from horseback
to automobile was similar to today's resistance to computer technology.
Sheriff Banister of Coleman rode his horse while his wife drove
behind him to pick up prisoners. In other cases sheriff's sons were
more than happy to drive the county-supplied car for their non-driving
book won't be found in the humor section of your bookstore, there's
plenty to laugh at. The sheriff whose jail was so easy to escape
from that he'd load his prisoners into his patrol car when he'd
go out on calls is a good one. So is the escaped prisoner who was
spotted in Houston. The Houston cops called the East Texas Sheriff
who put them on hold while he went to check on the prisoner that
© John Troesser
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