Hood County Texas Genealogical Society

 

YESTERYEAR SHERIFFS

by Mary Kate Durham

Hood County News September 11, 2002

 

 

 

When have you visited the law enforcement center - without an escort, that is? Few of us have but we are missing an interesting display of photographs shown there.


In 1978 Henry Robertson was the sheriff of Hood County and the last to use the old jail built in 1885. As the new jail was being built, Sheriff Robertson asked Rash Photo to reproduce a photograph of every person who had served Hood County in the office of sheriff. This was to be his parting gift to the county as his term ended.


It was an interesting idea, but who would provide Mr. Rash with the photos dating from 1866 to be copied? It would require some 30 photographs. A group picture of nine former officers gathered for a reunion in 1920 was available; so that is how the collection began. Soon I receive a call, "Help!" That is when my search began.


I had known many of the men from my early childhood years. Now I set out to find their relatives who might have a picture that we could copy. It took weeks and months and even several years for one. There was a great deal of history brought forth - some good and some not so good.


In 1867 A.J. Wright was elected as the first Hood County sheriff. Immediately he was being removed by the "Carpet Baggers" because he had served in the Confederate army.


They replaced him with J.C. Hightower. I knew both his grandson and great-grandson; so I called Mr. Cato Hightower and asked to borrow a picture of his grandfather. All I received was a very loud "horse laugh."


Mr. J.C. Hightower had been a "Carpet Bagger" and disowned by all of his family. No photo existed and none would ever be available. I continued to ask Cato Jr. after he moved to Granbury. All I have is an empty frame to hang.


In 1873 Mr. Wright was allowed to return to his office and served through 1876. During this period he also built the rock home still standing on Spring Street. At that time it was only two rooms with an open dog run in the center such as a double log cabin would have had.


J.F. Henderson, sheriff in 1898, added the second floor to this home and enclosed the dog run. Today the house if referred to as the "Sheriff's Home." Mr. C.M. Duncan was sheriff in 1936. He also owned this home and updated it further. His grandson continues to own and live in the home today.

Gradually most of the pictures were collected. H.A. McDowell, who was elected in 1882, became a mystery. It was though he had never existed; however I traveled to Austin to prove he was recorded in state records. He is. His frame hangs today without a photo, but I would still like to find one person who might have heard of him.

Sheriff J.G. Swafford became sheriff in 1906. I was not around at that time, but I understand he was well liked. I knew his widow, Nan Swafford, some 30 years later. I did not expect too much difficulty in my quest here. I was mistaken and was sternly advised to NEVER disturb members of this family! I did not.


Several years later I learned "the rest of the story" when I was given a copy of "The Graphic-Democrat" published in Granbury on March 16, 1909. Here on the front page was a photograph of Sheriff Swafford along with a suicide note he left when he shot a lady friend and himself in a Fort Worth apartment. Continued on page two was the entire sermon preached at his funeral. I was much wiser and I did fill in one blank picture frame on the wall.

During the Depression years most sheriffs moved their families to the first floor of the jail building. In this manner he and his wife would become the jailer and also cook meals for the prisoners. This meant some additional income as well as a place to live.

I was always pleased if my mother would sometimes visit there and I could explore carefully. The last sheriff to live in the jail was O.C. Baker during his term that ended in 1972. Mrs. Baker said she cooked as though the inmates were her guests. They all ate the same diet; she just cooked extra for her "company" living upstairs.

In 1949 Mr. E.P. Crook was elected to the office. It was very interesting one morning when the citizens opened their "Fort Worth Star-Telegrams." In "Ripley's Believe It or Not" was an item stating that Hood County, Texas was the only known county to have elected a crook for their sheriff. Since we kept him for two terms, I think we approved of our "crook."

Following Mr. Crook in 1944 O.L. Campbell filled the office and moved his family into the jail. Unfortunately he died before his term ended in 1948. The county officials agreed to allow Mrs. Campbell to finish the year; so when we speak of Hood County sheriffs, remember that a lady is to be included. As I collected these photos, I did learn that her children regretted that Mrs. Campbell was not allowed to fill the second term that was awaiting her husband.

Space limits repeating many other stories I gathered along with the pictures. Some are better if not repeated. Humans are not all perfect and neither are elected officials.

At the current law enforcement center the men elected since 1978 have continued to add their photographs to the gallery; so it can now be kept current. Only two empty frames remain where I failed.

At the Hood County Museum in the old jail we have photocopies of all the men and the lady using this building and the log cabin jail before 1865. All of these many years the sheriff's office was combined with the tax assessor-collector in the courthouse until 1972. The two jobs were separated as Henry Robertson took office.


Our county had begun its population and criminal explosion by this date. Sheriff Robertson moved his office as well as EVERY other law enforcement office to the old jail's first floor. He was also cooking meals in the old kitchen and had added a radio department with a dispatcher in one room, too. Overcrowded, both upstairs and down, was an understatement!

Hood County had to have a better jail facility as soon as possible!

 

SEE PHOTOGRAPHS OF HOOD COUNTY SHERIFFS

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2003 HOOD COUNTY TEXAS GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY