A look into where the Office of Sheriff derived, the responsibilities of the Sheriff of Coosa County, and some interesting stories/facts about past Sheriffs.
BY: Bro. Jeff Fuller, Jamie Thornton, Sheriff Terry Wilson
July 2018

 

William Stone
William Stone - First Sworn Sheriff in America

 

Sheriffs of Coosa County
1833 - Present

With the Office of Sheriff on this year’s election ballot, one might ask themselves the following questions: “What is a Sheriff? Where did the Office of Sheriff come from? Who were some of the past Coosa County Sheriffs? With much research, hopefully, these questions and more will be answered for you.

The recorded history of the Sheriff’s Office can find its origins over 1,100 years ago in early England under the reign of King Alfred the Great. He set up a new unit of government to strengthen his kingdom known as the “shire” similar to common days “county”. Each shire was governed by a “reeve” or chief. The word Sheriff is a contraction of the term "shire reeve". The term, from the Old English scīrgerefa, this makes the Sheriff the oldest continuing, non-military, law enforcement entity in history. As British settlers came to the New World, the Office of Sheriff traveled with them. The first Sheriff in America is believed to be Captain William Stone, appointed in 1634 for the Shire of Northampton in the colony of Virginia. The first elected Sheriff was William Waters in 1652 in the same shire (shire was used in many of the colonies before the word county replaced it.)

It was the responsibility of the “shire-reeve” to maintain law and order as there were no police, judges, etc. The Sheriff did it all. The duties of the Sheriff included keeping the peace, collecting taxes, maintaining jails, arresting fugitives, maintaining a list of wanted criminals, and serving orders and writs for the King’s Court. Most of those duties are still the foundation of the Sheriff’s responsibilities in the United States. The duties of the early American Sheriff were similar in many ways to its English forerunner, centering on court related duties such as security and warrants, protection of citizens, maintaining the jail, and collecting taxes. As the nation expanded westward, the Office of Sheriff continued to be a significant part of law enforcement. The elected Sheriff is part of America’s democratic fabric. In 1776 Pennsylvania and New Jersey adopted the Office of Sheriff in their Constitution. The Ohio Constitution called for the election of the county Sheriff in 1802, and then state-by-state, the democratic election of Sheriff became not only a tradition, but in most states a constitutional requirement. In the United States today, of the 3083 Sheriffs, approximately 98 percent are elected by the citizens of their counties or parishes. President Thomas Jefferson wrote in his work titled “The Value of Constitutions” that “the Office of Sheriff is the most important of all executive offices of the country”.

The early American Sheriff was important to the security of the people and was granted much power.  Along the early frontier Sheriffs administered punishment, not only conventional as we know it now, but also flogging, banishment, or execution by choking. There were many Sheriffs in the early west and a few did not live up to the standards of the badge they wore. Some Sheriffs were indicted for abuse of power, drunkenness and/or corruption. The vast majority served with courage and distinction.  The history of Coosa County's Sheriffs is full of unique and interesting individuals.

Beautiful rural Coosa County is the heart of Central Alabama, with the crossroads of Alabama State Highway 22 and US Highway 231 meeting in the county seat town of Rockford, Alabama. The county was established on December 18, 1832, from lands included in the Creek Indian Treaty of Cusseta. Boundaries for the new county were formed from parts of Montgomery and Shelby counties. Named for the Coosa River, which forms its western boundary, the word “Coosa” is believed to mean “cane-brake” in the Alabama-Kossati Indian dialect. It gained a small snippet from Montgomery County in 1837 and lost a portion to the south upon the creation of Elmore County in 1866. Bordered by Shelby, Talladega, Clay, Tallapoosa, Elmore, and Chilton Counties it currently comprises 675 square miles. A site on Albert Crumpler’s plantation on Hatchemalega Creek was chosen as the county seat and given the name Lexington, but in 1835 this location was shifted to Rockford due to road traffic. In 1834, on the first Monday in February, it was required the newly formed county would have an election for a Sheriff, clerk of circuit court, clerk of the county court, an assessor, a tax collector, and four commissioners of roads and revenue for the county. With this election, the first Sheriff of Coosa County was A.R. Coker. It was also reported that, “In February of 1835, it was ordered for the Sheriff to receive $50 for his services for the previous year’s service.”

The books, History of Coosa County Alabama and The Heritage of Coosa County, Alabama both provides information regarding the Sheriffs of Coosa County. While consulting the above-mentioned books, we have gathered several stories/facts regarding some of the Sheriffs. While this is not a complete history, it is a snapshot of history.

  • “A.R. Coker was the first Sheriff of the county and held the office from April 15, 1833, to February 22, 1837. He was…with the first settlers in the county, and was called upon for public service in different ways during his life, because of the esteem in which he was held, and his capacity for business.”
  • Coosa County’s second Sheriff was elected on February 22, 1837.  Sheriff James E.M. Logan was elected in the cycle of 1837. He served two years, dying in 1839. Sheriff Alexander Smith was appointed to the vacancy, serving until 1840.
  • The election cycle of 1840 saw the election of William J. Campbell as Sheriff of Coosa County on February 27, 1840. Two years later, Sheriff Campbell passed away in Rockford, on March 27, 1842. He was buried in Wetumpka with military honors by the “Borderers” of which he was captain in the Florida War. After only two years of serving as Sheriff, he had made the reputation of being the best Sheriff in the state.
  • In 1842, on April 10th, Alexander Smith was appointed a second time to finish a term out for a Sheriff, until an election in August, at which James R. Powell was elected.
  • At the 1845 election cycle, James H. Weaver was elected Sheriff, but resigned December 2, 1847, serving two years of his four year term. A.G. Hallmark was appointed to the vacancy in December shortly after Weaver’s resignation. He was reportedly a man of good education, fine address, and well respected. He kept the hotel for some time. He moved to Wetumpka in 1854, and after some years to Pensacola.
  • William A. Wilson lived in the county at its organization, was a farmer from Weogufka and had a large family with 12 children, and from the first had much to do with its public affairs in opening roads, acting as commissioner and in other ways. He bought and opened several good farms in the county. As he would get them in good condition, he would see at a good price, and open another. He accumulated a good [amount] of property. He was a delegate from the county to the Constitutional Convention in 1865, his last public service.”
  • In 1857, Thomas T. Wall ran against David Griffin. Griffin was a prominent citizen of the Weogufka area of Coosa County who ran a successful race against Wall, ending in a tie vote. The incumbent Sheriff Wilson cast the deciding vote for Wall. This would be his second time running and being elected.
  • Ellis Logan, son of Henry Logan, who was among the very early settlers in Coosa County in the Traveler’s Rest Beat. Ellis went to serve as a Captain to the Confederate War in the 13th Alabama Regiment. And he served as a Deputy prior to being elected as Sheriff in 1860.
  • Ester Eldridge “Dred” Allen was reportedly a man of prominence for many years. While Sheriff Allen was a remarkable man, he was federally removed from office. He could neither read nor write, yet he was for years a constable, Deputy Sheriff, and finally Sheriff. His papers were always properly executed and were safely managed as though he could both read and write. He was shrewd, a good judge of human nature, and fearless in the performance of duty. He was strictly honest, and people were not afraid to trust their affairs to his hands. He would gamble, and was usually one of the Court constables at the spring and fall terms, as it gave him a good chance to indulge his propensity for gaming. He had large influence locally in elections, and brought to the support of his favorite candidates a good vote. He was unique in his make-up, and was usually astride a good horse, well caparisoned, and has a good roll of money in his pocket.” There were no reasons noted for this removal nor for why William C. Lackey was federally appointed as his successor.
  • Robert H. Gulledge was raised in Traveler's Rest and joined his six brothers in fighting for the Virginia Army for the Confederacy where he obtained the rank of Captain. He returned to Coosa and was elected Sheriff in 1871 and once he was elected he moved to Rockford for his term. He then was elected to the House to serve and moved to the Tuck place in the Nixburg area.
  • In 1885, H.R. Robbins was a representative in the Legislature. As a Democrat Robbins won the election of Sheriff over an independent candidate. Later, when the party was divided he would be nominated at a mass meeting and elected by a large majority of votes. He was a good farmer in the neighborhood of Socapatoy, where his father, Daniel Robbins settled after leaving Nixburg.
  • Joseph D. Hull is the Sheriff who served from 1889 - 1893, the family had lived in Coosa County for several generations and was from Traveler’s Rest.
  • Sheriff William Goggans may be remembered not for what a good job he did as Sheriff, but perhaps because of one of the duties he had to perform. During his term he had the duty of handing the only man ever legally hanged in Coosa County. Charlie White, who was convicted of murdering Dock Maxwell, was executed in front of a crowd of community members who traveled by horseback, buggy and wagon. Mr. White asked the crowd in a speech from his cell window that “Women and whiskey put him where he was and that he did not want anyone to blame Mr. Goggans as he was doing his duty as an officer.” He appealed to the crowd to avoid sin and meet him in heaven.
  • Did you know that Lawrence Estes began his career in the Kellyton community as a handler and trainer because of his excellent skills as a “coon” dog hunter and fisherman? He stayed with the Ann Jordan Game Preserve for 13 years before moving to Keyno and working at Russell Mills. Upon urging of friends and family Estes ran for Sheriff in Coosa County in the 1955 election but was defeated by Pierce Saxon. In 1959 Estes ran again and proved to be more successful by beating out 6 other candidates. After winning his second term he moved to Rockford to be near the Sheriff’s Office in the courthouse and near the county jail. After his defeat for a fourth term, Estes retired in 1971.
  • While George “Jasper” Fielding began working on the family farm just south of Rockford near Sipsey Falls. He worked in the Russell Mills, taught school, was in the Air Force, but in 1966 he moved to Rockford. In 1970 he ran for Sheriff and took office in 1971. In 1973, he was selected as Peace Officer of the Year for Congressional District Three and in 1974 was selected Peace Officer of the Year for the State of Alabama by the American Legion of Alabama. During his term as Sheriff, he modernized the Office by having marked cars, uniformed deputies and installed the first radio system in the county. He also hired the first minority deputy in 1973 as well as, the first female deputy-clerk. He was elected Probate Judge in 1976 where he served at least 4 terms.
  • Veston Peters completed the remaining two years of Jasper Fielding's term after he was elected Probate Judge. The following election cycle between Veston Peters and William Evans was a highly contested election. When the votes were counted, it was an extremely close race and was contested. This election was finally determined by the court system in Montgomery, Alabama showing William Evans as the new Sheriff.
  • Are you aware that William A. Evans, served as Sheriff for 28 years, the longest serving Sheriff in Coosa County history? His law enforcement career began with the Sylacauga Police Department for 14 years and was a motorcycle “cop”, Lieutenant, and an Investigator. He then came to Coosa County in January of 1971 as Chief Deputy under Sheriff Jasper Fielding. He was then elected as Sheriff on March 19, 1978 and went on to serve six terms as Sheriff. He served a total of 44 years of service.
  • Ricky L. Owens was the first elected minority Sheriff of Coosa County who resided in the Cottage Grove Area and served from 2003 to 2007.
  • Like several Sheriffs before him, Terry L. Wilson served in the armed forces in the United States Air Force and retired with 22 years of service. After retiring, he came home and began his career in law enforcement. He worked as a deputy and was the first D.A.R.E. Officer. He was elected Sheriff in 2007 as the first Republican elected to office in Coosa County. On his watch, he implemented and managed the new countywide E-911 dispatching system. In 2017, he worked with the E911 Board to update the communication system to digital which has enhanced communication for deputies and dispatchers. He also worked with the County Commission in providing much needed training space for his deputies and developed a Firing Range. During his three term tenure, he focused on “cold-cases” and solved three of them allowing family and friends closure.

The Sheriff is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the County. It is a big obligation that comes with a lot of responsibility. The Sheriff manages a seventy-two (72) bed Jail, the E911 dispatch center, and ensures the safety of approximately 10,500 citizens living over 675 square miles, most of which is rural, with just a staff of twenty-eight (28) personnel. The Sheriff is also responsible for providing courtroom security and prisoner transportation, serving warrants, and permitting approved individuals with gun permits, as well as other duties. With the decrease in revenue for the county, it is a huge challenge to the Sheriff to accomplish his duties; however, the Sheriff must find a way to get it done!

Characteristics that distinguish the Office of Sheriff apart from other law enforcement agencies is its direct accountability to citizens through the election of the Sheriff. The Office of Sheriff is not a department of county government, it is the independent office through which the Sheriff exercises the powers of the public trust. No individual or small group hires or fires the Sheriff, or has the authority to interfere with the operations of the office. Elected Sheriffs are accountable directly to the constitution of their state, the United States Constitution, statutes, and the citizens of their county. The Sheriff should naturally do his best to work with all entities because it is important in a democratic society. The Sheriff must work with all segments of government to serve and protect the citizens of the county.  

Because of this important characteristic, it is important for the citizens of Coosa County to get to know the individuals who are running for the Office of Sheriff for Coosa County and to vote. The preservation of the Office of Sheriff is vital in our republic.  Outside of a few elected town marshals, the Sheriff is the only head of a law enforcement agency in this nation that is accountable directly to the people of his /her jurisdiction. A Sheriff should personify the following principals:

  • Remember those Sheriffs who have served in our counties and across the nation. Build on their success – learn from their mistakes.
  • Serve with integrity.
  • Do not abdicate Sheriff’s responsibilities, duties, or management rights to other governmental entities, unions, or political influence.  The Sheriff, alone, stands directly accountable to citizens for the quality of service of the Sheriff’s Office.
  • Know and fulfill the Sheriff’s moral and statutory responsibilities.

The Sheriff and all those in law enforcement should never forget that he or she has a calling to be “a minister of God for good.” Romans 13:4. For those who have the privilege of serving as a County Sheriff, it is truly a privilege and Honor to Serve.

  1. A. R. Coker
    1833 – 1837
  2. James E. M. Logan
    1837 – 1839
  3. Alexander Smith
    1839 – 1840 
  4. William J. Campbell
    1840 – 1842
  5. Alexander Smith
    1842 – 1842
  6. James R. Powell
    1842 – 1845
  7. James H. Weaver
    1845 – 1847
  8. G. Hallmark
    1847 – 1848
  9. Thomas T. Wall
    1848 – 1851
  10. Stephen A. Pearce
    1851 – 1854
  11. William A. Wilson
    1854 – 1857
  12. Thomas T. Wall
    1857 – 1860
  13. Ellis Logan
    1860 – 1863
  14. Jesse M. Wilson
    1863 – 1866
  15. Ester Eldridge “Dred” Allen
    1866 – 1868
  16. William C. Lackey
    1868 – 1871 
  17. Robert H. Gulledge
    1871 – 1874
  18. Joseph Pond
    1874 – 1877
  19. T. J. Thompson
    1877 – 1881
  20. H. R. Robbins
    1881 – 1885
  21. Samuel R. Calfee
    1885 – 1889
  22. Joseph D. Hull
    1889 – 1893
  23. J. T. Cason
    1893 – 1897
  24. William R. Walker
    1897 – 1901
  25. T. J. Tippett
    1901 – 1907
  26. William R. Walker
    1907 – 1911
  27. William M. Goggans
    1911 – 1915
  28. John R. Hardy
    1915 – 1919
  29. George B. McDonald
    1919 – 1923
  30. Walter B. Prater
    1923 – 1927
  31. R. O. Snider
    1927 – 1931
  32. Rosco O. Neighbors
    1931 – 1935
  33. Mack C. Waites
    1935 – 1937
  34. L.D. Crew
    1937 – 1939
  35. J. O. Matthews
    1939 – 1947
  36. John A. McEwen
    1947 – 1951
  37. Lyman C. Hanna
    1951 – 1955
  38. Pierce Saxon
    1955 – 1959
  39. Lawrence Estes
    1959 – 1971
  40. Jasper Fielding
    1971 – 1977
  41. Veston Peters
    1977 – 1979
  42. William A. Evans
    1979 – 2003
  43. Ricky L. Owens
    2003 – 2007
  44. Terry L. Wilson
    2007—Present 

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