The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990 Page: 409
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V. O. Key, in his pioneering study, Southern Politics in State and Nation
(1949), was one of the first scholars to comment on the enormous
power of southern sheriffs. Now Thad Sitton, an oral historian and
free-lance writer, has edited into book format interviews with eleven
Texas rural sheriffs.
Sitton arranged the oral testimony to allow each interviewee "to tell
his own story in his own words without interruption." In short, none of
the words of the sheriffs were altered or changed, so the ultimate result
is a collection of primary source documents on the careers of Texas
As the individual stories in Texas High Sheriffs make clear, the careers
of the Texas sheriffs-at least the ones interviewed by Sitton-are as
colorful and exciting as the exploits of the legendary Texas Rangers.
Like Walter Prescott Webb's The Texas Rangers, the reader is in danger
of being seduced by the exciting accounts of these courageous and wily
law enforcement officers.
In the introduction to the book, Sitton skillfully and artfully aids the
process of seduction by highlighting the many benevolent roles that the
sheriff played in county law enforcement and politics. The official du-
ties of the old-time sheriff included chief law enforcement officer in the
county, formal administrator of the county courthouse and county jail,
and executive officer for the county and state district courts-all car-
ried out with limited resources and limited training. Furthermore, the
old-time sheriff's unofficial duties were even more numerous: finding
lost children, delivering death notices, locating stray pets, counseling
quarrelling spouses, giving business and legal advice, and much more.
In short, Sitton reminds us that the old-time sheriff was called upon for
many different things.
These personal accounts show that Texas sheriffs had an almost sixth
sense about solving crimes and using psychology and sometimes less-
subtle means to elicit confessions from malefactors. Of course, much of
that has changed with the new rules of arrest and interrogation of pris-
oners, federal court activism in interpretation of the due process clause
of the Fourteenth amendment, new rules of evidence, and oversight ac-
tivities of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
It should be noted that many of the same charges that have been lev-
eled against Webb's Texas Rangers are relevant to Sitton's Texas sher-
iffs: that is, many of these law enforcement officials suppressed the
rights of minorities; acted as judge, jury, and executor; and exceeded
their legal authority in the execution of their duties.
Whatever interpretation historians and the general public may ulti-
mately place on the role of sheriffs in law enforcement, politics, and
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 93, July 1989 - April, 1990, periodical, 1990; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101213/m1/465/: accessed October 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.