History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.



Santa Rosa County is bounded on the north by the state of Alabama and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1912 Santa Rosa County has been bounded on the east by Okaloosa County, which was at that time created out of the western part of Walton County and the eastern part of Santa Rosa County.

The sheriff of a Florida county is the principal executive officer of the county and represents at the county level the executive branch of state government. The sheriff in Florida counties has been, and remains, a sort of a dual person --a direct representative of the governor of the state within the county, as well as an elected executive of the county.

The sheriff was once, until 1885, a much more powerful officer than since that time. He was until that time, in addition to his other responsibilities, the county superintendent of schools. He was collector of certain taxes, fees, and assessments; he was too a strictly "fee" official.

When the county was created (three years before statehood of Florida), travel was somewhat difficult; it was a little further back than "horse and buggy days." Most of the travel was on foot, on horseback, and/or by boat.

If it became necessary for the sheriff to travel to Calhoun (now Dixonville), the round trip would take two days. Perhaps, if it was necessary to travel to Town Point (now Gulf Breeze), the round trip might even take longer. If by land there were two major streams to cross, Blackwater and Yellow River. If the trip was made by water, the wind might be contrary. It is no wonder that the "travel" part of the sheriff's job was a difficult one.

The "interim" or territorial sheriff of Santa Rosa County was Jesse Carter Allen (1842-1845). When he assumed the duties of sheriff, the county seat was at Floridatown, but an outbreak of "Yellow jack" in 1844 caused the removal of the county seat to (what was at least thought to be) a healthier location -to a small trading village on the west bank of Blackwater (Okaloosa) River.

It was not, could not have been, known then, as now that "Yellow Jack" was transmitted by mosquitoes. It was presumed that "Yellow Jack" was present in the warm "vapors" of coastal swamps to be dissipated by a cooling frost. (It never occurred to anyone that the frost stopped the activities of the mosquitoes that carried the dreaded disease rather than otherwise as was thought). Believing they were getting away from the Yellow Jack breeding nuisance of the coastal swamps, people often left the coastal towns and cities for residence in the interior. They were ignorant of the fact that they were only getting away from the coastal swamp breeding areas of the Aedes Aegypti, formerly the "Yellow Jack" carrier.

Some of the more or less thrilling incidents in the life of our frontier lawmen of Santa Rosa as well as other frontier communities was the "enforcement of quarantine" against "Yellow Jack" and other such contagions. My father told me of "running quarantine" with a herd of horses unloaded at Montgomery, Alabama, (Abraham Bros.) sales pens --horses bought for a Milton stable during one of the last great outbreaks of "Yellow Jack." The horses had been bought and paid for, and the overland drive was to begin the next day. During the afternoon a quarantine was clamped on the city. To remain there, to feed and care for those 100 head of horses for three weeks or more was simply out of the question. So, it was decided to "run the quarantine." The horses were paired and (hackmore) haltered, the "point" riders put a "lead rope" on the lead pair, the livestock dealer furnished four "flankers," and the other two members of the crew furnished the "hazing" from the rear: --a lot of noise, some shooting, and a lot more yelling and the horses were on their way --not trotting, not "loping" but really running at capacity. The quarantine guards did a lot of shouting and some "high" shooting, but the horses were through the quarantine and were eventually in the dealers' pens and stables in Milton.

Did the sheriff "look the other way" as perhaps the men and horses found their way into Milton? Maybe not, for it is altogether likely that they were brought in at night, but it was one of the things with which the frontier sheriffs of Santa Rosa County had to contend.

There were also in those early days a "curfew" law not for teen-age boys and girls such as we have now but for the negro slaves who were required by law to be "in by a certain hour." This, too, was a duty of the sheriff.

Following Jesse Carter Allen, the territorial sheriff (1842-45), Santa Rosa County has had these gentlemen as sheriffs: William W. Harrison (1845-49), was elected as a Republican in a year when Democrats swept the whole nation, and his namesake was elected chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, James R. Mims (1849-51) who died in office was succeeded on February 3, 1851 by Isiah Cobb, Jr., who continued in that office until 1855. James C. McArthur, who served a sort of interim term and was succeeded by lsiah Cobb, Sr. who served another partial term as a sheriff of Florida until the Confederate States of America took over the National Government.

The beginning of government under the Confederate States of America (1861-63) saw James M. Amos in service as sheriff.

However, Amos did not offer himself for re-election, pleading a press of his own affairs, and John L. McLellan (for whose family the old McLellan Post Office and present community by the same name was named) was elected to serve, 1863-65. These were very troublous years for the sheriff of Santa Rosa County but the most troublous ones were to follow the reconstruction period.

A. B. Dickson served in this most important office (1865-1867) and was the last duly elected sheriff of Santa Rosa County until after the compromise that declared Rutherford B. Hayes the elected President of the United States. Hayes was not the "choice of the people" but was declared elected after Florida's (and some other Southern States') vote was thrown out with the stipulation that "martial law" would be withdrawn.

During the years 1867-1874 Santa Rosa County, as well as, all Florida, was under martial law and the military was the government. These were "riotuous" years.

The year 1874 saw John W. Butler elected to sheriff's office to serve until 1878. Much was done to restore some semblance of order and some of the dignity of the sheriff's office as the chief elected executive officer of the people of the county.

A. C. Benbow was next elected as sheriff of Santa Rosa County for the years 1877-81. He was the first sheriff to have an office in the new brick courthouse, located on "Courthouse Square."

This courthouse, dedicated in 1877, was located on the northeast corner of the present courthouse square.

Benbow was succeeded to this important office by Wm. J. Johnson, who was the first to set a precedent of twelve years in office; he served from 1881-1893. A great deal of the most colorful progress of this county began during this period. The "big" lumber companies were becoming powerful, their employees were getting numerous, and their far-reaching properties -sawmills, lumber camps and turpentine camps -were a problem for patrol work.

Another troublesome feature of the economy of the region was to dog some of the next successors to this important office. A concerted attempt was made (and was in measure successful) to organize these people working in Santa Rosa County industries into an organized labor group called the Knights of Labor. There were many clashes; not a few resulted in some fatalities. Beating, mugging, robbing, shooting became sort of commonplace. Many of these disturbances no doubt were simply "charged" to the Knights of Labor movement. It looked once, because of the interference with mails, train and telegraph service that the federal troops might be called on to re-enforce the local law-enforcement agencies.

The year 1893 saw the election of John H. Collins as sheriff to serve his first term (1893-1897). He was the man to cope with such problems: a frontier sheriff type, true to the description.

Mr. Collins was succeeded in office by Mr. David Mitchell, another who proved fully capable as a frontier peace officer and who served from 1897-1909 making another among the several "12 year" sheriffs of Santa Rosa County.

David Mitchell, sheriff from 1897-1909.

The "12 year" custom or tradition was broken first by Mr. Collins who was again elected in 1909 to serve another term (1909-1913).

The year 1913 saw the whole world in a rather troubled state. There was unrest and war in the Balkans of Europe, in other parts of Europe, Asia, ad Africa as well as in Mexico and some other Latin American Countries. This unrest was to be noted in Florida, in Santa Rosa County, as well as elsewhere.

The troublous period again found the man for the job, Sheriff-Captain John H. Harvell of steamboat fame in coastal and interior waters of this county. Captain Harvell served two terms as sheriff during the "hectic" period of World War I (1913-1921). His service during that time was very creditable. However, during his tenure of office a "New Law," the Prohibition Law and the Volstead Act, (its statutory enforcement act), was enacted which has ever since that time been a plague to the law officers of this county. Each sheriff since 1918 has had one form or another of prohibition laws to cope with and those laws have created many of the problems of the office of sheriff since that time. Entirely too often a sheriff has been judged by his supporters on his effectiveness (or lack of such) in enforcing that system of laws which the average citizenry themselves neither obey nor respect.

Captain Harvell "did not choose to run" for the term of office in 1921. Mr. Collins again ran but was defeated by Henry Clay Mitchell, Captain Harvell's chief deputy, who served in the capacity of sheriff during the years 1921-1933. Some of these years were difficult ones too, for the country was entering a major depression during the last four of Mr. Mitchell's twelve years in office. Mr. Mitchell was defeated for re-election and moved to our neighboring Escambia County and gave several years service there as Chief Investigating Officer in that sheriff's office. He has now retired in that county but still lives there.

The years (1933-45) saw the office of sheriff of Santa Rosa County administered, very ably so too, by Mr. Joseph T. Allen. He was a "1 2" year man also. Mr. Allen too was of an old Santa Rosa County family. One would sometimes get the idea that the office of sheriff was a "family affair" since the county has had two sheriffs named Mitchell, and likewise two named Allen. Mr. Allen had the office of sheriff also during a difficult time, the prewar and war years of World War II. These years saw much activity in the county, saw many new people coming, saw the inception, building, and occupation of Whiting Field, a large, and the first, military establishment of the county.

Mr. Allen was succeeded in office of sheriff of Santa Rosa County by Mr. Marshall Hayes, who likewise was a member of an old and respected county family. Mr. Hayes had made a mark for himself, however, in the field of business before offering himself for election as sheriff of Santa Rosa County. He had by his own initiative risen to the vice-presidency of an Aluminum Cookware Company (Cookware Company of America). Mr. Hayes, too, was a "12 year" sheriff.

Mr. Hayes was succeeded in the office of sheriff of Santa Rosa County by Rev. Bart D. Broxson. Rev. Broxson, likewise, a member of an old and numerous family of Santa Rosa County and was a very well-liked man. He held this office during one of the fastest developing times of this county's history. It was so unfortunate that Sheriff Broxson was killed in an automobile accident at Christmas of 1959. Mr. Broxson was succeeded in office by his son John R. Broxson.

The election of 1960, a rather warmly contested one, saw the election of another "repeat name" for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's office, Mr. Wade H. Cobb. Mr. Cobb had had as much experience as any enforcement officer. He came to the office again at a time of great expansion within the county. His position was not an easy one. He, too, needed more and more the cooperation of the good, law-abiding citizens of this county.

Mr. Cobb was the first sheriff of Santa Rosa County to occupy the sheriff's suite in the new courthouse.

Mr. Mitchell likewise moved into a new courthouse.

This courthouse was built during the term of Henry Clay Mitchell (1921-1933). It was remodeled, with more space added, during the term of Wade H. Cobb (1960-1968).

Mr. Benbow (1877) moved into the first courthouse on the present site.

Mr. Jesse Carter Allen was the first to occupy a sheriff's office in Milton.

The first regularly established courthouse in Milton was on the present site of Berryhill School, and the first sheriff's residence in Milton was in the wooden building on the lot of Canal Street School.

(Note: The present sheriff, Mr. Leon Hinote, succeeded Mr. Cobb in 1968.)



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