History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County
by M. Luther King. Used with permission.
LAW AND ORDER
IN SANTA ROSA COUNTY
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.)