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Sheriff charting office-holder history

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing has authority, but RobertCharles Applewhite had power.

Applewhite was a four-time county sheriff whose time in officestopped and started across an almost 40-year span.

The man known simply as RC came into office in 1898 and finishedout the short term of his predecessor, Charles “Chas” McNair, until1900. Applewhite then completed three full terms of his own, from1904-1907, 1920-1923 and 1932-1935.

Yet Applewhite, a central figure in Lincoln County lawenforcement for four decades, has been lost behind the slow-turninghands of the clock.

But Rushing found him.

Since January, the county sheriff has been devoting his off-dutytime to researching every sheriff the county has known since itsformation in 1870. Rushing has confirmed 26 sheriffs during that139-year span, with a blank spot between 1881 and 1891 that waslikely headed by another multi-term lawman already on the list.

“One of them would be circuit clerk one time, another would besheriff. Looks like they just kind of rotated offices back then,”Rushing said. “They could only serve one term up until 1975, but alot of them would serve a term, sit out a term and then runagain.”

Rushing’s investigation into county lawmen’s history came fromthe darkness of the Lofton’s building in downtown Brookhaven, wherea law enforcement patch was found during recent renovations. Thepatch was brought to Rushing – who collects such patches and badgesfor display in his office – for identification.

The sheriff went to his best sources of information, theelderly, trying to find the sheriff who wore the patch.

His quest turned away from the fabric and toward the man. Forthe self-described history buff, there was no turning back.

“I couldn’t ever find any complete listing of the sheriffs. Istarted from there, and the more I got into it, the more it becamemy hobby,” Rushing said.

Rushing’s “old folks” talked out the history of the sheriff’sdepartment back to 1952. From there, he had to start digging, andhe has dug through courthouse records, library records and evenspent a day off at the Mississippi Department of Archives andHistory in Jackson.

The office of the Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishopprovided helpful information, Rushing said.

Up until 1971, the county sheriff was also the county taxcollector, and in the chancery clerk’s office, tax records neverdie. Rushing was able to find and confirm a handful of his sheriffsby crosschecking their names with tax records.

Rushing also visited the Lincoln County Public Library and TheDAILY LEADER to inspect the many previous versions of the newspaperfor clues.

“You can usually find the election year, pull up January and itwill show you who was coming into office that year,” he said.

Some of the oldest and rarest information came from MDAH inJackson, where Rushing spent a day off looking at microfilm andreviewing the Mississippi Secretary of State’s register of electedofficials.

In those state records, he discovered who appears to be SheriffJoe Dixon, the first sheriff of Lincoln County, who served from1870-1873. Other early names found at the state level include JamesMiskell, who headed the county sheriff’s department from 1878-1881,and Reuben Watts McNair, who was top cop from 1891-1895.

Though he has been working on the project for almost one year,Rushing is still in the early stages, as his duties as sheriff andfather leave him little time to research. The 10-year blank spotfrom 1880-1890 notwithstanding, he has almost completed listing thenames of the sheriffs. The next step will be gathering informationon their lives, service and deaths – a much greater task.

The research has led to other interesting finds.

While reviewing the tax records, Rushing found that in the olddays a person’s property was assessed by the number of horses andcows owned, not the value of the actual property.

Another glimpse into the old days’ old ways was found in theLincoln County Jail docket of 1928. Some crimes – like murder,petty larceny and forgery – are the same today as they were 81years ago.

But some charges – like stealing chickens and being drunk atchurch – are rarely seen in 2009. The 1928 log book also containedan exceptional number of violations of the National ProhibitionAct, manufacturing whiskey and “breaking jail,” a charge that todaybrings on statewide manhunts but in 1928 was, apparently, quitecommon.

One unnamed Lincoln County resident was arrested for “shootingwife,” but later “released after investigation.” Either he missed,or she was in the wrong – big time.

As Rushing’s journey through history continues, more and morecherished and bizarre facts about early Lincoln County are found.As the identities of county sheriffs become known, he hopes to oneday honor their memories.

“I think they should all be recognized for the service they didfor Lincoln County,” Rushing said. “I’d love to be able to collectanything they had for a display, maybe something down the walls (atthe sheriff’s office) to show how the office has evolved or adisplay at the (Lincoln County Historical and GenealogicalSociety’s) museum.”

Rushing said he still needs the help of county historians andwise old minds. Anyone wishing to help him compile the sheriff’shistory by offering information, family records and heirlooms orstories from the good ‘ole days may contact Rushing at601-833-5231.