Past Sheriffs Remembered: For Those Who Came Before
by Heather Tomlinson Commonwealth Journal
A trip to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department can result in a bit of a history lesson, thanks to one woman’s efforts in bringing the names of Pulaski’s past sheriffs to light.
“The sheriff had been wanting to do this because he couldn’t find a lot about their history,” said Teresa Brummett, with the sheriff’s tax office.
Brummett worked for around six months to identify and track down what pictures she could of Pulaski’s past sheriffs. Thanks to election records, microfilm, the “Find A Grave” website www.findagrave.com, and help from the Pulaski County Historical Society, Brummett was able to trace the county’s sheriffs back to 1799.
The approximately 60 names that are mounted in the sheriff’s department start with Samuel Newell, who was elected the first sheriff of Pulaski County in 1799. For nearly 100 years after that, sheriffs would serve two-year terms and were not allowed to succeed themselves.
It wasn’t until former sheriff Sam Catron was first elected to his position in the 1980s when laws were changed so that sheriffs could succeed themselves. The term of sheriff was later changed in the 1990s to five-year terms to help line the sheriff’s position with other state offices for election rotations.
And those who were killed while serving are marked with an asterisk.
Former sheriff John McHargue, who served from 1885 to 1886, was killed by two brothers as he was putting his horse in his stable, according to Brummett’s research. Records suggest that three days later a mob took the brothers from the county jail and hung them in an act of revenge.
Former sheriff James B. Jasper, who served from 1942 to 1945 and then from 1950 to 1952, according to Brummett’s research, was shot and killed in 1952 by a Knox County bootlegger. Brummett said Jasper, although he’d been shot in the chest, nevertheless said “Help me up” after he was injured.
And last, but certainly not least, is former sheriff Sam Catron. Catron was killed by a sniper’s bullet during a community fish fry in Stab on April 13, 2002. His death rocked the Pulaski County community. Catron had served from 1986 to 1989, 1990 to 1993, 1994 to 1998, and from 1999 to 2002, right up until his death.
Catron’s picture also hangs in the sheriff’s department, one of several Brummett was able to track down. The other sheriffs featured in pictures, including Jasper, are Todd Wood (2003-2006, 2007-2010, and 2011 to now), Jim McWhorter (2002-2003), John Adams (1974-1977 and 1982 to 1985), Sherman Hansford (1966-1969), Nelson VanHook (1958-1961), Gilmore Phelps (1954-1957, 1962-1965, 1970-1973 and 1978-1981), Frank Beaty, (1946-1949), James M. Beaty (1938-1941), Jack Edwards (1926-1929), C.I. Ross (1922-1925), and John M. Weddle (1910-1913 and 1918-1921).
But that only scratches the surface of the long history of Pulaski’s sheriffs.
“That was truly the hard part,” said Wood, Pulaski’s current sheriff, about tracking down the information needed just to put together a complete history of those who held office.
Brummett said, when all else failed, she took to perusing the phone book and calling people who had names matching former sheriffs. She made progress using that resource more than once.
“We wanted to do a little something to make sure all the people who came before us were remembered,” said Wood. “Each family has been remembered and recognized for their hard work and dedication they put into this office.”