Remembering a time when the long arm of the law couldn't reach

Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 04:42 PM.

Early law enforcement in Walton County was like other unsettled southern counties. Deadly.

The long arm of the law fell short in the 1800s with the less wealthy Southern counties having woefully meager tax bases. Many less fortunate counties without large towns found themselves unable to pay for protection, thus numerous regions depended upon a lone sheriff and his call-up posses. Deputies were expensive and those who could afford them were mostly found in larger municipalities.

Such was likely the case in Walton County.

Most courts did not follow a daily routine due to the expense of court officials. Courts were more commonly held once a month or, if lucky, once a week. Most found the courts impotent mainly because state attorneys received no compensation unless the subject on trial was convicted. One would think that this would lead the state lawyer to extra zeal, but areas for him to cover were extremely large. And due to the absence of law enforcement officers, the attorney would find little evidence collected to proceed with a case. The sheriff also received no regular salary, getting only arrest fees and a small percentage of tax collections.

Convictions were another problem.

In small counties, the settlers were normally related or closely aligned as friends. So procuring a jury was a nightmare. The amount of time to gather evidence spurred the defendant to intimidate or get rid of witnesses. Relatives threatened the witnesses also. So convictions were an uphill battle. Courtrooms filled with friends and relatives gave the proceedings an ugly air.

Like Appalachian mountain courts, many battles ensued outside the courthouse. The southern Allen Clan of a nearby state is the most notorious for courtroom violence. They simply walked in and shot dead the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the sheriff. 

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