The Walton County sheriff’s posse, which has been revitalized under Sheriff Mike Adkinson almost two years ago, had been dormant through the years of other administrations. It is now active and still seeking members to top-off its 24-member contingent.
One can often see the police presence in Walton County with their cars on the road and deputies on foot at various functions. There are two sections of the posse. Some are trained posse members who are active in the field, while others are “volunteer citizens” who donate their expertise to the department in administrative duties.
The word “posse“ for Walton County was first recorded in an account of citizens forming a posse to hunt down the leader of a “bunch of scalawags.” Scallywags was the term given by Confederate sympathizers to those individuals who remained loyal to the Unionist cause.
The recorded account of this formed “posse” took place in 1865, when William Cawthorn wrote letters revealing the account of his son-in–law Morris Walden. Two of Cawthorn’s sons, William and Joseph, were incarcerated in a Union prisoner of war camp after being captured in an unknown battle. Morris with his wife and children lived near the Shoal River.
One evening in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War, two men rode up to the cabin and called Morris outside. Hot muzzle loaded gunfire ripped into the young man’s body as his family watched from the door. The bandits then stole the livestock and meats from the smokehouse.
The family posted a $500 reward for the killers but nothing was revealed to them or to the Walton Sheriff John Campbell.
The two sons were released at the end of the war in 1865. They literally almost had to walk back to Walton County from the northern prison camp. Once the sons did make it home they did their own investigating and found out the killers’ names.
There was no need for the reward money any longer because they rounded up other Confederate war veterans and organized a “posse” for justice. It must be remembered that the sheriff had maybe one or two deputies at that time for the entire county, which also covered parts of what is now Okaloosa and Bay counties.
Cawthorn claimed justification as law enforcement was “scarce,” and hunting with the posse were also Morris’s bothers Samuel and Joseph Walden.
An account of the incident reads; “It was thought that the (Union) gang leader was aware he was a target but could not wait to get his crop in the ground, so he put on a dress and bonnet to plow his field, thinking to avoid detection. Each man of the ‘posse’ fired upon him so that no man could be accused of murder, and the matter was handled by means of frontier justice.”
No further information is known about the situation and the account faded into a yellow toned typed paper found in the Coastal Heritage Preservation archives located in the Coastal Branch Library .
A posse history is now being written by the “Walton Posse” and should be available in a few months.
Those who enjoy real wild frontier law will find it amazing how early Walton County and surrounding areas meted out justice. But you too can share in the rich history of the “Walton Posse“ and become part of its heritage. Call the Walton County Sheriff’s office at 1-850-892-8186 for information or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll get the information.
What a wonderful legacy to leave behind for your family album and maybe someday hear your grandchildren say: “Papa was on the sheriff’s posse a long time ago!”
Fair winds to ye matey.
Chick Huettel is a long-time Walton County resident, writer and artist and a former TDC advisory committee member.