DIVIS'ION OF FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL
50TH ANNIVERSARY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEW WITH FLANDERS "SNAG" THOMPSON
JANUARY 26, 1989
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY BETTY TERRELL
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BT: Today is January 26, 1989. I am interviewing Sheriff "Snag" Thompson.
My name is Betty Terrell. We are at his residence, 1656 Saint Claire
Avenue, North Fort Myers, Florida. The time is 10:40 AM. This
interview is for the FHP Oral History Project. Sheriff, as you know the
FHP will observe its 50th anniversary this year, 1989. This interview
will establish you knowledge of and your input into the past history of
the Patrol. Please give me your full name for our files.
ST: Ha, ha. Well, I'll give you my full name but it's Flanders F L A N D
E R S, G. is for Gaston G A S T 0 N, and my nickname is Snag. I had
it ever since I had a little chip in my front tooth when I was in grade
school here in Ft. Myers. And, when I was on the baseball team I
snagged flies in the outfield. Played on the football team in high
school and snagged passes from the end. And, then I became a law man.
A law enforcement officer, or a traffic law enforcement officer in 1940
with the Florida Highway Patrol, in April 1940. And I maintained that
nickname ever since and it's been a blessing.
BT: What date did you start with the FHP?
ST: In April of '40. I got like I said on the tape, I got on a bus and rode
all the way to Tallahassee. I'd never been that far out of Ft. Myers in
my life except back up to Georgia where some of my sisters and brothers
BT: What was your rank or position at the time you left the Patrol?
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BT: Where were you born?
ST: April 25, 1915, in South Georgia.
BT: Where were you born?
ST: Emanual County, Georgia, Swainsboro.
BT: What did you do for a living prior to becoming a trooper.
ST: I was pumping gasoline in a Gulf station, a company operated Gulf
refining company station at the foot of Edison Bridge and Fowler Street
right where the tennis courts are now behind the Sheraton Harbor Palace
Hotel. I was making $22.50 a week at $45 every 2 weeks. I'd get a
check from Pittsburg. They offered me $125 a month to ride a motorcycle
and be a traffic officer. Well, it was $35 more than what I was making,
so I took it.
BT: Where did you go to elementary school?
ST: Ft. Myers.
BT: Where did you attend high school?
ST: Ft. Myers.
BT: What was the name of the school?
ST: Same they only had one high school in town, one high school, Ft. Myers
Senior High School. It's where the Masonic Building is today, on
BT: Did you go to college?
ST: No, I had no college.
BT: Did you serve in the military service?
ST: Oh, yes.
BT: What branch?
ST: I served with the 91st Infantry Division 361st Infantry Regiment during
World War II, and was in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. I was bn two
landing invasions, Anzio and Leghorn Italy.
BT: Are there any outstanding military experiences you'd like to tell about?
ST: Oh, not necessarily, I just did my part. I came home with three down
and two up Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant, and I had a few, a little bit of
fruit salad on my chest. I had the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, Purple
Heart and Two Clusters, and Combat Infantry Badge. And, the Editor of
the old paper here built me up like I was some kind of returning
Sergeant York when I came home. I just did my duty, that's all.
BT: What were your reasons for becoming a Highway Patrolman?
ST: Well, it offered me $35 more a month than I was making. And, that was
the name of the game. In 1940 Honey, $125 a month was big salary, and
they furnished you clothes. And, I already rode a motorcycle. And they
were going to give me- a motorcycle. I loved to ride a motor. And, I
did it for a long time.
BT: Approximately what was the starting salary at the time that you entered
ST: $125 a month.
BT: What was the ending salary in your rank when you left the Patrol?
ST: When I left the Patrol and came home to run for Sheriff I was making
$338 a month and was the possibility of being made a Lieutenant in West
Palm Beach in charge of that, my original four counties north of there
in addition to Palm Beach County. I was the prospect of me being a
Lieutenant and my take home, I mean my salary was $338 a month when I
left the Patrol and came home and run for Sheriff.
BT: Where did you attend FHP training school?
ST: Well, I attended schoolingin Tallahassee riding with the regular
officers and then I never did attend a regular Highway Patrol school.
Jay Hall, Frank Tidwell, I rode with them and they broke me and then I
went with Homer Klay who was a personal friend of mine, and he was on
the Highway Patrol from Ft. Myers. And, I was stationed in Deland with
him. I rode a motorcycle in the daytime and doubled up with him at
night in a 1940 Ford motor, car. And then he and I were transferred to
Pinellas County. And we stayed there, and I rode all the beaches from
Tarpon Springs to Passagrille on my motorcycle in the daytime and we
doubled up at night in his patrol car. Then later on they transferred
me out to West Florida. I went out to they call the Panhandle to
Marianna. I lived in Marianna and I worked Washington, Holmes, and
Jackson counties. And they gave me an old 1940 Chevrolet that had been
turned in by a man by the name of Red Ulrich. Red turned in his
Chevrolet and I got it. It was a secondhand car but then later on I got
me a '40 Ford.
BT: Okay, so you didn't, there wasn't a regular training school at the time
that you came on?
ST: No, they called those boys like myself, course Mack Britt did attend
some of the classes when he went on the Patrol. He had attended some of
the classes at Bradenton at the original school where the 37 men came
out of. But, several of us, like Emmett Shelby, several of us were
sprinklers, we called ourselves sprinklers. We went on, later on we had
to pass one thing that old Hundred Percent Hagan made us pass. We went
to Ocala and all the sprinklers went to Ocala and we had to pass First
Aid. We already knew First Aid, but Hundred Percent Hagan made us do
BT: How many sprinklers were there?
ST: Oh, probably five or six.
BT: Do you remember who all they were?
ST: Well there Link Silsby, he's dead. Emmett Shelby's still living. He
was later Sheriff of Pensacola, Escambia County. And, all Mack Britt
came in like I said about October '40. Then, two or three more, Tiny
Floyd. There were several of them that came on between the original
school in December '39 and the second school in August of '41.
BT: Now you said when you first came on you went to Tallahassee.
ST: That's right.
BT: And you strained there.
ST: That's right, under the seasoned officers Hall and Tidwell.
BT: Just riding, all right. How long did you have to train with them?
ST: About 60 days, before I doubled up with Homer Klay who was a seasoned
officer and then I had two assignments with him in Deland, me riding a
motor and him in a car. He's dead now. And, then me riding a motor and
him in a car in Pinellas County.
BT: Okay. If you did not attend a regular patrol school, what kind of
training were you given riding with these other troopers?
ST: Well, it was, ha, a little bit about the law and a lot of common horse
sense. They were good men and they talked to me and they told me what
to do and what not to do. And, I tried to remember that all down
through the 30 something years that I was a law man, effective from 1940
to 1973. That ain't a bad length of time to be a law man.
BT: Where they any physical training that you had to take while you were in
training with these other officers?
ST: No, they didn't know of such things as, there was no such things as
physical fitness in those days. You'se just a man or you wasn't a man.
I was six feet one inches tall and I weighed 195 lbs. and I didn't, I'll
tell you, you don't have to be big to be a good law man. But, it helps.
BT: Describe for me the uniforms that were issued when you became a trooper.
ST: They were green. That's the picture I gave you on the motorcycle. They
were green and the old black, old green caps with the black bill on it.
And the badges were all silver or chrome plated and there was a stripe
down the side of the britches and you had the almost knee-high boots if
you were a motor man like I was. The picture I gave you shows that.
That was the first time I saw pink uniforms was just before the war,
just before the war and when I went in the service they were all in
pink. They had done away with the old original. And they had the first
hats they ever had were like the Ohio State Police, they were, you could
swing them at somebody in the air and it would hit them and it would cut
their throat. They was old stiff board hats with four crimps in the top
of it. That was the first hats we ever had, and that's the kind of
uniform we had when I first went on.
BT: You said they were a green, is this.
ST: Green wool pants with a black stripe sewed on the side of them if they
were long pants. And if they were if they were, if you was a motor
man you got them that buckled up and then buttoned up down the legs and
you pulled your boots up over them.
BT: Was it an Army green?
ST: No, it was, it was a dark green. I would just say it was not like an
olive drab. No it was a different type of green. It was a wool green
and a little Jewish tailor in Tallahassee fitted you up with your
uniforms right across from the Martin Building. And I'll tell you one
thing, when you walked out of there with your uniforms, they fit.
BT: You said they were wool. Were the shirts wool?
ST: Well, in the wintertime we wore the wool shirts and wore the leather
jackets, the sheepskin-lined jackets. In fact, I carry a scar today. I
carry a scar and will as long as I live right there. A car coming out
of, he was coming out of Dothan, Alabama with a load of moonshine down
to Marianna; it was a dry county. I saw the back end of that old
Overland tilted and I knew he was carrying a load of moonshine. I
pulled him up and stopped him and he come out of that thing with a
straight razor. And he cut me all the way through my leather
sheepskin-lined jacket, through my wool shirt and into my arm. I was in
Washington County and I woke up the Sheriff in Washington County in
Chipley, they lived in the jail then, and turned the man over to him and
the load of moonshine and said wake up your Deputy and tell him to take
me out back there where my motor is.
BT: But, in the summer what type of shirt.
ST: Grey shirts, grey shirts.
BT: And green trousers?
ST: Grey shirts and green trousers that's correct.
BT: Were the shirts cotton?
ST: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
ST: No, they were long-sleeved. You wore long-sleeved shirts. I don't ever
remember wearing short-sleeved shirts when I was on the Highway Patrol.
I can remember the times that they didn't have a short-sleeved shirt.
BT: What was the equipment issued to you upon, well you didn't have a
graduation. When did you get your equipment?
ST: As soon as I was broken in by these two great men, Jay Hall and Frank
Tidwell. And, Jess Gillam, Director, and Morris Green, or Morris
Green. Figured I had enough training so they called in Homer Klay and I
rode with him then for several months before I had a permanent
assignment for myself which was in West Florida.
BT: What type of equipment did they give you?
ST: Oh, they gave me.
BT: When they felt you were ready.
ST: They gave me my weapon and my belt and trousers, boots. I had to buy my
own boot jack and, and, and strap things to pull up the boots from
inside the straps. But, they didn't furnish that. I had to go out and
buy that and it cost four or five dollars.
BT: And that was a lot.
ST: That was a lot of money in those days but I had to do it 'cause I was
making $125 a month. That was good money then.
BT: In other words, you were not given your revolver until they felt that
you were ready to.
ST: That's right, I was given, I rode the motorcycle and me and the
motorcycle done the work in the daytime. And, I rode with the Patrolman
at night the different people that I've mentioned. And, with Homer
Klay and he and I were assigned to Deland and then to Pinellas County
and they I figured I was broken in enough and then they had a, then
Hagan got a bunch of us sprinklers together and taught us First Aid.
And we got our First Aid card. And, gave me my assignment in West
Florida, and that's when I was really equipped, had an old car and
BT: When did you get your badge?
ST: I got my badge when I left Tallahassee to go with Homer back down to
Deland to work and, no it was when, yeah it was because I, now wait a
minute, goin' back now I had already completed those assignments with
Homer Klay in Deland and Pinellas County and then in October of 1940
Mack Britt had left the Patrol in Manatee County and gone on the Highway
Patrol 'cause he had finished the school in the old Manna Vista Hotel in
Bradenton. 'Course he was a seasoned officer himself. And they
assigned me to Boca Raton, Florida as a full fledged Highway Patrol
officer, nice 1940 Ford, FHP #3. And Matt Britt was assigned to Punta
Gorda. I tried to get him to trade places with me. And, he said "No,
Snag," he said, "I can see my wife, Maxine. They live in Bradenton." I
said, "Yeah, but it's right next to Ft. Myers." He said, "Yep, but," he
said, "Yep, but they give you Boca Raton." I had-to kick a mountain
down to find out where Boca Raton was. I had never heard of the place.
I went there as a Patrolman. Then later Senneff was a Lieutenant. All
this I have in my tape. The first man promoted, Lieutenant Senneff,
South Florida, at Ft. Lauderdale. He promoted me to Sergeant, sent me
to Ft. Pierce and gave me before the war, gave me four counties, St.
Lucie, and Indian River, Okeechobee, and Martin counties.
BT: All right, going back to your uniform. What about a whistle, oh and.
ST: Oh, yeah, got the chain whistle and everything, the whole nine yards.
BT: Name plate.
ST: Name plate, oh no name plate.
BT: No name plate then?
ST: No name plates in those days. No, we didn't have name plates in those
days. Just had to tell people who you was. And I imagine big as I was
you didn't have to tell them who you was. Ha, ha, ha.
BT: Sheriff, since there was no training, physical training that you had to
take or was there any other training that you'd like to tell about?
ST: Oh, yes, there was, was one time that we all the sprinklers we called
that went on between the first school and the second school that was
held in '41, in mid-year August '41 in Lakeland. We were trained in
First Aid by J.W. Hagan. We called it Hundred Percent Hagan because if
you didn't pass First Aid one hundred percent you didn't stay on the
Highway Patrol. Ole' Hagan would see that you didn't. I love him
dearly if he's still living. I've lost contact with him, but I'll tell
you one thing, he taught every man to my knowledge that was on the
Highway Patrol after the first school First Aid themselves because he
was an instructor. He had worked himself up in Red Cross First Aid
'till he got to be an instructor, and he taught every school from then
on and every man from them on First Aid. And if you didn't make one
hundred percent, you didn't stay on the Highway Patrol.
BT: OK, you sprinklers that were taught First Aid at that time by Captain
Hagan, were there any dropouts? Did any fail the test?
ST: Oh, no, you didn't fail the test. If you were, if you had the ability
to be a good law man, a good traffic officer, you more or less, he saw
that you passed. He'd stay up at night in the hotel with you, the old
Harrington Hotel in Ocala is were we all gathered there, several of us
that were sprinklers. We'd gather there and took our First Aid from
him. But we were already seasoned officers by that time, but we still
had to have that First Aid card. We had to pass First Aid because we,
we came on after the first school so, and before the second one. So, he
held a special school in Ocala at the old Harrington Hotel, and several
of us attended that and rode whatever mode of transportation we had, be
it motorcycles or cars to Ocala and he taught us First Aid.
BT: During your career with the FHP how many duty stations did you have?
ST: Well, I had several to begin with. Of course Tallahassee I rode with
regular officers who were seasoned officers. They broke me in. And
then they put me with a friend of mine in Ft. Myers named Homer Klay,
he's dead now. And, Deland was my assignment.
BT: That was your first.
ST: First, first assignment was in Deland and I rode with him at night and
rode my motorcycle in the daytime. And then he and I both were
transferred to Clearwater, to Pinellas County.
BT: When you were in Deland, is there anything, any remembrance that you
would like to tell me about?
ST: Well, not necessarily except he always ordered fish for breakfast and I
understand the man ordered boiled fish for breakfast. I always ate
bacon and eggs or ham and eggs. But, he was a good man and I enjoyed
living, working with him.
BT: And, then both of you went to Pinellas County?
ST: Both of us were transferred to Pinellas County and we worked
Clearwater. He worked the whole area that I worked on motorcycle. He
worked it at night and I would double up with him. I rode a motorcycle
from Tarpon Springs were the sponge industry was all the way to
Passagrille were the Veteran's Administration Building is now. It was a
big hotel, Passagrille Hotel in the St. Petersburg beaches. And I did
that in the daytime and worked traffic. But he and I doubled up at
night in Pinellas County until I was transferred to West Florida.
BT: You said you patrolled the beaches during the daytime on the motorcycle?
ST: That's right.
BT: You weren't permitted out on the main highways?
ST: Oh, yeah, I patrolled that, had to get to, get to the beaches I had to
be on the main highway. I was sat, I sat on the corner right at Bay
Pines between Largo, just before, between Clearwater and Largo I sat
right up on the intersection with that motorcycle cocked sideways and me
sitting on it, and sometimes, I'll tell you, I'll be honest about it,
sometimes I'd cock my cap back and put my dark glasses up on my brow and
I'd sit there and take me a nap. But the motor did the work. I imagine
you've done the same thing on the side of the road. And I did that
several times even down at Boca Raton in later years with an automobile.
I'd sit along the side of the road and let the car do the work and I'd
tilt my hat back and I'd put my dark glasses up on my brow and everybody
riding by said, "Well, that Patrolman's watching me." Well, I'd be
taking me a little nap.
BT: How long were you in Pinellas County?
ST: I would say about five-months.
BT: And then you went where?
ST: To Marianna, West Florida. I had three counties to work. They had
given me an old, an old '40 Chevrolet that another Patrolman had left
and turned in. It was a secondhand car, but it was better than a
motorcycle, a lot warmer. Ha, ha, ha.
BT: Approximately what year what month was this that you went to Marianna?
ST: Probably about August or September of 1940 'cause I transferred in
October of 1940. I was transferred to South Florida to Boca Raton. I
had to get a map down to find out where Boca Raton was.
BT: While you were in Marianna, what counties, you said you had three
counties. What counties were they?
ST: I worked Washington, Holmes, and Jackson counties. Me and another
Patrolman were stationed there, Otis Lee McArthur. He and I both lived
in a rooming house in Marianna and ate at a boarding house across the
street. He's dead now I think.
BT: Was there a patrol station in Marianna?
ST: Oh, no, no.
BT: Where, where was your headquarters. Where did you meet or did you.
ST: We didn't meet. Lieutenant Fitzhugh Lee from Lake City, he'd come over
to see us every once in awhile. He was a Lieutenant of the northern
division, and we had a Sergeant named Reid Clifton. He'd come over that
way every once in awhile.
BT: Both of them were in Lake City?
ST: Both of them were in Lake City. The was they got their promotions back
before Fred Cone went out of office he told Jess Gillam, he says,
"Jess," he says, "I want you to promote my friend Fitzhugh Lee to
Lieutenant over in Lake City, and Martin to Lieutenant down in Lakeland,
and Stew Senneff to Lieutenant down in Ft. Lauderdale." "And," he said,
"Promote my nephew, E.G. Godwin, to Sergeant, and Cotton Yonley in
Orlando to Sergeant because I know his family." "And," he said, "That
big son-of-a-bitch in Lake City." He's talking about Reid Clifton and
that's the sixth promotion Governor Cone made before we, I took six men
and escorted them all the way to Lake City after he went out of office
inauguration in 1941 for Spessard Holland. I carried about eight
motorcycle men to Tallahassee from Boca Raton. Carried them up there.
And, all of them VIP's. And, Honey, we had to stay in Tuscoe Hotel in
Thomasville because they didn't have room for us in Cherokee. All of
the bigwigs stayed there. So we had to drive them motorcycles at 29
degrees above zero all the way to Thomasville and stay at the old Tuscoe
Hotel and come back in the daytime and escort the convoys to things
around town for the VIP's.
BT: While you were in Marianna, Lake City now was your headquarters?
ST: That's right.
BT: For the northern divisions?
ST: That's right.
BT: Did you have radio contact with Lake City?
ST: Oh, we didn't know what radios were until we made, no we didn't have
radio contact. We didn't have no two-way radios until we got into the
large towns and hooked up to the city police department.
BT: That's how you stayed in contact with Lake City?
ST: Telephone. Old winding, cranking phones. Oh, and the Lieutenant would
come over and spend the night every once in awhile in Lake City when he
wanted to put $3.50 on his expense account. Old Fitzhugh.
BT: All right. How long were you after, how long were you in Marianna?
ST: Oh, from about August to October.
BT: And, from Marianna you went to where?
ST: Permanent assignment in Boca Raton. I came through Ft. Myers and
registered for the draft 'cause they were getting ready to pull in
conscript Army. I came through Ft. Myers and registered for the draft
on the way over. Matt Britt had just gone on as a permanent officer.
And, he went to Punta Gorda and I went to Boca Raton, 1940, October.
Then I had that assignment until I was given a promotion and sent to Ft.
Pierce in charge of those four counties before the second school came
out in August.
BT: All right, when were you sent to Ft. Pierce?
ST: I would say probably in March of 1941 before the second school in August
of '41, March or April of '41.
BT: Were you still a Trooper?
ST: Oh, yes. Oh, I was promoted to Sergeant, I was acting Sergeant as soon
as they sent me some men out of the '41 school and I got my stripes.
That what you did. You just kinda', you just kinda' took charge.
BT: Did the FHP have a Patrol station in Ft. Pierce at this time?
ST: Oh, no, no, had a set of weight scales between Ft. Pierce and Vero Beach
on little old narrow Gauge Road, U.S. #1. We didn't have, we didn't
have, nearest thing we had to a Patrol station was down in Ft.
Lauderdale where Lieutenant Senneff had his office at the Old State Road
Department Building. That's where all the Lieutenants had their
offices. Red Martin had his in a State Road Department Building in
Bartow. Dick Shulee had his in Lake City. Stew Senneff had his. These
were Lieutenants and then later they become Captains.
BT: Now tell me this name again. Fitz.
ST: Fitzhugh. F I T Z H U G H. Fitzhugh Lee. L E E. He was the
Lieutenant in the northern division. Right at the state. Three
divisions. Governor Holland did that. And, they he appointed Bill Reid
Director and Jess Gillam went by the wayside. And, so did Morris
Green. He went to work for the Tag Department somewhere. Just like
when I was in Marianna we went down and found Cecil Lord and brought him
into Tallahassee. They fired him, but he went to work for the Tag
Department 'cause he had some political pull. Enough to get the job.
So, he went to work for the Tag Department. And, that was the way it
usually worked. Back in those days you didn't really have to report to
anybody. You just did the work. And,'you sent in a daily report to the
office which was, my office was in Lake City when I was in West
Florida. And, when I came to South Florida it was Boca Raton which like
I say, I had to take a map to find out where it was. I never been to
places like that. But, I'll tell you what they did over there. There
was this Boca Raton Club, millionaires club, r still got the set of golf
clubs that Thomas Armor gave me. He was a golf pro. They had me a
parking place there. You know the people, the rich people who stayed at
the Boca Raton Club, the more police protection they had around them,
the better off they felt. And, then they had state police. I wasn't a
state police, I was just a plain old traffic cop in Boca Raton. They
had me a sign there. I'd go in the restaurant and dining room and I'd
eat my breakfast and I'd park that car out there. And that's the way we
worked it. Then I'd hit the road, U.S. #1 all the way to Palm Beach to
Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach to Ft. Lauderdale. That was my
BT: What kind of car did you have at that time?
ST: It was a 1940 Ford, beautiful car, V-8, FHP #38.
BT: Did you get it new?
ST: Oh, yes. I got it brand new in Tallahassee when I carried old Cecil
Lloyd in there 'cause they was scared of him. He gave me a new car.
BT: How long did you stay in Ft. Pierce?
ST: Until, well, we were married, my wife and I were married in Ft. Pierce.
I met her in '41. I was riding with one of the Patrolmen and Link
Silsby, he's dead. He was a sprinkler. And, I said, "Turn this car
around. There's a pretty blond down there in front of the McKee Jungle
Gardens." And, yes, there was a Sergeant, said she's been, I was a
Sergeant then, said she's been here about a week. I said, "Man I'll go
down there. I'll probably marry her for a couple nights anyway." We'll
be married 47 years this coming April. Ha, ha, ha.
BT: Tell me that officer's name again that you were riding with.
ST: Link Silsby. L.W. Silsby. Link we called him. L I N K.
BT: Spell his last name.
ST: Lincoln. S I L S B Y. He's dead. He threw his arm away pitching
baseball for the University of Florida and went to Philadelphia, went to
Philadelphia athletics but he couldn't make it. So, he come back to
Florida and he got on the Highway Patrol. He was one of the sprinklers.
I've outlived all of 'em, all of 'em I guess, I don't know. A lot of
the original men are gone. The original 37 men. We were very much,
there was a strong rapport amongst the Patrolmen in those days. You
didn't say nothing about the Highway Patrol to one of 'em. He'll whip
you if you did. Ha, ha, ha.
BT: When you left Ft. Pierce where did you, where was your next assignment?
ST: Bradenton. I was, E.G. Godwin, Governor Combs nephew, was a Sergeant in
Bradenton, and they transferred J.W. Hagans to Bradenton as a Sergeant.
BT: One Hundred Percent.
ST: One Hundred Percent Hagan. And so they wanted to make him, sent him off
to the school up in Lakeland to teach First Aid. So they sent me to
Bradenton. Me and my wife moved to Bradenton. And, I stayed there
quite *a while. I had Manatee, Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto and Sarasota
counties. That's where I had Ross Boyer as a Patrolman, Fred Shade as a
Patrolman in Bradenton, and, Ed Farrell a Patrolman in Sebring, Bill
Carlysle a Patrolman in Wauchula, and, Buford Curry a Patrolman in
Arcadia. That was my boys, my men. Well, I was transferred from, from
Ft. Pierce to Manatee County. My wife and I were transferred there. We
were married in April of '42 and she drove my personal car over and I
drove the patrol car over. We had everything we owned in the cars. And
we went to Manatee County. Godwin was a Sergeant, had already gone in
the service. And, Hagans was being transferred out of Manatee County.
He took Godwin's place. And they put him somewhere. Don't remember
exactly where he went, probably to teach that school in August. But,
anyhow, I was transferred to Manatee County. And on the way between
Bradenton and Sarasota they had an air base there. And, I picked up an
Army Sergeant along the route. I had five counties, I had Sarasota,
Manatee, Hardee, Highlands, and DeSoto, and I can name you the boys that
worked with me, men that worked with me. No one every worked for me,
they always worked with me. But I picked up this Army Sergeant one day
and I said, "Get in Sergeant and I'll take you to Bradenton." "All
right." Said, "Sergeant, why aren't you in the service?" Had big old
stripes on my arm and me weighing over 200 pounds. I said, "Well," I
said, "We got an essential job." And, he says, "What do you mean." And
I said, "Well, we escort the military convoys up and down the road, and
we get deferments." He said, I says, "It's an essential job." And he
says, "Essential my A", he says, "I'll get out and walk. So I pulled
the car over and let him out and I went right on to the house and I told
my wife, I said, "Honey, I've done had it. I've got to go." So, I
called Tallahassee and told me, says, "Well you got three more months on
your six months' deferment." I said, "Don't want it." So, I enlisted
in the military, went to Lake Worth where my draft board was from Ft.
Myers had put me in Lake Worth 'cause I was going to Boca Raton. That's
Palm Beach County, draft board #3. I went over there and took myself
off of the deferment list and I went to Camp Blanding and enlisted.
And, he says, "What you want." I bet Lieutenant Senneff ten dollars I'd
see action. And, so I told them I want the Army.
BT: Lieutenant who?
ST: Senneff. Stuart Senneff.
BT: Was he with in the service or.
ST: Oh, he was in the Highway Patrol. I bet him ten dollars I'd see
action. I was in the southern division, see. He bet me ten dollars I
wouldn't. Well, I did, I say a little of it in North Africa, Sicily,
and Italy. And I saw a lot of it. But, that, second time I was
wounded, if I had found that Air Force Sergeant between Bradenton and
Sarasota catching a ride I wouldn't even have spit on him. I wasn't
half as patriotic as I was the day I told him to get out of the car and
walk. Oh, I've had a beautiful life.
BT: Tell me again how long you were in the military.
ST: Well, from the latter part of '42 until the war was over with in '45,
almost three years.
BT: And, then when you got out of service you came back to the Highway
ST: That's right, West Palm Beach.
BT: West Palm Beach.
ST: And I had Palm Beach County and the office on the Courthouse Square, a
little office on the Courthouse Square. In that picture I'm standing in
front of it. And, I had an additional four counties that I had prior to
the war. Now, I'll tell you a little story.
BT: Well, first, were you given your present rank, a Sergeant, back when you
ST: Oh, yes, absolutely, I was given my rank as Sergeant and a promissory
handshake from Major Kirkman. We called him Major because he'd later
become a Colonel, you know. He was a retired military man himself,
retired reserve Major. And he, kind of a handshake between him and the
old man and me that I'd get a Lieutenant, see. But I, they wanted me to
come back home and run for Sheriff.
BT: Tell me the story that you was, another story that you were going to
ST: Oh, I don't know.
BT: In West Palm Beach.
ST: Ha, ha. Oh, that's some story. No Palm Beach County was good to me
after the war. The wife and I had a little two bedroom apartment, or a
one bedroom apartment, a little duplex we rented right near the
ballpark. And, we had the office over on the Courthouse Square. And, I
was a Sergeant. I think that picture that I gave you and I had three or
four Patrolmen and a Drivers' Examiner there, and they got, you see.
See, when we started the thing out we didn't have Drivers License. They
come on, driver's stuff come on later. They got that four-story
building and three-story building named after Neil Kirkman out there in
Tallahassee on U.S. 19 that couldn't be named after a finer guy. One
time at a Sheriff's convention he came in, he says, "Snag," he says, "I
guess you still fooling those people over in Ft. Myers, aren't you?" I
said, "Yeah, just like you fooling those people in Tallahassee. Ha, ha,
BT: You were in West Palm Beach.
ST: I was in West Palm Beach after the war. I went to that territory.' Took
it over, Palm Beach County plus the four counties I originally had
before I went in the service. Now, going back to the story I wanted to
ST: President Bush forgot where he was December the 7th, 1941. I had a
roadblock set up. The second school was already out. They had sent me
Warren Sutton and Clyde Pirtle to Stuart. They had sent me Gene Patrone
to Ft. Pierce and Jack White. They sent me another man to help Silsby
out in Vero Beach by the name of Dick Coolie. St., Minorcan from St.
Augustine. Well, Daniels, the first Broken Spoke, was killed by Hugh
called in on police radio because that's all we had was tied in with the
local police radio. He called in on the police radio and gave the tag
number and he was stopping a man with an Ohio tag. And then they later
found his body next to his motorcycle. He was the first Broken Spoke
that we had. And, I had me a roadblock set up. All the roads
converged at Stuart, Florida on U.S. 1 across the St. Lucie Canal. And,
I had me a roadblock set up there. And, we were stopping every car,
looking in the trunks around the clock. And, I had my hand throwed up
and I said, "Captain, give me a key. I want to look in your trunk."
And he said, "Well, I guess you heard what happened, didn't you?" I
said, "Yeah, we lost the Highway Patrolman down in Homestead, down south
of Miami." I said, "Daniels got killed." And, I says, "We're looking
for his murderer 'cause you got an Ohio tag on your car." And he says,
"Well, I'm not the guy". Says, "Go ahead and look in the trunk."- And,
he said, "But I guess you, but that ain't what I'm talking about." I
said, "Well, what are you talking about?" He said, "The Japanese just
bombed Pearl Harbor." I said, "Where in the hell is Pearl Harbor?" So
he told me and, and by golly I know where I was, I was running a
roadblock on the St. Lucie Canal, December the 7th, 1941.
* PAGE 29
ST: Then I got patriotic in '42 and I went in '42 or the early part of '43
and I went in the service and come out in '45.
BT: Did you ever find Daniels' killer?
ST: Oh, yes. They caught him in Miami 'cause he had called in, gave the tag
number and everything. He was, he was an exconvict from Ohio. I'll
tell you, that Ohio's-some state. One day I drove old Narrowgauge Road
between Ft. Pierce and Stuart, U.S. #1 18 feet wide with brick on each
side of it. I stopped a fellow from Ohio right in the middle of the
road. I pulled up, pulled him over'. Get that siren and pulled him
over. Got him out and I said, "Captain, come around here." Wife just
giving him hell. "I told you you was going to get stopped. I told you
you was going to get stopped." I said, "Let me see your driver's
license, Captain." I says, "Captain," I says, "I'll tell you. You get
back in your car and you stay on the right-hand side of that center
line." He says, "Well, I was riding it because nobody hit me." I said,
"Well, the Governor put that line, had that line put down there to keep
you on your side and the car coming at you, to keep him on his side." I
said, "But you got enough hell in the front seat of this car. I don't
have to worry'about you, talking any more to you. Get back in that car
and go on to Miami." Ha, ha, ha. He was from Ohio too.
BT: Getting back to Trooper Daniels killer. Do you remember what the
convict's name was?
ST: No, I can't recall. It was in the papers, and it was in the papers, and
I'm sure it's in the records. And, they, they found him and they
convicted for it. But, I was again called in to be the motorcycle
Sergeant. A group of motorcycle men came to Miami. We had his funeral
in Miami and I escorted, me and the other motormen escorted that all the
way to Key West. He was a Key West boy. And, they buried him in the
lime rock of Key West. I think his son if I'm not mistaken later on
came on the Patrol. I'm not too sure about that but Daniels was the
first man who was ever killed on the Highway Patrol.
BT: Sheriff, let's go back to the living conditions at your first location.
I believe, Deland.
ST: Well, what you did you was single, you had a room. You'd just get you a
room and you ate at the boarding house. You paid 35 cents for
breakfast, 50 cents for lunch, 40 and, 65 cents for dinner in the
evening. You ate three meals a day at the nearest boarding house. And,
you had a private room sometimes in the same boarding house where you
ate your meals. And me and McArthur did that in Marianna even after I
went to West Florida. He and I lived across the street. He had a, we
had an adjoining room and connecting baths in the Old Colonial Inn
that's been long since been torn down. And ate our meals across the
street at a regular boarding house. And, he'd go one way and I'd go
another. We had four or five counties and two of us worked.
BT: How much rent did the boarding house charge a month?
ST: Well, but you lived in the boarding house you paid about seven dollars
and a half a week for room and board.
BT: That didn't include the meals though?
ST: Oh, yes. Room and board. Sure.
BT: Room and board.
ST: You lived in the boarding house, now, if you lived across the street
from the other place you had to pay a little extra for the, for the
room, but you could still eat pretty reasonable at the boarding house.
I think we lived in one boarding house that cost us seven dollars and a
half a week. And Jay Hall's mother ran a boarding house in Tallahassee
right down from the Capitol and I stayed there at her house when Jay
Hall was breaking me in. Him and Frank Tidwell. I don't know whether
they're still living or not. But they were one of the original 37 men
on the Highway Patrol. And fine men, both of them.
BT: When did you buy your first home? Did you buy in Ft. Pierce after you
ST: No, no. You rented because you couldn't live in a place very long.
They transfer you around. But, when I resigned from the Patrol I saw,
I, I dead and gone bless his heart, I just (long silence).
BT: Lord, mercy.
ST: Who was this, Col. Kirkman, can I have a leave of absence? He says no
you can't have a leave of absence to go on and run for Sheriff. I gave
you one to go in the service and I gave you your job when you come
back. I said, well you didn't have no alternative, you had to do that.
Captain Hill and certain ones were executive officers while he was
gone. And I would probably have been a high ranking officer in the
Patrol if I'd have stayed on but I came home and ran for Sheriff. Came
home in the fall of '47 and got elected in '48, and kept that thing
BT: Sheriff, when did you leave the Highway Patrol?
ST: The latter part of 1947 I had vacation time coming and the Colonel gave
me my vacation time. And I left and came home so I could get myself
established in someplace to live. My wife and me, 'cause we had no
children. And we had to get ourselves established to live and'I was
going to run for Sheriff which was the coming year, early part in the
primaries of the coming year, '48.
BT: When you left the Patrol you became Sheriff of Lee County and had a long
career in law enforcement in that area. Tell me about some of the
outstanding occurrences during that time as Sheriff.
ST: Well, I did. I had a beautiful six terms. I was elected in '48 and
again in '52 with opposition and in '56 with opposition. In '60 I had
no opposition. In '64 I had no opposition. In '68 I had opposition.
And I stayed in it and the Republican Party had gotten strong in
Florida. And President Nixon carried everything except Sidney,
Australia. And he swept in seven or eight of us Democratic Sheriffs out
of office in '72 and the Republicans took over in '73, January of '73.
And that's how long I stayed. Well, during the years I was Sheriff I
worked closely with the Highway Patrol and had a little office. Mack
Britt was a Lieutenant. And, Bill Kaufman was a Patrolman here then.
And, one day Colonel Kirkman come through Ft. Myers and Mack was going
to take him down to the Everglades hunting. During hunting season. I
took Kaufman in my jeep. We went out. We could see the red lights
blinking on the Highway Patrol tower which was right at where you turned
to go to Edison's estate. That was the Highway Patrol station at that
time, right there on Edison Avenue right across from the Coca Cola
plant. And, I said Bill there's a big old turkey gobbler. I turned my
jeep sideways. I said shoot him. And he killed him a turkey gobbler
and poor old Mack Britt was a Lieutenant and he had carried Colonel all
the way down to the Everglades and they had come and hadn't cut a hair.
Hadn't cut a feather or a hair. But, I had some beautiful times though
and there's some interesting things happened during the years that I was
Sheriff. Oh, we had a Governor come in he made a vow when he took
office a fellow by the name of Kirk, a Republican Governor, said he was
gonna' get three thousand different people out of their offices and
appoint Republicans to those offices. First he started out with a few
Sheriffs, then he got to me. And, he suspended me for malfeasance, and
all in the world I did was just get me two lawyers, good friends of
mine, young men that I had broken in when they came on from law school.
They were very close to Farris Bryant and his regime. And they went
with me to Tallahassee. The Florida Senate was in session at the time.
They had, the Senate had set aside everything they was doing because I
asked for a hearing before an open public, hearing- before the Florida
State Senate. And the Florida State Senate reinstated me to office as
Sheriff. In all I was out 11 days, but I, they also told the county to
pay me my 11 days. And Lieutenant Conroy, Captain, Lieutenant Conroy,
John Conroy was appointed to take my place while I was gone. He
wouldn't take the keys to my personal desk in my office. He said,
"You'll be back." Sure enough, I came back. That's why I don't have
too much use for Claude Kirk. Claudius, I couldn't say much for him.
BT: Speaking of Lieutenant Conroy, and.
ST: He's in business here in Lee County.
BT: Yes. But at the time you said he was appointed acting Sheriff.
ST: That's right.
BT: Was he stationed here in Ft. Myers at that time?
ST: Oh yes, oh yes. He was a Lieutenant here in charge of this station at
that time. And then the Governor's Office appointed him as acting
Sheriff. I think they had, knew that I wasn't going to be, it wasn't,
Senate wasn't going to.
BT: You weren't going to be gone long..
ST: He wouldn't even take the keys to my personal desk up at the Court
House. He says, "I'm not going to take the keys to your desk. You'll
be back in a few days." And sure enough, after we had the open hearing
before the Senate they voted 30. Well, really they voted the first time
they voted 37 to one against he Governor's suspension to reinstate me.
And, then the President of the Senate went down and saw a Republican
Senator and told him, "You better get yourself right." A local man shot
a Negro. And we convicted him for killing that Negro. And he was
sentenced to five years in prison. He told his son, who is a grown man
now and a very prominent man here, he says, "I'll never to jail and I'll
take that red headed Sheriff with me." Well, he called my house one
Sunday and wife was fixing a formula for the youngest boy who is 39 now,
and I said Mr. Al just called me. I said I don't know whether to go or
not. She said he's threatened to kill you. You'd better not go. I
said well I've got to go. So I had on suntans and I went on around to
his house. But there was a man living in a garage apartment house that
came around, and he was standing in front. He says, Sheriff, I'm glad
to see you." He says, "I heard two shots. Something's happened in
there." Well, we busted the door open, it was locked. He had killed
his present wife, he carried the little boy down to the theater and left
him at the theater that Sunday afternoon and he had come back home and
had killed his wife, the second wife. And, he had hid her in the closet
was waiting for me to come. He was setting' next to his fireplace where
the wood box is next to his phone and he had unloaded his double-barrel
shotgun and crimped the empty one and threw it in the wood box and then
reloaded it waiting for me to come, I'm sure. But I took a little more
time than he thought so he killed himself, 'cause he figured I wasn't
coming. Well, that is about probably as close a call as I ever had that
really frightened me after it was over with.
ST: Of course they always say once you're 'scared and so and so, I said, man
you don't, if you're not scared you ain't gonna stay alive. I said
always be, don't necessarily be scared, but just be frightened. Your
good officer gets frightened occasionally and I thought I was frightened
several times during my career as a Highway Patrolman and also as
Sheriff. And, I had a beautiful career and I walk out to the mailbox
and pick up a nice check, one twelfth of that amount, every month and
you know I don't back up to that mailbox either. I earned it, and my
wife whenever we took office she set up the jail was run on inadequate
jail system so she set up a cost account and bill. She had her 'degree
in business administration. She said up her cost account at the jail
operation. She knew all the Patrolmen, high officers, ranking officers
who worked here. And she worked with me 20 years. And raised two boys
at the same time. We had a black nanny at home who took care of them
and I had a sister, crippled sister, who lived with us. And my boys are
grown now and on their own and have their own occupations and families,
getting along fine and you know something, I couldn't ask for the Lord
and my people of Lee County to do any more for me than they've done.
BT: Sheriff, you're talking that Lieutenant John Conroy was appointed acting
Sheriff while you were suspended those 11 days.
ST: That's right.
BT: Why wasn't someone from the Sheriff's Department appointed acting
ST: Well, it was, it was, I think,I think the Republican Governor saw the
handwriting on the wall and he just appointed the Lieutenant of the
Highway Patrol just to take over while I was gone. I think he knew I
wasn't going to be gone because he already sent his feelers out in the
Senate and I was the past President of the Florida Sheriffs Association,
and probably one of the highest ranking Sheriffs in the state. I was
Chairman of the Board of Directors that very year that he suspended me.
And he made the statement to the Sheriffs Association to our attorney of
the Florida Sheriff Association. He says I don't care about these
others that I've gotten rid of he says, but I want that guy down in Ft.
Myers, says, what's the name of that County? Old Claude Kirk didn't
even know the name of the County. He said that Sheriff in Ft. Myers.
Later on he came down here when the Kansas City Royals brought their
franchise in here. And, I was master of ceremonies of the opening
spring training game. And, there he was standing over on the side with
a little old silly looking baseball uniform on. And, he was the
BT: Silly looking uniform. A baseball.
ST: Had a baseball uniform on. But when I walked out of the Senate chambers
after being reinstated that evening he was standing there after the
Senate voted me back in office and he was pulling up his pants leg. I
says Governor, I'm gonna respect you as Governor as long as you're
Governor, but you better not come through my county-and going too fast,
you better respect me as Sheriff. That's the last time I saw him 'till
he come down here for the opening game of the Kansas City Royals spring
training. And I was M.C. I was on the mound, and I had to introduce
everybody. And he was standing over there waiting to be introduced, and
I said now I can't, I says this next fellow here, I don't know what he
is but I said, Mayor Corbin I says come out here and introduce this next
guy. I said he lives somewhere up around Tallahassee in a big old red
brick house. But, I said, I don't know what his name is 1, I wouldn't
even introduce him. Had to get the Mayor come out and introduce him.
I'd introduced the Mayor and everybody else. And Mr.and Mrs. Ewin
Kaufman and his wife and all, Kansas City Royal owners. I wouldn't
introduce Claude Kirk. And, that's the way I did. I, I had.
BT: Did he say anything later about it?
ST: No, he never spoke to me. He never spoke to me. He ain't spoke to me
since the day I walked out of the Senate chambers. And he won't next
month, if he was coming to town next month he wouldn't speak to me.
Because if he did I don't believe I'd speak to him.
BT: Sheriff, you had an opportunity to work with the Patrol and many members
around the state and in the Ft. Myers area. Do you remember any
outstanding occurrences that you could talk about or would like to tell
ST: Well, one particular one involved a very high ranking retired officer
from the Highway Patrol. He was a Sergeant that time and his, his
statement was when he'got promoted to Sergeant, says all I want to do is
make as good a Sergeant as you did. He and Russell Garris was just a
Patrolman. They were patrolling between here and the beach on McGregor
Boulevard. Who was this Sergeant?
BT: Who was this Sergeant?
ST: Kaufman, Bill Kaufman. He later I think retired as a Major, but anyhow,
he and Garris were patrolling between here and the beach and they didn't
know it but they stopped a car one light out or speeding or something, I
think it one light, and the man convict and a young boy he had picked up
in Tennessee had just robbed a man in Ft. Myers Beach and wife and set,
and set fire to their beach cottage. And, the man took a pot shot at
Garris, and Garris shot him. And, and so that was one particular
instance and Garris later on became a high ranking officer with the
Patrol. Kaufman is retired now. But he worked for me over in Pahokee
whenever I was a Sergeant after the war he came on the Patrol in
Pahokee. Kaufman was something else. He had him a bean patch over
there and one day I caught him sitting on the front fender of a patrol
car paying off his bean pickers.
BT: Ha, ha.
ST: He was supposed to be on duty. Back during rationing, gas rationing
time I told, I told my officers, I says now I want to tell you all
something, I says get'your rod and reel, stick it in the trunk of your
car and go out on the canal somewhere and try to catch you a mess of
fish, and don't put too many miles on your car because we're rationing
gasoline. Well, when Clyde Purtle got promoted to Sergeant the very
first thing he did, he told all of my Patrolmen over in West Palm Beach
after the war when I came home he got promoted to Sergeant and he told
all, all of the Patrolmen he says now we won't have no more of this
fishing. Take them rods out of your cars. And he was one of the ones
that did it with me. Because that's the way that I treated them.
BT: Well talk about Major Kaufman.
ST: Oh, he was a great.
BT: When he served with you over in Pahokee was he a Sergeant then or.
ST: Oh no he was a Patrolman.
BT: A Patrolman.
ST: He was just a Patrolman
BT: And you caught him paying off his bean pickers.
ST: Caught him, I caught him paying off his bean pickers sitting on the
front fender of his patrol car.
BT: What did you do about it?
ST: Just kind of chided him a little bit, and laughed about it and told him,
I said, careful buddy I said you'd better come out here in your private
car to your bean patch. He had leased a piece of property and was, had
somebody grow some beans for him. But he was a good officer. He was a
BT: You were with the Patrol during the early times. Can you recall some of
the changes you have observed?
ST: Oh, yes, the additional members of the Patrol and the Drivers License
Division. Department, whole Department of Public Safety is just a
minimum thing then. Wasn't even called the Department of Public
Safety. But, now they have this big building out there named after the
great Neil Kirkman
BT: What was it called if it wasn't called Department of Public Safety?
ST: Florida Highway Patrol. And, but now it's called Department of Public
Safety and they have all these different employees, the Drivers License
Division, and different offices in little communities and towns and they
have the substation. Just like the Ft. Myers area has its district
headquarters. And I've seen a lot men come and go, like Thomas who was,
was here as a Lieutenant and promoted to Captain and moved from here.
Like Conroy was a Lieutenant and I've seen Kaufman go away from here as
a Sergeant and he moved on up. And I saw Russell Garris go away from
here as a Trooper and he moved on up. We didn't call them Trooper, we
called them Patrolman. But, that never bothered me them changing it to
State Trooper never bothered me because like Colonel Kirkman. He says
go on home and run son. He says if you get elected then we've got a
friend in the Sheriff's office. And if you don't, you come back, your
job is waiting for you. And, and you think I haven't got a lot, didn't
have and don't still have a lot of respect for that man.
BT: What were the radio procedures and use for distance during the early
ST: Well, during the early years we didn't have any radios except those
people who lived in large cities, Patrolmen who were stationed in larger
communities like Jacksonville, Tampa, Miami. There was a couple of
local police departments. The state, the Highway Patrol would buy a
unit put in their car, and they would be tied in with the local police,
just like Daniels. He had a radio on his motorcycle. He called in and
he was stopping this Ohio car when got killed south of Miami near
Homestead south of Miami in '41. And that's the only way we knew where
he was. We didn't hear any more from him so we sent someone down to
check on him and found his motorcycle and him in the-ditch where the guy
had shot him. But they were, we were until we got our own radio system
we didn't know what a two-way radio was unless we were in a community
just like at Ft. Pierce when I was a Sergeant. At Ft. Pierce I was
hooked up with the Ft. Pierce Police Department and the men that was in
Stuart and Vero Beach weren't hooked with anybody 'cause they didn't
have two-way radios. And I'll tell you the truth about the thing, when
I took office in 1948 the Lee County Sheriff's Department, I was the
first person to put in two-way radios in Lee County in law enforcement
automobiles other than the Florida Highway Patrol in 1948 after the war.
BT: What did Lee County have?
ST: Nothing. They had a '39 law statute book and two men and two jailers
and a Sheriff. That's what it was. And I took office and after,
shortly after that I wanted communications system. Well they didn't
know what the, of course we were on a budget system. We were on a fee
system but I just went ahead and bought it. And, weathered the storm,
and got it paid for and got two-way radios and later we got teletypes
and later we got fingerprint department and everything like that. And
it was a time of change after the war.
ST: And we had to do it. And the Highway Patrol prior to the war they had
their radios later on just before the war and then, then after the war
they were hooked up with more sophisticated equipment which they have
today. And, they need every bit of it because they're up against some
sophisticated criminals. They need all they can get. That death in
Bradenton of that boy *in Bradenton is a good example.
BT: Sheriff Young.
ST: Yeah, Young, whatever his name I read about it in the paper and my heart
went out to him and his family. Because it could happen in a moment's
notice to any one of you that puts on a badge in the morning and goes to
BT: Right. Sheriff, you said a few minutes ago something about the gas.
How was fuel purchased and what the cost of gas and oil during that
ST: Ha, well it was purchased on we had stamps when it was rationed. They'd
send us stamps and we'd issue the stamps to the men and they'd have to
cut down on their mileage and let the car do a lot of work. They'd park
on along the side of the road and sit there and they, and I'd tell them
if they're near a canal go ahead and put your rod and reel in the trunk
of your car and catch you a mess of fish because bass run in all canals.
And it was just one of those things. Probably 23 cents a gallon or
something like that. But those were gas rations and then later on gas
rations even after I became Sheriff gas rations. I've seen long lines.
Of course I built my department up from nothing to start with. I left
office, I left office I had a hundred and five employees and I left the
present Sheriff, or the one that just went out this last January, I left
him with a hundred employees (one million one hundred thousand dollar
budget). And in his -16 years he's raised the budget to 18 right at 18
million dollars. And, he's got about' 500 employees and they don't do
anything like we used to do. The Highway Patrol today has to take care
of all wrecks and all accidents. The other day I felt so sorry right
there in front of my house a subdivision mind you a little Volksrabbit
turned over and here come the prettiest little old Highway Patrol girl
you ever saw in your life. Little blond headed girl come out, and I
said, "Honey, what you doing here investigating this accident why ain't
the Sheriff's Department?" "We take care of all of it. They don't take
care of accidents." Well I'll tell you, we did and I think they still
should do it because the Patrol is for the purpose of regulating traffic
on the main arterial highways and that's what it should be. They
shouldn't have to drive in subdivisions off the main highways and worry
about that. That's the Sheriff's duties because it's written in the
book and that's exactly what hasn't been done locally here during the
last 16 years. I just hope the new one. I called him the other day and
I said, "Son, I want to tell you something. You're the new Sheriff
and," I said, "The same people who were after him for 16 years will be
after you." I said, "But that goes with the territory." I said, "You
be the people's Sheriff and you get yourself out there on response time
to these calls. You delegate the ones supposed to do the work, and you
let your men investigate some of these wrecks." I said, "The Highway
Patrol's having to do it all and not getting anywhere near the salary
that you starting off your men at. I said, "It's a pitiful shame when
they have to do all the investigation of accidents." He says, "Sheriff,
I intend to let them, the Deputies, do it." He says, "I'll have them do
it." I said, "Well, that's great. If you stick to that you'll be the
people's Sheriff I said and you may stay there awhile."
BT: Well, going back to the gas. You said gas back, way back in the early
times was 23 cents a gallon. How much was the oil a quart?
ST: Oh, about 60 cents a quart.
BT: 60 cents.
ST: Yes, probably.
BT: That high?
ST: Reported 60 cents. Reported 60 cents. 28 to 40 cents. You'd get some
oil for 28 cents, lubricating oil for 28 cents a quart. And, you'd
change your own oil in your patrol car and you'd get under it and drop
your oil out on a sand bottom somewhere. And you'd fill it up with five
- PAGE 47
ST: You did your own, a lot of your own maintenance work you did it. But it
BT: How do you look upon the law enforcement community in Lee County today?
ST: Well, see we have a lot different than it was in my day because we only
had one municipality in Lee County. Now they have Ft. Myers, Sannibel
and Cape Coral. Course Cape Coral was not there when I was Sheriff.
Oh, it was too low was just get filled in. And Lehigh Acres was a
community. We had around 23,000 people living in the whole county but
now I think the law enforcement community in this county is, is good. I
think the outgoing Sheriff the one that didn't run again. He worked for
me around two or three years. But he'd been a seasoned law enforcement
officer when I hired him in city police department Ft. Myers. He didn't
run again this time because he had enough time in in a high hazard to
get his retirement and I'm proud for him. But the new Sheriff is' gonna
do fine. I'm sure of that. I feel he's gonna do fine with his, he's
got a good budget, he's got a good group of people, and he's, it's
started out not trying to make a big name for himself but just to
reorganize his department and to work with the local agencies, with the
local law enforcement agency and the Highway Patrol. And maybe it will
help the Highway Patrol from having to go out and investigate all these
things that they're having to investigate wrecks in different
subdivisions things that the Sheriff should be handing that. They can
write or they shouldn't be there as a Deputy. And he's, he's promised
that he will see that they help them investigate accidents. And that is
one of my prime gripes about the outgoing Sheriff. He did not do
anything in that respect, in fact his men would stay there and work
traffic until the Highway Patrolman got there at the busiest corner.
They wouldn't think about really investigating an accident. And, it was
plum pitiful because the poor old Patrolman don't start at what they
start the Sheriffs Deputies at now. And they don't make the same money
that the Sheriffs make. High ranking officers, the high ranking officer
in this county is the Sheriff himself makes over sixty thousand dollars
a year. My salary never got over eighteen thousand nine hundred dollars
ST: It's based on population. But we had a group of Sheriffs who ran for
other public offices like Malcolm Beard, Senator Beard, like Ed
Blackburn. Different Sheriffs ran for representatives and senators and
they had special acts passed up there to help us old Sheriffs out a
little bit. Two years ago any Sheriff that had 20 years in prior to
January '73 got X amount of dollars plus all of the annuities that they
would get. And you know that kind helped us, some of us old boogers out
because I had 24 years as Sheriff and all my military time and the
Highway Patrol time which gave me 36 years in the retirement system. So
my retirement's more than what my maximum salary ever was.
BT: That's good. Sheriff is there anything that this interview has brought
to your mind that you wish to relate to me?
ST: Oh, yes, there's so many things that I can think back and think of what
we did whenever I was on the Patrol. And how -the Patrol in its
inception was organized. How they did and went out. Most of the men
were on motorcycles. Some had cars in fact Reid Clifton, big old husky
thing later on was the Director of the Highway Patrol. Colonel Clifton,
they gave him a car and he was so big, you can ask Tony Maseda in
Tallahassee he'll tell you. Because Reid rode around on a motorcycle
with a side car on it and poor old Tony Maseda was in the side car and
almost flipped him out of it. But Reid was so big he couldn't get on a
motorcycle because he was too big to fit on it. So they gave him an
automobile and they cut part of the front seat out and gave him a
cushion so they could get one seat slid back in it where he could sit in
it without bumping his head. But that was one instance happened in all
the years that I was on it. When anything special happened like
Governor Holland was inaugurated Governor they called me up gave'me, I
went down to pick up my old motorcycle and I picked up other motormen
and we went to Tallahassee and handled all the escort services. But,
old Governor Cone, the old Governor, bless his heart, he was walking
down the Capitol and I said to him I said, "Governor where you going."
He said, "I'm going, gonna go to Lake City." I says, "Well, what do you
want to go to Lake City for?" He says, "Well," he says, "That other
Governor." He's talking about Spessard Holland. He says, "January
1941." He says, "That other Governor's up there at the mansion
now." I said, "Where is Mrs., Mrs., Mrs. Cone." He says, "Oh Mildred's
up there with him. Him and her," he says. "She just wants to be
smart." Says, "Can you boys take me to Lake City?" So I got me five
motorcycle men and we escorted that old man all the way to Lake City
from Tallahassee. The only four lane road in the state was from the
Columbia County line to Lake City. Curb to curb four lanes with a
double line in the middle. That was the only four lane road in the
state of Florida. And he stood on the front porch of that big old
colonial home he had, old red brick home. He was the head banker there
in Lake City. He stood there on the porch and he said, "Well I'll tell
you boys something. If you all ever come through Lake City," says,
"Come by," and he says, "I'll feed you some bacon and grits." Oh
there's so many things. Governor Holland was so close and every time
he'd want to go somewhere and Senator Franklin was here they'd want to
go to Key West or anything they'd call me up. I'd go, I've driven
Governor Holland to St. Louis, places like that to American Legion
Conventions and things like that. He'd call me up and I'd go with him.
I had a beautiful career with the Patrol and I had a beautiful career
right back here at home where I was raised, as Sheriff.
ST: And I'm sitting over here listening to the birds sing and enjoy every
moment of it. Oh, there's so many things I could relate to you that
might be interesting to somebody, certainly interesting to me because
I've lived it. And I've enjoyed it, and I've been blessed by it.
Blessed with a wonderful wife and family and two fine grandchildren.
And still enjoying life.
ST: And listening to the birds sing too.
BT: That's a lot to be thankful for.
ST: It surely is.
BT: Sheriff, ever since I've heard of you I've always heard of Sheriff Snag
Thompson. How did you get that name?
ST: Well, when I was in grade school, Edison Park had just been built and
the '26 hurricane had torn it up. And they had only one grade school in
Ft. Myers that was the Gwen Institute downtown. And we were going, all
the kids on the south and the west side of town, the poor section of
town, we went to the afternoon session. At Gwen Institute uptown,
Edison Park School. And they refixed it, remodeled it and fixed it up
what was torn up in the '26 hurricane and in '27 they opened up that
school. I's in about the fourth grade. And I had chipped off one of my
front teeth here, a little chip off of it. And so the teacher, in about
the fourth or fifth grade, 'cause 1 went on to junior high school
shortly after that. We had a junior high and high school in those days
you know. We had three, three grades in junior high school and three
grades in high school.
ST: Now they have the middle school and the high school. But anyway, she's
going down the list and boy by the name of Pursley, she named him "Perk"
Pursley of the Turf Company out of St. Petersburg, Walter Pursley. His
daddy was president of the bank. She named him Perk. Different ones
she gave a nickname to. She come to me and she said your name's
Thompson and she said it's now end of the line and Flanders is your
first name. And I got that after my mother's last name. Her name was
Flanders. And, but she said I'm going to give you a nickname, says. I
grinned and kind of smiled and she said I think I'll call you Snag
because of that tooth being broken off. I said all right. So it kept
on then when I got in junior high school I played baseball in the
outfield, I snagged a fly. Snag snags a pass. High school I played
football. Snag I mean Snag snags a fly in the outfield playing
baseball. Snag snags a pass I played then on the football team. And I,
when I finished high school 1935 I worked and still going by the name of
snag and then in 1940 I went on the Highway Patrol. And from then on
everywhere I went it followed me. Snag snags a speeder or Snag snags a
criminal. I became Sheriff Snag snags a is there quick. And you know I
named my children Thomas Lee so it would be synonymous to a nickname and
he's called Tommy. I named my youngest son after his grandpa my
father. Named him John Wesley and he's called Johnny. Not that it ever
harmed me. The nickname has always done me a pleasure. But it, I named
him a, I named them some names so it would be synonymous to a nickname.
"'a PAGE 53
ST: I think, have I answered your question on that? Ha, ha.
BT: You have. Sheriff Thompson, thank you for taking this time and giving
me this interview for the FHP Oral History Project. I'm sure this
interview and the information you have given will be beneficial to us.
ST: Well, I've enjoyed it. I've certainly enjoyed it Betty, and the Highway
Patrol was good to me. The only thing is it's a terrible shame that the
Florida Legislature won't give them the necessary monies to make them
comparable to local agencies. And so many of them are leaving the
Highway Patrol and going to work because they can't support their
families on some of the salaries that they're making. But those that
are staying are truly dedicated people and a person who's dedicated to
law enforcement, he stands tall in my thinking.
BT: Right, right. Well, Sheriff, again thank you and I want to thank you
for all the years that you've given to law enforcement and to the
citizens of Florida.