DIVISION OF FLORIDA HIGHWAY PATROL
50TH ANNIVERSARY ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEW WITH CAPTAIN OTIS L. MCARTHUR
MAY 5, 1989
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY RUSSELL B. GARRIS
RG: Good morning. I'm Russell Garris with the Florida Highway Patrol, and
we're interviewing Otis L. McArthur that was an original member in 1939
for the oral history of the Florida Highway Patrol. The 50th
anniversary that'll be near the end of 1989. We are at the Panama City
Florida Highway Patrol station. It's 11:09 AM on May the 5th. For the
record, Sir, what is your full name?
OM: Otis Lee McArthur.
RG: Where were you born?
OM: Pensacola, Florida.
RG: In what year?
RG: Okay. Where did you go to school?
RG: And, did you go to college after high school?
OM: I finished high school and took several college courses in the field of
RG: What prompted you to go on the Highway Patrol?
OM: Well, I just always liked the look of a police officer and always wanted
to be one. And I guess I followed in my father's footsteps. He was a
law enforcement officer.
RG: In Pensacola?
RG: Okay, did you do any other jobs before you became a trooper?
OM: Yes Sir. I worked for the Sheriff's office some too.
RG: You did, Pensacola?
OM: As a jailer, wasn't any outside work. But I enjoyed that.
RG: Okay, now you were one of the original members. How did you learn about
the Highway Patrol that was going to begin in '39, and what made you
OM: Well, I happened to be in a race with a fellow, Edwin Holesberry, for
State Representative, and he won. He came by one day and asked me about
running over to Tallahassee with him, to see about getting on the
RG: Okay, you say he ran for office?
OM: He ran for Representative and was elected. And I wasn't elected.
RG: And you ran against him.
RG: Okay, and that was in 1939, or '38?
OM: May of '38.
RG: '38. And that for what office?
RG: For Escambia County area?
OM: Yes. We rode to Tallahassee and talked to Colonel Kirkman. He said
come back in about five years. Everything was filled up.
RG: Oh, that was in '39?
RG: Okay, so how, what changed that?
OM: Well, I guess they didn't want to lose a good man.
OM: And, I had a good friend who knew the Governor and he put in a good word
RG: Well that was not unusual for a number of years. Certainly at the
outset of the Patrol, because of so many people applying. Where did
they first send you, you went to school in Bradenton. Is that right?
OM: Yes, I went to Bradenton to school and then I went to Titusville for my
RG: In Bradenton can you remind me and tell me what you remember about the
Broken Spoke Club and how that started in the first school. Do you
OM: No, I can't.
RG: Okay, well we'll talk to you about it later.. Anything outstanding in
the school? Do you remember anything in the school?
OM: It was a rough school. We had to stay four to a room in a motel. And
if we wanted to study at night we had to get in the bathroom and turn
the light on. We didn't have a Beautyrest mattress either; we had cots,
but we all enjoyed it.
OM: I don't know if you are aware that 8,000 people wanted those first jobs,
and only 32 men were hired.
RG: That's right, I understand there was a lot of people that wanted them.
Do you remember some of the instructors in the school? Colonel Kirkman.
OM: Colonel Kirkman, yes Sir.
RG: And, Colonel Mingle from Ohio.
OM: Colonel Mingle, yes.
RG: And then you were sent to Melbourne you say?
RG: Titusville. And, how long did you stay there?
OM: About a year.
RG: Okay, can you kind of give me a chronology of where you went and where
you were stationed?
OM: Well, I was stationed in Titusville which had a territory of 81 miles
and the longest county in the state. When we left out in the morning we
stopped by the Sheriff's office and told them what direction we were
patrolling that day and they would call service stations along that
route if they needed us and we'd stop and check in to see if we had any
RG: You didn't have radios at that time?
OM: That's all the communication we had.
OM: You'd go across the little wooden bridge.
That was known as Merritt
RG: Merritt Island is where Cape Kennedy is now. At that time it was woods
OM: If we had a day off, we'd go over there and shoot ducks. It happened
very seldom, that we had a day off.
RG: What did you shoot them with?
OM: 12-gauge shotgun.
RG: Ha, ha, ha. Okay, did you have. There was a station in Orlando at that
OM: No, Sir.
RG: There was not.
Where was, you had no communications on radio.
OM: The only way to contact Tallahassee was by phone.
RG: Tallahassee was the only one.
OM: Our daily reports were simple then we identified our unit and reported
our time of departure in the AM and the direction we were headed.
RG: That was the daily report.
OM: That was the daily report.
RG: And you mailed that in or each day.
OM: Every day.
RG: Okay, and then after you were stationed in Titusville for, for awhile,
where was your next station then?
OM: I was transferred to Marianna.
OM: I stayed there about two years and I was transferred to Camp Blanding.
RG: Camp Blanding. Was it anything of those transfers at your request or
did they just normally change you every now and then.
OM: Yes, Sir. I requested a move from Titusville to Marianna. I was
sitting on the side of the road one day and got down close to the Santa
Rosa County line. Pig Green came by. That's our Captain. I said,
Captain, if you ever get a chance I'd like to get out of here. I'm a
long ways from home. And in about a month I got a letter that I could
move to Marianna, Florida.
RG: And then you went to Camp Blanding?
OM: Camp Blanding. That was some rough times.
RG: Besides Green was the Captain. Where did he live?
RG: In Tallahassee. Did you have any other supervisors closer than that?
And who else did you report to or talk to about any problems you might
have besides Green?
OM: Well, J. Hall was there and Smith was there.
RG: And, Hall, did he start with you all at the same time?
OM: Yes, Sir.
RG: In, in 1939. And Green was already with the State Road Department. Is
that right. Or did he start at that rank.
OM: That's right.
RG: He was with the State Road Department. When were you first promoted to,
to supervisor at rank?
OM: Oh, when I was at Camp Blanding I was promoted to Buck Sergeant.
RG: What, what year was that approximately?
PAGE 10 '
OM: Well, about, I'd say '42 I was promoted when I was at Camp Blanding.
I'd say '42.
RG: Was that to Sergeant, or, they didn't have any Corporals then, did
they? That was to Sergeant, is that right?
OM: That's right.
RG: And were you moved, or did you stay in Camp Blanding?
OM: I stayed in Camp Blanding.
RG: What territory did you have then?
OM: Well, we had part of Gainesville and part of Starke and half of
RG: Ha, ha, ha. A big area, huh?
OM: A lot of mornings we'd be up until two o'clock. Clyde would take one
way and go by Lake City and I'd take one and go by Gainesville. That's
when the Army was on maneuvers. And we might get back in that night in
time to go to bed, or sometimes to turn around and go again.
RG: Those were during the war years.
PAGE 11 '
OM: War years.
RG: Were you married when you went on the Highway Patrol?
OM: Yes, yes, Sir.
RG: And, did you have any children?
RG: Okay, did you later have any children?
OM: One daughter.
RG: Okay, and what year was she born?
OM: '45, now.
RG: Okay, all right and your family moved with you each place that you went.
OM: Not at first. I was in Titusville and there wasn't any place to live.
When we were in Camp Blanding and my wife moved down there with me, and
if we wanted something to eat we'd drive over to a little place close to
Gainesville. We didn't have any place to stay when we were troopers
there. We stayed in barracks.
RG: What barracks was that. The Camp Blanding barracks.
OM: No, our barracks. Over at the Highway Patrol station.
RG: There was a station where then?
OM: The Army built us barracks and office space for our headquarters.
RG: Okay, all right. What sort of salary did you start out at.
OM: We started out at $125/month and I got a ten dollar raise when I made
RG: You got to be Sergeants.
OM: Yeah, yeah. Well, it wasn't much, wasn't very much. I can't remember
just what it was back that far.
RG: Probably about a hundred and twenty-five, hundred and thirty-five
dollars a month.
OM: About that, I'd say.
RG: And, what, what, you lived in the barracks there, but in some other
areas did you have to rent an apartment or what did you do?
OM: In Titusville I did. Yes, Sir.
RG: What sort of rent did you have to pay there?
OM: Well I don't remember too much about that but when I moved to Marianna
they had, a lady who had built four new garage apartments. And she
rented them to us. There was two of us. We rented 'em for three
dollars apiece, a week.
RG: Three dollars a week.
OM: We went across the street and got good home cooked meals for thirty-five
RG: Thirty-five cent meals. Things have changed a little bit now.
OM: In the morning we'd go down to the bus station and get a donut and a cup
of coffee free.
RG: Okay, now whenever you worked in your first station in Titusville what
sort of auto, did you have a car or a motorcycle?
OM: I had a Chevrolet to start with.
RG: A 1940?
OM: Yes, I guess it was, but then I went to Jacksonville and picked up a
PAGE 14 '
Ford because the Chevys just didn't hold up well.
RG: And that was in what year, '39, or I mean '40 or?
OM: About '40.
RG: About '40. Who was the Sheriff then, do you remember who it was?
OM: Bill Williams.
RG: Bill Williams. He was there for a number of years after that. Called
him Whispering Bill didn't we.
OM: Whispering Bill? No he's a country singer!
RG: Ha, Ha.
OM: He never wore a gun or a badge, never did no, and had one motorcycle cop
named Trigger Griggs.
RG: Now he worked for the Sheriff's office.
OM: No, he worked for the County as a County Patrolman, but he worked
through the Sheriff's office.
RG: Through the Sheriff's office.
OM: And I lived with Bill, well, I lived with Trigger when I was there. My
rent was pretty cheap.
RG: Okay, did you ever have to ride a motorcycle any time during your
OM: Only in training but not on the road. As a matter of fact, I got the
last car assigned before they got to the motorcycles.
RG: You didn't. You were lucky, huh?
OM: Well, yeah. We was all out there at the school and they was calling out
the cars. Twenty-six cars. The rest of them were motorcycles. And
plenty of them.
RG: So there were 32 of you all that graduated and 26 got automobiles and
that means six got motorcycles.
OM: When they called the 25th one I didn't get it.
Twenty-six one is
RG: And you got the last car? Okay.
OM: We had one poor boy there who went to Key West on that motorcycle.
PAGE 16 "
RG: Hancock, Clint Hancock? Yeah, all right. When you, you were a Sergeant
in Camp Blanding how long were you a Sergeant there, 'till about?
OM: Went to Panama City and then they promoted me to be First Sergeant and I
was in charge of all supplies from Tallahassee to Pensacola.
RG: Tallahassee to Pensacola, but you lived in Panama City. Okay, and what,
what then happened.
OM: We didn't have a headquarters in PC we worked out of the jail then
they set up headquarters in Chipley in the State Road Department down in
RG: In Chipley.
RG: But it had been in Panama City.
OM: No, we only worked out of the jail. They just made me First Sergeant
and transferred me. That's when I got transferred to Chipley.
RG: To Chipley, Okay.
OM: And then when we bought this building here in PC we moved back to PC.
PAGE 17 *
RG: So when you retired, you retired here in Panama City? Okay, what was
you rank at that time.
RG: Okay, and.
OM: The biggest mistake I ever made was when I left the rank of First
RG: You, mean you rather would have been a First Sergeant?
OM: Nobody bothered you as a Sergeant. When you put those bars on your
shoulders they shoot at you. Even old friends change some expected
you to be hard on them and others expected special favors.
RG: That's right. Now, is there anything that you may not have covered
about your career with the Patrol that was outstanding to you. In other
words some things that may have happened to you or a certain person that
you may have been involved in apprehending or anything like that?
OM: A fellow killed a Sheriff in Defuniak Springs.
RG: In Defuniak Springs?
OM: Defuniak Springs. We were all called up there.
RG: What year was this approximately?
OM: About '45.
RG: About '45.
OM: We hunted everywhere for that man, all day and all that night. And the
next night about eleven o'clock we walked through a yard and we heard a
racket in the bushes. Our suspect was hiding in an outdoor john he
had been hiding there all day and night.
RG: Is that right?
OM: We placed him in the back of our car. He was pitiful. There were a lot
of bad wrecks then and because of poor communications it was harder to
get to the people to help them.
RG: Okay, are any people, in other words you started off with the original
32 members. Is anybody that's outstanding within that school that has
been a friend of yours all through these years, or Captain Carlan?
OM: Clyde has been a good friend since the beginning.
RG: All right, and who was the Director, the first Director of the Highway
Patrol. Do you remember who that was? Who was that?
OM: Bill Reid.
PAGE 19 '
RG: Okay, and but wasn't it Reid to start with? And then Kirkman was the.
OM: You're right, you're right, Director then, Kirkman I'm sorry. You're
RG: Okay, who was the Director when you retired. Was that that Colonel
Kirkman still? Okay, is anything you'd like to add then?
OM: No I enjoyed every bit of it, and I made a lot of friends I think. And
I treated everybody like I'd want to be treated. And I know I made some
enemies, but I tried not to.
RG: And, you'd do it again.
OM: I'd do it again.
RG: Did, did you run, what happened after you retired? Did you, did you run
for office here?
OM: I ran for Sheriff and got defeated.
RG: What year was that approximately?
RG: '49 or '50.
OM: '59, excuse me, I'm sorry.
RG: Okay, '59.
RG: Okay, but you originally started off before you went on the Highway
Patrol running for the state representative's office and you didn't
receive that, so you went on the Highway Patrol. Then after you retired
you ran for Sheriff. Ha, ha. Okay, have you done any other things
since, since you retired.
OM: Yes, I served as Acting Rd. Superintendent for the Bay Co. Road
Department. Worked with the beach police and then worked for Tullis
Easterling, Sheriff of Bay Co., for ten years as a civil Deputy.
RG: Was that in the Sheriff's office?
OM: Ten years. Yes.
RG: Here in Bay County.
OM: At Long Beach until they incorporated it as it is today.
RG: What city was that?
OM: Long Beach.
RG: Panama City Beach.
OM: Long Beach. It is Panama City Beach now, but it was Long Beach, and
other little communities at the beach separate little "cities".
RG: Long Beach.
OM: Now they incorporated it into Panama City Beach.
RG: But you were the Chief of Police there? And, how many people did you
have working for you there?
RG: Three. And what year did you retire from that, about?
OM: I stayed there as Chief of Police about two years. They incorporated
and then I went on up to the other place as a radio operator for Chief
PAGE 22 ,
RG: On Panama City Beach now? Okay. All right, and.
OM: After I retired I was a Road Superintendent for awhile. I've been into
everything in the world.
RG: With the State Road Department?
OM: No, county, yeah.
RG: The County Road Department here in Bay County?
OM: Uh huh.
RG: Okay, well I was certainly enjoyed to you and I know that it's an honor
to have talked to one of the members that was original with the Highway
Patrol. And you had a good and long career with the Patrol. And the
present Director, Colonel, or either Director Bobby Burkett is proud
that we were able to talk to you people and I know he is appreciative of
you participating with us. Is there anything you'd like to add at this
OM: I'm just proud that I could be one of the bunch that you got to talk
to. I hope that after all these years I have played a small part in
making the Highway Patrol the professional law enforcement agency it is
RG: You referring to.
OM: Right, the thirty-niners.
RG: Thirty-niners, all right. Thank you very much, and we'll conclude the
interview at this time.
OM: Thank you very much.
RG: Okay we'll continue asking one more question of Captain McArthur about
the Panama City station. Can you tell me how that came into being?
OM: Yes, Sir. This was a government building, part of the shipyard. The
over here. And, I, I, we had a friend by the name of Forest Holland who
was a Representative. And I got with Forest Holland and for one dollar
we got all this government property.
RG: The property that the station, the old station and the new station now
is on. That was from the Army or?
OM: The federal government.
RG: From the government. And that was.
OM: The shipyard. In other words this was a part of the shipyard and they
had barracks all over these woods out here.
PAGE 24 '
RG: Approximately what year was that? The best that you remember.
??: Late '40s or early '50s.
OM: Late '40s.
RG: Were you a Lieutenant here then or a First Sergeant here then?
OM: First Sergeant.
RG: First Sergeant. So you helped them obtain the property for the station
OM: I don't guess they would have had a station here then if the two of us
hadn't gotten with Forest Holland a representative friend of ours and
went to work on it.
??: He's working out of the Sheriff's office here.
OM: And like I say we got the whole thing for $1.00.
RG: And that was Forest Holland?
OM: Uh huh.
OM: State representative.
OM: Representative, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
RG: Okay, thank you.
??: Switch it over here just a moment.
RG: Captain McArthur during your career though we didn't cover the part
about the driver's license test. Did you give them from the start? And
the locations where you were stationed?
OM: The first place was when I came to Panama City.
RG: You didn't give them before?
OM: We didn't give them, we weren't giving any tests then we just like the
Captain said, the Major said awhile ago, we gave them a driver's license
and no test, but I don't remember what year they started the test.
RG: Okay, and you worked.
I, ,PAGE 26
RG: You worked out of the Sheriff's office in Bay County with your radio.
Is that right?
OM: That's right.
OM: And then we got our own. Got one in those old cars that is.
RG: Okay, but up to that time they contacted you through the Sheriff's
office and you received your calls from them. Okay.