"I like a mystery," Gower said. "It's a project that I am really enjoying."
She volunteered to begin a search for photos when Sheriff Buck Foley said he would like to put up a "Wall of Fame" in the new jail, featuring framed pictures bearing the names of all the Sheriffs who have served Fulton County during its history.
"I thought about doing this because I have seen displays honoring past sheriffs in many other counties I have been in over the years," Foley, a former Arkansas State Police Trooper, said. "I would like to see Fulton County acknowledge those who came before. A lot of people have kinfolk who have served as Sheriff."
Acccording to records in the County Clerk's office, 42 people have served as Fulton County Sheriff since the county was formed in 1882. The first Sheriff, who served from 1843 to 1844, is listed as F. Tolbert.
Gower expects to obtain many Sheriffs' photos from the Arkansas Sheriff's Association, which has been collecting pictures of sitting Sheriffs since the mid-50s. As for Sheriffs from the early 50s and earlier, Gower's first approach is what Foley mentioned - relatives of past Sheriffs.
"O.C. Weathers, who was sheriff from 1926 to 1928, was the father of Louise Humphries and Betty Whitaker, so I'm hoping I can get his picture from them," Gowers said. She also believes that former sheriff, Roy Lee Barker, can provide a photo of Luther "Biscuit" Maguffee, who served from 1945 to 1948. Jim Weathers is being counted on to provide a photo of J.L. Weathers, who served from 1949 to 1954. Gower has been told that Salem's new Police Chief, Shad Overman, may have a picture of R. Benton, who served as sheriff from 1855 to 1856.
Others are going to take more detective work. Gower has been told that W. T. Bowling, sheriff from 1933 to 1934, may have a nephew in the West Plains area, and M.D. Risner, sheriff from 1941 to 1944, married a Shrable girl, so she plans to contact Shrable's in Viola in hopes of tracking down a photo.
"It's fun," Gower laughed, when told it sounds like she's volunteered for a lot of time consuming searching.
As she searches, Gower is finding out a lot of interesting facts about the Fulton County Sheriff's office. From 1843 to 1999, the Tax Collector also served as Sheriff, and was paid by receiving a percentage of taxes collected. Lloyd Martz was the first person to serve when sheriff became an office separate from tax collector. Matrz served from 1999 to 2004.
Records show one early sheriff had no deputies, and received no salary. His wife worked in the collector's office, and the county provided only a patrol vehicle and a uniform.
Other interesting facts:
|H.O. Smith was elected as sheriff-collector in 1937, but died before he took office. Lester Collins, a legendary name in Fulton County politics, filled the vacant post from 1937 to 1940, and became sheriff again between 1963 and 1968.|
Lucille Wait, the only woman to serve as sheriff in Fulton County, served from 1959 to 1962. "Usually, women became sheriff to serve out the term if their husband died," Foley said, "but I understand that she (Lucille) ran for the office and was elected, and re-elected."
|The names of past sheriffs indicate that many early settlers still have family in Fulton County. Past sheriffs were named Barker, Martin, Shaver, Cunningham, Caruthers, Weathers, Langston, Collins and Magufee, and there are still plenty of family members with those names in the area today.|
A Sheriffs' Wall of Fame is not something that is in the budget for the new Fulton County Jail. Foley and Gower are hoping that contributions from individuals and businesses will make it become reality.
"I hope we can pay tribute to past Sheriffs," Foley said. "The new jail will really be a law enforcement complex which everybody (all law enforcement agencies) will use. It will be more than just a jail."
Anyone who has a photo of a former sheriff can contact Gower at the Fulton County Jail. She works the 4:00 p.m. to midnight shift.
While Gower is busy getting other people's photos, she declined to have her picture taken. After 15-years in the Sheriff's office, and years of doing sewing for others, she expects everyone knows her anyway.
Architects and engineers working on the final drawings and design details for the new jail hope to submit a complete package to the USDA, which is providing a low interest loan, by Oct. 5. As soon as the project is approved and a loan closing takes place, the county can advertise for bids and contractors can be hired. The hope is construction on the jail, which is behind schedule, can begin by late this year.