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|Booth pens book on Ouachita Parish sheriffs|
Few people today probably know about the widespread violence in Ouachita Parish during its early years, but an upcoming book by veteran journalist Ken Booth on Ouachita's sheriffs will detail this fact and give some of the history on the men who served as the parish's No. 1 law enforcement officer.
"Tombstone, Arizona had nothing on Ouachita," Booth said during a telephone interview Tuesday with The Ouachita Citizen.
Booth, who retired not long ago from KNOE TV8, was referring to Ouachita Parish's violent past.
For months, Booth researched the history of the Ouachita Sheriff's Office, talking with descendants of the former sheriffs, going through crumpled, aged documents and literally camping out in the parish library for weeks. A local man, E. Ross Williams, also gave Booth a great deal of information on the earlier sheriffs.
Booth, who calls Arizona home these days, was encouraged to write the book by Sheriff Richard Fewell, who plans to distribute copies to deputies and personnel employed by the sheriff's office. Out of the 500 copies scheduled for print of "The Sheriffs of Ouachita," Booth will keep 100 copies to give to friends and family. Fewell also plans to make several copies available for the public at local libraries.
Booth said he enjoyed his research, and learned much about the sheriffs and the history of Ouachita. The effort, though, was not easy, since little information was available on the earlier sheriffs.
Booth determined there have been a total of 36 sheriffs, and in his 110-page book, he gives a brief biographical sketch of each.
In 1793 there was no organized law enforcement until Don Juan Fihoil designated people to uphold the law.
Much later, around 1805, as Monroe began to grow, more residents petitioned for better law enforcement, Booth said.
"What I found interesting is that so few of the sheriffs over the last 100 years were elected," Booth said. "They were appointed by the recommendation of Fihoil."
Booth said early Ouachita was a "totally different world."
"It was very violent, and lot of blood was spilled," he said. "I didn't realize it was as bad as it was."
Three sheriffs were assassinated. One was John Wisner, who was shot by a posse through the door of the sheriff's office.
Another, Dr. Benny Dinkgrave, was killed after he left office.
"That's one of the great unsolved murders of Ouachita Parish," Booth said.
Another sheriff was killed by his own cousin shortly after he left office.
Booth found that acts of violence were common in those days. He discussed an incident in his book in which a man paid a visit to Monroe, bought a rifle and then shot 29 people before he was eventually killed.
"He was actually shot and killed; then they hanged him and burned him right near city hall property," Booth said.
Because of that routine violence, Booth said there was a period of time when it was almost impossible to find someone to take on the job of sheriff.
After Reconstruction ended, Monroe began to prosper again, and things got a little quieter, he said.
Booth also came across some strange facts during his research about some of the parish's early sheriffs.
He laughed as he recalled how the third sheriff, William Dawson, was accused by several men of having sex with their cattle. Those rumors were started before Dawson became sheriff, and Booth said he must have been exonerated since he was eventually appointed to the position by Filhoil.
"Dawson had this name for it (the alleged act with the cattle)," Booth said as he searched through his notes to find it. "He called it 'bugury' and these rumors just outraged this man and he took a petition to Filhoil around 1798 saying he had been mistreated and slandered and he wanted some kind of redress."
Booth found a document that ruled in favor of Dawson and ordered the men who started the rumor to pay $300 to "the church building fund."
Booth said he is glad he took up this task to research and write the book, and he hopes residents of Ouachita will take some time to learn a little more about the parish's sheriffs. Residents interested in reading the book can find a copy at Ouachita Parish Library branches once it's printed.
"The Sheriffs of Ouachita" is being printed now, and Booth expects he will deliver the copies to Fewell later this month or by early February.