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Past Sheriffs of Madison County

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Dalton Dotson

 

1931-1932

Arkansas Gazette Magazine: November 6, 1932, By Katherine Few.

Hidden away from the world in a snug little unpainted four-room shack on the side of a rock-covered Ozark hill, Dolton Dotson, pride of Arkansas romance, lives with his tiny black-eyed girl wife.

He is tall. He is handsome. He has Gary Cooper’s glamor- that simplicity. They called him the “Boy Sheriff”- he was elected when he was 25- but he is not all boy. True, he would rather talk about scaly-bark hickory nuts that politics and squirrel-hunting than crops. His collarbone was broken the other day in a playful wrestling match.

“Who broke your collar-bone?” somebody asked.

“I’ll declare I don’t know the feller’s name. He was on the Texas border though. I drove 200 miles ‘fore I ever knew it was broke. This wooden splint here- I told my wife yesterday I’ve carried more timber on my back since I’ve had this bad shoulder than I ever did in all my life before.” He grinned and the room lighted up.

Dotson resigned as sheriff and collector of Madison County on August 23rd and bought a 70-acre tract near Huntsville. Now he’s a farmer. The excitement and responsibility of holding a sheriff’s job were great fun to this brown young Ozarkian but there was some trouble about claims. To enforce the law properly, money was needed, and no money was forthcoming. So the boy discharged his jailer and two deputies, rolled a cigarette, and walked out- in full good humor. He didn’t take off the badge until he reached home. The adoring wife framed it and you can see it as you enter the front door. It hangs on the living room wall.

There are several interesting articles on the green-papered walls of the Dotson house, each a memoir of an exciting adventure. One long sharp piece of heavy steel was intended for the young sheriff’s head. The bank robber had wrapped one end with cloth so he could wield it more adroitly and with less pain to his hands. Dolton took it away from the killer, and it hangs on a convenient nail in the living room. It is a dangerous weapon but Dolton Dotson regards it humorously-and casually.

A rifle with a bullet-splintered stock causes you to wonder how the man can be alive today as he explains with a drawl that a feller shot him. An insignificant piece of lead dangling from a string near the 30-30 Winchester backs up a story which proves that he was no entirely a “boy sheriff.”

Eight months after Dolton Dotson was elected sheriff of Madison County there was a siege of bank robberies. On Thursday, April 16, the First National Bank of Kingston was robbed of $2,000 in currency. The robbers forced W.P. Burk, cashier, and William B. Bunch, assistant cashier, to walk with them a mile out of town. There the bank officials were released but it took them some time to get back and tell their story. So Sheriff Dotson got a late start. But the three men, John Henry Harris, Walter Dennis and Lloyd McAdoo were arrested several weeks later, each in a different part of the country.

The day after the Kingston robbery, the Bank of Elkins was robbed. The sheriff learned that Floyd Sisemore was implicated and began a search for him. He had not been found when, a month later, the Valley Bank of Hindsville was robbed.

That was the robbery that endeared Dolton to the hearts of his straight-shooting mountaineer friends.

Twenty minutes after the three robbers had scooped up all the money in sight and disappeared in a high-powered car, the sheriff set out after them in a small roadster. Floyd Hankins, a deputy, beside him. They skidded around mountain curves and shot down steep hills. The chase was equal to a Saturday Western super-thriller of the movies. Dotson sighted his men at Drake Creek, about 15 miles southwest of Huntsville.

He and Hankins separated. The three fleeting men had abandoned their car and were hiding in the brush near the road. One of them raised a gun to shoot at the sheriff, but Dotson beat him to the draw.  Shots came thick and fast. Bullets whizzed near the young sheriff’s throat and cheek, one even stinging as it passed. But none hit him. Boyishly, with a note of pride in his pleasant voice, he said: “Yeah. They shot at me seven times with a Winchester and three times a pistol. Missed every time. I shot six times and hit four.”

The sheriff chased the robbers over a hill then out into the open, where one of them stood poised with a rifle, ready to fire. That man’s aim was poor and he missed but Dolton Dotson didn’t. He fired at another robber and one more white man bit the dust. The third man surrendered. Floyd Sisemore, Verlon Morgan and Major Morgan were arrested 45 minutes after they had robbed the bank. A reward of $3,500 went to the young hero of Madison County.

After the battle the sheriff went back to the scene of action and dug out one of the bullets that had come near his head. It had been fired from Floyd Sisemore’s pistol. He flattened it and tied a string to it. Now, whistling softly and contentedly as he works, he cleans his guns with it. Then he hangs it on the wall in the living room near a new 30-30 Winchester.

A few days after the spectacular capture, Dotson received a hurry call to the Owl Clubroom, where a group of friends presented him with a 30-30 Winchester saddle gun, fresh from the factory. He likes it. Another of his favorite guns is the special .44 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol which Floyd Sisemore gave him when he discovered that the next 21 years of his life would be spent in prison. Mr. Dotson wears it strapped to his hip, always loaded. He hunts squirrels with it around the farm. “Don’t often have to shoot twice,” he said casually, and it is a pleasant fact, not a boast. The man didn’t have a gun when he went into office. Now you should see how they line the walls of the little home. Madison County people are proud of him.

Dolton Dotson was born at Horton Creek in Arkansas. When he was two years old he went with his family to Oklahoma. He came back to Arkansas at the age of 12. After that, he “wandered some.” He spent a year on the Pine Butte Ranch, Wyoming, a typical cowboy. When he was 17, he borrowed $50 for an education. By working after school and on Saturday, he was able to graduate. Then, at 19, he became a school teacher.

In his class at Venus was a tiny, wiry, black-haired girl. She was vividly colored with a full red mouth- a mouth that nature had made red. For four years the young teacher helped her with “I warned her against saying “git” for “get.” He told her about fractions and decimal points. Then suddenly he decided to marry her. “He says he taught me four years and talked to me for weeks,” confided the little mountain girl, looking shyly away with those bright black eyes. “Then he ran for county tax assessor. He was elected, too. He served three terms.” She twisted the wide yellow gold band on her finger and seemed embarrassed, “Was that all you tried for, Dalton?"

“Yeah. I was always tryin’ for something’.” Her husband came to the rescue. “Politics, you know- that’s kind of queer. I tried when I was 21. The county is half Democrat and half Republican. ‘Course I’m a Republican.” Dotson has the school teacher’s utter lack of self-consciousness and he talks lazily. Somebody wondered if he was a Republican because his father was, or because he agreed with the Republican Party.
“Wa-al” (he mixes long, book-learned words with a mountaineer’s dialect.) “The Republican party comes nearer fitting my views that any political power I know. My father is a Republican. I guess that has some to do with it. Yeah-“

T.B. Dotson, the young man’s father is quite a character, too. One of the best known stories of bravery concerns his fight with seven Indians and half-breeds when Oklahoma was a territory. He fought them single-handed, receiving only a knife wound in the fray, then continued his journey. It is said that the old man was quite provoked with his son when he learned that the sheriff had missed one of the Hindsville bank robbers at 250 yards. He took him to where the shooting occurred, stood where his son had, and fired at three small stones in the positions of bank robbers. In three shots the elder Dotson smashed the several sandstones into bits. Young Dolton has a hunting horn that his father used to call his dogs. “Nobody can make it sound like pa can,” says the youngster. Mr. Dotson taught his son to shoot by throwing a hickory nut in the air and firing at it. Madison County natives brag that the ex-sheriff can “hit ‘em ever’ time.”

In office Dolton Dotson captured the operators of more than 30 whiskey distilleries. He has decided views about prohibition. “It ought to be enforced 100 percent. Liquor is agin everything good. It’s agin parents, its agin churches, it’s agin the home- I don’t meddle with it. Used to drink. I guess I like the taste of liquor as good as any man. I just don’t drink. It won’t mix with a thing. Quit long time ago.”

Of the 1,500 votes cast when Dotson was elected, his majority was 602, the biggest majority ever given any man in the county. And he was one of the youngest sheriffs ever elected. Candidates for the office who aspire to be elected in November hurry about the country feverishly begging votes. They receive a good-natured grin from Dolton Dotson. “Let ‘em have it” is his motto. He doesn’t want it.

He is not a bold man. His wide, beautifully cut mouth is tender. But he is strong- mentally and physically. More than six feet tall, he is, and weighs about 200 pounds. You think of him as lean, long and brown, neither is he vain. He sincerely dislikes reporters.  “Aw they brag too much,” he drawled with his head down blushing. But under the big feather bed in the little bedroom, his wife has stored some of the stories about her sandy-haired husband, who, in the spite of himself, continues to furnish good newspaper copy. There’s a shoe box full of clippings. “I look at life sort of funny,” muses the tall lad, his very blue eyes growing serious. “You’ve got to preserve your own self. Other people just don’t. That’s why I got out of the sheriff’s office.”

At the end of the rock lane that leads to the Dotson house, stands a big walnut tree- just inside the gate. Departing guests are urged to “take some home with you, take more than that. And, say- come back when you can stay some. We’ll go back into the woods on the place here and get some of those scaley  barks. They make awful good eatin’.  My wife has a gun, and we’ll take you’uns huntin’. Lots of squirrels around here- right near the house, too. I shoot’em every day. Be sure and come back to see us.”