Texas Game Wardens

In Shelby County

 


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            It is not known, exactly, when a game warden was actually stationed in Shelby County. Records were either not kept or maintained in the early days, and memories fade over time, but it is likely that a state game warden could have made his way through this county as early as 1919. 1919 marked the year when the first six game wardens were hired in the state. It is rumored that their department-issued equipment consisted of a badge and a law book. The rest was up to them and they were to patrol the entire state. The first game laws, in Texas, were actually enacted in 1861 and between 1861 and 1919, the enforcement of these laws were left up to sheriffs and constables. Both being elected officials, and game and fish laws being unpopular with the majority of the state, it was difficult for these officers to survive elections if enforcing these laws.
The following is a list of wardens that were responsible for working in Shelby County. Due to scarce records an exact time of service here, for many of these wardens, is not possible.
    *George Berry-Stationed in San Augustine, also worked Shelby County. Hired prior to 1946.
    *Ed Lacey-Stationed in San Augustine, also worked Shelby County. Hired prior to 1946.
    *G.O. Davis, J.E. Etheredge, E.E. Jennings, and Frank Osburn were all stationed in Nacogdoches prior to 1946 and it is told that wardens from Nacogdoches worked in Shelby County as well as other nearby counties.
    *Rix Duke-Stationed in Center sometime prior to 1955. This is the first warden thought to actually reside in Shelby County. Rix Duke later transferred to Panola County, but still worked in Shelby County.
    *Joe Riggs-Stationed in Panola County around 1955. Worked in Shelby and Panola Counties.
    *Sherman Bales-Stationed in Center from 1955-1960. 2nd warden to reside in Shelby County. Transferred to Harrison County after five years in Center and eventually transferred to Marfa where he retired.
    *Gully Cowsert-Stationed in Center sometime between 1960-1965. 3rd warden to reside in Shelby County. Only worked in Shelby County about a year. Gully’s uncle was Frank Cowsert who had been a game warden captain, Texas Ranger and was later appointed, by the governor, as head of the Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission.
    *Bob Burris-Stationed in Center in 1965 and remained until 1979. Bob was the 4th warden to reside in Shelby County and to this day, holds the record for time served in Shelby County, almost fifteen years. Prior to Bob, Sherman Bales held the record at five years. Bob transferred to Vernon, where he later retired.
*    Bob Hall-Stationed in Center around 1970 and stayed one year. Bob transferred to Livingston and retired there in 2000. Bob was the 5th. warden to reside in Shelby County.
    *Mike Warren-Stationed in Center from 1972-1975. Mike transferred to Athens where he is still employed as a Texas Game Warden. Mike was the 6th warden to reside in Shelby County.
    *Charles Gilbert-Stationed in Center in 1979. Remained in Shelby County until 1982, at which time he resigned and went to work for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and moved to Jefferson. Charles was the 7th warden to reside in Shelby County.
    *Willis Blackwell-Stationed in Center in 1980, remained until 1993. Willis transferred to Brenham where he retired in 1998. Willis was the 8th warden to reside in Shelby County and currently serves as Shelby County’s Chief Deputy under Sheriff James Moore. James served many years as a DPS Trooper and several years as Timpson City Marshal prior to being elected sheriff.
    *Larry Cranford-Stationed in Center in 1984, remained until 1990. Larry transferred to Panola County where he still serves as a Texas Game Warden. Larry is the 9th warden to reside in Shelby County.
    *Jim Yetter-Stationed in Center in 1992. Jim still serves as a Texas Game Warden in Shelby County. Jim is the 10th warden to reside in Shelby County.
    *Mike Hanson-Stationed in Center on April 09, 1993 and is currently stationed at Timpson, in Shelby County, as a Texas Game Warden. Mike came to Shelby County upon graduation from the 43rd Texas Game Warden Academy in Austin.
Four men, who were born and raised in Shelby County, went on to become game wardens for the State of Texas. Those men were J. D. Murphree, Gene Samford, Harold Oates and Tom Jenkins. J. D. Murphree graduated from the 11th Texas Game Warden Academy in 1958. He was shot to death in the line of duty on December 08, 1963, in Jasper County. Gene Samford was a warden for many years in East Texas. After retiring, he worked for Temple-Inland, prior to his death. Harold Oates was a warden in Hemphill, Athens and also worked on the staff in Austin. Harold retired and now resides near Shelbyville, with his wife Polly. Tom Jenkins graduated from the 43rd Texas Game Warden Academy and was a warden in Newton County, prior to transferring to Nacogdoches County, where he continues to serve as a game warden.
        The following is a brief history of a few of the changes and advancements that effected wardens in Shelby County, as well as those across the state.
*1861-First game laws were enacted.
*1883-130 counties claim an exemption from all game laws.
*1897-Law was enacted that made it illegal to take fish through the use of poison, lime or explosives.
*1903-Season was closed on Pronghorn Antelope and headlight hunting was made illegal.
*1907-Texas Game, Fish and Oyster Commission was established.
*1909-First hunting licenses required of those who hunted outside of their home or an adjoining county. 5000 were sold this first year.
*1919-First game wardens were hired. Six wardens were employed to patrol the entire state.
*1923-45 more wardens hired.
*1928-29 more wardens hired.
*1933-40 wardens were dropped from service due to decreased revenue.
*1938-First uniforms were issued to wardens.
*1939-93 wardens in the state. Patrolled in their personal vehicles and on horseback.
*1946-First Texas Game Warden Academy held, it lasted four months.
*1948-125 wardens in the state.
*1953-187 wardens in the state.
*1958-210 wardens in the state.
*1962-State furnishes Ford sedans to wardens.
*1963-Name changes from the Texas Game & Fish Commission to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
*1964-First V-8 engines in patrol cars.
*1965-Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolvers and Sam Browne gun belts issued to wardens.
*1967-255 wardens in the state. Automatic transmissions were ordered in patrol cars.
*1968-Air conditioners in patrol cars.
*1969-283 wardens in the state.
*1970-Game Warden Academy receives certification. Academy held on Texas A&M campus in College Station, where recruits were required to complete 15 semester hours of college classes as part of the curriculum.
*1971-Game Wardens acquired peace officer status. Prior to this date, the sheriff in the county they were assigned carried most wardens’ commissions.
*1972-322 wardens in the state. Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolvers issued to wardens.
*1974-Pursuit vehicles issued to wardens.
*1975-397 wardens in the state. Academy moved from College Station to its present location in Austin.
*1978-First academy held in Austin.
*1980-349 wardens in the state.
*1981-Operation Game Thief established.
*1982-Ruger Mini-14 .223 caliber rifles issued to wardens.
*1983-Wildlife Conservation Act of 1983 places all counties game laws under regulations of the state. 383 wardens in the state and their arrest top 50,000 for the year.
*1985-More than 400 wardens in the state.
*1988-Wardens issued Dodge Ramcharger 4X4’s.
*1989-Deer decoy utilized for first time in Texas. First three years yielded 697 citations that resulted in 683 convictions,
*1990-Wardens issued Chevrolet 4X4 Blazers.
*1993-529 wardens in the state. Chevrolet 4X4 extended cab pickups and Chevrolet Caprices issued.
*1994-Wardens issued Glock .40 caliber sidearms.
*1995-44th Texas Game Warden Academy graduates after 7 months of training. This was the first class that was required to have a four-year degree, prior to acceptance.
*1996-Remington 870 .12 gauge shotguns and Dodge 4X4 pickups issued.
            Game Wardens have a very misunderstood job. Wardens frequently encounter persons who can quote “super natural” authority that they, often mistakenly, perceive the wardens to have. On the other side of the coin, you will have persons who can not believe that they were apprehended by a warden for a violation not found in the game, fish or water safety laws. A game warden’s primary responsibility is the enforcement of game, fish and water safety laws, but they are commissioned peace officers and enforce all criminal laws, which they are in a good position to do being the 2nd largest contingent of state peace officers in Texas. Game Wardens, especially in rural areas such as Shelby County, work closely with all other law enforcement officers in the county.
            Wardens of today have seen much advancement in the equipment issued to them and the training they receive. Wardens must endure seven months of training in Austin. They are trained in the application of all criminal laws (Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, Motor Vehicle Laws, Alcoholic Beverage Code, Parks & Wildlife Code and Proclamations, etc.). They also receive training in areas such as arrest, search, seizure, pursuit driving, firearms, motor vehicle accident investigation, boat accident investigation, standardized field sobriety, report writing and courtroom procedures, just to name a few.
            As with all jobs in law enforcement, there are many dangers and tragedy has penetrated the ranks of game wardens a number of times. In the last twenty nine years, three game wardens have lost their lives within fifteen miles of the Shelby County Line. Ronnie Germany was shot to death on July 29, 1973 near the San Augustine/Shelby County line, in the Attoyac River bottom. Ronnie and Warden Barry Decker had approached a small shack on property that was occupied by Bernice Parrish. Parrish ran into the shack and shot through a window screen hitting Ronnie. Ronnie fled into the woods, not thinking his wounds were serious, after insisting that Decker get help. Decker had to drive out of the bottom in order for his radio to transmit. Upon his return, Ronnie was found deceased. Ronnie had been shot again and it was learned that his initial wound was very serious. The seriousness of his wound allowed Parrish the opportunity to approach and fire again, unscathed. To this day, you must begin to drive up the hill, from this shack, in order to transmit on a two-way radio.
            On May 27, 1990, Panola County Game Wardens Barry Decker (Ronnie Germany’s companion on his final day) and Bruce Hill lost their lives in a boat accident on Lake Murvaul. It is believed that these wardens were thrown from their patrol boat as it impacted a stump, in the dark of night, and drowned as a result. Both wardens’ life preservers were found in their patrol boat.
Shelby County is an interesting area to serve in as a game warden. There is more than enough criminal activity to keep one interested and many fine people residing in the county. I thank those wardens who have served in this county prior to my arrival. I know that the effort expended by them has helped to make Shelby County into one of the best game warden duty stations in “Deep East Texas.”
T            o those new state officers to find themselves in Shelby County in the future, I have the following advice. Even if you dislike where the state has sent you, make the best of it. You can learn a lot with the right attitude. Be mindful of your actions, on and off of the job, the public is watching and they don’t forget, as they should not. Do your job, enforce the law, but do it in a fair and impartial manner. Treat people with courtesy and compassion for as long as they will allow you to do so, but don’t lose control of the situation. Establish relationships with all other law enforcement officers in the county and maintain those relationships. Communication between various officers of various departments is a “win-win” situation for the citizens and the officers alike. Always remember the most important aspect of the job, your safety and the safety of others, and always take steps to insure that you get to go home at the end of the day.

Submitted by Mike Hanson, Texas Game Warden-Timpson, 2002


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