I was the first male in five generations of my father’s family not to join the police force. At family dinners, I got pretty used to hearing of criminals and of punishment well-merited. My grandfather, Mitchell Rawlson, was Sheriff of McLennan County until he retired in ‘75 and my father’s younger brother Daniel took over the post. My father himself was Sheriff Randall Rawlson of Bell County, Texas, and had been so since he was twenty-seven years old. Getting some “R and R” had a much different meaning in our county than elsewhere.
I listened with fascination to tales of crimes grand and petty, perpetrated by the old and the young, the recalcitrant and repentant. Every Thanksgiving, my Grandpa Mitch recounted the family legend of his grandfather, Miles Rawlson, Sheriff of Bell County. In 1905, Miles apprehended one Benjamin Snyder, a local rancher. The charge was of murder in the first degree, the victim being a fourteen year-old girl by the name of Sarah Farrell. Miles knew to a certainty that Snyder was guilty, but couldn’t prove it in court. The man went free.
Nine days later, Snyder was found dead of a shotgun blast in his rural home near Pendleton. Sarah Farrell’s father had a watertight alibi, so police placed the blame on a two-bit armed robber who had disappeared some months before. Miles was never officially a suspect in Snyder’s death. Still, no one who knew him well was surprised when he confessed to it on his deathbed. He also produced a written confession, signed and dated by Snyder, to the murder of Sarah Farrell.
My grandfather’s malachite-green eyes, the same ones I saw in my father and in my own mirror, would crystallize beneath his fine, white sheaf of hair at the telling of this story. Grandpa Mitch was twenty-two when he heard his grandfather’s last words. Afterward, he moved a portrait of Miles Rawlson from an obscure spot in the den of his home to the entryway, and it remained there for as long as he lived.
This legend came to me again in the backseat of the cruiser, through the metal grating and safety glass. In the indomitable pressure of the handcuffs. Maybe he would shoot me for killing the family name. Wouldn’t that be nice.