Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

The High Sheriff

Law enforcement cherokee county 1900s cherokee county historical museum

Photos courtesy of the Cherokee County Historical Museum

high sheriff noun A sheriff, the chief law enforcement officer of a county, in contrast to deputy sheriffs, constables, and other officers. Cf short sheriff.
1939 Hall Coll. Gatlinburg TN My daddy was high sheriff. (Richard Reagan) 1956 Hall Coll. Jones Cove TN Grandfather come back up here to Jonesboro, Tennessee, and married in eighteen twenty-six. He was high sheriff there for a while. (Lewis Hopkins) 1958 Wood Words from Tenn 11 Here…it is usual to refer to the duly elected sheriff as the high sheriff. Not only does this pay homage to his ascendancy, but it also distinguishes him from deputy sheriffs, constables, etc. 1973 GSMNP-4:33 Well, he was just a sheriff of that section over there. He wasn’t high sheriff. 1973 GSMNP-83:26 I was sworn in five time deputy sheriff, and I was a special deputy under [the] high sheriff of Sevier County two year.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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Pap always referred to the sheriff of Clay and Cherokee County as the High Sheriff. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone else use the term and probably won’t now that Pap’s gone.

A few years back Blind Pig Reader Devonia Cochran left a humorous comment about the term high sheriff.

True story : a ZILLION years ago, I attended a school board meeting. The best I can remember – which is faulty – there were a couple kids who had been in some mischief and I think maybe it involved “illegal substance” /not sure  –  early 70s. One of the school board members who genuinely cared, leaned forward and asked the student, “Son, will you tell the High Sheriff?”  Oh Tipper, by the look on that kid’s face, I don’t think the student had ever heard of the Sheriff as being “high.” LOL

Tipper

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Johnnie Hawks
    January 27, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    We still use it some in Surry Co., especially older generation

  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    May 12, 2018 at 6:14 am

    My Grandfather Frank Cordell was “High Sheriff” in Swain County N. C. in the early 1900’s. I haven’t researched this but my Mother Lona Helen Bradley Cordell told me, so it must be true. He is buried in the Bradley cemetery which is close to the Smokey Mountain Park entrance.

  • Reply
    Tish Crawford
    January 24, 2018 at 5:30 pm

    I work in Haralson County, Georgia, and the judge I work for currently refers to our elected sheriff as the High Sheriff.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    February 24, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Tell Sue the same thing goes on in the south Texas orchards and fields – the snowbirds seem to think it is their right due to some of the advertising from the 40’s -60’s encouraging northerners to come south where they could pick oranges and lemons fresh off a tree. Also had folks who would find a quiet road next to a field or orchard, park and fill their truck for their roadside stand elsewhere. Sheriff’s, marshals, Border Patrol, and Texas Rangers just couldn’t keep up with all adverse possession of produce going on.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 22, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    I knew the b. was for Beverly. I didn’t know that b.’s grandfather was Jonah Beverly Tweed, but now I do. And now I also know that Jonah’s father was Walter Beverly Tweed, son of Neely J Tweed. Neely was a man of some influence and wealth. The 1860 census shows the value of each head of household’s real estate and personal property. Neely’s was almost $5000 combined. As much as the rest of the census page combined and almost as much as it and the page before combined.
    Neely is in my family tree as the G-G grandfather of the wife of my 2nd cousin. That’s pretty close in my book. Glad to meet you cousin b.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    February 22, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    My earliest recollection of law officers involved my Dad’s comment as we passed a police car with a car pulled over. “Dad said, Well, the booger man got him one.” My parents and grandparents had told me many times that if i didn’t behave the booger man would get me. Naturally I thought the police officer was HIM!!!
    I also remember reporting stills for a reward when I was a young teenager. Fifteen if they busted the still and an extra ten if they caught someone there.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 22, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    Tipper,
    By the way, as some of you know my first name is Beverly…named after my grandfather
    Jonah Beverly Tweed and my mother Ruth. in order… Beverly Ruth, etc. I go by b. Ruth on this comment section of your blog because that was what my aunt called me…only occasionally calling me Beverly! ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…
    Every time I reminisce and retell about our family heritage story…I hear in my mind Eric Clapton’s song “I Shot The Sheriff”….Is that crazy or what? All responses appreciated! Ha

  • Reply
    Shelia
    February 22, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    I’ve heard that term before, and I recall Andy Taylor (The Andy Griffith Show) telling someone he was the High Sheriff.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 22, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Tipper,
    This is on a historical marker near the Allen House and Courthouse in Marshall, NC…Although my Neely Tweed was my great, great, great, oh my, I can’t remember how many greats…was acquitted of the death of Sheriff Merrill due to several circumstances including self-defense, drinking among the crowds, etc…
    However and whatever it is what it is and it was turbulent times during the Civil War…the Shelton Laurel incident, the stolen salt larder, raids, etc.
    I think I have told you of my great grandmas stories on my Dads side from Mars Hill, of them hiding the meat in the yard, food, coffee, sugar, etc. then putting old buckets or apple boxes over the ground to disguise it from the scavengers that were robbing the farms for food, etc.
    Most folks just wanted to farm and try to live and get by during the Civil War. My grandfather Neely Tweed was also the Marshall post-master as well as the clerk of the superior court and a prominent teacher. This incident was not talked about by my immediate grandparents.
    Marker inscription:
    On May 13, 1861, voters gathered here in Marshall, the Madison County seat, to elect a delegate for the Secession Convention to be held in Raleigh. The citizens were divided in their loyalties. Sheriff Ransom P. Merrill and others were later described as “husawing for Jeff Davis & the Confederacy,” while men of different opinions were shouting for “Washington and the Union.” One witness later noted that “a good Deel of Liquor had been drank that day.” When a dispute broke out between some Unionists and the sheriff, Merrill drew his pistol and shot and wounded Elisha Tweed. Neely Tweed, Elisha’s father and former clerk of the superior court, then shot Merrill with a double-barreled shotgun and killed him. The Tweeds later joined the 4th Tennessee Infantry (U.S.), Neely died of fever in 1862. The voters elected secessionist J.A. McDowell to the state convention.
    This is a true High Sheriff story so to speak. I am so glad that we didn’t live during those times. Only two generations back from Neely was my grandfather William that settled there from Ireland…only to have a great grandson come along and shoot the local sheriff! The Merrill’s and Tweeds became friendly through the years as peace reigned after the war…so is the mountain and Southern life!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    February 22, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I am very familiar with the term, but possibly through reading so very much in my youth. This may explain why there are so many sheriffs listed in my family tree–there would have been only one high sheriff and possibly more just plain sheriffs. Just speculating on that, however. I must agree with Lisa on your ability to keep coming up with thought provoking subjects.

  • Reply
    Ken
    February 22, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Tipper,
    In 1956 or 1958, I was at Hub and Lori Holloways store building. I just loved them ole big Johnny Crackers they kept. They were at least 4″ in diameter, and they kept them in a 5 gallon jar, either plastic or glass, not sure. Anyway, they sold them for a penny a piece. One day I was there and my daddy was visiting friends next door from Florida, when a whole bunch of cop cars came screaming up the highway. It was the High Sheriff and a bunch of his deputies, raiding the place. Ole Hub got up and ran into the Sheriff, knocking him down and his wife Lori was pouring the evidence down the drain. She had just poured the last bottle when Bluebeard came into the room. He asked what’s the meaning of this and she told him they had to take something for this terrible cold. In the basement was where Hub had his Steal and he had mean honeybees just outside the door. The Cops never said a word to me, but they left soon. I could see Hub and Lori was upset so I eased outside. They were good people, had adopted two boys much older than me, named Nick and Bob. I went fishing many times with Hub and Lori at Hiawassee Dam. …Ken

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    February 22, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    The song “Gotta’ Travel On” has one verse that says :
    “High Sheriff and police ridin’ after me—-”

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    February 22, 2017 at 10:39 am

    I haven’t heard it used in a long time.
    This sparked my curiosity so I did some research and below is a link that is very insightful as to the origins and history.
    https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2012/06/07/the-high-sheriff/

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 22, 2017 at 10:36 am

    The picture of Frank Crawford and the caption describing his demise reminded me of another legendary law enforcement official here in Burke County who lost his life in service to this community. http://www.burkesheriff.org/Oaks.htm
    Just the other day my brother Stephen and I were discussing the haunting of Henry River Mill Village where parts of “The Hunger Games” were filmed. He has friends from Franklin who, because of the movie, wanted to visit there. I suggested that the apparition that resides there might be David Oaks who was gunned down in one of those mill houses. That’s why I had the website so handy. I found it and sent it to him to read.
    To me the term High Sheriff harkens back to a time when the Sheriff was about the only “law” in many of our mountain counties, serving the role of policeman, jailer, district attorney and sometimes judge and executioner. In my youth it was a well know fact that the High Sheriff could deputize you against your will and force you to aid him in his duties. This and others of these boyhood “facts” turned out to be not so true but were quite real to a 10 year old.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    February 22, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Sheryl Paul put her finger on it. The term High Sheriff is from England, where the word Sheriff is derived from ye olde English Shire Reeve.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    February 22, 2017 at 10:22 am

    One of my brothers was in traffic court when an officer walked in. One of the waiting guilty said, “Hidey, Mr. Speed Cop”. This has tickled us all for years.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    February 22, 2017 at 10:04 am

    Tipper, that comment about ‘high sheriff’ made me smile. I remember my father always called the sheriff of Haywood County the high sheriff. As a teenager, I was really scared that I would meet the high sheriff on the highway and be caught doing something illegal when driving. I was careful, but you never knew when you might forget to turn on your turn signal and the high sheriff would be just behind you.

  • Reply
    Howland
    February 22, 2017 at 9:28 am

    ♫ Oh the High Sheriff,
    Told the deputy,
    Go out and bring me Lazarus ♪ ♫
    Don’t remember who sung it, but it was the first thing that came to my mind when I started reading this morning.
    The sheriff of the Georgia county we lived in for about 25 years before we moved up here to Kentucky retired this past January after serving 44 consecutive years; he was my neighbor across the street, he was my friend; he was, in my mind, truly the ‘High Sheriff’.
    It was very late yesterday when I got to reading your blog. I have to say that there was not a word of praise inn it that is not deserved…

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Dad told me this story on the high sheriff of Elliot co. KY. There was a man driving his old model t up the steep grade at Sandy Hook Ky. The model t was chugging up the hill and the high sheriff took out his pistol and shot the tires out. He said the man was driving too fast.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Dad told me this story on the high sheriff of Elliot co. KY. There was a man driving his old model t up the steep grade at Sandy Hook Ky. The model t was chugging up the hill and the high sheriff took out his pistol and shot the tires out. He said the man was driving too fast.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Dad told me this story on the high sheriff of Elliot co. KY. There was a man driving his old model t up the steep grade at Sandy Hook Ky. The model t was chugging up the hill and the high sheriff took out his pistol and shot the tires out. He said the man was driving too fast.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 22, 2017 at 9:22 am

    Dad told me this story on the high sheriff of Elliot co. KY. There was a man driving his old model t up the steep grade at Sandy Hook Ky. The model t was chugging up the hill and the high sheriff took out his pistol and shot the tires out. He said the man was driving too fast.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 22, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I worked for 44 years as an active and auxiliary Deputy Sheriff, during that time I heard the term High Sheriff often, it referred to the elected Sheriff. I served part of this time as the Chief Deputy which in some areas is called the Under Sheriff. I think the High Sheriff and Under Sheriff originated in Great Britain and did follow our ancestors to America. This isn’t just an Appalachian event as I’ve heard these terms used in many states and regions.

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    February 22, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Tipper, I have heard the term lots of times when I was young, my Grandfather was the High Sheriff of Fleming County, Ky for a lot of years and I have been told he wasn’t one to cross because he would make them sorry if they did, might help now if they could be more aggressive and maybe they would think twice before they did a lot of the stuff they do now but if they even defend themselves now they are the ones that are looked down on for doing their job.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    February 22, 2017 at 8:46 am

    The high sheriff in my hometown was the law enforcement guy with the most authority. I remember a song that mentioned high sheriff and police riding after me.

  • Reply
    Cheryl W.
    February 22, 2017 at 8:43 am

    Sue W., my Grandad was also a citrus/strawberry farmer in Plant City from the 1930’s-50’s. He had the same problem! He pretty much said the same thing about the dadgum touristers having no “idear” of the work it takes. Of course, by the time the sheriff got there they were long gone. Sadly, I guess there always will be some ignorant folks somewhere.

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    February 22, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Tipper – I don’t know how you continue to come up with such thought-provoking stories day after day! By the way, Jim Casada has given me permission to run his story about you in SEOPA News to make sure all our members know there is an angel among us. I’m so glad you’re a part of SEOPA!

  • Reply
    P. Page
    February 22, 2017 at 8:35 am

    My dad was born and raised in Andrews. He also referred to the sheriff as the high sheriff. He must have heard it from his elders who were also born and raised in Cherokee County (since 1840). So the expression must come from deep roots in the area. I myself have occasionally used the term as sort of an homage to my dad, but it is not a term that occurs to me normally to use. Does this mean it is disappearing for good from the vernacular?

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    February 22, 2017 at 8:28 am

    Tipper–First and foremost I associate the phrase “high sheriff” with lyrics from the classic Billy Grammer song from the 1950s, “I Gotta Travel On.” I feel certain many of your more venerable readers will remember the song.
    I suspect the descriptive “high” might have been added for emphasis, making clear this elected official was the top dog, although I don’t know that to be case. I do know that, going back to my “professing” days when I taught British history to upper level undergraduates and also did quite a bit of research in England, that “High Sheriff” had a specific connotation. That was the official who was the direct local representative of the crown in each shire in England and Wales (I’m not sure if that was the case in Scotland). Like countless other things, this usage probably came to America with our forebears.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 22, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I had not heard that term in a long time either but do recall having heard it. I guess ‘high’ referred both to the esteem of the voters and also the boss of deputies. Truth to tell, my understanding of just what is county jurisdiction is not very good.
    My great-grandfather served the unexpired term of a sheriff that resigned. If he ran for sheriff afterwards, he was not elected though.

  • Reply
    Roger Greene
    February 22, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Having served as a deputy sheriff in two counties in NC during the 70’s & 80’s, I’ve heard and used the term “High Sheriff” often. (I was in on one seizuer of a still and several raids where we seized white liquor.)
    I have also heard it used regularly in court to refer to the elected sheriff.
    I’m unsure how often it is heard now, having retired from the business several years ago.
    Of course in this area we (mostly senior citizens) still “tote” things instead of carrying them on a regular basis, but “poke” is now rarely used to refer to a brown paper bag.

  • Reply
    Jack
    February 22, 2017 at 8:06 am

    High sheriff usage was pretty common in my neck of the woods. It was often used to emphasize deep trouble or a sarcastic reference to a local official.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    February 22, 2017 at 8:01 am

    SHOULD READ THE BOOK I WROTE ABOUT THE SHERIFF OF
    HAYWOOD COUNTY, NC.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 22, 2017 at 7:58 am

    I have heard that term off and on my entire life. I always thought it came from the British Isles as my family is predominately from there. And wasn’t the sheriff in Robin Hood called high?

  • Reply
    Sue W.
    February 22, 2017 at 7:12 am

    My beloved maternal Grandfather said High Sheriff as well. He was a 3rd Generation citrus farmer on the west coast of Florida, just north of Tampa. Touristers (as he called them!) would just pull their cars off the road and get out and start picking the fruit. It infuriated him! He would call and ask for the “High Sheriff” to call him back about these thieving touristers. They had no ide (dropping the “a”) how much work goes into growing those fruit and they are stealing my living out from under me.
    Like you, Tipper, I’ve not heard the term since he passed away almost 40 years ago now. I’ll bet there are things that we say today that in a few generations will also be nothing but memories.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 22, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Yes, I’ve heard that term used but not much in recent time. I think I may have heard it more in TV and movie westerns that in real life conversations.

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