Loyd Mitchell began his career in law enforcement as Texas County deputy sheriff and finished it as a bailiff 46 years later – at the age of 88.
While his last day on the job was Feb. 11, Mitchell’s long run as an iconic figure in local law officially concluded last Friday at the Texas County Justice Center in a ceremony attended by numerous people he worked with along the way, including a mix of county, city and state law officers and judges. But while several members of the gathering shared words highlighting the dedication and unusually hard work Mitchell displayed during more than four decades of wearing a uniform (including Texas County associate circuit judge Doug Gaston, Rep. Robert Ross and prosecuting attorney Mike Anderson), they barely scratched the surface of what his presence (which some called “legendary”) for so long represented on the Texas County law enforcement landscape.
When Mitchell entered the field, he was basically following in his father’s footsteps, as his dad was deputy sheriff from late 1930s to early 1940s. It all started for the second-generation lawman when he decided there was a need for better enforcement in the county’s eastern section, and that he was the man to make it happen.
Mitchell got his chance in May 1968, when sheriff George Foster appointed him deputy sheriff. At the time, the law enforcement roster of Missouri’s most expansive county consisted of Foster and two deputies – one full-time and one part-time.
“We had long hours,” Mitchell said.
In the following years, Mitchell lived out an amazing story. He experienced everything from out-bluffing a suspect at a door in Arroll to a suspect’s 80-year-old mother jumping on his back and repeatedly punching him in Eunice, and he witnessed everything from glass flying dangerously from street lights being shot out to a dead man with a bullet hole in his chest lying in the middle of a roadway.
Together, Mitchell and his trusty Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver responded to countless incidents on rural back roads covered with summer dust or winter snow, and met many a less-than-cordial suspect at remote residences and other locations. As a virtual one-man show, he busted all kinds of perpetrators, from murderers and drug dealers to drunk drivers and gas thieves.
Consequently, Mitchell nearly met with disaster on more than one occasion.
“I faced death three times,” he said.
Mitchell went on to work under a half-dozen other sheriffs, stepping out of the patrol car and into the courtroom in 1993 when he took a position as bailiff. His Christian faith was always a big part of his life, and he constantly kept it at the forefront of his work, frequently meshing it with is daily duties.
While most of Mitchell’s knowledge of law enforcement came from on the job training, he did attend 250 hours of criminal law classes at West Plains. He added to his east-county duties by being elected Summersville City Marshall in 1970, and served in that position until 1980.
Mitchell said Texas County is a far different place now than during the early days of his career.
“Doing this job is a picnic now compared to back then,” he said. “It was hard when I started – rough times and rough people.”
Originally from Kansas City, Mitchell moved to Summersville during his school days and eventually met his wife, Mae. The two have been married for 64 years and raised a daughter, Pam.
Mitchell recounts several instances when Mae faced the wrath of people affected by his work and how she had to deal with the likes of phone calls at 2 a.m. featuring threats of killing her husband or burning their house down (with them in it). In his book, Mitchell wrote that people would often turn their heads when they met Mae in public, but she never wavered in her support of his efforts.
“She always stood tall in the face of many problems,” he said. “Only with the strength of the Lord and my wife’s encouraging words was I able to do the job.”
So just how does a man keep working as a road deputy for 25 years?
“I always felt like I wasn’t a coward,” Mitchell said.
“He loved to do something to help somebody,” Mae said. “It encouraged him and every time he could do something good for somebody, it just made his day.
“And he worked hard. It was nothing for him to work 16 to 18 hours a day because there wasn’t anyone else to do it but him. Sometimes he’d say, ‘I’ll see you tonight’ and I might see him the next morning.”
At Mitchell’s farewell ceremony, Gaston reminisced about the now former bailiff’s tendencies toward caring and empathy.
“I would often notice him going out of his way to be nice to people, extending a hand or an act of kindness to someone who had just gone though some form of hardship,” he said. “In all the years I knew him, he always did what he could to help people feel better.”
Anderson said Mitchell was a habitually hard worker in his 21 years as a bailiff.
“You always knew what you were going to get with Loyd,” he said. “He was one of those people you could always count on.”
Mitchell was also honored by both branches of the Missouri legislature, as Ross and a member of Sen. Mike Cunningham’s staff read and presented him with proclamations honoring his public service.
Age not withstanding, stories of his days in the field are still fresh in Mitchell’s mind.
“One man came to my home at 2 a.m. just after I had gotten home from being on duty,” he said. “He drove two circles in his truck around the house and I knew something was wrong, so I jumped up and went out the back door where I could hide. On the third circle, he stopped and pointed a rifle at the front door, blowing his horn and hollering at me to come out. He didn’t know I was in back, and I had a gun in my hand and decided I had to do something.
“It was dark, and I slipped up behind him without him knowing. I stuck my gun in his temple and said, ‘Turn it loose or I’ll blow your head off.’ He turned it loose.”
Mitchell documented many memorable moments of his saga in a 95-page book called “The Taming of Ozark Rednecks” published in 2006.
“He has so many stories,” Mae said, “he could easily have written a book three times as thick.”
Mitchell said he enjoys people, but doesn’t always approve of their actions.
“I like people, but I don’t like what some people do,” he said.
Mae said Loyd likes to be busy most of the time. Next up for the long-time lawman is doing handyman’s work and landscaping at rental properties he and Mae own.
“He’s the type who doesn’t come in and sit down much,” Mae said. “He has to be doing something.”
The landscaping part will be a bit of a throwback to Mitchell’s early days as a law officer.
“When he first started, he raised roses because it helped keep him sane,” Mae said. “We had beautiful roses.”
Mitchell’s legacy will in large part be that of a man who genuinely cared about the place where he lived and tried to improve it.
“The road has been long and hard,” he said, “but I think maybe I helped to make Texas County a better place to live.”
The road has been long and hard, but I think maybe I helped to make Texas County a better place to live.”