One of the more colorful characters from my childhood was “Mr. Barney,” who was a deputy sheriff of Union County. He served the people during the era of the 1940’s and 1950’s. It was a sign of great disrespect for a young person of my generation to call an adult by their first name, so Deputy Barney Southall was known by me and almost everyone in the county as “Mr. Barney.” He appeared to me as a giant, not simply because he was over six feet tall and weighing in excess of two hundred and fifty pounds, but because of the respect every one had for him. When I first learned of his exploits he had been in law enforcement for over twenty years and had earned the respect from young and old alike.
My Dad (Pop), was a general practitioner in medicine, and it seemed he knew every one in El Dorado and Union County. Because he made house calls almost every night and some of the calls were into unsafe neighborhoods, Pop would occasionally have a deputy sheriff follow in his patrol car and keep watch during the time of the visit. Usually Mr. Barney was the deputy on call, so he became one of Pop’s best friends and guardians.
I don’t remember Mr. Barney wearing his deputy’s hat, but he was so polite he may have removed it when I was in his presence which was indoors. As I recall his service revolver was a pearl-handled thirty-eight caliber, and according to his nephew Barry who inherited the pistol at Barney’s death, it “was rusted from disuse.” The one weapon he carried which was well-used was a black flap-jack. He kept that instrument in his right rear pocket and was known to use it liberally on any Saturday night when there was a dispute or disagreement in one of the more dangerous areas of town. It was said Mr. Barney could remove that flap-jack from his pocket and deliver a paralyzing blow so fast the shiftiest character did not have reflexes fast enough to avoid the blow.
It was told on one Saturday night in the volatile, all Black St. Louis section of town Mr. Barney was called to investigate an altercation. Two young men who had been drinking alcohol to excess were fighting, and the fight couldn’t be stopped. When Mr. Barney held one of the combatant’s arm and told him he needed to leave the premises and go home he jerked his arm away. He said, “You ain’t my Daddy to tell me what to do!” With that the flap-jack flashed from Mr. Barney’s pocket and a quick blow to the man’s temple left him on the floor in a semi-conscious state. His companions gathered around him and said, “You know who yo’ Daddy is now. Mr. Barney is yo’ Daddy!”
Mr. Barney was a master in settling disputes, and quite often he could get it done in a non-violent fashion. Pop told me this story which involved a married couple who lived in another racially segregated area of town called Fairview. It seems they had a physical altercation with each other almost every weekend when they were drinking alcoholic beverages. Invariably Mr. Barney was called to their home to separate them and to get one or the other to the Emergency Room for suture repair of the injuries. On this occasion Mr. Barney said, “Now listen I’m sick and tired of breaking up your fights. You two can’t seem to get along, so do you want to get a divorce?” “Yes suh, Mr. Barney, we wants to get di-vorced.” Barney told them to place their right hands on his badge and answer this question, “Do you James and you Sally desire to divorce each other?” “We do,” was their reply. “By the authority given me by the state of Arkansas and the county of Union, I now declare you divorced.” According to Mr. Barney, James and Sally continued living together, but never had another altercation requiring Mr. Barney’s attention. I was not told whether they gave up drinking alcohol, but suspect they did not.
Deputy Barney Southall had a long and faithful record of service to the people of Union County, and I believe he was never paid a salary reflective of the value for his service. His greater value and true legacy has been recorded in the memory of his family and friends who knew and loved him. There were countless people like James and Sally with whom he made a lasting difference by his firm but sometimes unusual methods of law enforcement. I just wish there were a few more Mr. Barney’s around.