To The Citizens of Santa Rosa County
It is with great pleasure that we recognize and honor those individuals who served as the constitutional law enforcement leader for the citizens of Santa Rosa County. This recognition is fitting and necessary.
As leaders, each sheriff defined the style of their administration, while recognizing the important contributions of their predecessors. In casting our vision for the future, we need to touch the past by building on the accomplishments of those who served before us.
As sheriff, I have a desire and obligation to recognize and honor the sheriffs that served before me. Recognition is also bestowed upon the employees who served our sheriffs, each sheriff’s own family members who often sacrificed for this public service, and the citizens of Santa Rosa county who have supported the office of the sheriff in ways too numerous to count. Our support and thanks go to these sheriffs for all their years of dedicated service to the citizens of this great county.
Sheriff Wendell Hall
Jesse Carter Allen
Term of Office, 1842-1845
Jesse Carter Allen was born on July 25, 1811 in Mud Flats Tavern,Alabama. Two years later, Allen’s parents lost their lives in a skirmish between the government and the Creek Indians that occurred atFt.Mimswhere they had sought refuge. As an adult, Allen originally settled in Floridatown.
In 1842, Santa Rosa County was created out Escambia County and Allen became the county’s first territorial interim Sheriff. The first Sheriff’s Office was located in Milton. Allen served as Sheriff until 1845. During his term in office, Allen had to enforce curfew laws, not for young teens, but for Negro slaves. Allen is survived by a number of descendants who still reside in Santa Rosa County today.
William Washington Harrison
Term of Office, 1845 – 1849
William Washington Harrison was born Virginia 1813. In 1837,Harrison settled in Floridatown, which was part of Escambia County,Territory of Florida. The area later became part of Santa Rosa County in 1842.
In 1845, shortly after Florida joined the Union and became the twenty-seventh state, Governor John Branch announced the first official Florida election. This election was held to elect the first state and county officials. Harrison was elected Sheriff of Santa Rosa County, Florida and was elected as a Republican candidate when Democrats held the majority. During his time in office,Harrison worked out of the newly constructed wooden county courthouse. It was constructed, in Milton, on the site where the old Berryhill Elementary School was located.
Harrison died in Milton,Florida in 1886 and is buried in the Milton Cemetery.
James R. Mims
Term of Office, 1849-1851
James R. Mims was born September 1, 1822, in Conecuh County,Alabama. On February 18, 1842, he signed a petition to create Santa Rosa County. Over time, he and his family became long-term residents of the newly created county.
By the late 1840s, Milton had become an area of great prosperity. The boom years in Milton were at a time when Mims began his term of office as Sheriff for Santa Rosa County. Little is known about his years as Sheriff other than the fact that he did not die in office as is reflected in some historical accounts.
On October 5, 1897, Mims died at the age of seventy-five in Bagdad. Both Mims and his wife are buried in the Milton Cemetery.
Isaiah Cobb, Jr.
Term of Office, 1851-1855, 1860-1861
Isaiah Cobb, Jr. was born in 1821. His birth year was determined via Census records, yet no place of birth was given.
Much like other Sheriffs of Santa Rosa County, Cobb was interested in civic matters and politics. In 1842, he signed a petition to create Santa Rosa County. Cobb served as the Sheriff for Santa Rosa County from 1851-1855 and again for a partial term from 1860-1861. The Chaffin House became a renowned residence in Milton.
Cobb died from the wound sustained in 1864 and is buried in an unmarked grave near Stone Mountain,Georgia. Approximately fifty-one Sheriffs served during the Civil War.
James C. McArthur
Term of Office, 1855-1859
According to U.S. Census records, James C. McArthur was born in 1818 in Georgia. As a young man he worked as a carpenter.
Similar to some of the other Santa Rosa County Sheriffs, McArthur took a great interest in politics. On May 26, 1845 he voted in the first statewide election. A decade later, McArthur became Sheriff for Santa Rosa County.
McArthur’s term in office ended just as the Civil War escalated. He was succeeded by Isaiah Cobb, Jr. In 1860, Cobb served a partial term as sheriff until the Confederate States of America took over the national government. No documentation could be found regarding his death. It is believed by some that he may have left the county prior to his demise.
James Milton Amos
Term of Office, 1861-1863
James Milton Amos was born on February 6, 1830. He was the son of Dr. Milton Amos, a renowned citizen of Santa Rosa County. Little information is available on his place of birth, early life, or education. Like a number of other Sheriffs, Amos served as the Milton Postmaster from 1851-1852.
Amos, who stood about 5’8” tall and had light hair and gray eyes, was elected Sheriff of Santa Rosa County in 1861. He served for only two years. His term as sheriff was during a time of great turmoil when the Confederate States of America had governing power. One of the problems he faced, in the last year of his term, was to confiscate all liquor and turn it over to the military for wartime medical purposes.
Amos died on March 22, 1879, buried in the Magnolia Cemetery in Greenville, Alabama.
John L. McLellan
Term of Office, 1863-1865
John L. McLellan was born in 1825 in Scotland. The McLellan family resided in the upper northern area of Santa Rosa County. The McLellan Post Office bears the family name as does the community of McLellan.
In 1842, McLellan expressed interest in the political arena and became one of the signers of the 1842 petition to create Santa Rosa County. On May 6, 1845, McLellan voted in the first statewide election. His name is listed on the voting roster at precinct #4, along with that of James C. McArthur, another of Santa RosaCounty’s Sheriffs. In 1863, the government appointed McLellan as Sheriff for Santa Rosa County. This appointment came during a time of great strife and turmoil that evolved out of the Civil War. McLellan’s term of office only lasted for two years. McLellan died in 1893 and is buried at the McLellan Cemetery located on his original estate.
Abraham B. Dixon
Term of Office, 1865-1867
A.B. Dixon, as his friends knew him, was born in 1820 in Hancock County,Georgia.Dixonspent his childhood years in Conecuh County,Alabama. In 1839,
In 1865, he was elected Sheriff of Santa Rosa County. He served during the post-war period and was the last duly elected sheriff until after Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president.
He also served as a commissioner for Santa Rosa County, during a time when the county had a population of about 10,000 people, an area of approximately 1,300 square miles, and land that could be purchased for about $10.00 per acre. On March, 1894,Dixon died. He is buried at the Yellow River Baptist Church Cemetery located between Milton and Crestview.
John W. Butler
Term of Office, 1874-1878
John W. Butler was born around 1830 near Boston,Massachusetts. Little was recorded about his early years and education.
He weighed in at over 300 pounds, was 6’3” tall, and often referred to as an “Irish Hercules.” He was admired for an overly generous heart, a quick wit, and a great sense of humor. During public appearances, he could be seen sporting a heavy gold watch chain and was often the center of attention.
In 1874, Butler became Sheriff for Santa Rosa County serving a dual role as Sheriff and tax collector. As an integrity driven Sheriff, he focused on restoring law and order and bringing greater imagery and dignity to the Sheriff’s Office. Due to the mysterious destruction of the wooden structured courthouse in 1875, further information about his term as Sheriff was lost. Before his term ended, a new courthouse was erected at what is now called “Courthouse Square.”
In 1878,Butler left Santa Rosa County to become the Utah Territorial Penitentiary Keeper in Salt Lake City,Utah. He died in 1881. His former house still stands in Milton at 6830 Pine Street.
William Adam C. Benbow
Term of Office, 1878-1881
W.A.C. Benbow was born in 1824 in South Carolina. The Benbow family tree extends back to the 1700’s when their ancestors came from the Montgomery Shire in Wales, as indentured servants, to settle in the area of Philadelphia. Little else is recorded as to the early years of Benbow’s life.
In 1878, Benbow became Sheriff for Santa Rosa County and served in that capacity until 1881. He was the first Sheriff to establish his office in the newly constructed courthouse located on “Courthouse Square.” His constituents often referred to him as the “High Sheriff.”
No information could be found on Benbow’s path in life following his time as Sheriff. It is believed that he left Santa Rosa County and that he died and was buried in Alabama were most of the Benbow descendants are buried.
William J. Johnson
Term of Office, 1881-1893
William Jackson Johnson was born on June 6, 1829 in Pike County,Alabama. According to records, Johnson was described as being 5’9” tall and having dark hair, fair skin, and piercing blue eyes. As a young man, he went into business with his brother John Alexander Johnson running a ferry on the Escambia River, not far from Flomaton,Alabama.
In 1881, Johnson ran for the Office of Sheriff for Santa Rosa County, where the population had grown to over 10,000. While in office, the county flourished in terms of “big lumber” business coupled with sawmills and turpentine camps. He was known as a popular candidate for both the Office of Sheriff and that of the County Treasurer. Johnson completed his career in law enforcement in 1893, after serving three consecutive terms as Sheriff. Johnson died in 1899 and is buried at the Milton Cemetery.
John H. Collins
Term of Office, 1893-1897, 1909-1913
John Houston Collins was born on May 16, 1868 in Santa Rosa County, Florida. In 1893, Collins was elected Sheriff of Santa Rosa County. He was considered to be a “frontier type” sheriff and served two separate terms in office. descriptive speaking, Collins stood 6’7”tall, was thin in build, and often considered to be an imposing figure. He earned the nicknames of “honest John” and “long John Collins.” While Sheriff Collins and his family resided in the upper level of the jail in the county courthouse.
At the age of 69, Collins died following a lengthy illness. He and his wife are both buried in the Milton Cemetery.
Term of Office, 1897-1909
David Mitchell was born in Santa Rosa County on April 1, 1859. Little is recorded on his early years and education, but it is known that he resided in the county all of his life.
Mitchell was one of the few Sheriffs to have been elected to the office three times. While serving as sheriff, Mitchell and his family resided in the jail area at the top of the county courthouse. Unfortunately, little information is available on his three terms as Sheriff. Mitchell died on April 6, 1914 following a serious illness and operation in Mobile. One of the largest funerals, that Milton had ever borne witness to, was held in his honor. He was beloved by family and friends and numerous citizens of Milton. Following his death, his remains were placed in the Milton Cemetery.
John H. Harvell
Term of Office, 1913-1921
John H. Harvell was born in Alabama in 1866. The Harvell family relocated to the Florida Panhandle area of Holley in 1871. As a young man, the well-educated Harvell endeavored into the logging and water transportation business where he earned steamboat fame in county waterways and the coastal areas. In 1899, “Captain” Harvell was elected and served ten years as the Santa Rosa County representative in the Florida Legislature.
In 1912, Harvell was elected sheriff, a capacity in which he served for eight years. As sheriff, Harvell and his family resided in the local jail where they fed and cared for prisoners. In the early years of his office, Sheriff Harvell bore the burden of dealing with a major gun battle, which left two prominent citizens of Santa Rosa dead and three or more wounded. The gunfight was fought in the Munson area early in December 1916. The skirmish was believed to have been due to an old feud that had existed among parties in the local area for years with the catalyst being an argument over the sale of whiskey. This was during a time when Santa Rosa County witnessed great unrest due to the new prohibition law. Enforcement of this law presented a tremendous challenge to law enforcement officers and the office of the sheriff. In the end, Harvell quelled the disturbance and the local community mourned the great loss of two of its citizens. This time of unrest was unequaled only to the national unrest predicated by WWI.
One of Harvell’s greatest achievements, while in office, was the solving of the Wyman murder case. This case widely affected the southern portion of the county. During his years of public service, Sheriff Harvell received numerous accolades from constituents and colleagues alike. Following his 2nd term in office, Harvell returned to work in the Florida House of Representatives and later served as Mayor of Milton. Harvell died in 1949 and is buried in the Bagdad Cemetery.
Henry Clay Mitchell
Term of Office, 1921-1933
Henry Clay Mitchell was born February 14, 1895 in Santa Rosa County. Mitchell married and had two children. He taught in the Santa Rosa school system for three years and then was appointed as a deputy sheriff under Sheriff John H. Harvell. He served as a deputy from 1918 to 1920. Mitchell was elected sheriff in 1920 with his first of three consecutive terms commencing in January 1921. According to the International Sheriff’s Journal, Mitchell was the youngest sheriff in the nation at the time of his election.
During his time in office, the gangland-style executions of S.G. “Babe” Collins and Aubrey Gainer, prominent citizens of Santa Rosa County, took place. The Gainer murder was followed by the shotgun murder of Collins, brother of former Sheriff John H. Collins. The Collins murder defeated any hope that Sheriff Mitchell had in resolving the Gainer murder since Collins had become the prime suspect. The murders entailed countless hours of police work by Mitchell and his deputies. They remain unsolved to this day.
In 1936, Mitchell was appointed Supervisor of the Florida State Beverage Department. He later became District Supervisor and then Chief Law Enforcement Officer. At the request of three consecutive Florida governors, Mitchell also worked diligently on special investigations concerning cases of murder throughout the state. In 1946, he accepted a position as Chief Criminal Investigator of Escambia County and set up the Investigative Department of the sheriff’s office.
Mitchell died October 29, 1985, survived by his wife and two children.
Joseph Turpin Allen, Sr.
Term of Office, 1933-1945
Joseph T. Allen, Sr., fondly known as “Joe T,” was born on November 11, 1894 in the Point Baker Community area of Santa Rosa County. He was the fourth generation of a Florida pioneer family whose ancestors had moved to the “territory” in 1836.
Allen soon became Chief Engineer of the Power Department, supervising over fifty men. He remained in this position until 1932, when he successfully campaigned for Sheriff of Santa Rosa County. One of his campaign promises was to ensure that justice would prevail in the Collins/Gainer murder case. He vowed to assist John H. Collins in bringing his brother’s murderer to justice. While Sheriff, he witnessed the establishment of Whiting Field and was responsible for supervising a maintenance crew to maintain the county courthouse. Allen was best known as a “no nonsense man” who was kind and generous and driven by integrity. Some referred to him as the “Old Warhorse of Santa Rosa County Politics.”
In the 1950’s, Allen went on to serve the county once more in the capacity of County Commissioner, for a total of two terms. Allen died on November 6, 1961 and is buried in the Milton Cemetery.
Marshall Rufus Hayes
Term of Office, 1945 – 1957
Marshall Rufus Hayes was born on a sandy farm on Pond Creek, four miles west of Milton,Florida, in 1905. Hayes continued to prosper even during the years of the great depression, investing in land and real estate in Santa Rosa County.
In 1944, Hayes ran for Sheriff of Santa Rosa County and was elected. He served in this capacity for three consecutive terms. Hayes was known as a friend of the worker and sincerely believed that anyone willing to work conscientiously could be successful. Hayes left the Sheriff’s Office in 1956 and Hayes died in 1971.
Bart Dell Broxson
Term of Office, 1957 – 1959
Bart Dell Broxson, a lay minister and the “Bible carrying” Sheriff, was born November 22, 1902.
Broxson’s interest in politics led him to seek and to win election as a County Commissioner in the 1930’s. In 1955, Broxson, entered the race for Sheriff of Santa Rosa County and won the election. He became a success in the political arena believing that “the best way to rid yourself of an enemy is to make a friend out of him.” Broxson went to great lengths to help other families who were down on their luck. He fed and housed many itinerant families during his tenure as sheriff.
Broxson’s term as Sheriff was cut short due to an automobile accident that claimed his life on December 24, 1959. The accident occurred just south of the East River Bridge in Holley, less than a mile from his boyhood home. Broxson is buried at Rose Lawn Cemetery, just east of Gulf Breeze.
Annie Rachel Gordon Broxson
Term of Office, 1959 – 1959
Annie Rachel Gordon Broxson was born in 1903, the daughter of Lovett Pierce and Eliza Jane Wooten Gordon. She was appointed interim Sheriff of Santa Rosa County by Circuit Judge Woodrow Melvin. Her appointment came after her husband Bart Broxson was killed in an automobile accident in 1959. Mrs. Broxson remained sheriff until her son, John, was appointed to complete the term of his father.
Annie died in 1994 leaving over one hundred direct descendants.
John Ray Broxson
Term of Office, 1959 – 1961
John Ray Broxson was born June 10, 1932 in Holley, the fifth child of Bart and Annie Broxson.
Following his father’s fatal accident in 1959, John was appointed by Governor Leroy Collins to complete his father’s term of office as Sheriff until 1961. Concerned citizens joined with Sheriff Broxson in the formation of the Sheriff’s Posse. Posse members assisted in the capture and recapture of correctional escapees, the roundup of livestock, and the search for lost children. They also participated in special events and parades held throughout the county.
Wade H. Cobb, Sr.
Term of Office, 1961 – 1968
Wade H. Cobb, Sr. was born in 1901 in Milton,Florida and was educated in the Milton public schools. Cobb served as a deputy sheriff for fifteen years.
Cobb’s reputation, as a law enforcement officer, was renowned across the country. While serving as Constable, District 1, Cobb was elected sheriff in 1960, taking office in 1961. He served as Sheriff for two terms. Cobb was the first Sheriff to occupy a newly remodeled county courthouse. Cobb also served on the Sheriff’s Association Board of Directors and Board of Trustees for the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch and was active in numerous local civic organizations. Cobb died in 1977 and is buried in the Milton Cemetery.
Leon Hinote, Jr.
Term of Office, 1968-1972
Leon Hinote, Jr. was born March 17, 1921 in Milton,Florida. As a young man, Hinote served in the Signal Corp of the United States Army.
In 1968, at the age of 47, Hinote became the Sheriff of Santa Rosa County. He was known as a “Bible carrying” Sheriff. During his first year in office, Hinote had only nine deputies, nine vehicles, and a budget of $149,000.00. One motorcycle was used for special events and bloodhounds were used for tracking individuals.
Hinote resides in Milton and still owns and operates Leon’s Barber Shop.
Richard Harvell Enfinger
Term of Office, 1972 – 1981
Harvell Enfinger, as he was known, was born November 30, 1913 in Santa Rosa County.
Enfinger served in the law enforcement arena for twenty-seven years. He served at the rank of deputy for ten years, chief deputy for nine years, and was elected Sheriff, in 1972, serving two consecutive terms. During his terms of service, Enfinger established divisions for both investigations and identification. Through grant funding, Enfinger was able to invoke a Major Crime Task Force, Mobile Crime Lab, Special Tactics and Rescue Team and a 911 Emergency Number. Enfinger retired, from the Sheriff’s Office,January 5, 1981.
Enfinger died on April 8, 1997 and is buried in the Milton Cemetery.
James A. Powell, Sr.
Term of Office, 1981 – 1985
James A. Powell, Sr. was born August 2, 1937 in Thomasville,Georgia. Powell served in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force from 1955-1959. He spent 27 years as a Florida state trooper.
In 1981, Powell became Sheriff of Santa Rosa County. He was the first Sheriff to really get involved in drug apprehension and the destruction of marijuana fields. For three consecutive years, more marijuana was cut and destroyed, in Santa Rosa County, than in any other county in the State of Florida. Sheriff’s deputies often went in by horseback in search of marijuana fields. Powell was the first sheriff to have a drug sniffing canine, to require photo identification to enter the sheriff’s office and jail area, to implement fingerprinting of small children, to create a S.W.A.T. Team, and to offer seminars and firearms training to other police agencies.
During his time of service, Powell had only 38 deputies on patrol and an operating budget of only $5 million, but brought the crime rate down every year. He served over 31 years in the field of law enforcement, retiring in 1995. Powell currently resides in Santa Rosa County.
Elwyn Mauriece Coffman, Jr.
Term of Office, 1985-1992
Elwyn Mauriece Coffman, Jr. was born in October 1929 in Fulton,Kentucky. He served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, during the Korean Conflict.
Coffman began his law enforcement career as a Santa Rosa County deputy sheriff under the late Sheriff Wade H. Cobb, Sr. and served until Cobb’s retirement. He was elected sheriff in 1984 and 1988. He served in this capacity until 1992. Coffman was renowned for his “Open Door” policy and his “I Care” attitude.
Coffman’s law enforcement career spanned over 24 years. He died in April, 1995.
James F. Coats
Term of Office, 1992 – 1992
James F. Coats was born on January 23, 1944 in Corning,New York.
Coats is a U.S. Air Force veteran with a Bachelor of Arts degree, in the field of criminal justice, procured fromSt.LeoUniversity. He graduated from the FBI National Academy, the Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute, and the National Aviation Academy. Coats holds a commercial pilot’s license with instrument and multi-engine ratings.
Coats served in Santa Rosa County from August-November 1992.
Jerry D. Brown
Term of Office, 1992 – 2000
Jerry D. Brown was born October 9, 1946 in McDavid,Florida.
Brown served in the U.S. Army from 1965-1968 and served in Vietnam from 1966- 1967.
Brown was elected Sheriff of Santa Rosa County in 1992 and served two terms. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Santa Rosa County Criminal Justice Facility that opened in August 1998.
Brown currently resides in the Gulf Breeze area.
Term of Office, 2000 – Current Sheriff
Wendell Hall was born in Atmore,Alabama on January 27, 1949. He attended high school in Walnut Hill,Florida and took coursework at Pensacola Junior College. He later procured a Bachelor of Science degree from Troy State University, specializing in the field of criminal justice.
Hall’s career, in the law enforcement arena, has spanned over 26 years. He served with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office for 19 years, both in corrections and regular law enforcement. He held the ranks of deputy sheriff, corporal, and sergeant. Hall specialized in hostage negotiations, firearms instruction, and major crimes investigation. He received special recognition for Outstanding Service to the Community in 1984, a Meritorious Service Award in 1992, and numerous other achievement awards. Hall also served as a Sheriff’s Reserve Officer and as a volunteer firefighter for several years.
In the year 2000, Hall was elected sheriff for Santa Rosa County. While fulfilling this role, he maintained an office that was accessible to the community, endorsing an “Open Door” policy for all. His focus was to ensure excellence, accountability, and integrity in the management and conduct of Sheriff’s Office programs. “Exceeding Your Expectations” became the cornerstone of his office. Hall also established collaborative partnerships with local schools, businesses, and the community at large. From these relationships, greater crisis management programs, an enhanced School Resource Officer Program, a full-time traffic unit, a modified COMSTAT Program to analyze and map crime data and other essential police performance, departmental accreditation, the relocation of district offices, an enhanced gun range and K9 unit, the implementation of air patrol to locate and eradicate the growth of marijuana, and greater quality training for all personnel evolved. Additionally, a unique achievement, put forth by Hall, was to establish a Sheriffs Honor Wall to pay tribute to those who came before him to serve as sheriff.
Hall currently resides in the Pace area with his family and continues to strive for excellence in the role of Sheriff for Santa Rosa County.