When I lived in South Carolina, round about mid-August I would get in my car, ride on over to pick up my deer-hunting buddy Sherrill Smith and drive up yonder to see Sheriff Hogg.
Sheriff Hogg was the sheriff of Fairfield County, SC and his office was at the county seat in Winnsboro. But if you really needed to talk to the Sheriff about something important, you ran over to the Biscuit House where you could find him most mornings washing down biscuits and grits with a coke.
And what was important in mid-August was getting a good spot to hunt deer. Because the deer season in Carolina ran from mid-August until the end of the year, and the best dang place in whole Palmetto State was Fairfield County, particularly around the town of Rion because most of the cleared land in those parts went for planting beans. Deer love soybeans, they come out the woods late afternoon and can munch their ways through a bushel or two every night. So the farmers want guys like Sherrill and me to put up a stand on t’other side of the field, a clear shot at 200 yards and we keep things even – know what I mean?
Sheriff Hogg was the person you wanted to see because ol’ boy knew which farmers would give out permissions to hunt their land. After chatting with the Sheriff a bit he told us to go outside and tell his driver to direct us to a proper field. The driver was an older Black man named Page, who was serving a life sentence for having killed someone back some time ago. He slept on a cot in the back of the Sheriff’s office, drew a bit of pay as Sheriff Hogg’s trustee, but what he really did was open and go through the mail each day because Sheriff Hogg couldn’t read or write. Maybe he could sign his name but that was it. So it was up to Page to make sure that no important documents didn’t end up except where they supposing to go. Think I’m making this up? That’s because you didn’t live in rural South Carolina in 1976.
Sherrill and I ended up hunting that year on some bean fields worked by two Black sharecroppers named Rabbit and Love. They were joyous when we showed up because they knew that if Sherrill Clement Smith sat alongside one of their bean fields they would end up with a full harvest along with plenty of meat. They got half of whatever we shot, and by mid-October they had meat for the families and whole lot more to sell from behind the church. In rural counties like Fairfield it was estimated that half the consumer meat came from the Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain, the other half thanks to people like Sherrill and me.
Late October I brought down a handsome, 12-point buck, loaded it into Sherill’s truck, run on into Winnsboro and make Sheriff Hogg a gift. He come out to the truck, give a quick ‘yip,’ smacked his hands together and yelled, ‘Page, c’mon and pull this critter ‘round back!’ Then he invited us into his office, thanked me profusely for relinquishing such a prize, yanked open a drawer in his desk and said, ‘Here, take one of these.’
One of these happened to be a beautiful, K-38 Smith & Wesson revolver which the Sheriff had picked up God only knows. Had a whole mess of confiscated guns he usually sold, stuck the cash in the Rainy Day fund.
I can state without fear of contradiction that this was common practice in most smaller towns in the South. And maybe Sheriff Hogg couldn’t read or write, but he knew he wasn’t creating any kind of threat to public safety by giving me that K-38. With all our technology, data and everything else, have we yet developed a better way of figuring out who should be able to own a gun?