- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

BATESVILLE, Ark. (AP) - For 21 years, Jim Mitchum wore a Batesville Police Department badge. Now, he’s got another one.

Batesville Police Chief Alan Cockrill, Lt. John Scarbrough and Mayor Rick Elumbaugh presented Mitchum with a badge at Mountain Meadows, where Mitchum now resides.

Now 102, Mitchum joked that during his tenure, “I had very few satisfied customers.”

He retired Feb. 15, 1971, after his many years of dedicated service and eventually received a key to the city, The Batesville Daily Guard reported.

Mitchum, who also served on the city council, was only 4 years old when he arrived in Batesville in a covered wagon with his parents, 11 brothers and sisters and a dog named Old Ring. It was 1916, and the wagon held everything they owned.

The trip from Crane, Missouri (about 30 miles northwest of Branson), was 240 miles and took 15 days. They came in on a trail that is now Highway 14.

“We had to plan ahead - food for the mules, something for us to eat,” he said in 2012 article for the Guard. “They brought flour and lard. We had no cows, no milk. . How we survived I can’t explain to you. We slept under the wagon ‘cause back then, you could sleep hanging on a nail. We didn’t have all the luxuries.”

He attended one-room schools before finishing the eighth grade. High schools were few and far between, as he recalled, “We went out the back door, crossed two creeks and climbed 13 fences.” As it was, Mitchum finished high school when he was 22 years old.

Mitchum married in the spring of 1938 to Geraldine Sims and they had two sons, Jimmy and Bobby. Geraldine died in 1998; she was also active in the Arkansas Peace Officers Ladies Auxiliary. Their son, Jim A. Mitchum, died in 2005.

During World War II, Mitchum worked with German soldiers who had been captured in Italy and brought to Stuttgart to work picking cotton and work in the rice fields.

In 1947, Mitchum became Independence County chief deputy under Sheriff Henry Tucker. That was back in the days that the county had only two deputies and they had to furnish their own cars.

While he was chief deputy, Mitchum lived in the old Independence County Jail building. Soon, a millage was approved in order to build a new jail, and the old building - which had been built in the 1860s or 1870s - was torn down in 1952, and workers found dozens and dozens of Civil War cannonballs in the construction to help hold the blocks of stone together to keep them from slipping.

A couple years later, when an officer had killed a civilian and was later sent to prison, Mitchum was hired as the city’s chief of police.

That was September 1949, at a time that Batesville might have resembled Mayberry (Mitchum’s sons felt like Opie Taylor growing up in a police station), and when patrolmen would go door-to-door at night to check whether businesses had locked their doors. Mitchum worked everything from bootlegging to petty thefts to arson and more.

“After being appointed chief, a good friend of mine asked if I knew enough about law enforcement. I told him I didn’t have to know much ‘cause the first day I walked down Main Street, everyone told me how it should be done,” Mitchum said in the 2012 article.

One time he transported a prisoner to Little Rock who later escaped and “was coming after him,” he told granddaughter Lynne Teague. “He made my dad go get my Uncle Bob and bring him home from baseball practice. They caught the guy in Newport, though.”

Another time, she said, he had a prisoner and he fed the man’s dog while he was in jail.

“The day I was born, he never made it to the hospital to see me because he was at the height of solving a bootlegging crime.”

“He got a parking ticket when he took my Uncle Bob to have his photo taken with Smiley Burnett,” Teague continued. Smiley Burnett was a popular country music performer and a comedic actor, often playing sidekick to Gene Autry and other B-movie cowboys.

Bob Mitchum said his dad had just lectured the patrolmen about giving everyone with a red flag on the meter a ticket. He had gone out of town that day but arrived back with just a few minutes left before the photos ended.

He quickly parked his car and went to Smiley, not bothering to put money in the meter. Of course, the patrolmen recognized the vehicle - they thought it was a test, that Mitchum was seeing if they would do as he asked, so they gave him a ticket.

The ride home was very quiet, Bob would say.

As the younger son, Bob probably got away with more than his brother Jim, Teague’s father. “He was seven years younger. One time he picked up a book of parking tickets and left one on every car between city hall and the Melba.”

It wasn’t always easy being the chief. Mitchum once had to take a 10-year-old boy into custody for breaking into the Prothro Grocery. The third-grader was accused of stealing $13.15.

Another time he hauled an elderly couple to court for stealing flowers from graves in Oaklawn Cemetery. Caught in the act, the couple pleaded guilty. Mitchum told the court they were digging flower bulbs out of the ground with a file and stuffing them into a 10-pound bag to decorate their home.

Mitchum was in charge of security when President Truman made a whistle stop in town behind the Marvin Hotel, and he helped with security when President Kennedy dedicated the dam at Greers Ferry.

With the controversy of the Batesville police officer’s killing a civilian, a civil service commission was put into place to hire and oversee the officers. Training became mandatory and Mitchum also helped create the state’s first police officer training facility known as the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy in Camden.

He also served as president of both the Arkansas Peace Officers Association and Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police.

After retiring from the Batesville Police Department, Mitchum went to work overseeing a state program that was writing grants to help update jails, equipment and police cars. He worked 10 years before retiring again.

And when Alderman Jim Shirrell was elected mayor in 1981, Mitchum found himself back in public service as he was sworn in as a member of the city council.

In October 2012, Mitchum received a key to the city at his 100th birthday party (he also received letters from the Obamas, the Bushes and the Clintons).

It wasn’t Mitchum’s first key to the city - but it was the first he’d received. During his time as chief of police, Mitchum, whose hobby was woodworking, got to meet President Jimmy Carter and was asked by the mayor to make a key to the city to be presented during the president’s trip to town.

He may have turned in his first badge - but this one he’ll keep.


Information from: Batesville Guard, https://www.guardonline.com/

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