I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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The true story of trusting a trusty

Last week, Bill Minor wrote in the Clarion Ledger, telling the whole story of Ross Barnett saying, “If you can’t trust a trusty, who can you trust.”  Minor was there, and he has all the details.  I’d heard the short version for years, spun slightly differently– that a Parchman trusty was sent into Arkansas one weekend on an unspecified errand with $10K in cash, and, surprise surprise, just disappeared, and, pressed to explain, Gov. Barnett responded with the famous line.

There’s more to the story than that.

While Barnett was governor, a crazy system of prison leaves started being used.  The Superintendent of Parchman would grant a prisoner a three day leave without any clearance from the parole board or local officials.  Then, a lawyer or other “friend” of Barnett’s would get a seven day extension of the leave, and those extensions would be repeated indefinitely.  Prisoners were just disappearing after a point.

One trusty was a famous killer, Cowboy Dale Morris (who had a longer story interesting in itself).  Here’s how he disappeared:

He convinced Superintendent Jones that if he was permitted to go with two guards and a double horse trailer over to Arkansas, he could pick up a pair of Tennessee walking horses and make Parchman a major horse breeding farm.

So Morris and the two guards set to Arkansas with the empty horse trailer.

Sure enough, on reaching Hot Springs, the cowboy wangles the pair of walking horses. When they are ready to return to the Mississippi prison farm, Morris tells the guards he’d like to take care of some business while in Arkansas. See some girlfriend, no doubt.

“Why don’t you all head on back to Parchman and by the time you get back, I’ll meet you there?” Morris tells the prison guards.

After Morris had been a no-show for three weeks, Gov. Barnett decides he’s going to have to explain all this to reporters.  He starts showing them documents he said vouched for Morris, and then:

He starts shuffling through them and stops when he finds one particular document.

“Why, he was even a trusty,” Barnett proudly crows. Then turning toward me, the governor in his typical hoarse drawl, declares: “If you can’t trust a trusty, who can you trust?”

4 comments to The true story of trusting a trusty

  • Observer

    When I was in junior high school, the father of one of my friends was serving a life sentence for murder. He was a Mansion trusty. He kept his own car in Jackson. Every other weekend, he would be given leave and he would drive from Jackson to home, spend the weekend with his family, and then drive back to the Mansion.

    My friend got at least a few weekends he could spend with his father. Occasionally, his father was even able to attend a football game.

    I don’t really have a problem with a system like that. Unfortunately, there’s no way it could ever happen now.

  • Mike

    My father, Boyce Holleman, prosecuted Cowboy Morris for murder. I heard the stories many times. The first two trials ended in mistrials. They were somewhat sensational, with Morris developing quite a following from the ladies, strangers who wrote Morris in jail and attended the trials.

    While awaiting a third trial a man named Bellew (sp?), who was prosecuted by my father (or whose family member was prosecuted) broke him out of jail, gave him a map to our house and paid him to assassinate the DA. I also think he was to assassinate the county attorney Gaston Hewes Sr, whose son now serves as our County Court Judge.

    He was captured in the woods at a campsite with the map and gun. Morris reached a plea agreement and testified against Bellew.

    I remember as a kid, about 8, handing out cards for my father at a rally. I wandered down a path and came upon some unruly looking men, who made a very derogatory remark when I handed one a card and asked for their vote. After reporting this to my father, he walked down there with me in tow and simply stared them down. They scattered like quail. He told me not to ever be frightened by such cowards. I overhead him tell others afterwards that it was that Bellew bunch.

    Sorry that this is off topic, but Cowboy Morris loomed large in my childhood and I couldn’t resist.

  • NMC

    Totally on topic, Mike, and a great story. Thanks for telling it.

  • Tim

    Since Mike opened the door some may enjoy a little history!!


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