GEORGE WEST – Long before television, radio and the Internet came on the scene, storytelling was a prime form of entertainment, education and historical preservation.
That tradition was alive and well on Nov. 2 at Dobue West Performing Arts Theatre, and the highlight of the Day of Stories were the stories of two longtime Live Oak County public servants — Sheriff Larry Busby and County Judge Jim Huff.
Both have spent the better part of their lives working for the citizens of Live Oak County, and not surprisingly, both had interesting stories to share.
Busby is the longest serving sheriff currently still in office in Texas. He took office on Jan. 1, 1981 after having served as a reserve deputy for several years before that.
Huff is tied with Bill Mitchell of Uvalde for longest serving county judge in the state who is still currently serving in that role. Both took office on Jan. 1, 1987.
Ross Harris, chairman of the Live Oak County Historical Society and CEO of SouthTrust Bank, served as emcee of the from featuring Busby and Huff.
Huff is the son of former Live Oak County Sheriff Sam Huff and grew up In Live Oak County. He attended Texas A&M University and worked as a deputy for Sheriff Busby (who had been a deputy for Sam Huff) before being elected county judge in 1986.
Busby was born on the McMullen-Atascosa County line. He graduated from Texas A&I (now Texas A&M University at Kingsville) and worked as a math teacher and car salesman before he became a full-time law enforcement officer.
“Sheriff Busby and Judge Huff have had the opportunity to influence this county for the better and they have done a great job,” Harris said.
“Their knowledge of Live Oak County history is first-hand so they bring a lot of stories today.”
Harris noted that LOCHC is involved in a project to record local history, and the stories told by Huff and Busby were recorded for future generations to enjoy.
Harris also talked about an out-of-print Live Oak County history book that is available online on the Live Oak County Historical Commission website, and referred to a story about former Live Oak County Sheriff Alfred Smith, which he said was on Page 56 of that book.
He talked of a robbery that took place in Live Oak County in which Smith finally tracked down the suspect 25 years after the incident in which a local man had $200 stolen from him.
Sheriff Smith traveled to Nevada to arrest the suspect, but an official refused to extradite him to Texas, saying that the suspect had changed his ways and had become a valuable contributor to that community.
Busby noted that Smith also had a long tenure as Live Oak County sheriff, and that he only surpassed Smith’s tenure in office in 2018.
Huff, who has served both in law enforcement and county government, said he recognized “a distinct difference” between the two, adding that it had to be that way.
He recalled during his days as a deputy, there were a lot more bars in Live Oak County than there are today, and fights were commonplace.
Huff said his dad loved being sheriff, and “that’s what piqued my interest in law enforcement.”
Before returning to Live Oak County, Huff served as a deputy in Nueces County.
“It was a nice, quiet Sunday afternoon and we got a call about a complaint at a massage parlor,” Huff recalled. (The caller) said someone was dead inside.”
Huff investigated and discovered that in fact, there were six or seven women inside who had been killed, and another was injured by still alive, and was able to identify the killers — a disgruntled employee and her boyfriend who had decided to rob the business.
“It was probably the worst situation with mass homicide I had ever seen,” Huff said.
One his first night back in Live Oak County, and working as a deputy for Sheriff Busby, Huff said he received a call about an assault in George West.
He found a woman outside a mobile home who told Huff that her husband was inside with a baby in his arms and that the man was intoxicated.
Huff said he knocked on the door and told the man to come outside, and was told in very rude terms that the man was not coming outside. He then told Huff that he was going to “blow him away.
While Huff and the man continued to communicate, another officer managed to enter through a window and Huffwent in the front door to handcuff him.
“The guy was real strong,” Huff recalled.
Huff said he was determined not to let Sheriff Busby down, and eventually was able to handcuff the man and drove him to jail.
One the way, Huff recalled that the man insulted his hat, saying if he had a hat like that, he would burn it.
“That was the first time he made me made that night,” Huff recalled.
Huff and Busby then recalled a man who was found burning in the middle of the street, with charcoal briquettes surrounding him.
It took a while to determine the man’s identity — he was a single man who was finally reported missing by neighbors.
No one was ever arrested for that crime.
Another time, Huff chased a suspect near a skating rink in George West, and was able to grab on to the bottom of the man’s pants, pulling them off during the pursuit.
The man got away, but Huff told fellow officers that the suspect shouldn’t be hard to find because he was “buck naked form the waist down.”
In his current role, Huff said about 40 percent of what he does is judicial, and the other 60 percent, which he called “the hardest” was administrative work for the county. He said he appreciated those county employees working with him to serve the public.
A good sense of humor is something Huff said he prizes.
“Humor is something I like,” he said, adding that it is “good to look at things in a positive manner.”
He added that just because Live Oak County is small doesn’t meant that it _ and its residents — can’t make a positive impact in Texas, and that it is important to stand up for the rights of local residents.
Huff then talked about the history of the Live Oak County Courthouse, which will celebrate its centennial in 2020.
An addition to the courthouse, a jail built in 1962, will be demolished, but the original jail on site dating to 1920 will remain. Tours will be offered before that 1962 jail is removed, Huff said.
One day, a San Antonio organization that investigates paranormal events called Huff and said a former dispatcher who worked at the 1962 jail reported strange occurrences there.
They asked Huff is they could investigate, and Huff told them they could.
The investigators brought special equipment down, and asked questions. A voice in the old jail gave a name, and when asked why (the spirit) was there, received an answer, “Isn’t it obvious?”
During the paranormal investigation, Huff said he felt something touch his leg.
“It could have been a rat, it could have been my knees knocking together, but I felt something,” he said.
Before the investigating crew left, one man went up to a part of the jail by himself, “which apparently you aren’t supposed to do,” Huff said.
The man burst through the door, ran down the stairs and was panting in the parking lot when Huff saw him.
“He was more upset than I’ve ever seen anybody upset,” Huff said.
The man told Huff “when I was up there, something put its hands around my throat,” Huff said.
Huff said he always looks for a logical explanation, but added that when he witnessed the paranormal investigation”the hair on the back of my neck and arms stood up” and h called the experience one of the “most surreal things I’ve seen,” adding “you can blow it off if you want to.”
Regardless of any strange circumstances in some portions of the courthouse, Huff said he is blessed to be where he is.
“I believe we live in the best nation in the world, I believe we live in the best state and I believe we live in the best part of Texas, that being South Texas,” he said. Keep your head up, keep positive and keep moving forward. Our country needs that now.”
Busby talked about his early day’s working for the sheriff’s department, when he was a deputy from 1974-1980.
“There were a lot of fighting arrests,” Busby said. “We had about 11 bars in each community and things were busy in the area with construction, drilling and the uranium mine.”
Busby said there weren’t enough places to house all the people working in the area.
“People were sleeping under bridges with a lot of money,” he said. “There was nowhere for them to stay, so they stayed in the bars until they closed.”
One incident Busby recalled was a woman calling the sheriff’s department and saying there was a man walking around with a lot of blood on him.
Busby and other officers found the man, who was covered in dirt and dry blood.
He and another deputy rode in an ambulance to Beeville with the injured man, who was wrapped up and hard to understand.
“I tried to figure out a way to communicate with him,” Busby said. “Finally I said if you can hear us, raise your finger, and if not, leave your finger down. He raised his finger.”
Busby asked if someone did that to the man, and he raised a finger.
Finally, Busby asked the victim if he knew who, and went through the alphabet until the man raised a finger on each letter, spelling out suspects’ names, and also what type of car and its color.
The men were connected to a drug dealer, so officers called the Drug Enforcement Administration and were able to track down and arrest two men who had left the victim for dead.
Busby recalled another time, in November 1980, when he went with serial killer Henry Lee Lucas to a murder site in Live Oak County where Lucas was able to identify areas and specifics of a murder that had taken place there.
Lucas was not indicted for that murder, because he had already been convicted of other murders and had already been sentenced to death.
In another incident on May 6, 1983, Busby said the sheriff’s office received a call about a suspect traveling south down Interstate 37 from Atascosa County.
Busby and deputies tracked and pursued the suspect, who unsuccessfully shot at Busby twice.
The suspect was finally stopped on Highway 72 approaching Three Rivers when he lost control of the car and crashed.
Busby said that has been the only time he has been shot at.
Ironically, the gun had been stolen from a Live Oak County deputy who was living in San Antonio.
“What kind of coincidence was that,” Busby said. “A sheriff gets his gun stolen and it ends up shooting at the sheriff.”
Busby was asked if he ever dreams about being shot at, or any of the other things he has seen over the years.
“No,” Busby said, adding that the only dream he has had that troubled him was one he has had on a couple of occasions about an inmate being forgotten and left in the old jail.
Fortunately, for all involved, that’s not a dream that came true.
Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. He can be reached at 361-786-3022 or email@example.com.