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Stephen S. Renfroe - Sumter County, Alabama's Outlaw Sheriff

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This is the story of Stephen S. Renfroe. The following information is but a brief summary of the crooked and infamous life of this man, as taken from various sources. No copyrights have been infringed upon in retrieving this information. The historical information and dates were taken from the book STEPHEN S. RENFROE, ALABAMA'S OUTLAW SHERIFF, by William Warren Rogers & Ruth Pruitt. This is intended to represent strictly the life and times of an incredibly complicated individual, presented here in the form of a rough time-line of events.

Stephen S. Renfroe, or Steve Renfroe, was born in Georgia in 1843, the son of JG and MAP Renfroe. JG Renfroe and his family had come from Georgia to Butler County, AL, about 1852 or 1853.
On June 6, 1861, at the age of 18, Stephen, a good-looking gentleman of a man, enlisted for duty in the Civil War, serving in Captain EY Hill's Jeff Davis Rangers, which later became Company G of the 9th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He served as a private until January 30, 1864, when he deserted.
On September 2, 1865, he married Mary E. "Mollie" Shepherd of Butler County, AL.
On July 9, 1867, Stephen killed his brother-in-law, Dr. Thomas Mills, then fled from Butler County into Lowndes County, AL.
He later came to Sumter County, to the town of Livingston. It is important to note here the make-up of Sumter County at this point in history. The 1860 Census showed the following totals for Sumter County: Whites - 5,919; Slaves - 18,091; and Freed Slaves - 25. {Even with the whites so far outnumbered in this area, the KKK was becoming a big organization by this time. Also an interesting note here is that the current total population of today's Sumter County, Alabama, is slightly less than the figure of 140 years ago, but the make-up is almost exactly the same.}
In 1868, Mollie, who had stayed behind when Stephen ran, also came to Livingston. However, at the age of 22, she suddenly became very ill and died of unknown causes. She was buried in the Bethel Cemetery at Sumterville in Sumter County.
On November 11, 1869, Stephen Renfroe married his second wife, Mary M. "Pattie" Sledge, who was born November 17, 1849. They were married less than 2 years when Pattie also suddenly became very ill and died. She was buried in the Old Sides Cemetery at Sumterville. After the death of Pattie, Stephen moved Mollie's body from Bethel and buried her beside Pattie at Old Sides.
By this time in history, Stephen Renfroe had become a very strong and influential leader in the local Klu Klux Klan organization.
He married for the third time on January 9, 1873, to Cherry V. Reynolds, who had been born about 1852.
In 1878, Stephen S. Renfroe was elected Sheriff of Sumter County, Alabama. He very soon thereafter became "crooked".
According the the local newspaper, the Livingston Journal, Renfroe "committed robbery, twice, of his own office - drinking, arson, blackmails, thieving and other almost inconceivable outrages."
Addison G. Smith, a local lawyer and friend of Renfroe wrote the following: "It is well established that while he was sheriff he burned the clerk's office, robbed himself of money he had collected for other people, embezzled money, used trust funds, turned prisoners out of jail, committed an unprovoked assault with intent to murder, and was guilty of various thefts."
He was arrested, but escaped from jail (the first of many times) on June 19, 1880, by cutting a hole in the outside wall of his 2nd story cell and jumping to the roof of a shed and then to the ground.
On July 19, 1880, exactly a month after he escaped, he signed over his home and property in Livingston to his wife Cherry, and then "disappeared". He was not heard from throughout the rest of that year and the next. It is believed that he joined the famous Harrison Gang and was traveling back and forth from Mississippi to Louisiana.
Renfroe returned to Sumter County sometime in late 1882. His wife refused to recognize him, and the law refused to arrest him, presumably from fear. He then "disappeared" again for about a year, returning to Livingston in the spring of 1884 and turning himself in.
In April 1884, He unsuccessfully attempted to escape once again. He then was transferred to a jail in Tuscaloosa, AL. Somehow a knife was smuggled into the jail to him and he began the slow process of cutting a hole in the (again) wall of his 2nd floor cell. This took him until July. He escaped on July 7 by having saved his dinner, pushing himself through the plaster to the bottom floor, writing a good-bye note to the sherrif, throwing his food to the guard dogs to keep them occupied, and climbing the outside fence to freedom.
He reportedly came back to Sumter County, but then went on to New Orleans, Texas, and Mexico. In the summer of 1885, he supposedly decided to return home to Sumter County to see his son. He made it as far as Hickory, Mississippi, on the train, and evidently figuring Cherry would never agree to the visit, supposedly started toward Central America once again. He was somehow held up and remained around the Livingston area before stealing a horse and going back to Louisiana. Arrested at Slidell, he was taken to New Orleans, and then was returned to the jail in Tuscaloosa.
This time, at only the age of 42, he was tried and found guilty and faced 5 years in the state penn. On October 3, 1885, he and 3 other prisoners escaped -- this time boring a hole in the wall with a smuggled auger. He made his way on foot back to Livingston in Sumter County by October 10. He reportedly had met a hobo in Greene County at Eutaw and walked the way with him to Sumter County, hiding in the woods, and then going back and forth from Mississippi to Alabama, once again.
By December 12, 1885, he had decided that he couldn't stand being alone anymore. He went to Meridian in Lauderdale County, MS, immediately west of Sumter County, AL, and gave an interview to a reporter who promised not to turn him in. He continued to hide out in the woods until late in the summer of 1886. He was then captured by 3 farmers in Enterprise, MS, on July 11, 1886, and was returned to Livingston on July 13.
By this point in history, as no surprise, the public outcry against Renfroe was great. One person who was present at the latest return of Renfroe to Sumter County, later wrote, "To hang Renfroe was determined upon by everybody without any special understanding about it."
Eight men stormed the jail that July, seized the jailor (threatening to kill him), got the keys and then seized Renfroe. They left the jail with him, forming a procession, and marched with their outlaw sheriff through the town of Livingston.
Ms. Tempie Scruggs, who had witnessed this parade from her front porch, later said, "We knew something terrible was going to happen, and we dropped down on the porch and watched them through the railing. They were so quiet."
The men marched Renfroe through town to the banks of the Sucarnochee River and hanged him. The current sheriff and his officers got there too late. They cut Renfroe down and took him back to town.
Many people in town had seen the men who took Renfroe and knew them. The jailor had also seen all of these men. However, no one ever reported who had been involved in Renfroe's murder, and no one was ever charged with it.
The sad thing, even for a man of Stephen S. Renfroe's character, is that not even his family came to claim the body. No funeral services were held for him, and hsi body was buried with a pauper's burial in an unmarked grave in a field. His wife moved away from the area with her son, who assumed another name.
No one knows for sure the location of Renfroe's grave, but many who have been near the site where he was hanged report to have seen those old tree limbs swaying as if in a wind when there was none and when nothing else would be moving. It's almost as if that old tree was ashamed to have been a part in the story of Stephen S. Renfroe. But, then again, who wouldn't have been?