Charlie Lewis was a deputy sheriff with the Escambia County, Florida Sheriff’s Office. For years, his assigned area was in Muskogee (Cantonment), Florida, about 20 miles north of Pensacola.
At 10:30 PM on Thursday, January 31, 1929, he drove into town to contact Prohibition Agent Eugene Forsythe, who lived in downtown Pensacola on Spring Street. When he arrived in his Model-T, he noticed someone lurking in the shadows around Forsythe’s home. As a matter of fact, he saw the figure circle the house twice. When Lewis approached the suspect, he realized it was a BIG guy that he was dealing with. He walked up to the giant and, with his truncheon (nightstick) in hand, and confronted him.
“What’s your name?” Deputy Lewis responded, not recognizing him. “My name is Garfield Simms,” said the Goliath. Lewis smelled the alcohol on his breath. Due to his past experiences, he knew that drunks are often hard to reason with, but he hoped Mr. Simms would be a “happy drunk.” Wrong.
Getting straight to the point, Deputy Lewis said, “What are you doing here?” In response, the man pulled out a pistol, but Deputy Lewis was faster. He did what officers were trained to do in those days – with his truncheon, he hit him over the head…hard.
In those days, truncheons resembled baseball bats more than nightsticks. Made of hardwood, they were bigger around and got bigger toward the end, kinda like a Louisville Slugger. Further, they were filled with buckshot to make them heavier and to make the blow count. So, a blow to the head would stop a man, maybe kill him.
Deputy Lewis was well aware of the damage they could do and being a deputy – usually alone – in a rough area like Muscogee, he knew well how to use the club. Deputy Lewis knew what was coming next – the suspect would collapse and fall to the ground. Occasionally, if he was drunk enough, the suspect might try to get up and resume the fight, so a second blow might be necessary. That was usually followed by a trip to the hospital for stitches.
The blow found its target and landed solidly, making a thumping sound. But the giant just stood. To his horror, Deputy Lewis discovered that the weighted miniature baseball bat splintered into pieces! Buckshot showered the ground around the men. The man blinked and stood, looking at Lewis.
Deputy Lewis suddenly had a sick feeling in his stomach. With both hands free (now), he grabbed for the man’s gun, and both men wrestled over it with everything that God gave them. Lewis was certain that this would be his last night on earth if he didn’t get control of that gun. They went to the ground, rolled around, one on top, then the other. They both fought through to exhaustion with neither able to get the gun from the other.
Officer Forsythe, awakened by the commotion, jumped out of bed, threw open the door, and came to the aid of the tired deputy. Now it was two lawmen to one giant suspect. Surely, they would easily prevail. Wrong again.
Finally, after 15 minutes, they got the cuffs on the behemoth and took him to jail. To this day, no one knows how the suspect’s hard head came to splinter a weighted, hardwood Louisville Slugger.
One thing is for certain, though – Deputy Lewis earned his paycheck that day. Interesting…