At age ten, Luther Franklin Rickman (1889 – 1969) announced to his mother that he would one day become Sheriff of Rabun County. Reportedly, his mother advised him to start making lots of friends, since he would need as many as possible to get elected to such an important position. Young Luther seems to have taken this advice to heart, making enough friends to complete a law enforcement career that lasted over four decades.
Mr. Rickman was first sworn in as Rabun’s Deputy Sheriff in 1913. At the time, the Clayton Tribune described him as “… a bright young man … (who) will make a sober and upright officer.” He definitely lived up to these expectations, developing a reputation as a fair but no nonsense law and order man. This was clearly evident in 1916 when G. W. Kilby, who was serving time in the local jail for violating Georgia internal revenue laws (moonshining), wrote a letter to the Clayton Tribune in which he thanked Mr. Rickman for treating him, his wife and children, as well as his fellow prisoners “…as nicely as I could ask …” When the Clayton Tribune refused to run the letter, fearing it would appear the editorial board was endorsing Mr. Rickman for Sheriff, Mr. Kilby and his fellow prisoners chipped in to run the letter as an ad. Another vote of confidence came that same year from Will Brown, the last person to be executed in Rabun County. Mr. Brown’s final words before being hanged, for shooting and killing another “negro,” was “Good bye men, good bye Mr. Rickman, you have been good to me.”
In 1917, Mr. Rickman achieved his childhood goal when he was elected Sheriff of Rabun County, a position he held until losing his 1940 reelection bid by 34 votes. It was during this 23-year period that Sheriff Rickman assumed an almost legendary status as someone who always got his man. Even as early as 1918 a Clayton Tribune editorial warned would-be criminals that “… dodging him, out running him or escaping after being captured does not work with the Sheriff of Rabun County.” The warning extended to Sheriff Rickman’s jailhouse which, in 1935, was reported to be one of the few jails in Georgia to have avoided an escape during the previous 20 years. By 1948, Andrew Ritchie, author of Sketches of Rabun County History, wrote that he did not feel the need to devote much space to Sheriff Rickan’s accomplishments as he already had an established “…reputation of being the foremost and most active Sheriff in Northeast Georgia.”
The earliest wave of law enforcement successes which helped to seal Sheriff Rickman’s reputation came thanks to state (1907) and later national (1919) prohibition laws which had the unintended consequences of stimulating the moonshine trade. In fact, Mr. Rickman was the first sheriff to raid a Rabun County still, a task for which he was paid $10. He received an extra $40 to $60 for catching the operator of a still. Despite these financial incentives, Sheriff Rickman and his men rarely went out on raids unless informers such as disgruntled friends, competitors or even wives turned in a moonshine operation.
Of all Sheriff Rickman’s cases, his response to the Clayton Bank robbery of 1936 perhaps received the most notice. What began as a fairly routine robbery for its time turned into a wild chase that involved the lead robber, Zade Sprinkle, and his accomplices throwing tarpaper nails in front of the Sheriff’s car, stealing a second getaway car in North Carolina, and finally running the stolen car into a telephone pole in Marion, N.C.
Upon his failed reelection bid in 1940, Mr. Rickman’s 23 years as Sheriff made him the longest serving top law enforcement official in Rabun County, a record that would not be matched until Sheriff Don Page’s tenure (1985 – 2008). Following his departure from the Sheriff’s office, Mr. Rickman’s skills were put to good use when, during World War II, he was employed by Georgia Power to patrol the dams and hydroelectric plants on the Tallulah River to protect them from possible sabotage.
In the early 1950s Mr. Rickman returned to law enforcement as Clayton’s Chief of Police. He held this position until his retirement in 1956, leaving behind a public service legacy that no doubt far exceeded his boyhood dream.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Rabun County remained largely isolated from the outside world. This would change dramatically with the coming of a railroad which also brought tourism, logging and dam building.
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