Writing the story of law and order in Roswell: Policeman tracks down peacekeeping efforts that date back 200 years

Roswell history buffs may believe the town's law enforcement dates back to 1854 when the first police department was formed and constables and marshals were the town's officers.

But Roswell police Officer Michael Hitt can trace the beginning to 1791, when federal agents assigned to enforce the treaty between the federal government and the Cherokee Indians roamed the territory.

"They were the first," he said. "Back then the area was part of the Cherokee Nation, and the federal agents were the ones keeping the law, serving warrants, keeping the illegal white settlers out, because the only way you could get in was with a passport signed by the president of the United States or OK'd by the Cherokees."

Officer Hitt has written a book on the subject called "200 Years of Law Enforcement in the Roswell Area," and it is scheduled to be published this fall. It will be available through the Roswell Police Department and was financed with donations.

Officer Hitt, 35, of Sugar Hill, was the logical choice to write the book. A nine-year veteran officer with the Roswell Police Department, he is an amateur historian who has published other books about historic Roswell, including two concentrating on the Civil War and one on gold prospecting days.

For his new book, Officer Hitt talked to about 20 longtime Roswell residents and pored through old books, personal papers, records in the state archives and minutes of City Council meetings.

The book is a labor of love that took six years of research.

"It wasn't written for scholars or police officers but for the general public," he said. "That's why I put in the things that they would find interesting to read about and not get bored in doing so, " Officer Hitt said.

Included within the book's pages are copies of 1874 city ordinances that cover everything from how close to a road one could install a privy to the percentage an officer was paid for an arrest.

Every police chief is named and every departmental badge is displayed, along with old photographs.

One amusing anecdote involves the first recorded "high-speed" chase. An 1870s newspaper account details the arrest of a flimflam man named Tom Hardman who was pursued on horseback by the victims of his scam. The chase went all the way to Chamblee before the man was apprehended.

The book begins in 1791 when the Cherokee Nation took in all of Roswell and the law was enforced by military officers and Indian agents of the federal government. That situation lasted until the government bought up the land, opened it to white settlers and forced the Cherokees -

in the infamous "Trail of Tears" of the late 1830s - to move to Oklahoma.

When Roswell King laid out the town in 1837, he hired night watchmen and constables, later called marshals. The term "police officer" didn' t come into use until the turn of the century, according to Officer Hitt.

The book covers Roswell's moonshine era in the 1920s when there was a still on nearly every stream in town and Roswell's first patrol car, an old Ford that was confiscated during a bust.

Officer Hitt notes when the first town jail was built after World War I, and the book lists every known police officer hired by the city. It ends with the creation of the detective and traffic divisions and the largest drug bust in town history, when then-Sgt. Jerry King, now the police chief, discovered a van full of marijuana.

"I write about where I work. I put it back into the community, and that's how I help the community," Officer Hitt said.

Copyright 1991, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, All rights reserved.

By Dale Wilson Staff writer, Writing the story of law and order in Roswell: Policeman tracks down peacekeeping efforts that date back 200 years., 09-26-1991, pp H/09.