When Carl Williams reminisces about his career as a Texas Highway Patrolman and Sheriff in 1950s and 1960s West Texas, it doesn’t take long to understand that he is talking about a different time. Not necessarily an easier time—he experienced his share of shootouts, drug busts and illicit border crossings—but an era when a sense of community always seemed to prevail.
“We built respect in communities,” he says. “We didn’t worry about anyone getting hurt by someone on purpose. Everybody took care of everybody else.”
Williams, who turns 86 in August, didn’t plan a career in law enforcement when he graduated from Sul Ross State College, but circumstances seemed to push him in that direction. His father worked as a River Guard (predecessor of the Border Patrol) and as a customs officer in the border regions of Presidio and Fabens where Williams grew up. As a young teen, Williams was intrigued by the police radio chatter he heard when highway patrol officers dropped by the movie theater where he worked. Another job at photography studio meant taking an occasional crime scene photo for the El Paso County sheriff.
A new path
While working as a teacher and coach after college, Williams got a summer job as a relief deputy for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and his career took a new path. He joined the Texas Highway Patrol in 1957, covering an extraordinary 1,500 miles of paved roads. Two memorable encounters involved basketball star Wilt Chamberlain and Mary Coe “Ma” Daniels, whose exploits on the frontier made her a local celebrity.
From 1965 to 1970 he served two terms as sheriff of Brewster County where he gained a reputation for a firm, yet compassionate manner that community members still remember today.
In 1970, Williams became part of the original staff of what is now the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement
(TCOLE). He not only enjoyed being part of something new, he says, but also the chance to help shape a new generation of officers.
"If they had anything to do with law enforcement, we were trying to advance them."
“If they had anything to do with law enforcement, we were trying to advance them.” He was an investigator and instructor until he retired in 1989. Today he and his wife of 64 years, Alice, live in Midland.
Throughout his career, Williams often combined a passion for photography with his work. He taught arson photography and crime scene photography around the state. After retiring from TCOLE, he operated his own photography studio until 1996. He still teaches an occasional course in photography techniques.
“There’s no sense slowing down if you don’t have to,” he says.
After quadruple bypass surgery in 2001, Williams started writing some of his stories for his two children and four grandchildren. Last year he published “More than a Badge: Rough Country, the Law & Me,” a 500-plus-page memoir that is part family photo album, part historical record of Texas law enforcement, and a lot of tales of mischief and misdeeds.
“It’s kind of a legacy to them,” he says. Writing the book has led him to reflect on some tight scrapes, high-speed runs and instances where he knows divine intervention was on his side.
“I have been blessed and fortunate to do a lot of things,” he says. “It’s been a good adventure.”