'Wild, Wild Walton' — stories of days gone by

PAM GRIFFIN 654-8444 | @DestinLogPam pgriffin@thedestinlog.com
Ronnie McBrayer dressed the part for the Grit & Grace production of Wild, Wild Walton.

Pioneer life in Northwest Florida was one of the most challenging frontiers in the whole United States. Still, the settlers came as the bounty and potential of the Panhandle were far too alluring. Rich farmland, primeval forests, abundant fishing and game, pristine coastline, and clean, fresh water held the promise of a good life and great wealth. But Walton County also became a haven for moonshiners, outlaws and bandits.

Ronnie McBrayer's book, "Wild, Wild Walton," covers the times going back to the 1860s and was adapted from the stage play he wrote for Grit and Grace.

"I took the writing assignment from the Grit and Grace board," McBrayer told The Log. "After submitting it, they loved it, and the board, with Mark Douglass as the chair, asked me to adapt the play into a book primarily for archiving's sake. It turned out to be a fun, quick read that gives great insight into the rowdy, pioneer days of Walton County and the Gulf Coast."

Although the plot line in the book is different from the play, the stories are the same, including a few new stories and historical background that couldn't be performed in a two-hour stage play.

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With more information and resources available today, researching for a book is easier than it has ever been.

"The Florida Memory archives, personal interviews I conducted, particularly with the descendants of Walton County's fallen officers, Grit and Grace's collected stories, and written histories from the local historical society, all shaped the book," McBrayer said. "The book is footnoted extensively, so those who would like more information about specific events or characters can read further. Of great importance was the work by the Walton County Sheriff Posse who have an extensive collection of stories."

McBrayer’s book explores pioneer justice in Florida’s Panhandle and combines historical fact, oral storytelling, and narration. The book is a look at the good guys and gangsters, the devils and deputies who shaped Walton County’s past and who continue to forge its future.

But the book is more than that. McBrayer used former Walton County sheriffs from more than 50 years ago, Celia and Clayton Adkinson, as the main characters.

Clayton began his term Jan. 5, 1937, but it was soon over when he was shot in the back a little more than a year later by a county constable who believed that he and a prison guard were plotting to have him fired. Clayton's wife, Celia, was appointed sheriff after his death, and was the second woman in Florida to ever be appointed to that position.

"They, especially Celia, are used to tell many other stories," McBrayer said. "These stories make reference to Walton County's founding families, early exploration of the Choctawhatchee Bay, the Hoover Flood of 1929, the founding of the Florida Sheriffs Boy's Ranch, and the Gulf Coast's claim as 'Moonshine Capital of the World' in the early 20th century."

McBrayer, writer, pastor, and the nationally syndicated columnist of “Keeping the Faith,” loved this project. Writing is not new to him, but he hasn't written in this style since college.

"It was invigorating, if for no other reason than satisfying my curiosity about the community I call home," he said. "I like to describe the past as either a mooring or a sail. The past can keep us fixed and fastened — stuck somewhere, or it can help move us into the future. I hope this book is the latter rather than the former."

The book also contains illustrations and vintage pictures from Walton County collected and contributed by Tim Ryals, a local graphic designer.

“Wild, Wild Walton” retails for $9.99 and is available at www.amazon.com.

Maybe this book, in its own little way, will help you find your way into the future —by knocking on a few doors     of the past. Press on. 

— Ronnie McBrayer