Former law enforcement official Weldon Travis was definitely in the right place at the right time.
As he says in his just-released collection of autobiographical vignettes relating to his time as a Marin County Deputy Sheriff, that area in the mid to late 1960s was “wild and woolly.”
Consider that the county was occupied by world-famous rock ensembles The Grateful Dead, Sly and the Family Stone, The Jefferson Airplane and Quick Silver Messenger Service, along with rock performers like Janis Joplin and Grace Slick.
It’s easy to see why the Bay Area, from the Haight Ashbury District in San Francisco to the western-most reaches of Travis’ Marin County beat, was considered ground zero for an evolving youth counterculture that was focused on protesting an unpopular war in Vietnam, “free love,” illicit drug experimentation and rock and roll.
His book is called “Resident Deputy Sheriff: 1964 to 1969…and then some!” and is full of anecdotal storytelling, shedding light on what it was like to be a peace officer, working from home and on call 24 hours a day during this historic period.
Travis, now a Rough and Ready resident, moved to this area with his wife Irene, an artist, approximately seven years ago after coming here to watch the Draft Horse Classic at the Grass Valley Fairgrounds.
Their initial response to Nevada County was love at first sight. After arriving, they became involved with the local community almost instantly.
“We jumped into it immediately,” Travis said. “At one point, I was an ambassador for the Grass Valley Chamber of Commerce, we were members of the Penn Valley Chamber, the Rough and Ready Chamber, the Rough and Ready Grange and the rodeo committee.”
They found the iconoclastic spirit of Rough and Ready to be to their liking.
“I like the independence and the sense of self-sufficiency and community,” Travis said. “Small town, big family is what it amounts to.”
Travis says the idea for his book was years in the making.
“I was approached in 1968 by the agent of Mario Puzo, who wrote ‘The Godfather,’ about doing my story,” Travis said. “I ran it by my administration and was given a flat-out ‘no.’ I just kind of put in on a back burner, but then realized that people should be aware of some of this stuff that I’ve been involved in. I was not a typical cop or law enforcement officer.”
Travis’ approach to law enforcement was definitely “not by the book” and he freely admits that most folks in law enforcement today would not recommend some of the tactics he employed while keeping the peace.
He recalls working alone one night, when he received a call regarding a burglary in progress.
“I responded on this dark, dead-end, one lane road, taking two people into custody,” Travis said.
“Trying to handcuff, search and control two people at one time with no backup and no streetlights is like sticking your hand into a sack of rattlesnakes.”
He needed help and turned to a most unusual source.
“One of the neighbors, a person that I knew had just recently been released from San Quentin, came to see what was happening,” Travis said.
“I didn’t even ask him, I just handed him a gun and said ‘Cover me.’”
The neighbor obliged and Travis was able to corral the thieves. “Not professional at all, but it worked,” Travis said.
He says the presence of world-famous rock musicians along with their hangers-on, certainly increased his workload.
“The Grateful Dead at one time lived two doors down from me on Lagunitas Road in Lagunitas and I ended up executing a search warrant there with some other people,” Travis said. “They were living in a summer camp that had a main house and a lot of little cabins.
When we first went in, we saw a four-foot high pile of bedding in a garage that was starting to ferment. The toilets were clogged up, so they were using the sinks as toilets and they were overflowing.”
One of the band members present was appropriately known to fans of the Dead as “Pigpen.”
“How they could go out and make such appealing music and live like that was beyond me,” Travis said.
Travis went on to serve 33 years with the Marin County Sheriff’s Department, retiring 16 years ago.
“Resident Deputy Sheriff: 1964 to 1969…and then some!” deals very openly with failed marriages and bouts with the bottle. He quickly admits that many within the law enforcement fraternity have suffered similar setbacks and in his words, “There is a price to be paid” for his line of work.
“I feel very positive about what I did and accept the costs of it and would do it all over again,” Travis said.
“As I mention in my book, suicide, alcoholism, infidelity and multiple marriages is very typical. Like a lot of people who deal with emotional and physical stress, you do pay a price. But that’s OK, that’s what we choose to do.”
For more information about Weldon Travis and his book, go to www.residentdeputysherifftravis.org.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago Park. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.