Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Texas native and retired state game warden Larry Williford will be in Jacksonville today, signing copies of his book, “A Badge, a Gun and a Prayer: Stories from the Heart of a Texas Game Warden."
He will be at Sadler's, 101 S. Bonner, from 4-6 p.m.
Williford, who lives in Central Texas with his wife Josette, retired in 2002 as a Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden after a 35-year career. Today, he is a part-time private investigator.
“I had some stories I wanted to share, and I think it's important to try to document a little bit of history of how East Texans” responded to a call to protect their natural hunting and fishing resources, which helped the region “evolve into a very good hunting and fishing area,” he said.
“There was a time, when I was a young boy, that illegal hunting took it's toll (and) as the habitat diminished, there had to be better management” of natural resources, Williford said. “But if you don't have a strong enforcement program, a good management program won't work – you'll never have enough game wardens to stop anything, unless people make conscious decision to do better.
“I'm proud of change I've seen over years in East Texas, (a result of positive) cooperation between game wardens and citizens. If the people hadn't made that conscious change, resources would have been depleted completely, and that's something that needed to be documented,” he said.
The book also touches on some of the challenges he faced in his career, like ensuring his officers were properly equipped, as well as lighter moments.
“Oh, there are a lot of funny stories in there,” he laughed. “A game warden's job is being law enforcement off the pavement, and sometimes you come across these situations … we basically are in the most rural, isolated, most desolate areas where we spend so much of our time, and there's a lot of stuff (we see) traveling off the pavements into the back woods.”
Williford entered the Game Warden Academy at Texas A&M University at age 21 in 1967. He worked as a warden in Sabine County (“I was over there when Rayburn was a new lake and Toledo Bend was filling up – it was baptism by fire, because I had two huge lakes and I was the only warden for that county!”), Morris County and Jefferson County.
In 1974, he was promoted to district supervisor and worked in Houston, overseeing wardens who were responsible for the shrimping and oyster industry, as well as recreational boating and fishing. By 1977, he was promoted to captain and was transferred to TP&W headquarters in Austin, where he was in charge of all marine law in Texas as the state boating administrator, he said.
He was named the East Texas regional law enforcement commander in 1988, and worked in Rusk until his retirement in 2002, at rank of major.
His career as a game warden “was a blessing from heaven for a country boy like myself. I may live in Austin now, but heart will always been in East Texas,” the Polk County native said. “I love the people of East Texas – I call them 'salt of the earth people,' because what you see is what you get. There are a few bad eggs around, but most of those folks are just good people, and those bad eggs just float on down stream.”
"A Badge, a Gun and a Prayer: Stories from the Heart of a Texas Game Warden" will be available for $15 per copy at Wednesday's book signing event, or may be ordered by contacting Williford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mail order books are $14.95 each, plus shipping costs and tax.