Mitchell County has had 21 men serve as Sheriff. In 1861 the first was Jackson Stewart, the brother of Frankie Stewart Silver; since then many interesting stories have been told and many more are most likely out there to be collected.
One of the most colorful sheriffs was George Kirkland Pritchard who died 100 years ago and is buried along with his wife Nora Hickey Pritchard and his mother in the Bakersville Historic Cemetery.
Born in Jonesborough, TN, in 1859 to William Hyter Pritchard, an equally colorful Confederate soldier, and his wife Elizabeth L Brown. He followed his brother Jeter C. Pritchard to Bakersville in 1875 to work as an apprentice for Jeter and W.C. Bowman on their newspaper The Bakersville Independent. He learned the craft well and in 1887 began publishing The Elk Park Chronicle which apparently ended after two years.
In 1880 he was a boarder in Bakersville with the William Hickey household and married their daughter the same year.
Pritchard served three terms as Sheriff of Mitchell County from 1889 to 1894. He was known as a fair but uncompromising officer. He was forced to kill at least three people during his tenure and was nearly killed himself. The stories of the gun fights and knife fights are TV material.
In 1891, he was appointed Deputy Collector for the North Carolina Fifth District of the Internal Revenue Service, apparently because he was good at finding illicit whiskey production. A short time later, George again followed his brother, Senator J.C. Pritchard, to Washington and was appointed to the position of Sargent-at-Arms at one door of the Senate chamber. President Theodore Roosevelt took notice of him and in 1904 appointed him as Federal Marshall in the “Indian Territory,” later to become the state of Oklahoma. There are several newspaper accounts of his bravery and tenacity as a law enforcement officer; however, one tribute stands out. When he resigned, representatives of the Choctaw Nation passed a resolution which states: “Resolved that the thanks of this body be extended to Hon. G.K. Pritchard, United States Marshal, for his uniform enforcement of the law and his manifest determination to apply but one standard to those who violate it precepts.”
In 1910, George lived in Bakersville on what is referred to in many later deeds as the Pritchard Estate which took up almost all the “bottom” cleared by the 1901 May flood. His family included Carrie Pritchard who would become the first wife of Dr. Arthur E. Gouge who signed George’s death certificate on February 11, 1918. Dr. Gouge was appointed by the Surgeon General to serve in WWI and was sent overseas in September 1918 not to return until the next March. Carrie died in November, according to local tradition, “with a broken heart.” She also is buried within eyesight of the other family graves.
George died at 59 most likely suffering from the several fights he had, especially the gun fight in which his lung was punctured. He had been in a doctor’s care of over a year.