Hernando County

Nelson "Red" Brass, The Life of a Deputy (1949- 1969)

From Old Brooksville in Photos and Stories

January 2004 Vol 68
Publisher: Bob Martinez
Used with Permission

Freddy and Johnny, two teens, were heading back late from a 1962 Civic Center Dance in Dade City. The radio was on KAAY from Little Rock..."Here's the number one sound from Shelley Fabares...Johnny Angel on KAAY." "My dad's gonna kill me" Freddie said from behind the wheel of a green '56 Chevy. "D***...its past midnight." "Slow down Freddie," Johnnie said, "There's some lights far behind you." "How do you know thats not a cop?" Freddie just kept easing it up...75...80...85 As he approached a slight hill on highway 50 about 9 miles east of Brooksville, his headlights caught the five red signs with white letters advertising a shaving cream...IF DAISIES ARE... YOUR FAVORITE FLOWER...KEEP PUSHING UP...THOSE MILES PER HOUR...BURMA SHAVE. "Slowdown Freddie...Jeez." About that time, the car behind them got closer and closer. "Man that guys hauling a** too," Freddie said. Then the flashing red lights came on. "Oh ^%$&#," muttered Freddie, "I told you... its a cop ... we're in big trouble now, Your dad's gonna kill you," Johnnie said. Freddie pulled over and out stepped Red Brass, Sheriff's Deputy. After he asked for the license and other information, Red looked at Freddie sternly, handed back his license and told him, "Son, I'd sure hate to tell your Mama you wrapped yourself around some pole or tree. Go on home now and don't let me catch you doing that again." Freddie drove the rest of the way home about 45 miles an hour... trembling. Such were the ways of a deputy during the years of Red Brass'.

Nelson "Red" Brass now 88, remembers. "I was on call 24 hours a day. Back then the pay wasn't much...only about $200.00 a month. Plus we had to furnish our own cars. But thats what I wanted to do." his wife, Lily added "People would call Red before they would call anyone, they knew they had a friend in him. Its nowhere near as glamorous as they show lawmen on TV or in the movies though." Red is still fondly remembered today by all those that grew up here during those years. Brass was Sheriff Lowman's chief deputy during Lowman's term from 1949-1969.

This was obviously a simpler time. This was before the development of the west side of the county and most of the activity centered around Brooksville. It was a time when a drive to Weeki Wachee took ten minutes from Brooksville. A time when everyone knew everybody and EVERYONE knew Red Brass. The problems law enforcement officers have today are far more complex. Back then calls to the Sheriff's department might have consisted of an occasional fight between husband and wife, or a teen party getting rowdy, or finding a speeder along a long stretch of barren road and of course. auto accidents." I only had to use my gun once in my twenty years of law enforcement," said Brass. "And that wasn't even here. We were transporting prisoners to Raiford State Prison (Union County) from the old county jail on Jefferson Street. Back then, the jail had trustees and they would be given liberties you don't give now. Anyway, we had them in the back of a van. One of the prisoners got untied from his shackles around Hawthorne (Alachua County), which was near Gainesville, and he kicked out the back door of the van and started running down the street. Jack Newlands, another deputy, was following behind me. I radioed for help, while I held the other prisoners at bay. I yelled 'halt' to the prisoner. Jack Newlands, had already pulled his gun out and shot but missed. I pulled out my gun and about that time the escaped prisoner ran toward a church down the street...then stopped...turned around and looked back at me...I aimed my .38 Smith and Wesson and fired...the bullet grazed the top of his skull. He fell to the ground. I thought I had killed him. Felt bad, he was just a boy really. Well it was just a deep scratch. By that time another deputy had arrived and then I also had some help from a local man in a pickup truck, who just happened to be driving by, who helped hold the prisoners while I checked the young man I had just shot. I stood over the young man, until an ambulance from Gainesville arrived and took him away. It wasn't serious and he recovered. But that was the only time I had to fire my gun."

During most those years, Hernando County was a "dry County", which meant the only liquor one could buy was 3.2 beer or wine. It wasn't until 1962 that the county finally voted to become "wet". Prior to that, to purchase hard liquor one would have to travel to Ray and Fran's liquor store just south of Mazaryktown over the county line into Pasco County. Before 1962, you did have an occasional honky-tonker that would still manage to get drunk on 3.2 beer, and Red would be called to quiet the man down or escort him home or spend the night in the county jail. After that you started seeing more alcohol related problems, but never anything violent or deadly.

Red retired after over twenty years as Sheriff Lowman's right hand man and still lives with his wife Lily in the same house on Ft Dade Avenue they have lived in for many years. And yes, even today you'll find many a person who'll say...."Thanks to Red Brass, without him I might have been wrapped around a tree or a pole somewhere and just a memory."

Coordinator's Notes

Nelson "Red" Brass was born in Hernndo County on the 28th of September 1925 to Archie Brass and Eliza Campbell. He passed from this life on August 10, 2004. He is now and will always be missed. I remember Red well. He was a tall man with red hair and a ruddy complexion. He was fond of Salem cigarettes, cigars and overalls and always had a story to tell. He was kind and considerate and was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it. Many is the time he ran errands for the older folks in the community. If you needed a ride to town or someone to pick up a few groceries at Carlton's or Maillis' grocery stores, Red was your man.