Joe Leverett’s legend still looms large in Brundidge

Published 3:45 am Saturday, July 10, 2021

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Pike County is celebrating 200 years in the year 2021. So, it’s storytelling time.

And, any Pike Countian worth his or her salt, will take a few minutes to share a story that begins, ‘I remember back when …”

And, that’s how Lawrence Bowden, age 92, begins his tale of Joe Leverett, the assistant chief of police in Brundidge back in the late 1930s and very early 1940s.

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At the very thought of the story he was about to tell, a smile pushed cross Bowden’s face. “The way it happened was that ….”

Now, Joe Leverett was no ordinary policeman. Joe Leverett was a bulldog. His master was Howell Leverett, the highly respected chief of police in the small town of Brundidge, Alabama. Joe was as highly respected as an enforcer of the law as was his chief. As far as the wind blew, folks knew for certain that a villain would rather give up to the chief than go up against Joe “who” was notorious for taking a bite out of crime.

“Like I said, where it all happened was right in front of my brother, J.B’s, cafe on Clio Street there in Brundidge,” Bowden said. “Now, Deigo Dozier had come down to Brundidge from Troy and he had his ol’ monkey with him. He parked there at the cafe and, about that same time, Chief Leverett and Joe came walking down the street. Dozier recognized a good opportunity to pit his monkey against  Joe. He told Chief Leverett that he would wager a bet that his monkey could get the best of that dog of his.”

Chief Leverett didn’t take kindly to that because he was sure Joe could get the best of anything that came along. So, the chief took the bet.

Being a one-dog town, the news spread like wildfire, “Joe’s gonna fight the monkey! Joe’s gonna fight the monkey!” A crowd quickly gathered and, it has been said that, a little friendly wagering was done on the side.

Bowden said, from the beginning, Joe was at a disadvantage. The monkey was little and as quick as a rabbit, but he also had the advantage of being up on the hood of the Dozier’s  pickup truck.

“Before Joe even knew he was in a fight, the monkey jumped down on his back like a streak of lightning, scratching, biting, kicking and clawing,” Bowden said. “Joe tried to sling the monkey off his back but that feisty monkey dug his claws in and hung on.”

Joe tried to buck-knock the monkey off his back so he could take a bite out of him but the monkey dug in deeper and hung on.

The crowd was hollering, “Git him, Joe!  Git him, Joe!” But the monkey had the upper hand. No matter what Joe did – running, circling, snapping, slinging — he couldn’t get the monkey off his back. Joe was getting scratched and bitten all over. He was bleeding and yelping. Chief Leverette had seen enough. He threw in the towel and stopped the fight. Joe tucked his tail and made a beeline back to the police station.

“Chief Howell said he should never have agreed to let Joe fight that monkey. It wasn’t a fair fight from the start. The chief said he should have known that once you get a monkey on your back, you can’t ever get it off.”

Joe licked his wounds and took his lickin’ like the bulldog he was and was right back on the streets fighting crime and doing good deeds for the people in his hometown.

Joe Leverett continued to be held in high esteem, not just in Brundidge but in far and distant places. He had earned the admiration of fellow police officers across the state as a graduate of FBI school in Montgomery and his fame spread like wildfire.

All over Alabama and beyond, the story was told of how little Pierson Leverett traded a gallon of cooking oil for the little, skinny, sad-looking bulldog pup. But, the pup found favor with Pierson’s daddy, Chief Howell Leverett, and grew up to be his assistant police chief.  Joe followed the chief to the police station every morning and stayed until the chief called it a day.

The legend is that Joe did his own shopping. If the chief gave him a nickel, he put the nickel in his mouth and would go to Watkins Drugs to buy animal crackers. If Leverett gave Joe a dime, he would stop at the City Market and Mr. Lamar Belcher would wrap Joe’s favorite burger meat in white paper and he would carry it home for his supper.

Joe assisted his chief on many “skins” or poker raids in the wooded areas of Pike County. Joe treed many skins players who tried to run away with the pot.

When the town of Brundidge was overtaken by rats and a bounty of five-cents for each rat caught was offered, Joe would go into the dark, warehouses with a flashlight in his mouth. When he spotted a rat, he would drop the flashlight, catch the rat and collect the bounty. He was able to fund his own taste for animal crackers and burger meat for a long time after.

Joe is credited for many heroics around Brundidge. He saved the Fleming sisters by alerting them of fire in their house. He saved a little girl from drowning in the pond at Watkins Woods, slung the head off a seven-foot rattlesnake at a church picnic and is credited with many more heroic acts.

But most of all, Joe is remembered as Brundidge Police Chief Howell Leverett’s trusted and valued assistant chief.

Joe Leverett died of old age in 1942.

His chief buried him in the driveway of their home on Oak Street in Brundidge. His grave is simply marked, “Joe.”  The Montgomery Advertiser ran Joe’s storied obituary along with the humans who also died around the same time.

With Joe’s obituary in print in that highly respected newspaper, Bowden said nobody can say, “It ain’t so, Joe!”