One of country’s most beloved icons famously began his shows with a simple greeting — “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” But from the late ’70s on, he should have said “Hello, I’m deputy sheriff Johnny Cash.”
That’s right, the Man in Black — well known for recording albums in prison and often portrayed as a criminal himself — was also a Man of the Law, as a new artifact at Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum brings to light. The museum has been gifted with Cash’s actual “Deputy Sheriff Commission Card,” which was presented to the legend on September 12, 1979, and gave the legend sweeping powers around Music City. The intriguing piece of history was recently re-discovered — years after being tucked away in a forgotten box at the Davidson County Sheriff’s office — so Sheriff Daron Hall decided it should be enshrined at the museum.
“We know that the most impactful, influential legend in this country as it relates to the criminal justice system is Johnny Cash,” said Sheriff Hall during a ceremony at the museum. “Johnny Cash’s interest in criminal justice is well documented, including the Folsom or San Quentin visits that were highly publicized. What most people don’t know is that what he was saying was more important than what he was singing. He believed passionately in prison reform and criminal justice reform.
“You can imagine how excited we were when one of our photographers was stirring around in a box and found a photo of something that we want to present to [museum founder] Bill [Miller] and make sure it stays where it belongs in the museum,” Hall went on. “I would like to unveil what is his actual commission card. He was commissioned as a law enforcement deputy, in 1979. The irony is that it was September 12, exactly 24 years from the date when he would pass away. The actual card was given to Johnny Cash so he could go throughout the county to enforce the laws.”
Cash’s Deputy Commission Card features his photo, fingerprint and signature, and charges the superstar with some hefty responsibility. Although there’s no evidence Cash did much actual law enforcement, he could have. Here’s what the card says:
“By virtue of the power vested in me as Sheriff of Davidson County under the laws of Tennessee, I have this day deputized John R. Cash a Deputy Sheriff to execute any and all processes that may come into his hands and to maintain the peace and dignity of the State, and arrest any and all persons violating the Criminal laws of the State of Tennessee.”
Cash’s Davidson County Deputy Sheriff Commission Card is now on display at the Johnny Cash Museum in downtown Nashville.