Floyd Tidwell San Bernardino County’s 31st Sheriff At Rest After Final Roundup

Floyd Tidwell, whose tenure as San Bernardino County sheriff bridged the gap both symbolically and in actuality between the historic past involving mounted posses scrubbing the far-flung county’s remote canyon country for fleeing outlaws and modern sleuthing involving nearly instantaneous access to digitized information, has died. He was 90.
“It is with deep sadness that we report the death of retired Sheriff Floyd Tidwell,” current Sheriff John McMahon said. “He leaves behind an incredible legacy and will be greatly missed.”
A larger-than-life icon who chewed tobacco, wrestled steers and collared criminals, Tidwell, as must all mortal men, reached the end of his trail on Tuesday, February 25, at 2:25 p.m. at St. Bernadine Medical Center in San Bernardino.
His father was Alla Power Tidwell, a rancher. His mother was Cora Tidwell, who went by “Peggy.” He graduated from Big Bear High School with the Class of 1948.
As a young man in Big Bear, where he was born and raised, Tidwell was a product of his environment, and he embraced a vigorous lifestyle that entailed fully exploiting his uncommon physical strength.
He was a horseman, and competed in rodeos, as a roper and riding bulls. He developed an exercise regimen very early on, reportedly working out using weights virtually every day of his life until he was well into his eighties, at which point he was slowed by age, a shattered hip and femur, dual hip replacements and dual knee replacements.
Tidwell began with the department under Jim Stocker in 1950 as “extra help.” It was during the tenure of Eugene Mueller as San Bernardino County sheriff that he was hired as a deputy upon the recommendation of Kendall Stone, who would later go on to become the undersheriff. As an adolescent and young adult, Tidwell had cowboyed with Stone. The bulk of Tidell’s experience working in the field and on the streets as as cop came during the final year of Mueller’s term as sheriff and during the first five years of Bland’s time as sheriff.
It was around 1960 that Bland recognized Tidwell’s talent and potential in a supervisorial role. Though Tidwell’s physical strength was an asset in the role of a street deputy, Bland considered his leadership and organizational skills to be more valuable. In one fell swoop, Bland promoted Tidwell, then yet a deputy, to sergeant, a role he remained in for roughly a year in 1960. In 1961, he was promoted to sheriff’s captain. Tidwell thus held the distinction of never having been a detective nor a lieutenant. Eventually, Bland would augment his skills yet further, obtaining a degree from Redlands University in public and business administration, through coursework and a degree pathway that involved a so-called “life degree” based in part upon his professional experience, including his administrative function within the sheriff’s department, a combination of skills, knowledge and applied learning that was articulated into a degree
While in the role of captain, Tidwell moved his family to Rialto, where in 1961, 1962 and into 1963 he was engaged in overseeing the sheriff’s department’s establishment of its Glen Helen facilities, its rehabilitation center as well as training grounds.
In 1963, Tidwell was promoted to the position of inspector, an assignment equivalent to that of deputy chief in today’s command hierarchy, one in which he oversaw a specific geographical area within the county’s 20,105-square mile confines, in Tidwell’s case, the largest subdivision in the county, the High Desert. It was at that point that the Tidwell family moved to Apple Valley.
Inspector was a largely administrative office, although Tidwell did in that capacity act in the role of a traditional inspector overseeing the more important investigations the department was involved in as the lead investigator among a team of detectives.
In 1968, Tidwell moved to a ranch up then-rustic Reche Canyon in Colton at the extreme south end of the county near the wild frontier with Riverside County.
Under Bland, who was the longest serving sheriff in the department’s now 167-year history, Tidwell rose to the top echelon of the sheriff’s department as the third in command by the early 1980s. For a time, it appeared that Bland’s heir apparent was Undersheriff Floyd Jones. In 1982, Bland, then 69, stepped down, intending to hand off the reins to Jones. But Jones had a heart condition, and instead, the political machine which had sustained Bland in office since 1955 following his 1954 electoral victory over Mueller, swung in behind Tidwell, as Bland’s second choice.
With the backing of the Bland Political Machine and the support of the virtual entirety of the county’s political establishment, Tidwell handily defeated his opposition in the 1982 race, then-Sheriff’s Captain Chuck Callahan.
At the time of his retirement, Bland was, despite his status at the head of the department, less handsomely remunerated than those at the senior level of the agency he headed. A sergeant with seniority made more money than Bland did. Thus, by running successfully for sheriff, Tidwell had agreed to take a substantial pay cut to move into his new position. The county board of supervisors remedied this by creating the position of county public safety officer, which at that time entailed a stipend of more than $40,000. The board then conferred upon Tidwell the county public safety officer title and position, boosting his total salary to slightly more than that provided to the undersheriff, the department’s highest paid position.
Around the time he acceded to the position of sheriff, Tidwell moved to a home he constructed in Oak Hills, near the top of the Cajon Pass, just south of Hesperia. He was assisted in the construction of that home by Gary Penrod, one of his protégés in the department, who also had a contractor’s license. Tidwell would remain in that house, with only occasional vacation or temporary recreational departures back to the cabin in Big Bear he grew up in and which he had inherited from his father.
As sheriff, Tidwell continued the trend of modernization that had begun under Bland. The sheriff’s aviation division expanded substantially under his watch, eventually involving both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters that, if ranked among or against the military air fleets of the world’s nations, would have been the 106th largest.
Shortly after Tidwell became sheriff, the department leapt forward in terms of computerization, upgrading the department’s sophistication in this regard from the first generation data processing machines in use at the time Bland was sheriff to ones involving much more flexible and creative uses of software becoming available in that era, initially in the mainframes located within the department’s stations. Subsequently, with the availability of stand alone and miniaturized units, during the final years of Tidwell’s tenure as sheriff, the department began outfitting its patrol units with mobile data terminals as well as 800 MHz radios.
Convinced from his experience that a relatively small percentage of the population was responsible for an overwhelming percentage of the major crime that law enforcement was tasked to deal with, Tidwell created the departments career criminal division.
It was Tidwell who coined the department’s motto, “Dedicated to your safety.”
A crime that occurred relatively early in his term as sheriff came to define him and his department. Sometime in the evening of June 4, 1983, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica and 11-year-old Christopher Hughes, a friend of 8-year Joshua Ryen, were slain in the Ryen’s Chino Hills home in combined hatchet, knife and icepick attacks. Joshua, whose throat was slashed and had suffered axe wounds to his head and stab wounds to his back, survived the attack. The victims were found the following morning by Hughes’ father, who had come to retrieve his son after having allowed him to spend the night at his friend’s house.
Douglas Ryen had  37 knife and hatchet wounds and a severed finger. Peggy Ryen had 17 hatchet wounds to the face and head and four 4 knife wounds in the chest. Jessica Ryen had 46 wounds from a hatchet, knife, and ice pick. Christopher Hughes sustained  26 stab wounds and numerous skull fractures and a severed finger.
It was relatively quickly determined that Kevin Cooper, then 25, who had been imprisoned under the alias of David Trautman, had escaped from the Chino Institution For Men on June 2. Trautman/Cooper had spent two days and a night in a home on the property adjoining that of the Ryens’, a house which was temporarily unoccupied as the tenant there, a schoolteacher, was vacationing. Phone records demonstrated that Cooper had made calls from that home’s phone to two women acquaintances, one in Pennsylvania, where he had previously been incarcerated, and one in the Los Angeles area. Cigarette butts that consisted of the partially-burnt rolling papers and tobacco issued to prisoners at the Chino Institute For Men were found in the house, as were Cooper’s fingerprints. Cooper subsequently verified in his testimony that he had holed up in the school teacher’s residence after covering the roughly four miles of ground between the prison and the then-rural area of Chino Hills where the Ryen home was located. Ultimately, Cooper fled southward to Baja California, and then, in a Mexican port, met an American couple, accompanying them onto their houseboat as they traveled the coast. Some seven weeks after the murders, after the houseboat had sailed northward and was docked near Santa Cruz Island, Cooper was accused of raping a woman on a nearby boat. When the rape victim went to the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department to report that crime, she saw Cooper’s wanted poster. His arrest was effectuated shortly thereafter by Santa Barbara County sheriff’s personnel working in conjunction with the coast guard. Cooper was put on trial in a San Diego County courtroom and was prosecuted for murder directly by District Attorney Dennis Kottmeier, who was one of Tidwell’s political associates. Cooper was convicted, and in the years since, multiple efforts to reverse Cooper’s conviction have ensued. A common theme in the appeals is the degree to which Cooper’s attorneys contended the investigation into the murders was botched, with over 60 individuals including sheriff’s department deputies, higher ranking officers, evidence technicians and 14 detectives traipsing over the murder scene in the days following the discovery of the bodies, and evidence from the investigation not having been adequately preserved or lost. Cooper’s conviction, nonetheless, has not been overturned, and he remains on Death Row in San Quentin.
In 1987, the F-4 Phantom in which California National Guard Captain Dean Paul Martin, the son of entertainer Dean Martin, and Martin’s weapons officer, Captain Ramon Ortiz, were flying clipped the side of 11,503 foot elevation Mount San Gorgonio during a storm and in poor visibility brought on by atmospheric conditions, and then tumbled out of control to crash into the wilderness below. The San Gorgonio Search and Rescue Team, based out of the sheriff’s department’s Yucaipa station scoured the area, finding the plane and the two men, who had perished in the crash.
In 1990, Tidwell, then-60, chose to not seek reelection. He endorsed his undersheriff, Dick Williams, and then used the political machine that Bland had created and handed off to him to ensure Williams was elected sheriff. The current manifestation of the Bland Political Machine yet exists, having been instrumental in the subsequent elections of sheriffs Gary Penrod, Rodd Hopps and the current sheriff, John McMahon.
Tidwell was designated sheriff emeritus by the county board of supervisors upon his retirement.
Two of Tidwell’s sons, Jeff and Daniel “Boone,” were hired as deputies with the department. Jeff reached the rank of sergeant before retiring. Boone achieved the post of detective.
According to Boone Tidwell, who currently owns a bail bond and bounty hunting concern in Wyoming, his father took an interest in mentoring all of the department’s sworn personnel.
“He guided every deputy’s career while he was sheriff,” Boone Tidwell said. “He was fully engaged with his department from a personnel standpoint. He knew who the good managers were and he promoted them, or kept them in place, as was appropriate. He was accorded a lot of respect by the people who worked for him.”
Sometime after retiring, Sheriff Emeritus Tidwell had revived the Sheriff’s Rodeo event that had been discontinued after Dick Williams, whose orientation was more toward dress suits than cowboy boots and chaps, let that tradition die out.
“He was the one that ramrodded the reestablishment of the rodeo through,” Boone Tidwell said.
Floyd Tidwell had a life beyond the sheriff’s department. He had retained the Big Bear cabin built by his father near Metcalf Bay and in which he had grown up. Tidwell later arranged to have the cabin moved to the east end of the lake. He operated the Shield F Ranch, a cattling concern located on a huge expanse of land between Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley near the Ord Mountains. “That was were he was absolutely most at home, on horseback dealing with cows and steers,” said Boone Tidwell.
“I was probably one of the few cowboys in my family,” said Boone Tidwell. “I spent more time with my father on horseback than anyone. He loved that aspect of life. He enjoyed burro racing more than anyone I ever knew. If he was on horseback he was happy. He raised cattle. When he was young, he won his share of rodeo prizes. He was a skilled roper, although I won’t lie to you, I was a better roper than he was.”
There were other elements to Floyd Tidwell’s life that did not quite fit in the mold of a cowboy or a sheriff.
He was an advocate for blood donations, pushing his deputies to take part in blood drives, and allowing photos of himself donating blood to be used in campaigns to urge others to do the same.
He had uncommonly elegant handwriting. So impressive was his penmanship that in another age he would have been employable as a scribe, scrivener or calligrapher, without question.
With his wife, Janet née Carroll, who attended Big Bear High in the class behind him and who was for a short time in the late 1940s a professional singer with the Bob Morris Band and the High Lows, Tidwell had five children: two daughters, Teresa and Robin; and three sons, Steve, Jeff and Daniel.
Teresa and Steve predeceased their father, Carrie in car collision in 1977 and Steve when he slipped on ice and hit his head in the dead of winter in 2012. Mrs. Tidwell died in 2007.
-Mark Gutglueck

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