The outlaw and the legendary sheriff

Monday, March 1, 2004

A self-proclaimed "outlaw" has written a book about his pot-growing exploits, and in northwest Arkansas it's a very hot topic, because it includes a lot of local names, chief among them the late and legendary Madison County Sheriff Ralph Baker.

David McElyea, a convicted felon, takes on Baker's legend, and accuses the sheriff of being a part of McElyea's pot farming in Madison County.

Some sources close to Sheriff Baker say that the book holds some truth, and others say it unfairly attacks a dead man who can't defend himself, but most agree that the legend of Ralph Baker died with him, and the book never reveals the whole story of Ralph Baker.

Whatever the truth may be, one thing is for sure: the book is a local best-seller.

Writing under the pen name David Mac, the self-published book by McElyea, is flying off the shelves at area bookstores.

In fact, the sale of Mac's book has been phenomenal, said Mike Hills, assistant manager of Barnes & Noble Bookseller in Fayetteville.

"Sales have been so good that it's our best-selling book in this store," he said. "It's outsold Harry Potter, South Beach Diet and The DaVinci Code."

McElyea, is a self-proclaimed marijuana entrepreneur. and convicted felon turned author, who eventually served state prison time for his exploits.

His book is a recollection of his days as a marijuana grower and his alleged business and personal relationship with Baker, the sheriff of Madison County from 1973 until his drowning death in 1998. (See book review below).

Hills said he became acquainted with Mac's book when it was first published in Internet form.

"I read it and it was really great," he recalled.

Ever since, Hills said he has carried Mac's book in the store, in one form or another.

He said an edition published by 1st Books and released last September was pulled by Mac because of spelling and grammatical errors.

"He edited it and added more," Hills remembered. "We started carrying his self-published edition on Jan. 11."

A crowd of 60 or more people showed up for a scheduled book-signing with Mac at the store last Saturday.

"It was a good crowd," Hills said. "We sold to all who came ---- and more. Usually people, especially those from Madison County, buy in multiples so they can give one to a friend.

"He had a lot of people there," Hills continued. "Many said they had a better understanding of Ralph from reading the book, and they thought it was very respectful.

"It's interesting," he added, "that a local self-published book would sell so well. I haven't seen something like this fly off the shelves in years."

Mac says he's gratified by the response.

"I've been getting a lot of feedback. And I'm feeding on the fact that people are reading and finishing the book. It's getting out to people.

"The editor and I fought like schoolgirls over it," he remembered. "It was like pulling nosehairs to get me to let loose. But, it was all coming from my heart."

Debbee Russell, owner of Second Chance Books on the Huntsville square, said she has sold nearly 500 copies of Mac's book since it was first published.

At a recent book signing at her store, she said people who had purchased the book previously came by to have Mac sign their editions and she sold another 135 books that day to those purchasing for the first time.

"It went rather well," she said. "There was no problem."

Russell admitted that she was a little apprehensive because the book elicited a lot of anger when it first appeared in the on-line Internet form.

"People had strong feelings about the sheriff when it first came out," she recalled. "Now, people are just interested in reading the book and interested in the author."

Mac agreed, saying "It was really nice. Everyone was kind, Everything was almost too good."

According to Mac, there are naysayers but he hasn't encountered any personally and only knows they exist because of third-party comments. He also acknowledged that there are Baker family members who are angry.

"I understand the family is livid," he said. "But, when they say I'm lying, it doesn't even raise my blood pressure because I know it's all true. For everything in the book, there is someone to witness, except my personal comments with Ralph."

Russell said she plans a second book signing at her store in March, perhaps Saturday the 13th, if she can get the date confirmed with Mac.

She said the upcoming book signing will include a question and answer session with Mac, something that wasn't possible at the last book signing.

"He was too busy," she explained. "He didn't put down his pen for nearly five hours."

Russell, who moved to the Huntsville area after Ralph Baker died, said she wished she could have met the legendary sheriff.

"I am sorry I didn't get a chance to meet him after reading the book and listening to people," she commented. "They told stories of him helping shut-ins, taking food to them and giving toys to kids. That just doesn't happen these days.

"A couple of guys told me they were in jail at Christmastime and Ralph came and said they should be home with their families. He told them they could go home, if they promised to return. And, of course they did return.

"There are so many good things about Ralph," she continued. "The drug part was a different era, a different time. I wasn't here."

Russell said Mac has been one of the better authors she's had at her store for book signings.

In Berryville, there have been no book signings so far, but book sales have been brisk.

Carol Rosenquist, owner of Happenings Books and Gifts on the Berryville square, said she has sold about four dozen of Mac's books since January and she's re-ordered once already.

The book is also also available on-line at

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: