Hugh “Tater” Dinsmore Black Jr. was Hugh and Maude Black's baby, 11 years John Max Black's junior. He was born Aug. 27, 1925, in Pea Ridge. Hugh Jr.’s love of fried potatoes and onions resulted in his being tagged with the nickname “Tater” by his big brother. He was generally known by his nickname throughout his life, even running for office with the name “Tater” on the ballot.
Hugh Sr. died when “Tater” was 6. His siblings were already away from home. “Tater” and Maude moved to the Benton County Poor Farm where Maude cooked for the residents. It is likely Maude cooked in exchange for board. His daughter, Terry Coberly, recalled a story that “Tater” and Sherman Kinyon – later a Benton County judge – were playing at the farm when they learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Dec 7, 1941. “Tater” graduated from Bentonville School in 1943, and joined the U. S. Navy during World War II. After his naval service, “Tater” attended the University of Arkansas and the College of the Ozarks for a short time.
On Feb. 8, 1948, “Tater” married Phyllis LaVonne Rendon, a beauty who was a drum major with the Bentonville High School band, and who was related to Sam Houston. The couple had two children, Teresa (Terry) Lynn, who was born Sept. 21, 1948, and Toni Lee, born June 21, 1952.
During the first years of their marriage “Tater” worked at the ice house in Bentonville where he was injured by the tongs with which ice was lifted, a scar he carried throughout his life. He also drove a school bus.
“Tater” began his law enforcement career around 1950 as the night patrolman in Bentonville. Terry said the job entailed “Tater” checking the doors on Bentonville businesses to assure they were locked. To supplement his salary, he would turn the eggs at the hatchery near downtown. He would sleep on a bench at City Hall, and was awakened each day by Maude who would stop as she walked to work at Bates Hospital where she was a cook.
He was elected as Bentonville city marshal – the position later known as chief of police – the post he held for eight years. “Tater” remained with the Bentonville police department until 1958 when he ran for sheriff against four others. He polled 3,746 of the 6,550 votes cast, winning the job. Like his brother’s family before him, “Tater,” his wife and daughters lived in the jail, a very exciting thing for Terry and Toni, although not for Phyllis. He tried to get the county to build a new jail during his tenure, but was not able to convince the Quorum Court. That failure was a “big disappointment” to her father, Terry said.
“Tater” served three terms as sheriff, the longest of any sheriff until Andy Lee was elected in 1989.
“Tater” remained in law enforcement after his time as sheriff. In 1964, “Tater” became a deputy United States Marshal, serving the Western District of Arkansas until 1984. Deputy United States Marshal apprehend federal fugitives; transport federal prisoners, protect federal courts; operate the witness protection program; and seize property obtained through criminal means.
Terry said “Tater” enjoyed his time as a deputy marshal. He served during the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War and was moved around the country to help with security at protests. His picture was in a Chicago newspaper carrying a protester away, and he was at the White House during a protest. Terry said he told of feeling and seeing the protester’s spittle they were so close to them.
After 20 years of service, “Tater” was required to retire.
In 1982, “Tater” suffered a heart attack. He had been misdiagnosed and would later have a massive attack while in the hospital. Unable to get a nurse's attention, Terry said he crawled into the hall seeking help. His heart was defibrillated 14 times. The doctor told the family he would not live 72 hours, but he lived 12 more years.
His career in law enforcement was not over. Despite his poor health, President Bill Clinton, in 1994, appointed “Tater” to serve as U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas.
“Tater” served as U. S. Marshal until his death on Feb. 9, 1996. Both “Tater” and Phyllis are buried at Bentonville Cemetery.
This biography is from: The Black Family of Benton County, Arkansas – The Descendants of John Black 1854-2016
Bentonville's first police car, a 1951 Plymouth. L to R: Bill Criner, Charles Kirby, Hugh "Tater" Black & Mayor Ab Seamster, the first year Tater was police chief
From left, Phyllis, Toni, "Tater" and Terry Black