People like Travis McCulley.

That much is crystal clear.

John Robert Shoaf was Travis’ neighbor as a child and his boss later.


“Great heart, bad addiction,” he says.

“He really is a good fella,” says C.H. Sullivan, a Covington alderman and banker. “He’s got a heart of gold … and a liver of steel.”

Carbo Cousar, a sales representative for this newspaper and part-time musician, and Shoaf wrote a song about Travis. Cousar has performed it around town.

“I’d always heard stories abut Travis and I witnessed some myself,” Cousar says. “We thought it’d be cool do a song about him.”

Nobody from the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office wanted to go on the record, but at least half a dozen employees who were asked about Travis had nothing but good things to say about him.

At 136 bookings to date, Travis McCulley has the distinction of being arrested the most in Tipton County.

When a couple of people from the TCSO heard a story was being written about Travis, they were concerned that it would shed a negative light on a man they seem to like.

“Be nice,” one says.

The reason people at the TCSO, which runs the Tipton County Jail, are so familiar with Travis is that he has been booked into their facility 136 times since 1990. All but a handful of the charges were public intoxication.

During that 29-year span, there were five instances when he was arrested six days or sooner after being released. In 1995 he was arrested on June 1, released that day and then arrested again the following day. His longest stint of freedom was from May 28, 1994 to April 6, 1995.

According to Travis, his longest stretch in jail came in the mid-1980s when he served 23 months in the Shelby County Jail. Around this time he was living at an infamous bar in Frayser called Harpo’s.

“I was drinking, got involved with the wrong people and got an accessory charge. I passed out in the car at Harpo’s.”

A new records system was put into place in Tipton County in 1990, so records before that are not available. According to Travis, who is 52, he got arrested many times before that.

During a recent interview he could not recall the number, but says, “It was a bunch.”


By all accounts, Travis faced challenges growing up.

He moved into a sharecropper shack on a farm just off Mt. Carmel Road with his mother, father and three sisters in the mid-1970s.

Shoaf lived a short distance away.

“It was a really crude structure,” Shoaf says. “It was pretty much a shotgun house, didn’t have a floor and I don’t think they had indoor plumbing … They’d ride a horse or walk to our house to use the phone because they didn’t have one.”

Travis’ father, who was a farmer, died of a heart attack in 1977. About that time, when Travis was 12, he was kicked out of Brighton School. According to McCulley, he’d been drinking for two years at that point.

“He had no shot at life,” Sullivan says. “Really no chance from lack of education and being dirt poor.”

George Shoaf, John’s father, was a contractor and painter and Travis began working for him when he was about 15. He continued doing that for several years and became close to the Shoaf family.

“My dad pretty much says he’s allergic to alcohol,” Shoaf says. “Any time he has a drink he turns into a different person. When he’s relatively sober, he’s great. He was always willing to work.”

Travis, who is 5-10, 180 pounds with a full head of brown hair and the appearance of a man in pretty good shape, never got married, but says he has an adult son who goes by a different name. He sees him, but not often.

“I love him, though,” Travis says. “He still knows I’m his daddy.”

When interviewed for this story, Travis mentions a dozen family members and wants them mentioned in the article.

“I want to say I love them … and my mama.”


Travis’ 136th arrest in Tipton County happened on April 28.

Officers responded to a call about a drunk person at Highway 51 and Winn Avenue in Covington at 5:45 p.m.

According to the police report, “McCulley had a strong odor of beer coming from his person, appeared to be unsteady on his feet and trouble maintaining his balance.”

Travis remembers the night well.

“I went to a friend’s fish fry and everybody was drinking. I started walking down 51 to go to Walmart. The city police pulled up and I asked if they would carry me home.”

Feeling Travis was endangering himself, officers took him to jail.

A few years ago Judge William Peeler, apparently tired of seeing Travis come into his courtroom so frequently, issued a standing order that Travis has to serve 30 days every time he’s booked for public intoxication.

He’s been compared to Otis, a character from “The Andy Griffith Show” who uses a key hanging outside a cell to check himself into jail.

“It don’t bother me when they call me Otis,” Travis says. “I like to joke around. I don’t mind what they call me unless they call me late for supper. You can put that in the paper.”

Travis, of course, does not have access to the Tipton County Jail, but he knows its employees about as well as Otis knows Deputy Barney Fife and Sheriff Andy Taylor.

“Everybody knows me and I know them,” Travis says. “They’ve been knowing me my whole life. They’re just like family to me.”

More than one person says he calls the jail when he’s not there to see how everybody is doing.


While public intoxication is by far what Travis has been charged with the most, there have been some other charges.

There was a theft charge in 1990, marijuana possession in ’91, resisting arrest in ’92, marijuana again in ’95, assaulting a police officer in ’98, marijuana again in ’01, domestic assault in ’08 and ’11, marijuana again in ’12, 911 misuse in ’13 and one more drug possession three years ago.

They were all misdemeanors, but roaming the streets drunk causes problems for the community and ties up the resources of law enforcement and first responders.

According to Sullivan, sometime in the early 2000s, Travis was riding in a car with another man down Highway 51 on the way to Ripley. The car veered off a bridge into the Hatchie River.

The car was under water for 15 minutes, Sullivan said, and the driver died. Travis’ face was stuck into a deployed air bag.

“He would have drowned if the air bag had not kept water from getting into his lungs,” Sullivan says.


Travis does odd jobs around town for people and, he says, works for a farmer in Burlison.

He does, however, panhandle. Travis, Sullivan says, was banned from Broadmeadow Apartments, where he lived with his mother, for pestering people for money.

His three favorite expressions: “Hey, let me talk to you in private,” “Hey, let me borrow two dollars” and “I heard that, I heard that alright.”

“He’s probably borrowed more money from my dad than it took to put me through college,” Shoaf says.

Travis currently lives with his mother at Meadowview Elderly Apartments in Covington, but his banishment from Broadmeadow left him basically homeless for a period of time.

“I pick him up every time I see him stumbling down the highway,” Sullivan says.


There are a lot of Travis McCulley stories out there.

“He’s kind of a legend in our family,” Shoaf says.

When Travis was working for Shoaf about 20 years ago, Shoaf stopped by Travis’ house to take him to a house they were remodeling.

“He wasn’t at home and that’s usually a bad sign,” Shoaf says. “If you come to pick Travis up and he’s not at home he’s usually in jail.”

Shoaf drove on to the job site and he found out Travis was not in jail.

“When Travis hears the truck door slam he pops up out of a ditch across the street and he’s ready to go. He definitely slept in the ditch.”

Also around that time Travis would drink beer with Sullivan’s cooking team at the Covington Barbecue Festival.

“When everybody went home he’d go sleep in the grass,” Sullivan says. “In the morning he’d come on back and start over again.”


Travis is fully aware he is an alcoholic.

“I know I got a drinking problem,” he says. “I’ve been drinking my whole life … When I get up in the morning I got to have me one first thing.”

So how many drinks does he consume in a day? Twelve, 15, 18?

“More than that,” he says.

Natural Ice, a high-alcohol, reasonably-priced beer, is his number one choice. He’s also partial to “blue top vodka,” also known as Grey Goose, and airplane bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey.

Travis has been to rehab a number of times, but says he’s no longer interested in that.

“The only way rehab is going to help is you have to help yourself,” he says. “There ain’t no sense in me going to no rehab because I’m going to do the same thing. Ain’t no use in wasting tax money and all that.”

The idea of Travis becoming a spokesperson on the evils of alcohol abuse seems very unlikely, but if he did he knows what we would say.

“I want to talk to some young kids and tell them about drinking. It’s a disease. I want to tell them, ‘Please don’t pick it up; you see how I am.’”

Travis was released from jail after his 136th arrest on May 27, the day before Memorial Day. As of this writing, he’s not back in jail.

He says his plans are to go back to work and try and modify his drinking habits.

“I got to slow down. I’m getting too old for this … I’m going to slow down drinking, but I ain’t going to quit … just going to slow down.”

Jeff Ireland
Author: Jeff Ireland