The title “Sheriff” comes from an old English word, shire-reeve. According to Wikipedia, in Anglo-Saxon England a reeve was an officer who was appointed by the king to be responsible for the public business of the locality. A high-ranking official, the shire-reeve was the representative of the royal authority in a shire or county.
Sheriffs Help Tame the Wild West
Confronted with serious issues of crime, disorder, vice, and violence, the pioneers of the old West turned to members of their communities to enforce order. With a multi-century background and history, the office of sheriff was a natural addition in this environment. Selection could be made by appointment, or in most cases by popular vote from community residents to select a sheriff. The county-wide jurisdiction of the office fit very nicely in the law enforcement efforts and supervision of the vast countryside. The ability of the sheriff to respond to the hue and cry and to raise a posse helped greatly with the issues of crime and the isolated nature of the frontier. The office that had evolved over the centuries was a “hand in glove fit” for local law enforcement in the Wild West.
The office of the sheriff spread from community to community throughout settled areas west of the Mississippi. In 1823 and 1824, the colony of San Felipe de Austin formed a set of community rules that included a justice of the peace and an appointed sheriff to enforce regulations.
Sheriffs were generally allowed to hire assistants or deputies to help with the day to day responsibilities of his office. He was also allowed to appoint citizens to perform certain functions to preserve the peace. Along with general powers of arrests, states gave sheriffs widely divergent privileges. Wyoming allowed for sheriffs to use a residence for his law enforcement purposes at county expense. New Mexico extended jurisdictional limits of the sheriff to permit him or his deputies to enter all counties in the state to affect an arrest and to have concurrent rights in every county. While the duties of sheriffs and their deputies were multitudinous, the primary law enforcement functions were virtually identical throughout the early West. A 1861 Nevada statute illustrates typical duties of the sheriff:
“It shall be the duty of Sheriffs and of their deputies to keep and preserve the peace in their respective counties, and to quiet and suppress all affrays, riots, and insurrections for which purpose, and for the service of process in civil and criminal cases, and in apprehending or securing any person for felony, or breach of the peace, they may call upon of their county.”
Pottawatomie County and the First Sheriff
The county takes its name from the Pottawatomie tribe of Indians, whose reservation at the opening of Kansas Territory for settlement, and for years afterwards embraced a large portion of the lands of the county. In the latter part of the year, 1856, a petition drawn by Dr. Luther R. Palmer, the Government physician at St. Mary’s Mission, and signed by himself and a few other settlers, was addressed to the Legislature, asking for the organization of a new county to be named Pottawatomie, with Charles Jenkins and J. A. J. Chapman being appointed to present the petition to the Legislature.
The petition was granted, and on the 23rd of February, 1857, Governor Geary appointed Robert Wilson, Probate Judge; George W. Gillespie and Charles Jenkins, County Commissioners, and J. L. Wilson, Sheriff.
On October 2, 1860, Joseph D. Patterson was the clerk of the United States District court, and the proportion of the court expenses for Pottawatomie County was $587.70.
In September, 1882, a plain two-story frame building was built for court house purposes at Louisville, and was occupied until the county officers departed Louisville for Westmoreland. The election held on September 19 determined the location of the new building for court use to be in Westmoreland. The last contest was between Westmoreland and Wamego, and Westmoreland had a majority of 350 votes. County Clerk Smith, by order of the Board, advertised for bids for the lot and building, to be received on or before January 1, 1883.
The Town Company at Westmoreland had constructed a neat and commodious frame building of two stories for court house uses. The Methodist Episcopal Church building, for several weeks, was occupied by most of the county officers. The jail at Louisville was a small stone building, 12 x 16, having a limited capacity for holding criminals. During the years of 1865 and 1866, the county paid Douglas County $226 for the use of their jail.
1857 -J.L. Wilson was the first Sheriff of Pottawatomie County, appointed February 23, 1857
1867 -Samuel Griffith
1880 -Silas Griffis
1881 -James Graham
Since 1901, there have been 20 men who have served as Sheriff. The longest tenured Sheriff was Dean Taylor, serving from 1969 until 1988.
Charley Morris – 1901-1904
Dell Hobbes – 1905-1908
W.W. Huey – 1909-1912
Bert Kersey – 1913-1916
C.D. Ladner – 1917-1918
Bert Kersey – 1919-1920
Albert Mayer – 1921-1924
Wiley Taylor – 1925-1928
Bob Springstead – 1929-1932
Jack Plummer – 1933-1936
Joe Dixon – 1937-1940
Frank Ewing – 1941-1944
Wiley Taylor – 1945-1948
George Prinz – 1949-1950
W.E. Grutzmacher – 1951-1952
Porter McKinnon – 1953-1956
Charley Duncan – 1957-1960
Porter McKinnon – 1961-1964
Don Reyes – 1965-1968
Dean Taylor – 1969-1988
Steve Harkness – 1989-1992
Anthony Metcalf – 1993-2000
Greg Riat – 2001-2019
Shane Jager 2019-Present