A first of its kind “coffee table” book published by the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association will offer a unique insight into the history of that position in each of Missouri’s 114 counties dating back to the origins of the office up to the present.
“Preserving the Past, Protecting the Future: A History of Missouri Sheriffs,” now available for pre-order and slated for publication in October, is the brainchild of Sherri Bond, wife of Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond, and Missouri Sheriffs’ Association Marketing Coordinator Jeanne Merritt.
“I was looking for a Christmas present for Kevin, something that he would like, because he’s always hard to buy for. I thought how about a book of sheriffs because that’s what he likes to read about and that is what he’s in to, so, I looked and looked online and there was nothing out there,” Sherri said.
“So, I approached Jeanne and she said there wasn’t anything out there and I said ‘well, there needs to be.’ There are books about sheriffs in other states. So, we just decided to go ahead and roll with it.”
Sheriff Bond is a history buff, especially when it comes to the history of law enforcement, so he pitched the idea to some of his fellow sheriffs. They thought it was a great idea and the plan evolved from there.
The book will begin with the history of the position of sheriff itself, dating back to medieval England.
“There will be a short general history that dates back to Europe in the 1300s — where the shire reeve became the sheriff. That goes back to Robin Hood and his Merry Men, where you had the sheriff of Nottingham. That was the shire reeve,” Bond said. “Later, you had the organization of the United States. They took the concept of the sheriff to become the primary county official who had many different ‘hats.’
“Think of the ‘Andy Griffith Show’ where he arrests the person and brings him in and the person demands to see the judge. Andy sits down and his nameplate says ‘Sheriff,’ then he flips it around and it says ‘Justice of the Peace.’ Well back in the old days that’s kind of how it was,” Sheriff Bond joked.
Each of Missouri’s 114 counties will have a two-page spread with photos, detailing the history, highlights and even some of the more famous criminals associated with their offices. There will also be a chapter on the history of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, a nonprofit organization with a mission to support the office of sheriff and the Constitution through legislative efforts, training and technical assistance.
“It will talk a little bit about the western sheriff. That is where the sheriff really gets its romantic name,” Sheriff Bond said. “We talk about the good old days and that kind of thing, but law enforcement back then was really a hard job. It will talk about the modern sheriff departments we have now, there will be a history of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, and the rest will be dedicated to the counties.”
To understand the history of the role of the sheriff, it is important to understand exactly what the job entails.
“There are three things that the sheriff does. No. 1, the sheriff is a servant of the court. Whatever the court bids or needs, the sheriff is to carry that out — there is even some old statute that said the sheriff was responsible for making sure the courtroom was warm for court. So, I can just picture the old sheriff out there cutting the wood and stoking the fire so they can have court,” laughed Sheriff Bond.
Missouri sheriffs are also committed to be keepers of the jail in the county where they serve and lastly, charged with keeping the peace.
“Secondly, they are keepers of the jail. Obviously that is for the protection of the public by keeping criminals from the public,” Bond said. “The third thing is, he’s a protector of the peace and that is kind of everything else. Typically, when we think of the sheriff we think preserving the peace is paramount, but the reality is that the sheriff still has those other duties as well.”
The Pettis County section will touch briefly on county law enforcement past and present. Aaron Jenkins, the first sheriff of Pettis County, moved here with his family from Tennessee during the winter of 1816, settling near Heath’s Creek. When the population was sufficient to warrant forming a county in the 1820s, Jenkins was instrumental in gaining the needed support.
“Actually, the first sheriff of Pettis County was appointed by the governor in 1833 when Pettis County was organized, but he had actually been active in the organization of the county,” Bond said. “He had ridden through every community in Pettis County to garner the support for Pettis becoming its own county. At that time it was split, part of it was Cooper County and part of it was Saline County.”
The governor appointed all the original county officers and they served until general elections took place in the spring of 1834. Jenkins’ reward for his hard work was an appointment of sheriff and was “allowed pay for actual work.” He was also responsible for the collection of taxes.
In the spring of 1834, William R. Kemp won the popular vote for a two-year term as the first elected sheriff of Pettis County. That same year, per a mandate from the general assembly, a courthouse and jail was planned in nearby Georgetown.
After establishing the county seat, a number of sheriffs served, through good times and bad — a lynching actually took place during one of the terms of then Sheriff William H. Killebrew in 1853. A young slave accused of rape and murder was removed from the jail by a mob and burned alive while tied to a tree just north of Georgetown, marking a particularly dark chapter in the history of Pettis County.
Other notable moments from the history of Pettis County include the construction of the courthouse in Sedalia and the construction of the jail, better known at the time as the “cooler.”
“The jail was the garrison house that had been used by the union troops during the war. They called it the ‘cooler,’ because it was made of logs and the inmates would knock the chinking out. So, they said the cool prairie winds that blew would cool the tempers of the partiers that were placed in there because of the revelry that took place about a block away on Main Street,” Bond joked.
For more information or to order an advanced copy, visit the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association website at missourisheriffshistorybook.com.