Woodbury County, Iowa Genealogy
Woodbury County, Iowa, USA. Click here for the Home page.
From the Woodbury County History book, 1984, pages 5 and 6.
Historical Review of the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Department
Courtesy of the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Department
Beginning with the rough days of the 1850’s, twenty-nine Sheriffs have served Woodbury County. Fortunately, the passing of the years produced a great improvement over the comparative lawless time when the county was in its infancy.
Woodbury County’s firs Sheriff was Thomas L. Griffey, a native of Kentucky, who came to Kanesville, Iowa (now Council Bluffs) in 1850. He was only 26 years of age when he was an organizing Sheriff for Woodbury County, after its establishment by the State Legislature in 1853. Griffey, who later served as a practicing attorney and District Court Judge, called the first election for Woodbury County offices. Seventeen votes were cast.
Hiram Nelson, one of the men who staked out the land when Dr. John Cook filed for the first plat of Sioux City, became the County’s second Sheriff in 1854. In the County’s first election he was also names Treasurer and recorder. Nelson was better known for his work in those offices than for his brief tenure as Sheriff. He later moved to Washington Territory, and from there to Montana, where he died in 1885.
George W. Chamberlain, who also accompanied Dr. Cook here on his initial surveys, served as Woodbury County’s third Sheriff from 1854 to 1855. County records show little of his term as Sheriff; he was better known as Sioux City’s fourth Mayor. Chamberlain was killed in a windstorm in 1881.
The fourth Sheriff of Woodbury County, Francis Chappel, was the first to serve a full two-year-term. His first year in office coincided with the first term of District Court in 1855. Chappel clad in buckskin and barefooted with his moccasins in his belt, testified at the Court’s first murder trial in 1856. The accused, William Thompson, was charged with killing a trader after a brawl over a half-breed Indian girl in 1853. He had not been arrested previously because there was no jail to put him in, and no one cared to arrest him as he was one of the County’s most feared and desperate men. The case against Thompson was dismissed, because no witnesses could be produced.
S.A. Ayers served as the County’s fifth Sheriff for two brief periods in 1857 and 1859. One of the outstanding Court cases during his tenure was the State of Iowa vs. John K. Cook. John Campbell claimed to have been elected to the office of County Judge, and the incumbent, Cook, sought to hold it for another term. The Court ruled in favor of Campbell and he was duly installed. However, he was afterwards compelled to resign ‘at the point of a revolver’.
During the year 1858, three men served as Sheriff. J.C. Hoskins resigned the office to become township assessor and Sioux City Engineer. He later served as Mayor of Sioux City, member of the School Board, and County Supervisor. George I. Tackett, after being Sheriff, served as Sioux City Marshall, and later built a hotel on Choteau Creek in BonHome County, Dakota Territory. William H. Frame, before becoming Sheriff, had operated a livery and real estate business in Sioux City. In the late 1860’s, he helped organize county governments in Northwest Iowa and later became an officer in Sioux County, Iowa.
The tenth Sheriff, F.L. Lambert, was the first to serve two full terms, 1860 to 1864. He had earlier been Clerk in the United States Land Office, and resigned as Sheriff to become Clerk of Courts and County Auditor. He was described as one of the most popular men in the County. Lambert was followed by John Hagy, who served as Sheriff until 1867. A native Virginia, Hagy had come to Sioux City from Mahaska County, Iowa, in 1855. He ran a hotel, the Hagy House, from 1856 until he became Sheriff in 1865. When his term expired, he opened a private boarding house in Sioux City and operated it until 1867.
The job of Sheriff was beginning to become more difficult, as the area attracted adventurers and gold seekers traveling to and from Montana by way of the Missouri River. In their wake came an army of gamblers and saloon keepers.
George W. Kingsnorth, a native of Pennsylvania who had served as a Union Officer during the Civil War, was elected the twelfth Sheriff in 1867. The citizens of Sioux City, hoping to meet the onrush of lawlessness, remodeled the City Hall and made Kingsnorth City Marshall as well.
Kingsnorth, defeated as Sheriff in 1871 by a 23-year-old Deputy, John McDonald, was later Mayor of Sioux City and served two terms as Councilman. After leaving public office, Kingsnorth engaged in the real estate and insurance business.
The McDonald brothers, John and Donald (‘Dan’), were the next sheriffs on the scene in Woodbury County. They made records for themselves in the sensational capture of many desperadoes, and in rough and tough law enforcement that would be difficult to equal anywhere in the Old West. The McDonald family had moved to Sioux City in 1867 from Wisconsin. John McDonald first served as Deputy Sheriff. He proved so efficient that at the age of 23 he defeated the incumbent, Kingsnorth, in the race for Sheriff. John McDoanld was often a controversial figure, judging from newspaper reports of the day. His activities as Sheriff received widespread notice and attention from the Mid-Western press; he was involved in escapades with criminals as far away as Chicago, Tennessee, and Nebraska. He organized a party in an attempt to intercept the James Brothers after the robbery of the Northfield, Minnesota, bank, but was hampered by faulty information received from a newspaper reporter covering the chase. John McDonald was defeated in his bid for a fifth term as Sheriff in 1879. He continued his activities against criminals, though, as a detective for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad, and at the time of his death, in 1924, he was associated with the First National Bank in Sioux City.
S.D. Jackson served only one term as Sheriff (1879-1881). A native of Pennsyl-vania, had come to Sioux City in 1870. He entered the real estate business after leaving public office, and also served as Mayor of Sioux City in later years.
Dan McDonald, having served as Deputy Sheriff during his brother’s four terms, defeated Jackson in the 1881 election. His reputation soon rivaled that of his brother. An article in the December 29, 1886, issue of the Chicago Daily News called him ‘the most celebrated Sheriff in Iowa, a man of the utmost during who was instrumental in capturing more criminals than any other man in Iowa.’ His exploits included an encounter with Ed McFarren, a notorious horse thief of the Missouri Valley region. Dan McDonald was Sheriff at the time of two famous murders in Sioux City: Rev. George Haddock, crusader against the saloons and liquor interest, was murdered on the night of August 3, 1886, at 4th and Water Streets; George Trout was shot and killed by Ed Hatch on July 3, 1886, in a gambling house at 513 4th Street, following an argument over a card game. After leaving the post of Sheriff, Dan McDonald became a government inspector at the Stockyards, which post he held until his death in 1920.
Dave A. Magee, who was to become better known in later years for his business and civic activities, served as the sixteenth Sheriff from 1887 to 1889. He also service as a Sioux City Mayor and alderman and took a leading part in promoting water works and street railway projects for Sioux City. Magee was followed by David P. Magner, who was elected in 1889 and served two terms, being re-elected by a large majority.
W.C. Davenport, who had served as Deputy Sheriff for Dan McDonald, was elected Sheriff in 1893. He also served as a U.S. Marshall and Sioux City Police Chief before retiring from public life to become a private detective. He later opened Davenport Cleaning in Sioux City.
A bookstore owner, C.W. Jackson, took office at the turn of the century and served three terms. Sheriff Jackson’s bookstore later merged with The Sioux City Stationery Store. After leaving the Sheriff’s Department, Jackson entered the real estate business.
Woodbury County’s 20th Sheriff, and one of the most popular ones, was E.G. Dilley. He had served as Deputy under C.W. Jackson. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Dilley had served as a court reporter in Sioux City before entering the law enforcement field. He had served 6 ½ terms as Sheriff as the time of his death in the fall of 1917.
The term of Woodbury County’s next Sheriff, W.H. Jones, was marked with deep tragedy when the Sheriff’s son, a Deputy, and a striker, both died of bullet wounds during a violent packinghouse strike on December 19, 1921. Jones had been appointed to fill the term of Dilley after his death, and was elected to two more terms after that. In 1922 he was named postmaster, and held that post until his death March 24, 1932.
Paul T. Beardsley was appointed Sheriff in 1922, following Jonses’ resignation to become postmaster, and served until 1929. After leaving the Sheriff’s Office, Beardsley was associated with the First National Bank in Sioux City; he later moved to Missouri.
In 1929, Woodbury County had for the second time a pair of brothers, John A. Davenport, brother of W.C. Davenport, served two terms as Woodbury County’s 22nd Sheriff. As the time of his death in 1939, he was a State Representative.
Perhaps the most turbulent times for Woodbury County and the Sheriff’s office since the turn of the century faced the next Sheriff, William R. Tice, elected to office in the Democratic landslide of 1932. Born in Wisconsin in 1878, Tice had lived in Centerville, South Dakota, as a child. He came to Sioux City in 1900 and was employed by Davidson Brothers Co., until his election. When Tice took office in 1933, the Depression was at its height, people were out of jobs and money, and unrest was general. He found the county the center of the farm holiday movement in which desperate farmers attempted to bolster prices by keeping products from the central markets. Tice also had to control large crowds of ‘reliefers’ who several times stormed the Courthouse, demanding more aid from the county. Bank robbers and confidence men also kept law enforcers busy. Tice aided in solving the robberies of the Morningside Bank and a bank at Sergeant Bluff. The most sensational case of all during Tice’s five terms began with the Ehlerman Jewelry Store safe explosion in the Orpheum Building on December 22, 1936. A brutal murder among the robbers themselves followed, and Ehlerman was eventually convicted of conspiracy to defraud an insurance company.
Edwin L. Lunde was elected in 1942 as the 25th Sheriff. A Woodbury County native, he had operated Lunde’s Market and served as Municipal Court Baliff before becoming Sheriff. Lunde had his share of excitement during his 16 years of office. In 1944, he and a Deputy foiled an attempted jail break by Jack Faust and Darrell Copenhaver. Members of the Kitts bank robbery gang were held in the Woodbury County jail; Tom and Marge Young, also robbers, escaped from the jail here as well as the one in Fargo, North Dakota. Under Lunde, the Sheriff’s office had 11 Deputies. In addition, all district court bailiffs were deputized in order to be able to represent the Sheriff by proxy at court sessions. A matron was also employed part time. A meet hall in the Sheriff’s Department, dedicated in 1981 to all past Sheriffs, was named Lunde Hall in honor of the 25th Sheriff.
F.O. “Whitey’ Rosenberger, elected in 1958, served as Sheriff until his retirement in 1975. Under Rosenberger, the Department went to uniformed patrol Deputies and marked patrol units, becoming one of the first counties in Iowa do so. Tragedy struck the Department in 1959 when the Chief Deputy, a matron, and the County Attorney were all killed in a plane accident while returning to Sioux City following a prisoner transport. The Woodbury County Sheriff’s Department drew national attention in 1961 during the incarceration and trial of Bernice Iverson Geiger, who was accused of embezzling a record $2,156, 859 from the Sheldon National Bank, Sheldon, Iowa. Also during the Rosenberger’s tenure as Sheriff, the Woodbury County jail held one of the highest ratings possible, from both state and federal authorities.
Russ White, Sr., was appointed Sheriff at the retirement of Rosenberger and served a little over a year. White was responsible for the remodeling of the Sheriff’s Department, the expansion of rural patrols into the county and the purchase of new radio equipment for the department. Before becoming Sheriff, White had served in various capacities in the Sioux City Police Department, having been promoted to Assistant Chief of Police, in 1953.
John Rispalje, better known as ‘Jack’, was elected Woodbury County’s 28th Sheriff in the fall of 1976. No newcomer to the law enforcement profession, Rispalje had retired from 27 years in the Sioux City Police Department, having served fifteen of those years as Captain of the Youth Bureau. He served as Municipal Court Baliff form 1965 to 1973 and was then appointed Deputy Captain in the Woodbury County Sheriff’s Department, serving until April, 1975. Rispalje served under Sheriff Rosenberger, and also had attended the FBI Police Academy with Sheriff White in 1950. Although Rispalje had led a very successful career as a law enforcement office, his highest degree of satisfaction came when he was elected Sheriff. One of the highlights of his term was the Jim Clark murder in North Sioux City, South Dakota, which was originally reported to Sheriff Rispalje. Rispalje retired after one four-year term as Sheriff, in 1980.
Woodbury County’s 29th Sheriff, Russell H. White, Jr., is part of the only father-son combination to hold the position. Using experience gained from twelve years with the Sioux City Police Department, White has restructured the Department to follow the team-policing concept of law enforcement. The county jail has been completely staffed with civilians, releasing Deputies to perform other duties, and a Crime Prevention Division has been established.
30th Sheriff, Leonard ‘Leo’ Miller
31st Sheriff, David Amick
32nd Sheriff, Glenn Parrett, elected in 2004
Woodbury County Coordinator
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