"Wild West” - The Western Frontier Sheriff
Horace Greeley, the Editor of the New York Tribune, wrote to the huddled masses in the eastern cities, “Go West Young Man!” and they did. As Americans began to move westward, they took with them the concept of county jails and the office of Sheriff. The Sheriff was desperately needed to establish order in the lawless territories where power belonged to those with the fastest draw and
the most accurate shot. Here, it is said, Sheriffs fell into two categories: the quick and the dead. Most western Sheriffs, however, kept the peace by virtue of their authority rather than their guns. With few exceptions, Sheriffs resorted to firepower much less often than is commonly imagined.
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 countywide 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.
As chief law enforcement officer of the county, the sheriff performed diverse duties. In many jurisdictions he served as tax collector, similar to the duties of the colonial sheriff. Also in contrast to its colonial forerunner, the sheriff had to administer corporal punishment, as directed by the courts. The sheriff often times was required to carry out the sentence of death.