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Who will be Shire-reeve, Guardian of the Shire?

Monday, May 7, 2012

In word association, does 'Famous Sheriff' make you think of Andy Taylor (Mayberry), Joe Arpaio (Maricopa Co. Arizona), or the Sheriff of Nottingham from the days of Robin Hood? Teddy Roosevelt? *Jim Hopkins?

Jay King is challenging popular longtime Plymouth County Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo. If this was a Texas race it would be a no-brainer, assuming Jay's relatives support him, for there are 32,742 Kings in Texas, but just two lonely Van Otterloos. The numbers are about even in Plymouth County, though.

There are only 214 persons with the surname Van Otterloo in the entire USA, a White Pages site says, and 87 of them live in Iowa. The name originates from those who are from a place called Otterloo, in Gelderland near Arnhem. The surname King is English and Scottish, and once was a nickname merely indicating a tribal leader. Only 31 surnames are more widely used in the US than is King.

Officer Jay doesn't have a specific complaint about the current department, but says he and Sheriff Mike have differing opinions about crime prevention. From Dakota City, King served on the Remsen force before becoming a Le Mars policeman in 1988.

A United States Sheriff is typically the top county law enforcement officer, and historically he (only about one percent of US Sheriffs and Police Chiefs are women) was also commander of the county militia. In 1935 Mrs. William H. Thompson was appointed Hardin County, Iowa, Sheriff. The widow of the previous Sheriff, she is believed to have been the first female sheriff in Iowa. There are none in Iowa today.

With 16,400 members and 400 reserve deputies, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is the largest, and, it is the seventh largest law enforcement agency of any kind in the United States. The average Sheriff's department in the United States has 24.5 sworn officers; ten in Plymouth County.


The office of Sheriff originated in England around the 9th century, making it the oldest continuing, non-military, law enforcement entity in history. In early England, when land was divided into geographic areas between a few individual kings, these areas were called shires. Each shire had an individual called a reeve, which meant guardian. Those two words came together to be shire-reeve, guardian of the shire and eventually the word Sheriff.

In addition to law enforcement, the duties of the English Sheriff included collecting taxes. By the early 1800's it became a largely ceremonial office, as it remains today, 'over there.'

When the Dutch settled the area called New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1626, the Dutch version of the Sheriff was called a 'schout.' When the English claimed the land, the schout became the Sheriff.

The first Sheriff in America is believed to be Captain William Stone, appointed in 1634 for the Shire of Northampton in the colony of Virginia. The first elected Sheriff was William Waters in 1652 in the same shire (shire was used in many colonies, before the word county replaced it.)

The longest serving Sheriff in the United States probably was Bernard Shackleton, Lunenburg County, Virginia. He served from 1904-1955, a total of 51consecutive years.

Twenty five Sheriffs have served Plymouth County in its 153 years, and the first was also a 'Van,' (William Van Olinda, who served that first year, 1859). It would be 23 years before Gustave Haerling would be the first to serve as many as four years.

At 28 years Frank Scholer (1936-64) was Plymouth County's longest serving Sheriff and some would say he was the most popular. His challenges evolved, from the depression years, and through three wars. In his early days in office he dealt with bootleggers and moonshiners, then rationing and shortages.

Later, he would do a balancing act between knowing that bars were selling illegal hard liquor, to shutting them down when 'the heat was on.' Frank, a Democrat, came in with a FDR landslide and was repeatedly re-elected until he retired in 1964, two years after liquor by the drink was legalized. He dealt with at least four murders, two which drew national attention.

He was followed by Ed Guntren, Jim Mertes and Dave Stock. Van Otterloo ushered in the modern 'professional, technological' office.

*James Hopkins was a Plymouth County Sheriff in 1877-1880. Grover Cleveland is the only Sheriff who became President, although Theodore Roosevelt was once a deputy Sheriff in North Dakota. Augustin Washington, George Washington's father, was Sheriff of Westmoreland County, Virginia in 1727. Other well known names include Wild Bill Hickock, Pat Garrett, and Bat Masterson.

Don Paulin, 2carpenterdon@gmail.com, 7557 30th Av, Norwalk, IA 50211 - 515-201-7236

By Don Paulin
Been There, Done That

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