HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF SHERIFF
The Office of Sheriff is one of
antiquity. It is the oldest Law
Enforcement Office known within the common-law system and it has always been
accorded great dignity and high trust.
For the most part, the Office of Sheriff evolved of necessity. Were it not for laws which require enforcing,
there would have been no necessity for the Sheriff. There would have been no need for the
development of police administrative, criminology, criminalists, etc. This is not the case however. Man learned quite early that all is not
orderly in the universe. All times and
all places have generated those who covet the property of their neighbors and
who are willing to expropriate this property by any means. As such, man’s quest for equity and order
gave birth to the Office of Sheriff, the history of which begins in the Old
Testament and continues through the annals of Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, there is no honorable law enforcement
authority in Anglo-American law so ancient as that of the County Sheriff. And today, as in the past, the County Sheriff
is a peace officer intrusted with the maintenance of law and order and the
preservation of domestic tranquility.
Sheriff’s have served and protected the English-speaking peoples for
a thousand years. The Office of Sheriff
and the law enforcement, judicial and correctional functions he performs are
more than 1000 years old. The Office of
Sheriff dates back at least to the reign of Alfred the Great of England, and
some scholars even argue that the Office of Sheriff was first created during the
Roman occupation of England.
Around 500 A.D., Germanic tribes from Europe (called the
Anglo-Saxons) began an invasion of Celtic England which eventually led over the
centuries to the consolidation of Anglo-Saxons England as a unified kingdom
under Alfred the Great late in the 9th Century. Alfred divided England into geographic units
called “shires”, or counties.
In 1066, William the conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons and
instituted his own Norman government in England. Both under the Anglo-Saxons and under the
Norman’s, the King of England appointed a representative called a “reeve” to act
on behalf of the King in each “shire” or county. The “shire-reeve” or King’s representative in
each county became the “Sheriff” as the English language changed over the
years. The shire-reeve or Sheriff was
the chief law enforcement officer of each county in the year 1000 A.D. He still will have the same function in the
State of Texas in the year 2003 A.D.
The concepts of “county” and Sheriff” were essentially the same as
they have been during the previous 900 years of English legal history. Because of the English heritage of the
American colonies, the United States adopted the English law and legal
institutions as its owner.
Clearly, the Sheriff is the only viable officer remaining of the
ancient offices, and his contemporary responsibility as conservator of the peace
has been influenced greatly by modern society.
As the crossbow gave way to the primitive flintlock, and the flintlock to
the colt.45, the sheriff is not unaccustomed to change. But now, perhaps more than ever before in
history, law enforcement is faced with complex, moving, rapid changes in
methodology, technology, and social attitudes.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his “The Value of Constitutions”, The Office
of Sheriff is the most important of all the executive office of the
The Office of Sheriff in Texas was created by the Texas
Constitution. History indicates in 1827,
Stephen F. Austin requested at received authorization for establishment of
Constitutional Government in his colony.
The first sheriff in Texas was then appointed in 1828. There are 254 counties in Texas and each
county has a Sheriff. By statutes, the
sheriff is a Texas Peace Officer, a conservator of the peace, enforces the
criminal laws of the State of Texas, and is responsible for the county jail,
bail bonds, civil process, and security of the courts. In some small counties the Sheriff is also
the tax collector. Texas Sheriff’s are
elected to office and serve for a four-year term. The sizes of Texas Sheriff’s Offices are as
diverse as the population of the counties.
In 1885, when 300 people were living in the area,
the Texas Legislature established Midland County from lands previously assigned
to Tom Green County, and the county was organized later that same year. The town
of Midland, originally named Midway, to suggest its place on the Ft. Worth - El
Paso railroad line, became county seat. The following is a list of the Sheriff's
elected in Midland County from the past to the present:
August 1885 – 1888 Sheriff Theodore Ray
November 1888 – 1898 Sheriff W. D. Allison
February 1898 – 1900 Sheriff H. R. Wells
November 1900 – 1902 Sheriff J. E. Crossett
February 1903 – 1904 Sheriff Frank Shelton
February 1905 – 1908 Sheriff J. Wiley
November 1908 – 1912 Sheriff W. M. Beverly
November 1912 –
1922 Sheriff W. E. Bradford
January 1923 - 1940 Sheriff A. C. Francis
January 1941 – 1976 Sheriff Ed Darnell
January 1977 - 1984 Sheriff Dallas Smith
January 1985 - Present
Sheriff Gary Painter