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Remembering one of Minnesota’s woman sheriffs

February 20, 2012
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

Part I:

In the Jan. 31, 2012, issue of the Marshall Independent, reporter Karin Elton wrote a front-page article about the death of the former sheriff of Lyon County Viola Croft on Jan. 24, 2012. Croft served as sheriff from 19461947 - one of the few women to serve in that capacity in Minnesota.

After reading about the demise of Viola Croft, I decided to share the contents of the Lyon county Historical Society "Lyon Tale," which I wrote and which was published in 2001, which gives an account of Viola's life as sheriff. That account is as follows:

In March (2001) the Internet "auction block" a.k.a. eBay displayed a 1920 postcard featuring the Lyon County Jail in Marshall. Soon a Marshall Independent Newspaper Reporter, Ryan Wendland, stopped by the Lyon County Museum to find out what I knew about the old jail, and consequently wrote an article about it. After reading the article, former housekeeper for the Sheriff Croft family and the jail, Gladys Desaer, called to say that she was sending the article to Carol Croft Ladd, daughter of Harry B. and Viola Croft. Soon I received a phone call from Ladd who lives in Albany, Ore. Ladd was bidding on the postcard - so were sheriff deputies from the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center. Ladd ended up with the postcard.

As a result of this phone conversation, I soon received pictures and the following interview of Viola Croft Jones Hazen, conducted by her daughter Carol.

Remembrances

By Viola I. Croft, sheriff of Lyon County, Minnesota

January 1946-1947

Reminiscing back in time to the years 1938-1947, when I lived in the sheriff's residence and combined jail, brings back many memories including those when I became Sheriff and served the people of Lyon County, Minnesota from January 1946-1947. It was in 1938 when I married the newly elected sheriff, Harry B. Croft, and moved to Marshall from Tracy, where Harry formerly was Chief of Police, that I began a new challenge as the sheriff's wife as Harry B. Croft pledged to keep peace and justice in Lyon County.

I'll begin with describing our residence. It was a large two-story house with attached sheriff's office and jail cells at the side. It had a large kitchen in back, which was used to cook the meals for the prisoners as well as our family - also a large dining room, living room and a spare bedroom off of the kitchen, the upstairs living area was large with four bedrooms and a bath. The house also had a back entry with a Maytag washing machine (wringer type), which I used to wash blankets for the prisoners in jail and of course in those days there was no electric clothes dryer. I hung the laundry outdoors on the clotheslines even in the coldest days of winter.

The prisoners themselves or deputies usually did housekeeping chores in the jail area.

A heavy, thick steel door separated the kitchen from the sheriff's office. Locking that door required the use of a large, heavy key approximately 6 inches long. A person wouldn't want to carry many of those keys around. The steel door was closed and locked a good portion of the time for safety reasons since it led directly into the sheriff's office.

The jail itself was composed of 8 cells for male prisoners. More cells were located upstairs with three special cells for women and violent prisoners needing extra care, which included the mentally disturbed.

(continued next week)

 
 

 

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