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Remembering one of Minnesota’s woman sheriffs — the Lyon County connection

February 27, 2012
By Ellayne Conyers , Marshall Independent

Part II:

The sheriff's wife had many duties which included: preparing meals and doing laundry for prisoners, answering many telephone calls in the sheriff's office and also transporting prisoners. Many times I would need to accompany the sheriff while transporting women prisoners from one detention center to another.

I prepared many meals on the large cook stove in the kitchen. The food was served in aluminum pans, which fit through the slot in the jail cell where the deputy sheriff delivered them. Typical meals served: breakfast was a large bowl of oatmeal with sugar and cream and two pieces of toast and a cup of coffee; noon meal consisted of a piece of meat or pasta or casserole with potatoes, gravy and a vegetable with two slices of bread and occasionally fruit; the evening meal might be a hot dish and salad or dish of fruit and coffee.

One of my official duties was to be in District Court, which was held twice a year - spring and fall. During that time, I served as bailiff for the jury. My duties including sitting with the jury at all times until the cases were decided upon. At times I would need to go with the jurors to dinner because they would not be allowed to communicate with anyone outside. Many times the sessions ran late into the night.

During that time, my two daughters were born - Carol Ann in 1942 and Naomi Jeanne in 1944. That made life extremely busy in the sheriff's office but much more interesting and happy with two little ones running underfoot.

Before Sheriff Harry B. Croft's second term of office was completed, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on Jan. 11, 1946, and died very suddenly leaving me a widow with two babies - when Carol Ann was only 3 years old and Naomi Jeanne just 1 year old.

Soon thereafter, on Jan. 18, 1946, I was appointed by the Board of Lyon County Commissioners to fill my husband's remaining term of office. There were many local community men interested in the position. Of course, I was extremely familiar with the duties of the sheriff's position and I decided that I could do the job with help from reliable and capable deputies. I was sworn in as the new sheriff of Lyon County at the tender age of 29 years old and that was the beginning of my job and as far as I know, the only woman sheriff serving in Minnesota at that time.

In regard to being a "gun-toting sheriff," I certainly had access to pistols and rifles when I needed them. I had been trained by my husband to handle guns and I could shoot accurately.

I took the job of sheriff very seriously and called upon the county attorney, Clarence Donnely, for advice and information on legal matters and problems.

Now, besides taking care of my family and doing the "sheriff's wife's duties" (laundry and cooking for prisoners), I had acquired new duties of being "the sheriff" which included: admitting prisoners, prisoner's records, bookkeeping, collecting delinquent taxes, preparing papers for civil work, mileage records, investigative work, etc. Another important job for the sheriff was the opening and closing of District Court which consisted of introducing the Judge by standing and facing courtroom audience, rapping the gavel and announcing "Hear Ye, Hear Ye, the District Court is now Opened (or Closed) with the Honorable Judge_______presiding. I appointed the bailiffs for the juries one male and one female.

Most of the prisoners were jailed for minor offenses - drunkenness, domestic violence and abuse, rape and robbery. They would serve their complete sentence in the "county jail." Some prisoners were sentenced to the "state penitentiary" in Stillwater and adult men and youth were sent to Redwing, Minnesota, while the insane and mentally disturbed were taken to Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

I will never forget the day when the front door bell rang and a young man stood on the doorstep. He said, "I am turning myself in I have just killed my wife. He remained in our jail until after sentencing when the Judge sentenced him to prison for the REST OF HIS NATURAL LIFE. This was very difficult for me because he was a very kind, decent young man and had been abused by his wife for some time.

From time to time, there were unruly, violent prisoners to deal with and I had to do the best I could with the help of some special deputies, namely Roy Nylen and Knute Bergman, and also policemen in other county towns who were appointed as deputies in their areas. The state highway patrol would bring prisoners (at all times of the day and night) for placement in the county jail - many times because of violent behavior. On special trips transporting prisoners to the state prisons or insane asylums, I would deputize trusted men and women in the community who could help me in this matter.

(Continued next week.)



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