The High Sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona Territories, 1846-1912
Publication Year: 1996
Elected for two-year terms, frontier sheriffs were the principal peace-keepers in counties that were often larger than New England states. As officers of the court, they defended settlers and protected their property from the ever-present violence on the frontier. Their duties ranged from tracking down stagecoach robbers and serving court warrants to locking up drunks and quelling domestic disputes.The reality of their job embraced such mandane duties as being jail keepers, tax collectors, quarantine inspectors, court-appointed executioners, and dogcatchers.
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
Title Page, Copyright
Maps and Illustrations
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On 15 July 1881, a New Mexico sheriff informed the governor that he had shot and killed a notorious badman in Fort Sumner on the previous evening. The confrontation had taken place in the bedroom of rancher Pete Maxwell when the fugitive unwittingly walked in upon...
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Among the institutions that provided assistance were the National Archives and the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; the Special Collections Department, Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico Albuquerque; the Museum of New Mexico Historical Library...
1. The Origins of the Sheriff's Office in New Mexico and Arizona Territories
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The office of sheriff originated in ninth-century Anglo-Saxon England as a representative of the Crown in local government. The sheriff (shire-reeve) exercised many duties, including peacekeeping, holding court, collecting taxes, and commanding the militia. For some time...
2. Organization of the Sheriff's Office
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To set up and maintain a regime in the sheriff's office in frontier New Mexico or Arizona required considerable effort. The period between election and entry into the office was filled with intense activity. In addition to obtaining qualified bondsmen, the sheriff-elect had to select deputies...
3. The Sheriff and the Law Enforcement System
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The county sheriff was only a part—though a critical part—of a large and very complex law enforcement and judicial system in New Mexico and Arizona territories. Although Congress refused to give these frontier districts all the judicial fineries of the East, the territories supported numerous...
4. Getting in Office: Seeking Preferment to the Shrievalty [Includes Image Plates]
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Aspiring politicians of Arizona and New Mexico eagerly sought the shrievalty. Within the limited spoils system of poor territories, this position was a plum. Political infighting began at the first inkling that the assembly contemplated the creation of a new county. If the aspirants lacked money...
5. Servant of the Court [Includes Image Plates]
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Sheriffs were routinely called upon to cooperate with many public officials. One of the closest associations was with the personnel of the court system. Like most tasks of the sheriffs, service to the bar of justice presented many difficulties. Since the lawmen performed many duties in the field...
6. Keeper of the Keys: The Sheriff as Jailer
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The care of the county jails and their inmates proved to be one of the most vexatious of the sheriff's tasks. Not only were the impoverished counties of New Mexico and Arizona unable to afford secure jails, but the Hispanic and Indian populations were generally unaccustomed to imprisonment...
7. The Sheriff and Extralegal Justice
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The county jails of New Mexico and Arizona were the focus of much public attention in the territorial era. The pioneers often expressed concern about the fragility of this important public facility, and they betrayed this feeling by spending ever-increasing amounts of hard-to-find public revenues...
8. Deathwatch [Includes Image Plates]
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Of his many duties, the sheriff disliked most the task of hanging condemned men. This grim chore included more than the brief stay on the scaffold. It entailed the tense days of the deathwatch in the jail. The physical and mental stress imposed upon the sheriff and his staff sometimes became...
9. Conservator Pacis
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This was a formidable, sometimes impossible, assignment in the frontier communities of the Southwest. The number and degree of disturbances often exceeded the capacity of the sheriff's personnel to cope with them. Many lawbreakers were comparatively harmless, and one night in jail...
10. Fugitives from Justice
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Arizona and New Mexico territories attracted an unusual number of desperate outlaw bands in the post-Civil War era. This unsavory element had always accompanied the westward movement of productive Americans, but Arizona and New Mexico territories were peculiarly susceptible to...
11. Sheriffs in Times of Crisis
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If long-range manhunts taxed the resources of the sheriffs, feuds and other larger scale disturbances often exceeded their capabilities and forced the county lawmen to call upon outside assistance. The post-Civil War years were troubled times in New Mexico and Arizona territories. Political...
12. Ex-Officio Collector
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Besides their law enforcement duties, the sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona territories performed an additional task—tax collecting. Although seemingly unrelated to their primary responsibility, the lawmen had gathered public revenues for centuries in England and, later, in the eastern...
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In addition to the dangerous duties of arresting badmen and pursuing highwaymen, the sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona territories performed many tasks which appeared unrelated to their official position. The sheriff might be called the local public "handyman," a characterization...
14. The Shrievalty Enters the Twentieth Century
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The office of the county sheriff somehow endured the turbulent territorial era and began to experience significant positive changes as statehood approached in 1912. This is not to imply that a mood of optimism was always apparent, as many problems still existed in law enforcement. But considerable...
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In March 1908, former Sheriff Patrick Floyd Garrett was shot and killed near Las Cruces, New Mexico. His death took place under very tragic circumstances and caused many pioneers to pause and reflect upon the contributions of the sheriffs to law and order on the Southwestern frontier...
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Appendix A: List of Sheriffs
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Appendix B: Legal Hangings
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Appendix C: Lynchings
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Page Count: 428
Publication Year: 1996