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History of the Sheriff

Where did the title of Sheriff come from, what is it's word origin, what were the duties of the sheriff at it's inception compared to what they are today?  Who was the first Sheriff of Pendleton County and when was the office established and how has the Office of Pendleton County Sheriff evolved over the years?

Mention the word “sheriff” and many people’s minds will fill immediately with the images of shootouts and gunfights in the Wild West.

With few exceptions, today’s sheriffs are elected officials who serve as a chief law enforcement officer of the county.  Although the duties of the sheriff vary from jurisdiction, the sheriff’s office is generally active in all three branches of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, the courts and corrections.

This page is designed to give you a brief understanding of the Office of Sheriff and when and where the office originated from in the United States, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Pendleton County.

The Sheriff Today

There are over three thousand counties in the United States today and almost everyone of them has a Sheriff.

In the majority of the states, the office of sheriff is established by the constitution.  Most of the remaining states were established by an act of state legislature. 

There are two states in which the Sheriff is not elected by the voters.  In Rhode Island they are appointed by the Governor and in Hawaii deputy sheriff’s serve the Department of Public Safety’s Sheriff’s Division.

Law Enforcement:

Most Sheriffs’ offices have a responsibility for law enforcement, although the authority of the Sheriff varies from state to state, the Sheriff has the power to  make arrests within his or her own county.  Some states extend this authority  to adjacent counties or the entire state.  Many sheriffs’ offices perform routine patrol functions such as traffic control, accident investigations, transport of  prisoners, criminal investigations and some even have specialized activities

Court Duties:

Sheriff’s are responsible for maintaining the safety and security of the court, take charge of juries when outside of the courtroom, service of court papers such as subpoenas, summons, warrants and civil process and prisoner extradiction.

Jail Administration:

In some states the Sheriff is responsible for the operations of the county jail.

Tax Collection:

The sheriff is also responsible for collection of property taxes.  Which is the  same function that they served under the Kings in England.

​Famous American Sheriff's

  • Sheriff Buford Pusser — McNairy County, Tennessee portrayed in Walking Tall, and in a suite of songs on Drive-By Truckers' 2004 album, The Dirty South.
  • Sheriff Joe Arpaio — Maricopa County, Arizona, famous for his stance on criminal justice.
  • Sheriff Pat Garrett — Lincoln County, New Mexico, famous for killing Billy the Kid.
  • Sheriff Bat Masterson — Ford County, Kansas
  • Sheriff Sherman Block — Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, highest paid government administrator in the United States.
  • Sheriff Dave Reichert — King County, Washington, tracked the Green River killer; elected to Congress in 2004.
  • Sheriff Gerald Hege — Davidson County, North Carolina, famous for his "no-deals" behavior and highly unorthodox way of fighting crime.
  • Sheriff Grover Cleveland — Erie County, New York, the only sheriff ever to be elected President of the United States; in his case, he was elected to that office twice in non-consecutive terms.
  • Sheriff Seth Bullock - Of Deadwood fame.