Up Against the Wall
By Tom Larson
About three years ago, Stevens County Sheriff's Office Deputy Tom Loew began thinking about rounding up photographs of all the sheriffs who had served the county since its founding in 1862.
There's a law enforcement badge painted on a wall in a courthouse meeting room, and Loew wanted to get the photos framed and hung around the painting.
"It was just an idea I had one day sitting at my desk," Loew said. "I mentioned it to (Sheriff) Randy Willis and he said, 'Go ahead.' "
What might have seemed like a simple request at the time ballooned into a full-blown research project, and the county's historical record is richer because of it.
"The benefits have gone much further than just a photo search," said Tami Plank, a Stevens County Museum and Historical Society historian. "We've learned a lot about many people, and about other histories of our county."
The project actually was born many years earlier, when former Sheriff Larry Sayre asked Plank who had been the longest-serving sheriff in the county's history. Plank compiled a list of the 19 people -- 17 of whom were not interim appointments -- who served as sheriff, added some biographical information and filed it.
When Loew arrived with his request, Plank found just two photographs of former sheriffs in the museum archive. She asked SCHS volunteer researcher JoAnne Foley if she wanted to tackle the project.
Foley is an avid, relentless researcher, but the sheriff project made her think for a moment.
"I was definitely apprehensive when Tami approached me about the project," Foley said. "Because of the dates, I thought about how I was going to find photos of people from the late 1800s. But when I began reading the obituaries and learning about the sheriffs' families, I got hooked."
Foley started by culling obituaries for the sheriffs from the 58,000 citations in the museum's files. With that information, she started tracking down descendants still living in the area, then expanding the search to areas in Minnesota and also Montana, California, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina and Florida.
The research required countless hours poring over documents, making Google searches and making phone calls. Sometimes, the people she contacted were three or four generations removed from the sheriff.
The personal visits, when she could finally arrange them, yielded fascinating stories, as well as photographs of the sheriffs.
"I found a lot of information that's really, really interesting," Foley said.
Plank said the research became part genealogy project and part academic project.
"You were dealing with a lot of who's who, and who begat who," Plank said. "And for a lot of it, you had to know a lot about the history of the area."
In the early days, the sheriffs didn't necessarily need to be trained law enforcement officers. William Dragoo was appointed the county's first sheriff in 1871, and most after that were elected -- whoever ran and got the most votes, regardless of their experience, got the job.
And the sheriffs weren't a lot different than the populace they were policing, Plank said.
Their occupations included farmers, garageman, tinsmith, liveryman, implement dealer, grain buyer, druggist, road builder, house mover, plumber and hotel night clerk.
The sometimes transient nature of the people and times complicated the search decades later.
"You can see how people moved into an area, had an important role in society, and then moved on," Plank said.
Some, like Hector T. "Tom" Lovett, who served from 1875 to 1876, left "when it got too crowded," Plank said. "They left to go west."
"You have to remember that the first people here lived on the edges of society," Plank said. "They were not afraid to be injured, they were not afraid to leave behind the security of society and they were used to carrying guns. These are the characters these early sheriffs dealt with."
The Prohibition and Depression years were tough, as well.
"Those were hard, precarious times," she said.
Here are some interesting bits of information that Plank and Foley uncovered about Stevens County's sheriffs:
The county's first elected sheriff, Joseph C. Rue (1873-1874) was a Civil War veteran.
Two women, Caroline Zahl (from 1922 to 1923) and Helen Ryan (1935 to 1938) were appointed sheriff to fill out the terms of their husbands, Frank A. Zahl and Stanley J. Ryan.
"This was before 'women's lib,' " Foley said. "Women had just earned the right to vote (1920), and it was just unheard of that a woman could have a voice. It was a time when women could only be teachers or secretaries. But what we found out is that women were very involved in a lot of county work."
Most times, the sheriff and family lived in a residence in the courthouse, and the sheriff's wife cooked meals for those in jail.
Frank Zahl, who was sheriff from 1911 to 1922, also was a buffalo hunter, and while the research is sketchy, there is some reason to believe he had a connection to former President Teddy Roosevelt.
John Landberg (1877 to 1880) was the first sheriff of a district that included Stevens, Big Stone and Traverse counties, and he later became captain of the South Side Police Station in Minneapolis.
Hector "Tom" Lovett (1875 to 1876) is mentioned in the book "The Wadsworth Trail," by Grace Hall. Lovett was married to Isabelle "Belle" Hall.
H.H. "Hod" Myers and Larry Sayre were the longest-serving sheriffs, each with about 20 years in office.
In the LEC office, the painting has been replaced by a large, framed likeness of a badge, and the photo frames of the sheriffs are hung around it. Loew said he hopes the photos and others photos in the office of department officials, deputies and staffers will be on prominent display in the county's new LEC, which is being planned.
When Foley took off with Plank's initial research, the museum had just two photos of the county's sheriffs. Now, it has photos of 15 of the 17 sheriffs, and while the project is more or less complete, Plank and Foley would welcome more information to add to what they have already.
"We found other connections we didn't know were there," Plank said. "It left a lot of doors open."
Loew said anyone wishing to view the photo display in the Law Enforcement Center can contact him at the courthouse.
PROFILES-STEVENS COUNTY SHERIFFS, 1871-PRESENT
Born 1843, died March 20, 1903 in Royalton, Minn. He was one of Morris's earliest settlers. He owned and conducted the first tinshop and Hardware store in Morris. He left Morris about 1883. Dragoo was appointed Sheriff of Stevens County on October 5, 1871. It appears he served to 1872 when the first elections were held. Dragoo was Sheriff at the first term of court in Stevens County held at Morris beginning June 17, 1873. He worked as a hardware dealer and tinsmith in Morris. Dragoo is credited with building some of the earlier buildings in Morris, that being a Hardware Store and a house. Dragoo was a charter member of the Golden Sheaf Lodge No. 133 (Masons). In May 1883 he moved to Villard, Pope County and apparently later moved in the 1880's to Royalton, Minnesota, Morrison county where he later died.
Joseph C. Rue
Civil War Veteran J.C. Rue was the first elected Sheriff of Stevens County, being elected in 1872. He later moved to Glenwood, Minn. in the early 1880s and then to the Soldier's Home near Fort Snelling.
Hector T. Lovett
Tom Lovett is mentioned in The Wadsworth Trail by Grace Hall. Shortly after Isabelle (Belle) Hall came west, she married Hector Thompson (Tom) Lovett. They lived a short time in Browns Valley and then came to Morris. There is an obituary of a child born to them in the Stevens County Reporter. Forrest Morgan Lovett died on March 18, 1877 in Morris of a complication of diseases resulting in brain fever. He was the only child of H.T. and Belle M. Lovett. Ancestory.com says Tom was born about 1845 in Pennsylvania and died June 28, 1920 at the age of 76 and lived in Yellowstone County, Montana.
H.T. (Tom) Lovett was elected Sheriff in 1874. It is not known if he ran for office in 1876 but he did lose the election in 1878. He was the stagecoach driver traveling from Morris to Ortonville via Artichoke and Long Lake. This weekly stage left on Friday and returned on Saturday. He also operated a livery stable in Morris. The Lovetts were members of the First Congregational Church of Christ in Morris and Lovett is said to be responsible for naming the west side of Morris "Piety Hill." He was elected Village Assessor in 1879. Lovett later moved to Montana.
Born August 21, 1845 in Sweden, died January 7, 1904 in Minneapolis. John Landberg was elected Sheriff in 1876 for the District of Stevens, Big Stone and Traverse Counties which were at that time attached for judicial purposes. Landberg was re-elected in 1878 over former Sheriff H.T. Lovett and J.C. Hancock. A total of 524 votes were cast. He lost the 1880 election to Charles Patrick Maginnis by 23 votes. Swedish born Landberg came to the county in 1876. Landberg was a charter member of the Golden Sheaf Lodge No. 133 (Masons). He left in 1884 to go on to be a Captain with the Minneapolis South Side Police Station. He died in Minneapolis. Landberg lived from 1845-1904. W.L. Colyer (also a mason) was deputy sheriff in 1879.
Charles P. Maginnis
Born about 1848 in Liverpool, England, died December 8, 1918 in Portland, Oregon. He came to Morris in 1876 but moved here in 1877, settling on a farm at the south end of Wintermute Lake. He was married to Bridget Gaffney, a sister of Peter Gaffney from Morris. Interesting note: Bridget's niece was Mrs. Stanley (Helen) Ryan - Sheriff 1935-1938.
Charles Patrick Maginnis was elected Sheriff in the 1880 election, beating incumbent John Landberg by 23 votes and Village Marshall Webber by 111 votes. He was re-elected in 1882 running against John McCullough but lost election in 1884 to George H. Munro by 18 votes. England born Charles Patrick Maginnis came to Stevens County in 1877 from Goodhue County. He farmed in Morris Township in joint ownership with his brother John, until he was elected Sheriff. He then sold farm machinery and operated the Farmers Elevator. He served as mayor of Morris in 1887 at which time he was appointed by President Cleveland as receiver of the U.S. Land Office at Duluth. He lived in Duluth for a few years, later moving to Oregon where he later died. He lived from 1848-1918. "He was a man of strictly temperate habits, a Friend of Temperance, and has done much for total abstinence among the Irish people."
George H. Munro
Born March 12, 1846 in Sidney, Cape Breton Island (a province of Nova Scotia), and died December 5, 1911 in Morris. He first came to Morris in 1877 and engaged in buying grain. In 1883, he moved to Massachusetts and then St. Paul, returning to Morris in 1884. In 1902, he was elected County Auditor and served two terms in that office. He was a prominent Mason.
George H. Munro was elected Sheriff in 1884 beating incumbent Charles Patrick Maginnis by 18 votes. He was re-elected for seven terms until defeated in 1900 by John R. Delahunt. Scottish Canadian born, George H. Munro first came to Morris in 1877 as a wheat buyer for the Davidson Elevator Company and D.R. Sutherland and Co. He later owned and operated a drug store under the name of George H. Munro and Co. He lived a time away before he returned to Stevens County to be elected Sheriff. He was County Auditor for two terms. Munro was a charter member of both the Golden Sheaf Lodge No. 133 (Masons) and the Bethel Commandery No. 18, Knights Templar. Mr. Munro was married to Eliza Somes who died in 1896. They had three children. G.H. Munro died in Morris living from 1846-1911.
John R. Delahunt
Born January 13, 1865 at Elkhart Lake, Wis., died December 17, 1931 in Superior, Wis. He came to Stevens County in 1879. Farmed near Fish Lake and later moved to Wintermute Lake. He was Captain of Company I, the local Militia Company.
John R. Delahunt was elected Sheriff in 1900 beating incumbent George H. Munro. He was re-elected two more terms before retiring. Wisconsin born, Civil War Veteran, Delahunt came to Stevens County in 1879. First farming, he was later a local agent for a brewing company. Marrying in 1903, Delahunt and his new bride took up their residence in the court house. After retiring, he took charge of a Superior, Wis.-based distributing house.
Jeremiah F. Donovan
In 1909, he and H.B. Jones opened an auto company in Morris. His mother came and lived with him and kept house while he was sheriff. Different places he lived after leaving Morris were: Winnipeg, Canada; Los Angeles and Hollywood, Calif.
Jeremiah F. Donovan served as Stevens County Sheriff from 1906-1910.
Frank A. Zahl
Born December 3, 1855 in Germany, died May 12, 1922 in Graceville. He came to the United States when he was 12 years old and then to Stevens County in 1873. After three years, he moved to Montana, operating a wood yard, hunting buffalo and operating a hotel. Later, he served as deputy sheriff in Custer County. When he first returned to Morris, he opened a livery stable. He was elected Sheriff in 1910 and took office in 1911. He was a member of Golden Sheaf Lodge No. 133 A.F. & A.M., Mt. Lebanon Chapter, Bethel Commandry and Corinthian Chapter of the Eastern Star. He also was active in the Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows, besides holding membership in the A.O.U.W., the Degree of Honor and other insurance orders.
He was appointed deputy sheriff in 1888. Zahl was the first Republican in 10 years to win the Sheriff seat in November 1910, taking office January 1911. He was serving his sixth consecutive term when he died at Graceville in May 1922. He had planned to retire at the end of the term, January 1923 and move to California.
May 1922-Jan. 1923
Born August 23, 1862 in Grand Rapids, Wis., died September 4, 1933 in Los Angeles. She was married to Frank A. Zahl at Terry, Mont. They moved to Morris in 1886. She took a deep interest in community affairs and organizations. She was a member of: Order of the Eastern Star, the Royal Neighbors, the Degree of Honor, the Woman's Benefit Association and other organizations.
According to the Morris Sun, on May 18, 1922, Caroline Zahl was appointed sheriff to succeed her husband when the county board held its meeting Monday. After the first shock of Mr. Zahl's death, people began at once to speak of the added difficulty to the bereaved family through vacating the county property which is the sheriff's home. This quickly brought the suggestion that Mrs. Zahl be named to succeed her husband and the idea was strengthened because of the help his family had been to Mr. Zahl throughout his long term as sheriff. A petition was quickly circulated and when presented to the county board which met before Mr. Zahl's funeral was held, it contained 793 names. J. A. Ringness coroner, served as sheriff during the few days before the appointment was made.
Stanley J. Ryan
Born June 18, 1973 in Milwaukee, Wis., died February 18, 1935 in Morris. He came to Morris when he was 18 years old with a crew to install plumbing at the Longfellow School. He remained here the rest of his life. He became a night clerk at The Merchants Hotel. A few years later, he began his long service as a peace officer when Anton Watzke, then Mayor of Morris, gave him his first police badge.
He was named to the city police force in 1896 and served until 1922 as Village Marshall. He resigned as Village Marshall in 1922 after his election as Stevens County Sheriff. This 1922 primary was the first time women voted in a Minnesota Primary Election. (They voted for the first time in a general election in 1920). He was serving a fourth term when he died at his home.
Helen (Gaffney) Ryan
Feb. 1935 to Dec. 1938
Born October 1, 1879 in Stevens County, died September 3, 1979 in Little Falls. According to the Morris Sun on February 22, 1935, Mrs. Helen A. Ryan, wife of Sheriff Stanley J. Ryan, whose death occurred on Monday, was appointed sheriff of Stevens County at a special meeting of the board of county commissioners on Thursday afternoon. Mrs. Ryan immediately appointed Roger Casey, for many years chief of police in Morris, to become her chief deputy. The appointment of Mrs. Ryan is for the unexpected term to which her husband was elected last fall. This four-year term began on January 1st of this year.
She was one of four candidates being considered for Sheriff. Two of the candidates withdrew stating they did not want to be considered against Mrs. Ryan. The fourth candidate was Stanley Ryan's opponent in the previous election.
Horace H. (Hod) Myers
Born February 7, 1888 in Huntsdale, Penn., died July 9, 1958 in Fond du Lac, Wis. According to an obituary in the Morris Tribune (July 11, 1958): Through his long residence in the county, through the nature of his work which took him to all parts of the county, and through his own personable traits, Sheriff Myers was one of the better known men in the county. His legion of friends and acquaintances have learned with deep regret and sorrow the news of his passing. Mr. & Mrs. Myers (Doris Fenton) moved to Morris in 1921. He engaged in road contracting and house-moving businesses. He entered the army in 1918 and received an honorable discharge in 1919. He was active in civic service, fraternal and community organizations. He was a charter member of the Morris Lions Club; member of Golden Sheaf Lodge No. 133, A.F. and A.M.; member of Fraternal Order of Eagles and had been a member of the Morris Civic and Commerce Association. He was also a member of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association and of the National Peace Officers Association.
Myers was elected Sheriff November 1938. He had not filed for re-election for health reasons.
July 1958-Jan. 1959
Born October 10, 1914 in St. Cloud, died February 16, 1976 in Morris. He moved to Morris with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hockert, in 1920. He entered the US Air Corps in November of 1941. After his discharge in 1945, he was re-employed by Noonen Implement. He was appointed sheriff of Stevens County in July of 1958 to fulfill the term vacated by the death of Sheriff Hod Myers. He served as sheriff until January 7, 1959. He worked for the Morris Police Department from May 1, 1959 until his retirement on February 1, 1975.
Maurice (Mac) McCollar
Born June 21, 1913 in Donnelly, Minn. to Ivan and Jennie McCollar, and died March 12, 1991 in Mesa, Arizona. He was married to Laura Walker and lived in Donnelly until WWII when they lived in Portland, Oregon. After the war they returned to Donnelly and owned and operated Mac's Café. They moved to Morris in 1948. He was a past member of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association. Mac McCollar was elected Stevens County Sheriff in 1958 serving in this capacity until his retirement in January 1974.
Recent Stevens County Sheriffs: Grant Haugen (1975 to 1980); Larry Sayre (1980 to 2000); Phil Ask (January 2001 to February 2001); and current Sheriff Randy Willis, elected in March 2001.