Desert Lawmen: The High Sheriffs of New Mexico and Arizona by Larry D. Ball

By Larry D. Ball

Elected for two-year phrases, frontier sheriffs have been the significant peace-keepers in counties that have been usually higher than New England states. As officials of the court docket, they defended settlers and guarded their estate from the ubiquitous violence at the frontier. Their tasks ranged from monitoring down stagecoach robbers and serving courtroom warrants to locking up drunks and quelling household disputes.The fact in their activity embraced such mandane tasks as being penal complex keepers, tax creditors, quarantine inspectors, court-appointed executioners, and dogcatchers.

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The races for Pima County sheriff were hotly contested in the 1880s and each incumbent took pains to ensure that all county property was accurately inventoried. When Robert H. Paul contested the 1880 election of Charles A. Shibell in this Arizona county, the courts did not authorize the transition of office until spring of the following year. The inventory, dated 1 May 1881, averred that "The following is a true and correct statement of all property [in the sheriffs office] including office fixtures, account books and jail property received by me [Robert H.

The procedures of this judge were somewhat mystifying. The alcalde kept few written records, ignored the jury system (for the most part), maintained few jails, and inflicted corporal punishment liberally. Since the American traveler failed to see the entire native judicial system at work, he spoke very contemptuously of his host's system of justice. Instead, the conquerors introduced their more costly, litigious system. 11 In spite of these differences, the American and Mexican judicial systems resembled each other in some ways.

It "is a five pointed star, [of] solid gold, set with a magnificent diamond in the center," this writer continued. It carried the inscription 'Sheriff of Navajo County' in black enamel.

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