Iowa Sheriff's and Deputies, A Commemorative History

By Edward Harskamp, 2002

In 1871, Osceola County was organized.  Prior to this, it was the Northern part of Woodbury County.  Frank Stiles was the first Sheriff of Osceola County.  The Auditor’s Office determined by lot who was going to be Sheriff.  Frank Stiles won over T.J. Cutshall. 

John H. Douglass was the first elected Sheriff in 1873.  His wages were set at $16.65 per month.  There have been fifteen Sheriffs since 1871 in Osceola County.  The first term of circuit court was held in 1873.

In 1875, Sheriff Douglass tracked down William Gates, a notorious horse thief and supposed leader of a large band, which operated in Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakota’s.  William Gates was apprehended near Canton, South Dakota by Sheriff Douglass and brought back to Sibley.  They stayed in the Sibley hotel that night, as there was no jail.  The next morning they boarded the northbound train to Blue Earth City, Minnesota, where he was tried.  There was an $800 reward offered by the State of Iowa for Gates capture and a $200 reward offered by the State of Minnesota. 

In 1876, the first jail was built.  It was a two-story building so that the jailer could live on the upper floor.  The County received a bid of $279 for the old structure after the new building was completed.  The cost of the new was $2,800 and $3,200 for the Sheriff’s residence.

June 1903 marked the completion of the Courthouse, Sheriff’s residence and Jail.  The Sheriff’s residence and Jail was one building, built behind the Courthouse.  The outside of the structure is basically the same today as it was in 1903.  The residence and Jail are both still in use.  Sheriff Robert Rolfes and his family were the last to live in the house.

Living in a house that has a five-foot hallway separating the downstairs cell from the Sheriff’s kitchen, and another separating the upstairs cell from the Sheriff’s bedroom, is a different way of life.  The Sheriff and his wife, Sylvia, raised three girls and a boy in this situation.  They have very little privacy being so close to the jail and the Sheriff’s office.  The Sheriff’s wife serves the prisoners their meals three times a day, and has done this since 1972.  This makes the Sheriff readily available at all times, and is one of the last “mom and pop” operations in the state of Iowa.  Sheriff Rolfes likes this kind of arrangement, even though it has some disadvantages, one of which is that he is unable to get away from the job.

The first murder took place in Osceola County in 1903.  It was solved in 1904.  Fred F. Hokuf confessed to killing Peter Johnson, a farmer, southeast of Melvin.  Hokuf was going to work for Johnson, but they got into an argument over wages before Hokuf started to work.  He picked up a piece of iron about two and a half feet long and two inches wide and used this to strike Johnson on the head.  Hokuf then buried Johnson in the horse barn.

In January 1904, the Board of Supervisors offered a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the Johnson murderer.  That reward sparked real action.  O.B. Harding an old resident of Osceola County, who since moved to Sioux City, and W.D. Davenport, and ex-Chief of Police for Sioux City, started following up different clues.  In June 1904, Hokuf was arrested and bond was set at $10,000.  It was after Hokuf’s arrest that Johnson’s body was found in the barn.  Hokuf was despondent over his arrest and later hung himself in jail.  There have been only three recorded murders in Osceola County since the County was organized.

In the mid-1920’s, two Melvin farmers were arrested for manufacturing and selling moonshine.  Sheriff Lowry and two prohibition agents raided the two farms.  They confiscated a twenty gallon still and seven or eight gallons of “joy water” on one place, and two or three gallons on the other place along with a hundred gallons of mash.  The still was a large one, made of copper and fitted with a nickel-plated bathroom floor clean-out plug at the top to which a large cooling coil was attached.  Bond was set at $750 for Frank Glaser, a bachelor farmer, and a $500 bond on Henry Grieser, also a bachelor farmer.

From January 1, 1921 up to July 1928, the Osceola County Sheriff sold a total of 22,890 acres of land.  This is nearly a tenth of the total acreage of Osceola County.  The Sheriff conducted 166 Sheriff sales, and the total amount bid on all sales was $1,486,535.30.  This reflects the period of deflation and depression this area suffered. 

In May of 1933, the County Board of Supervisors bought a Thompson sub-machine gun for the Sheriff’s Department.  It was capable of firing 800 shells per minute, and the purchase price was $200.  It was the County Board’s desire to have the peace officers more adequately prepared for any possible emergency.  This gun is on display in the Sheriff’s office.  In 1949, the Sheriff’s Department installed a two-way radio.  A shortwave radio to monitor Worthington, Minnesota was added to the radio in 1952.  This set-up was used until 1955, when Sheriff Scheu got the approval from the County Supervisors to purchase a new police radio system for $2,000.  The system consisted of a base, two remote controls and a mobile unit.  It had three fixed frequencies: Storm Lake, Worthington, and the Sheriff’s.

The Sheriff’s Office was located in the northeast corner of the Courthouse on the third floor across from the courtroom.  This was used until 1974, when a new Sheriff’s office was constructed, attached to the southwest corner of the residence.  In 1981, an addition was added to the Sheriff’s office, consisting of two new cells, a processing room, recreation room, and a visitor’s room.  It also includes a full basement.  This had two rooms which can be converted to cells.  It also contains our shooting range.  Our facility can hold up to thirteen people, and is capable of holding juveniles, one of the few in northwest Iowa certified for juvenile detention.

The Sheriff and the Deputies used their own vehicles for patrol and were reimbursed from the County for mileage until 1975, when the County bought patrol cars for the department.

Prior to 1976, the Sheriff and his wife took all the calls for the Department.  If they had to leave, they would switch the phones over to a Deputy’s house for the Deputy or the Deputy’s wife to answer.

In 1974, Osceola County went to contract law, taking over the law enforcement of all the towns in the County.  We have Deputies living in the towns Sibley, Ashton, Melvin, and Ocheyedan.  Osceola County was one of the first in the State of Iowa to go 100% contract.  Sheriff Rolfes assisted other counties in the state with similar set-ups, which were modeled after ours.

The work force went from three Deputies to seven Deputies in addition to the Sheriff.  In 1977, our office installed the County’s first Teletype, and went to a twenty-four hour dispatch system.  Sheriff Rolfes is also the administrator for the Osceola County Ambulance Service.  There are two ambulances housed at our facility in Sibley, one in Ocheyedan, one in Melvin and a rescue unit in Ashton. 

This article was written by:

Edward Harskamp

(Osceola County Sheriff from 1997 to 2005)

Article featured in the book:

Osceola County Courthouse

100 Years of Service

1902 to 2002


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