By Linda Emley
This story is near and dear to me because it reminds me of what my life might have been like if I had chosen a different path.
In 1979, I was 23, working a full-time job and going to night school. Deputy Bob, aka Robert Welker, rode with me to school.
Since I worked at the senior center, we teamed up and created a “Crime Prevention for the Elderly” program. We spoke to many groups around Ray County. Kansas City’s Mid-America Regional Council supplied literature and helped us create the program.
Looking back, I have to laugh because one of the things we did was help people engrave their social-security numbers on the back of their TVs, radios and small appliances. If any of these items was stolen, they couldn’t be resold because of SSN being engraved.
I felt like I was part of the deputy team because I spent many hours at the jail. Deputy Don Swafford was an old schoolmate of my parents’ and every time I walked in the jail he would say “Here comes little Betty Lou.”
One day some of the deputies were talking about going to Lee’s Summit to take the written test to be a Missouri Highway Patrolman. Before I knew it, I had taken the test and passed.
The next step was going to Jefferson City for the physical test. I bought new tennis shoes and set the date for my trip. A few days before my PT test, I had a life-altering event that changed my path.
A 12-year-old boy was stuck by a car and I had to go to the ER and identify him. It was hard telling his grandmother that it didn’t look like he was going to make it. The next day I called and canceled my Jefferson City trip because I knew I couldn’t be a member of the patrol. That is when I realized that it takes a very special person to serve and protect.
The best place to start the history of the Ray County Sheriff’s Department would be with the sheriff. The first Sheriff was John Harris, who was appointed in February 1821. I had originally thought that our current sheriff, Garry Bush, was sheriff No. 45, but after interviewing him I found out that I missed one. He said that my friend, Deputy Bob, was sheriff for 30 days because he was the chief deputy when Don Swafford died and served until they had a special election. So our official sheriff total is 46 men in 192 years.
Looking back over our history, one of our more famous sheriffs was Adam Reyburn, who was sheriff when the Hughes and Wasson Bank was robbed in 1867.
Adam was married to Permelia Griffin, who was the daughter of Berry G. Griffin. So Sheriff Reyburn’s father-in-law was the murdered jailer, Berry G. Griffin, and that also makes the murdered deputy, Frank Griffin, the sheriff’s brother-in-law.
Thomas McGinnis was sheriff of Ray County when the cyclone hit in 1878 and he had to deal with all the destruction and the welfare of his own family members who were hurt.
McGinnis was living in Ray County in 1867 when Deputy Griffin was shot in the bank robbery, so he was always thinking in the back of his mind that there could be another one.
There were a few murders in Ray County while he was sheriff, so he experienced his share of Wild West tales during his four years as sheriff. His son James became the youngest sheriff in Missouri when he took over the reins from his father in 1880. James had served as deputy during his father’s reign.
Ray County Sheriff No. 16 was Clayton Jacobs. He served from November 1862 to May 1865 and was ousted for refusing to take the oath prescribed in the Drake Constitution.This happened to many county officials after the Civil War.
Clayton was born in Kentucky, so he had Southern roots. He was a carpenter before he was the sheriff and he managed just fine as a farmer after he left his job as Sheriff. He died in 1895 at the age of 82 and is buried in the Richmond City Cemetery. He and his wife Mary had nine children. He was replaced by A.K. Rayburn.
I’m still sorting through the list of sheriffs from the good-old-days and promise to share more stories later.
Now it’s time to fast forward and share a few fun facts from our generation. I stopped by Mike Harrison’s shop to check on getting my car fixed on and ran into Garry Bush and Tom Clemens. Garry, Mike and I all went to school together and Tom went to school with my son Travis. I knew that Tom’s dad was sheriff at one time so I thought this would be a good time to ask lots of questions since we had a variety of Richmondites together in one place.
Garry Bush has been with the Sheriff’s Department for 26 years. Gary Holloway was the sheriff who first hired him as a deputy. Soon after Holloway became sheriff, he bought the first official Ray County patrol cars and the county paid him back. Prior to this, all deputies had to use their own personal car while working.
Most of the cars over the years have been “Crown Vics” – also known as Ford Crown Victorias. Being raised in a MOPAR (Chrysler Motor Co.) home, I asked what was wrong with using a good MOPAR car. Everyone laughed at my question so I assume it was a bad idea to suggest such a crazy idea. Garry explained that Crown Vics are great cars to drive on gravel roads and that is mainly where our deputies travel.
Garry gave me the breakdown on his current staff. His chief deputy is Brian Bush and there are 11 deputy slots, a baliff who works at the courthouse and jailers who oversee prisoners at the jail.
The annual sheriff’s department calendar is always a favorite of many Ray Countians. We even have one hanging in our library at the museum.
Tom Clemens told me that he was hired on as a jailer by Gary Holloway on his 18th birthday. He later worked in some other counties as a deputy.
Tom grew up in the business because his father was a deputy who later became sheriff. I asked him what it was like being a sheriff’s son and he said that is was tough sometimes because every time he got pulled over his father was notified. But on the other hand, you still had connections.
Mike Harrison and I both listened to their stories because we were usually the ones that were getting pulled over for driving too fast. I think 1983 was my worst year since I remember spending too many days at the courthouse paying for tickets.
The first sheriff I remember was J.R. Stockton. No one ever called him by his real name, Jean Ross. He had the nickname of “Shorty” Stockton but I’m not sure if he liked people to call him that. After J.R. died, his chief deputy, Don Swafford, became the new sheriff. His nickname was Hoss. He died at the age of 57 and that is where my friend Deputy Bob got his 30 days of sheriff’s fame.
A special election was held and several people threw their hats in the ring to be the next sheriff, but Tom Harmon was the last man standing. He was followed by Gary Holloway and then Sam Clemens. This brings us up to our current sheriff Garry Bush that was elected sheriff in 2012.
J.R. Stockton was the last Ray County Sheriff who actually lived in the jail. When the first jail on the corner of Franklin and College streets was built in 1892, it had an apartment where the sheriff and his family lived. This building was torn down in 1973 and the next building at this location didn’t have an apartment.
Cookie Rone Creason told me that she spent many nights at the jail growing up because her best friend was J.R.’s daughter, Debbie Stockton. She said that if the girls didn’t go out bowling or to the drive-in they would stay at the jail and play canasta with J.R. There was no better canasta player than Shorty Stockton.
The jail in this picture was built in 1892 and torn down in 1973. After it was removed, the next jail was built on the same location at Franklin and College. The caption with the photo says the jail was damaged by gunfire when FBI agents mistakenly shot at a deputy sheriff because they thought he was a bootlegger. The front door of the jail was riddled with bullet holes.
Coming up next is the story about all the locations in Ray County where prisoners were housed over the past 192 years. I have been working on this story for several years and I think it is finally time to get it done and file this chapter away. I’ve spent many long nights reading over the old newspapers looking for clues to this puzzle and I’m 100 percent sure I haven’t found them all but I have identified eight different locations.
Have a jail or law-enforcement story for Linda? See her at Ray County Museum or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.