LIttle is known about RPD history

By Linda Emley

A few weeks ago I got a call at the museum from Amy Sisson. Amy is a Richmond
police officer and she told me she was looking for information
on the history of the department.
She was working on a grant and needed to add some history. After we hung up, I went to look over our files and was shocked to find nothing. We have record of every sheriff that has ever served Ray County, but the police department was a totally different story.I’ve been collecting information
about the Ray County’s Sheriff’s Department for several years and the first sheriff was John Harris, who was in office from February 1821 to May 1822. He was appointed to the office and never elected. The next three sheriffs, William Miller,

The local jail, then called a calaboose, was at the corner of Thornton and Franklin streets, near the current location of Swafford Ford, the building at the far end of the street. (Submitted photo)

The local jail, then called a calaboose, was at the corner of Thornton and Franklin streets, near the current location of Swafford Ford, the building at the far end of the street. (Submitted photo)

Thomas Edwards and Adam Black, were also appointed. From that point on, our sheriffs
were elected unless one needed to be appointed due to a vacancy.I’m working on a story about the jails of Ray County and currently have located nine places were prisoners have been housed over the years. One of my favorites is the Ray County Museum, which has six jail cells in the basement. I’ve been told that they were used for hard-to-manage
people who lived at the poor farm and sometimes were also used for overflow from the local jail when they needed to house female prisoners
or juveniles. One of our cells has been converted into a kitchen for our community room, but we left some of the bars to add to uniqueness of our building. One of my winter projects is to convert another one of the cells into the history of Ray County law enforcement.
We currently have a uniform of Sheriff Don Swafford standing guard over this project and hope to be adding many more items soon.In addition to having a sheriff since 1821, Ray County has had a jail at least since 1829. Richmond had a city marshal and its jail was called a calaboose, but these didn’t come along until much later.I’m not really sure when the marshal became the police chief and the calaboose because a jail, but I’m trying to piece these together with what little details I can find. Here is what I do know. The 1911 City of Richmond Revised Ordinances gave me some information. Ordinance No. 25 states that “At the general election held on the first Tuesday in April, in the year nineteen hundred and eleven, and every two years thereafter, the qualified voters of the City of Richmond shall elect some suitable person as marshal of said city, who shall hold his office for two years. The marshal shall be chief of police and shall, at all time, have power to make or order an arrest, with proper process for any offense against the laws of this city, and bring the offender to trial before the police judge.” When this book was printed, W.E. Bales was the marshal and there were eight pages of duties for him and his officers. Some of his duties were to collect taxes on each dog in Richmond and feed dogs that had been impounded. If you interfered with the marshal while he was trying to collect, it was a misdemeanor
and you could be fined up to $15 or imprisoned in the city jail and work house for 30 days.So now we know that in 1911, Richmond had a jail and the calaboose
was history. The salary for a city policeman in 1911 was $540 a year and they got paid once a month.If we step back a few years to 1893, there was a calaboose located at Franklin and Thornton street in the Sanborn Insurance building. This was located where Swaffords Ford is today. I’ve been told that some of this old building is part of the building north of the show room and may date back to the 1860s. I hope to find more details on this.The 1880 Ray County History Book doesn’t mention a town marshal or police, but it does have a list of all the sheriffs. One more step backward finds us in the 1877 Ray County plat book. The city marshal is listed as E.J. Holman. Ephraim J. Holman died in 1882 at the age of 36. I have been unable to find why he died, but he has been added to my list of Richmond marshals.I called one of my state of Missouri friends who does a lot of research on Ray County court records and she located another piece to the Ephraim Holman puzzle. She found a document that Holman signed in 1875 where a defendant was being held in the city calaboose
or jail.I’ve added Guy Rogers, China Robison, and William Byers to my list of marshals. I need your help to fill in the other 175 years.Well, now everyone knows how much I don’t know about our city of Richmond Police Department. But I hope to change that as we piece together this story of the way it was in Richmond many years ago.If you have information about either the police or sheriff’s departments, or have a photo or other memorabilia to share with the museum, contact Linda at

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