Ray sheriffs have colorful history

By Linda Emley

A few months ago, I was asked by Sheriff Garry E. Bush to write a history of the Ray County Sheriff’s Department for a book to be published by Missouri Sheriffs’ Association. It was hard to summarize 194 years in 1,000 words or less. I gave them a list of the sheriffs who have served, two jail pictures and the following story. I can’t wait to see this book when it comes out in Fall 2014.

The first sheriff was John Harris, who was appointed in February 1821. Forty-five men have served as sheriff of Ray County in the past 194 years. Many of them have an interesting story to tell.

Adam Reyburn was sheriff when the Hughes and Wasson bank was robbed in 1867. His father-in-law, Berry G. Griffin, was the jailer who was murdered during the bank robbery. Deputy Frank Griffin, the sheriff’s brother-in-law, was also murdered. It’s a local legend that the James boys robbed the bank, but they were never tried or convicted. Two men were arrested and hung by a lynch mob before they went to trial. The full account of this robbery can be found in the 1881 Ray County history book.

Clayton Jacobs served as sheriff from November 1862 to May 1865. He was ousted for refusing to take the oath prescribed in the “Drake Constitution.” This happened to many county officials after the Civil War. He lived out his days as a farmer after he left his job as sheriff. He died in 1895 at age 82 and is buried in the Richmond City Cemetery.

Thomas McGinnis served from 1876 to 1880. He was born Sept. 26, 1827, in Kentucky and moved to Ray County in 1848. He was a school teacher and managed a farm in the Hardin bottoms. In 1854, he forded the Missouri River on horseback without getting wet, a short distance below Lexington and in sight of that town. The act was witnessed by about 30 people who stood on the riverbank. He was also a railroad conductor on the first railroad ever built in Missouri. It was a wooden rail track that ran to the Missouri River south of Richmond.

When the cyclone hit Richmond in 1878, McGinnis dealt with the destruction of Richmond and the welfare of his wife and children, who were injured. There were a few murders in Ray County while he was sheriff, so he experienced his share of Wild West tales during his term. McGinnis died Feb. 10, 1915. He was 88 years old.

McGinnis’s son, James, became the next sheriff. According to the 1881 Ray County history book, “James T. McGinnis was born June 12, 1857. He was deputy sheriff of Ray County for four years, during the incumbency of his father. In 1880, when he was 23 years old, he was elected sheriff of Ray County. He was the youngest sheriff Ray County ever had, and probably the youngest ever elected to this office in the state.”

James died in 1941. Per his obituary in the Richmond Missourian, “Judge McGinnis served over 20 years as justice of the peace in Richmond. He held the distinction of having been the youngest deputy sheriff to ever serve in Ray County and the youngest sheriff to be elected. He was 19 years old, in 1886, when he was appointed deputy under his father. Four years later, he was elected sheriff. He served four years as sheriff of Ray County, making one of the best sheriffs the county ever had, and never carried a gun.” James’ death certificate listed his occupation as a lawyer and bookkeeper, so he wore many hats in his years of service in Ray County.

Our current sheriff, Garry Bush, has been with the sheriff’s department for 27 years. Sheriff Gary Holloway first hired Bush as a deputy. Holloway 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 cars while working. Many of the cars over the years have been “Crown Vics,” which are also known as Ford Crown Victorias. Bush explained that Crown Vics are great cars to drive on gravel roads and that is mainly where his deputies travel.

This history would not be complete without a brief story about Ray County jails. There have been at least five county jails. The first jail was built around 1829 and was located on East North Main Street, one block east of the courthouse. It was used until the next jail was built in 1842. It was located on the east side of the courthouse lawn.

The next jail was built in 1892 at Franklin and College streets. It had an apartment where the sheriff and his family lived. J.R. Stockton was the last Ray County sheriff who actually lived in the jail. This jail was damaged by gunfire from FBI agents who were mistakenly shooting at a deputy sheriff, thinking he was a bootlegger. The front door of this jail was riddled with bullet holes. It was torn down in 1973 and a new jail was built in its place.

In 2007, Ray County purchased a privately operated jail and moved to the present location at 200 W. 9th Street in Henrietta.

Bush’s current staff consists of chief deputy Brian Bush, 11 deputies, one bailiff who works at the courthouse, a staff of jailers and office staff at the Henrietta location and Ray County Courthouse, along with a group of reserve deputies.

The Ray County Sheriff’s Department is active in many special programs throughout the year. One event is the Little Deputy Ceremony at Richmond’s Outlaw Days, scheduled for Sept. 6 this year. Outlaw Days is a reenactment of the 1867 bank robbery.

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