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The Office of Sheriff and Its History

The Office of Sheriff for Grimes County, Texas was established in 1846.  To date, there have been 36 men and 1 woman who have worn the badge of this office.  

The current Sheriff of Grimes County is Donald G. Sowell.  Sheriff Sowell was appointed by Commissioner’s Court on September 10, 1998.  In 2000, Sheriff Sowell was elected by the citizens of Grimes County.  He was re-elected in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020.

Click here for a complete listing of all Grimes County Sheriffs

A message from Sheriff Sowell:

"Wearing the badge of Sheriff and having the opportunity to serve the citizens of the county where I grew up, is the greatest honor of my law enforcement career.  It has always been my objective to promote honest, efficient and courteous law enforcement and public service to citizens and to preserve the integrity and legacy of the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office.

I find it honorable and fitting that the Office of Sheriff reflects the proud history and traditions of Grimes County.  The men and woman, who have worn the badge of Sheriff, not only helped guide Grimes County through the past but provided direction for the future.  

As Sheriff, I have done all I can to preserve the history of the Sheriff’s Office and also the public servants who wore the Sheriff’s badge before me.  I have always enjoyed history and believe in the importance of preserving it for future generations.

You can browse this section of the website to learn about the history of the Office of Sheriff, the duties and responsibilities of a Sheriff, the individuals who have served as Grimes County Sheriff and the badge that is the symbol of the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office.

I invite anyone visiting the Anderson area to visit the Grimes County Law Enforcement Center.  There are historical artifacts and photographs showcased in the lobby and available for viewing by the public.  I also encourage anyone, who has photos or historical information about a Grimes County Sheriff or the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office, to share it with us.  Your contribution will be added to the displayed collection.”

Sheriff Don Sowell

1. Duties and Responsibilities
2. The Origin and History of the Office of Sheriff
3. The Sheriff in Texas History
4. The Sheriff in Grimes County History
5. The Badge of the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office

1. Duties and Responsibilities
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The Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county, having jurisdiction regardless of incorporated city boundaries or county precinct lines. There is almost always an informal agreement that local law enforcement authorities provide service in their jurisdictions and the Sheriff will and shall assist and support them when summoned.

The Sheriff is the keeper of the jail and must ensure the security and safety of each person incarcerated. The Sheriff is responsible for the security of the courthouse and courtroom and coordinates transferring prisoners for scheduled court appearances. The Sheriff provides a bailiff service to the court often in conjunction with the Office of Constable. Additionally, the Sheriff provides for patrol services, investigative services, civil process services and 9-1-1 communication centers.

During elections, the Sheriff monitors both the delivery and receipt of voting boxes by election officials. The Sheriff keeps order during the election process when irregularities or disputes are reported. This duty ensures a fair, orderly and impartial election.

2. The Origin and History of the Office of Sheriff
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The Office of Sheriff is one of antiquity dating back more than 1000 years. With the exception of king, no non-religious office in the English-speaking world is older.  It is the oldest law enforcement office known within the common-law system and it has always been accorded great dignity and high trust.

The origin of the Office of Sheriff began in Old England in the seventh century (871-879), during the reign of Alfred the Great in the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex. King Alfred created “scirs”, which were geographic divisions of people and villages. He appointed managers of each area and called them "reeves". By 1018, the word scir had been replaced by the word shire. It is from the combined words shire and reeve that the title “sheriff” evolved. 

Series of kings in ancient England used the sheriff to keep order, operate the jail, serve civil process for the court and collect taxes. The term “high sheriff” is an archaic or ancient title that is over a thousand years old and of Saxon England origin. The term “high sheriff” is still commonly used as a term of respect towards an individual sheriff.  The Shrievalty Association of England celebrated the millennium of the Office of Sheriff in 1992. 

In 1607, the colonies in America brought with them many forms of English government and customs. The Office of Sheriff was established in 1651 by Virginia Proclamation. William Waters became the first elected Sheriff in America in North Hampton County, Virginia. As other colonies were created, the Office of Sheriff continued to grow.

During the development of the United States and the westward movement, the sheriff played an important role, establishing themselves as America’s peace keeper. The idea of sheriffs and law enforcement officers being peace keepers is still prevalent today.

The “posse commitatus” is a concept from the time period of the westward movement, which described how an American Sheriff (much like his English predecessors) could lawfully summon and appoint citizens to assist and aide him in the fulfillment of the duties of the Office of Sheriff.

Many notable figures held the Office of Sheriff during the westward movement including: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, “Wild Bill” Hickok and Bill Tilghman.  In 1871, President Grover Cleveland was elected Sheriff of Erie County, New York.  Cleveland personally carried out two hangings of convicted murderers during his tenure as Sheriff.  President Theodore Roosevelt served as a Deputy Sheriff in the Dakota Territory in 1886. He would later serve as Police Commissioner in New York City.

The modern American sheriff now serves in over 3100 Unites States counties. Alaska and Hawaii do not have sheriffs. Rhode Island does not have elected sheriffs. Instead, a sheriff is appointed by the Governor of Rhode Island to serve 10 years. There are 30 independent cities in the country which, also elect sheriffs.

The importance of the Office of Sheriff was expressed by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in his The Value of Constitutions, “The Office of Sheriff is the most important of all the executive offices of the county.”  President Ronald Reagan stressed this theme of importance in his address to the National Sheriffs Association in June 1984. He said, “Thank you for standing up for this nation’s dream of personal freedom under the rule of law. Thank you for standing against those who would transform that dream into a nightmare of wrongdoing and lawlessness. And thank you for your service to your communities, to your country and to the cause of law and justice.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson also commented in regards to the role of law enforcement public servants, “The never ending quest for an orderly, secure but open and free society, always demands dedicated people. The man that keeps on coming on is either going to get there himself or make it possible for a later man to reach that goal. Texas lawmen are just such men.”

3. The Sheriff in Texas History Back to Top of Page

In May of 1823, Stephen F. Austin created the Texas Rangers by commissioning 10 men to range or patrol the troubled areas of the colony and protect the colonists from Indian raids. A few months later, Austin commissioned ten more men. In November of 1835, the Texas Provisional Government approved the first official corps of the Texas Rangers.

Stephen F. Austin first introduced the Office of Sheriff to Texas on the 22nd of January 1824, by decree in a document titled Instructions and Regulations for the Alcade.  The word “alcade” is a direct descendent of the Spanish and Mexican word “alquacil”, which means the chief officer responsible for the enforcement of criminal and civil law, who also sets up the fees for that service.

In 1836, the Office of Sheriff in Texas was created by the Texas Constitution under Article 4, Section 12. During this period of the Texas Republic, sheriffs were elected to two year terms of office. The sheriff served as a peace keeper, keeper of the jail and tax collector.

In 1837, the first constitutionally authorized sheriff in Texas was appointed in Nacogdoches County.  David Rusk, a San Jacinto battle veteran, served in the position. David Rusk was elected in 1839 and re-elected in 1841-1843, and 1845-1846.

When Texas was admitted into the Union in 1845, the Texas Constitution under Article 5, Section 23, provided that qualified voters of each county shall elect one sheriff in the general election for a term of two years.

In November of 1954, the Texas Constitution was amended increasing the term of service to four years. Texas law further dictated any vacancy in office shall be filled by an appointment of the Commissioner’s Court until the next general election.

4. The Sheriff in Grimes County History
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Grimes County was created by the Texas Legislature in 1846. The area had originally been part of Montgomery County. The new county was named after Jesse Grimes, who was an original signer of the Declaration of Independence. He had also served as a State Senator for Montgomery County. Jesse Grimes’ son, Albert Calvin Grimes, was killed in the Battle of the Alamo. The county therefore bears its name honoring two Texas heroes.

Anderson is the county seat for Grimes County and has been the site of four jails. The early settlers of Anderson called the area the "Little Rome of Texas". This nickname was a reference to Anderson having been built on top of seven hills just as the Eternal City of Rome had been.

In 1846, Guilford M. Mooring was appointed the first sheriff of Grimes County. Since then, 36 men and 1 woman have served in the Office of Sheriff for Grimes County. Of the individuals who have served in the position, R.M. Hudson, who took office in 1925, may have had the most distinguished service record. Sheriff Hudson was a military veteran having served in the Spanish American War and a former Texas Ranger.

In May 1888, Sheriff G. L. Scott conducted the only execution by hanging in Grimes County history. The accused in the case, William H. Roe, had been convicted the previous month of poisoning his wife while living in Walker County. Due to a change of venue, the trial and ultimately the execution were carried out in Grimes County.

In October 1972, Frances Johnson became the first female to ever hold the Office of Sheriff in Grimes County. Mrs. Johnson was appointed to the position following the death of her husband Sheriff Dick Johnson.

In 1998, Sheriff William “Bill” Foster left office as the individual holding the Office of Sheriff in Grimes County for the longest period of time. Sheriff Foster was just two months shy of an even 20 years.

5. The Badge of the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office Back to Top of Page

The badge of the Grimes County Sheriff’s Office is the symbol of the office and reflects the history of Grimes County and the State of Texas.

The early settlers referred to Anderson as the “Rome of Texas” because, like Rome, Italy, it was also built upon seven hills. This is mentioned in the Saga of Anderson authored by Ms. Irene Taylor in 1957, as well as, in the History of Grimes County, Texas--Heritage and Progress, 1982. Both books refer to the courthouse being built on one of the seven hills and as the symbol of the county seat and government.

The seven points of the badge represent the seven hills of Anderson that the city and the county seat were built upon. The inner circle and star symbolize early five point star badges carved from “cinco peso” coins and worn by many early marshals, sheriffs and Texas Rangers. In its center is the seal of the State of Texas. Engraved on the badge is “Est. 1846” when the county was formed.