The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office celebrated its 150th Anniversary with an open house on Nov. 5.
Participants were treated to a display of vintage sheriff’s uniforms and law enforcement memorabilia documenting the agency’s history in Johnson County as well as tours of the administration office and jail.
Perhaps one of the more interesting artifacts on display was a 1931 jail calendar book preserved in a glass display case.
According to the log, one inmate was booked into the county jail for hopping trains.
Another was sentenced to one to five years in prison for “chicken stealing.”
“Now we would consider that misdemeanor theft,” said Tom Erickson, public information officer.
Johnson County was established in 1855, and Ben Johnson was appointed the first territorial sheriff that same year.
Sheriff Frank Denning, said during a presentation on the department’s history, that primary concerns of early Johnson County sheriffs included “maintaining our portions of the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails, cattle theft, and keeping the peace between abolitionist and pro-slavery efforts. My how that has changed.”
Denning, the 27th sheriff in the department’s history, said early sheriffs often held down full time jobs such as farmers, blacksmiths and carpenters, in addition to their law enforcement duties..
The first elected Johnson County Sheriff was John James.
Denning said history remembers him as a “heavy, powerful man with a reputation for his firey temper.”
James was a blacksmith who had a shop at 200 S. Cherry St. in Olathe.
Denning regaled the audience with a story about the time a neighboring wagon making shop owner decided to play a practical joke on James by sneaking up on him and squirting water onto his red hot anvil.
“The sheriff was not amused and without batting an eye, turned and hurled his hammer at (the wagonmaker), just missing the misfortanate wagonmaker by inches,” he said. “Could you imagine that headline today? That might be his last day in office, it would definately be his first day in jail.”
Denning said that Johnson County Sheriffs have endured “mobs, riots, hangings, murders and unrest between times of peace and tranquility.”
For example, E.G. Carroll was sheriff in 1916 when he arrested Burt Dudley following the brutal murder of a local farmer and his wife.
Dudley later confessed to the crime and was convicted in the double murder.
The night before Dudley was to be taken to prison in Lansing, a mob broke into the jail, overpowered the sheriff, and kidnapped Dudley.
He was taken to Ridgeview and Wabash roads in Olathe where he was hanged and shot.
“Sheriff Carroll investigated the hanging and athough he knew who was involved, no one he questioned would give him any information about who may have witnessed the crime.
“To this day, no one has ever been charged.”
It was likely Carroll’s last day on the job. According to Kansas statute, Denning said, “If a sheriff loses a prisoner, he loses his office.”
Denning, who was first hired as a deputy for the sheriff’s office in 1978, also paid tribute to longtime Sheriff Fred Allenbrand, whom he called “the most reverred and honored” sheriff in the department’s history.
“To me, (Allenbrand) was more than a sheriff,” Denning said. “He was a mentor for many of us here. He was a role model.”
Allenbrand ran for sheriff in 1967 on the platform of “professionalism, pure and simple.”
“And I think we’re living that legacy,” Denning said.
Allenbrand retired in 2001 after serving 34 years as sheriff.
“Among his many accomplishments was the establishment of a criminalistics lab, narcotics unit and the construction of two jails,” Denning said.
Denning said despite its historical significance, the 150th anniversary is also a celebration of the future.
“We are looking foward to another 150 years of the highest quality law enforcement for the residents of Johnson County,” he said.