Lancaster County Sheriff’s Department
March 1, 1867: Nebraska became the 37th State in the Union. At this time the west boundary of Lincoln County extended into eastern Colorado and Wyoming.
October 8, 1867: O. O. Austin became the first Sheriff to be certified by an election. He received twenty one votes and was also the tax assessor.
At the close of 1868 North Platte was anything but a moral town; law and order were the rare exception. It had no jail and for this reason crime was often unpunished, but when occasional arrests were made, culprits were either kept in the guardhouse at the North Platte Army Post, sent to Fort McPherson near Maxwell, or elsewhere for safe keeping. Prisoners were expensive as will be seen by an extract from the county records.
October 16, 1868: At a meeting of the Commissioners it was ordered to pay a claim from the Union Pacific Railroad Company for transporting prisoners to Fremont for a total sum of $128.50.
October 5, 1868: County Board ordered that bids be received by the County Clerk to build a County Jail in the County of Lincoln. It was said that the jail would be divided into two rooms, which were twelve square feet. Bids for larger or smaller rooms will be considered.
October 17, 1868: A contract was entered into with W.S. Peniston in accordance with his bid to build a county jail. On January 16, 1869 it was ordered that he receive the sum of $2,500.00 for building the jail and furnishing cots. It was ordered that the deed of W.S. Peniston and Miller for the west half of Lot #3 Block 103 in the town of North Platte, upon which the jail of Lincoln County stands, be received.
The low-roofed, rough log cabin designated “The Jail” stood on Front Street just west of the depot, with its small barred windows and heavy door.
This, the county’s pioneer jail, held many bold, bad men as prisoners. Cattle thieves, horse thieves, murderers, assassins, criminals of all grades and degrees, and upon at least two occasions was assailed by an angry mob of lynchers. One sheriff stood in the doorway, revolver in hand, in front of an excited mob wishing to wreak vengeance on a prisoner, declaring in defiant tones that any who crossed the threshold of the jail would do so over his dead body. All knew that he would make good his word. It was a poor structure as it had no foundation and several prisoners dug their way to freedom by night.
The records of Lincoln County have numerous items mentioning a bill allowed for guarding the jail. One such bill reads thus: “allowed T. Redmond for watching jail for month of December, 1871, $60.00. “January 24, 1868: The claim of Dodge County, Nebraska for keeping and trying John Burly for the crime of murder: the sum of $416.14.”
December 1, 1871: William Woodhurst was elected Sheriff. On April 6, 1868 he became the first Sheriff to be bonded in Lincoln County.