Justice was working before we had sheriff, jail

It’s easy to guess that we’ll always be affected by crime to some degree in Kandiyohi County. That’s just human nature — and it’ll run the gamut from someone picking pockets to major crimes involving deaths. This is not said as a criticism of our law enforcement people. They’re doing their work 24/7, and deserve the thanks, respect, appreciation and cooperation of all the people of Kandiyohi County who live on the side of the law.

Crime came here just ahead of settlement, so it has been a part of the area’s growth and development for nearly a century and a half.

Before we had law officers and judges, and courts and jails, justice was working to make this county a good place in which to live.

Looking back on how they worked to achieve their goals, their accomplishments were very effective and spoke loudly of groups of people, in all parts of the county, who worked hard to maintain liberty and justice for all.

For example, a man who lived in the northeast part of the county was charged with cattle theft. The area’s self-appointed committee of judges investigated the matter and ordered him to be out of the county within 24 hours, never to return. He was.

That’s the way most cases went. Guilty pleas or findings by the “court” meant a fast trip to anywhere else or staying there making candles.

A man was sentenced to a year in prison. There was no prison so the Sheriff took the man under his wing and housed him in his own (the sheriff ’s) home. For months the prisoner shared meals with the Sperrys. That routine grew onerous to the Sperrys, and they were hoping against hope that their guest would go away. One day they left the key to the house lying on the dining room table while they would be gone. The prisoner was nobody’s fool. He saw the key, took the hint and to this day nothing has been heard from him.

In another case which took place shortly after the first real county jail was built in Willmar, there was a real, genuine jail break. In those days building a home for the Sherriff and his family was a part of jail building. In those instances the Sheriff ’s wife fed the prisoners along with her family.

The jail break we’re talking about here came about when two of the prisoners spotted the jail keys lying on the floor. They picked up the keys and walked out the door. It so happened that they were not familiar with Willmar so they just started walking west. They were disappointed when they reached the west edge of town and found only a wide open prairie.

That just wouldn’t do for an escape, so they started walking northward but were daunted by the woods they found there.

Giving up at last they walked back to the jail, arriving in time for lunch and for the Sheriff to put his keys where they belonged.