Sun 6th March 2011, 2:51am
QUOTE(Kelly Martin @ Sat 5th March 2011, 5:02pm)
QUOTE(Milton Roe @ Sat 5th March 2011, 5:14pm)
Trivia: we might note in passing that the very idea of "town sheriff" is an oxymoron. Sheriffs and their deputies (at least for the past few centuries) are in charge of law enforcement at the county level, never town level. Which means alongside city-cops inside cities and towns, and alongside state troopers on state and federal highways, but "by themselves" primarily off-highway in the unincorporated county BETWEEN towns and cities.
The word they really wanted here, was "marshal." Which was once employed both at the town and federal state and territorial level. I guess they wanted the Old West feel of "sheriff," but forgot that in the old west, sheriff also was a county position, even though of course the sheriff always had his offices in some town (nobody expected him to live out in the sagebrush, even if he often worked there). Usually the sheriff had offices in the county seat (or territorial seat if it was a territory) and his deputies in other major cities of the county.
Indeed, the term "sheriff" is itself a corruption of "shire reeve", where a "shire" is an ancient unit of government in England roughly comparable to what we in the US call a county (why we call them "counties" and not "shires" here is itself a long and convoluted story), and a "reeve" is a generic term for an official. The term itself predates the Norman conquest of England and came to the United States loaded with literally centuries of cultural and legal baggage, none of which I suspect was known to the proposers of this notion even though Wikipedia has half-way decent coverage of it in its articles on "sheriff", "shire", "county", and "reeve".
Sheriffs often provided law enforcement in the small Western towns of the US in the 19th century for the simple reason that either (a) those hamlets had not formally incorporated and thus had no authority to employ a marshal or (b) the town was too poor to, or simply unwilling to, employ a marshal. The sheriff's duty to enforce the law throughout the county which is his charge is not ordinarily abated in incorporated places within the county.
Appears you missed my riff on be-reeve-ment above.
But yes, some towns in the US were too small to pay for their own marshal or constable and had to rely on the nearest sheriff. But nobody ever called that guy a "town sheriff". That phrase requires a tin ear for history. It has the sound of one of those words that comes out of dime novels like "riding shotgun" or "gunslinger" that were made up by writers a long time later, but never used by people living in the place and period in question. Can you imagine Marshal Dillon saying: "Yo, homie. What up?"
Did you know that villain has the same root as village? And even ultimately, villa? The idea is basically a peasant or serf who worked around the lord's villa, but didn't own the villa or any land, and thus was not likely to be "chivalrous." In other words, (see root of chivalry) did not have a high horse to get up on. It's pretty much the same idea as editor/peon vs administrator/noble.
Wikipedia has a good article on the etymology. Wonder if it was written by an admin?