The first white settlement on what is now the soil of Warren County Missouri was made by French trappers at the mouth of Charrette creek several miles east of the present town of Marthasville. This settlement is said to have been made about the year 1763. Later in 1795 the renowned Kentucky hunter, frontiersman, and Indian fighter Daniel Boone and his son-in-law Flanders Callaway established a fort several miles west of Marthasville. Southern Warren County was home to Daniel Boone and his family for almost a quarter of a century.
On January 5, 1833 the Missouri Legislature declared a specific portion of Montgomery County should be a separate county to be known as Warren County in honor of General Joseph Warren, a Revolutionary War General. Warren County’s location enabled it to witness much of the great western migration of trappers, traders, explorers, and pioneers.
On May 3, 1833 the first session of the Warren County Court was held in the home of Mordecai Morgan. On this day the first Sheriff of Warren County, Absolom Hays, was appointed by the court and received his oath of office. The first indictment returned by the Circuit Court was against George W. Wentz who was charged with stealing corn valued at twelve and one-half cents. Wentz was tried, found guilty, and sentenced by the Court on September 6, 1833 to receive one stripe on the bare back and to stand in the pillory for two minutes.
In addition to his duties as Sheriff, Absolom Hays was also the County Collector. In many cases it was his custom to pay the taxes of people with whom he was well acquainted, and collect the money when his friends came into town. One Joe Dyer strode into the office one day, and inquired what amount was assessed against him. Hays told him, “two dollars and a bit.” Dyer demurred to paying it, claiming the amount was excessive. Hays informed him that he had paid the amount, the debt thus becoming a personal matter between the parties. Dyer showed no disposition to liquidate, and the sheriff made it a practice to dun him every time he saw him. The two men met one day and as the result of a heated discussion, the sheriff, who was a cripple and walked with a cane, resented some remark of Dyer’s by striking him over the head. Friends rushed in and quieted the fracas. The next day Hays again asked Dyer to settle his debt. Dyer inquired the amount and the sheriff told him, “one dollar and a bit.” Dyer asked how that was possible as it was two dollars and a bit on the previous day. The sheriff replied, “Well, yesterday I gave you a receipt for one dollar, and if you will turn your head my way, I’ll soon give you one in full.” He made a dash for Dyer, struck him over the head, saying, “Now you don’t owe me a cent.” Hays was perfectly cool and afterwards positively declined to receive any money on the debt, claiming that he had been fully paid in the manner related.
Warren County’s first courthouse was built in 1838 and cost $2,600. It was said to have been the grandest building in northern Missouri. Some citizens criticized the judges for their extravagance in having erected such an expensive building when there was no apparent use for it. They were no doubt thinking of the courthouse built about 1827 when this area was still a part of Montgomery County. Amos Kibbe erected a log courthouse and jail for the County. The courthouse was 16’x16′, floored with puncheons, and the clapboard roof was held on by weight poles. History relates that between sessions of the court that Mr. Kibbe used the courthouse for a sheep stable. Care was always taken, however, to drive the sheep out and sweep the floor before each session of the court. The original courthouse was razed in 1869 to allow construction of a larger building with a jail in the basement.
The second courthouse was constructed in 1870 for a total cost of $40,000. In 1908 a sheriff’s office and jail was constructed on the northwest corner of courthouse square. The main floor consisted of both living quarters for the Sheriff and his family, and office space. The second floor housed a twelve bed jail. Both the courthouse and jail were operational until 1995 when they were razed to clear courthouse square for the construction of a 6.5 million dollar combined courthouse and justice center complex that opened in late 1997.
The early Sheriff’s of Warren County often faced violent and harsh situations alone as they were the solitary lawman for the entire county. During the election of 1842 Sheriff Absolom Hays was opposed by a Mr. McKinney, who was several years younger and considered wealthy. During a heated campaign, the rival candidates met at a political meeting and barbecue. Verbal fighting soon became fist fighting. Mr. Hays was a cripple and hardly a match for the younger opponent. McKinney, to humiliate the sheriff, used an old-fashioned cowhide whip and unmercifully cut up the officer. A warrant was immediately issued for McKinney’s arrest. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to pay a fine of one-hundred dollars. After payment, he in turn felt humiliated, sold his property, moved away and never returned.
On September 23, 1879 Sheriff Sam Cook squared off against an angry mob on the steps of the courthouse in Warrenton. George Lee was being held without bail for shooting and killing the local blacksmith John Hartgen during a quarrel in the saloon. Armed with his pistols Sheriff Cook kept the masked lynch mob at bay and kept them from seizing and lynching his prisoner. They eventually dispersed with the Sheriff’s promise that the prisoner would have a speedy trial.
While the people of Warren County have always been peace-loving and law-abiding, the county has not been entirely free from crime. The first recorded murder was on September 22, 1851 when Mrs. Callahan was murdered at her residence by a slave. The slave was immediately arrested, tried, and hanged on November 14, 1851. The most violent criminals of Warren County paid the ultimate penalty for their crimes swinging from the gallows on courthouse square in Warrenton.
Since its humble beginning over one-hundred-and-eighty-six years ago when the Warren County Sheriff’s Department consisted of a single appointed Sheriff working alone, the agency now employs sixty-eight people working full time in the various divisions of patrol, detective bureau, records, court services, and corrections. The Sheriff’s Department is housed in the Courthouse facility constructed in 1997, that includes a one-hundred and fifty-six bed jail. Present day Warren County is a semi-rural agricultural community spanning 431 square miles, located just west of St. Charles County and the St. Louis Metropolitan area. According to census data Warren County is one of the fastest growing counties in Missouri. While urban sprawl is rapidly changing the demographics of our population the Sheriff’s Department is determined to maintain the small town community values of trust, accountability, and neighbors looking out for each other.
A History of Northeast Missouri Volume 1
History of Warren County, Missouri 1885 Indexed
Historic Sites of Warren County Missouri
Research conducted by staff of Warren County Museum, and Warren County Historical Society