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Texas History

The First Madam Sheriffs

Emma Daugherty Banister and Edna Reed Clayton Dewees wore badges of honor as law-enforcement pioneers

When I started writing this story about the first female sheriff in Texas, I thought I was dealing with one woman. I thought all I’d have to do is find her, figure out who she was and tell her story. It seemed simple, but it wasn’t. There was more than one first female sheriff in Texas, and both of them warranted mention.

The first appointed female sheriff in Texas also was most likely the first female sheriff in the United States. Her name was Emma Daugherty Banister.

Emma Daugherty was born in Forney on October 20, 1871. After the murder of her father in 1878, she stayed in Forney a few more years and then moved in with an uncle in Goldthwaite to finish school. After receiving her teaching certificate, she taught at Turkey Creek in Mills County and Needmore (now known as Echo) in Coleman County.

On September 25, 1894, Daugherty married widower and former Texas Ranger John R. Banister. They settled in Santa Anna, and in 1914, John Banister was elected Coleman County sheriff. The Banisters moved their nine children to the first floor of the county jail in Coleman, and John Banister served as sheriff until he died of a stroke on August 1, 1918.

Because the county election was just a few months away and Emma Banister had served as her husband’s office deputy, the Coleman County commissioners asked her to finish his term. She accepted.

Newspapers from New York to California sensationalized the appointment, portraying her as a fearless, six-shooter-strapping matron of whom troublemakers should be wary, but the truth was probably less lurid. She served the final three months of her husband’s term effectively and then moved her children back to the Banister family farm in Santa Anna.

In her later years, Emma never sought credit or recognition for her short season behind the badge, and the eventual oil boom allowed her to live comfortably, dabbling in real estate. Before her death at Brownwood Memorial Hospital on June 4, 1956, she donated a sizable collection of Indian artifacts and mementos from her husband’s long law enforcement career to the Fort Concho National Historic Landmark Museum in San Angelo. She is buried at the Santa Anna Cemetery, and a historical marker commemorating her life was placed there in 1986.

The first elected female sheriff in Texas took office 27 years after Emma Banister’s original appointment.

Edna Reed Clayton Dewees was born in Mississippi on September 5, 1921. Her parents moved to Texas in her first year, and she attended school in Breckenridge. After high school, she remained in Breckenridge, working as a deputy district clerk for Stephens County.

Reed spent the early years of World War II working as a lathe operator at the Vultee Aircraft Corp. in Fort Worth and was later employed by the special services office at the Pecos Army Air Field.

Reed was appointed sheriff of Loving County in 1945 and, shortly thereafter, was elected to the office. She was 24. Although she didn’t carry a firearm, she kept the peace for two years in the sparsely populated county.

Known for her kindness and generosity, Reed wouldn’t hear of a needy child going without a pair of eyeglasses or shoes in Loving County and always worked to make sure proper clothing was available to those without. She raised five children and was married twice. Her husbands, George C. Clayton and Lawrence Dewees, each preceded her in death.

Edna spent her retirement on a ranch near Mentone, dying at the age of 87 after living with Alzheimer’s disease for a long time. She is buried at the Mt. Evergreen Cemetery in Pecos.

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo.