They patrolled on motorcycles in the Roaring ’20s.
They arrested outlaws in a booming Wild West town after the 1889 Land Run. There were years of deputies chasing bootleggers. There are stories of notorious killers and dramatic rescues.
Oklahoma County sheriff’s deputies have been a colorful part of state history since well before statehood.
In an effort to preserve the history of the sheriff’s department, old photographs and memorabilia are being sought from the public.
There are no known photographs of two deputies killed in the line of duty, said Sheriff John Whetsel. Boxes of records and photographs have been found in the basement, but there has never been an organized attempt at creating a museum or an exhibit, he said. Whetsel said one box found in the basement had records pertaining to serial killer Roger Dale Stafford, the man arrested in the 1978 Oklahoma City Sirloin Stockade massacre of six employees. Stafford was executed in 1995.
“I think it’s important as an agency that we document some of our history,” Whetsel said. “Citizens need to know where we came from.”
The sheriff’s department opened in the 1890s before Oklahoma became a state in 1907.
The current office is in the Oklahoma County jail that opened in 1991. Before that the office and jail was in the Oklahoma County Courthouse on the ninth, 10th, and 11th floors.
The project also will map out other locations of jails dating back to Oklahoma Territory days.
One little known fact about the sheriff’s department is that there was a motorcycle unit in the 1920s.
On March 18, 1926, deputy Howard Brewer, crashed his motorcycle into a car and died on Newcastle Highway, now SW 29, in southwest Oklahoma County.
The headline on page 3 of The Daily Oklahoman the next day read, “Crash!” One Dead,” and showed a photograph of the motorcycle and the touring car with an inserted profile of Howard O. “Pete” Brewer.
Research has helped the sheriff’s office recognize all eight deputies who have died in the line of duty, Whetsel said.
But photographs of deputies Frank Lewis Yeager and Levi A. Ezzell, who died on duty, have never been found — if any even exist.
Ezzell died in 1914. He was walking inmates downtown when one tried to run off. Ezzell threw his pistol at the inmate. The gun hit him in the back, hit the ground and discharged, killing Ezzell.
Current deputy Bradley Wynn, 41, is working on a book about the sheriff’s history titled “Badge and Brass: The Untold Story of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.”
The sheriff’s office opened in December, 1895. In those days the streets in Oklahoma County were built for horses and buggies. Deputies were horseback or on foot when patrolling. “It was still a pretty Wild West place,” Wynn said.
Before 1959, alcohol was illegal. Oklahoma was a dry state, and the years of alcohol prohibition proved to be a lost cause, but involved a lot of arrests and destruction of illegal alcohol operations, Wynn said.
But illegal alcohol peddling was rampant. People could order illegal alcohol by filling out an order form that could be left in the mailbox and picked up by a “moonshiner,” Wynn said.
“Everyone was making it and everyone was selling and buying it,” Wynn said.
Whetsel said a video museum will be created on the sheriff’s website so history can be viewed online. And there will be space made for an exhibit at the jail.
Anyone with pictures or documents can scan and email them to Mark Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or send them through the sheriff’s Facebook or Twitter pages. Anyone who has historical pictures also can post them to Twitter using the hashtag #OCSOHistory.
Myers can be reached at 713-1029.