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THE DAKOTAS FIRST WOMAN SHERIFF—MY GRANDMOTHER

Posted on: March 26th, 2016
by David Ganje

Youth is a relative thing. I have lost mine already. But history is more interesting. I read several articles of late about so and so being the first female sheriff in the US. I tried to track these down and contacted an author in Texas about this subject. I have asked for documents based on a Texas news article but have not received any. We all know how much to trust the media in any event. In point of history the honor of the first female sheriff in the US may go to South Dakota. The honor of being the first female sheriff in the South Dakota may go to my grandmother Amelia Geisler of Aberdeen. Both my grandfather Louis Geisler and my grandmother Amelia Geisler held the office of Brown County Sheriff. In point of fact my mother, now 90 and in good health, was raised in jail. I, in distinction, was almost put in jail, but that is not our subject today.

How did my grandmother become sheriff? First we must remember the golden rule: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. My grandfather ran successfully for Brown County Sheriff and received the certificate of election. His opponent challenged him and asserted to the trial Judge that my granddad’s campaign pledge was illegal. The trial Judge, not a legal scholar by any stretch, agreed with the challenger and declared a vacancy in the office of Brown County Sheriff. My grandfather was out.

Here is the egregious campaign pledge my granddad made: “. . . I pledge myself to turn in to the county treasurer all such penalties collected by me, and further agree to make no claim for them at any time in the future. Lou B. Geisler.” In other words, my grandfather did not want the sheriff’s office to profit when it had the unfortunate duty of collecting delinquent property taxes.

Brown County was left without a sheriff because of the trial court’s ruling. The county commissioners were left with a quandary as they were authorized to appoint a sheriff under the circumstances. Well, contrary to the natural order of things as far as politicians go, the Brown County Commission actually did something creative and progressive. They appointed my grandmother, all 100 pounds of her, as Brown County Sheriff. Amelia never carried a gun while she was sheriff. My grandmother, being no one’s fool, appointed my grandfather as her chief deputy.

How in the world a trial court could consider my grandfather’s actions as unfair campaign tactics is beyond my thinking. Lou Geisler was as I recall him honest to the core. So much so that I suspect Sioux Falls’ residents might consider him boring by their big city standards.

All turned out well. My grandfather appealed the trial court’s decision and the SD Supreme Court overturned the trial judge’s decision. The Supreme Court recertified my grandfather’s election. Of course it took some time. The wheels of justice turn slowly even when operating as fully lubricated. Upon completion of her job, and in recognition of her unique role and the unique role of a woman in the 1920s, the Governor gave my grandmother a pearl handled 38. She gave it to me some years ago. My mother was raised in jail, and I turned out as I did much to the consternation of my high school principal.

David Ganje practices law in the area of natural resources, environmental and commercial law in South Dakota and North Dakota. His website is Lexenergy.net