The Sheriff

"Howdy boys, my name is Charlie, born in the Chickasaw County Jail … my daddy Albert, he was Sheriff, he shot horse thieves deer and quail"

(from) Chickasaw County Jail Tom Russell

Basic Information

In the United States, a sheriff is generally the chief law enforcement officer for a county. It is usually an elected position, though in emergencies a sheriff may be appointed by county officials.

In a Western, the Sheriff is generally the closest and main law enforcer. It's a very lucrative and powerful (within the county) position, but also comes with great danger and responsibility. The Sheriff often handles minor offenses himself, locking up drunks and rowdies for the night, and assessing smaller fines. He's usually assisted by at least one Deputy Sheriff (often a Clueless Deputy), whom he appoints. Serious crimes must be held over until the Circuit Judge arrives.

This Western Character often overlaps with The Gunslinger, though this is not always the case. A Real Life example of a non-gunfighter sheriff was Bat Masterson, who preferred the "big stick" approach.

In some Westerns, "Sheriff" is conflated with "Town Marshal", or even sometimes with a US Marshal. See the Town Marshal page for a full explanation of the differences, and jurisdictions.

The responsibilities of a Sheriff vary considerably from state to state or even county to county. He may share duties more commonly thought of as belonging to the Tax Collector, County Treasurer, emergency management office, or even Coroner.

Not necessarily a cowboy cop.

This role should not be confused with the Medieval English office of Sheriff - which was the title given to the senior legal officer of a county and generally a direct deputy of the Crown. This is, for example, the job title of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Robin Hood legend.



Game and Story Use

  • Their function in a story is very flexible, ranging from The Hero through Reasonable Authority Figure and Obstructive Bureaucrat to Corrupt Hick.
  • The Sheriff is the person most likely to chase you to The County Line.
    • He may also be the person sent out to recover bodies discovered in the wilderness. Fun job.
  • In reality this can also be an extremely dull job, given a sparsely populated county of mostly peaceful farmers. Actual crime may be a nasty shock and find the sheriff badly out of his depth.
    • Or completely oblivious - all sorts of horrors could go on on remote farm, and as long as the perpetrator doesn't attract attention to himself, no-one could notice for decades.
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