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Keith County Sheriff's Office History

KSO History
When Keith County was organized in 1872 it was requested by the citizens of the County that an election be held for the purpose of choosing County officers and organizing said County. Governor Furnas ordered the election held in a residence in Ogallala on Saturday, May 3rd 1873. A.H. Bradley was the first elected Sheriff. In the first five years of Keith County's existence, six sheriffs wore the star of authority. The only record of the Sheriffs' between Bradley and DePrieste were George Caruthers 1875, D.E. Leech 1875, J.G. Huges, and B.J. Gillian. J.G. Huges filled the vacant post of Sheriff twice.

 One of the first murders in Ogallala happened in August 1875. A young Texas cowboy named Webster was bathing while tending his herd. He was shot 5 times in the head, neck and body. This murder shocked the residents of Ogallala. Webster's murderer was a seedy character named Woosley. Webster was buried north of the town at the foot of what would become known as Boot Hill. Webster's murderer was never captured.

 The first arrests by earliest County records we have were for "branding cattle not their own", on January 31, 1878. In 1879 Martin DePrieste was elected to the office of Sheriff of Keith County. It did not take long to prove that he was going to be a good sheriff. In 1880 Billy Thompson came to Ogallala as his brother Ben Thompson was a feared gunman staying in town. Billy was the one who always stirred up trouble he couldn't handle. Billy made the mistake of locking horns with Bill Tucker, who ran the Cowboy's Rest on Rail Road Street. It is unknown what the argument was about, but it resulted in Thompson firing at him and clipping off part of his left thumb and the tips of some fingers. As Tucker dropped to the floor, Thompson (thinking the battle had ended) walked out to the street. Tucker then grabbled his ten gauge shotgun he kept under the bar and sighted in Thompson and shot him in the back. Some friends of Ben Thompson carried his brother Billy to the Ogallala House land put him in his room.

 Sheriff Martin DePrieste heard the reports of what happened between Tucker and Thompson and could only come to one conclusion. Billy Thompson started the trouble by shooting Bill Tucker. It was attempted murder and DePrieste didn't allow that in his County. Thompson was arrested and lodged in jail. Thompson wasn't seriously wounded, but the threat of lynching was so great that there had to be a guard posted outside the jail to ward off angry men who might try to take him out and hang him.

 William B. "Bat" Masterson (close friend to Billy's brother Ben) agreed to go to Ogallala and try to get Billy out of there. While in town, Masterson was recognized and DePrieste guessed that he was there to sneak Thompson out of town. Security was tightened and DePrienste was developing his reputation for iron nerves. There are many reports of just how Masterson was able to get Billy Thompson out of Ogallala. Some say the guard was bribed, others say the guard was drugged. Even on report said that Masterson put Thompson in a dress as his lady friend. Regardless of how it happened, the fact remains that Bat Masterson did get Billy Thompson out of Ogallala on the train to North Platte. There Masterson took him to Kansas in a buggy. Most reports say that they borrowed the buggy from Buffalo Bill because Bill Cody was a friend of Masterson and Ben Thompson.

Sheriff DePrieste was shot several times during his tenure as Sheriff, and he reserved a place at Boot Hill form more than one outlaw. Sheriff DePrieste greatly tamed Ogallala deserved the respect and reputation he had as one of the Old West's Lawmen most feared by the criminals and rowdy Texas Trail cowboys.

Eugene Beall was elected Sheriff and served from 1908 to 1917. F.E. Anderson was elected to office in 1917 with George Heiser as his Deputy.

In 1918 George N. Heiser was elected Sheriff. He was killed in the line of duty on May 1st 1923, when shot by Frank Allen (AKA Frank Randall "The Sandhills Bootlegger"). Sheriff Heiser had taken a posse north of Keystone to apprehend Allen who was wanted in connection with the murder of a Scottsbluff County Deputy. During the shootout, Sheriff Heiser was killed, but not before he got off 4 rounds. 2 of which "did the job", causing Allen's death. In turn, Sheriff Heiser's Deputies also shot Allen. Allen died after being transported to a North Platte Hospital by train. Sheriff Heiser's funeral was the largest seen in Ogallala at the time. his obituary quotes a reverend as saying "Every great moment must pay the price in blood, George Hieser's name will stand with those pioneers whose courage and honesty of purpose will eventually clear the way to peace and right living".

Ogallala has come a long way since in the late 1800's when it was quoted as being the "Gomorrah of the cattle trail". As one Texas cowboy described it "There's gold flowing across the tables, liquor across the bars and blood across the floors".

**Historical facts and documentation were taken from the Nebraska State Historical Society, "Wild Towns of Nebraska", written by Wayne C. Lee, the Keith County News, the North Platte Telegraph, the Keith County Historical Society, and the Keith County Sheriff's Office records