When we think of Texas sheriff’s we always think of strong willed, hard to the core men. In my second installment of the Kasota Springs Romance Series for Kensington, Out of the Texas Night, I have the daughter of the town’s mayor come for a visit where she meets the love of her life. Of course he’s a lawman! While she’s there something disastrous happens to Deuce Cowan, the present sheriff, and he can no longer fulfill his duties. Since my heroine still owns property in the county, is registered to vote there, and a deputy in Houston County she’s more than qualified to be named the interim sheriff by her father (the mayor) and the county commissioners. So, needless to say when I read this story about Emma Daugherty Banister I realized her real life story a century ago parallels to a large degree with my make-belief plot. So, here goes!
Emma Daugherty Banister, the first appointed female sheriff in Texas also was likely the first female sheriff in the United States. She was born in Forney in 1871. After the murder of her father in 1878, she stayed there for a few years and then moved to Goldthwaite to live with an uncle in order to finish school. After receiving her teaching certificate, she taught at Turkey Creek in Mills County and Needmore (currently known as Echo) in Coleman County, Texas.
On September 25, 1894, Daugherty married widower (the father of six) and former Texas Ranger John R. Banister and settled in Santa Anna. 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. Emma served as office deputy, and John’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Leona, served as his driver. John could ride any horse in the land but showed little interest in mastering the “horseless” carriage.
John was well received and respected as sheriff of Coleman County, bringing standards of competence and courtesy to the position that few sheriffs in any area or era could have achieved. On August 1, 1918, he died of a stroke.
After much discussion by the county commissioners and considering that the county election was just a few months away plus the fact that 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 sensational. Much like her husband, Emma was courteous and unassuming, a steady hand and stalwart professional. She avoided the sudden press and refused photo requests because she had no interest in publicity. She downplayed the importance of her appointment.
Emma served the final three months of her husband’s term effectively but refused to accept the county commissioners’ nomination in the next election. As was her habit, she vacated the Coleman County Jail and sheriff’s offices quietly and 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 term 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.
I’m afraid my heroine is a little bit more sassy than Mrs. Banister. As I write the book, I’m excited about seeing just how different my character is from the first woman sheriff in Texas!
I’ll give away a gift certificate to Amazon to one lucky reader,
so they can order the first book in the Kasota Springs Series, The Troubled Texan.