A Glimpse into the Life of a Rural Michigan Sheriff: 1939 – 1952

Serving Summons and Shooting Stray Dogs…

Sample view of the diariesI bought 13 diaries on eBay the other day for more money than I care to admit. The diaries were from the years 1939 through 1952, although 1944 was missing. They had once belonged to a sheriff in Harrison, Michigan, or at least to someone in the Sheriff’s Department in that mid-Michigan town located in Clare County. When I bought the diaries I was hoping it would provide a wealth of information, a window into the life of a rural sheriff, including how he spent his time, and would include names and events.

Sadly I didn’t get a wealth of information, more like a trickle, and as for the window
anlogy…well I see through the glass there but darkly. Turns out the diaries–and diaries is not the right name although I am not sure what to call them–were really served as a place to list events and activities for which the sheriff either was paid (like issuing a summons) or needed to pay others (like hiring a deputy for the day if he was on the road). Still it was an interesting read and my biggest impression is that the sheriff spent a lot of time issuing summonses and shooting dogs. For the former, the sheriff received $2 and for the latter $1–and the fee for shooting a dog never changed from 1930 through 1952.

I jotted down a few of the items written in the books I found interesting. Items in quotations are direct quotes from the books and items in parenthesis are my comments or thoughts.) And although the shooting of dogs and the issuing of summonses make up the biggest part of the diaries I have spared you from reading all but maybe one or two.

A page from one of the diaries1939
(Charge for mileage: 5 cents per mile; meals: 50 cents; serving papers: $2.50; Addition charge if a deputy is required: $1; pay for deputy if needed for a day: $3)
June 15–“Fred Dorsy chicken stolen. Art Olsen cows killed.
Aug. 20: “Complaint in Temple on Lester Bowen”
Aug. 21: “Arrested Lester Bowen”
Aug. 25: “Lester Bowen hearing”
Nov. 7: “Start of Bowen trial”
Nov. 10: “Took Bowen to Jackson”
(No mention of Bowen’s crime, his conviction or his sentence)

(Sheriff appears to have been a S. M. Amble)
March 15: “Picked up 5 boys from Freeman Twp for unlawfully driving a car belonging to ____ Gould. Namely RIchard and Robert Barton, Russ Goodrich, Chas. Waldron and Darrell Weage.”
March 21: “Boys sentenced to 3 months probation”
(One of the boys listed above still appears in the local phone book. Can’t be sure it’s the same person but it would be interesting to call and find out. Wouldn’t he be surprised?)
March 21: “Killed and buried dog – $1”
(There are many mentions of the killing of stray dogs. Sometimes two at a time and sometimes the name of either the person requesting the killing or the owner of the dogs is listed. Not sure who they are. And sometimes there is a notation that the head was cut off and sent to Lansing–probably for testing for rabies.)
Aug. 24: “Hughes store broken into at night.and $3.50 taken from cash register.”
Oct. 18: “Investigated pig shooting.”

(Mileage rate now 10 cents. Reimbursement for breakfast: 70 cents; dinner: $1)
Feb. 23: “Robt. Kroll house burned. 3-year-old-boy burned to death.”
(There is no entry on Dec. 7, but then many pages in the book lack entries and because the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred on a Sunday there would not be much happening on a Sunday in Harrison anyway.)

March 23: “Repairs on car: $4”

(Mileage reimbursement now 12 cents)

June 29: Airplane crash at Airport. Killed Barbara Wenig, Paul Treadwell and Wenig.”
(No more information on the type of plane involved or the reason for the crash.)

June: Sheriff’s Convention in Marquette
Mileage: $42.60
Room:        9.00
Meals:       10.50
Straits         3.00
Total        $65.10

Feb. 18: “Served summons on Spikehorn for Harold Hughes”
April 7: “Ice off of Budd Lake.”
Aug. 10: “Found body of Frank Biker”
Oct. 8: “Served tax notice on Spikehorn”
(Spikehorn was a local character around Harrison who kept beers and had run-ins with locals and with the state conservation department. I was surprised that I did not find more mentions of him.)

Aug. 25: “Arrested Vern Charette and Richard Henry for maliciously destroying property at state park”
(A Vern Charette is still listed in the local phone book)
Oct. 24: “First snow flakes”
Oct. 29: “Albert Eaton died”
Nov. 19: “Wet snow storm. Froze roads. Very icy. Wreck near James Hill. 2 people killed.”
Nov. 20: “Bad traffic jams. Lots of accidents.”
(The ice storm would have hit during the opening week of deer hunting season when a lot of visitors come to this part of the state. I am curious to know however, where a traffic jam would have occurred and what the sheriff considered a traffic jam.)

(Deputy pay for a day: $5)

(Mileage rates seems to have decreased from 12 cents to 10 cents a mile)
Feb. 5: “Mertle Shummway shot Ray”
Feb. 6: “(2:30 a.m.) Drove Roy to Gladwin Hospital”June
April 13: “Budd Lake opened up”
June 30: “Mertle sentenced to 2 1/2 years in House of Correction”
(No idea what drove Mertle to shoot her husband, the seriousness of his wounds or what happened after Mertle was released from jail.)

April 18: “Ice out of Budd Lake”

And that’s a recap of the diaries. Now you know as much as I do–and for much less.I may stop by the local paper, the Clare County Cleaver and take a look into their archives to find out more about some of these stories. And as tempted as I am to call a couple of the people mentioned in the diaries, I will let sleeping dogs lie and hope the sheriff won’t shoot them.

Categories: Clare County, Harrison, History, Life, Michigan | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “A Glimpse into the Life of a Rural Michigan Sheriff: 1939 – 1952

  1. What a wonderful glimpse into the past. While it may have not contained large chunks of information that you were looking for, it certainly revealed a few gold nuggets. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. I found this piece quite interesting, Marty. As a zoning officer for nearly eight years (7 of which were for Hamilton Twp., I kept log books such as this. I chuckled when I considered that by the year 2008, my gas mileage reimbursement was raised from $.40 to $.45 per mile. What a difference from 57 yrs ago, LOL! ( I would not have stood for a decrease!!)
    Reading through some of your posts have brought me to the conclusion that the “spirit” of this town has not changed very much over the years…Perhaps it is because the latter generations of these families still reside here.
    Also, I wonder, was this Mr. Amble somehow connected to the “Amble School”?
    (now River of Hope Church)
    My husband and I have hiked the grounds off of Mostetler Rd. for many years.
    I appreciated finding this blog written by someone who has taken the time to become very aquainted with the history of this place. We have been here for 20 years, but was not aware of all this rich history.
    BTW: Have you done a piece on the “Clare Co. Poor Farm yet”?
    ~God bless~

    • Thanks for your kind words. Not sure about Mr. Amble and any connection to the school but I would not be surprised. People’s names show up in a variety of places. I will have it checked out. And there is a lot of rich history here. I am a newcomer to the area and am constantly being surprised by all I am finding (and finding out). And not, nothing on the Poor Farm yet. I have been to what remains of the cemetery south of town but have not done a blog on it. YET. So many topics…so little time. 🙂

    • Diann Mccormick

      I was raised in Harrison and I remember his name was Seiver Amble. Diann Randall Mccormick

  3. Thomas Wells

    I was quite pleased to find this site. Seaver M. Amble, Sheriff of Clare County during this period, was my maternal Grandfather. I can perhaps shed a bit more light into the life of a rural Sheriff. The Sheriff’s family actually lived in the jail complex in Harrison. The Sheriff’s family quarters and kitchen were on the main floor. The cell block was off to the rear, and the upper level contained several furnished bedrooms – with bars on the windows – just in case there were ever any women incarcerated. I don’t ever recall seeing any there.

    When we would visit Grandpa and Grandma, those upper level rooms served as guest rooms. Grandpa would spend his days doing what he had to, patrolling as needed and answering calls from Clare, Farwell, etc. His diary entries are probably a pretty accurate look into the basics. I can remember having him rush out late at night, usually to handle a traffic accident or some disturbance.

    He had been a Barber before becoming Sheriff. so we grandchildren always got our haircuts at the jail building.

    Regarding involvement of the Amble family with the Schools, Seaver’s brother, my Great-Uncle Charles Amble, was Superintendent of Schools for many years. Another brother, Elmer Amble, worked with the Clare County Road Commission.

    I’d be glad to exchange messages and discuss this further – again, I’m glad to see this information available!

    • How wonderful to hear from you. And yes, we’d like to learn more and will be in contact. Not sure you are anywhere around Clare County or even Michigan, but you’d be welcome to peruse the book.

      • Thomas Wells

        The family is spread far and wide. I currently live in Columbia, Missouri, and my brother lives in Florida. There are several cousins in various parts of the country but none in Clare County that i know of. The closest may be in Coleman, Michigan. Seaver and Jenny Amble are buried in the Maple Grove Cemetery north of the fairgrounds. My parents are buried next to them in the family plot.

        I’m curious to know if the diaries are in good enough condtion to endure a scan. (Please don’t risk damaging them to find out.)

        For direct contact, please send a message to the e-mail address I provided.

        Thank you!

    • Janeen Galligan

      Hello Thomas! Nice to meet my cousin! Jenny was my Great Aunt! I am from the Bailey side of this lineage. We are in the process of attempting to save the Bailey Homestead in Independence Twp from being tore down. Baileys were very instrumental in establishing and settling the Twp.
      My Parents (Stanley & Kathleen Ash, my Grandparents (Walter & Laura (Bailey) Ash, Uncle & Aunt (Durward & Beatrice Ash) are all buried there in Harrison. Also many of the Baileys.
      I am not clear on our direct connection..have learned so much in the last week its all becoming a blur to me. I am assuming you are related to Eileen and Willard Wells from Drayton Plains?
      Would be really interested in talking more with you. If you could e-mail me at jan19524@gmail.com that would be wonderful! Janeen Ash Galligan

  4. Janell Glantz

    Tom you are a distant cousin of mine. I am Stanley Ash’s oldest daughter. I believe your mom and dad were Eileen and Willard Wells. Correct me if I am wrong. We came across this blog while researching the Bailey and Ash heritage. We have lots of ties to Harrison and Clare County. Loved our time there. I live in Wyoming now so don’t get there often, but my parents, Stanley and Kathleen Ash are buried, in Maple Grove Cemetery along with grandparents and aunts and uncles. Love to hear from you.
    Janell Ash Glantz

  5. Claudia Allen

    Claudia Allen of Clare here. My grandfather Jesse owned the Clare County Cleaver in the early third of the last century and my dad E. Duane Allen was a well-known radio disc jockey in Mt. Pleasant, Jesse’s youngest son and Seaver Ambles’s son Charlie’s best friend for over eighty years until they both passed. I loved my “Uncle” Charlie’s tales of growing up at the jail where he lived in the women’s cell because his dad didn’t like to lock up women. His mom Jenny was paid a quarter a meal for feeding the prisoners. Uncle Charles Amble was a deeply respected engineer at General Motors for many years and his widow after over seventy years of marriage, my incredible “Aunt” Yvonne is still alive, a little hard of hearing but sharp as a tack at 95. Until COVID she lived in Alma at the Masonic but she now lives with a son in Florida.

    • Thanks for your message. Sorry for the delay in responding. I’m going to pass along your comments to some friends of mine who belong to the Clare County Historical Society including the current owner of the Cleaver. Sure wish your Aunt was still in Michigan. We’d love to talk to her and hear her memories. BTW, did your grandfather own it when it burned? Regards, Marty

      • Claudia Allen

        I actually wrote a few pieces for the Cleaver in 1976. As my own Bicentennial moment and under the influence of Studs Terkel books, I interviewed a number of ancient Harrisonites and wrote profiles of them. My Grandma Martha Allen acted as my unofficial social secretary, calling to introduce
        me to people. I’m trying to remember what Dad might have said about that fire, but I’m drawing a blank I heard more about the card games Grandpa ran in the back room by the press and about his exploits as a rural mail carrier. He had eight kids so needed several lines of work. All of Dad’s older siblings grew up setting type. Uncle Roy kept at it, working for many years for the Saginaw News. Many of us are artsy. I was a Chicago-based playwright for years. Chicago Magazine declared me the Best Playwright in Chicago in 1999 the same year my dear friend Broadway great Julie Harris starred in my play WINTER. My cousin Elaine Allen Karl’s a beloved prof at Delta for many years, pointed out to me that you can Wikipedia me Claudia Allen Playwright. Now I’m mostly retired and enjoying the success of my students like Martyna Majok who won the 2018 Pulitzer for Drama. Brilliant play called The Cost of Living. Well , back to Harrison. I am sorry you can’t meet Aunt Yvonne . She’s really the last of that old gang and she’s a hoot. I appreciate your work You do the docs for Delta’s PBS don’t you? Fine viewing.
        PS. I was on Studs’s radio show a couple of times. On one he performed my play They Even Got the Rienzi. Amazing guy.

  6. Thanks for the info. And for the bio you sent. Didn’t know we had a famous playwright in our midst! I checked out your Wikipedia profile too. It’s wonderful to read what you’ve accomplished, the people you’ve met and the students you’ve inspired and mentored.

    I forwarded your most recent comment to my history group with the suggestion they take a look at the profiles you wrote to see if there is items we can learn from them.

    And I don’t have any connection to Delta College. Sorry.

    • Claudia Allen

      Sorry for the wrong Delta assumption. The shantyboys part made me think of that documentary. I really did enjoy your Amble diary entries. I loved all those old Harrison stories. Loved how they always knew when the ice went off Budd Lake like the sheriff mentions in his diary. My other grandfather John Kemmis was the secretary of the Clare County Fair and drove the first automated starting gate at the harness races so we also loved the fair. Grandma Kemmis had a lovely place on Budd Lake and my fondest kid memories are from there. I remember a city friend laughing when I casually mentioned frogging. She thought I was a veritable Huck Finn. . A review in Variety called me a master of small-town realism, but I was really just an old porch sitter moved to the city and telling stories.

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