Our First Sheriff

Some Sketches Written for the Indianian

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made of and our little life,
Is rounded with a sleep."

It can happen to only a few to be long remembered. Time in his course cuts down the present, and buries the past in the dust of oblivion. Memory of the most famous becomes dim by time, until at least it is faded and lost forever. The writer intends that this short sketch shall for a brief moment, retrieve from the common doom the name of the first sheriff elect of this county. "He was a man, take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again." To be born and to die is the history of all men; and our first sheriff was no exception to this common decree.

Isaac Kirkendall was born in Culpepper county, Virginia, January 15, 1787, and strange as it may seem, he never boasted of the grand old State which gave him birth, neither claimed honor from the place of his nativity. He served as sheriff from 1836 to 1840. At the time of his election, he was about 49 years old stood six feet tall, had lost most of his teeth, had one crooked eye, and was entirely bald except a thin fringe of grey hair round the lower and back part of his head. His voice, when exerted, was a loud sounding asthmatic treble, and when he called he was generally heard, for he was always in earnest. His home was on the farm with his brother Jacob, on the east side of Little Turkey Creek prairie, and from thence, passing through Leesburg, on a large dapple grey horse, might oft be seen our first sheriff, on his way to Warsaw, the county seat.

In those early days, the Court House was a two story red frame building, which stood on the same spot where now stands our Baptist Church. Samuel C. Sample, Judge; Richard H. Lansdale, Clerk; while Everts, Orton, Niles and Liston were attorneys at the Warsaw bar. On the opening of court, the clerk was not always on time, and it was worth while to listen to old Ike, when he was calling R i c h a r d H. L a n s d a l e. The name, somewhat musical in itself, was heightened by an echo from the broad tamarack marsh that was then east of town, and which would exactly repeat the call and voice of the first sheriff. G. A. Everts used to say, that the shrill voice of old Ike would be reverberating there in after ages; but his predictions have not held good; the tamarack grove has been cut away, the marsh is dry, and this generation hears neither the voice of old Ike, nor the echo which mocked it.

It is not always easy to tell to others what we may very well know ourselves; and it is only the most salient points of character that I shall here set down in this brief memoir. As each man is marked by something peculiar to himself, his biography is made to fit him and no-one else.

The photograph of our first sheriff would not have served for any other than the original, neither would his language, and I must here (truth compels me) admit that his common talk was much blemished by an over proportion of blasphemous words. This was one of his peculiarities; he seemed to lack words as forcible as his feelings, and to supply the defect he drew on profanity.

I will here digress by saying that this frailty in the use of profane words is yet found in some persons at the present time, they are for the most part the same old words, and do yet act as a great blemish on the persons who have the bad taste to use them. I will here write a copy of a speech made by him at Leesburg, prior to his first election, hoping it may not be used as a model by future candidates:
"Gentlemen -I am a candidate for sheriff, and if you elect me, and any of you need hanging while I am in office, I will hang you dead as h__l."

He was elected, and although some of his voters may have deserved it, yet not of them were hanged during his term of office. Little tricks and habits of a man are often inquired after with interest, and we are pleased to hear of them, because we think by them we can better know the man as he was seen in life; and now to begin with, some of my readers may wish to know whether, like themselves, the first sheriff made use of tobacco. In answer, I am compelled to say that he did; and that too of a kind very much to the purpose, being what was known in those days as cavendish plug, the sort then supposed to contain the most strength and virtue. Another will go a step further, and want to know whether he was fond of a social glass. This question, I am also compelled to answer in the affirmative. He was eminently social, and few men had so grateful and keen a relish for a drink of something warming. It was before the days of ale and lager beer, and drinking was exclusively done in spirits. Among all the varieties of these, the sheriff's choice was whiskey straight (without trimmings), giving as his reason, that he knew best how to gauge it. And in the matter of gauging the right quantity, he might be set down as a pattern more easy to admire than for others to imitate, as he was rarely ever seen under the visible effects of strong drink. And now I can fancy that some lady reader (out of mere curiosity) would like to know whether he was ever in love. This I will also venture to answer in the affirmative; for, although he lived unmarried both while he was sheriff, and to the end of his life afterwards, yet he was always a fervent admirer of the ladies, and they were the theme of his discourse, and the objects of his sincere respect; nor was his devotion lavished in vain; for although the sheriff (at first sight) would hardly be taken for a ladies man, yet he had reason to think that he was requited with a liberal share of female favor. He was well replenished with homespun anecdotes, and was fond of either hearing or telling a joke, being of a sportive turn, an joke he would always have, even if he himself was the victim.

The first sheriff was not a literary cast of mind; had a great dislike for letter writing, and when he did write, was very laconic. He used to relate of himself something like the following:

Sometime after his settlement in this county, his folks in Ohio used to write to him often, "and tease him like h__l" to write them a letter. He delayed for a long while, and postponed, always hating to begin the task. At length, however, the fullness of time came, when he thought he would write. Finding Jake's folks abroad one Sunday, and the noisy children all out of the way, he was alone. He drew out the kitchen table, got paper, ink and quill pen, and seated himself to begin. He wrote down the name of the County and State, and the year, and the month, and the day; then begins his letter. "Dear Brother, I am well." Here he came to a stop, and scratched his head to think what next; and recollecting that he lived at Jake's he put down, "Jake's folks are well." Here he came to another stop, and a longer scratch than before; still no words came to his relief, and he ended his letter by saying, "and if you are well, then By G_d alls well." Yours Truly, I. K.

Brief and impious seems this epistle; but let us not blame him for fewness nor choice of words, since his example has been followed by greatness itself; for the brevity of Grant, and the profanity of Greenley, are both apparent in the Sheriff's letter.

Our friend did not always show a strict regard for the latest fashion of dress, but when at home on the farm, would wear a loose woolen wamus with a girdle round his waist, and for a time he wore a home-made coon skin cap. In this dress he looked severe, and when he came on business to Leesburg, and wished boys to retire from a store (previous to telling one of his yarns) a single glance of his eye, and wave of his hand, for the average boy of the period, was quite sufficient; and to disperse a squad outside, he only had to add his shrill voice, and stamp his foot to effect his purpose. While scattering the boys in his rude manner, it was hard for him to choke down the laugh that was raging within, and to which he would give vent, as soon as the boys were well out of the way. This fierce attitude was not a part of his nature; but a thing put on to suit the occasion. Beneath his rough exterior glowed a heart of humanity; the tear of duty, and the word of blasphemy, were twin born in one and the same breath of this peculiar old man, and a favor conferred in kindness, was not unlikely to be sealed with an oath.

In politics, he was first an old-line Whig, and afterwards a Republican, in which latter party he remained firm to the end of his life. He was a regular voter and zealous withal, but never quarreled with men for difference of opinion. He was an efficient officer, a faithful friend, and a kind-hearted neighbor.

He died of lung disease, on the farm where he had lived, March 17, 1863, at the ripe old age of 76, and honest hearts, and pitying eyes were alike filled, when we laid in their last resting place, the remains of bluff, frank, honest, jovial and social old Ike, the first sheriff of Kosciusko County. "B."

Northern Indianian January 2, 1873 page 4

On the fourth page will be found a sketch of "Old Ike Kirkendall," the first Sheriff of Kosciusko County. It will be read with interest by the early settlers of this region, who still remain with us, and we hope to be able to follow it up with others of a like nature, at various times through the coming year. There are many incidents connected with the early history of this part of the country, that would be very interesting, when detailed through the columns of a newspaper, and if there are others besides the author of the sketch in question, who can contribute anything of this kind, it will not only be acceptable to us, but doubtless, to our many readers, as well.
Northern Indianian, January 2, 1873, page 3

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