Washoe County came into existence in 1861 when the first nine counties were created within the Territory of Nevada. Only three years later in 1864 did Nevada become a state. Washoe County’s first county seat was in Washoe City, a small community in Washoe Valley, a beautiful valley situated between Reno and Carson City at the base of the Sierra to the west and Mount Davidson to the east.
Washoe City was established due to the need for lumber to build the mines and buildings of the Comstock. Lumber was brought down the mountain from Lake Tahoe, across Washoe Valley, and up Mount Davidson by way of a small community known as Jumbo on what is known as Jumbo Grade.
The first Sheriff of Washoe County was Charles Smith. Smith was appointed to the position and also held the position of County Commissioner in the early days.
Washoe County reaches some 35 miles wide and 175 miles tall, bordering the State of California to the west and Oregon at the most northern border. Mining communities dotted the county from its southern most community of Franktown in Washoe Valley to Pyramid Lake and Wadsworth to the north and Verdi to the west near the California border west of Reno.
Reno was only a river crossing until the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869. At that time the railroad drew the population from the outer reaches and towns and cities began to grow roots along the mighty railroad line. Reno saw exceptional growth and in no time Washoe County moved the county seat to Reno in keeping with the trend. Washoe City all but vanished off the face of the earth in years to follow.
The City of Reno was not incorporated until 1903. Prior to that time, the Sheriff kept the peace through the appointment of deputy sheriffs, town marshals, and with the help of elected constables who worked at the direction of the Justice of the Peace. As might be expected in a county as large as Washoe, the lawman was often on his own to carry out his duties. Reno did have a loosely organized police force prior to incorporation, but details of that organization and its creation are scarce.
Charles Ferrel worked as a blacksmith prior to joining the law enforcement profession. He served as a deputy constable, deputy sheriff, and town police officer prior to being elected Sheriff of Washoe County in 1906. The campaign photo of Charles Ferrel in uniform was taken when he was working as a Reno Township Deputy Constable, tasked with patrolling the streets of Reno. Constables in that day in that day performed general law enforcement duties just as did police officers and deputy sheriffs. The Reno Deputy Constable badge shown appears to be the same as Ferrel wears in the photo. With graphic work, detail in that newspaper image was drawn out to provide more detail that matches.
This photo shows inside of the Sheriff's Office in about 1906. Sheriff Ferrel is seated at the desk in back surrounded by his deputies. To the left is Deputy Malarkey who was assigned as tax collector.
Learn more about the gold badge and it's history as having been worn by three sheriff here.
Walter Morton served as a deputy sheriff from the late 1800s into the 20th century before leaving due to illness, then passing in 1916. He wore badge number 1 during his service to his community. This badge is one of the oldest in the Washoe County collection of memorabilia.
The Washoe County Sheriff's Office constructed this jail in 1960 to replace the overcrowded 1912 version right next door. This facility, designed to house 150 inmates, served the Sheriff's Office until 1988 when a new jail was opened. The Sierra Street Jail was overcrowded throughout the seventies and eighties with more than double the capacity on a regular basis.
Sheriff Ferrel and his force seated in the office in around 1910. Ferrel's solid gold badge is shown in this image, as are badges of his other deputies. The gold badge was said to have been made from a ten dollar gold piece back when Sheriff J. Frank Emmitt wore it in 1883. The badge was passed on to Sheriff William Caughlin to wear in 1893, and to Charles Ferrel next.
Sheriff Trathan and his staff in front of the Sheriff's Office in 1930. The deputy in uniform is Charles Rhagini, who performed traffic officer duties on his assigned 1930 Harley Davidson until he left to become a preacher.
Sheriff Trathan, as a deputy sheriff, rode this motorcycle to perform his traffic assignment. He wore Deputy Sheriff badge #12 that you see here.
Deputy Sheriff William Kelly served as a deputy in 1925 when he rode this spectacular for the time motorcycle. I had the please of interviewing him in the 1980s when he was 90 years old and not long before he passed away. Bill enjoyed telling me stories about his assigned beat, south of Reno to the Mount Rose summit and county line with Carson City. Those roadways were all dirt in the day and his story of a pursuit of a bootlegger through the Lakeside and Huffaker area included descriptions of deep dusty dirt roads that made it difficult to stay upright on the bike. He saids he did pretty well until he lost control in the loose material and struck a power pole, ending his pursuit.
Bill Kelly's family continued to serve their communities in law enforcement through various positions.
Paul Walker served as a traffic officer (deputy sheriff) with the Washoe County Sheriff's Office in Reno for several years before he received a commission as an inspector with the
Nevada State Police. His assignment was in Elko, Nevada according to his widow. She provided the certificate of appointment and the green shirt sleeve with the hand sewn patch was found bound for trash pick up. That patch was the second style worn by WCSO with a winged wheel style worn before it in the 1930s. Both style patches were hand sewn.
This photo features two Reno motor officers and two Washoe motors in between 1930 and 1935 in front of Reno PD/City Hall. I have know that the deputy middle left was Charlie Righini but did not know until today that the deputy to Charlie's right appears to be Harry Swaney, killed in the line of duty in a head on crash south of Reno in 1935. The hand engraved sterling silver badge at right was given to me by Bud Young and worn by him from 1930 to 1935 while he was assigned to ride a motor. Harry and Bud were riding together in 1935 when Bud's siren exploded and he was injured with the shrapnel. The bike was left and Bud was taken to the hospital. The next day, Swaney and another deputy went by truck to get Bud's bike when they were involved in a head on crash. Swaney died eight days later. The badge is identical to the one Bud Young wore back then. Swaney's badge is covered in this photo but if Bud wore one like this, wouldn't it make sense that Harry Swaney may have had the same style? Interestingly enough is that both badges are missing a ball tip too. I don't know if will be able to confirm this was Swaney's badge but I will certainly try. I should add that both of these badges were very likely made from local Comstock area Nevada mined silver.
The Washoe County Sheriff's Office has worn many different badge styles through the years. You may review many of those styles, from the 1800s to current, by following the link to the badge gallery.
The webmaster of this site collects Nevada badges with particular interest in the history of the Washoe County Sheriff's Office. Top dollar will be paid for genuine Nevada law enforcement badges. Please use the contact page to see if what you have would be appropriate to add to this collection.