Organized on January 15, 1833 and then reduced to it's present 423 square miles limit in 1841, Clinton County was named for DeWitt Clinton, former mayor and governor of New York who was credited with construction of the Erie Canal.
Clinton County, located north of Kansas City and south of St. Joseph, chose two different names - Concord and Springfield - for its county seat before finally settling on Plattsburg.
A few days after the county was established, Governor Daniel Dunklin named commissioners; appointed judges, who were to receive $1.75 for each day they served; set court schedules; and chose county officials to serve until elections were held the following year. He appointed Thomas Smith as Sheriff.
Court was held in the home of Samuel G. Biggerstaff until the county seat was selected and a suitable courthouse could be built. In January 1834, the court called for construction of a two-room log courthouse. However, the court must have reconsidered because in June the contracted for a larger brick building.
The first death penalty in the state was carried out in Clinton County long before the county was officially organized. Few details are available but state records show that in 1810, Peter Johnson was hanged for murder.
The first murder trial held in Clinton County court was in 1852 against William Langston for his complicity in the murder of Edward H. Willard near St. Joseph. The case was brought to Clinton County on a change of venue. Langston was found guilty and sent to the penitentiary for 20 years. He was later pardoned by Governor Robert M. Stewart.
In the meantime, because the first courthouse was becoming dilapidated, in September 1859 the county justices appropriated $25,000 for a new domed facility that also included a jail. According to a report, "Every feature of the building denotes solidity and durability. Its thick walls and granite columns will doubtless stand intact when the other edifices which now surround the public square will have crumbled into dust."
Soon after, the Civil War broke out.
Like many others, Clinton County suffered from the invasion of organized bands of guerrillas. Such was the case on May 21, 1863. As soon as an invading band of bushwhackers learned there was no militia in town, they began robbing businesses, one of which, Vance and Jackson, was owned by the county treasurer. Jackson kept county funds, as well as money belonging to many private citizens - including Sheriff William Ferguson - in his safe. At the end of the raid, the bandits got away with about $9,600 belonging to the county and private individuals and about $600 worth of goods, before riding out of town, they attempted to burn down the courthouse. Although they succeeded in destroying some of the early court records, the blaze was extinguished before it caused major damage to the building.
According to a historian of the day, just three years and a few months later the largest crowed to witness a public execution gathered there when Albert Hughes was scheduled to hang. Hughes had been charged with murdering Daniel Jenkins for refusing to pay Hughes 50 cents for 30 days wages. From 10 o'clock in the morning until the prisoner was taken from the jail, the public square and adjoining streets were jammed with some 8,000 men, women and children. Sheriff Francis D. Phillips brought Hughes from his cell, placed him on top of a casket carried in a wagon and, accompanied by a "strong guard of armed men," drove him to the fairgrounds where the punishment was to be carried out. After walking Hughes up to the gallows, Sheriff Phillips read the death warrant which stated that Hughes should be hung "by the neck until he was dead, dead, dead."
The county's first lynching took place in September 1880. As the story goes, a "Handsome, very accomplished, young married woman of considerable wealth and community stature" was raped as she returned home from an afternoon horse ride. The rapist turned out to be her husband's trusted employee. Several hundred men, who had gathered to hunt for the attacker, hanged him from a tree about half a mile from the scene of the crime.
Fire damaged the courthouse two more times in coming years and it had to be demolished in 1975. A new courthouse with a 24-bed jail was built at a cost of $827,235. That facility is still in use today. However, the jail is not able to house all the county's prisoners, so many are housed in neighboring counties.
Refuting the myth that lighting never strikes the same place twice, the Clinton County courthouse and jail have been hit at least six times in the past 35 years. Once, lightning shot through the radio and out the elbow of the dispatcher on duty, causing pain and problems for more than a year. Another time, lightning struck while a Sheriff was standing in the hallway by the base radio and the bolt of lightning came out of the closet right beside him. The jailer on duty witnessed it and said the little bit of hair the Sheriff had on his head was standing straight out.
Clinton County has experienced another unhappy statistic. Over the past 50 years, two Sheriffs have died while on office - Sheriff Ray Boyd and Sheriff Dan Jones.
Since 1833, there has been 43 Sheriffs in the history of Clinton County. The longest running Sheriff is Sheriff Ray R. Boyd 1964-1978. The first female Sheriff in Clinton County history was Sheriff Helen Boyd, the wife of late Sheriff Ray R. Boyd. She served one year in 1978 to complete her late husband's term.
As the 43rd Sheriff of Clinton County, Sheriff Larry Fish has served the citizens since 2017 with a core focus on "Protecting what you value." The citizens come first above all.