Doing Hard Time in a Small Town

The oldest building in Starbuck isn't the bank, the grange hall, or even the horse stable. It is the jail. Built before 1900, the old jail is made of concrete fourteen inches thick with reinforced iron bars, the same iron used on railways. A large metal door that required a six-inch-long key completes the building.

A funny story about the key is that it was often misplaced, once for more than six years. It turned out that the town of Starbuck never really had any need to find it in those years. On one occasion three men were causing a disturbance and put in the jail to cool off. The door was closed yet unlocked for the night. Not knowing this, none of them tried to open it, instead staying in there for the full night and being let out in the morning.

Not all incidents were humorous, though. In October 1929, the sheriff of Starbuck was shot and killed in the line of duty. The night started where Sheriff James Smith had to lock up a man overnight. The prisoner, Emile Pfaff, had a friend in town who managed to smuggle a gun to him. When Smith then checked on the prisoner, Pfaff opened fire and shot the sheriff at least 4 times, fatally wounding him. Pfaff then escaped but was caught a few days later, without resisting arrest. In fact he seemed quit confused about the whole ordeal. This deadly shooting leaving Smith’s two children fatherless was the only violent act regarding this small-town jail.

Starbuck ceased using the jail soon thereafter, disbanding its police not long after that.