(Editorial Note: Part 137 of a series of further development in the early days that impacted Franklin County. Sources: Preston Booster, 1913-14; Franklin County Citizen, June, 1939; Tribune Intermountain Service; Preston Citizen, 2013)
With the population growth in the southeast corner of Idaho, several counties were formed. Franklin County became an entity on January 30, 1913. Mines resulting from the discoveries of silver and copper in Montana and the development of the Oregon Shortline railroad brought people into this area. “Some 665 square miles were split from the 47-year-old Oneida County and called Franklin County. In the first US Census following that, in 1920, the Franklin County population was 8,650 people.”
When Franklin County was formed in 1913, there was a need for a lawman. Samuel Merrill, then sheriff of Oneida County would no longer cover the new area. The first sheriff for the new county was Alfred William Stephens. It couldn’t have been an easy job in those beginning days of putting together a new governing body and the law of prohibition was a continual challenge for any lawman of this era. Bootleggers were in abundance all across the nation.
Many immigrants coming to the United States from Europe were accustomed to free-flowing alcoholic beverages in their lifestyle. Crusaders in the United States declared that the imbibing of such spirits caused a great deal of crime and poverty. Caught up in the prohibition crusade, some states and numerous counties passed ‘dry’ laws, which controlled, restricted, or abolished alcohol. Major cities were generally ‘wet’ because their voters were largely immigrant residents who wanted easy access to booze. The laws to ban the sale of alcohol were in need of constant enforcement by those wearing the badge. Southeastern Idaho had its share of bootleggers.
Stephens had moved to the Preston area in 1879. He was born in 1859 in Glamorgan, Wales, and had come to the United States as a youngster with his parents.
The family had spent some time back east, particularly in Pennsylvania where Alfred had worked in the coal mines, before coming west to Utah. He married Mary Ann Taylor from the Ogden area in 1879 and the couple moved to Preston.
For a time Stephens worked as a fireman on the narrow gauge railroad when Battle Creek was the end of track and Preston was just a flag station as the trains passed through.
Among his associates he was given two nicknames: “Alf” and “the Welshman.” He and Mary Ann started farming and raising a family. They had 10 children. Six years after Mary Ann passed away, in 1896, Stephens married Margaret Geddes and four more children were added to his family.
‘Alf’ served as sheriff for two years and during the 1914 election there was considerable mudslinging by the opposition. Four men were listed on the ballot: A. W. Stevens, Republican; Frank T. Merrill, Democrat; Peter D. Maughan, Progressive; and Horace Eldridge, Socialist.
Quoting from the Preston Booster of October that year: “A reprehensible fight is being personally directed against Alfred Stephens, the present sheriff, using as a club that Mr. Stephens is not a prohibitionist and is in league with bootleggers. These are cowardly tactics, and only originate in little minds. A. W. Stephens, Republican, is a fearless officer, as many can testify, and during his term of office he has captured eleven bootleggers, all of whom were convicted. A good officer whose worth is appreciated possibly more by outside people than by his own associates.”
Further mention speaks of worthy qualities of this man. “As an attorney from another town said the other day, ‘When you tell Alf to do a thing, he does it,” and this avoids complications into which inexperienced officers sometimes get themselves ... everybody knows him, and no recommendation is needed as to his honesty and integrity in the discharge of public duties... Offenders of the law have found Mr. Stephens acquainted with their places of abode and he has been very successful in bringing them to justice. He has had the taxpayer in mind in the performance of his duties and considerable expense has been saved because of his foresight in such matters ... The very fact that some people do not like a sheriff is one the best evidences that the officer is doing what the public pays him to do. Take this thought with you when you go to the polls to vote.”
‘The Welshman’ lost this election. However he continued to be very civic minded. He was a city councilman, the first appointed fire chief of Preston City, the Republican chairman of Franklin County, and spent 14 years as the Fish and Game Warden. At his death in 1939, the front page of the Franklin County Citizen announced that a heart attack had taken this “Cache Valley Early Builder” who had served the community in one capacity or another for 60 years. Stephens was 80 years of age.