Polk County Historical Society

Joseph G. VanOrsdel, whose ancestors donated the land for Princeton University was married in 1880. In 1889 VanOrsdel, who had returned recently from California, became interested in the Oregon country, and decided to migrate west. They first settled on a farm at Independence and resided there for nine years. During this time, Mr. and Mrs. VanOrsdel went into the dairy business, starting the first milk delivery in Independence.

In 1898, a group of men persuaded Joseph VanOrsdel to run for sheriff and he was elected at the general election as the 25th sheriff of Polk County, defeating Tom Graves. He served two years and was then re-elected defeating a man by the name of Conner.

The VanOrsdels lived in the Hagood house when they first moved to Dallas, and later moved to the house that was occupied by M.B. Grant. The H.G. Campbell residence was their home for four years, until they moved into the home at 317 Jefferson Street. It was built by a man named Howe, and was later known as the Conky place. VanOrsdel became attracted to the residence because of the mill stream which was close by. In those days it was one of the largest and most modern homes in Dallas.

In reminiscing, Mrs. VanOrsdel related an incident which created much excitement among the people during the time her husband was sheriff. A man by the name of Magers was in jail for murder and was sentenced to be hanged. He had a very good friend who resented his confinement in jail, and so in order to be near him, he committed some petty crime and was sentenced to the jail here.

The act was merely to aid his companion in formulating a plan to escape, and one night the attempt was made. It was during the time that money derived from taxes was coming in quite fluently. Sheriff VanOrsdel had a premonition on this particular day that the two men might attempt to hold him up as they were aware the banks had closed and that the money was large. To avoid its theft, Sheriff VanOrsdel took the money home with him that evening and deposited it in a crock of dry beans. He also left behind his pistol before returning to the jail to feed the prisoners.

His foresight was most fortunate, for the two men had planned their escape. When Sheriff VanOrsdel entered the jail they assaulted him and gagged and bound him. His only means of attracting attention was to create a disturbance as he fell, with the hope that someone might be passing. This he proceeded to do. Mrs. Leitch who was passing by heard the clamor and notified Mr. Morrison and a group of men at his livery stable. They came to the rescue just as the two men were making their getaway.

The hanging was quite a sensation. People came from far and near and Sheriff VanOrsdel was forced to issue tickets to take care of the large throng. Souvenirs were even solicited so the gruesome spectacle might be remembered. The rope by which the man was hanged served this purpose, and in a short time Sheriff VanOrsdel had disposed of it piece by piece to interested spectators.

After his second term as Sheriff had expired, VanOrsdel purchased the light plant from Mark Ellis. This was in 1900 and he operated it for several years, before selling it. He was then engaged in the real estate business.

In 1912 Mr. VanOrsdel was elected mayor of Dallas and served one term.

Mr. and Mrs. VanOrsdel turned to farming again, and purchased 435 acres between Dallas and Monmouth known as the Bidwell farm which consisted of farming land and several acres of prunes. VanOrsdel spent much time on his place up to the time of his death in 1921. He was discovered dead on the ranch one day, having succumbed from a heart attack.

Mr. and Mrs. VanOrsdel were parents of six children: John, who was engaged in the lumber business in Canada, Alex, attorney for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. in Washington D.C., Mrs. C.I. Crider of Dallas, R.R. VanOrsdel who owned the Dallas Pharmacy, Mrs. Pauline Ford of Burlingame, California, and Clark VanOrsdel of Dallas.

This history article is sponsored by Some Things in Dallas.

Some Things is located at:

745 Main St., Dallas


Tue-Sat | 10:30 a.m.

to 5:30 p.m.

Information in this article is from the Library of the Polk County Historical Society.

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