Badge of Honor

Whether you’re a Texas ranger or a mall cop, badges carry a 160-year history of taming the west.
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Whether you’re a Texas ranger or a mall cop, badges carry a 160-year history of taming the west.
badge

This badge of sterling silver belongs to collector Gary Hoving, a retired sheriff’s chief deputy and president of the California Law Enforcement Historical Society. Crude scratches on the back read: “Charles Ivins, 1902.”

According to Hoving, Chief Deputy Sheriff Charles Ivins served the people of San Luis Obispo County under his father, Sheriff E.C. Ivins, from 1899 to 1906. One of his more dramatic investigations involved an escaped prisoner who had bludgeoned another sheriff to death. The man was eventually recaptured and sentenced to be “hanged by the neck until dead” at San Quentin State Prison.

A silver badge of this style with a perched eagle and hand-engraved lettering required the skills of a jewelry craftsman. Shield-shaped badges tended to be more popular on the East Coast (despite this example), whereas stars were used more frequently in the West. Higher-ranking officers sometimes had their pieces gold-plated, and Texas Rangers where known to have their badges crafted from Mexican cinco peso coins. In the Old West, an itchy trigger-finger was generally more feared than a badge, but at the turn of the 19th century (as today), a polished piece of chest metal represented the full weight of the law. —Courtney Holden