Emma Susan Daugherty Banister, educator and one of the earliest women sheriffs in the United States, was born in Forney, Texas, on October 20, 1871, to Bailey and Martha Ann (Taylor) Daugherty. Her father, who had come to the area from Alabama before the Civil War, was murdered in 1878. After her mother remarried, Emma stayed with her family for two or three years, then went to live with the family of her uncle, Lou Daugherty, in Goldthwaite. There she completed her formal education and studied to become a teacher. She taught in Turkey Creek, Mills County, and at Needmore (now Echo), on Jim Ned Creek in Coleman County. There she boarded in the home of the Sam Golson family.
On September 25, 1894, in Goldthwaite, she married John R. Banister, a former Texas Ranger and special agent of the United States Treasury Department. After several months of travel the couple settled in Santa Anna, where Emma assumed the duties of raising John's four small children from a previous marriage and giving birth to five of her own. Having had experience tracking cattle rustlers, Banister began working for the Texas Cattle Raisers' Association and organized its Field Inspection Service, of which he was the first chief. He was elected sheriff of Coleman County in 1914, and the family moved from the farm to the first floor of the Coleman County Jail. Emma served as John's office deputy. She bought supplies, ran her household, and oversaw the preparation of meals for the family and the prisoners.
On August 1, 1918, the sheriff died, and the commissioners of Coleman County appointed his wife to complete his term in office. Newspapers across the country did not fail to notice that a woman, even in the era before woman suffrage, had been made a sheriff in Texas. Under the heading "Woman a Sheriff!" the New York World described Emma Banister as part of "a stock of westerners that does not know fear." She ran the office efficiently by day, answering mail, instructing deputies, replying to inquiries, and managing the prisoners. In the evenings she kept the records up to date, planned meals, and took care of domestic duties. She declined the county commissioners' offer to place her name on the ballot for the November elections for a further term in office. At the completion of the term the family moved back to the farm in Santa Anna.
Mrs. Banister was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and a Baptist. In later years she took little credit for her service as sheriff of Coleman County. Oil income enabled her to travel and to deal in real estate in Santa Anna and in Elida, New Mexico. She and her husband had collected Indian artifacts and trophies of his forty-four years in law enforcement; most of the collection is now in the museum at Fort Concho National Historic Landmark, San Angelo. She died in Brownwood Memorial Hospital on June 4, 1956, and was buried in Santa Anna.
The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Leona Bruce, Banister Was There (Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Leona Bruce, Four Years in the Coleman Jail, Daughter of Two Sheriffs (Austin: Eakin Press, 1982).
Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
Texas in the 1920s
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Margaret White Banister,
“Banister, Emma Daugherty,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed October 25, 2021,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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