John Yontz (April 8-April 5, 1852)
Our first official Sheriff for Santa Clara County was John Yontz. Yontz left his home state of Illinois and arrived here, in California in the Spring of 1849. He was appointed Sheriff in early 1850, a few months prior to the first official county election. The election was held on Monday, April 8, 1850; John beat out three other candidates for the Sheriff’s job, receiving 379 votes compared to the runner up R.B. Overton who received 263 votes. California became a state on the 9th of September, 1850, making Yontz the first official Sheriff of Santa Clara County under statehood.
John retired from office April 5, 1852. He made an unsuccessful bid for Sheriff in 1853, losing to William McCutchen. Although he was no longer sheriff, he continued to stay in county politics. In 1852 he conducted the official population census for the county. He also served as Public Administrator for the county and Constable for the County and City of San Jose. In 1864 and 1865, he served as a Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff John Hicks Adams.
In the early 1860’s he lost his oldest daughter, Sarah, while she was giving birth to his grandchild. His wife Catherine ended up in the insane asylum in Stockton. Charles Yontz, the youngest of four Yontz children, also served as a Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Adams. In the 1890’s, Charles ended up on the other side of the law. He was arrested for being a vagrant, and spent a few days in the county jail. On one occasion he was sent to San Quentin for Grand Larceny, where it appeared he may have passed away. There are no records relating to what may have happened to John’s other two children, William and Mary.
John sold his ranch in south county to his son William in the 1870’s, and moved to a home on Larken Street in San Francisco. He died on March 22, 1877, at the age of 74.
Joseph W. Johnson (April 5, 1852- Oct 3, 1853)
Joseph W. Johnson, our second Sheriff, was born in North Carolina on the 29th day of October 1818. At the age of 31 years, he left New Orleans by ship and sailed to California, arriving here October 10, 1849. During the year of 1851 and early 1852, Johnson held the positions of Bailiff and Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff John Yontz. Johnson took office on April 5, 1852, beating W.B. Thompson in the September 1851 election. During Johnson’s short career as Sheriff he was responsible for the hanging of two men at the county jail. Ramon Romero was hung on November 26, 1852, for Grand Larceny, probably horse stealing. Then an Indian named Guadalupe was executed on December 17, 1852 for the murder of another Indian. Johnson left the Sheriff’s office on October 3, 1853.
After leaving office, Johnson continued to serve the people of San Jose and Santa Clara County. From 1863 to 1867 he was elected as the 9th Mayor of San Jose and for 18 years before his death in 1880 he served as a Justice of Peace. On Tuesday, March 22, Johnson went to the Bank Exchange Saloon on First Street and after a brief conversation with the proprietor ordered himself a drink. Within minutes he collapsed and died. He was 61 years old.
William McCutchen (October 3, 1853-October 2, 1855)
William McCutchen, our third Sheriff was a large man, standing well over six feet tall. He was born in Davidson County, Tennessee in 1816. Sometime prior to 1836 the McCutchen family moved to Missouri, where William met his wife Amanda Henderson. In early 1845 they had a daughter, Harriett. In the Spring of 1846 the McCutchens loaded their valuables into a wagon and headed west for California. They made if far as Fort Bridger in Wyoming when either their wagon or oxen gave out. Several days later they thought their fortunes had changed for the better when a new train of twenty wagons rumbled into the fort. After a day’s rest and a restocking of provisions the Captain of the wagon train invited the McCutchens to join their party west. The McCutchens then became part of western history, for they had just joined the ill-fated Donner Party. During the trip westward, William and another member of the party, C.T. Stanton left the main group and headed for Sutter’s Fort. Once at Sutter’s Fort the two were to secure provisions and return to the wagon train. Unfortunately, by the time McCutchen and Stanton reached the fort, Willam had become extremely sick and wasn’t able to make the return trip. The second relief trip, which included McCutchen, found what was left of the “Snow shoe party” that was making their way out of the mountains. Amanda was part of this group, but Harriett was not. She had died back at Donner Lake on February 2nd, and was buried inside one of the makeshift cabins.
William and Amanda first settled in Sonoma, later moving to San Jose. By 1852 the McCutchens had three children- James, John and Thomas. In the September elections of 1853, William won the Sheriff job by 113 votes over S.O. Houghton. He took office October 3, 1853.
Sheriff McCutchen and Peter Minor, an Alderman of San Jose, failed to rest on the Sabbath. Preferring to test their equestrian skills they had a horse race through the streets of San Jose. The Sheriff won the race by a half a neck. The prize, a bottle of whiskey. Unfortunately the City Marshal didn’t seem to appreciate horse racing through his streets and arrested both the Sheriff and Alderman. The next morning they were arraigned before Mayor Houghton and were fined $10 each.
Amanda died in 1857 at the age of 35. She died of complications while giving birth to their fourth son. Edward Johnson McCutchen. Edward eventually became a prominent attorney in a San Francisco law firm that still bears his name, McCutchen, Doyle, Brown and Enersen. William lived to the age of 79 years, dying after suffering a stroke on April 17, 1895. He was buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose.
Phillip T. McCabe (October 2, 1855-October 5 1857)
The fourth Sheriff for Santa Clara County was Phillip Thurman McCabe. Sheriff McCabe was born December 20, 1802, in Bear Wallow Grove, Kentucky. In 1830 he married Martha B. Davidson with whom he had five children, one son and four daughters, the son died in infancy.
In 1849 the McCabe family crossed the plains, stopping in January at Bidwell’s bar (Chico) in Butte County, where his wife died. In the fall of 1850, he moved his family to a farm near Lawrence Station (Sunnyvale). In 1853 they relocated to San Jose. McCabe ran for Sheriff in 1855 under the Know Nothing party, beating S.O Houghton, 1085 votes to 990 votes. McCabe executed more men than any other Sheriff of Santa Clara County; during his two short years as Sheriff, seven men went to the gallows.
In December 1855, two men were hung. An Indian named Pedro was executed for the murder of a Mrs. Heguira and her two children. One week later Gregorio Sobrano was hung for the murder of Don Pancho. Then, on September 12, 1856 Blas Angelino, previously convicted of murder was sent to the gallows. During a two month period between May 3, 1857 and July 18, 1857, four men were executed for murder.
McCabe again ran for Sheriff in 1857, but this time as an Independent candidate. He lost to John M. Murphy, 680 to 987.
At the time of his death on November 21, 1890, Phillip McCabe was 87 years old. He was buried in the pioneer section of Oak Hill Cemetery.
John M. Murphy (October 5, 1857-October 7, 1861
John Marion Murphy was an early pioneer to California as well as the fifth Sheriff of Santa Clara County. John’s parents emigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1820, where John was born. Unsatisfied with the political surroundings of Canada, Martin Murphy Sr. packed up his family and crossed the border in 1840, settling in Missouri. For fear of losing his family to a deadly Malaria epidemic, Martin started making plans and built up supplies for the long journey west. In the Spring of 1844, twenty six members of the Murphy family joined a wagon train headed to California led by Captain Elisha Stephens; although spelled differently, Stevens Creek Road is named after him. The “Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party” became the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains. John Murphy was only 19 years old when he crossed the country and settled in Santa Clara County.
In 1846, John was commissioned a Lieutenant under Captain Weber of the San Jose Volunteers. He was to help recruit volunteers in Santa Clara County to fight in the Mexican War. In early 1847, Murphy, along with a force of 101 men, marched from San Francisco to Santa Clara where they met with an army of 250 Mexicans under the command of a man named Sanchez. The Americans were able to drive the Mexicans into the Santa Cruz Mountains, ending the so called “Battle of Santa Clara.” The casualties of the war included 4 Mexican men killed, 4 wounded. Two American soldiers were slightly wounded.
When John heard about gold being discovered, he wasted no time reaching the gold fields. In August or September of 1848, John entered into a partnership with Captain Weber and opened a small trading post near Placerville. When the gold started to play out, Murphy headed south settling in Calaveras County. With his brother Daniel, he opened up a trading post in an area that became known as Murphy’s Diggings. John, although only 23 years old, knew how to handle the local Indians. He was very successful in getting them to mine gold for him in trade for merchandise from his business. It was said that by the time John left Murphy’s in 1849, he had well over 2 million dollars in gold with him.
John returned to San Jose, and in 1850 married Virginia Reed, daughter of James F. Reed, both of whom were survivors of the ill-fated Donner Party. Virginia was only sixteen at the time of her engagement to John. They had eight children, two died in infancy.
In the first election of Santa Clara County in 1850, John was voted to serve as the first County Treasurer, 515 votes to 328 votes for Lewis Bascom. On April 10, 1854, he was elected a City Councilman for the City of San Jose. In the election of 1857, Murphy ran for Sheriff on the Democratic ticket. He beat out Sheriff McCabe 987 to 680. He became the first Sheriff of Santa Clara County to be reelected. In 1859, Murphy was re-elected over James H. Morgan, 1334 to988. In the next election, September 1861, instead of running for Sheriff, he ran for County Tax Collector. A race he lost to Noah Palmer, 1731 to 1387.
After leaving his political offices, John Murphy joined the private sector. Over the years, John worked as a salesmen and auctioneer for T.W. & Spring Company, and as a Real Estate and insurance salesman with his wife and son, John M. Murphy Jr.
John died on Wednesday, February 19, 1892, after suffering a lingering illness at his home on San Augustin Street.
James Faris Kennedy (October 7, 1861-February 6, 1864)
James Faris Kennedy, a Nurseryman by trade, became our sixth Sheriff on October 7, 1861. He was voted into office in the September Election of 1861, beating out two other candidates.
Sheriff Kennedy was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, January 18, 1810. He married Serena Salter in 1840 and sired had six children. The Kennedy’s lived in Philadelphia where he worked as the Superintendent for the Fairmount Water Works until they moved to California in 1850. Kennedy worked as an agent for Commodore Stockton, and was put in charge of 3,000 acres of land between San Jose and Santa Clara. It was during this time that Kennedy built a large and prosperous nursery business, purchasing 356 acres in Los Gatos suitable for planting almond, French Prunes and apricot orchards. During the 1850’s, when Leland Stanford ran for Governor James was the losing nominee for Lieutenant-Governor of California on the Republican Ticket.
On Friday the 24th of October 1862, a tragedy occurred when Deputy Sheriff Martin Rohan, the acting Jailor, was stabbed to death during a jail break. Rohan was the first deputy of Santa County to die in the line of duty. Unfortunately he wasn’t the last. The murderer, Felipe Hernandez, had been sentenced to the gallows and was only days away from the hangmen’s noose when he stabbed Deputy Rohan two times in the heart. Sheriff Kennedy exhausted posse after posse searching for the killer, but Hernandez made good his escape. No word was heard about the wanted murderer until the San Jose Mercury reported on June 4, 1865, that Hernandez was shot to death during a dispute with another gang member along the Colorado River.
Kennedy had four months left to his term as Sheriff, when he died suddenly during surgery for a tumor in his shoulder on February 6, 1864.
John Hicks Adams (February 11, 1864 – March 7, 1870) & (March 4, 1872 – March 6, 1876)
John Hicks Adams is probably the most well known and famous Sheriff in the history of Santa Clara County. Sheriff Adams, the seventh Sheriff of this county, was born in Edwardsville, Illinois, on June 13, 1820. His father, John Adams Sr., was elected Sheriff of Madison County in 1838. John Jr., was appointed Deputy Sheriff; his duties included collecting taxes and taking care of court business. In December 1841, John married Mathilda Pomeroy. Their first child, May Hanna was born one year later on December 21, 1842.
In May of 1847, during the Mexican War, Adams joined Company J, fifth Regiment of the Illinois Volunteers. During the march south, the commander of his company, Captain Niles, died; John was promoted to Captain of Company J, the rank he continued to maintain throughout his year and half of active duty. John served most of his time in the Southwest, fighting Indians. Captain Adams was discharged from the service on the 12th of October 1848.
When word spread East that gold had been discovered in California, John was struck with gold fever. He started West, arriving in Hangtown (now Placerville) in August 1849. John stayed in the gold country mining until September of 1851, when he returned home. A year later in the spring of 1852, he again started for California, but this time he was accompanied by his family. They settled in Georgetown, where John continued mining, when in 1853 they moved to a farm in Gilroy.
John started his political career by running for and winning the office of County Supervisor for Gilroy and Almaden Township in the September election of 1861. In 1863, John ran for Sheriff, beating William Aram by more than 500 votes. With the passing of Sheriff Kennedy on February 6,1864, the Board of Supervisors appointed Aams (who would have been sworn in as Sheriff in March0 to finish out Kennedy’s term. Adams ran for re-election in 1865 and 1867, winning both elections. He became the first Sheriff in Santa Clara County to be elected to three successive terms. Retiring for a couple of years in 1870, he again ran for re-election in 1871 and 1873, winning both terms. In 1875 Adams lost an election for the first and only time in his life, losing to Nicholas Harris, 2,854 to 2,140.
On January 24, 1878, Adams and ex-County Clerk Cornelius Finley left San Jose for the last time, leaving San Jose to mine gold in Arizona’s Davidson Canyon. In late August, Adams and Finely were appointed Deputy United States Marshals for the Arizona Territory. Ten days later, the headlines in Arizona and San Jose newspapers told the story of their murders. Adams and Finely had left the Washington mine and were in route to Tucson when they were ambushed by five Mexican bandits’ Finely died instantly with a gunshot to his heart, but Adams put up a fight. He was shot once in the side and appeared to have been beaten to death with clubs and rocks. The murderers were caught in Mexico and held in a Sonoran jail, but Mexican officials refused to extradite them to the United States for the prosecution of the murders.
While Captain Adams was Sheriff, he was second to none in skillful pursuit of wanted outlaws. Although he didn’t personally capture the highwayman Tiburcio Vasquez, it was his information that led to a large crowd of men, women and children in the yard of the Santa Clara County Jail. In 1864, a band of renegade Confederate soldiers from San Jose robbed two stage coaches near Placerville. During the pursuit Deputy Sheriff Staples of El Dorado County was gunned down. Information filtered to Sheriff Adams that the confederates were held up in a shack near Almaden. Sheriff Adams and a posse of Deputies surrounded the shack, and demanded their surrender. The robbers failing to obey the order and tried to escape. A shoot-out, right out of a western movie, ensued. All of the confederates were either captured or killed in the volley of shots. Sheriff Adams was wounded when a bullet struck his pocket watch and glanced into his ribs.
Nicholas R. Harris (March 8, 1870 – March 4, 1872 & March 6, 1876 – March 7, 1880)
Nicholas R. Harris served as the 8th Sheriff of Santa Clara County. Sheriff Harris was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 9, 1836. At the age of 16 he came to California crossing the plains in six months and fourteen days. Along the way, he had trouble with Indians and heavy snow, finally reaching Sutter’s Fort October 11, 1852. In 1853 he came to Santa Clara County and settled in the Calaveras Valley. Nicholas married Mary E. Ogan in 1862 and had four sons.
Harris first ran for Sheriff in 1867 and lost to Sheriff Adams by exactly 100 votes. Two years later, he beat out Adams’ Under-Sheriff, R.B. Hall, 1,887 to 2,229. For the election of 1871, Adams decided to run again for the Sheriff’s job. Although he was the incumbent, Sheriff Harris lost to the popular Adams 2,615 to 2,490. Harris waited until 1875 to again run for Sheriff, this time beating Sheriff Adams by 714 votes. He was re-elected in 1877 over A.G. Hinman, but in 1879 he lost to Frank E. Williams, 2,341 to 2,097.
In June 1888, Harris was appointed by President Cleveland as a Special Operative for the United States Secret Service. He was promoted to the rank of Special Agent, making $5.00 a day in July of 1894. He held this position until his retirement on February 10, 1898.
Nicholas R. Harris died in San Francisco on Tuesday, May 27, 1902. He was walking with his son, Nicholas Jr., when all of a sudden he collapsed, dying in his son’s arms.
Frank E. Williams (March 8, 1880 – January 7, 1883)
Frank E. Williams was the first Sheriff elected under the new State Constitution. The new constitution allowed Williams to serve a three year term instead of the customary two year term of previous and future administrations.
Frank was born in Portage County, Ohio, August 25, 1836. As a teenager, he worked as a clerk at a local mercantile in a suburb of Cleveland. He eventually became a partner, but sold his interest in 1857. Traveling to New York City Williams booked passage on a steamer for California. On arrival in California, Williams headed straight to San Jose, procuring employment at local ranches.
He was able to save enough money to purchase a ranch near King and Story Roads, where he raised hay and grain. Frank married Amelia A. White; they had four sons and four daughters.
In 1879 Williams ran for Sheriff on the Republican ticket and prevailed over Sheriff Harris, 2,341 to 2,097. He decided not to run in the 1882 election, but ran again in 1884. He lost to Sheriff Branham by just over 1,100 votes.
Frank Williams died at the age of 72 on December 1, 1907, and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Benjamin F. Branham (January 8, 1883 – January 3, 1887)
Benjamin F. Branham, our tenth Sheriff, comes from a family of early California pioneers. His father, Isaac Branham, brought his family across plains using a team of oxen, leaving Missouri in 1846. Benjamin still only an infant at the time of the crossing, was born on July 25, 1845. The Branham’s arrived in the Santa Clara Valley on December 2, 1846.
Young Benjamin was educated in the public and private schools of San Jose, finishing his education at the Gates Academy. From 1868 to 1870 he served as Deputy County Treasurer. Prior to 1876, when he was appointed Under Sheriff to Sheriff Harris, Benjamin worked for six years as a farmer and miner. At the end of Harris’s term as Sheriff in 1880, he found employment as a book-keeper for the San Jose Savings Bank, and later as a book-keeper for the Mariposa Store.
Benjamin ran for Sheriff on the Democratic ticket in the November 1882 election, winning by a majority of 764 votes. He ran for reelection in 1884, beating Frank E. Williams by a vote of 4,046 to 2,919.
Two well-known murderers went to the gallows during Sheriff Branham’s term. On Friday, November, 31, 1883, Joseph Jewell was put to death in the rear yard of the Santa Clara County Jail for his part in the murders of Archibaild McIntyre and W.P. Renowden. On October 24, 1884, at 11:07 a.m., Jan Wasielewsky fell through the gallows trap door; Wasielewsky was convicted and sentenced to death for the mutilation and murder of his wife.
In 1886 Branham’s promising political career came to an abrupt end when he caused a great controversy over the killing of Pedro Pacheco. Pacheco was convicted of assault and was sentenced to ten years in state prison. While en-route to San Quentin, Pacheco, aided by a friend, escaped from two Deputy Sheriffs who were escorting him. Sheriff Branham immediately organized a posse and went after the escaped felon, finally catching up to him in Kern County. Pacheco refused to surrender, and proceeded to shoot at the officers. In the volley of shoots, Pacheco was killed.
When word of the killing filtered back to San Jose, the Mexican American community became outraged. Just before the November 1886 election the Mexican Americans of Santa Clara County held an “anti-Branham” meeting at the Promis’ Hall on North Market Street. Inez Pacheco, a nephew of Pedro Pacheco, appeared before the gathering and beseeched the crowd to vote against Sheriff Branham. It worked. Sheriff Branham lost the race to Jonathan Sweigert, 3,828 votes to 3,378.
After leaving office, Benjamin worked as a successful real estate broker in the San Jose area. In the 1896/1897 edition of San Jose directory, Mr. Branham is listed as having relocated to South Africa, even though South Africa has no records of his entering the country.
Sheriff Branham next appears in the 1920 census, living in Oroville California. He died there at the age of 84 on March 30, 1930.
Jonathan Sweigert (January 3, 1887-January 5, 1891)
Johnathan Sweigert was voted the eleventh Sheriff of Santa Clara County in the election of 1886. He was a native of DuPage County, Illinois, where he was born in 1842. In early 1851, the Sweigert family left their home state to come to California. First traveling to New York, they caught a steamer for Panama. Using mules they crossed the Isthmus to the Pacific Ocean, where they caught another ship for San Francisco. After a year in San Francisco where Jonathan’s father invested in real estate, they relocated to San Jose. After completing two years of college at the University of the Pacific in Santa Clara, Jonathan began raising fruit trees in the Santa Clara Valley.
In 1878 he was elected to the City Council of San Jose, a position he held for two years. In 1886, he ran for Sheriff of Santa Clara County. He succeeded in beating out the controversial Sheriff Benjamin Branham, 3,828 to 3,378. Sworn into office January 3, 1887, Sweigert only stayed in office for one term, not running for reelection in 1890. He retired on January 5, 1891. Jonathan Sweigert died in Pacific Grove on April 20, 1921.
Giles E. McDougall (January 5, 1891 – January 2, 1893)
Giles E McDougall served as our twelfth Sheriff from January 5, 1891 to January 2, 1893. He was not a career law enforcement officer, but a leading builder and contractor in Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.
Giles was born on October 10, 1831 in Sandy Creek New York. Leaving school at the age of 15, he spent the next six years as an apprentice carpenter, a trade that would serve him well for the rest of his life. Some of his most notable accomplishments, while practicing his trade, included the San Jose Savings Bank, additions to the College of Norte Dame, and a number of buildings at the New Almaden mines. He was also the general contractor for the San Lorenzo Valley Flume; in 1874 and 1875 he built the 14 mile flume that carried logs from Boulder Creek to Felton.
In 1890, McDougall ran for Sheriff on the Republican ticket, winning the November election by 111 votes. He had been Sheriff for only two weeks when he executed James M. Eubanks on January 19, 1891. Eubanks was hung on the gallows in the jail’s rear yard for the December 1889 murder of his 15 year old daughter. The hanging affected Giles so much that he took up the cause to remove the duty of executions from the county Sheriffs and make the state responsible. McDougall wrote to every county sheriff in the state seeking support for his cause. Due to his persistent lobbying, McDougall succeeded in changing the law by the end of the same year.
Sheriff McDougall died in East San Jose on January 24, 191 at the age of 83.
George Y. Bollinger (January 2, 1893 – January 7, 1895)
George Y. Bollinger became our thirteenth Sheriff on January 2, 1893, serving a single two year term. George’s father Christian, whom Bollinger Road is named after, came to California in 1852. The Bollingers purchased large tracks of land in San Mateo County. Eventually the family ranch was sold to the Spring Valley Water Company, who built the Crystal Spring lakes.
Sheriff Bollinger became the first Sheriff of Santa Clara County born in the State of California. He was born in San Mateo County on October 13, 1856, and graduated from Redwood City High School. When George was 18 years old he was arrested in San Jose for disorderly conduct. According to the San Jose Weekly Mercury dated May 14, 1874, George was arrested for driving a carriage down Santa Clara Street while intoxicated, and spent the night in the city jail. On the 22nd of April, 1877, George married Hattie Parks of San Jose; they were married for 44 years.
From 1884 to 1887 he ran a livery stable in Hollister, later returning to his ranch on Bollinger Road in San Jose where he raised high grade cattle and racing horses. In the November 1892 election, Bollinger ran for sheriff on the Democratic ticket, beating 3 other candidates. In June 1894, near the end of his term as Sheriff, Santa Clara County was hit hard by a general railroad strike. The railroad workers, acting in sympathy with the eastern railroad men, paralyzed the state. The fruit growers in the valley were hit particularly hard because their crops were ready for shipment. They were unable to get their harvest to the markets. Sheriff Bollinger took the matter into his own hands and used 70 deputized officers to enter the train yards to break up the strike. He even drove the first engine, carrying fruit from the San Jose yard.
After leaving office in January 1895, he retired and returned back to his ranch where he died on June 11, 1921 at the age of 64 years.
James H. Lyndon (January 7, 1895 – January 2, 1899)
Sheriff Lyndon was born in Grand Isle County, Vermont, on May 6, 1847. In 1863 at the age of sixteen years, James traveled to Burlington and enlisted in the Fifth Vermont Infantry. He was promptly rejected by the inspecting officer because of his young age. The following year, along with 300 other recruits, he joined Company I, Twenty-First Massachusetts Infantry. After six weeks of drilling, he was stationed in Annapolis until the middle of April when he received orders to join his regiment at the front. Lyndon participated in a number of bloody battles, including the Wilderness, Spottsylania and Cold Harbor, when his regiment received heavy losses. For the next few months the Union Army surrounded Petersburg, bitter fighting led to heavy casualties for both sides. A few days after Petersburg fell, the Union Army pursued Lee’s Armies into Farmville. General Lee surrendered to General Grant the next day. On April 9, 1865 James’ regiment was ordered home. He returned home to Vermont in August after being honorably discharged. In 1866 he attended the Academy at Alburg Springs. Two years later, James left Vermont heading for California in order to join his brother John W. Lyndon. John had come to California in 1859 and owned a thriving lumberyard in Los Gatos. James worked as a clerk at the Lumberyard, and a few years later purchased the yard from John. He also bought and ran the Ten Mile House, later known as the Los Gatos Hotel. In 1875, he sold the hotel and went back to work for his brother.
In 1894 James ran for Sheriff on the Republican ticket and beat out three other candidates, including the incumbent, George Bollinger.
James Lyndon died at his home in Los Gatos of pneumonia on March 28, 1912.
Robert Jackson Langford (January 2, 1899 – February 21, 1905)
Robert J. Langford comes from a long line of pioneering families. His ancestors are among the earlier settlers of Jamestown colony dating back to 1668. They also fought in the Colonial and Revolutionary Wars.
Sheriff Langford was born in Washington County, Iowa in 1851. With his parents, Pleasant and Sarah Langford and four other children, crossed the plains with ox teams to California in 1852. They came directly to Santa Clara County, and settled in the vicinity of Bainter’s Gulch near Los Gatos.
Robert attended the public schools of Los Gatos and graduated from the University of the Pacific. In 1876 he married Francis Freeman a native of Illinois. They had three children, one of whom died in 1883. They purchased ten acres on Senter Road in 1886 and planted cherry and apricot trees.
For twenty two years Robert was in the butcher and cattle business, running a very successful meat market on First Street. In the November election of 1898, he ran for Sheriff on the Republican ticket, running against George Bollinger and the incumbent James Lyndon. Langford won the election by a narrow 151 votes. Four years later in 1902 he ran for re-election this time as an Independent, and won over the two other candidates.
Just two years into his second term as Sheriff, Langford died on February 21, 1905 from a lingering illness. He was only 53 years old.
Frank H. Ross (February 28, 1905 – January 7, 1907)
Frank H. Ross was appointed Sheriff by the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors after the untimely death of Sheriff Robert Langford.
Sheriff Ross was born in 1871, the first child born in Modesto California. Ross’s father came to California in 1852, settling in the San Joaquin valley. At the age of eleven, Ross moved to San Jose where he attended public schools. When Frank was fourteen years old he enrolled in the University of the Pacific until Stanford University opened. Finishing two semesters at Stanford he enrolled at the San Jose Business College, and received his business education. In 1892 he was hired as manager and stage driver for the Mount Hamilton Stage Company. Frank later went to work for the Southern Pacific depot where he was in charge of the baggage room.
Frank Ross was 32 years old when he was sworn in as the sixteenth Sheriff of Santa Clara County on February 28, 1905. Two months into his term on April 28, a band of pickpockets boarded a train from San Francisco to Monterey. While on a stop in Palo Alto, the gang easily picked the pockets and purses of many local and prominent citizens. Sheriff Ross, upon being notified of the crimes, boarded the train on its return trip to San Francisco and easily apprehended two major leaders of the gang. Later that same day, two stage coaches were lumbering down from Mt. Hamilton to San Jose. As the first stage neared Smith Creek, a lone gunman held up the stage, and robbed the passengers of their money and valuables. Minutes after sending the first stage on its way the second stage rolled into the robber’s sight. When word reached Sheriff Ross, he instantly responded to the scene with a posse of Deputy Sheriffs. The next day the Sheriff arrested the holdup man in Los Gatos. Then came April 18, 1906, “The San Francisco Earthquake”. Sheriff Ross was awakened early by the earthquake and raced downtown in his automobile. He personally directed work and rescue parties downtown and at Agnew Hospital where hundreds of inmates were killed and injured.
In the November election of 1906, Ross lost his bid for Sheriff to Arthur Langford by only 309 votes. The day Ross was to step down and turn the jail over to Langford, he filed an injunction contesting the election results. During the weeklong trial, the county actually had two official Sheriffs. Sheriff Ross locked his deputies inside the jail, while Sheriff Langford handled matters outside the jail. On January 15, 1907, Judge Welch ruled against Ross. Langford took over as Sheriff later the same day.
Frank was appointed Police Chief of San Jose, July 8, 1912. Two years later on August 12, 1914, he resigned and went into private business. Over the next few decades, Frank operated the stables for the Vendome Hotel, and went into the seed business. One of his last jobs was as part owner of a garage at Market and St. James Street.
Sheriff Frank H. Ross died of a heart ailment on February 26, 1940 at the age of 68.
Arthur Burr Langford (January 7, 1907 – January 3, 1919)
Arthur Langford was the son of Sheriff Robert Langford and our seventeenth Sheriff.
Sheriff Langford was born on May 4, 1878 in Concow, Butte County, California. Arthur attended the public schools of San Jose and graduated from San Jose High School in 1897. After high school he attended the San Jose Business College. Through the next few years, Arthur ventured into various lines of employment, including the butcher trade, mining in British Columbia and working the range of the Miller and Lux Ranch, which was at one one of the largest ranches in Central California. In 1901 he went to work as a Deputy Sheriff for his father. When his father died in 1905, Arthur actively sought the appointment of Sheriff, but received only one vote from the Board of Supervisors. Frank Ross was appointed Sheriff. Sheriff Ross appointed Arthur as one of his Deputies.
In the November election of 1906, Arthur ran for Sheriff on the Democratic ticket against Ross, winning by only 309 votes. Ross refused to leave office and filed an injunction disputing the election results. It was almost ten days before Langford was able to take over the office of Sheriff. He ran for reelection in 1910, this time as a Republican, and won by 1694 votes. He also won the 1914 election, becoming the first Sheriff to serve twelve consecutive years. In 1918, he lost the election to George Lyle by just over 2000 votes.
Following his last term as Sheriff, he entered into the real estate business and for eight years worked for the Johnson-Temple Real Estate Company. In 1927, he was elected the County Auditor, a position he held until his death in 1936.
Sheriff Langford had been admitted to San Jose Hospital for a heart condition in late June of 1936. A week later on July 5, he suffered a severe heart attack and lapsed into a coma, dying the next morning. Arthur Langford was 58 years old.
GEORGE WELCH LYLE (January 3, 1919 – January 4, 1931) & January 7, 1935 – January 2, 1939)
Historian Eugene Sawyer wrote of George Lyle; Exceptionally fortunate in her long line of wide-awake, intrepid sheriffs whose patriotism, intelligence, energetic aggressiveness and personal bravery have added so much to the superb stature of American manhood, California is at present to be congratulated because of a recent accession to the shrievalty officers' ranks in the person of the accomplished, public-spirited and popular sheriff of Santa Clara County, George W. Lyle of San Jose.
A native of St. Louis Missouri, Sheriff Lyle was born on August 14,1885. He was the oldest of three children born to Phillip and Ella Lyle. George attended the public schools of St. Louis, and after his graduation from high school, attended the Christian Brothers College.
In 1902 George moved west and settled in Santa Clara County, eventually settling in the city of Santa Clara. In 1904 he was hired as a Deputy Constable for Santa Clara under Constable John Toomey. When Constable Toomey resigned in 1909, George was appointed to succeed him.
George married Ora Van Curen in Santa Cruz in June of 1910. They had two sons, George and Robert. In the August election of 1918, he ran for Sheriff and beat the incumbent Arthur Langford 12,402 to 9,397 votes. George won the next two elections in 1922 and 1926, but lost the 1930 election to William Emig. Just days before the August primary election, the San Jose Mercury Herald reported that the "Bootleg King" of Santa Clara County was immune from arrest from Sheriff Lyle. The Mercury accused Lyle and some of his Deputies of aiding and protecting John Locurto, a convicted still operator. Lyle even went so far as to have two of his deputies arrest a witness who was to give sworn testimony on the bootlegging conditions in the county just as he was entering the Grand Jury Court room. Sheriff Lyle won the election in 1934, holding office for the last time. He lost to Emig in 1938, and again in the 1942 election.
At the age of 62, Sheriff Lyle died on his ranch in Uvas Canyon after suffering a stroke on January 19,1946.
WILLIAM J. EMIG (January 5, 1931 – January 7, 1935) & (January 2, 1939 – February 2, 1946)
A lot happened to William Emig while he was Sheriff - a Deputy Sheriff was shot to death, a mob broke into his jail and lynched two inmates, and a criminal conviction ended of his political career.
Sheriff Emig was born in Santa Clara, California, on December 19,1890. He attended the public schools of Santa Clara until the completion of the eighth grade. Later in life he attended San Jose Normal School, which was renamed San Jose State. William worked in a variety of occupations before entering into law enforcement.
In 1920 he joined the Santa Clara Police Department as the night officer, later taking the position of City Marshal. In 1922, William became a motorcycle officer for the San Jose Police Department. He quickly climbed the promotional ladder and was promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain. While he was with the San Jose Police Department, Emig becoming heavily involved with traffic safety for children. He gave lectures to local school children and went so far as to write a book called "Mother Goose in Safety Land". He also wrote and directed a motion picture titled "Caution." In 1930, William ran for Sheriff on the Independent ticket, and won, beating the controversial incumbent George Lyle. He took office in January 1931 as the 19th Sheriff of Santa Clara County. Only ten short months later, Sheriff Emig had to bury Deputy Sheriff H.W. McAuley, the first deputy to die in the line of duty in over thirty years. McAuley was shot to death by rum runners on Oakland Road in San Jose.
In November 1933, Brooke Hart, the son of a local department store owner, was kidnapped and murdered. When Brooke's body was found in the mud flats of San Francisco Bay, word reached San Jose and an angry mob formed in front of the county jail. That night the two suspects, Jack Holmes and Harold Thurmond, were dragged from their cells after the mob stormed the jail. The two were carried across the street to St. James Park and hung from two trees (the two trees were cut down shortly thereafter).
Sheriff Emig ran for reelection in 1934 winning the primary, but losing in the general election by 1,158 votes. In the election of 1938, he again beat George Lyle. During his three terms as Sheriff, Emig was one of the first law enforcement leaders to equip his men with bullet proof vests, bullet proof windshields, machine guns and tear gas bombs. In February 1946, Sheriff Emig was forced to resign from office after he was convicted on charges of conspiracy to violate state gambling laws. He eventually served three months in the county jail. After his release he moved to Santa Cruz and in 1950 made an unsuccessful bid for Sheriff of Santa Cruz County. Shortly afterward he moved to Palm Springs.
Monday night, October 21, 1963, William Emig was serving a summons when he apparently tripped in the dark. He struck his head, fell into a swimming pool and drowned. He was 72 years old.
WALTER SCOTT GASPAR (February 4, 1946 – January 6, 1947)
Walter Gaspar was born on April 4,1888, one of a pair of twin boys, in the family home on upper West Avenue, in Waukesha Wisconsin. As he grew up, his father, Frederick, was city clerk and Secretary of the school Board. It was during these public meetings that the young Walter became interested in city government. It was about this time that eleven year old Walter met seven year old Antoinette Marie Kuehn. Twenty-one years later that they were married. In April 1909, Walter started work for a street paving company, working as a finisher on curbs and gutters.
Near the end of 1909 the company moved to Dallas Texas, where he was promoted to foreman. He found little satisfaction in his job, so on the 31st of May 1910, he joined the United States Navy as an Apprentice Seaman. Walter's twin brother, Wallace, died in July 1911. Upon Walter's return home for the services, his family persuaded him to leave the Navy and return home, where he was now desperately needed. For the next few years he worked at the same company in the same position his brother had held. October 1914, Walter packed his bags and traveled to Milwaukee where he enlisted in the Marine Corps. One of his first assignments was in Washington D.C. aboard the U.S.S. Mayflower, the Presidential Yacht. A year later he was transferred to the U.S.S. Texas, one of the largest battleships of its time.
June 6, 1917, war was declared between the United States and Germany. Gunnery Sergeant Gaspar soon found himself on a convoy headed for France. He was involved in many bloody campaigns. Many of his fellow countrymen were killed or wounded. In September 1918, Sergeant Gaspar was promoted to First Lieutenant and received his second Silver Star medal. The following year, September 1919, Walter returned to the United States and married his childhood sweetheart.
For the next twelve years, the now Captain Gaspar, saw duty in the Dominican Republic, China, and Guam, and served as a recruiter back in the states. On August 14,1931, Captain Gaspar was transferred to Nicaragua, where he took command of the District of San Rafael. During this tour, most of his duties involved patrolling the mountains around the small town of 200, searching for the local bands of bandits. In March, a courier was sent out with the company's mail, but the runner was later captured and killed by bandits. Word reached the United States (and Mrs. Gaspar) that mail belonging to Captain Gaspar was found on the bodies of several American Marines killed by insurgents. Antoinette Gaspar learned the next day that her husband was alive and well, and not dead as reported in the newspapers.
In 1941, and for most of World War II, Gaspar served as Commander of the Marines at Moffett Field. In May 1942 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. At the conclusion of the war, the military services were retiring many of the career officers, Gaspar included.
On February 2, 1946 William Emig resigned as Sheriff after being convicted of gambling conspiracy charges. The same day Gaspar was sworn in as the twentieth Sheriff of Santa Clara County. The Sheriff's Office was considerably smaller in 1946, consisting of only 28 personnel. Their fleet of vehicles consisted of four cars; one car for the Sheriff, one for the Under-Sheriff, and two were used as patrol cars. One two-man car was assigned to the northern portion of the county, and the other two-man car to the south. Because two way car radios didn't exist in 1946, if an emergency call was received, it was not uncommon to find the Sheriff or Under-Sheriff answering the call.
Gaspar didn't run for re-election and left office in January 1947. Sheriff Gaspar didn't stay out of the political scene for long. Later that same year, he was elected as councilman for the City of Palo Alto. In 1948 his fellow council members elected him Mayor, a position he held until 1941. In 1952 he was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, retiring in 1957.
At the age of 93, Walter Scott Gaspar died of Leukemia at his home in Palo Alto.
HOWARD HORNBUCKLE (January 6, 1947 – January 3, 1955)
Howard Hornbuckle became our twenty first Sheriff when he took office on January 6, 1947.
Sheriff Hornbuckle attended San Jose High School where he was a star athlete. He was a graduate of San Jose State and the college's Police School. While attending San Jose State, he stared on the Spartan football team. He was sworn in as a police officer for the San Jose Police Department on July 1,1931. During his fourteen year career on the force, he attended the FBI Academy as both student and instructor. He also served for five years as a traffic school instructor. After a distinguished career as a detective, and finally Captain, he resigned in 1945 and went into private business as an operator of a service station and garage.
In the general election of November 1946, Hornbuckle beat Under-Sheriff Thomas Graham for the county's top cop, 37,593 votes to 27,570. Sheriff Hornbuckle was the first Sheriff in Santa Clara County to have his deputies covered under the Civil Service Commission; prior Sheriff's had the right to fire, promote and demote at their pleasure. Most of the earlier Sheriff's would fire or, force out, any existing deputies and bring in their own men. Hornbuckle was re-elected in 1950, but lost to Melvin Hawley in the elections of 1954 and 1958.
Leaving office in January 1955, Howard went to work as a sales representative for a north county dairy.
Sheriff Hornbuckle died in San Jose Hospital on May 7,1962, at the age of 53.
MELVIN L. HAWLEY (January 3, 1955 – January 7, 1959)
Mel Hawley became our twenty second Sheriff on January 3,1955. Mr. Hawley wrote a brief autobiography for me in 1993. Who better to write about someone than himself?
“I was born in 1920 and raised on the North Shore of Chicago, finally graduating from St. John's Military Academy in 1938. Never having visited California, I decided to come to Stanford for my freshman year. For reasons which escape me, I decided to leave Stanford ( a veritable paradise ) and go east to college. Having made that mistake, I attended Yale and was there on December 7,1941. I had very wisely ( it turned out to be quite foolishly ) obtained my second lieutenancy in the field artillery and, therefore, found myself on my way to my unit in California within two weeks.
Our unit was sent to the Hawaiian Islands for staging for the Philippines, but in the process, through a series of very fortunate events, I was transferred to the Air Force as an aerial observer. Later on, I was sent to the Mainland for pilot training and graduated as an Air Force pilot. I finished off the war as a Captain and at the end of the war was training bombardiers in Texas.
After the war, my first job was with Hall Brothers in Kansas City who eventually acceded to my request to return me to California. While working for Hall Brothers, I decided to attend law school and entered Stanford Law School in 1949 and graduated in 1951. Being unemployed and nearly broke, it seemed like the perfect time to go to Europe so my wife, I and our two children went to Europe for six months, living mostly on the money that somebody paid us to rent the house I had built while in law school. The four of us traveled in Europe on a budget of $400/month! My wife and I are still living in that house that provided the rent.
When we returned from Europe, we were really broke so I looked around for some law experience which would get me before courts and juries. The only thing which appeared to be open at the time was with the District Attorneys Office. I applied and was grateful to District Attorney Menard for selecting me, and I became the fifth of five deputy D.A.s in the office. Each of us had a fair amount to do with law enforcement, dealing primarily with the California Highway Patrol and others. My office was immediately over the Sheriff's Office. I became aware, through rumor and otherwise, that the current Sheriff was not performing as well as might be expected. As a result of that, I filed for sheriff against the incumbent in 1954 and was elected to that office, taking the oath in January 1955. The first four years as Sheriff was an absolute delight for me, an experience I will never forget. I had the full support from some of the rather discouraged deputies and employees. With their abundant help, we really turned the department around and changed it from a cow county, politics ridden department to what I believe is a first class, professional police department. Of course, that four years was during the blossoming of Santa Clara County from a cow county into Silicon Valley and, therefore, our department went from a very modest beginning with relatively few people to a truly urban operation with literally hundreds of thousands of people having our department as their sole police protection.
I was re-elected in the primaries in 1959. Immediately after starting my second term, I received calls from Attorney General Mosk and Governor Brown ( the good one ) asking if I would take over the job of Deputy Director of the Department of Justice. After considerable soul searching, I went to Sacramento and took over the job in that I was promised that the reforms we had made in the Sheriff's Dept. in Santa Clara County would be carried out on a state-wide basis. I found working for the State Government totally frustrating. was use to being a nice, happy dictator as Sheriff, but now found that I spent most of my time in committee meetings spinning my wheels and being essentially useless.
About 18 months of that was all I could take and I returned to private practice in 1960. I went into partnership with Paul Myers, Jr. Our firm has expanded since then and has been located in our own building in Los Altos since 1964.
JOHN F. “JACK” GIBBONS (January 14, 1959 – January 3, 1966)
John Gibbons was born December 17, 1898 in Topeka, Kansas. John’s parents Ezra and Etta (Currell) Gibbons moved from the family farm to San Jose in 1907. Once in San Jose the Gibbons, used to farming the “old fashion way”, tried to purchase 16 horses to pull one plow and were looked upon with much amusement. Never finishing the fifth grade, John later entered the trucking business. In April of 1926, at the urging of a close friend, he joined the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office. At the time, the Sheriff’s Office had a staff of eleven, including one matron and a process server.
When he joined the Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff George Lyle, the department had no uniforms or patrol cars, all emergency and routine calls were answered from office. Every third night the deputies were required to sleep in the old jail behind the old court house, and received one and a half days off every two weeks. When William Emig was sworn into office as Sheriff in 1931, John felt it was in his best interest to resign and re-entered the trucking business with his brother-in-law. In 1935 former Sheriff Lyle unseated Sheriff Emig. Then, in 1939, when William Emig again unseated Sheriff Lyle, John rejoined the Sheriff’s office.
John started the department’s first detective Bureau with three other deputies in 1942. He rose to the rank of Sergeant in 1948, Lieutenant in 1949 and Captain in 1953. In 1956, Sheriff Hawley promoted John to Administrative Assistant, or Under Sheriff. Sheriff Hawley resigned from office in January 1959 in order to become the Deputy Director of the State Department of Justice. John was appointed by the County Board of Supervisors to finish out Hawley’s term as Sheriff. Running in the 1962 election against Gordon Misner, Sheriff Gibbons easily won by 22,000 votes.
The Sheriff’s Office changed dramatically during Sheriff Gibbon’s 29 year tenure and he retired in January of 1966. The department expanded to include a new and modern jail, a minimum security jail (Elmwood) and the county’s first women’s jail. Sheriff Gibbons was also instrumental in establishing a work furlough program and records section; the office grew from 11 to 360 employees.
Sheriff Gibbons died at the age of 74 on January 31, 1973.
CHARLES PRELSNIK (January 3, 1966 – January 4, 1970)
Charles Prelsnik already had a distinguished career as an FBI agent before joining the Sheriff's Office in 1963.
Sheriff Prelsnik was born on May 8, 1911, in Butte, Montana. In 1928 Charles came to California to attend Stanford University on a football scholarship. He played tackle for the Stanford Indians under the legendary coach Pop Warner. Eventually he earned a degree in political science, graduating in 1933.
Over the next nine years, Charles worked a variety of jobs. Including advertising, investments and as a security officer for the Shell Oil Company in San Francisco. In 1942, he became a Special Agent for the FBI. During World War II he worked in counterespionage and other security programs in Chicago, Des Moines, Salt Lake City and San Francisco. He was assigned as the resident agent for the San Jose office in 1949. He also served as a gunnery instructor in the FBI's training program.
In May of 1963, after 21 years with the FBI, Charles retired and 30 minutes later was sworn in as Under Sheriff by Sheriff John Gibbons. Three years later in 1966 Sheriff Gibbons retired. On January 3, 1966, Charles Prelsnik was sworn in as the 24th Sheriff of Santa Clara County. Later that same year, Prelsnik ran unopposed in the election for Sheriff. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, Stanford University had it's problems with student unrest and rioting. Sheriff Prelsnik was proud of his crowd control unit, and after a particular riot at Stanford commented; " We handled it well, nothing got way out of hand. Students came up to me many times and said they were impressed by the decorum of our officers. Despite the cat calling, they kept their cool ". As Sheriff, he was instrumental in the installation of metal detectors at San Jose Airport in 1968.
Sheriff Prelsnik decided not to run for re-election in the 1970 race, and instead threw his support behind his Under Sheriff James Geary. After retirement from the Sheriff's Office, he worked as a security consultant for the Bank Of America, as well as a volunteer for organizations such as Friends Outside.
Charles Prelsnik died in San Jose Hospital on March 20, 1993, after complications from heart surgery.
JAMES GEARY (January 4, 1970 – December 1, 1978)
James Geary was the second Sheriff to have worked his way through the ranks, including Under Sheriff, to be elected Sheriff of Santa Clara County.
James Maynard Geary was born in Plantsville, Connecticut on November 21, 1921. His father, Edward Geary, was Police Chief of Southington, Connecticut for many years. James won a football scholarship to the University of Connecticut, but instead joined the United States Army Air Force in June 1942. James was the Crew Chief on a C-42, transporting troops and supplies from India to China. The flight became know as “flying the hump” and had one of the highest mortality rates of the China Campaign. During his career in the service, James was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Ribbon with one Bronze star, Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Unit Badge, Good Conduct Medal and the Air medal with one oak leaf cluster.
In September 1945, James was Honorably Discharged from the Army with the rank of Staff Sergeant. Using the GI Bill, he enrolled at San Jose State majoring in law enforcement. A few years later in 1947, he joined the Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sheriff. In 1949, Deputy Geary found himself assigned to the newly opened Gilroy Sub Station.
A friend of James’ who worked for the Gilroy Police Department, introduced him to a young lady who worked for the Gilroy Phone Company. The first time he met Donna Peterman, he told her that he was going to marry her. Donna didn’t believe him, but they were married in December 1949.
James worked his way through the ranks within the Sheriff’s Office, from a Deputy Sheriff all the way through Under Sheriff. When outgoing Sheriff, Charles Prelsnik retired, he convinced James to run for the counties top cop position. During the primary election of June 1970, James came in second behind Supervisor Sam Della Maggiore. With the support of the Deputies Sheriff’s Association, James beat out Della Maggiore in the general election by more than 23,00 votes. In the 1974 election, James ran unopposed. By the time of the election in 1978, Sheriff Geary had become unpopular with the deputies. During the primary, Sheriff Geary came in first in a field of six opponents. Instead of supporting him as they did in the 1970 election, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association threw their support behind Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Robert Winter. Sheriff Geary lost the general election to Winder, 197,595 votes to his 133,002 votes.
Sheriff Geary retired a month early, on December 1, 1978. During his retirement, James took up golf and according to his wife “did what he damn well pleased.” James also enjoyed woodworking and building furniture as can be attested by looking around his home. Sheriff Geary passed away on February 10, 1989 at the age of 67.
During his administration as Sheriff, thirty four Sheriff Matrons became full sworn Deputy Sheriff’s. This move caused great concern among the male deputies. In 1974, Geary transferred Jeanne White, the first female Sergeant in the department, to patrol. This transfer was the first in the State of California for a female to take a command position in a patrol function.
Sheriff Geary was instrumental in the creation of a narcotics task force that was comprised of officers from most law enforcement agencies throughout the county. Billed as his “crowning” achievement, he created the Women’s Residential Center. This center was created to rehabilitate low risk women after their release from the County Jail.
In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News after his retirement, James said that his “biggest regret” was his inability to convince the Board of Supervisors to build a new county jail. The jails, both the men’s and women’s jail saw unprecedented growth that caused enormous security problems.
ROBERT E. WINTER (December 1, 1978 – August 1, 1989)
Robert Winter became our 26th Sheriff on December 1, 1978, after a heated election with incumbent James Geary.
Sheriff Winter’s ancestors came to the United States in 1721 as indentured servants. Williams Spurgeon and his brother James were arrested in England for stealing six shillings worth of goods and sentenced to jail. As part of their punishment they were shipped to the Colonies as indentured servants. His son, also named William, was born in North Carolina in 1734. During the Revolutionary War, Williams fought on the side of the British with the rank of Colonel. In contrast, his wife was on the side of the Colonies and used their son as a scout for the Americans. They eventually separated with William fleeing to Canada.
Winters grandfather, John Winter, was herding cattle in 1917 at the family ranch in Nevada when he was shot and killed. His murderer was the brother of a local cattle rustler who feared that if news leaked out about the rustling, his military career would be ruined. John’s wife moved to San Jose and purchased some acreage at Park and Naglee and established a dairy farm. Winters’ father, Rowland, worked on the farm and delivered milk in a Model-T Ford. After graduating from Heald Business College, Rowland went to work for Shell Oil as an Office Manager. During the Great Depression he bought a large track of land in Santa Clara and San Benito Counties.
Robert was born in Gilroy on August 13, 1930. He attended the local schools in Gilroy until he transferred to Hollister High School for his junior and senior years. In 1954, he joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, rising to the rank off Sergeant. Six years later in 1960, Robert joined the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in May 1968 and the rank of Lieutenant in May 1969, one year later. In 1973 Robert graduated from San Jose State University. For the next eleven years, he worked in Personnel and Training, Detectives, Patrol, Court Services and as a Watch Commander.
In 1978 Robert decided to run for Sheriff of Santa Clara County. With the help of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, he beat out the incumbent, Sheriff James Geary. The election pitted the Sheriff against the deputies who endorsed one of their own. Although Sheriff Geary won the primary election by more than two to one, Robert won the general election by more than 60,000 votes. In the general election of 1982, he beat Phil Crawford by 34,000 votes and in his last election for Sheriff in 1986, he won over San Jose Police Captain Stan Horton by just 16,000 votes.
Sheriff Winter retired from office on August 1, 1989, after the Board of Supervisors wrestled away control of the County jails.
In 1990, Robert ran in District One for the County Board of Supervisors, but lost to Mike Honda and in 1994 he lost the election for a State Assembly seat.
Robert still resides in the south county area with his wife Hazel, whom he met while attending college in Spokane, Washington. Together they have four children; daughter Edie followed in her fathers footsteps and is a Sergeant for San Diego County Sheriff’s Office. Mary Ellen is a housewife in Sacramento and son John Samuel IV is an attorney here in San Jose. Tragedy struck the Winter’s when son Robert Jr. died when the plane he was piloting for the National Guard crashed.
CHARLES P. GILLINGHAM (August 30. 1989 – December 14, 1998)
Charles Gillingham was the 27th Sheriff to hold office in the history of Santa Clara County. Appointed to the Office of Sheriff by the Board of Supervisors on August 30, 1989, he soon gained the endorsement of the voters by winning the election to the office in November of 1990. Sheriff Gillingham was re-elected by the voters to a second, four year term in June of 1994.
During his first term, Gillingham spent much of his time promoting and finally getting approval for a new Headquarters office. Procurement of new equipment, hand radios, cars and automatic pistols were major milestones. Sheriff Chuck Gillingham acted to expand and modernize the law enforcement services his department provided in one of California's fastest growing regions. The crime rate in Santa Clara County is one of the states lowest.
The son and brother of police officers, Chuck Gillingham served the department for 28 years. Before joining the Sheriff's Office, Gillingham was a Juvenile Probation Counselor.
His earlier years in the department saw Gillingham assigned as a Patrol Deputy, Narcotics Investigator, Jail Supervisor and Homicide Sergeant. As a Homicide Detective in 1978, Gillingham and his partner worked on 12 of the 14 murders handled by the Sheriff's Office that year; they solved all 12.
Gillingham's 1979 promotion to the rank of Lieutenant signaled the start of a successful career as a police administrator. He earned another advancement in 1986 to the rank of Captain. As a Division Commander, he managed the Elmwood Jail Facility and oversaw programs affecting 3,000 prisoner with an annual budget of $30 million.
Shortly after he was named Sheriff, Gillingham began working to "solve long-standing problems caused by neglect and the failure to be creative and innovative using existing resources" within the 500 person department. Gillingham put an immediate end to the political warfare that marred relations between his predecessor and County Supervisors. The Sheriff re-organized his office’s top management and implemented strategic planning.
He moved to update facilities and equipment, introduced modern law enforcement technology, upgraded officer training, improved affirmative action, increased community programs, beefed up court security, raised ethical standards, strengthened law enforcement protection, started drug and gang prevention education in local schools and cracked down on narcotics offenders by seizing autos and other property used in the commission of drug offenses. He also started expansion of the Sheriff's Volunteer Reserve Unit, Technical Auxiliary, Mounted Reserve and established a department Chaplancy program.
Chuck Gillingham earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from California State University, San Jose. His wife, Holly, is a County Probation Officer. The Gillingham's have two children, Chuck Jr., who recently graduated from the University of Santa Clara Law School and now serves the people of Santa Clara County as a Deputy District Attorney and a daughter Jill, who graduated from Northeastern University and now lives in the Boston area.