Past Sheriffs of Contra Costa

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Nathaniel Jones - 1850-1852 

Photo of Past Sheriff Nathaniel JonesJones belonged to one of the first two families to establish roots in Contra Costa County. 

He settled his family on 372 acres of land in Acalanes that he bought for $100. He held the position of Sheriff for two years, the original term of office. He also served as the public administrator and as a county supervisor.

Sheriff Jones was the first of only three known Democratic Sheriffs, quite possibly costing him his later bid for State Senate; he got only eight votes out of 1,277 cast. He believed and spoke out on the party line, "Liberty first and then the Union."

Nicholas Hunsacker – 1852-1853, 1855-1857

Photo of Past Sheriff Nicholas HunsackerLittle is known of the Hunsacker clan. The family patriarch, Daniel Hunsacker, immigrated overland from Missouri in 1847 with his family, settling first in Benicia and later in Contra Costa County.

Apparently, public service ran in the family’s blood. The Hunsacker family consisted of three sons: Nicholas, James, and Harrison. Daniel served as County Treasurer. Two of his sons, Nicholas and James, served as Sheriff, and a third son, Harrison, served as a deputy.

Nicholas was a miner at Park’s Bar in 1848 and a resident of San Diego in 1874. James entered as an apprentice into the Martinez Masonic Lodge in 1858.

John F.S. Smith – 1853-1855

Photo of Past Sheriff John F.S. SmithBorn in the state of Georgia, Smith’s occupations included merchant, rancher, and farmer.

Early in life he volunteered in the service of the Republic of Texas as a soldier and took part in the struggle for Mexican independence.

In his autobiography he tells of a growing plague more dangerous than the constant prowling of the murderers and thieves, something he termed the "mob spirit". Smith wrote that, "interposing between his own respected friends in protecting the prisoner of the law, to be forced to drop the muzzle of his own pistol covering the face of his nearest advancing friend, crazed with temporary madness, is the most terrible ordeal of an officer."

In 1857, he was elected to the office of assessor.  

James Hunsacker – 1857-1861

Photo of Past Sheriff James HunsackerLittle is known of the Hunsacker clan. The family patriarch, Daniel Hunsacker, immigrated overland from Missouri in 1847 with his family, settling first in Benicia and later in Contra Costa County.

Apparently, public service ran in the family’s blood. The Hansacker family consisted of three sons: Nicholas, James, and Harrison. Daniel served as County Treasurer. Two of his sons, Nicholas and James, served as Sheriff, and a third son, Harrison, served as a deputy.

Nicholas was a miner at Park’s Bar in 1848 and a resident of San Diego in 1874. James entered as an apprentice into the Martinez Masonic Lodge in 1858.

John McEwen – 1861-1865

Very little is known of our sixth Sheriff. The present whereabouts of his family is a mystery. To date, a diligent search for a photograph has been without success. His name appears signed on many "Sheriff's Sales" documents, but beyond that little exists.

Henry Classen – 1865-1867

Photo of Past Sheriff Henry ClassenBorn in Germany in 1829, Classen was our first immigrant Sheriff. At the age of 19, he set out from New York on a ship bound for California, where he was eager to partake in the Gold Rush.

While on a job delivering 150 cows and 60 mares from Nicolaus to Oakland, he crossed from Benicia to Martinez on the ferry. The Ferry Captain’s daughter caught his eye and his heart and the two were married in 1857.

Classen served as Undersheriff for both John F.S. Smith and John J. McEwen. He was both a prominent citizen and a Master Mason when voted into office as the Sheriff.

Roswell Hard – 1867-1869

Photo of Past Sheriff Roswell HardBorn in Vermont in 1828, he moved to California in 1852 where he established residence in Antioch. Before he was elected Sheriff, Hard served a term as a County Supervisor.

In 1868, the first courthouse was extensively damaged by an earthquake. The Board of Supervisors immediately authorized Sheriff Hard to build a jail at Antioch.

David Tyler Hard aided his brother as a Deputy Sheriff and later went on to become a Justice of the Peace in Alameda. After his term as Sheriff, Roswell Hard left with a group of men from Martinez for an expedition to Alaska, where he met his death.

Warren Brown – 1869-1871

Photo of Past Sheriff Warren BrownWarren Brown, the son of Squire Elam Brown, was born in Morgan County, Illinois, June 19, 1826. In 1846, Elam Brown led a wagon train east to the Pacific Coast.

Along the way Warren contracted typhoid and nearly died. Warren's recovery was slow, but thanks to youth and constitution inured to hardships, he at last was sufficiently restored to health to permit traveling.

After a short period of mining during the Gold Rush, Warren settled in Martinez and opened a general merchandise establishment. On September 1, 1869, Warren Brown defeated L.M. Brown in the general election, 798 to 587. He died May 14, 1889.

Mark B. Ivory – 1871-1875

Photo of Past Sheriff Mark B. IvoryBorn and reared in Pennsylvania, Ivory went West at the age of 21 to seek his fortune in the pine forests of Wisconsin. After five years in the lumber business he returned home.

 In 1858, Ivory traveled to San Francisco via New York and Panama. After a short while he relocated to Contra Costa County, on a place known as the "Cook Ranch" in Green Valley.

Ivory conducted the fourth and last legal hanging in the county in the year 1874. Elizabeth Eichler, a "homicidal maniac", was intent on killing her husband, Valentine, and enlisted the assistance of hired hand Charles Martin to get the job done. To ensure his cooperation, Elizabeth convinced Martin that her husband was mistreating her and moreover, that she loved Martin and wished to go away with him.

After several attempts to poison and a plan to shoot Valentine failed, Martin grew disinterested in Elizabeth and her schemes. It was during a severe argument with her husband that Elizabeth finally took an axe to his head and embedded it in his skull. Per her instructions, Martin participated in an unsuccessful cover up story.

Before his execution, Charles Martin proclaimed on the scaffold, "Gentleman, I am here on this platform to die an innocent man. The woman deserves ten times as much to die." Elizabeth Eichler never stood trial. Two court-appointed physicians pronounced her insane and she was admitted to Stockton State Hospital where she died ten years later.

After his terms as Sheriff, Ivory was appointed by the Clay Street Bank of San Francisco as Superintendent of their 13,000-acre ranch known as the "Marsh Grant".

Fred Wilkening – 1875-1877

Photo of Past Sheriff Fred WilkeningWilkening was our second German-born Sheriff. He immigrated to the United States in 1852 and obtained his citizenship papers in 1867.

After settling in Antioch, he became a member of that City's Masonic Lodge 175. During his term of office, the county jail housed an average of four to seven men.

As the father of eight children, he died in 1915 in Palo Alto and is buried in the Wilkening plot in the Antioch cemetery.

David P. Mahan – 1877-1885

Photo of Past Sheriff David P. MahanLike Wilkening, Mahan was both a Mason and a resident of Antioch. Old county records show that Mahan operated Brentwood Brick Works.

Mahan served three consecutive terms as Sheriff, doubling as tax collector during his first term. (Originally, the Sheriff was responsible for county tax collection. This changed in 1879, when the Office of Tax Collector was filled by a separate election.)

 

James Rankin – 1885-1889

Photo of Past Sheriff James RankinAs the county's third immigrant Sheriff, Rankin sailed to America from his homeland of Scotland at the age of 17. After eight months in New York he traveled westward, visiting different parts of the country for four years.

When the Union Pacific Railroad was completed in 1869, Rankin made his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. After engaging in mining for several years, he made a variety of business purchases, including a hotel, a general merchandise store, and the Somersville Mines (from which he sold soft coal to the Southern Pacific Railway).

After serving two terms as Sheriff, the Bank of Martinez called on Rankin to serve as a director and he was soon thereafter made President. Like a number of Sheriffs before him, Rankin was a Master Mason as well as a Republican.

The father of eight children, his family home still stands on the outskirts of Rankin Park in Martinez.

C.W. Rogers – 1889-1895

Photo of Past Sheriff C.W. RogersA native Californian, Rogers was a butcher in Walnut Creek and later built the Ala Costa Inn with his brother. During this era, nearly every town and settlement had its own constable, an elected official responsible for keeping the peace.

Such public officials were paid not with money but with honor. Rogers was elected Constable for different areas both before and after his tenure as Sheriff. He served in the days when land squatters caused much trouble for the settler.

While he was Sheriff, two men were deputized to patrol the entire county. He also worked in conjunction with many constables. After his stint of public service, Rogers was put in charge of the pumping and water testing station of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

 Rogers' memberships included the Native Sons of the Golden West, Woodsmen of the World, and the Republican Party.

R.R. Veale – 1895-1935

Photo of Past Sheriff R.R. VealeVeale's 40 years of service as Sheriff helped make him the best known peace officer on the Pacific Coast. He was born in 1864 in Petaluma, Sonoma County, California.

Veale entered the political arena early, being selected as the local committee-man for the Republican Party.

Husbandry was his familial occupation. He worked for his father on a farm near Brentwood and then farmed for a time on the Los Medanos ranch near Antioch. Returning to Brentwood, he farmed some 4,000 acres with his brother. It was around this time that he was elected Sheriff, defeating the incumbent and three other contenders.

Veale never found it necessary to kill a man in the discharge of his duty, although he captured many at the point of a gun. He felt that it was his duty not to kill a criminal, but to arrest him and then let the law take its course.

The distinction of appointing the first female deputy, his daughter Leila, belongs to this Sheriff. She often went out of state with other deputies on extraditions and served under him in the County as well.

Sheriff Veale was proud of the growth in Contra Costa County and incorporated representative figures into his own letterhead, which listed a comparison between the years 1902 and 1913.

  • In 1902 the population was 18,000 and in 1913 it was 45,000.
  • In 1902 there were 25 miles of power lines versus 500 miles of lines in 1913.
  • Bank deposits in 1902 totaled $500,000 and $5,000,000 in 1913.

John Miller – 1935-1943

Photo of Past Sheriff John Miller"The man who beat Veale" was born in Chicago but moved with his family to California before his first birthday. Prior to public service John Miller was a vintner. At the age of 28 he entered the governmental arena as a deputy collector of Internal Revenue for Contra Costa, as well as serving the State of California in income tax matters. At the age of 37 Miller was appointed the Postmaster of Richmond.

At this time, Contra Costa County was known for its large agricultural farms and ranches. The County consisted of 780 square miles, with 760 miles of first-class paved roads and a population of 125,000 residents. There were nine incorporated cities and 29 unincorporated communities.

During his tenure as Sheriff, Miller had the first law enforcement tele-typewriter in the county, and inaugurated the use of one, then two-way radio. He instituted modern criminal procedures, fingerprinting, and developed a series of plans to save lives on the waterways of the County.

Miller was noted for his trick shooting, practicing a policy of scaring crooks away from the County so they would not work here, thus lightening the load of apprehension. He never wore a pistol during the eight years he was sheriff because, as he said, "I didn't have to."

After his stint as Sheriff, Miller was appointed Civilian Defense Coordinator for the duration of World War II. Upon "retirement" in his fifties, he took the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Posse around the world.

Miller rode at the statehood dedication in Alaska, led the Honolulu parade in the beautiful Punchbowl Crater, and rode in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, presidential inaugurations, Rose Bowl parades and many more. In 1954, he entered the travel bureau business on Main Street in Martinez, and in 1960 was drafted by the people of Martinez to serve on the city council.

James N. Long – 1943-1955

Photo of Past Sheriff James N. LongLong was born in San Francisco but spent most of his formative years in Vallejo. He learned the plastering trade from his contractor father and engaged in this business for a number of years before being appointed to the Richmond Board of Education.

After being elected in his own right, Long remained on the board for four years. While Long served the residents of Richmond on its school board, he also took on the responsibilities of becoming the City's mayor from 1920-21. It was in this office that he first achieved some fame.

An ordinance existed which restricted the speed of railroad trains through the City. After repeated warnings on infractions of the law, which the railroad Santa Fe ignored, Mayor Long personally swung aboard one of the engines that had been exceeding the speed limit and arrested the engineer.

After serving as Richmond's postmaster, a State assemblyman and a Contra Costa County Supervisor, Long was successful in his attempt to become the County's Sheriff. In fact, the man was never defeated in an election.

Harry Brown – 1955-1959

Photo of Past Sheriff Harry BrownBrown was the first of our Sheriffs to be born in the 20th century, in the year 1907. A native of Massachusetts, he joined the Coast Guard at the age of 17, attaining the rank of 2nd Class Quartermaster at the time of his discharge 11 years later.

Subsequent to his employment with the Customs Service in Seattle, Brown joined the Navy and remained in military service for nine years, at which time he retired as a lieutenant.

After a stint of unsatisfactory work on a cattle ranch near Grass Valley, he and his family moved to Alamo in south central Contra Costa County. It was from this locale that he joined the Sheriff's Department as a radio dispatcher.

Brown was the first Sheriff to work his way up through the department. After serving as a dispatcher he became a part of the civil defense unit, and from there he made his way to the Patrol Division, assuming its command for a time. During his second year in office, the department employed a total of 156 people, including sworn and general employees.

Walter F. Young – 1959-1972

Photo of Past Sheriff Walter F. YoungYoung was born in Emeryville, which is located in our neighboring county, Alameda. A graduate of Berkeley High School, he was 34 when he joined the Contra Costa Sheriff's Department. His initial assignment was to the Patrol Division as a Deputy Sheriff in the western part of the County.

Ten years later, in 1953, Young passed the promotional examination for sergeant and was named a Senior Sergeant in the Martinez Office. In 1955, he was put in charge of the new Sheriff's Substation in Walnut Creek. While a member of the Department, Young attended numerous FBI training classes and area police training schools.

He was the first Sheriff to incorporate the role of coroner into his duties. During a failed Moraga burglary, two armed men took a deputy sheriff hostage. Sheriff Young was called at home and promptly arrived at the scene. He went inside the market and knocked on the door to the men's room, where the desperate burglars were holding the deputy.

Young announced that the building was surrounded and that their only recourse was immediate surrender. The burglars handed their guns to the deputy after his reassurance that they would be treated fairly, and walked out into the custody of the waiting officers.

Harry D. Ramsay – 1973-1978

Photo of Past Sheriff Harry D. RamsayAt the age of 20, Ramsay became a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps. The year was 1942 and World War II was underway. He served the people of this nation for three years. Ramsay served the people of this County for over 30 years through his various assignments in the Office of the Sheriff.

After nine years as a deputy sheriff he was promoted to sergeant and served as a detective. In 1957 he began a two-year stint as an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office. In 1959, Ramsay became Undersheriff, a position he occupied for 14 years.

While serving in this capacity he was the department’s General Manager. Responsibilities included preparing and maintaining the budget, administering personnel matters, and department planning. In 1969, Ramsay became the second deputy sheriff to graduate from the FBI Academy. He ranked fifth in his class of one hundred. President Richard Nixon presented the diploma.

As Sheriff, he implemented one of the nation’s first Neighborhood Watch Programs in Orinda and built the first Direct-Supervision Jail in Martinez.

Richard K. Rainey – 1979-1992

Photo of Past Sheriff Richard K. RaineyRainey rose up through the ranks, serving in every division before becoming the department's highest-ranking official. He was the first one to assume the Marshals’ function in addition to the roles of Sheriff and Coroner.

Like many of his predecessors, Rainey went on to serve the citizens of this county in different respects, first as an state Assemblyman and later as a Senator.

 

Warren E. Rupf – 1992 – 2010

Photo of Past Sheriff Warren E. RupfSheriff Warren E. Rupf was with the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff for over 40 years. At the time, he was the longest serving member of the agency. He has served at virtually every rank, in every assignment, beginning in 1965. Sheriff Rupf celebrated his 40th anniversary in November 2005.

Sheriff Rupf was the President of the Micki Rainey Scholarship Fund. He was an active supporter of the Boy Scouts of America. Sheriff Rupf was also a lifelong resident of Contra Costa County.