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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, across country, 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 near 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 Sheriff Kennedy on February 6,1864, the Board of Supervisors appointed Adams (who would have been sworn in as Sheriff in March) 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 gun shot to his heart, but Adams put up a fight. Shot once in the side (which was not sufficient to cause his death), but appeared to have been beaten to death with clubs and rocks. The murderers where caught in Mexico and held in a Sonorian 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 Vasquez's arrest and capture in Los Angeles, Vasquez was hung before a large crowd of men, women and children in the yard of the Santa Clara County Jail. In 1864, a band of renegade Confederate solders 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.
The San Jose Tribune, September 13,1861
The San Jose Mercury, September 10,1863, March 3,1864, September 14,1865, October 1867
The San Jose Weekly Mercury, August 15,1872, September 11,1873, March 25,1875, September 12,1878, January 30, February 27,1879
The San Jose Daily Mercury, September 13,1878
The Pioneer, February, 3, 10 & 17, 1877, January 23,1878, September 14,1878
The Arizona Weekly Miner, September 6, October 4,1878
The Arizona Star, September 12, 26,1878
Sawyer, Eugene T., History of Santa Clara County, Historic Record Co., Los Angeles California, 1922
Boessenacker, John, Badge and Buckshot, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1988
Rambo, Ralph, Tiburico Vasquez, Rosicrucian Press, San Jose California, 1968