The Orange County Sheriff's Museum & Education Center
preserves and shares the rich history of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, fosters an understanding of the role law enforcement has within the community, and promotes an educational environment for public safety and the community.
The Orange County Sheriff's Museum & Education Center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization now under development to preserve the OCSD history, is actively seeking Department artifacts of all varieties for permanent housing in the Department Archives, and in the Museum, when constructed. Items sought—the older the better—include: badges; photographs; equipment such as handcuffs, batons, etc.; certain uniform components; arm and sleeve patches; scientific lab instruments; documents; ID cards; memoirs; biographies of deceased personnel; electronic equipment such as radios and radar units; and more. We would like to talk with you about long-forgotten items perhaps stuck away in a dresser drawer or the attic! Mail a list to P.O. Box 221, Los Alamitos, CA 90720. THANK YOU!
We invite you to browse the photos below, and hope you enjoy your visit to the past and present of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. Also, please enjoy the Orange County Sheriff's Museum & Education Center video below.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens says farewell and shares her memories of 10½ years as Sheriff of Orange County, California. The Sheriff's Museum thanks Sheriff Hutchens for her support.
2014 OCSD Museum and Education Center Video (Fine Cut)
OCSD Formed on August 1, 1889
On August 1, 1889, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) was formed when a proclamation from the state legislature separated the southern portion of Los Angeles County and created Orange County. The entire department consisted of Sheriff Richard Harris and Deputy James Buckley, with an operating budget of $1,200 a year and a makeshift jail in the rented basement of a store in Santa Ana. They served a sparsely populated county of 13,000 residents, scattered throughout isolated townships and settlements. The problems faced by the first sheriff were typical for a frontier county—tracking down outlaws, controlling vagrancy, and attempting to maintain law and order across 782 square miles of farmland and undeveloped territory.
Today, Orange County has a population of over 3 million residents. OCSD has grown to over 4,000 employees, continues to serve unincorporated areas, providing Police Services to 13 contract cities, the Orange County Transportation Authority, John Wayne Airport, and much more.
By Clark Secrest, Department Archivist (Retired)
Scroll through time and explore 100 years of Orange County history below or navigate to key events from the menu on the right.
In the Beginning
Theophilus "Theo" Lacy, a farmer, stable operator, and former Santa Ana town treasurer, was Orange County's second (1891-95) and fourth (1899-1911) sheriff. Because the county was principally agricultural and sparsely populated, however, Lacy didn't have much to do other than chase vagrants, look into an (infrequent) fight or robbery, and oversee the simple jail. Theo Lacy died in June 1918, as one of the county's best-known citizens. Today, one of Orange County's modern jails is named after the Lacy family.
Early Southern California was notoriously lawless. As early as 1857, adventurer J. D. Borthwick wrote: “There were in California the elite of the most desperate and consummate scoundrels . . . together with the isolated conditions, strangers every one around them, and who, if [robbed, killed] would never have been missed. . . [rendering] the country one where such ruffians would have ample room to practice their villainy.” Thirty years before Orange County was carved out of south Los Angeles County in 1889, pioneer Horace Bell noted: “I have no hesitation in saying that . . . there were more desperadoes in Los Angeles than in any place on the Pacific coast, San Francisco with its great population not excepted. It was a fact, that all of the bad characters who had been driven from the mines had taken refuge in Los Angeles, for the reason that if forced to move further on, it was only a short ride to Mexican soil, while on the other hand all the outlaws of the Mexican frontier made for the California gold mines, and the cut-throats of California and Mexico naturally met at Los Angeles, and at Los Angeles they fought. Knives and revolvers settled all differences. It was a common and usual query at the bar or breakfast table, ‘Well, how many were killed last night?,’ then ‘Who was it?’ and, ‘Who killed him?’’’
The desolate hills of future Orange County served as a robbers’ roost for such rascals from afar. In February 1852, Juan Forster, owner of the 200,000-acre Mission Vieja [sic] Rancho, sent a note to land baron Abel Stearns complaining of desperados demanding liquor and “using the most abusive and threatening language” while flipping a coin to determine who would shoot Forster. (They didn’t.) On January 30, 1857, when Orange County was still part of Los Angeles County, at about where Interstate 5 now intersects with the 133 (Laguna Canyon Road), Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim Barton and three posse members died in a shootout with the marauding Juan Flores gang. (Flores was caught and hanged atop Fort Hill in Los Angeles, the following February 14.)
Such were the escapades of an unpoliced territory. Fortunately, by August 1, 1889, when Orange became a county, agriculture was replacing scoundrels and stock grazing was replacing murder. The first Orange County sheriff, Richard J. Harris and his two—that’s correct, two—deputies didn’t have a lot to do other than arrest the vagabonds passing through the vast open ranchos. The new county had 13,000 residents scattered sparsely over 782 square miles; only three real towns—Anaheim, Orange, Santa Ana—and, with apologies to Sheriff Barton—virtually no real crime.
They Fought the Law, and the Law Won
Left photo: A pre-fingerprint method of identification was the "mugshot" photograph. Every large police agency maintained a "Rogues Gallery" collection of mugshots showing every scoundrel who meandered through town, stirring up trouble. Here, Orange County's third sheriff, Joe C. Nichols (in moustache at left), is seen with his Rogues Gallery hinged-oak-cabinet display. The innovative Nichols, a former real-estate agent and Santa Ana marshal, served 1895-1899. Seated at right is Deputy Sheriff John Landell, a former Anaheim town constable. The man in the center is not identified.
Right photo: Nine-year-old Orange County got its first real jailhouse in 1897, a $31,000 (including land cost) turreted stone and brick structure on Spurgeon Square in downtown Santa Ana. Four years later, a magnificent stone courthouse was built next door, and stands even today. The Spurgeon Square Jail functioned well, had gas and electricity, and was fireproof and (was said to be) escape proof. Its most-famous inmate may have been actress Bebe Daniels (see below). The building, finally betraying many years of service, was demolished in 1924. It has been stated that the people in the (undated) photograph might be Lacy family members. The two men on the lower steps appear to be outfitted as cooks.
Orange County was only three weeks old when its first recorded criminal case occurred—but it wasn’t anything like in lethal Los Angeles. On August 17, Juan Ruiz was accused of horse stealing, which was epidemic in Southern California. Ruiz was acquitted, and thus nothing came of the matter, but the case was still an Orange County “first.” Less fortunate, two months later, was Modesta Avila of San Juan Capistrano—fiery of temperament, and favorite of the men, it was said. Avila, age twenty, had issues with the Santa Fe Railroad over rights-of-way through her property just north of town. The railroad wouldn’t pay, so she figured it was trespassing. Not only that, but she claimed that all the racket prevented her hens from laying. So, she barricaded the track—some say, by hanging her laundry across the rails. Upon calm reconsideration, she alerted the station agent and removed the barricade before the train even arrived that day. She was arrested anyway. After two trials, Modesta was convicted on October 28, 1889, for obstruction of a train—a felony. Orange County had no long-term lockup, so Avila went to San Quentin state prison, where she died two years into a three-year sentence. (No cause listed.) Today, some say that Modesta Avila was more a victim, than a criminal.
Orange County’s first convicted male felon appears to be rancher Tom Owens—a slow learner who also was dispatched to San Quentin for stealing a horse, got out, and then went back for stealing a cow. (At one point, Owens embarrassed the Sheriff’s Department when a deputy, taking Owens to prison, “lost” the prisoner—who said he was not really “lost,” but rather was just misplaced at a train station.) The county of Orange’s first serious crime occurred on July 31, 1892, when ranch hand Francisco Torres admittedly killed his foreman, who was well-liked around the county, over a $2.50 squabble. “Feelings around the countryside were running high” over the event (translation: lynch mob), and Torres’ court-appointed attorney had been seeking a change of venue. Sheriff Theo Lacy wanted to promptly transfer Torres to the Los Angeles jail for safekeeping, but the county administrators disapproved. On August 21, under cover of darkness, Torres was forcibly removed from the new three-cell wood-and-brick jail by a quiet and orderly group of thirty masked men, and was hanged from a telegraph pole at Fourth and Sycamore Streets in Santa Ana. Pinned to his garment was a note reading: “Change of Venue.” The coroner ruled “Strangulation at the hands of parties unknown,” and the grand jury closed the case as swiftly as possible. Most California newspapers condemned the lynch mob—which Orange County newspapers chose to call a “home guard”—with the geographically most-distant papers being the most condemning. It became Orange County’s first—and California’s last—lynching.
"Just Too Damn Brave": The Battle at Tomato Springs
Photos above: Little is known of these two "Sunday outing" photographs, thought to have been taken on different occasions in the early 1900s at Orange County Park. The photo at left shows a group of pioneer residents, including one bearded gent at left wearing a six-point star—the first badge design of the Orange County Sheriff's Department. In the same photo, the man seated at far right, with legs crossed, distinctly resembles Theo Lacy, the county's first and third sheriff. In the photo at right, Sheriff Lacy is in the middle background, in front of the tree, holding the light-colored coffee pot.
Old newspaper scenario of the Tomato Springs Shootout of December 1912, looking westerly from about today’s location of the Tomato Springs Tollbooth on the 241 Freeway. The actual encounter took place not at Tomato Springs Canyon, but rather at the nearby Bee Canyon. (A) is the William Cook ranch east of Santa Ana/Tustin where the alleged initial assault occurred. (B) denotes the fugitive’s route into the easterly hills. (C) is the Edgar Chambers ranch where the posse was assembled. (D) is the position which the shooter took up behind rocks, and where the fatal face-off with Undersheriff Bob Squires later occurred. The posse approached from the E at left and the E at right, and the militia (F) came up the draw at center, according to this interpretation. Albert Rampone, Courtesy of the Rancho San Joaquin Gazette/Jim Sleeper collection.
The small sketch, courtesy of the Jim Sleeper archive, imagines the rifle-bearing assailant, thought to be drifter Joe Matlock, at left, in his fatal encounter with Undersheriff Bob Squires. Squires is believed to have been carrying two revolvers, the one in his hand being a 6-round, 6 ½-inch barrel, nickeled .44-caliber Smith & Wesson. In 1983, the Orange County Sheriff’s Advisory Council commissioned 250 replica Smith & Wesson .44 magnums (6-inch barrels) as a fundraiser for Project 999 on behalf of the families of fallen officers. Each consecutively numbered Squires commemorative revolver is engraved with the shooting sketch depicted here, plus the likeness of Bob Squires, seen here below. Each gun also came with a replica buckle and badge. The revolvers are today very collectible, numerous of them having survived. Squires was the first OCSD officer slain in the line of duty.
The sun was just peeking over Old Saddleback the morning of December 16, 1912. The posse gathered at Edgar Chambers’ ranch near a place called Tomato Springs, in the rough, scrubby hills eight miles east of Santa Ana. The night before, seventeen-year-old Myrtle Huff had been accosted—some said raped—by an itinerant stranger on the farm of her uncle William A. Cook. The assaulter, said to be equipped with a rifle, a pistol, and a surly attitude, fled on foot with the threat that pursuers would be shot. Set upon by darkness, the search was suspended for the night.
The next morning about 8:30, the posse, composed of ranch men and led by Undersheriff Bob Squires and Deputy J. F. “Tex” Stacey (or Stacy), checked guns and ammunition, and then proceeded cautiously up the draw.* Shots came from above, and were returned by the posse. Squires skirted the hill to approach from the rear, while Stacey and the others returned fire from the front. Stacey was wounded by three bullets, but the desperado fired sparingly, as if to conserve ammunition. The shooter taunted, “Come and get me!” Stacey recalled later that Squires and the shooter came upon each other, “almost face to face. Both opened fire at once; Squires with his revolver, and the bandit with a Winchester...I saw Bob pitch forward.” Squires got off five shots before falling dead from six bullets. Al Prather (or Prater) was shot in the head, and blacksmith William Culver went down with a bullet to the knee; his leg later was amputated. Prater died of his wounds a month later.
Meantime, Santa Ana’s proud Company L of the California National Guard had joined the hunt, with some 150 armed and determined volunteers now involved. “After Company L showed up, it was getting dangerous,” later said eyewitness Merle Ramsey. “They were shooting at anything that moved. Dad took a shot because he thought this guy was up a tree. Everybody was shooting at something.” Recalled A. J. McFadden: “I took a shot at a stump.” The posse moved up the hillside, hoping to determine the fate of Squires, silent since he fell the previous evening. The popping of rifles and pistols, it was said, could even be heard in El Toro, four miles west. The gunfire from atop the ridge stopped, the desperado went out of sight. “Rush him!” commanded Sheriff Charles E. Ruddock. The shooter’s body was found in a thicket. Of the hundreds of rounds fired, he had been hit only once—in the head.** The body was placed on a horse, then propped up in an automobile and paraded up and down Fourth Street in Santa Ana.
Nobody knew who the shooter was. He was variously thought to be drifter Ira Jones or drifter Joe Matlock, maybe the latter, although Matlock’s father and brother initially said it wasn’t, and then said it was. (Today he is simply known as “County Burial No. 1513.”) Fifteen posse members, however, claimed the honor of firing the fatal shot. Some said it was Sam Burke, the former local football hero. Others swore it was Jack Iman, the deputy city marshal of Anaheim (later to be Orange County Undersheriff). But rancher John Osterman, who placed the shooter’s body atop the horse, later said he heard a muffled shot after the posse’s last volley, and that the shooter had a revolver with one round fired, and of a caliber matching a bullet in the shooter’s head. Osterman suspected a suicide. But could the posse have fired hundreds of rounds, all missing?
Bob Squires is honored today as the first Orange County Sheriff's Department officer to die in the line of duty. The investigation into the Battle of Tomato Springs appears to have been cursory at best, leaving numerous questions and inconsistencies which are pondered even now. But back in the day, investigations were inherently superficial by later standards; cases were closed hastily and seldom went beyond the coroner’s inquest. The shooter’s Winchester seems not to have been mentioned again. Why would Bob Squires have placed himself in the posse’s line of fire, by circling back behind the shooter? Why did the shooter’s revolver have only one fired round, if indeed it did? Was Myrtle Huff raped, as the posse believed? Did anybody ask her? An examining physician said later that not only was Huff not raped, she was not injured in any manner. If true, the shooter’s only crimes would have been uttering threats and shooting at people who were shooting at him. Questions to ponder at this late date; questions not to be answered.
The fight at Tomato Springs remains to this day the fiercest shootout in Orange County Sheriff’s Department history. Years later, Bob Squires’s nephew commented that Squires had been “just too damn brave for his own good.”
* Bob Squires may never have been formally appointed as Undersheriff; the record at the time also designates him as “Chief Deputy Sheriff” or “Deputy Sheriff.” The sheriff’s force was so small, however, that it probably made no difference.
** Contrary to the prevailing reports of a mere gunshot wound or wounds to the shooter’s head, the Anaheim Gazette of December 19 said that his body was “riddled with bullets,” including one wrist wound. The original handwritten coroner’s report, now in the Sheriff’s Historical Archive, contradicts itself, variously noting head “wounds” and “wound,” with no mention of a wrist wound. The suicide theory seems not to have been seriously pondered until reconsideration of the case fifty years later, and today it is not discounted.
It might appear surprising in today's snail-paced jurisprudence climate, but in times past, justice could move quickly. Pioneer J. D. Borthwick, in his Three Years in California (1857), wrote about a woman who, in the forenoon, apparently without provocation and with many witnesses, stabbed a miner in the heart. Within two hours, she was formally tried by a jury of twelve, found guilty, and hanged from the Downieville bridge before sunset. In Orange County, much later, there was the July 1920 case of two-time prison escapee and Orange County ax murderer Mose Gibson, who:
1. Underwent his preliminary hearing at 5 AM.
2. Pleaded guilty at 8 AM.
3. Was on his way to San Quentin by noon.
On September 24, Gibson became the first person in California executed on order of an Orange County court.
Left photo: Orange County's fifth sheriff, Charles E. Ruddock (1911-1915), is third from left, front row, with his staff in 1914. Ruddock, the former Fullerton town marshal, led the charge at the Tomato Springs Shootout of December 16, 1912, which took the life of his undersheriff, Robert Squires. (See elsewhere on this Web page.) Squires was the first Orange County Sheriff's Department lawman to be killed on duty. The woman in the front row left probably was a jail matron, but she has been discounted as being a member of the Lacy family. Several tentative identifications have been made: The man standing, upper left, could be "Merle Dean." The man fourth from left, standing, could be a "Boynton," while the man at far right, standing, might be "R. Hurd."
Right photo: This hat shop, location unknown, donated dutifully of its window display to advertise a diversity of political candidates, including Calvin E. Jackson, Orange County's sixth sheriff (1915-1923). Jackson moved to Orange County in 1889—the year the county was formed—and when he took office, he utilized his own automobile, as the Sheriff's Department didn't own one. During Jackson's eight years, newfangled motorized vehicles became a combination nuisance/convenience around the largely rural county.
Left photo: Until a standardized uniform was established in 1938, Orange County sheriff's officers generally wore civilian attire, with a tin or brass badge attached. The badge worn by each of these deputy sheriffs of the 1920s is a 3-inch "eagletop shield," several of which are today in the Department's badge collection. One of these deputies—we know not which—has been identified as "Bill Young."
Right photo: Orange County Sheriff Calvin E. Jackson and his administrative staff, unknown date (circa 1919-1923). From left, Jailer Theo "Budge" Lacy Jr., "guard" Jim Murray, sheriff's secretary Opal Davis, Sheriff Jackson, bailiff Joseph Fowler, Undersheriff John H. "Jack" Iman, bailiff J. M. Gunnett, and jail matron Mrs. Theo Lacy Jr. Budge Lacy, son of Theo Lacy, the county's first and third sheriff, was for many years the county jailer. Jack Iman has been credited—probably hastily—as the slayer of gunman Joe Matlock at the Tomato Springs Shootout of December 1912. Iman was indeed on the Tomato Springs posse, but the prevailing thought today is that Matlock committed suicide after killing Undersheriff Robert Squires.
In April 1921, the Orange County Jail entertained perhaps its most-famous "prisoner" ever. Silent film star Bebe Daniels, 20, was arrested by "county motorcycle officer" Vernon Myers for speeding in her Marmon automobile, traveling 72 miles per hour south of Santa Ana, on her way to San Juan Capistrano. She is shown in her jail cell with her booking number around her neck.
Go Directly to Jail
Two views of the fondly remembered “Old Sycamore” Jail and Sheriff’s Headquarters, 615 North Sycamore Street, Santa Ana. The photo at right shows Sheriff Sam Jernigan and his small staff, circa 1929. Old Sycamore was in use from 1924 until 1968, and its perpetual overcrowding frequently drew the attention of Grand Juries, but nothing could be done about it (except for adding a fourth floor) until the construction of the Central Jails Complex in 1968. The Orange County Archives now hold a genuine ball and chain found in the attic of Old Sycamore.
Today, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department oversees five jails, with a daily inmate population generally averaging about 6,800. At the first of August, 1889, when Orange County was carved out of Los Angeles County, OC had not only no jail and no inmates, but also no county offices of any kind. So the county rented fourteen rooms in Santa Ana for a dollar a year, including a sheriff’s quarters at 302½ East Fourth Street. That took care of the office shortage, but there was still the jail problem. So jeweler Joseph H. Brunner offered the dark, dungeoney basement of his building at 116½ East Fourth Street in Santa Ana. It was 30 feet long, extending partially under a sidewalk; 10 feet wide; and 10 feet to the ceiling with scant ventilation, double iron doors, and was known as “Brunner’s Basement.” “I have been in the basement,” an unfortunate scoundrel would bemoan. Following, then, is the chronology of Orange County jails:
Brunner's Basement, 1889-1890
The “First Sycamore Street Jail,” 1890-1897
The Spurgeon Square Jail, aka “Lacy's Hotel,” 1897-1924
The “Second Sycamore Street Jail," aka “Old Sycamore,” 1924-1968
The Central Jails Complex (one jail each, for Men, Women), 1968-present; the Theo Lacy Facility, aka “The Branch,” 1960-present; the Intake Release Center, 1988; and the James A. Musick Facility, aka “The Farm,” 1963
The subterranean Brunner’s Basement, clearly a stopgap measure, was in use only from August 1889 to May 1890 (although there are vague records of an unnamed “basement” lockup used for intoxicated persons, back in the late 1870s, before the county existed. This may have been a Santa Ana city jail). With the first county jail came the first jailbreak, in November 1889 when four of the eight prisoners manually threw a lock bolt and strolled out. Sheriff Richard T. Harris thought it over, surmised that the escapees “were well on their way to San Diego” by now, and good riddance. Saved the county 40 cents a day to feed them, anyway.
In any event, that 1889 “walk-away” jailbreak meant it was time for Orange County to have a real jail, so $4,000 was allocated for a new facility on Sycamore Street between Second and Third Streets, which opened in May 1890. Sometimes called the “First Sycamore Street Jail,” this was a small brick building containing three iron cells. It had its own rock pile next door, where the prisoners “made little ones out of big ones.” There was said to be no fence, just a ball-and-chain for each guest.
Although there is no record of a break-out from this jail, there was, unfortunately, one break-in, and it is still to the county’s great regret. Sheriff Theo Lacy had only two deputies in 1892, one who stayed in the office and one who oversaw the jail. (There was no such thing as routine patrol; officers went out only when summoned.) Among the prisoners was ranch worker Francisco Torres, who had used an ax to kill a well-liked local ranch foreman, and then fled to Escondido, where he was arrested. Sheriff Lacy retrieved Torres by train, but the sheriff had heard murmurings of a lynching. Accordingly, he ordered the train to stop early as it entered Santa Ana, and he whisked the prisoner to the jail. Still concerned at the growing restive sentiment, Lacy asked the County Supervisors for funds to transfer Torres to the Los Angeles jail for safekeeping. The supervisors responded by authorizing an additional guard instead. On August 20, 1892, a quiet, orderly mob broke open an iron jail door, shoved Deputy Robert Cogburn aside, removed Torres, and strung him up from a telegraph pole at Fourth and Sycamore streets.
Along about now (date uncertain), two inmates using a jackknife and a bucket dug their way out of the jail and slipped away, taking the jail blankets with them. The fleeing blanket-thieves split up but were captured. At some point, two other men burglarized a blacksmith’s shop, and stole tools that were then used to break into the jail and free about five vagrants. They were all captured, but then one of them took off again. Next, a group of prisoners removed metal bars from a furnace, and then, with a knife and two forks, dug themselves out. Such unseemly events were beginning to wear thin with the public, and in 1893 the Supervisors were forced to begin considering a new jail.
By 1897, the (slowly) growing Orange County required its third jail upgrade in eight years. A land parcel in the 200 block of Santa Ana Boulevard was purchased for $8,000, and $23,000 was allocated for a three-story lockup to be named Spurgeon Square Jail. It was better known as “Lacy’s Hotel,” named after Sheriff Lacy, whose family resided in, and oversaw, the lockup. The fortress-like Lacy’s Hotel, the first building in Spurgeon Square and soon to be joined next door by the grand old red sandstone courthouse, which elegantly survives today, was the county’s jailhouse for 27 years.
The fourth Orange County Jail and Sheriff’s Office, “Old Sycamore,” was constructed at 615 North Sycamore Street in Santa Ana in 1924 and remained in use for 44 years. (Orange County gets high mileage out of its jails.) It had an initial capacity of 260 inmates, but soon surpassed that number, as Orange County jails have tendency to do (and which for decades has drawn Grand Jury attention). In the early 1930s, crowding necessitated adding a fourth floor (“The Penthouse”) to Old Sycamore. When Old Sycamore was torn down in 1973, an old ball and chain was discovered hidden away in its attic—obviously not in use in 1889, 1988, and 2016! The artifact is now retired to the Sheriff’s Archives.
Old Sycamore closed in 1968, upon completion of the $10.4 million Central Jails complex at 550 North Flower Street in Santa Ana. Twenty years later, the biggest aggravated jailbreak in OC Sheriff history occurred when five men rappelled four stories down from the Men’s Central Jail roof, and disappeared. Unlike the four-man jail walk-away of 1889, however, this time the escapees were pursued, although it took six months (and help from the America’s Most Wanted TV show) to catch the last one. Rappelling remains the favored modern method of busting out of the Men's Central Jail. On January 22, 2016, three violent and dangerous prisoners rappelled off the jail’s roof after cutting through multiple layers of metal, wriggling through a plumbing tunnel, evading barbed wire, sliding four stories down a bedsheet rope, and disappearing. Authorities said the trio had been working at it for weeks, even months. The escapees’ absence was not noted for fully 16 hours. The escapees fled to Northern California. One promptly returned to Orange County and surrendered, but thanks to alert citizens—and a $150,000 reward—the other two were captured in San Francisco within a week. The still-publicly-unannounced source of their cutting tools was a sizable exasperation for sheriffs’ officials.
Left photo: Records at Sycamore Jail (c. 1929).
Right photo: Weapons at Sycamore Jail (c. 1929).
Left photo: Orange County Peace Officers Shooting Match (c. 1930s).
Right photo: Sycamore jail (c. 1931).
Left photo: Deputy in Hudson at farm (c. 1930s).
Right photo: Deputy writing jail count (c.1931).
Of Blind Pigs and Rumrunners
The photographs above show rubber-booted Orange County lawmen pouring seized booze down the driveway drain at the Fruit Street garage, near the old jail in Santa Ana, probably 1931 at the height of Prohibition. Note the many barrels and glass jugs in the photo at left. The man at left holds a sledgehammer for breaking barrelheads, and in the far right background are three women prohibitionists invited to witness the spectacle (and to ensure that none of the liquor went astray!). In the photo at right, Sam Jernigan (sheriff 1923-1931) is probably standing at center, and longtime Santa Ana Constable Jesse Elliott (sheriff 1939-1947) might be the person standing at right. Two of the others are identified as a Joe Ryan and Undersheriff Ed McClellan.
Above, two views of Prohibition, Orange County-style. In the photo at left, Sheriff Sam Jernigan (possibly at right) and “a deputy” show the photographer a cache of bottled illegal bottled liquor. The photo at right shows a truck filled with barrels and liquor-making paraphernalia backed up to the front door of the Old Sycamore Jail and sheriff’s office.
The Oakwood was a rum-runner boat that ran aground in Newport Harbor, 1932. The 42-mile, jaggedy, Orange County coastline, often obscured from the nearby bluffs, for many years was a haven for booze-smuggling small craft—much in the manner of drug-smugglers of a later era.
It wasn't even Prohibition yet, and yet Orange County already had alcohol problems. A decade before the Eighteenth Amendment curtailed the liquor trade in 1920, back-room operations in OC were selling liquor to potential troublemakers. The Sheriff’s Department had scant manpower to address such matters, so District Attorney L.A. West enlisted civilians as undercover agents. A “blind pig” was a surreptitious liquor outlet, hidden or masquerading as something else. “Gimpy” Williams sold beer like cordwood, for instance, out of a hidden compartment in his woodshed near El Toro, so the district attorney dressed respectable citizens in tatters to catch him at it, and off went Gimpy to jail. Seal Beach was renowned for its proliferation of amber-colored liquids. A small café in the center of Brea served something in coffee cups that wasn’t coffee. The proprietor pleaded guilty. A notorious “blind pigger” named Kate near Santa Ana was a slow learner, no sooner getting out of jail before she was back pushing the hootch again. So the district attorney sent Deputy Sheriff George Law and three others to surround Kate’s place.
They knocked on the door, asking for beer, and Kate came out shooting her revolver and shouting “I’ll give you your darn beer!” Kate’s next stay in jail was more lengthy, and when she got out this time, she never was heard from again. In 1913, City of Orange Constable (and later county sheriff) Logan Jackson suspected that a barber shop/pool room was selling alcohol-spiked cider and grape juice out of soda bottles, and dispatched his undercover civilians to get a haircut and observe what else was going on. The barber and owner were arrested on liquor charges and for allowing a minor to play pool. They were escorted to the county line.
With the enactment of Prohibition, big-time liquor smuggling during the 1920s replaced small-time entrepreneurs. Orange County’s zig-zaggy 42-mile coastline became a convenient rendezvous for “rum-runners” who off-loaded English and Canadian liquor in the county’s numerous hidden coves, sometimes for national distribution. Blinker lights were used by on-shore accomplices to signal the boats when the coast was clear. Crescent Bay in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach sometimes looked like pirate landings of yore, but the sheriff and his men were present to meet the landing parties, and many cases of illicit liquor were confiscated and stored in the basement of the old stone courthouse in Santa Ana. After the bootleggers’ trials, the bottles were emptied down the outside drain next to the old jail while ladies of the Womens Christian Temperance Union sternly watched to make sure a quart here or a quart there did not go astray. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and Orange County’s quiet oceanfronts returned to normal—aside from a more-than-occasional offshore gambling boat anchored out there.
What Orange County lacked in population, it made up for in orchards. Where orchards existed, midnight orchard thieves did too. Monetary losses to the large—and influential—citrus growers were significant, and orchard owners even resorted to scattering bear traps among the trees! The vast expanses of Orange County’s citrus groves, of course, could not effectively be patrolled by the tiny Sheriff’s Department, so the county and the citrus growers agreed in 1929 to establish the Night Fruit Patrol (also called the Night Fruit Control), directed by the district attorney’s office, with a chief and six men. The Patrol had three vehicles manned by two officers each, and succeeded at decreasing agricultural theft, although the squad’s size was small compared to the vast expanse of fruit orchards. Years later, Sheriff James Musick would wryly recall that the Night Fruit Patrol had more men on patrol than did his Sheriff’s Department. In 1934, the Night Fruit Patrol officially became part of the Sheriff’s Department.
Left and middle photos: Confiscated gambling equipment (c. 1930-1939).
Right photo: Weapon check (c. 1930-1939).
Left photo: Left, Los Angeles County Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz visits Orange County Sheriff Logan Jackson (c. 1931-1939).
Right photo: Second from right, Sheriff Logan Jackson, with expert, District Attorney, and others, examining marijuana plant (July 22, 1932).
Chips off the Old Ship
With scant diversity beyond agriculture and livestock grazing, the economic Depression of the 1930s dealt harshly with Orange County and the rest of the Southland. In the early parts of that decade, Southern California led the nation in total bankruptcies and their accumulated loss. Law enforcement agencies were inundated with fraud investigations. Dust Bowl immigrants in jalopies, riding the rails, and afoot, flooded into the area—so much so that Los Angeles police established roadblocks well out of their jurisdiction, seeking to turn around the tide.
The desperation of economic bad times nurtured “illegal” gambling. On land, Sheriff Logan Jackson and his few men seized slot machines, and as a result enterprising gambling impresarios refurbished old freighters into floating gambling palaces, and anchored them three miles offshore from Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, and Long Beach. Well-lighted and painted bright white, they were easily seen from land, and for 25 cents a water taxi would ferry gamblers to the ships. Although these floating gambling palaces were popular among Southern Californians—who saw no harm in occasional slot machines and gambling games—federal and local officers occasionally boarded them and dumped the gaming paraphernalia and betting chips into the ocean.
Orange County’s seven military installations during the pre-war and World War II years offered a plentiful clientele for onshore gambling, clearly in violation of state law. Slot machines, however, were small, easy to hide, and popular in beach communities. Often, they were regarded with a smile and a wink. Sheriff Jackson’s crackdown on gamblers and gin joints became a political issue, resulting in his defeat in the election of 1938. But times they were a-changing. Eight years later, James Musick ran for sheriff on an anti-gambling platform. “One of the reasons for commending the candidacy of Jim Musick,” said the Placentia Courier on October 25, 1946, “is because he has not quibbled about gambling and the operation of slot machines. He is not afraid to state publicly that gambling is a violation of state law and if elected he will enforce the law. Complaints to the present sheriff (Jesse Elliott) and district attorney have brought only evasions. . .” Not until the 1940s, with the growth of Nevada gaming, did illegal gambling subside in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California.
Riots Among the Orange Groves
Orange County made up for its sparse population with citrus orchards, which were the principal economic force in the county. Fruit pickers, generally of Mexican descent, complained of low wages and ill treatment, and struck against the large citrus processors. On July 3, 1936, a truckload of non-striking pickers, on their way to work, were attacked by Communist-led strikers yielding chains, clubs, and knives. “Agitators Smash Bus in Citrus Riot; Patrols Doubles,” headlined the Los Angeles Times of July 8. “Guards Ordered to Shoot if Needed in War on Communist Leaders; Radio Aids Law Enforcers.”
Sheriff Logan Jackson deputized 170 special officers to keep the peace and guard the county’s 41 packing houses and 135 crews of pickers. A quiet tension followed, but the situation quickly worsened, with organized, flying squads of strikers simultaneously hitting five different points in the county. The state police hid an innovative two-way-radio truck among the citrus trees. Sheriff Jackson issued a “shoot to kill” order and added another 200 special deputies, many armed with ax handles.