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Alice Chandler with her gun and Orange County Sheriff's Department star (circa 1950). She initially purchased an S&W .32 caliber 6-inch-barrel revolver but traded it in for an S&W .32 caliber 4¼-inch-barrel revolver, as the long gun interfered with her ability to get on her "patrol horse."

Alice Chandler: Early (Earliest?) OCSD Female Deputy

Alice Chandler and her mother were most fortunate to secure the job as caretakers for the 93,000 acre Irvine Ranch where they lived among the beauty and quiet of this rural setting. Their Orange County story begins with the family living in a shack on the Irvine Ranch at Peters Lake in the 1940s where her father worked as a gardener. At age 16, Alice wanted to learn how to ride horses. Her mother bought her a horse for her 16th birthday, then set out on a mission to locate people that could teach her riding skills. Alice, her mother, and sisters Carol and Beverly spent three happy years from 1949 to around 1952, living at Peters Lake in Irvine Ranch where Alice was taught to ride by the ranch hands. Alice came from a large family of two sisters and five surviving brothers (who lived elsewhere, presumably with their estranged father in Santa Ana). Alice taught her brothers to ride horses, as they were “city boys” and had never set foot on a ranch prior to this time.

The Ranch had its problems though, as it was an attractive target for poachers that hunted animals and fished from Peters Lake on the Irvine Ranch, which now belonged to Myford Plum Irvine (only son of James Irvine III). A couple of young deputy sheriffs regularly appeared at the Ranch, ostensibly to make sure that there was no crime in progress, though more likely to visit with Alice. On a day in 1949, two deputy sheriffs, doubling as Irvine Company guards, informed her that James A. Musick, the county's popular sheriff, wished to visit with her at his office in the county seat of Santa Ana.

Musick introduced himself to Chandler, then age 21, and informed her that he had too little manpower to keep an eye out for trespassers at Peters Lake, on the huge Irvine Ranch, some 10 miles east of Orange. Alice resided nearby with her mother and sisters, and, the sheriff inquired, would she be able to monitor goings-on in the lake vicinity? Chandler responded that she had no training as a guard (or certainly as a deputy sheriff), but that she did have a horse she could use to patrol the lake property—which the wealthy landowner Myford Plum Irvine regarded as his private hunting and fishing refuge. The sheriff told her that this was a serious responsibility, that she would always be on-call, that she could summon help from Santa Ana by riding to the nearest telephone, that no wages would be involved, but that he would furnish her with a badge just like any other deputy sheriff had, plus an identification card. She would have to purchase her own revolver, and the sheriff gave her full police powers, even though trouble was rare in the sparsely inhabited Irvine Company ranch property.

Thus it was that Alice Chandler became a deputy in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (prior to it becoming the Orange County Sheriff’s Department), founded 1889. Some say that she was the Sheriff’s Department’s first female deputy, although she never had received law-enforcement schooling and held only the sheriff’s verbal authorization to serve as a “Special Deputy.” Sheriff Musick appointed Alice Chandler as a “Special Deputy” at the behest of the Irvine Company, which needed additional security on their lands in the area of Chandler’s house. This status meant that even though she was technically not part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, while acting on behalf of the Irvine Company, she had full deputy legal powers within the direct scope of her duties (limited to the Irvine Company property).

In fact, Alice wasn’t the “first Orange County Sheriff’s Department female deputy,” as the Department had a jail matron (Nona Lacy, wife of jailer “Budge” Lacy, Jr.) going back to Spurgeon Square Jail (circa 1900), and Sheriff Jernigan’s wife acted as jail matron in 1928. After that, Augusta Day received a (non-matron) deputy sheriff’s badge (#73) in 1935 from Sheriff Logan Jackson, giving her increased authority at Bradford Ave. School (Placentia School District) as nurse and attendance officer. Later on, Margaret Wangrud (aka Marge Woodard) who was hired as an OCSD secretary in 1941 soon took on a variety of jobs within the department, promoting to Deputy Sheriff II in 1957 and retiring as an Investigator II in 1957. Some of the confusion and speculation about what constituted a “female deputy” stemmed from the casual method of appointments of those days, along with a lack of formalized certification and training. Jail matrons wore OCSD badges but weren’t actually “deputies.” The school officer appointment was more of a truant officer than a deputy sheriff, and the career path of Marge Woodard was that of filling-in for sheriff’s department administrative duties where needed, somewhere transitioning into a law enforcement career as a sworn deputy sheriff. None of this detracts from their dedication and service, but serves to explain the unclear process of becoming “the first female deputy sheriff.” Female deputies with more sophisticated training and credentials were still in the future.

Alice’s mother purchased a 6-inch barrel S&W .32 caliber revolver for Alice so she could perform her volunteer job as a deputy sheriff. The 6-inch barrel proved to be a problem when mounting and dismounting her horse, so she traded the unwieldy handgun for an S&W .32 caliber revolver with a 4¼-inch barrel.

Alice Chandler kept a lookout around the Irvine Lake for three years, but never had occasion to draw her gun, solve a crime, summon help, or stop a trespasser. “I was just at the house, and we watched to see if somebody came; we could see cars down the dirt road,” she recalled in 2008. “I rode my horse around, with my badge and my gun, once in a while. Believe it or not, the trespassing stopped. I have a feeling it wasn’t just me, but it may have been that the trespassers said, ‘We got a deputy sheriff over there.’” She found that shouting worked just as well as pulling her Smith & Wesson revolver.

Chandler never again saw Sheriff Musick, following their initial meeting. She gave up her deputy’s duties when her family relocated to some distance away upon departing from the Irvine Ranch. She spent much of her time riding horses, learning rodeo riding skills, raising horses and dogs, also participating in cattle roundups. Alice obtained her California Class B truck driving license so she could drive the ranch truck. While living at Chandler Ranch, Alice decided that she wanted to learn to fly an airplane. Alice’s mother found the money and arranged for both Alice and Beverly to earn their pilot licenses, with Alice going further by earning a flight instructor license and a hot air balloon pilot license (which she never exercised). The good times at Chandler Ranch ended when their property was foreclosed after a bankruptcy. In preparing to leave Chandler Ranch, Alice’s personal possessions were stored in a children’s toy chest and packed away. Her badge, handgun, and ID card remained forgotten in that trunk for decades.

Alice’s mother was a “city girl” with a 4th grade education but possessed amazing insight, with a keen understanding of people, sharp business sense, and a will to make things happen for her girls. Alice left school at the 8th grade as she perceived school as unfriendly and harsh. Alice’s mother then home-schooled the Chandler girls. Her mother allowed teenage Alice to wear blue jeans, which was not acceptable for young ladies at that time. Alice’s mother was pretty handy with a Kodak Brownie camera and captured many special moments in her girls’ lives on the ranch, in black and white. One later color photo was taken of Alice at the Mission Viejo Ranch with a ranch hand in 1971 during cattle branding time.

Alice and her mother were self-sufficient. The family enjoyed the outdoors, raising horses and dogs, and flying airplanes. Alice and Beverly bought a two-place Cessna airplane and later a four-place Cessna. Alice was a well-respected local dog breeder, having supplied one of the Rin-Tin-Tin dogs to movie producer Lee Duncan.

 Now jump ahead to a day in 2008, when Alice, by then almost age 80, was visiting a hair parlor near her home in South Orange County. She became annoyed upon noticing an unauthorized vehicle parked in a handicap-reserved spot, and told the driver the error of his ways. The man sassed her back, so Alice called the sheriff’s dispatcher and fully three patrol cars showed up to give the errant driver a citation. The spicy Chandler remarked to one young deputy that she guessed maybe she could have solved the problem, because she had a sheriff’s badge, revolver, and ID card.

She recalls that the deputy’s jaw dropped at such a notion from an elderly lady, and that he advised her that, no thanks, but these regular deputies could entirely handle the matter.

But that put Alice a-thinking. She had pretty much forgotten the badge, gun, and ID card, still packed away in the trunk. Nobody in all the intervening years had ever asked for their return, and now she thought it was time. As it happened, Orange County’s newly selected Sheriff Sandra Hutchens was just taking office, so Chandler sat down and wrote a note to Hutchens—one policewoman to another. Hutchens invited Chandler to a swearing-in ceremony.

Alice Chandler proudly considers the Orange County Sheriff’s Department her “family.” And Sheriff Hutchens attests: “She’ll always be a part of the Department.” Alice remains independent and feisty as ever, celebrating her 89th birthday (2017). Alice’s many Orange County law enforcement friends gave her birthday party at a restaurant in Orange recently. Perhaps the most interesting part of this celebration from an Orange County history enthusiast perspective was that after the lunch party, the group drove east on Chapman Ave. and upon approaching Orange Park Acres, turned south onto Chandler Ranch Rd., the site of the former Chandler Ranch where Alice and her family spent many happy years on their horse ranch. Alice hadn’t returned to Chandler Ranch since leaving it decades ago, and expressed surprise at the substantial changes in the landscape, where hills and terraces with homes replaced what was once flat pasture land.

She recently lived in a small townhome in Laguna Woods where she delighted at straightening out neighbors that annoyed her. Reserve Captain Ray Grimes recalls visiting Alice a few years ago in Laguna Woods before she voluntarily relocated to an assisted living home. Ray and his partner were working an OCSD Elder Abuse detail where he suggested calling Alice to ask if she’d like some deputy sheriff visitors. Alice was delighted and welcomed them, proudly showing her personal albums and books. When these deputies were preparing to leave, they asked Alice if she would like to follow them to the patrol car for a photo. She replied by asking if they would handcuff her and march her out to the patrol car so her neighbors could all see her? The deputies were quick to reply “No way,” as the last thing we needed was to be in the newspapers with a headline saying “Sheriff’s Elder Abuse Detail Abuses Elder.” Alice still has a unique sense of humor.


Thanks to the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum & Education Center, and to Ray Grimes, Executive Director of the Museum, for sharing these details as told to him by Alice, and to David Whiting, The Orange County Register, for excerpts from his online article “Pioneering Deputy was a Cowgirl, Model, Pilot.”

YouTube videos:

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Alice Chandler keeps a lookout at Irvine Ranch.

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