John Wayne: Badge Number 1

1968 - Sheriff Musick with Deputy John Wayne.jpeg

John Wayne was a resident of Orange County and was a great friend of its Sheriff's Department. He also was an iconic old-time Western film lawman, and so on January 29, 1968, Sheriff James A. Musick designated "Duke" Wayne as "Deputy Sheriff No. 1"—probably with limited "special deputy" status, although the accompanying certificate allowed him full deputy sheriff powers. When the Department realized that there was no genuine Deputy Number 1 in the badge numbering system, it had one made up. Today, this John Wayne caricature adorns every Orange County Sheriff's Department Air Support Helicopter—each 'copter named "Duke I," "Duke II," etc. And where are the helicopters headquartered? At John Wayne Airport, of course!

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The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has had a number of notable “friends” in its 125 years, but perhaps none as recognizable as John Wayne—“The Duke.” It all began when Wayne and James A. Musick played football together at USC in the early 1930s. By 1934, the year Musick joined the Sheriff’s Department, Wayne’s movie career was blossoming, with shoot-‘em-up westerns and military stories being a specialty. Wayne and Musick rather fell out of contact until 1947—the year Musick was elected Orange County sheriff (and Wayne was portraying Wyatt Earp’s former deputy in “Angel and the Badman.”)

In a lengthy 2012 reminiscence, Musick’s successor, Brad Gates, who met Wayne through the Sheriff’s Department, recalled: “They re-acquainted themselves because Wayne was frequently coming to Orange County to shoot and hunt; he was a real outdoorsman. The friendship developed out of that.” Along the way, Sheriff Musick presented Wayne with an OC deputy’s star—number 1! “One” was not an issuable number, but an exception was made. Gates recalls: “I used to see John Wayne frequently because he would come in and Musick and he would go to lunch. It was always, 'Hi Duke;' we never called him John, but we all called him Duke. He would sit there and chat with you for a few minutes and then he and Musick would go off to lunch somewhere. . . . That’s how I knew him originally but I really did not get to know John Wayne until I decided to run for sheriff. [The year was 1974; Musick was nearing retirement.] And Musick’s answer to me was, that’s a good move on your part but don’t expect me to endorse you. I am not going to assist you doing anything. You are going to have to go prove to me that you can really be a sheriff and you’ve got the ideas and thoughts in your mind that you can go talk to people and get their support. Both financially and professionally. At some point if you can prove to me that you can convince the voter, then come back and see me and maybe I will endorse you.”

Although Musick withheld any endorsement at that moment, the Sheriff worked quietly behind the scenes on Gates’s behalf, such as enlisting the support of John Wayne. “Wayne did a lot for me in that first election,” Gates recalls today. “The first fundraiser I had, at the Santa Ana Country Club, John Wayne and Jim Musick were the hosts and the room was packed with people. A lot of them I knew, but a lot of them I didn’t know were just there because Jim Musick and John Wayne told them to come.” Wayne also appeared in a newspaper endorsement advertisement on behalf of Gates. Gates won that election and every election until his retirement in 1999.

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