Nineteenth century Santa Clara County Sheriff John Hicks Adams is the subject of a new book, “Badass Lawman: Gangs, Guns, and the Sheriff Who Tamed the Golden State.”
Author William Briggs, a former San Jose State University mass communications professor and Dean Emeritus at Cal State Fullerton, compiled Adams’ story from original journals, personal interviews with descendants, and period and contemporary sources to illustrate Adams’ life, set against the sweep of American expansion west and the early days of California statehood. The book also explores such topics as slavery, relations with Native Americans and the challenges of Mexican Californios to preserve their heritage.
“He really is an unsung hero,” Briggs said. “He deserves to be as well-known as Bat Masterson or Wyatt Earp. And most of the story takes place right here in San Jose and south Santa Clara County.”
Born in Illinois, John Hicks Adams served in the Mexican War and came to California during the gold rush. He settled in Gilroy on part of a former Mexican land grant called Rancho Solis. He became the first County Supervisor for Gilroy and Almaden, before being elected for five terms as county sheriff. Among his exploits were the capture of the Ingram Partisan Rangers, Confederate sympathizers and stagecoach robbers, in a Hollywood-worthy shoot-out near the New Almaden quicksilver mines, and the pursuit and hanging of California’s most wanted bandido, Tiburcio Vasquez.
Briggs, former co-president of the Morgan Hill Historical Society, came across the Adams story while researching a piece of property purchased by his daughter and son-in-law adjacent to Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park along Watsonville Road, west of Gilroy. Adams donated the ancient Amah-Mutsun village site to become a local school in 1858. A schoolhouse on that site existed until the 1950s.
Many Adams descendants still live locally. One local writer has referred to the new book as “backyard history.”
Published by Bookstand Publishing, “Badass Lawman” is available at BookSmart in Morgan Hill as well as online in both paper edition and ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets.
A book signing will be held at BookSmart, 421 Vineyard Town Center in Morgan Hill, on Sept. 29 at 6pm.