John Hicks Adams – California Sheriff and U.S. Deputy Marshal

John Hicks Adams

John Hicks Adams

John Hicks “J.H.” Adams was a Santa Clara County, California Sheriff and U.S. Deputy Marshal killed in the line of duty with Marshal Cornelius Finley in 1878.

Born in Edwardsville, Illinois, in 1830, Adams helped his father in his castor oil factory as he was growing up. He attended Shurtleff College in Upper Alton, Illinois, before serving in the Mexican-American War in 1847-48. When the news of the discovery of gold in California reached Illinois, Adams headed west with his wife and two children, first settling in Placerville. A couple of years later, in 1853, he moved his family to Santa Clara County, where he worked on a farm near Gilroy.

A decade later, he was elected sheriff of Santa Clara County and moved again to San Jose. He held this office for three successive terms and retired in March 1876. While in office he acquired a reputation as a brave and efficient officer and a shrewd detective and aided in capturing Tiburcio Vasquez, the notorious bandit of California. He was made a U.S. Deputy Marshal for the western district at some point. In this capacity, he traveled to Arizona with Deputy Marshal Jack Finley, chasing Mexican bandits. On September 2, 1878, both Adams and Finley were killed by the bandits near Davidson’s Canyon, Arizona. The suspects were chased into Mexico and apprehended but never tried or convicted in connection with either murder.


© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West

Lawmen of the Old West

Old West Photo Galleries

Who’s Who in American History