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 who was 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 college at 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 a farm near Gilroy.

A decade later, he was elected sheriff of Santa Clara County and moved once 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 the capture of Tiburcio Vasquez, the notorious bandit of California. At some point, he was made a U.S. Deputy Marshal for the western district. In this capacity he was traveling in 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.


By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.

Also See:

Adventures in the American West

Lawmen of the Old West

Old West Photo Galleries

Who’s Who in American History