Appointed: 1899 – 1907
James Darwin Collins was born in Rhea County, Tennessee on Oct. 30, 1843. At the age of 18, Collins enlisted for service in the Army of the Confederacy. In 1863, he was captured by Union forces and served 18 months as a P.O.W. before being released in a prisoner exchange.
At the conclusion of the war, he migrated to California, settling in Fresno County. In 1870, Collins founded "The Academy," the first secondary school in the valley, located at the present day community of Academy. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1876, serving one term.
Collins was the Democratic candidate for sheriff in 1898 and 1902, and was elected twice, serving from January 1899 to January 1907. He did not seek a third term as sheriff. After leaving office, he farmed in the Lone Star and Dry Creek districts.
Sheriff Collins was primarily an administrative sheriff, leaving most of the criminal investigative work to Chief Field Deputies John J. White (who later served as Chief of the Fresno Police Department) and Walter McSwain. In November 1900, the sheriff convinced the Board of Supervisors to allocate $15,969 for a major addition to the county jail. When the construction was completed in October 1901, the capacity of the facility was doubled and the sheriff was able to comply with state laws requiring the separation of misdemeanor and felony prisoners. In September 1901, the sheriff's office began keeping records of the prisoners being booked into the county jail.
The major crime during Sheriff Collins' term of office was the brutal murders of an elderly couple, William and Sarah Hayes, at a camping spot on Whites Bridge Road near the village of Jameson on Oct. 30, 1905. The crime remained unsolved until after the murder of farmer Henry Jackson at Belmont and Brawley on Feb. 8, 1906. During the second investigation, deputies were able to secure overwhelming evidence tying brothers Elmer and Willie Helm to the three murders. Murder convictions were later secured against the pair after a trial in Stockton.
Sheriff Collins died Sept. 29, 1918, and was survived by his wife, six sons, and three daughters.