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Former Sheriffs
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Sheriff Richard PierceAppointed: 1999-2007

Richard Pierce was born in Madera on March 27, 1944, and was raised in the Kings County community of Avenal.

His father was an oil fields worker and also served two terms as the Avenal Constable. He graduated from Avenal High School and attended San Diego State College. He was hired as a deputy sheriff on Dec. 1, 1966, and early in his career worked in the courthouse as a bailiff, in the jail and on patrol.

Sheriff Steve MagarianAppointed: 1987-1999

Steve Magarian was born in Fresno on Oct. 17, 1942. His father was in the grocery business and also farmed. He attended local schools and graduated from Roosevelt High.

His law enforcement career began in 1966, as a reserve deputy sheriff. In 1968, he was hired as a regular deputy, working in the jail, courts and patrol early in his career. While working at the department, he earned a bachelor's and master's degree from CSU-Fresno.

McKinney, Harold

Appointed: 1975-1987

Hal McKinney was born in Fresno on Aug. 13, 1923, the son of a city fire captain. He attended local schools, graduating from Fresno Technical High School in the watershed year of 1941. That fall, prior to war breaking out, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served two-and-a-half years in Europe during the war.

After his discharge, he returned to Fresno and worked several years for Peerless Pumps. In June 1950, he was hired by the sheriff's office, serving as a bailiff. As a reservist, he was called back to the army in September 1950, for service during the Korean conflict.

Langley,Guy H

Appointed: 1975

Guy Langley was born in Fowler, Calif. on July 8, 1939, the son of a painting contractor. He was educated locally, and graduated from Caruthers High School. He served as a military policeman from 1957-60 in the U.S. Army.

He was hired as a sheriff's deputy in 1962, and worked in the courts, jail, and on patrol. In 1970, he was promoted to sergeant, working in patrol and detectives for the next few years. In early 1974, he resigned from the department to challenge the twenty-year incumbent sheriff, Melvin Willmirth, on a platform calling for increased narcotics enforcement.

Melvin WillmirthAppointed: 1955-1975

Mel Willmirth was born in Coalinga on June 3, 1914, the son of an oil fields mechanic. He was raised there and educated locally.

He left high school before graduation to work in the oil fields. In the late 1930's he was hired as a police officer by the City of Coalinga. In 1942, he was appointed Superintendent of the Fresno County Industrial Road Camp, located in the Coalinga area.

Tracy, Joseph BAppointed: 1951-1955

Joe Tracy was born in Iowa on November 12, 1897, the youngest in a farm family of fourteen children.

In adulthood, he moved to Southern California, working in the chemical and oil business. He was later was employed at a movie studio.

In 1937, he became a U.S. Marshal in Los Angeles and was later transferred to the Fresno office. In 1950, he ran for sheriff and unseated George J. Overholt, who had held the office for 20 years.

Overholt, George J

Appointed: 1931-1951

George Overholt was born on Oct. 23, 1883, in Clark's Valley (Crawford Avenue north of Hwy 180), east of Sanger, where his father was a homesteader. He attended school in Clark's Valley, Centerville, Sanger, and Fresno, and later attended a business college in Pennsylvania.

After completing his education, he worked as a ranch manager, a hotel manager, and in administration for lumber companies in the Sierras of eastern Fresno County. In 1918, he was the campaign manager for sheriff's candidate William F. Jones.

Jones, William F

Appointed: 1919 – 1931

William F. Jones was born in Tehama County, California, on July 31, 1874. His father died when he was 5, and at the age of 13, he left school and went to work making redwood shakes. Throughout the years, he worked his way up in the lumber industry, eventually managing logging camps in Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama Counties.

In 1907, he came to Fresno County, building and managing lumber mills in the area of Hume Lake. Having no prior law enforcement experience, he ran for sheriff in 1918, near the end of the Great War.

Thorwaldson, Horace

Appointed: 1915-1919

Horace Thorwaldson was born in Dupivog, Iceland, on Feb. 4, 1869. His father died in 1877, leaving a wife and ten children. In 1880, Thorwaldson's mother left Iceland with her children, settling in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, where they established a farm on the prairies of Pembina County.

In 1886, Horace left home and traveled to Seattle, where he apprenticed as a saddle and harness maker. He moved to Watsonville in 1893 and to Fresno in 1898, opening his own saddle and harness business.

McSwain, Walter S

Appointed: 1911-1915

Walter McSwain was born on his family's ranch on the Merced River below Snelling, on Oct. 4, 1865. In 1876, the family moved to Tulare Lake, where they ran sheep. Later they moved to Huron, where they operated sheep pens and built the first house in town.

They arrived in Fresno in 1881. McSwain worked on farms and in packing sheds, and later as a teamster in partnership with John Zapp, of Zapp's Park fame. In 1897, he was hired as a patrolman by the city marshall's office, the predecessor of the Fresno Police Department.

Chittenden, R D

Appointed: 1907 – 1911

Robert Dean Chittenden was born in Switzerland County, Indiana, on February 1870 in a farming family. The family migrated to Fresno County in 1887. Chittenden gained experience in the fruit industry and later became a partner in the construction and operation of the first raisin seeding plant in Fresno County.

Active in Democratic Party politics in Fresno, he was elected to the office of Public Administrator, and served from 1903 to 1907. As the Democratic candidate for sheriff, he was elected in November 1906, and held the office from January 1907 to January 1911.

Collins, James D

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.

Scott, Jay

Appointed: 1893 – 1899

Jay Scott was born on January 13, 1850 in Will County, Illinois to J.H. and Anna Chamberlain Scott. In 1852, the Scott family crossed the plains in an ox-drawn wagon and settled in the Sacramento Valley where the family farmed.

Scott left the family farm as a young man and went to work for the railroad until he grew tired of it. Scott and his family arrived in Fresno in 1888 and he engaged in business and the acquisition of land.

Hensley, John M

Appointed: 1889 – 1893

John Murray Hensley was born on November 10, 1850, at Cass County, Missouri to John J. and Margaret Murray Hensley. In 1853, the Hensley family left their farm and came across the plains in wagons drawn by eight cows to California.

The family settled in Calaveras County until 1860, when they moved to Tulare County. After a brief stay in Tulare County, the family moved to Fresno County in the fall of 1861.

Meade, O J

Appointed: 1885 – 1889

Oliver James Meade was born in 1848 in the Northern Division of Brunswick County, Virginia, to Oliver H. and Mary E. Meade. The Meade family had been inhabitants of Brunswick County since the 18th century.

In January of 1864, at the age of sixteen, Meade enlisted and became a Private in I Company, 3rd Regiment, Wickham's Brigade, Virginia Calvary of the Army of Virginia, Confederate States of America. Meade served with distinction in many engagements Wickham's Brigade was involved in.

Donahoo, M J

Appointed: 1883 – 1885

Michael Jefferson Donahoo was born on February 28, 1839, in Peoria, Illinois to Peter and Rachel Donahoo. In 1840, it is recorded that the Donahoo family resided in the Cedar County, Iowa Territory. In October of 1861, Michael J. Donahoo enlisted as a Corporal in the 13th Regiment, Iowa Infantry.

In the fall of 1863, First Lieutenant Michael J. Donahoo, "F" Company, 13th Regiment, Iowa Infantry, Veteran of the Battles of Shiloh, Corinth, Bolivar, and Grant's Central Mississippi Campaign, was forced to leave his men and the Army because of persistent illness.

Hall, Ezekiel

Appointed: 1878 – 1883

Ezekiel Hall was born on May 27, 1847, in Crawford County, Georgia to Samuel and Sarah Hall. Hall remained with his family until he was sixteen years old, when he left home and enlisted as a private with "I" Company, Fourth Georgia Regiment, Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate States of America.

Hall was mustered out after the Civil War and moved to Texas where he resided until 1868. Hall came to California in 1869, settled in Township Two of Fresno County and became involved in farming.

Heaton, Charles F

Appointed: April 25, 1874 – May 14, 1874

Charles Heaton, the then Fresno County Coroner, became the Ex-Officio Sheriff, upon the death of Sheriff Le Roy Dennis on April 25, 1874, and assumed those duties until May 14, 1874.

The Compiled California Statutes of 1850-1853 state "The Coroner shall be invested with the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the sheriff until a new sheriff is either elected or appointed by the Board of Supervisors.

Dennis, LeRoy

Appointed: March 1874 - April 1874

Leroy Dennis was born at Fort Osage Township, Jackson County, Missouri in 1842. Dennis' presence in California is first noted in the Federal Census of 1860; he resided in Visalia, Tulare County, as an eighteen-year-old laborer.

In 1870, Dennis was a saloonkeeper who was married and had two daughters and one son residing with him at Buchanan Hollow, Fresno County.

Walker, James N

Appointed: 1868 -1871

James Null Walker was born on February 7, 1829, in DeSoto, Missouri to William G. and Elizabeth Null Walker. In March of 1850, Walker, his brother Charles, and an uncle left Jefferson County, Missouri for California. The Walkers traveled by wagon train to Salt Lake City.

From Salt Lake City, they made their own way to Humboldt County, Nevada. The Walkers left Nevada for Gold Rush country where they quickly realized their fortunes were not in the gold fields.

Ashman, J Scott

Appointed: 1860 – 1868, 1871 – 1874, 1874 – 1878

James Scott Ashman was born on May 30, 1828 in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Ashman served in the Mexican–American War and served with Company I, Fourth Regiment, Indiana Infantry until being mustered out on July 16, 1848. The December 9, 1850 Census noted Ashman aged 24 years, as a resident of Mariposa County, California. Ashman was no different from so many young men who tried their luck in the gold fields with little success.

Scott, William Y.

Appointed: 1858 - 1860

William Y. "Monte" Scott and two companions, William "Yank" Hazelton and John A. Patterson moved from Mariposa in 1853, and settled on the Kings River. These three young men shared many things in common, especially a love of the card game called Monte. William was Scott's given name but his skill at the card game earned him the nickname of "Monte." While Hazelton and Patterson worked at establishing their cattle ranches, Scott settled at the stagecoach road crossing located in the Kings River bottom. Scott established a saloon and "eating house." As pioneers settled about the area, the community became known as Scottsburg.

Hardin, George S

Appointed: August 10, 1857 – March 1858

George Shadford Harden was born in Barnwell District, South Carolina in 1821. Harden came to California in 1849 to participate in the Great California Gold Rush.

The Federal Census of 1850 notes the presence of George Harden in both Los Angeles and Santa Barbara counties. The current Sheriff-Tax Collector William Bradly and then Deputy Collector of Foreign Miners Licenses George Harden appeared before the Board of Supervisors on May 6, 1857.

Bradly, William C.

Appointed: June 9, 1856 – August 8, 1857

William C. Bradly was elected the first Sheriff-Tax Collector of Fresno County on June 9, 1856. Sheriff Bradly was responsible for maintaining peace in a sprawling eight-thousand square mile county. The rivers were filled with miners seeking their fortune in gold, and farmers taming land never before placed under cultivation. Stockraisers had their livestock beset by wild animals, harsh climate, and thieves ready to steal the fruits of their diligence. The people, who inhabited Fresno County in 1856, were generally inclined to take care of whatever situation they found themselves in, and notify the authorities after the fact.