During my visit to the Archives Wednesday, Deputy Patty Stinson gave several of us a personal “tour” of the murals she painted for the Office of Emergency Services, a public building at Santa Rita The subject of the murals came from historical pictures and history of the department.
Above is the earliest history and is done in a sepia tone, as old pictures were in those days. Some highlights: Center left, Sheriff Henry Morse road horseback from Sunol to Los Angeles in pursuit of Joaquin Murrieta. Above his head is a little Adobe that is still part of Komandorski Village in Pleasanton. It served as the first courthouse and jail. Under the horses hooves is another building built as a courthouse and beside it a bigger courthouse with a prisoner hanging in the doorway, the punishment for major crimes of the day. Behind the steam engine is the first Patrol Car and below right is the first Patty wagon. Follow the road above to officers in brown gear. Complaints that the cops looked too much like telegraph delivery men made them change to navy-blue uniforms. To the left, a mad Chinaman threw a bomb that killed six officers. Patty put a lot of thought and work into these murals. She segued this one with a slight color change, on the right, to the next mural.
This mural is in black and white. Above left corner depicts the first Prison Farm in the State, nestled in the hillside near what is now Highland Hospital. The woman seated above the Greystone Sign is Firth Band, a cattle rustler. Around the coffee table the story was the detectives interrogating her insisted she couldn’t lift a huge steer into a truck, she must have had help. She stood 6 feet, 2″ tall. When she had had enough of the badgering, before he could blink and eye, she grabbed hefty Detective Welch, one hand around the shoulder, one under the crotch, and lifted him into the air with ease. I asked Welch if it was a true story. He told me exactly how she grabbed him. Top center, an officer beaming a light down into the compound where inmates lived in barracks. To his right, Ramona Hoffman, a female deputy operating what is now an ancient comptometer. The Russell City Country Club? Russell City was actually the county dump where people, mostly African Americans who couldn’t get decent housing, built their own. Wooden shacks and even some cardboard shacks, and eventually some little houses, a hall and a market. None built with permits. Famous black musicians would come to the Bay Area and play to sell out crowds and then do free concerts for their brethren at the Russell City Country Club. Below right is Captain Minna Ralph. She was chosen to be the first female deputy sheriff, though a number of female matrons did police services at the jails before her. When the Civil Service Exam for Sergeant came up, the exam board forgot to post that the exam was open to men only. Minna took the exam and passed. There was an outcry against a female “stealing” a position, but she got the rank. It opened up doors for other female deputies. She later became a Lieutenant and Captain, all “firsts” as well. On the right of the mural is a touch of color as it segues to the next one.
Top left, female deputies new uniforms are designed like stewardesses. One deputy commented can you imagine us trying to run in those skirts? Females were only allowed in the jail then. Captain Ralph fought for positions in transportation and juvenile. Change came slowly but they eventually got into patrol cars with great success and you see them left center firing pistols on the range. Top center is Spade Cooley, a man in jail for murdering his wife. He was a famous musician. Twelve deputies were indicted after the street wars in Berkeley depicted to his left. The deputies were raising funds for their own defense and Deputies Baugh, Matzek and Saper asked for permission to get Spade Cooley out of jail for a weekend for two concerts. They housed him, guarded him and bought him a belt buckle and a pair of boots at his request. Cooley’s friends came up from as far away as Texas to hear him play. One famous western movie star rolled into Oakland with great big steer horns on his fur-lined Cadillac. Cooley did one concert and in the middle of the second one, died on stage of a heart attack. Who can forget the case of the 26 school children kidnapped from Chowchilla and buried underground in Livermore? The Sheriff still has a posse, for parade purposes only, bottom right. And, a dual picture of Martin Luther King and Joan Baez. The Santa Rita jail was the only prison King visited. He came because Joan Baez was imprisoned when she protested in song and in person on the streets of Berkeley.
Alameda County Jail reflects the times as it played its part in the historic changes of society. We can’t let history get thrown away. Our archives preserves it for posterity.