Sheriff Joseph McKinney

Sheriff badge 4Sacramento County’s first sheriff was a young man named Joseph H. McKinney, who was killed in the line of duty during the infamous Squatter’s Riots a mere four months after taking office.   McKinney came West in 1849.  He operated a saloon named The Gem at 2nd and J Streets for a time, and his occupation prompted outrage among some citizens when he was elected Sheriff in April 1850.  Others saw him as dashing and courageous. Meanwhile, trouble had been brewing for some time over property rights. A number of Gold Rush newcomers dubbed “squatters” by existing landholders, contested John Sutter’s original land title, declaring that city plots already bought by others were public domain lands available for homesteading. Suits, counter-suits, escalating acts of violence and vandalism perpetrated by both sides ensued over a period of months, culminating in real bloodshed when squatters instigated a gun fight at the corner of 4th and J Streets on August 14. McKinney organized a posse to arrest the offenders, who were hiding out in a roadhouse 5 miles east. He was killed instantly on August 15, 1850, as he stood outside the road house doorway. McKinney’s funeral was attended by a long file of carriages, members of the militia, and about 100 citizens on horseback. The obvious grief of his recent bride, the former Ellen McClellan, brought tears to many eyes. Originally buried in the old New Helvetia Cemetery on the outskirts of Sutter’s Fort, his body now lies under a monument erected by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department in East Lawn Cemetery. Information about his correct age and birthplace is lost; some believe McKinney was only 21. 


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