San Diego Badge History

Gus (far right) as a deputy sheriff in Orange County

Legacy of a Forgotten Sheriff

Ben Hill

John H. Folks

1st Escondido Home

Augustus (Gus) Kossuth Cravath held the office of Sheriff of San Diego County for the last four months of 1892. His term, short that it was, had only a few major events that were notable, however, his legacy and the events and people that surrounded Cravath illustrate the importance of one man’s journey through life and the people he touches and influences.

Cravath had a small part in the birth of a city, the first California state execution, and over one hundred years of public service by himself and his descendants.

Born in Ohio in 1853, Gus moved to San Diego County with his sister in 1872. They settled in the Poway Valley on 320 acres. In the 1880 Census, Augustus, along with his wife Kate, are listed as ‘farmer’ and ‘Keeping House’ in the Bernardo Township, which later incorporated into the City of Poway. 

Cravath was a successful gold mine manager in the late 1880s and early 1890s. At one point they moved north to Escondido where A. K. managed the Escondido Gold Mine and made trips to San Diego regularly to oversee the processing at the National City Reduction Plant. There are also mentions of the “Cravath Mine”, which was located in central Escondido.

A. K. Cravath was the first City Trustee (Mayor) of Escondido when the city government was formed in 1888. He was on the Board of Directors for the bank, managed the Escondido Land and Town Company and brought water to the new city from Palomar Mountain through a series of tunnels and flumes.

Cravath was appointed Sheriff by the County Board of Supervisors in September of 1892 to complete the term of John H. Folks after he was convicted of misconduct in office.

On September 7th 1892, Judge Puterbaugh denied Folks’ request for a new trial and ordered him removed from office. This sparked the immediate filing of petitions and applications to the county board of supervisors who were tasked with finding and appointing a sheriff to fill the vacancy.

A. K. Cravath was appointed after a 3 to 2 vote of the supervisors and held the position until Ben P. Hill was elected and assumed office in January of 1893.

There are only a few documents that show Gus as Sheriff of San Diego County; The newspaper articles that detailed the Folks exit from office and his oath of office, which is on file with the San Diego Historical Society.

Cravath was able to show fees received by his office were in excess of expenses by $688 during this four-month period. This was a time when a deputy sheriff made $100 a month in salary. The Escondido town marshal earned $30 per month and received a $10 increase when street lamps were invented. The Marshal, however, did have to supply the matches and oil out of that $10 and had to keep the lamps clean.
One of Gus’s daughters, Gertrude, wrote a biography of her father that details many of his successes in life. She was very close to her father and proud of him. Gus was a proud man and proud of his family. In a letter to Gertrude (dated 1922) he described a cousin of his: "He was a typical Cravath, about six feet tall, which you know is about my height, and had the same calm, quiet way of talking that is a trait of the family." 

The only major event to occur during Cravath’s 4 months as Sheriff was the murder of Anna and John J. Geyser at their farm located in Otay Mesa, a small suburb of San Diego City.

This crime was investigated by the local Constable, Thomas Smallcomb and Prosecuted by the San Diego County District attorney. The suspect, José Gabriel (called Indian Joe by the locals) was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

It has been argued that the conviction was a rush to judgment and a reflection of the inadequacies 19th century judicial system. One such book is The Trial of Indian Joe – Race and Justice in the Nineteenth-Century West by Clare V. McKanna Jr.

 By this time, California law stated that death sentences would be carried out by the State Prisons and Gabriel was the first person put to death at San Quentin after this law took effect.

Sheriff Cravath was ordered by the presiding judge to see to Gabriel’s transport to San Quentin, to be hanged, which he attended to personally. He boarded the morning train December 18, 1892 with Gabriel in tow and they arrived the next day where Gabriel was handed over to the Prison Guards.

In 1898 Cravath moved his Family to Orange County California and settled in the city of Santa Ana where we again embraced a new community in its infancy. As before in Escondido, he began his involvement in civic functions and became a deputy sheriff of Orange County. His career in law enforcement with Orange County spanned the years up to and during the prohibition era. After leaving Law Enforcement, he started his own investigations process server business. His many contacts in and around the criminal justice system during that time proved to be quite helpful. Gus passed away in Santa Ana, California on December10th 1935.