Looking back at his life, many historians might agree San Diego’s first City Marshal was one of the most interesting men of the 19th century.
Born August 30, 1812, in Hungary, Agoston Haraszathy was the only son of nobleman Charles Haraszathy de Bacska and wife Anna nee Halasz. Raised in nobility, he already held the title of Count when, at 18-years-old, he received his commission in the Royal Hungarian Guards. In 1834 Agoston Haraszathy married the daughter of a Polish nobleman who had settled in Hungary after the Polish Revolution. A year they birth to their first child, a son named Geza.
Agoston Haraszathy returned to Hungary in 1842 and convinced his father to liquidate the estate and move the entire family to Wisconsin. The estate sell off, and his wife's substantial wealth, made Agoston Haraszathy among the richest immigrants of the 19th century.
In 1848, after enduring six years of harsh winters in the Midwest where he established a thriving town and a shipping route, Agoston Haraszathy convinced the family to move to California where he could pursue his passion of fine wines. Haraszathy wanted to capitalize on the moderate climate and establish what would be the west coasts first winery.
By the time the Haraszathy family arrived in San Diego the population had grown to 650 people, mainly Mexican ranchers, Navy deserters and a few Mormon soldiers. After purchasing a plot adjacent to San Luis Rey Mission, Agoston Haraszathy and his sons planted a large fruit orchard.
After being elected City Marshal in 1850, the council, led by Charles Haraszathy, set Agoston’s annual salary at $1000 per year making him the highest paid city employee. As part of his contract, he would also bill the city for each arrest he made.
As Marshal one of Agoston Haraszathy’s first official duties was the construction of a jail. It wasn’t really necessary however, with the soldiers having set the tone of local justice for the last few years, most San Diego criminals were either hung or shot. The jail would be used primarily to house drunks and minor troublemakers.
In the summer of 1850 San Diego’s first public works began with the Israel Brothers submitting a bid of $3,000. Marshal Haraszathy responded with a counter bid of $5,074 and, despite only having $10,000 in the treasury, the council accepted it with Charles Haraszathy spearheading the proposal. The elder Haraszathy justified the higher amount by telling the public they needed to pay for a quality job.
Construction began almost immediately with Marshal Haraszathy building a crude cobblestone facility near what is now Congress Street. Shortly after the building was completed, a heavy downpour caused a large part of the jail to melt into a pile of mud and straw. On November 7, 1850, Agoston Haraszathy re-approached the council asking for an additional $2000 to rebuild the jail. By now the jail had become such a debacle they were left with little choice but to approve the request.
Despite the additional money, the rebuilt jail was no better than the first and within hours of being arrested the first inmate, the Mayor’s brother, 25-year-old Roy Bean, escaped by digging through the walls with a pocketknife. The building was so poorly constructed that he would be the only inmate the jail would ever hold. Decades later Bean would establish himself in Langford Texas as the “Law West of the Pecos” when he set up a courthouse that doubled as a liquor store and casino.
Without a City Jail troublemakers were encouraged to leave for Northern California. Within a few months of running almost everyone out of town, San Diego was actually starting to become a sleepy little village.
Despite his success cleaning up the streets, Haraszathy’s attempt at collecting taxes was a failure when he started a war with the Indians after demanding they pay property tax. Seeds for the hostilities were actually planted a year earlier when the Marshal told the tribe they needed to pay taxes for the land they lived on. The Indians didn’t understand the concept of taxation but reluctantly paid the $600. They knew if they didn’t they would have their possessions seized and they would be forced into slavery under state vagrancy laws.
Things went from bad to worse in July 1851 when Mayor Joshua Bean ordered the Indians to no longer pay the tax. When Mayor Bean told Marshal Haraszathy what he had done, the Marshal was outraged. Haraszathy was now caught between his legal obligation to collect taxes and an order by the Mayor. When Marshal Haraszathy rode back to the villages later that year the Indians were steadfast in refusing to pay the taxes. The Marshal responded by saying if they didn’t he would come back with enough men to take them by force.
With the two sides so far apart the inevitable happened and on November 22nd a full-scale war broke out between San Diego and the Indians. The ensuing fight caused the town to be placed under martial law with the military re-assuming the role of law enforcement.
Agoston Haraszathy wasn’t in town to see the end of the war having resigned his office on December 24, 1851, when he was elected to the California State Assembly. While in the legislature, Agoston Haraszathy traveled throughout Northern California where he finally found the climate he was looking for and created Zinfandel and the Muscat of Alexandria raisin grape wines. His creations earned him the nickname “The Father of the California Wine Industry.” He then moved onto Sonoma County where he established the Buena Vista Winery that is today a state park and historical site still producing a wine labeled 1857.
The Haraszathy family left the United States in the late 1860’s to establish a rum plantation in Central America.
Agoston died on July 6, 1869, near his estate “Hacienda San Antonio” in Corinto, Nicaragua. His family claims he fell into a river while attempting to cross it and was dragged away by an alligator. His body was never found.