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The Madera Tribune

Early Fresnans felt superior to Maderans

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webmaster | 09/28/99

It took some people in Fresno County a long time to accept Madera County as an equal. When our bold, pioneer ancestors decided to separate and form their own county, they didn't surprise anyone. The authorities in Fresno were not shocked at all, but at the same time, it was difficult to mask the feelings of superiority with which the upstarts were viewed.

The newspapers of Fresno never failed to take pot-shots at the incipient attempts at self-determination on the part of the founders of Madera County. Beginning in 1890, the county division movement was regularly assailed, and by 1893, the public tone in Fresno had turned blatantly sarcastic. How dare these ingrates even propose leaving the nurturing arms of Fresno!

When a public meeting, held on January 28, 1893, revealed the determination of the affected residents to do just that, the assembly was characterized as having a "howling time."

Undaunted, the proponents of separation pushed ahead, and on May 16, the voters ratified the movement. Madera was jubilant while Fresno could barely remain civil. The press, especially the Fresno Expositor, constantly impugned the new creation. Avuncular condescension reeked from almost every article which referred to the newest California county.

An excellent example of these journalistic sour grapes appeared in May of 1893. No sooner had the last vote been counted than a headline in the Fresno paper attempted to put Madera County residents in their place. In an article entitled, "Madera County's Little Slice of Schools," the writer pointed his condescending finger north and proclaimed that Fresno County would no longer pay for education north of the San Joaquin.

Continuing his pejorative broadside, the reporter pointed out that "the schools on the north side of the River, in the new county of Madera, will hence forth and forever have to stand or fall alone, and without any support from this side of the San Joaquin....

At the time, there were 27 school districts in Madera County. The largest was Madera, with its two elementary schools, a new high school, and 444 students. The smallest was San Joaquin with 9 pupils. In between, there were such one-school districts as Arcola (52) Berenda (62), Raymond (60), and La Vina (51).

Other school districts dotting the landscape of the new county, all with fewer than 50 students, were Alpha (22), Coarse Gold (46), Cleveland (28), Daulton (25), Dennis (22), Eastin (28), Flume (27), Fresno Flats (49), granite (40), Orange Grove (26), Sweet Flower (24), Spring Valley (40), Sesame (22), Webster (46), Willow Creek (25), Gertrude (31), Green (44), Gambetta (45), Hanover (40), Knowles (20), and Mary's Dale (28).

The Fresno reporter asserted that education north of the San Joaquin paled almost to insignificance when the student counts of both counties were compared. While Fresno County was busy educating 7,170 students, Madera County pupils numbered a paltry 1,356. The underlying inference was that the residents of Madera County had been precipitate in separating and would have quite a struggle reaching the intellectual heights that had been attained south of the River.

In the mind of the Expositor's reporter, not only did sheer numbers relegate Madera County to a second class status but so did its presumed dependence upon Fresno County to shoulder part of its educational expenses.

T.J. Kirk, Fresno County Superintendent of Schools, stated that since "no further connection in educational matters existed" between the two counties, the teachers of Madera County were put on notice that they would have to "look for their pay to their own side of the river."

The interesting thing about this public admonishment to self-reliance is that there is no record that it was ever necessary. No officer of Madera County ever indicated that Fresno County would be looked to for financial support. As far as the sources indicate, no teacher in Madera County ever expected to be paid by Fresno County. The matter of county division had been explored thoroughly, and the ability to achieve financial self-sufficiency was well established before this issue was submitted to the legislature.

Not even B.A. Hawkins, Madera County's first Superintendent of Schools, escaped contempt from Fresno County. Hawkins began his career in education as a teacher south of the river. Later he was elected to the position of Superintendent of Schools there. When it became obvious that a new county was to be created, Hawkins threw his hat into the ring at Madera. With the affirmative vote for county division came Hawkins' election as its schools chief.

The Fresnoites were quick to point out that Hawkins would endure a significant reduction in salary by taking the helm of Madera County's schools. He would earn only $500 dollars per year. The paper, however, caustically reminded its readers that Hawkins could hold a teaching position concurrently with his tenure as Superintendent, suggesting that he could perform his administrative duties on Saturday.

It is not known how accurate the $500 dollar figure was, but there is no record that Hawkins had to teach school to supplement his superintendent's salary.

In time, Madera County won its place of parity. It never did become as large as Fresno County, but the quality of life that it offered its citizens compared quite favorably with any county in California. One wonders how those leaders of a century ago--those who thought that surely nothing good could come from Madera--would view the situation today.


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