John Barnett was one of Madera’s most colorful lawmen. During the decade and a half that he served the people, first as town marshal and then as sheriff, he faced murderers, holdup men, con men, bootleggers and a host of other threats to the tranquility of our town. None of these, however, came close to shaking his confidence in himself. He was always in command of every situation—except for that time in the summer of 1918, when a double amputee came to Madera and almost drove Barnett to his wits’ end.
Walter Toney was the name of the legless man, and he drifted into town on July 29, 1918. When the train pulled up to the depot, Toney was assisted to the platform and then left to make it on his own. In those days, there was no public assistance for the handicapped. They were left to their own devices. That’s why Toney dragged himself up Yosemite Avenue. He positioned himself in front of one of the saloons on the boulevard and proceeded to ask for handouts.
Throughout the day, Toney sat on the sidewalk requesting alms of the passers-by. No one on his side of the street went by Toney without being solicited, and therein lay the rub. For some reason, Maderans were not sympathetic enough to suit Toney. His collection of the coin of the realm wasn’t growing fast enough to suit him, so he decided to see if his luck would be any better inside the saloon.
Propelling himself with his hands and what was left of his legs, Toney scooted across the floor of the saloon and up to the foot rail where he sought financial assistance from those assembled at the bar. Within a short time he perceived that the pickings were not going to be any better inside the bar than on the sidewalk, so Toney decided to use what little money he had to drown his sorrows. In a short time the liquor took over, and the legless man felt like he was ten feet tall. That’s when he decided to teach the folks of Madera to have some respect...