The two women sat mutely beside each other on July 4, 1901, as the train pulled out of the Fresno station heading north toward Madera. The younger of the two — the daughter of the older one — was lost in reverie. She did not relish this return to Madera, but it had to be done. Her brother was dying, and she wanted to tell him goodbye. She also wanted to see her children and perhaps make one more attempt to take custody of them.
Her thoughts drifted back to the early days of her marriage to John Garner. From the start, ominous clouds of disharmony began to gather — clouds that would in time turn into a storm of marital strife. By 1901, she determined to leave him. She would take their two boys and move to Los Angeles where her mother lived. There she would file for a divorce. She had reckoned, however, without the determination of her desperate husband.
Mrs. Garner remembered quite well his reaction to the news that his wife was leaving him with his boys. Before she could depart John Garner took the children to his sister’s, Mrs. William Frindley, whose husband coincidentally was Mrs. Garner’s brother, the one who was now on his deathbed. Thus in order to escape her intolerable marital situation, she had to leave Madera alone.
As the train crossed the San Joaquin River, Mrs. Garner glanced at the older woman who sat by her side. When Mrs. O.S. Willingham learned of her daughter’s difficulty, she opened her home to her, as much for protection as comfort. She knew that her son-in-law was given to fits of jealous rage...