Ben Ducker was something of a wanderer. He was born in Missouri in 1844, came to California in the 1860’s, lived in Sonoma County for awhile, and wound up in Madera County in 1893 — the year of its separation from Fresno County. By all accounts, he was a decent fellow; he only had one really bad fault. That was his temper. Otherwise, he might have lived to a ripe old age.
Ben and his wife Cornelia purchased the California Hotel in Raymond and did a booming business, especially in the saloon that was attached to his accommodation. Everything was coming up roses for Ducker until that fateful night of Oct. 16, 1902. On that evening, at least a dozen or more soldiers from Company E of the Third U.S. Cavalry paid a visit to the California Hotel, and before the night was out, Ben Ducker was dead.
On the morning of Oct. 15, 1902, Troop E, 68 men strong and under the command of Major Oliver Hein and Captain Daniel Tate, left Yosemite National Park, headed for their permanent headquarters at the Presidio in San Francisco. They had been pulling guard duty at the Park since June 26, 1902. By noon on Thursday, Oct. 16, the soldiers were camped just outside of Raymond.
Now this wasn’t just any ordinary company of U.S. Cavalry. This was the Third Cavalry. They had just come home from putting down a rebellion in the Philippines. They were a troop of tough, hard-hitting, two-fisted drinkers, and they hadn’t had any strong libations for quite awhile...