Traveling in the foothills was never pleasant in the horse-and-buggy days. Those ubiquitous highwaymen who hid in the bushes awaiting their unsuspecting prey made life miserable for everyone and generally had respect for no one. There was one time, however, in 1877, when two of these outlaws almost bit off more than they could chew and revealed that they did have some manners after all, at least when they were dealing with Phil Harris.
Now, Constable Harris wasn’t your run-of-the-mill lawman. No Sir! He demanded respect; after all he was the best known peace officer between the San Joaquin River and Merced, and he presided over one of the county’s most prosperous villages, Borden, just four miles south of Madera. Nearly everybody in his jurisdiction gave him a wide berth because of his no-nonsense reputation.
It so happened that on April 25, Constable Harris had to attend to some business at the courthouse in Millerton, so he hitched up his horse to a buggy at the Borden Hotel and headed toward the Stockton-to-Millerton road, which would take him to the county seat. Under normal conditions, it would have been a nice day for a ride, but this was going to prove to be quite an out-of-the-ordinary-day.
Harris had almost reached Jones’ Store on the river when he suddenly heard someone shout, “Halt!” When he turned in the direction of the command, he saw that he was covered by two masked men standing in a small ditch on the side of the road. Both figures wore dusters and brandished cocked revolvers...