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Taking another look at a lynching

Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society

S.W. Westfall served two terms as Madera County sheriff. He spent the better part of his first term in an unsuccessful search for the vigilantes who hanged Victor Adams. Alas, he was unsuccessful due to the lack of cooperation from the tight-lipped folks in the hills.


“Coate Tales” has visited the hanging of Victor Adams a couple of times — once just recently, but this week we found confirmation of an old adage: No history is ever finished. No historian is ever done. There is always more to tell.


Through the miracle of digitized archives, we found an account of the Adams lynching in an 1895 issue of The Madera Tribune. So descriptive is this account, that we have to travel once more along what is now Road 200, about a mile above the little town of O’Neals. That is where they hanged Victor Adams.


Readers may remember that Adams had shot his father-in-law, Judge I.L. Baker, in an argument over a horse. He was captured by the judge’s sons and a few of their friends. The murderer was tied to a horse, and the posse headed toward Madera on July 21.


When they got to within about a mile of Spring Valley School, at a bend in the road, they were met by a sizable crowd of local vigilantes. They took charge of the prisoner and sent the posse on its way.


The first thing the vigilantes did was prepare Adams for his execution. They fastened each wrist to a leg with a rope. Then they put the noose of a thick cotton rope around his neck.


Adams was told that he had a few minutes to pray before dying, but he refused. Instead, he told them that since he was going to die with his boots on, he wanted his hat on as well. The vigilantes accommodated him and then pulled him out of the saddle to a height of 10 feet and left him kicking.


The next day someone called the coroner and he, in the company of two reporters and Richard Jay, the undertaker, arrived on the ghastly scene. As they approached the spot, the body of Adams was seen hanging above the road.


The knot of the rope was striking Adams’ chin, which forced his head back. There was a space of two or three inches in front of the windpipe where the rope did not touch.


The skin had been rubbed from the back of the neck and from the jaw by the rope. The dead man’s face was contorted fearfully, showing that he had suffered great agony while he hung there and slowly strangled. It was evident that death was a long time coming to the doomed man. He may have hung there for at least two hours, suffering in intense pain.


The murderer’s legs were not tied, and the straw hat that he wore when captured was still on his head. The coroner had the body cut down and placed in a coffin, which Jay had brought at his request. An examination of the body was made. There were no wounds on it. The neck was not broken, showing that death did not come suddenly.


The coroner impaneled a jury, but it was difficult to get witnesses. J.W. Bouse was apparently the only man in the mountains who knew anything about the affair. He was a member of the posse that captured Adams. His capture was made at Jesse Ross’ place on Friday, the 20th at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The posse told Adams to throw up his hands, and he obeyed. Victor had a double-barreled shotgun on his shoulder at the time of his arrest.


After dinner, the party started for Madera. Adams was fastened on a horse to prevent him from escaping. When half a mile from Russel’s Station, the posse was met by the party of armed men about 1 o’clock Saturday morning.


The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased, Victor Adams, a native of France, aged 44 years, came to his death by being hanged by persons unknown. The body was buried near the road.


The mountain people were not very communicative on the subject 
of the lynching, but 
there was considerable feeling among them that the hanging was justified. A few, however, who saw the body of Adams as it swung in the road said that the lynching was unnecessarily brutal.


Mrs. Adams, Victor’s wife, did not know of the capture or hanging of her husband until informed of it the next day by the Tribune reporter. He found her seated in her house in the company of several Indian women.


At first she would not believe the news, but when she finally was convinced, she burst into tears. It was then that the newsman learned that she was the daughter of Judge Baker, the man her husband killed.


Thus, The Madera Tribune fleshed out this gruesome story, filling in all the details except one. Where exactly did they bury Adams? He still has to be there somewhere along Road 200. After all, they did put him in a casket from Jay’s.