Courtesy of The Madera County Historical Society
State Sen. George Goucher fought for the creation of Madera County — literally!
At 11 o’clock on the evening of Jan. 21, 1911, the Honorable George G. Goucher died in Madera, and with his passing the Valley lost one of its social pillars and active political leaders. He had been a teacher, an attorney, District Attorney for Mariposa and Madera counties, state assemblyman, and state senator.
And if that isn’t enough to place him in the local “Who’s Who?” we might add that, along with the Honorable George Washington Mordecai, he was a founding father of Madera County. When Mordecai introduced in the State Assembly in 1893, the bill to create Madera County, Goucher did likewise in the State Senate, but it came close to costing him his life.
Not everyone rejoiced at the prospect of creating a new county in 1893. Certainly the sentiment south of the San Joaquin River was decidedly anti-divisionist. Numerous public meetings were held in Fresno to map a strategy for thwarting the move to carve Madera County out of Fresno County’s First Supervisorial District. Strong feelings were expressed on both sides of the issue, and occasionally violence was the result. It was for that reason that Senator George Goucher carried a pistol.
When Goucher and Mordecai introduced their bills in their respective houses authorizing a vote by the people on the matter of county division, the proposals made one Charles A. Lee seethe with resentment, and for some reason that anger was directed more toward Goucher than Mordecai.
Lee lived in the foothill area of the proposed new county, and he was against its formation, as were a number of his neighbors. During the hearing on the proposed creation of Madera County, Lee was omnipresent; he lobbied everyone he could reach, urging them in the strongest terms not to allow the required plebiscite. When Goucher turned a deaf ear to him, Lee responded by “applying vile epithets” to the senator and “impugning his honesty.” Goucher was understandably upset.
On Feb. 19, 1893, Senator Goucher arose from his seat on the floor of the Senate to complain of Lee’s attacks and of his presence in the visitor’s gallery. The sergeant-at-arms was directed to remove Lee from the chamber, whereupon the disgruntled anti-divisionist continued his verbal attacks on Goucher out in the hall, within the hearing of Goucher’s good friend, Fred Hamstead.
While Lee was holding forth against Goucher in the capitol building, Hamstead walked up to him and “decorated his countenance with several scientific blows.” Lee, for a moment didn’t know what had hit him, for Hamstead had drawn upon all of his skill as a professional boxer to teach the obstreperous lobbyist a lesson. When he regained his senses, Lee recognized Hamstead as the well-known pugilist, “Young Duchy.” Not wishing to engage in a match of fisticuffs with an expert in the field, Lee pulled a revolver from his coat.
The Fresno County lobbyist never had a chance to fire his weapon. He was disarmed by one J.M. Sullivan and taken to jail; Hamstead, for his part, was charged with battery. In the meantime, when Senator Goucher learned of what had taken place out in the corridor, he went to his room for his own pistol.
Both Lee and Hamstead were scheduled for a police court appearance the next day, and just before the hearing was to begin, a horse drawn hack pulled up in front of the station, carrying Senator Goucher. He was not one to desert his friends. Goucher walked into the building, informed the officer in charge that he was there to defend Hamstead, and asked to see his client. At that point, the sheriff of Sacramento County stormed into the station and exclaimed, “See here, Senator, you will have to disarm right now. I don’t propose to have any shooting here and won’t stand for any nonsense of that kind. Give me your weapon.”
Goucher replied, “I will keep my revolver. This man (Lee) has been making threats against my life, and I have a right to protect myself.” With that, the chief of police entered the fray and demanded that Goucher comply with the sheriff’s order to turn over his gun. Once again there was a demurrer from Goucher.
“I am a state senator, and as an officer of the state, I decline to give up my weapon. The law entitles me to carry one.”
The Sacramento lawmen recognized that they had more than they could handle by attempting to intimidate Goucher, so they turned to persuasion, but still, Goucher remained firm.
“I am not going to shoot anybody,” said the senator. “This man Lee said that he was going to kill me on sight. I was told of these threats by Lieutenant Governor Reddick, who came to me and told me that I had better carry a pistol and be prepared.” With that, Goucher strode into the court fully armed to represent his friend.
Upon Goucher’s request, the charges against Hamstead were dropped, and the senator returned to the Capitol building to continue his argument on behalf of Madera County. In this he was successful; the legislature authorized an election to be held in May 1893, in that part of Fresno County north of the San Joaquin river, to determine whether the County of Madera would become a reality.
That election was held on May 16, 1893, and the voters approved the proposal 1,179 to 368. On that day Charles Lee, who had returned to his foothill home, was seen hopping from precinct to precinct “wearing an anxious look.” Senator Goucher, on the other hand, was pleased with the results and later was elected district attorney of the new county.
It had been a long struggle, one that had erupted in violence in the state capital and had almost cost the lawmaker his life. Such were the politics of the good old days before we all got civilized.