Madera County Historical Society
Thomas E. Hughes.
It was a raucous crowd that gathered on Jan. 28, 1893 at Fresno’s Kutner Hall, and one of the rowdiest was Thomas E. Hughes. This ardent entrepreneur shouted his support for slicing off all of the land north of the San Joaquin River and turning it into Madera County.
“Let the mossbacks of Fresno take care of the south side of the river,” Hughes shouted, and after the vote to dismember Fresno County, he mounted the platform and ripped a flag or streamer from the wall, which contained the words, “From Fresno to Monterey.” As he tore it down, he said, “We have no more need of this.”
On the face of it, there was nothing particularly unusual about Hughes’ action that night. He had lots of company. Most of the people in the room shared his sentiments.
But they were from Madera.
Hughes, on the other hand, was from Fresno, and what makes him all the more enigmatic is this — he became known as “The Father of Fresno,” at least that’s what they put on his tombstone.
After all, Hughes was the quintessential civic booster. He helped turn the village of Fresno into a town. He was one of the organizers of the First National Bank and formed the Fresno Fruit Packing Company. Hughes also built the Fresno gas works and the Fresno racetrack and fairgrounds.
Given these facts, some people were shocked when he took the side of the division proponents in the fight to create Madera County.
What they didn’t know, however, was that Hughes had just purchased the old Chapman Ranch just outside of Madera. It consisted of 3,300 acres and with energetic promotion it could be subdivided, and Thomas could make another million dollars.
What he needed to make his plan work were a few friends in high places. If county division succeeded, he would be working with a new board of supervisors that would be more sympathetic to his ideas for colonizing north of the river than Fresno County’s supervisors.
So Hughes joined the Madera Mutineers in the Secession of 1893. In the minds of some folks, that made him a traitor. It is surprising that’s not what they put on his tombstone.