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William M. Conley: Mutineer with an agenda

Madera County Historical Society
William M. Conley.


William M. Conley was a Johnny-Come-Lately in the Secession of 1893. While the push for creating Madera County was reaching a white heat in the summer of 1892, Conley was busy running for the office of district attorney of Merced County. However, when he was defeated in that race, the 26-year-old lawyer began to cast about for greener pastures to put his law degree to work. That’s when he decided to move to Madera.


When he reached his new home, he found the sentiments for county division running rampant here. They were absolutely uncontainable, so Conley hopped on the bandwagon. He knew that if the divisionists were successful, the new county would need a superior court judge,


The alert and ambitious young attorney promptly made a couple of speeches in favor of the proposed county division. In a short time, a group of very impressed local citizens asked him to join the rebellion.


Conley gave it everything he had, especially at the town hall meeting on Jan. 28, 1893 in Fresno’s Kutner Hall.Then, when the Legislature set the date for the referendum on the question of county division, Conley went to work. While the other mutineers were lining up votes in favor of creating Madera County, Conley was campaigning to be its first Superior Court judge, which was not an easy task.


Conley’s age drew considerable opposition. In one oration in Raymond, someone in the crowd shouted, “We don’t want a kid for judge; we want a married man.” The would-be jurist responded that if he was elected, he would find a bride, and for good measure, he added that he would name his first son after the town.


The divisionists won the election in May 1893, and on July 19, 1893, Conley married Emma Bedesen. On Oct. 2, 1894, he named his first born Philip Raymond Conley.


So William Conley was the first of the mutineers to turn the rebellion to his advantage. He came to Madera seeking an opportunity and found it in the political upheaval that was taking place.


With his age working against him, he had to go the extra mile to convince the people he really wanted the job. He probably kissed a baby or two, too.