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William M. Hughes: Fire Chief at mutiny

Madera County Historical Society
Thomas E. Hughes and his son William M. Hughes (shown above) were important players in the Secession of 1893.


The mutineers in the rebellion that was launched in Fresno on Jan. 28, 1893, included two very unlikely characters. They were a father and son team who went to the meeting at Kutner Hall that night with their minds working in tandem.


Thomas E. Hughes and his son, William M. Hughes, had moved to Fresno in 1878 and proceeded to promote the fledgling village. They made a fortune in real estate, built the lavish Hughes Hotel, and took an active part in the politics of the town. That is why no one suspected the role the pair would play in lighting the fires of secession.


The story of that January meeting in which a vote was taken to determine the will of the people in the matter of creating Madera County out of Fresno County is well known — most of it, that is.


Six railroad cars of Maderans filled Fresno’s Kutner Hall that night. At about 6:30 p.m. someone sounded the fire alarm, and immediately all of the Fresnans ran out to find the fire. In the meantime, several of the leading figures of the rebellion, including Thomas E Hughes, organized the meeting. When the Fresnans, unable to find the fire, returned to the hall, they found Miles Wallace with the gavel and the vast majority of the seats occupied by Maderans.


After a long and hot debate, in which Thomas Hughes played a conspicuous part, someone called for the vote. Wallace announced it would be a standing vote. Since most of the Fresnans were already standing, all the Maderans who were seated had to do was join them. This they did, and the proponents of Madera County carried the day, all because of a fire alarm.


No one ever said who sounded the fire alarm that night, but the presence of William M. Hughes did not go without notice. At the time, he happened to be Fresno’s Fire Chief!


So the people voted to create Madera County in 1893, and before the end of the year, William Hughes moved to Madera and bought a 120-acre ranch. In a short time he was elected treasurer of the new county.


The voters, it seemed, knew how to pay their debts.