Madera County Historical Society
Although he lived south of the San Joaquin River, Thomas E. Hughes, shown here, was a leader in the Rebellion of 1893 that created Madera County. He supported the division of Fresno County because he owned huge tracts of land north of the river.
The San Joaquin River cut through the heart of the Rebellion of 1893. As it flowed from the mountains to the Delta, it separated the divisionists from the anti-divisionists. It created a buffer between the secessionists and those who wanted to keep Fresno County intact.
The Rebels on the north side of the river had the law on their side. All they had to do was convince their state legislators to introduce a bill to create Madera County from that part of Fresno County that lay north of the river, and an election would be held.
At first blush, it appeared that the secessionists would win the war without firing a shot. Only those citizens who lived north of the river could vote in such an election. None of the majority of Fresno County’s residents — those who lived south of the river — would have any say in the matter; they weren’t allowed to cast a ballot!
A second look, however, showed that it wasn’t all so cut and dried. Fresno County’s Assemblyman George W. Mordecai and its State Senator, George Goucher, would both have to introduce a bill in their respective houses of the Legislature to create Madera County.
Mr. Mordecai wasted no time in submitting his bill. Senator Goucher, on the other hand, wasn’t as quick to load his musket. Although not everybody would be able to vote in the proposed election, he wanted to give them all a chance to be heard.
Therefore, Goucher called for a town hall meeting to be held SOUTH of the San Joaquin River. The Senator said he wanted to gauge the will of all the people, and that’s how the “Howling Time” came to be.
The meeting on county division was scheduled for Jan. 28, 1893, at Fresno’s Kutner Hall. Just as soon as this was announced, the Rebel officers held roll call at Mace’s Yosemite Hotel in Madera.
All of the county secessionists leaders showed up: Henry Clay Daulton, William M. Conley, E. H. Cox, Return Roberts, and John Griffin joined Assemblyman George Mordecai in the hotel lobby to draw up their battle plan.
The Rebels knew that since the meeting on division would take place in enemy territory, it would take some extraordinary maneuvering to win the skirmish at Kutner Hall. That’s why they came up with the idea of a false fire alarm on the evening of their invasion.
Although the meeting was set for 7:30 p.m., Fresnans began to drift in at 6 to take their seats. Within an hour, the Hall was filled with anti-divisionists. The Fresno people were determined to be heard. Little did they know.
Just as Fresno attorney W.D. Grady was about to proclaim himself the chairman of the meeting, 400 men from Madera were making their way toward Kutner Hall. They had left Madera in a special Southern Pacific train, bound to rout the enemy.
The first contingent of secessionists entered the Hall at approximately 7:15, whereupon somebody sounded the fire alarm. Immediately the Fresnans bounded from the room to go fight the fire, and the remainder of the Maderans joined their comrades in the hall and took their seats.
Failing to find the fire, the Fresnans returned to the Hall only to find Rebel sympathizer Miles Wallace in charge of the meeting and the chairs all filled with Maderans.
What happened next can only be described as pandemonium. In fact, that is precisely what a reporter for the Fresno Expositor called it. “The Maderans had been instructed to yell like devils, and they did, like all pandemonium broke loose.”
The reporter went on to describe the meeting as “the wildest, the most tumultuous body of men ever assembled in this city.”
The divisionists were led by Henry Clay Daulton, a former member of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. He said “This county is too big . . . large enough almost to make two states. We now have two daily papers in Madera and we simply ask you to let us go in peace. We want a divorce from you and we don’t want you to pay any alimony. If my wife were to tell me that two-thirds of her wanted to go away from me and she didn’t want me to pay any alimony, it would be very cruel on my part if I didn’t let her go, although my wife is dear to me and she has given birth to every child that I have.”
Finally it came time for a decision, and Wallace called for a standing vote. Since the Maderans occupied the chairs while the Fresnans were standing, when the affirmative was called for, nearly everyone in the hall was on his feet. The Expositor said that “the secretary pretended to count but did not, because no one could count the surging mass.” He announced that the affirmative was 865. When the negative was called, the divisionists sat down, leaving only the Fresnans standing.
After the “Howling Time” at Kutner Hall, Goucher overcame his hesitation and introduced the division bill in the State Senate. The Legislature passed both bills and ordered an election.
On May 16, 1893, the people north of the San Joaquin River went to the polls, and on May 20, the official vote was announced, 1,179 to 368 in favor of the new county of Madera.
So, in the secession of 1893, the Rebels won without firing a shot.