Madera County Historical Society
This photograph of Henry Clay Daulton was taken just before his death in 1893.
Henry Clay Daulton, with his 17,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch, represented a powerful political and economic force in the local area. Having been appointed by the governor in 1893 to head the commission to organize the new county of Madera, he was elected as its first Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Daulton’s influence in those early days can hardly be overstated. His story is well known.
What is not so well known are Daulton’s ties to one of California’s most violent figures from California’s past. State Supreme Court Justice David S. Terry, “the dueling judge,” and Henry Clay Daulton had more than a casual acquaintance, which dramatically affected Madera County’s history.
Terry came to California in the gold rush, and within a few years had secured a seat on the State Supreme Court. Always politically active, Terry injected a little color and a lot of violence into anything he touched.
When vigilantism threatened the stability of San Francisco in the 1850s, Terry appeared on the scene to deal personally with those who would take the law into their own hands. Within a very short time, Terry took a Bowie knife to the throat of a member of that lawless element, and for that act was himself taken into custody by the rabble.
Fearing the consequences of executing a Supreme Court justice, the mob found Terry guilty of simple assault and then released him.
In September 1859, the fiery Terry found himself in another scrape, but this time it was a much more serious affair. He became embroiled in a political war of words with U.S. Senator David C. Broderick. The salvos intensified to such an extent that Brodrick found himself challenged to a duel by Terry.
On Sept. 14, 1859, the citizens of the state were afforded the spectacle of a Supreme Court justice and a United States senator executing a duel.
Terry killed Broderick and fled the state for a few months. Upon his return in 1860, he stood trial for murder. For some reason, the charges were dropped, and Terry turned to another crisis.
The War Between the States had broken out. Upon learning that his brother had been killed leading the Texas Rangers, Terry took a more active role in the war. He served as a Confederate staff officer at the Battle of Chickamauga and later as a colonel with the Rebel forces in Texas.
With the defeat of the South, Terry went into exile in Mexico for a time. By July of 1868, however, he was back in California practicing law and searching for business opportunities. This is what led him to Henry Clay Daulton.
Terry came first to Fresno in the late 1800s. He bought some stables on I Street and made arrangements to move a large quantity of hay and grain to this location. While he was putting the finishing touches on his livery stables, Terry became involved in yet another, highly publicized affair.
In 1884, U.S. Senator William Sharon, who owned a great deal of land in what is now northern Madera County, not far from the Daulton Ranch, was caught on the horns of a dilemma. One of his many consorts at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, a certain Althea Hill, was alleging that she was more than a mistress. She claimed that Sharon had married her. To lead her courtroom struggle, she hired Terry as her attorney.
In the course of the lengthy and convoluted trial, Sharon died, whereupon Althea married Terry! She was brought to northern Fresno County (What is now Madera County was then part of Fresno County.) where Terry had just consummated an interesting real estate transaction.
Terry, the man who shot and killed Broderick, the man who went to San Francisco to put an end to vigilante violence by stabbing a member of the committee, this hot-tempered, fire-eating anachronism had bought Daulton out, lock, stock and barrel.
For the sum of $150,000, Terry had purchased Daulton’s Shepherd’s Home and his 17,000 acres. Terry had paid $40,000 down with the balance to be paid off in three annual installments. In the meantime, Daulton moved his family to Oakland.
Shepherd’s Home was neglected over the next two years, and further payments were not made. From July 12, 1888, to September 13, 1890, Daulton made at least 15 trips to Fresno County, but all to no avail. Terry remained in arrears.
Just when it appeared that legal action against Terry would have to be initiated, a fateful confrontation occurred. On August 13, 1889, Terry and his wife caught the northbound cars for San Francisco. It was night when the train arrived in Madera, and Terry had no way of knowing that his bitter enemy, Justice Field of the U.S. Supreme Court, was aboard. Upon arriving at Lathrop for a breakfast stop, Terry became privy to this information.
Always eager to settle old accounts, Terry walked up behind Field as he ate breakfast and slapped him on the back of the head. Field’s bodyguard, fearing the unpredictable Terry, pulled out a pistol and shot the attacker through the heart. Thus Terry died by the same sword he had wielded so many times.
The events at Lathrop had significant implications for Daulton. He was forced to obtain a judgment against Terry’s estate to recover Shepherd’s Home. Defendants in the matter included Terry’s widow, Althea, R. Porter Ashe, C.G. Sayle, and Clinton Terry; a most formidable array to be sure.
On October 11, 1890, Daulton got his ranch back. In just two years he had made a tidy profit of almost $40,000. By November of 1890, Daulton moved back to Shepherd’s Home and threw himself into the agitation to create Madera County out of the northern portion of Fresno County. This last victory was completed in May 1893, and Daulton settled in to live out his remaining days on his ranch.
Ironically, within five months, Daulton also came to a sudden and tragic end. On October 28, 1893, while returning to Shepherd’s Home from Madera, he somehow fell from his buggy, became ensnared in the springs of the vehicle, and was dragged to an ugly death.
Today the Daulton name is almost synonymous with Madera County, and descendants of Henry Clay Daulton have carried on a tradition of political and economic leadership. As one ponders this influence on Madera County, a question is forced.
How would our history read if Daulton had not become involved with Terry?
What would have been our tale if the chance meeting in Lathrop had not ended Terry’s life?
Almost certainly, Daulton would not have come to such a ghastly end, and just as certainly the lives of many present-day residents of Madera County residents would have taken different courses. History continues to beguile us all in strange ways.