Madera County Historical Society
The only drug store in Madera in 1890 belonged to William Hunter. A primitive store in its beginnings, Hunter’s Drugs soon flourished and remained in business in the same location on Yosemite Avenue for 100 years. The installation of a soda fountain inside the drug store was among the first changes made to the business as it began to take shape.
When William Wilken Wood Hunter went to bed on the evening of Dec. 30, he had no way of knowing these last hours of the year 1902 would be filled with the kind of excitement that would arouse the most hardened pioneer.
At three o’clock in the morning, he was awakened by a scream and a flurry of gunshots. Hunter quickly threw his coat over his “night shirt” and ran from his home at 416 North C Street to the home of his next door neighbor, Sheriff W.B. Thurman.
There on the grass he found Sheriff Thurman almost unconscious from loss of blood. He had been severely wounded in the left thigh and had to be carried into the house.
Once Hunter had moved his friend inside, he made him lie down and treated the wound by stuffing it with pieces of cloth. Once the flow of blood had been stanched, Thurman related the details of the scenario that had just taken place.
The sheriff had been awakened shortly before three o’clock by noises on the ground floor of his two-story home. Thinking it was the cat his wife had recently let in to catch mice, Thurman bumped down the stairs calling “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” When his appearance downstairs disclosed the presence of a burglar, Thurman fetched his pistol and proceeded to protect his castle.
The burglar was the first to fire, missing the sheriff. Thurman countered with three shots, none of which found its mark. The burglar’s second shot hit the sheriff’s lamp and put it out. Now the two antagonists were in the dark with only the flash of the other’s pistol at which they could aim.
The burglar’s third shot hit the sheriff in the thigh. By the time this “duel in the dark” had ended, the guns of both men were empty, according to the Madera Mercury.
The burglar beat a hasty retreat with the sheriff limping behind attempting a pursuit. The chase ended on the front lawn where Thurman collapsed, and it was there that W.W.W. Hunter found him and saved his life.
William Hunter was eminently qualified to extend this life-saving first-aid to Sheriff Thurman, for he owned Madera’s only drug store, which he had purchased from Dr. J.T. Surbaugh.
As the town’s pharmacist, Hunter was the next best thing to a physician that turn-of-the-century life had to offer. His business, the Hunter Drug Company, was founded in 1890 and remained in its original location on Yosemite Avenue throughout its 100-year existence.
When he first put up his shingle, it had “W.W.W. Hunter, Pharmacist” scrawled on a “crude wooden sign.” It hung by the doorway of the old brick building which had been built by Return Roberts, San Jose financier and early promoter of Madera.
At first “Doc” Hunter’s store housed only primitive drugs, herbs, chemicals, and a few patent medicines in a dark storeroom, which was devoid of conventional show windows and display cases. This condition would change quickly.
W.W.W. Hunter was born in Hornitos in 1863, his parents having migrated there from Iowa. William received his early training as a druggist in Dr. Reid’s Mariposa drug store.
By 1890, he had served his apprenticeship and earned his “final papers.” When an opportunity to obtain Madera’s only drugstore presented itself that year, Hunter jumped at the chance. With his wife, Louise, his children, and “Cap,” his aging father, Hunter made the move.
Cap ran a cigar stand in the corner of the drug store. Thus it was that Hunter’s Drug Company came into existence.
Madera at the time was only 14 years old. The drug store did not have electricity. It utilized kerosene lamps for such illumination as was needed. When electricity finally did arrive, the generating plant shut down at midnight, forcing Hunter’s back to kerosene lamps.
Doc Hunter’s daughter remembered there being more than 20 saloons on Yosemite Avenue in the last decade of the 19th century. She recalled that “there was mud, mud, and mud. When it rained, the water stood a foot deep. They put large planks running from one side of the street to the other, and you waited your turn to cross. We had board sidewalks and awnings.”
As Madera grew, so did Hunter’s Drug Store. One of the first soda fountains in the Valley was installed there, and the Hunters began to make their own ice cream. A gasoline engine was used to turn the freezer. The fountain was open from May to November, and 10 different kinds of ice cream were made.
The store was remodeled three times in the early years, as electricity replaced gas lights, and the old pot-bellied coal burning stove gave way to an oil burner. In 1898, a telephone was installed. It connected the drug store with the Hunter home and Dr. Reid’s office. The number was 23.
W.W.W. Hunter had two well-known slogans. Referring to his ice cream, he called it “the best west of the Mississippi,” and alluding to his lengthy apothecary tenure, “Doc” proclaimed, “Hunter’s Drug Store since 1890, we have a pill for every ill.”
William Hunter died in 1926, and his daughters, who had worked with him in the drug store, carried on in his tradition. The business continued and reached the century mark. It lived on as a tribute to the pioneer spirit of W.W.W. “Doc” Hunter.