Yosemite Avenue’s garden of gossip


Madera County Historical Society

The first Rosenthal Kutner store, a two-story structure on the corner of D Street and Yosemite Avenue is shown here. It was a favorite spot for swapping local stories on Saturday nights.

It was about 5 o’clock in the afternoon and folks were just beginning to come to town for their Saturday evening social gatherings on main street. That is what Yosemite Avenue was like in 1902. It was a place to meet and greet and pass along the latest local news.

A number of people had congregated at the corner of Yosemite and D Street in front of the Rosenthal Kutner building (before it was moved to E Street) to swap stories when suddenly Ed Hutson came speeding down the boulevard in his buggy, whipping his horse at a rapid gait.

It was obvious the man was in trouble; blood could be seen flowing from a wound in his neck and chest.

Hutson pulled his horse up in front of Rosenthal Kutner’s and yelled out to the crowd that Howard Wells had shot him. He hopped out of the buggy and rushed into Dr. Byar’s office for help.

The physician determined that Hutson’s wounds were not mortal and patched him up. By that time, Sheriff Thurman arrived on the scene to find out what had happened. Upon hearing Hutson’s story, he set out to arrest Wells.

Meanwhile, the reporter from the Madera Mercury got a full account of the strange shooting.

It seems that Hutson and Wells had been friends for years and that they had been on a drinking spree together for the better part of the day. For some reason, they decided to ride out to the Northfield residence not far from the Fresno River.

Upon arriving at the house, Wells got out and staggered up to the door, while Mrs. Northfield came out and got in Hutson’s buggy. She had lost a cow and asked Ed if he would help find it. With that, the couple departed in the buggy and went looking for the runaway bovine while Wells went inside the house.

There he met William McCartney who roomed with the Mrs. Northfield and her daughter. Being so drunk that he could barely stand up, Wells asked McCartney for a place to lie down, and was directed to the couch. After a short time, he arose and left the house looking for Hutson. Not finding them, he returned, pulled out a pistol, and pointed it at McCartney, claiming that someone had robbed him of his money.

McCartney grabbed the gun just as Hutson and Mrs. Northfield were returning in the buggy. He convinced the drunken Wells to quiet down until he could talk to Wells, suggesting that his friend might know something about the missing money.

When Hutson stopped the buggy, Mrs. Northfield got out and came to the porch. Wells immediately went out and covered her with his pistol, demanding his missing money.

She tried to reason with him and then ran into the house. Meanwhile McCartney went to the back of the house to find Mrs. Northfield’s daughter, who had run there to hide when she heard Wells. At that point, he heard a shot and went to look for a rifle to defend the women but could not find it. When he came out, Wells was gone and Hutson sat wounded in his buggy. The bullet from Wells’ pistol had plowed a hole through the fleshy part of Hutson’s neck in front of the windpipe and lodged in his left breast.

Hutson told the reporter later that as he drove up to the house he saw Wells standing in front of the gate. Mrs. Northfield got out of the buggy and Wells said to him, “I want my money; give me my money.”

Hutson claimed he never owed Wells a cent and didn’t know what he meant. When he told Wells as much, the latter pointed his pistol at Hutson, fired, and ran.

After hearing the story, Sheriff Thurman arrested Wells, who was on his way to town after the shooting. He told the lawman that he had been robbed.

The next morning, Wells’ son came to see his father and asked what had happened. Wells did not seem to remember anything about the shooting. All he could say was that he supposed he had been drunk and had been put in jail for intoxication.

Wells a short time earlier had been involved in a shooting scrape with George Austin in which both men had emptied their guns and were wounded in Austin’s house. That case was never prosecuted, but the attack on Hutson was tried.

Surprisingly, Wells did not go to prison. Instead, he served his time in the county jail. In the meantime, his antics kept the Saturday evening gossip on Yosemite Avenue lively until the next neighborhood shootout in early Madera stole the show.

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