A woman settled the Italians’ fight


Madera County Historical Society

Marshal John Barnett went on a wild goose chase in 1915 when he arrested Faustino Sciacqua for stabbing Rafael Gile. The victim refused to be a witness in court, so the judge dismissed the case.

The knock on Dr. Dow Ransom’s door in the early hours of July 25, 1915, was nothing new. As one of Madera’s pioneer physicians, his sleep had often been interrupted by someone in need of medical attention. On this particular night it was Rafael Gile who needed help. He had been stabbed six times by Faustino Sciacqua.

It just so happened that Dow Ransom’s brother, Dr. Jack Ransom, was visiting him from Modesto at the time and helped tend to Gile’s wounds. The two physicians quickly discovered that Gile had sustained a stab wound four inches deep in the shoulder, four more wounds in the back, and one in the left arm.

After tending Gile and making sure he was out of danger, the brothers pressed their patient for the story behind his predicament. It seems it all centered around an intra-Italian squabble at a meeting of the Italian Foresters of America that night.

Sciacqua had showed up for the meeting but was denied admittance; he had been blackballed by Gile. The offended Italian, swearing vengeance on his detractor, gathered up a couple of friends, including his brother Cornelio and Frank Gianinni. They waited for the meeting to end so that they could exact their pound of flesh.

Around midnight, Gile emerged from the hall and climbed into one of two buggies hitched on the street. R. Del Bono and Giovanni Nelli joined him. Three men, including Julio Pistoresi, climbed into the wagon next to them. Before they could pull away, Cornelio Sciacqua, accompanied by Faustino Sciacqua and Gianinni approached Pistoresi.

Upon discovering they had the wrong man, the trio moved to the other buggy. Cornelio stepped forward and rocked Gile with a blow to the jaw. Before he could get out of the wagon, Faustino stabbed him three times, and Gianinni punched him behind the ear. This put Gile on the ground, and as he struggled to get to his feet, his assailants continued to pummel him while Faustino crept up behind him “like a coyote in pursuit of a chicken,” still gripping his large pocket knife. He stabbed Gile three more times while the victim shouted to the top of his lungs, “Help, they are killing me.”

A group of ten or twelve Italians, hearing the commotion, came rushing up, and the Sciacquas and Gianinni ran off. In a matter of minutes, Marshal John Barnett and Night Watchman Jonathan Rea were on the scene in the Madera-Fresno auto stage, and Gile was taken to Dr. Ransom’s house.

Barnett and Rea hurried to the Italian settlement in the south part of town where they found Cornelio in his house on C Street and placed him under arrest. Failing to find Faustino they headed out to Dr. Ransom’s ranch south of Borden where the knife wielder was employed as ranch foreman. Once more failing to find the fugitive, Barnett left Rea there to keep watch while he went back to town. This time he had better luck; he found Faustino at his house on B Street and arrested him.

Faustino Sciacqua was charged with assault with intent to commit murder, and Cornelio was charged with simple assault. The former was kept in jail, and the latter was released on bail. Gianinni was not charged with anything.

After the case against Cornelio was dismissed in late 1915, Faustino stood trial twice. The result was a hung jury both times. After the second trial, Gile and Sciacqua decided to have a meeting with the district attorney. Over the months they discovered that blood was thicker than water. Faustino was married to Gile’s sister, and she apparently began to feel some sense of responsibility to both her husband and her brother. After some pressure from his sister, Gile informed the district attorney that he would not be a witness in Faustino’s third trial, which left the barrister on the horns of a dilemma.

There was no way, without Gile’s testimony, that he could get a conviction in the case, so he informed the court of that fact. On August 11, 1916, Judge Conley dismissed the case, and Faustino Sciacqua left the Madera County Courthouse a free man.

Apparently the family division had been healed. The record doesn’t show, however, if Faustino ever made it onto the rolls of the Italian Foresters of America.

Recently Featured Articles