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Return Roberts: The business mind of rebellion

Madera County Historical Society Banker and entrepreneur Return Roberts built this home circa 1885. He was living here when he joined the Rebellion of 1893.


Of all the mutineers who took part in the January 28, 1893 rebellion in Fresno, Return Roberts brought the most business acumen to the meeting. After all, it was his company that saved the lumber industry in Madera and thereby saved the town.

When the California Lumber Company needed money to build its mills and flume to harvest and market timber from the mountains, Roberts’ bank in San Jose loaned it the money, which in turn gave birth to the town of Madera. Then when the company went bankrupt, it was Return Roberts who foreclosed and came to town to recover his investment.

Roberts took the assets of the California Lumber Company and turned them into the Madera Flume and Trading Company and breathed new life into the town. At the same time, he took advantage of other opportunities to add to his wealth. He built an 1100-acre ranch and purchased an entire city block in Madera. He decided that he wanted adopt the fledgling village for his hometown.

Roberts quickly became a pillar of the community. He joined the Masonic Lodge and became a Knight Templar. Although he never sought public office, he quickly rose in the esteem of his fellow Maderans. He built a lavish, two-story home on North C Street, and by 1893 had become the majordomo of Madera society.

It is no surprise then that the reserved and somewhat stiff businessman joined the rebellion. His lumber company needed another shot in the arm. The depression of the 1890s had taken its toll on the Madera Flume and Trading Company. Perhaps the creation of the new county could provide a remedy.

So Return Roberts joined the rebellion and traveled to Kutner Hall that night to lend his support to division. There is no evidence that he joined H.C. Daulton, William Conley, or Thomas Hughes in their vociferous demands for separation, but he was there just the same; his overpowering presence could not be missed.

And when it was all over, he came home. He wasn’t through with Madera yet. The Secession of 1893, was just the beginning for this quintessential entrepreneur.

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