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Madera’s Civil War connection

Courtesy of Clay Daulton

Minerva St. John Ransom.


After the Civil War, a group of Southern expatriates fled the South to escape Reconstruction. They were 70 in number and settled along Cottonwood Creek in what is now Madera County in 1868.

They called their colony the Alabama Settlement, because most of them were from that state. Some, however, came from Mississippi, and a few even came from one or two northern states.

When the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks were laid through the San Joaquin Valley in 1872, the name of the settlement was changed to Borden, but the settlers themselves retained the name, “Alabama Colonists.”

Among this group was Gorges Hely and his wife Sarah Eliza St. John Hely. Gorges purchased, preempted, and homesteaded a large amount of land, and by 1890, he was farming several sections not far from the Mordecai Ranch.

The Hely’s had come to the Alabama Colony from Wisconsin, where Sarah’s family, the St. Johns, lived. When the Hely’s moved to California, Sarah left behind a sister, Minerva St. John Ransom, on whom fate had played a dirty trick.

In 1844, Minerva had married Julius B. Ransom. Six years later Ransom abandoned his wife and two children, for the California gold fields, leaving them to live with her parents in Janesville, Wisconsin.

In 1866, Sarah St. John married Gorges Hely, and two years later the couple followed the husband’s dream and joined the Alabama Colony on Cottonwood Creek in California.

Meanwhile, in 1872, Minerva’s son, 25- year-old Lucius, moved to Kansas with her, and she remained there until 1892, when she moved to Borden to live with her sister Sarah and her family. A few months later Lucius sent his 12-year-old son, Dow Harvey Ransom, to live with his grandmother, Minerva, and great aunt Sarah.

In 1900, Sarah died, so Minerva and Dow moved to Madera. By 1910 Minerva was living with her granddaughter, Ella Ransom Cunningham, wife of Craig Cunningham and sister of Dow Ransom. In 1911, Lucius came to Madera and moved his mother back to Kansas. She died there the next year.

Dow became a physician and established a huge practice in Madera. He died in 1946. By that time, his son also became a doctor. The Ransom name continued on in Madera as one of the foundational pillars of the town’s early society, all because of the War Between the States.

For you see, had it not been for the Civil War, the Ransoms would never have come to Madera — count the reasons.

1 — Without the Civil War, the Alabama Settlement would never have existed, and Borden would never have been born.

2 — Without the Alabama Settlement, the Helys would never have come to Borden.

3 — Without the Helys, Minerva Ransom would never have come to Borden.

4 — Without Minerva Ransom, Dow Ransom would have never come to Borden.

5 — Without Dow in Borden, he would never have gone to medical school at Cooper’s; he would have never met Edythe Sarll, and without them, Madera would never have been quite the same.

I may not have the following little ditty exactly right, but it’s close.

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;

For want of a shoe, the horse stumbled;

For want of a horse, the knight fell;

For want of a knight, the battle was lost;

For want of victory in battle, the war was lost…” All of that makes me think of the Civil War, Borden, the Ransoms, and Madera.

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