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School Supt. robbed by masked man

Courtesy of The Ransom Family Trust

Dr. Dow Ransom is shown here with his son, Dow Jr. in 1921, one year after he “robbed” School Supt. Craig Cunningham.


Craig Cunningham was Madera County’s Superintendent of Schools for 13 years and during that time he experienced just about everything a community leader could expect to endure — even a shipwreck. Nothing could be worse than that, or so he thought.

Cunningham never imagined that he would one day face an ordeal that would match the panic he felt after being lost at sea when that passenger ship on which he had been sailing struck rocks in a dense fog and sank. He never expected again to suffer such fear that overcame him before he was rescued. Little did he know, however, that fate had set him up for an equally frightening experience right here in Madera County.

It just so happened that the Schools Chief and his family had joined some other Maderans in July 1920 for a week in Fish Camp to escape the heat. Among those joining the Cunninghams was the Ransom family, minus Dr. Dow Ransom. His medical practice would not allow him to spend an entire week in the mountains.

On the third day of the vacation, Cunningham left Fish Camp to descend to Madera for supplies. After making his purchases, he drove by to see his brother-in-law Dr. Ransom (Cunningham’s wife Ella, was Ransom’s sister). On an impulse, Dr. Ransom decided to return to the mountains with Cunningham, but he decided to take his own car.

So that afternoon, the brothers-in-law departed Madera, Ransom in his Cadillac and Cunningham in his Ford. Riding with the Superintendent was Mrs. George Vogeler, who had decided to join the townsfolks in Fish Camp.

Ransom took the lead up the winding, dirt road to the hills, and for a long time, Cunningham managed to keep pace. As the road began to climb, however, the Ford began to sputter, wheeze, and snort, which was a surprise to Craig. Many a time he had made the trip to Sugar Pine without even changing gears or getting the water in the radiator warm — or so he claimed. Now, however, things were different. The higher they climbed the slower he went, and the slower he drove, the more Dr. Ransom pulled ahead. Shortly he was out of sight on the twisting road.

With Cunningham coaxing his stubborn “Lizzie,” and the Doctor pulling further ahead, Ransom got an idea. As he maneuvered around a rock that jutted out in the road from the bank, he parked the Cadillac behind it and got out.

Searching for a stick with just the right shape, he found one that from a distance could have been mistaken for a Forty-Four. Then he took out his handkerchief and tied it around his head, making a mask of it. Then he waited for his brother-in-law and his passenger.

Shortly he heard them coming, coughing and sputtering. When Cunningham got to the rock at the curve in the road, out stepped the masked Ransom with his “pistol” and ordered them to stop and “throw up their hands, which command both obeyed.

With his passenger close to fainting, Cunningham hurried to acquiesce to the robber’s demand that they turn over all of their valuables, and “be quick about it.” The Superintendent pulled out $3.79 in coin, a cork screw, and three bachelor buttons and gave them to the masked “highwayman.” He was about to pull out his wallet and a monkey wrench from his pocket, when he noticed the robber grinning beneath the mask. As Cunningham looked closer, he recognized his brother-in-law and reached over and jerked his handkerchief off his face.

Ransom rolled with laughter while Cunningham retrieved the booty he had given the doctor. Meanwhile, poor Mrs. Vogeler was in such a state of shock that she almost required the services of the physician who had held them up.

When they finally got to Fish Camp, each one reacted differently to the episode. Dr. Ransom took great delight in sharing the details of the robbery while Cunningham assured everyone that it was no joke at the time. As for Mrs. Vogeler, she sat down with paper and pen and recorded the entire episode for her husband, adding that she would never venture into the mountains of Madera County without her husband again.

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