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McNaughton’s wife stood by her man

Madera County Historical Society

The quarrel between S.C. Wear and William McNaughton began on this site, the Spring Valley stage stop, in 1901.


William McNaughton’s wife must have been a spitfire, but occasionally she showed some common sense. After her husband got into trouble with the law, she took his side, holding a shotgun. When the constable got the upper hand, however, she convinced Mr. McNaughton that surrender was the better part of valor.

The trouble began one morning in May 1901, near O’Neals when William got into an argument with S.C. Wear and pulled out handfuls of whiskers from the face of the poor, old stage coach driver. All the while, Mrs. McNaughton was giving Mr. Wear a severe tongue lashing. Not wishing to tangle with the younger man and his wife, Wear beat a hasty retreat, and the McNaughtons went home. A few days later someone came pounding on the door, and when Mrs. McNaughton opened it, she was surprised to find Constable Bigelow standing there ready to arrest William for pulling Mr. Wear’s whiskers.

Once again, Mr. McNaughton’s wife took his part. She told the lawman that William wasn’t there. Bigelow, however, didn’t buy it. When he went toward the bed, out popped William with a gun. He hit Bigelow on the side and pointed his pistol at Bigelow. The constable decided to leave, but before he did he tried to convince Mrs. McNaughton to persuade her husband to give himself up.

Instead, she grabbed a shotgun and told Bigelow she was standing by her man. She intended to protect him from arrest. Facing the barrels of a pistol and a shotgun, the constable headed for the door.

The next morning, Bigelow was back, but this time he had half a dozen men with him. McNaughton, however, wasn’t at home; they found only his wife and young son.

The constable placed Mrs. McNaughton under arrest. At that point, Mrs. McNaughton decided to cooperate by telling Bigelow where her husband had gone. Before she did, however, she made the constable promise that he would not harm William. When Bigelow promised, she led him and his deputy, Joe Kennedy, to the shaft of the Magnet Mine.

Just as they approached the mineshaft, William surprised them by jumping out from behind some nearby bushes and covering them with a gun.

Mrs. McNaughton quickly intervened. She told her husband not to shoot and to come along with the officers. She advised him that there was no use in resisting because Bigelow had brought six more men with him, and they were waiting just down the path. William agreed to go; however, he refused to give up his gun. He kept it in his hand as he walked down the path with Bigelow and the others.

They had not gone too far before they met Charles O’Neals and another deputy. Feeling confident now that he had more help, Bigelow grabbed William around his arms and yelled for O’Neals to grab McNaughton’s gun. The two men fell to the ground, and while they were scuffling, O’Neals grabbed McNaughton’s pistol and stepped back.

As William was getting up, he made a lunge for O’Neals gun, which was in his waist band. Before he could get it, however, O’Neals hit him over the head with the gun he had just taken from him. The constables then tied William up and took the McNaughtons to Judge Klette’s justice court in Bellview, just a few miles down the road.

The judge found William guilty of battery and fined him $60. Since he couldn’t pay the fine, they put William in jail, but he didn’t stay there long. His lawyer, Francis Fee got him out on a technicality.

When Constable Bigelow found out that William was out of jail, he went to Madera and swore out a complaint of his own. He charged McNaughton with assault with a deadly weapon. The court fixed his bail at $1,000 and put him back in jail. Then Joe Kennedy stepped forward and charged both of the McNaughtons with resisting an officer. Judge Conley fixed William’s bail for this offense at $1,000 and Mrs. McNaughton’s bail at $250, which she paid. William, however, couldn’t make bail, so he had to stay in jail.

When the case went to trial, the prosecuting attorney dropped the assault with a deadly weapon charge against William. That left just the resisting an officer charge against both of the McNaughtons.

When the case went to the jury, it stayed there for several hours until a guilty verdict was returned. William was sentenced to six months in jail, and his wife was fined $500. She paid her fine, and went home. William went to jail in Madera where he sat until November 1901.

His wife had done her best to keep him out of jail. She had even put herself in jeopardy. In the end, however, there was nothing she could do. Mrs. McNaughton stood firmly by her man, but there are some things that even a devoted wife has to accept.

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