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8th graders digging into sheriffs’ pasts

Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune

Madera Unified School district students hold posters of past Madera County Sheriffs during a presentation for “Outlaws and Lawmen: Crimes of the Century and the Madera County Sheriffs who Solved Them.”


New Madera Method project launched

More than 150 8th graders joined Sheriff Jay Varney Monday at the grave of Madera County’s first sheriff, William H. Thurman, to take the wraps off a special history project they have been working on.

The students and their teachers from Dixieland, Eastin-Arcola, Howard and La Vina Schools gave the public a peek at what they have already uncovered and several other items that have piqued their interests.

The kids explained that they are writing a book on the history of Madera County’s sheriffs and some of the blockbuster crimes they had to solve.

One by one, several student representatives stepped to the microphone, which was located near the Thurman family plot, and opened up their research notes to tell stories of two blockbuster crimes that gripped the county at the beginning of the 20th century.

One was about the first murder ever committed in Madera County, and another told the story of a horrific killing at Grub Gulch.

Then the teachers gave the audience a taste of what was yet to come, including the mine shaft murder of the one-legged man and the lynch mob that almost hanged the killers of Officer Pickett. Angela Lindsay (Dixieland School), Dion Cordero (Howard School), Barbara Hatfield (Howard School), Samuel Colunga (La Vina School), and Scott Gandy (Eastin-Arcola) are the project teachers.

Sheriff Varney then conducted a roll call of all the sheriffs of Madera County, from Thurman to John Anderson, who retired before Varney was elected. As each name was called, a student came to the podium with a poster-size photograph of that sheriff. Former Sheriffs Ed Bates and John Anderson were able to answer the roll call themselves, since they were in attendance.

Riveting headlines of some of the stories the students are investigating were also displayed.

The photographs were supplied by Mary Sholler, collections specialist in the Madera County Library’s California History and Family Research Room.

Superintendent Todd Lile emceed the event and introduced several community leaders, including school board President Ray Seibert and trustee Joetta Fleak, County Superintendent of Schools Cecelia Massetti, County Supervisor Brett Frazier, and the principals of the four schools that are involved in the project, Kim Bitter, Jeffrey Dailey, Danene Guglielmana, and Jesus Navarro.

The student work will be published at the end of the school year, and an authors’ reception will be held, at which time the book will be available for purchase. For more information, contact 675-4500 ex. 220.

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