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Will Mace fought demons

Madera County Historical Society

Not every old-time Madera saloon was as peaceful as this one appears. More often than not, they provided the arena for working off local hostilities.


Wiss! Biff! Bang!

Anyone passing the Mint saloon on Yosemite Avenue on Jan. 10, 1893, and hearing these sounds could have guessed that Will Mace was at it again. The 24-year-old son of Madera’s innkeeper, Captain Russel Perry Mace, had managed to get himself in another fight, and as usual, he was getting the worst of the match.

The Fresno paper didn’t tell how it got started, but it did describe how Mace had bitten off more than he could chew when he tangled with W.J. Evans, better known as Texas Bill.

When the fists first began to fly, so did the crowd in the bar. Everyone scattered while Mace and Evans whacked away at each other in “Corbett-Sullivan style.” At first it was something of a draw; both men stood toe to toe, landing some hard punches.

However, after a few minutes, Mace’s wind began to give out and Evans took advantage of the situation, pummeling Will’s head severely. It was obvious to everyone that Mace was in trouble, so a fellow named Shorty Dougherty, who was a friend of Mace’s, decided to even the fight. He picked up a metal cribbage board and threw it to Will. This of course gave Mace the advantage, and he proceeded to put it to use.

Will swung the board several times, hitting Evans in the head. In a heartbeat, blood was spurting from the wounds and covering both of the fighters. Texas Bill, however, wasn’t going to give up so easily. He knew that Mace couldn’t last much longer, so he continued to throw punches in such rapid succession that Mace dropped his weapon.

At that point, the crowd rushed in to separate the combatants (and save Mace from a real beating), but Evans would have nothing of it, His blood was up.

With Mace staggering around and gasping for air, Evans egged him on with a string of vile epithets that challenged Will’s manhood. He insisted that the fight continue, but Mace had had enough. He turned a deaf ear to the challenges, so it looked as if it was all over, and it would have been had it not been for Mace’s friend, Shorty.

Unable to goad Mace into resuming the fisticuffs, Evans challenged the house. He invited anyone in the saloon to step in and take Mace’s place. For some reason, this put a smile on Shorty’s face, and Evans found himself exchanging blows with Mace’s buddy.

Shorty made a valiant attempt to put Evans in his place, but the tall Texan just had too much reach for him. Within a minute, Shorty was down on the floor with Evans on top of him and his arms pinioned to his side. As the Fresno Expositor reported it, “Shorty was as helpless as a turned turtle.”

While Mace looked on, Shorty yelled out to the onlookers, “If you don’t take this duffer off of me, I’ll smash his face off of him.”

Everyone was stunned for a moment, and then they stepped in to separate the two men and end the fight once and for all.

Mace and Evans were arrested and taken before Justice of the Peace McDowell. Evans was fined $6.50 for disturbing the peace, and the judge levied a $10 fine against Mace for battery. Shorty got away clean.

Will Mace apparently never did learn his lesson. He continued to fight his way into the 20th century. On Jan. 29, 1904, he was shot in the Madera Beer Hall after engaging in a duel with one John Brown.

Both men got off a shot, but Mace’s went through the ceiling. Brown’s, on the other hand, struck one of Will’s ribs and lodged in the skin.

Mace was treated by Drs. Reid and Byars. The bullet was cut out, and he recovered.

On Sept. 5, 1908, William James Mace died in the Yosemite Hotel, which had been his home since his father, Captain Mace built it in 1876. They buried him next to the Captain in Arbor Vitae.

His death certificate reads that he died of alcoholism. He was only 39 years old.

One has to wonder what demons he was fighting?

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