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Fake news in Madera?

Madera County Historical Society

Ben Ducker, left, poses with his son William in 1900, as he holds the shotgun that he used against the U.S, Cavalry in 1902.


In August 1903, history repeated itself in the little mountain town of Raymond. One year after Ben Ducker, the owner of the California Hotel, was shot and killed by a member of the U.S. Cavalry, another shooting, which involved the Army, took place in that same Raymond Hotel. William Duncan, manager of the hotel, shot Army teamster Ben Bain over what was alleged to have been a debt; at least that’s how the Madera newspaper reported it. A much different story came out, however, when a San Francisco newspaper got hold of the story.

When the Madera Mercury reported the shooting, it wrote that it looked like a case of self-defense and that the trouble had started three weeks earlier. Bain had come into the hotel wanting to pawn his watch for money to buy some whiskey. Duncan gave him $5, which Bain promptly lost in a card game. The teamster then came back to Duncan for more and got $2.50, which was also quickly squandered at the card table. Before he left, Bain talked Duncan out of another $1.50, which he spent on drinks.

Having squeezed all he could out of Duncan, he told the hotel man that he could get his money by sending the watch to Wawona, C.O.D. Three weeks later, Bain was back in the Raymond Hotel, this time looking for a pistol. Duncan refused to give him one and proceeded to close up. As he walked outside, there was Bain waiting for him with his right hand by his side, his fist clutching a knife.

Duncan claimed, and the Mercury reported, that Bain raised his arm as if he were going to stab him. Duncan fired twice, and Bain fell.

Someone called for Dr. Topp, the Raymond physician, but he refused to come, so Duncan put Bain in a wagon and took him to the County Hospital in Madera.

That’s what the Mercury printed, and that’s where it left it — Bain was critically wounded, lying in the hospital, and Duncan was in jail claiming self-defense.

The next day, however, the San Francisco Call printed a much different account.

“A shooting affray occurred at Raymond last night at midnight, which may cost the driver of the (Army) ambulance belonging to the Ninth United States Cavalry, located at Wawona, his life. A crowd of colored troopers doing duty in the National Park congregated at the saloon of the California hotel and, after considerable liquor had been imbibed, indulged in (some) rough talk. Some of the remarks were directed towards the proprietor of the hotel, William Duncan, who resented them and told the colored men so. Ben Bane, the ambulance driver, threatened to carve Duncan’s heart out. Duncan stepped to the end of the counter where his revolver was, and before the crowd could realize what had happened, shot Bane through the stomach. Bane dropped to the floor insensible, and an exciting scene followed.

“Some of the soldiers threatened to kill the proprietor through revenge. Duncan, however, held his ground and, revolver in hand, said he would shoot on the spot the first man that made a move for a weapon. The confusion gradually gave place to order, and the wounded man was taken to a room in the hotel and a doctor summoned.

“Last year the hotel was the scene of a similar affair when the proprietor, named Ben Ducker, was shot and killed by some drunken roughs congregated in his place. Ducker succeeded in driving them out of his saloon, but upon stepping out upon his porch a short time later was riddled with bullets from the men who were hidden in the bushes around the hotel.

“This morning Bane’s condition warranted his removal to a place where greater care could be given him and he was accordingly taken to Madera and placed in a private hospital there (county hospital). A careful examination showed that the bullet, deflected by a rib, had glanced and entered the muscles of the stomach, leaving Bane in a critical condition tonight.

“Duncan gave himself up to the local authorities immediately after the shooting and is in the custody of the sheriff, pending an Investigation of the shooting.”

Bain survived the shooting, and Duncan was not charged. Things settled down, and the Raymond Hotel had no more trouble until it caught fire and burned in 1905.

As for the discrepancy between the two newspapers, a lengthy search of both publications reveals nothing. Much like conditions today, it is difficult to get at what really happened, especially since the only source of information is the media.

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