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Holding on to the Hensley family

Madera County Historical Society

Olive Hensley is shown here with her sons Leonard and Earl and her husband; we are just not sure which husband, Charles Hensley or Walter Hensley?


It was Sunday night, and all was calm in Madera, or at least it appeared to be. No one at the shooting gallery on Yosemite had any idea what was going on in the mind of Charles Hensley. They didn’t know that he would be dead before midnight.

The 32-year-old lumberman, son of Thomas Jefferson Hensley and his wife Margaret Dennis Hensley, had left his home in the hills near Raymond and had been wandering around Madera all afternoon. He was looking for someone named Benninger; Hensley had loaned him a rifle, and he wanted it back.

In his wanderings about town, Hensley ran into John Barnett, the town marshal. When he told the lawman of his problem, Barnett agreed to give him a hand and look for Benninger. A little later in the afternoon, the marshal found Benninger and told him that Hensley wanted his rifle back.

At approximately 7 p.m., Benninger went to the C Street shooting gallery with the rifle and ran into Hensley. He returned the rifle and went on about his business, never giving the matter a second thought. After all, why should he? There was nothing unusual about having a rifle at a shooting gallery. Perhaps Benninger didn’t know what everyone else in town knew. Hensley was in no condition to be carrying a loaded rifle; He was about to lose his family.

Charles Hensley and Olive Jewell had been married in 1901 in Madera. In 1907 they had their first child Earl. Two years later, they had their second son, Leonard. Charles was 19, and Olive was 17. The record doesn’t show why their marriage went on the rocks, but certain circumstances after Charles death did raise questions.

In 1914, Olive informed Charles that she was going to file for a divorce. This sent him into an emotional tailspin. A cloud of despondency settled over him to such an extent that his marital problems became common knowledge. He began to talk constantly to anyone who would listen about ending his life. Then came Sunday, September 20, 1914. He met Benninger at the shooting gallery, retrieved his rifle, and loaded it.

Hensley laid the rifle on the gallery counter and began to talk with a couple of bystanders. When the proprietor picked up the rifle, Hensley warned him that it was loaded and grabbed it. He then left the gallery and walked to the corner of Sixth and D Street, where the Madera Post Office now stands but was then occupied by Will Bradley’s blacksmith shop.

Hensley stood there for a moment and then took off his shoes. Standing barefooted, he put the .22 rifle to his head and pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into his temple. Strangely, he did not immediately die.

Bradley saw all of this happen and watched Hensley fall. He ran to him calling for help. This brought Harry Smith and a number of men who were at the shooting gallery to the scene where they found Hensley with a bullet hole in his head. They called Drs. Rinker, Hely and Ransom who took him first to the sanitarium and then to the County Hospital. He died there at 11:15 p.m., having bled to death.

Hensley’s brothers came down to Madera and took his body back to his home. The next day they had his funeral and buried him in Raymond. Following the casket in the funeral procession were Hensley’s wife and two sons, two sisters, three brothers, and one cousin, Walter Hensley.

After an appropriate time of mourning, life went on for Olive Hensley, after all, no one expected her to play the part of the grieving widow forever. Her husband’s cousin, Walter Hensley made it his business to see that she and the boys were cared for. So intent was he in making her secure, that he decided to just make it official. On June 18, 1916, he and Olive were married.

So they kept Olive Jewell in the family. First, Thomas Jefferson Hensley was her father-in-law. Then his brother, John Hensley became her father-in-law. Walter and Olive had a good life together. They raised Earl and Leonard and had a daughter of their own. Walter died in Madera in 1959 and Olive passed away in 1960.

I wonder if what I am thinking is true?

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