Maderans had a ‘Howling time’
For The Madera Tribune
George Washington Mordecai introduced the first bill to create Madera County and then took part in the “howling time” that followed.
The tale is well known and often repeated. It deals with a clever ruse perpetrated by certain citizens of Madera, in which they tricked some of the leading citizens of Fresno into supporting their plan for county division.
On Jan. 10, 1893, Assemblyman George Washington Mordecai introduced AB154, “An Act to Create the County of Madera.” Two days later, State Senator George Goucher introduced a similar bill, SB198, in the upper house. Everyone was confident that the measure would pass, but they had reckoned without Assemblyman Jacobsen who, in addition to Mordecai and Goucher, represented Fresno County in the state legislature, and he was not quite as amenable as his fellow lawmakers were.
Assemblyman Jacobsen’s district included the hill portion of what is now Madera and Fresno counties, and his constituents were definitely against division. The election of 1892 revealed that Jacobsen had a good deal of support in the mountains and foothills because of his avowed opposition to the Madera County proposal.
When Jacobson made known his intention to fight Mordecai and Goucher in Sacramento, it became obvious that something would have to be done. The authors of the bills to create Madera County were confident of victory at the polls, but first the legislature had to authorize an election, and Jacobsen’s position clearly put this part of the movement in jeopardy. The proponents of division had to figure some way to make it appear that Fresno as well as Madera supported the move.
At this point, the divisionists hatched their scheme. Senator Goucher would call a public hearing before SB198 and AB154 reached their respective committees in Sacramento. Ostensibly, the purpose of the meeting was to “assess the will of the people.” However, it would be held in Fresno even though nobody living south of the San Joaquin River could vote. According to the plan, at the gathering a well-coached contingent from Madera would take control, vote in favor of separation, and claim to express the will of the people on both sides of the river.
Thus it was that on Jan. 28, 1893, just 18 days after the bill to create Madera County was first introduced in the Legislature, the meeting to determine the will of the people was scheduled. Assemblyman Mordecai and Senator Goucher came to Fresno to listen to the sentiments of voters, most of whom had no say in the matter.
It was all prearranged to satisfy their colleagues in Sacramento. The two legislators knew that 200 determined men, led by Henry Clay Daulton and others, were on the way up the streets of Fresno to Kutner Hall on that January evening to have a “howling time.”
Sometime between 5 and 6 p.m., a special train pulled into Fresno from the north. The Madera men had come to town, and they had no sooner reached Kutner Hall than somebody turned on a fire alarm. Most of the Fresno men rushed out the doors in search of the fire. When they discovered that it had been a false alarm, they returned to the hall only to find their seats had been taken by the Maderans.
Eventually, the chairman called for a standing vote. Those who were in favor of division were asked to get to their feet. Naturally, the Madera men rose from their chairs and joined the Fresno people whom ironically, were already standing. The vote tally was 245 in favor of division and 65 against the measure.
Thus, that false fire alarm set the stage for the chicanery that made it look as if everybody was in favor of creating Madera County out of Fresno County. Within a few months, an election was ordered by the state legislature, and Madera County became a reality.
As a side note, William Hughes, the Fresno fire chief, moved to Madera and became county treasurer.