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Maude remembered Madera

Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society

Maude Quant Burton is shown here at age 104 while on a visit to Madera, her hometown. Maude came to Madera with her family in 1888 when she was two years old.


I first met Maude Burton in 1991. She was 103 years old, and she had lots of memories. Armed with my tape recorder, I sat mesmerized in her room in a Vallejo home for the elderly as she told me what “old Madera” was really like.

Maude was the daughter of John Frederick Quant, a member of the California One Hundred of Civil War fame. At the age of 2, she had been brought to Madera in 1888. Her father had been told that there was money to be made here in farming, so he sold his Brentwood place and moved south.

All of the family’s possessions, including the dogs, were put onto three wagons, each of which was drawn by four horses. It took five days and four nights to travel the 120 miles from Brentwood. Just as it was on every wagon train, at dusk her father chose a campsite, gathered wood, and built a fire. The next day the Quants arose at the crack of dawn to begin the next leg of the journey. Finally they reached the Chowchilla River and crossed over into Fresno County.

Their wagons rumbled through the little town of Minturn, past its one-room school, and on to Berenda. When they got to Madera, the Quants continued southwest to the section of land that Fred had purchased. Life for Maude began on that farm, just two miles from Refuge, the Mordecai ranch.

In the year before Madera County was created, Maude was enrolled in Alpha School. Her teacher was Nellie Borden, daughter of Joseph Borden, one of the founders of the Alabama Settlement. She received all of her formal education in that one-room school.

Upon graduation from Alpha, Maude stayed on the ranch to help the Quants, and from her vantage point near Cottonwood Creek, she watched Madera grow. She remembered smatterings of talk about the issue of county division, which took place when she was seven years old. She also remembered talk of the sudden death of Henry Clay Daulton in 1893.

Maude recalled in detail the visit of President Theodore Roosevelt to Berenda in 1903. She helped her father load the family in the spring wagon and joined the crowd who had assembled there to hear him speak. She applauded when the President ordered the train to be held for a few more minutes because he “liked the Madera crowd.”

Maude told me about the disastrous courthouse fire of 1906 and agreed with her brother-in-law, Ray Northern, who helped fight the flames, that it was the work of an arsonist.

Most of all Maude remembered and talked firsthand about some of the people from Madera’s past — people whose memories are preserved only in print for most of us.

She recalled Captain Mace, “the fat man,” who owned the Yosemite Hotel. She gave firsthand accounts of the Daultons, Mordecais, Preciados, Mrs. Goucher, mother of Merle Goucher Daulton, the Bordens, and a host of others.

Maude also recalled Curtin’s livery stable and Tighe and Breyfogle’s department store. In all of our conversations, she discussed early Madera as if it were today. She inquired about citizens who had been gone for so long that nobody had any personal recollection of them, and herein lies the wonder of my visits with Maude Quant Burton.

She was a living specimen of pioneer Madera — she had lived its early days! I wasn’t just reading about the past; I was talking to it. At the time of our interviews, she was the oldest living resource of its history. Nobody alive could remember what she could recall.

Although she made her home in Vallejo for health reasons, her heart remained in Madera. When she was 104, she fulfilled a long-standing dream: she returned to Madera for a day.

I drove to Vallejo to get her, and we drove back to Madera. We went up the street where she and her horse, “Billy” had raced Mr. Mordecai more than 90 years earlier.

She marveled at the changes. She viewed the new Alpha School with wonder. We went down Gateway drive, which in her days bordered Chinatown. She spent the day with Lena Adams, her niece. Then, it was time to go back to Vallejo.

As we drove out of town past Berenda, Chowchilla, and Minturn, she rested easy. She seemed satisfied.

Maude lived one more year after that, and we had a few more interviews, but nothing rivaled that trip to Madera when she came home one last time, and this writer had the privilege of tagging along.


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