Once a scoundrel; always a scoundrel
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
In 1895, killer Victor Adams was headed for this newly constructed Madera County Jail. Unfortunately for him, he never made it to the lock-up. Instead, he got justice at an old oak tree on Finegold Road.
If anyone ever deserved the epithet “no account,” it was Victor Adams. He deserted his wife and four children in Arizona and came to Madera County where he settled in O’Neals. There Adams married a widow with two children and proceeded to sponge off of his father-in-law, who was the local justice of the peace. He earned the ire of the entire community one night through his shabby treatment of one of his stepdaughters. That may not be the reason that he was hanged, but it sure helped.
The little girl was only six years old when her new “Daddy” ordered her to go gather some sheep one summer evening in 1895. When the animals got away from her, Adams refused to allow the youngster to come home until she had rounded them up. He sent her out wandering in the darkness, while he went to bed.
The next day, word got out of what Adams had done, and a huge search party was organized. The youngster was found in a miserable condition along Finegold Creek where she had spent the night. The community was furious and so was the press. The news of Adams’ unconscionable abuse was transmitted all over, including the town in Arizona where he had lived before coming to California.
When his first wife read of the account, she telegraphed some interesting news to the authorities in Fresno. Adams had not only deserted her; he had not even had the decency to obtain a divorce. He was a bigamist, and she was willing to come to California to testify against him. The local citizenry was elated. Perhaps now Adams would get his just deserts.
Then he crossed the point of no return. He got into an argument with his father-in-law and killed him with a shotgun. Adams was captured within 24 hours and was being transported to jail when thirty or forty locals took charge. It wasn’t that they thought so much of the man he killed. They just hated Adams.
The crowd had begun to gather in the dark. The spluttering lights from the lanterns illuminated the hatred on the faces of the mob. By one o’clock in the morning, their numbers had grown to more than sixty, and one of them displayed a rope. There was definitely going to be a lynching in Madera County.
Meanwhile, five men mounted on horses were riding their way. In the lead was Tom Baker. Following him was Victor Adams, and behind him were three armed residents of North Fork. They had their weapons trained on Adams, who was tied in his saddle. The prisoner was being transported to Constable Bigelow at O’Neals, after which he would then be taken to the jail in Madera. He stood accused of the shotgun slaying of his father-in-law, Judge I.L. Baker. The precipitating cause of the difficulty was an argument over a horse.
When word of the killing spread through the hillsides of eastern Madera County, the fires of public indignation were fueled by the memory of the previous episode in which Adams had outraged the community by his mistreatment of his six-year-old step daughter. Now once again Victor Adams faced the hostility of his neighbors, but this time they had blood in their eyes.
About three miles from O’Neals, Tom Baker and his friends ran head-on into the lynch mob. They were informed that they were being relieved of their prisoner and told to ride on down the road. Baker and company complied without looking back.
Then the man with the rope led Victor Adams to a nearby “hanging” tree. The noose was thrown over a limb and then tightened around Adams’ neck. The killer begged for his life, but to no avail. One swat from a vigilante sent his horse running and left Adams kicking and squirming.
The next day Robert Jay, Madera County’s coroner, rode up to O’Neals to conduct an inquest. He ruled that Victor Adams had come to his death at the hands of parties unknown.
Meanwhile, the community of O’Neals continued to express its contempt for the killer. They left his body hanging from the old oak tree for two days. One Fresnan commented that Adams’ body was so conspicuous that while driving his wagon on the Finegold Road, he had to duck to keep from hitting the corpse.
As far as the locals were concerned, it was a fitting end to the scourge of the countryside. Victor Adams, a natural born scoundrel, had felt the full brunt of Madera County’s pioneer system of justice.