Sheriff Jones missed his man
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
Former Madera County Sheriff John M. Jones.
Yosemite Avenue and D Street appeared peaceful enough for Saturday morning. A few buggies were tied to the hitching posts in front of Tighe and Breyfogle’s, while small knots of Maderans gathered on the street corners and under the store awnings to exchange the latest news flash.
Every lawman in town had gone to the mountains on that June morning in 1907. Two more Yosemite stage coaches had been held up the day before. It was bad enough that the so-called “Black Kid” was terrorizing the countryside. Now an amateur highwayman was trying his hand.
When news of the holdup got out, peace officers from three counties converged on the little hamlet of Grub Gulch, just above Raymond. Madera County Sheriff John Jones and his deputies were joined by Sheriff Prouty of Mariposa County, Sheriff Chittenden of Fresno County, and a host of their deputies. All told, sixteen lawmen gathered to comb the countryside. They did not intend to allow this latest highwayman to escape.
Meanwhile, no one was left to keep the peace in Madera. Perhaps that’s why the outlaw came to town. While everybody was concentrating on the foothills for signs of the bandit, he had holed up in Madera’s Palace Hotel on north D Street.
The saga had begun on Friday morning when the first Yosemite bound stage was stopped near Bruno’s mine just out of Grub Gulch by a man brandishing a shiny, new Winchester rifle. At gunpoint, the passengers were made to line up on the side of the road while one of them, E.H. Torpey of San Francisco, took up a collection.
The holdup man appeared somewhat nervous. When some of the passengers offered their jewelry, he curtly refused and ordered Torpey to speed up passing the hat. When the passengers had all been relieved of their money, the robber ordered Torpey to tie it up in a handkerchief and lay it in the middle of the road. Then everyone waited for the second stage to come.
Within two hours, the highwayman gave a repeat performance, and there were two stalled stage coaches with passengers lined up along the road.
When the money from the second stage had been collected, the robber grabbed his booty and headed out for the woods on foot. His victims then hurriedly reboarded the stages and their drivers made a beeline back toward Grub Gulch to report the holdup.
A detailed description of the holdup man was telegraphed to Madera, Mariposa, and Fresno. He was between the ages of 30 and 35 years, had light hair, blue eyes, and sported a mustache. The victims estimated that he weighed about 150 pounds. His right eye twitched involuntarily, and he wore a black shirt with white stripes and blue overalls.
With a clear description such as was given, local lawmen were convinced the highwayman could be caught. That’s why they all hurried to the mountains. Meanwhile, as the posse was converging on Grub Gulch, the robber was making his way in the opposite direction — to Madera!
Upon reaching town, the man went to the Palace Hotel on D Street and got a room. Next he visited the barber for a shave, which included the removal of his mustache. Then, as he was walking back to the hotel he ran into an acquaintance right on the northeast corner of Yosemite and D Street.
Jerome Martin just happened to be in Madera that day and spotted his fellow employee, Jack Stone. The two men worked for Harmon Bigelow as hostlers in his livery stable in O’Neals. The former hailed the latter who appeared to be somewhat ill at ease at the untimely meeting. After a hurried exchange of greetings, Stone returned to the Palace Hotel leaving Martin scratching his head.
Not only had Stone acted strangely, he had shaved off his mustache. Martin remained puzzled until he went into Tighe’s Department Store and heard about the stage coach holdup. Then things began to click.
Upon learning that the highwayman had been wearing a black shirt with white stripes and blue overalls, Martin recalled Stone’s apparel. He was wearing precisely the same kind of pants and shirt. That, coupled with the fact that Martin had shaved his mustache and was acting strangely, raised serious suspicions in Martin’s mind. He immediately went in search of a lawman. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any luck. Everybody with a badge and a gun was up in the foothills chasing a robber who was holed up in Madera, so Martin charged over to the Palace Hotel himself to make a citizen’s arrest.
As fate would have it, however, he was too late. Jack Stone had already checked out of the hotel and disappeared.
For the next week every road leading out of Madera was guarded day and night. An all points bulletin for Jack Stone was circulated, but it all came to no avail. As one lawman put it, “the devil must look after his own.” Not even a reward of $800 did any good. Jack Stone was gone, and nobody would ever find him.
What began as a vigilant effort by law enforcement to catch a criminal at the scene of the crime, turned out to be just what the hold up man needed to make good his escape.