The Frenchman shot a ‘coyote’
Courtesy of the Madera County Historical Society
Ah Tye was working for Mrs. Yee Chung, widow of a prosperous Madera County fruit merchant, when he was shot by a man who thought he was a coyote.
No part of the history of Madera is more interesting than that of the Chinese who settled here in the 19th century, and of those pioneer residents, none raises eyebrows any more quickly than the story of Ah Tye.
We don’t know when he came to Madera, but we do know that by 1903 Ah Tye was working for Mrs. Yee Chung, widow of a prosperous Madera County fruit merchant.
His tale begins on August 15 of that year when Jean Chailleau, a Frenchman who owned a small orchard southwest of town, came to Madera looking for Judge Joe Barcroft. He wanted to tell him that he had shot a man by mistake the previous night.
Chailleau told the judge that the barking of his dog woke him up during the night about 11 o’clock. He said he got up thinking coyotes may have been the problem, and when he went outside, he saw something crawling on all fours through the fields, so he fired his shotgun at the “critter.”
At that point, the Frenchman said he got quite a surprise. The “coyote” turned out to be a man who jumped up and said, “What’s the matter?”
Curiously, at the same time that Chailleau was relating this story to the judge, Ah Tye walked into Dr. Byar’s office and asked to have some birdshot taken out of his back. The physician saw that he was “badly peppered with shot” and extracted 36 pellets from Tye’s back.
The Chinese gentleman then went to the law and swore out a complaint charging Chailleau with assault with a deadly weapon. When he was arrested, Chailleau dropped his “coyote” story for a different excuse for shooting Ah Tye.
Chailleau put the blame on some of the teenagers in his neighborhood who were in the habit of “fixing up ghosts for his benefit,” and since Tye was wearing a white coat, he got “rattled and shot him.”
Barcroft set Chailleau’s bail at $250 and put the matter on the docket for trial, which took place on Aug. 29, 1903.
The trial began that morning. Former State Senator George Goucher represented Chailleau, and District Attorney Fowler handled the prosecution.
Ah Tye, testifying through an interpreter, said on the night in question, he was simply walking by Chailleau’s house when the defendant’s dog attacked him. Tye said he tried to drive the animal away when Chailleau came to the door.
Ah Tye said he asked, “Why don’t you call the dog away?” He testified that he then turned his back on Chailleau who at the same time answered, “I don’t know you” and fired.
The plaintiff was then asked to take off his shirt and show the court his wounds. His back was punctured from the neck down. The Madera Tribune reported that Judge Barcroft “looked enviously at this display of marksmanship.”
Dr. Byar was the next witness, and he showed the court a handful of shot, which he had picked out of Ah Tye’s back. The physician testified that Ah Tye could not have been crawling when he was shot.
When the court resumed after lunch, Chailleau took the stand and returned to his “coyote” defense. He repeated his contention that Ah Tye was crawling through the fields, and he shot him, thinking he was a coyote.
Barcroft then continued the case and set it to resume on September 5, 1903. At that point, all of the cards fell in Chailleau’s direction. The District Attorney told the court that after an inspection of the premises, “he could readily see how difficult it would be to get a jury to convict Chailleau,” since the shooting occurred at night, and the tall weeds could have created a doubt as to the defendant’s ability to distinguish a man from a coyote.
Chailleau’s defense attorney admitted that his client had probably committed an offense through negligence, but he agreed with the district attorney that it would be impossible to convict Chailleau.
When it came time for a ruling, Judge Barcroft apparently ignored the inconsistencies in Chailleau’s statements and the fact that Ah Tye’s wounds destroyed the Frenchman’s assertion that his target was crawling on all fours.
The court ordered the case dismissed and the defendant discharged.
So Ah Tye went back home, and life went on as usual. He couldn’t have been surprised to any great extent. This was typical of life for him and his countrymen in this land. They built railroads; they tilled the soil, and they did the laundry. They even cooked the food, but they were never accepted.
He would have to be more careful in the future because a “coyote” defense would always prevail against accusations made by members of the so-called “celestial kingdom.”