Madera County had zero tolerance for bullies

Pieces of the Past

April 7, 2011 

William McNaughton was foreman of the Magnet gold mines near O'Neals at the turn of the 20th century. Apparently the community did not hold him in very high repute, especially when it came to paying his debts. Such was McNaughton's reputation that when one of his prospective miners learned the kind of fellow for whom he was going to work, he quit before he started.

Strangely enough, when the man didn't show up for work, McNaughton took his frustration out on an elderly stage driver, but he didn't get by with it -- the mine boss paid dearly for it in the end.

The brouhaha began on May 21, 1901, when Samuel Wear, the stage driver who carried mail and passengers from Madera to O'Neals, pulled up to the mountain stage stop with two passengers and a package for McNaughton. As the riders, both of whom were on their way to begin work at the Magnet mine, climbed down from the stage, one of them heard Wear instruct the clerk not to give McNaughton his package until he paid for it.

Wear complained in front of all within hearing distance that McNaughton already owed him for recent deliveries, and he wanted to settle his account.

After discovering that McNaughton could not be trusted in money matters, one of the men who was heading to the mine to go to work, changed his mind. Not wanting to labor for nothing, he got back on the stage and rode back to Madera.

When McNaughton heard what had happened, he was furious, and the next day, he headed for the O'Neals stage stop.

On Thursday, May 22, McNaughton met Wear's stage as it rolled into O'Neals. He told the elderly stage driver to look for him down the road, and he would settle the score.

With that, McNaughton rode off, and Wear headed on down the trail toward Madera. When he reached the tiny stage stop at Bellview, about 10 miles below O'Neals, he stopped his team near the watering trough. While the horses were drinking, McNaughton, who had hidden himself, walked up behind the stage and pulled Wear off the driver's seat by the hair of his chin.

So vigorously did McNaughton pull on Wear's beard, that by the time he got him to the ground, the old man had suffered the loss of handfuls of whiskers and scratches on his face.

Wear, being 63 years old at the time, was in no position to resist the assault of his younger opponent. In addition to his advanced age, he suffered from palsy.

Finally, some of the men from inside the stage stop came out and put an end to the fracas. Wear continued down the hill toward Madera, and McNaughton headed back to O'Neals. If, however, he thought the affair was over, he had reckoned without the likes of Harmon Bigelow and Charles O'Neal.

On Saturday, May 25, 1901, Constable Harmon Bigelow brought a bloodied and battered William McNaughton to the jailhouse in Madera. When the mountain lawman heard about the assault on Wear, he went looking for McNaughton, and he took Charles O'Neal with him.

At first they went to McNaughton's home, but his wife denied that he was there. Being suspicious, Bigelow decided to look around and found the fugitive under the bed.

Upon being discovered, McNaughton surprised the men and pulled out a gun. He ran out the door and headed for the Magnet mine. Bigelow and O'Neal naturally followed their prey, taking Mrs. McNaughton with them.

When they got to the mouth of the mine, the woman yelled down the shaft urging her husband to come out. While they were so engaged, McNaughton jumped out of some nearby bushes and once more surprised his would-be captors. This time, however, the law was not to be denied.

With help by his side, Bigelow grabbed McNaughton while O'Neal grabbed his pistol. Apparently McNaughton was a handful, for all three men went to the ground, but when the dust settled, he had been subdued in a rough manner.

After the fight, McNaughton made one more attempt to gain his freedom. He made a grab for O'Neal's gun, which was sticking in his waistband.

Unfortunately for the criminal, he just wasn't fast enough. O'Neal beat McNaughton about the head and shoulders with his own pistol, and at that point, McNaughton gave up for good.

Therefore, it was a bloody and bruised William McNaughton who was lodged in the Madera jail on Saturday night. On Monday morning he was convicted in justice court of battery on Samuel Wear and sentenced to pay of fine of $60.

The law, however, was not through with him. He still had to answer for his attack on Bigelow and O'Neal. For this he was fined $1,000 in Judge Conley's court and released.

As for Samuel Wear, he was no worse for the wear (pardon the pun). He continued to run the stage from Madera to O'Neals, and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children, two of whom were schoolteachers here, lived with him. By 1910, they all had moved to Fresno where Samuel lived out his life.

As for William McNaughton, the record is silent about him, but one thing is certain. He never forgot the lesson he learned in the foothills of Madera County where he found that being a bully had its own rewards.

The Sierra Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service