The Army got away with murder in the hills

Pieces of the Past

July 27, 2011 

It seems that government coverups have become almost commonplace these days. The litany of illegal shenanigans hidden from the public view by crafty minions of entrenched politicians is as long as one's arm and will probably never see the inside of a courtroom. There is one case however, that has just been exposed, and the evidence for it lies in the Raymond cemetery.

Up on the lonely knoll, which holds the remains of scores of Raymond pioneers, lies one Ben Ducker. Now, at first blush there seems to be nothing particularly unusual about this grave. It gives the name of the deceased, his age, and his date of death, which was in October of 1902.

There is no way of knowing, by just looking at the marker, that Mr. Ducker was murdered and that his killer was never brought to justice because the military protected the guilty party.

The stage for Ben Ducker's demise was set on Oct. 17, 1902, when a dozen or more troopers of Company E, Third U.S. Cavalry, decided to patronize the saloon in Raymond's California Hotel, which Ducker owned. They had just been relieved of guard duty in the Yosemite Valley and were headed toward San Francisco.

As the evening wore on, the troopers became inebriated, and as is often the case, some of them became troublesome. About 9:30 p.m., one of the soldiers slipped behind the bar and discovered a pistol and a knife. Grabbing both of the weapons, he began to threaten J. Dunniway, the bartender. That's when Ducker stepped in, to his eternal peril.

Taking his employee's part, Ducker demanded the return of his property, whereupon the drunken soldier turned on the proprietor and demanded that Ducker start serving the drinks.

At that point, Dunniway made a dash for the door, and Ducker rushed upstairs for his shotgun. Before he could return, Mrs. Ducker had calmed the soldiers and convinced them to leave. Unfortunately she played right into the hands of fate.

Now the soldiers were outside. There was no moon ... the night was pitch black, but the lantern in Ducker's upstairs bedroom shone brightly. With mischief and demon rum still running its course, the soldiers began to pelt Ducker's bedroom windows with stones. That was too much for the 60-year-old hotel man. He went to the balcony and fired twice from his shotgun to warn the revelers away.

In the next instant the drama reached its denouement. Four shots rang out in the direction of Ben Ducker, who was perfectly silhouetted in the bedroom window. One of the bullets ran through his vital organs and in three minutes he was dead.

The soldiers quickly mounted their horses. Several Raymond citizens had observed their dastardly deed, and they could be recognized. Off they rode into the night, while one of the witnesses, J. Dennis, went to fetch the law.

The next day, Richard Curtis Jay, Madera County coroner, held an inquest and determined that Ducker had been murdered by one of the soldiers. Accompanied by Dennis, the prime eyewitness, Constable Tom Leonard set out immediately in pursuit of the troopers. He found them camped out on Henry Miller's Columbia Ranch and prepared to make an arrest. In this, however, he was sorely disappointed.

When Dennis pointed out the culprit, the Captain of the troop refused to turn him over, citing inconclusive identification for his action. When pressed, he telegraphed the Major of the outfit for assistance. When the superior officer arrived at the Columbia Ranch, a private consultation was held, and the Major agreed with the Captain.

No one was going to be turned over to the Madera County authorities, so Leonard had no choice but to return to Raymond empty-handed.

So, for 111 years now, Ben Ducker has been resting in the Raymond cemetery unavenged. We don't know the name of his killer, and we never will. You see, the officers of Company E doctored the records to make it look as if their return to their headquarters in the Presidio was uneventful. The Major even went so far as to commend the behavior of his men during their return to San Francisco.

Meanwhile old Ben Ducker continues to lie beneath that obelisk that marks his passing but gives no clue to the casual observer that he was the victim of an atrocious miscarriage of justice by the very people who were in the vicinity to protect him.

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