Read about some of Fresno’s citizens. Scroll down to peek at a few other towns’ and cities’ residents. Let me know in the comments if I’m missing anyone.
Jonathan “Johnny” Wilson has been the bane of my existence ever since the first grade. He has never missed an opportunity to annoy me. If he wasn’t showing off with his slingshot (he’s pretty good with it), it was spit balls in my hair, or even hard pebbles. Johnny is a big boy, two years old than I am, and tall for his age. His father is the president of the Fresno County Bank, so Johnny is a town kid. More like a street kid. He’s always in trouble. It was just my bad luck to annoy him by breaking up his cruel teasing of little Robbie Decker in the back alley behind Goodwins. (Price of Truth)
Johnny is a good-looking boy, and I think he knows it. Brown eyes, dark-brown hair, and a teasing grin. But I had no idea that he liked me. Quite the contrary. I figured he hated me, and for sure I don’t like him much. If he would only leave me alone! But I discovered that fateful day in the alley back of Goodwins that Johnny really did like me, and not as a fishing buddy, like Cory. When he stole a kiss, I exploded. The lout! I gave him a bloody nose, and then Johnny decided he didn’t like me after all. Good. He was shipped off to a military academy back east for a couple of years. Johnny did return, and he is a much nicer young man now although still quite annoying. He “accidentally” nudged my elbow, spilling hot coffee down my bodice and skirt at Chad and Ellie’s engagement party. (Courageous Love) Since my sister Melinda is marrying his older brother Peter, I reckon I’d better start being a little nicer to Johnny. But the thought that Johnny Wilson ends up up as a distant “brother-in-law” does little to make me rejoice.
Virginia Foster and I did not start off as friends. As the new teacher’s daughter, Virginia appeared to hold a deep grudge against me for nearly trampling her father during an impromptu horse race through town. However, we have resolved our differences, and while we’re not best friends, we are getting along much better than before. Virginia has pale blond hair, dark gray eyes, and is a bright student. She has one sister, Grace, who is Melinda’s friend. I offered to teach her to ride (since she really couldn’t, even though she lied and said she could). That lesson didn’t turn out very well (Andrea Carter’s Tales from the Circle C Ranch). Virginia is the best scholar in the class. After I left school, Virginia continued and took over the position Ellie Coulter (Carter) had as schoolteacher when Ellie married Chad. I think she’ll do fine as a teacher. Honestly, anybody will work better than me!
Miss Evelyn Hall was my first teacher. I feel a little sorry for her now. She had her hands full, especially with Cory bringing in his snakes and other creatures, which he hid in his desk. Miss Hall was never fooled for a second. She marched Cory up to his usual corner with no fuss and no harsh words. She simply pointed and said, “Go. Now.” Miss Hall was a sweet, older lady who loved her students, even the naughty ones. I didn’t always think she was sweet, though. My first few days of school were a trial. I thought Miss Hall was old, mean, and grumpy. I found out later that she was only strict, and rightly so. She was a wonderful teacher for the younger children, but as she got older, she could not handle the antics of big boys like Johnny Wilson. The school board remedied that quickly enough and hired Mr. Gerald Foster. Boy, were we older pupils in for a surprise!
Gerald Foster is the new schoolmaster at the Fresno Grammar school. He took Miss Hall’s place when she couldn’t handle the rowdiness of certain students (like Johnny Wilson, the bully, and his friends). I made the mistake of racing through town and almost ran him over. (Dangerous Decision) Ever since then, it seems he’s had it out for me. It didn’t help that Cory put a snake in my desk the first day of school. It would have been all right if Mr. Foster hadn’t switched all the seats around. Virginia ended up in my seat and found the snake. Gerald Foster is a strict teacher and doesn’t put up with any shenanigans. By the end of my school years, he and I were getting along a little better. He shared a few things that surprised me (what he thought about my family) when he asked me to share my seat with Macy Walker. (Thick as Thieves) He said I had a certain confidence and I could handle the new girl. Hmm . . . In the end, he graduated me even though I know for certain that I didn’t come near to passing grammar. (The Last Ride) I think he’s pleased as punch that the schoolboard hired his daughter Virginia to take over the younger pupils when Ellie married Chad.
Sheriff Russell Tate has been Fresno County’s only sheriff for many years. He began his job shortly after Fresno Station (aka Fresno) became a real town back in 1872. Andi has known the sheriff ever since she was a little girl. He’s friendly and well-liked by the town because of his fairness and hard stance on lawbreakers yet understanding when kids mess up. Russ Tate is overworked. He keeps hiring deputies to help him, now that Fresno’s population has grown to over 1,100 people. But most deputies aren’t as conscientious about serving the town as Russ is. Fresno goes through deputies quite regularly. Case in point? Deputy Hugh Baker, who served as deputy just long enough to worm his way into the sheriff’s trust so the sneaky man could manage a bank robbery and get away with it. He almost did.
Doctor John Weaver (Doc) has been Fresno’s faithful doctor for ten years. I remember him as far back as the time I had croup (a terrible cough little children get). I could not take a breath without coughing and gagging. I felt like I was drowning. It was very scary! I think I was only three or four years old. Doc Weaver came out to the ranch and held my hand while Mother and Father prepared plenty of steam for me to breathe. It was hot and sticky and it didn’t help, at least not until the doctor lifted me in his arms and took me outside. Brrr. It was January and bitterly cold (it seemed cold to me). But the crisp, winter-night air coming right after the steam did the trick. I felt much better after that. Doc Weaver has seen me through scarlet fever (I was ten years old) one Christmas. He also was there to treat my gunshot wound (Dangerous Decision) and when I had a terrible accident on Taffy (The Last Ride). The doctor did not think I would survive my tumble down into the steep gully, but between his excellent care and my family’s prayers, I recovered completely.
Charles Wilson is Johnny and Peter’s father. He is also the president of the Fresno County Bank. For as long as I’ve known Mr. Wilson, he has been a jolly, friendly man. He never acts snippity because he’s so rich, and he’s always been fair . . . until it comes to his younger son. Mr. Wilson is not as bad as Mr. Livingston, Felicity’s father. That man couldn’t see past his daughter’s teary eyes. Mr. Wilson knows Johnny is trouble. In fact, it’s kind of sad. Mr. Wilson thinks the world of Peter, and I think Johnny feels forgotten. Maybe that’s why he acts up. I think this father favors his oldest son, and that is why he went almost crazy (doing irrational things) to try and clear Peter’s name and put the blame on me. (Price of Truth) I think Mr. Wilson loves Johnny, but he just can’t get over the fact that his youngest son is an embarrassment to him and to the family name. Now that Johnny has returned from military school back east, perhaps he and his father can make amends and work on a better relationship. One can hope.
Mr. Wilson hired a fancy city lawyer, Maxwell Browning, to defend Peter. That was a mean and scary man. I was awfully glad Justin stayed with me every time I had to go over what I’d seen in the back alley. Mr. Browning stomped out of the courtroom when he found out he was not going to win his case. Good riddance! (Price of Truth)
Tim O’Neil is Justin’s clerical clerk. He is the old-time version of a secretary in the 1800s. He makes appointments, files paperwork, takes care of depositions and other paperwork, and in general tries to keep his attorney-boss on schedule. Tim guards Justin’s time and rarely lets anyone interrupt him, especially when Justin is working on an important case. Unfortunately, there is one fly in this clerk’s ointment: Andrea Carter. I fly in and out of Justin’s office like it’s Taffy’s stall back on the ranch. Tim doesn’t like me very much, and I don’t blame him. Sometimes, I go out of my way to annoy him. It’s so fun to see his face turn red and to hear him go on about “Mr. Carter has no time to put up with your shenanigans.” It’s true I should be more respectful, but Tim acts as if he is the guardian of all things legal in the town of Fresno. Justin keeps warning me to behave myself and not bother Tim. But I can’t help it.
Matthew Powers is Justin’s lawyer-friend. He has a law office not too far from Justin’s. He and his wife, Anna, have a boy, Jacob, and two small girls, Marianne and Sophie. During the fall of 1880, when my sister Kate turned up with Levi, Betsy, and Hannah, Levi stole Jacob’s marbles in the schoolyard and lied about it. (Family Secret) When Jacob went after Levi, I ended up in the middle of it all. Quiet Jacob did not stand a chance against rough-and-tumble Levi. My nephew clobbered Jacob pretty badly. Trouble with a capital T. However, Mr. Powers clearly does not hold grudges. Barely a year later, he was the prosecuting attorney in the Ben Decker case. It’s Mr. Powers’ job to convince the jury that Peter Wilson had killed the drunk. He had an eyewitness, me, and was awfully kind and considerate. If he remembered the trouble Levi gave Jacob, he sure didn’t take it out on me, thankfully. I was nervous enough! Besides, Levi is out of Jacob’s hair now, living in San Francisco with Aunt Rebecca.
Judge Samuel Morrison is one of Fresno’s two judges. He presides over all court matters in the Fresno courthouse, from charges of “malicious mischief” to “breaking and entering,” to “assault with a deadly weapon” or even “drunk and disorderly.” He also presides over serious charges like murder. He was the presiding judge when I had to testify in the Ben Decker case. Judge Morrison has no patience for courtroom “theatrics” and runs a tight ship. The poor judge got a little too much drama when Jack Goodwin burst into his courtroom during one of his trials. He banged his gavel over and over, but the onlookers were too noisy to hear him. (Price of Truth)
The Decker family lies at the bottom of Fresno’s social ladder. They live in the shabbiest part of town (I should say “lived,” since one of the family members is dead and the other two left town). (Price of Truth) Their residence is a one-room tenement.
Robbie Decker is eight years old. He doesn’t go to school. Instead he lives by his wits and pilfers from the mercantile. He always looks hungry. When he gets caught stealing, Johnny enjoys beating the stuffing out of the poor kid. How do I know this? I caught him right in the act one afternoon. I actually didn’t rescue Robbie. It was more like surprising Johnny (and Jack) long enough for Robbie to get away.
Megan Decker is a nice young woman in a tough situation. Peter Wilson took a liking to her, and that is what started the whole, horrible court incident. (Price of Truth) If only Peter had not kept it a secret and been ashamed to be seen with the daughter of the town drunk, maybe Ben Decker would still be alive. Megan tries to keep herself and Robbie clean, but working as a maid in the hotel doesn’t allow a girl time to get slicked up. For the life of me, I can’t see why Peter liked her. I think (don’t spread this around) that he mostly felt sorry for her and for the life she led. Megan cared for her little brother and made sure her father found his way home at night. I occasionally passed her on the street and she always smiled at me. Robbie took me to their place once. It was pretty bad. After the trial, and with her father dead, Megan and Robbie left town. I don’t know where they went, but I’ve never seen them since. And . . . although I feel sorry for Megan, I’m kind of glad she’s not around any longer. Now Peter is courting Melinda, and that is cause for celebration!
Ben Decker is considered the town drunk, and it’s true. Everybody made fun of him and his family. I saw him once or twice (before he was killed), and he always seemed in a stupor and not quite sure where he was. It’s understandable that not even his children, Megan and Robbie, really care that their father is dead. I have no idea what happened to his wife. But maybe she died or ran away, and that would at least explain why Mr. Decker would lose interest in life. His life is a very sad story.
Jeffrey Sullivan is mentioned as a postscript (p.s.), hardly worth any mention at all. Oooh, that blond, curly-haired “dandy” makes me steam. He used to be my sister Melinda’s beau, but thankfully I figured out a way to show Melinda Jeffrey’s true colors. As a result of what I thought was quite clever (but ended up not being very good for me), that skunk in a fit of anger whacked me. Big mistake. Mitch saw it all and made sure Jeffrey got what was coming to him and then dunked in the Circle C horse trough. Jeffrey came up sputtering and madder than a wet . . . well . . . a wet ex-beau.
Other Towns and Cities
Miss Edith Whitaker is headmistress of Miss Whitaker’s Academy in San Francisco. (San Francisco Smugglers) She is very tall, slim, and her corset sucks in her waist to make it look squished and tiny. She also wears spectacles. Can you tell by her picture that she is very strict, doesn’t smile much (if at all), and runs her school like a military academy? She scares me half to death and makes Mr. Foster (the Fresno grammar schoolmaster) appear warm and caring. Miss Whitaker and Aunt Rebecca are very close friends. They attended finishing school together back east, in Boston about a hundred years ago. (Not really, they both just seem awfully old and set in their ways.) Miss Whitaker believes that a scandal and gossip in the papers must be a fate worse than death. She wants no black marks against her precious school. Miss Whitaker’s Academy used to be a day school. This held true when my sisters Kate and Melinda attended back in the day. However, it is now an exclusive boarding school for wealthy families. Unfortunately, I belong to one of those wealthy families. I was hoping to avoid having to attend, but the devastating February flood of 1881 covered Fresno in mud and threw all my best-laid plans to waste, and I landed at Miss Whitaker’s Academy. Lucky me.
Miss Margaret Culbertson founded the Occidental Mission Home in San Francisco for girls in 1874. I met her a few times after Lin Mei and Kum Ju were safely living there. (San Francisco Smugglers) Justin knows Miss Culbertson quite well. I learned later that he is often involved in court, trying to pry these poor, wretched slave girls from their horrid masters (most are Chinese masters) so they can be free. Many years later, I found out that Miss Culbertson had died (1894) from an internal injury brought on five years before when a terrified slave girl kicked while she and her helper, Miss Donaldina Cameron, were trying to rescue her. I reckon the slave girls are more frightened of the missionaries than they are of their cruel slave masters. No doubt because they were told creepy tales about the American fahn quai (white devils). Truly, Margaret Culbertson gave her life to God.
Mrs. Simmons tended Jenny’s head wound in the town of Fresno Flats, which is on the way to the Sugar Pine lumber camp. (Trouble with Treasure) Note: Fresno Flats is today the town of Oakhurst, California. Mrs. Simmons is a plump, jolly woman, married to the town’s preacher, Reverend Simmons. She was a nurse during the War Between the States, so she’s seen a lot of pain and suffering. Mrs. Simmons also likes to talk. Boy, can she ever talk! She talked all of our ears off when we took Jenny into town to find a doctor. There was no doctor, sadly, but Mrs. Simmons was happy to clean and medicate Jenny’s head. Her constant chatter and her determination to make sure Jenny’s head was tended perfectly kept us in the town all day. I was itchy to get back on the trail. Cory was too, but there was no rushing Mrs. Simmons.
Mrs. Stewart runs the boarding house in Bakersfield, California. She might look sweet and quiet, but even Chad didn’t mess with her. She’s mightier than she appears if she could corral Chad after his run-in with a bullet and a head wound on the trail. (Heartbreak Trail) Cook hauled Chad to Bakersfield to find a doctor and put him up at a boarding house so my brother could have the care he needed. Mrs. Stewart’s Boarding House is the most popular establishment in town, I guess. She oversees a number of boarders, especially young, single women who need a place to live while teaching or working at the dressmaker’s and in occupations like that. Mrs. Stewart’s establishment provides three meals a day and a clean room. I liked the woman a lot. She was motherly yet stern. I’m grateful she kept Chad in one place.