How Fresno Flats lost its name to Oakhurst

As told by Mattie Fhy who was, as a seventh grader, secretary of a women’s club in Fresno Flats in 1912, in a preface of her story, she  “purposely omitted names.  It is really what happened and how it happened and why:”

  “It all happened a long time ago just before Madera Coutny came into being and before my father brought his family to live in Hawkins Valley.  This is the story of how Fresno Flats lost its name.

“A Yosemite stage was ‘held-up’ and a young man in Fresno Flats was arrested as a suspect.  This was a bit of the old west and the newspapers all over the country had a front page story.  For over three months, the young man occupied a cell in the Fresno County jail.  Then, for lack of evidence, he was released.

“Marital troubles developed and he and his wife were divorced.  For a time the young man lived in the Pacific Northwest.  He eventually returned with hi new bride, a Seattle girl, to the homestead his father had left him. 

“His return was received with mixed emotions.  Some believed ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Others ‘where there is smoke there’s bound to be fire’.  It took courage to face the situation, but he did and time had a way of mellowing opinions.  For he lived to be a much –loved and respected man in his community.

“Whenever the name ‘Fresno Flats’ was mentioned, however, someone remembered.

“Oh, yes, that’s where the fellow lived who robbed the stage.’  And so the story grew and was kept alive.

“It was more than his young wife could take, and she decided to do something about it.

“The women of the area had a club, the Fresno Flats Women’s Club.  Every two weeks they met in the hotel ‘parlor’.  They sponsored dances in Maj. Darnell’s Halland with the funds kept the church on the hill in repairs, inside and out.

“It was a happy, dedicated group.  Many of them were related idrectly, or by marriage, to Robert Nichols, the founder of Fresno Flats.  Mrs. Nichols’ sisters, Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Laramore and Mrs. Buford, with their families, had ranch homes in the area. 

“Our Seattle girl was a member. And a good one, too.  She decided to sound out a name change for the town, stressing the thought that a new name and a fresh start might be good for the community.  Well, that blew2 it!  It was some time before order was restored.  There would be no help from that group!

“For months, the battle raged. The old pioneer residents stood pat--no change!  The few newcomers mostly sided with the Seattle gal.  Someone suggested the English translation – Ash Meadow.  But the changers wanted Oakhurst.  Even the youngsters got into the act, dubbing it ‘Oh, Cursed.’  Don’t blame the ladies.  The men were certain it was just a women’s disagreement and nothing could happen ‘you know it can’t happen here. But it did.

“Very quietly, a petition was circulated, and only persons in the area favoring the change ever saw or heard of it.  The petition reached Washington, D.C. and with the aid of a friendly local congressman,  Fresno Flats was relegated to oblivion and Oakhurst came into being. 

“Can you imagine the stunned reaction of the community when they were informed, through official channels, that their town’s name had been taken away?  Not even the postmaster knew!

“This was their (the townspeople) first inkling that undercover tactics had been used.  Nothing could be done about that Act of Congress.

“The Fresno Flatters never learned all the names of the petitioners, but they did know the names that were not on the document.  Fresno Flats lost its identity and the right to live to celebrate a centennial through the determination of a ‘newcomer’.

Story provided by:  Sierra Star, Madera Newspapers Inc.
As published in the Madera County Centenial


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