In the News -
Friday, JANUARY 25, 2008
this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)
OF EVA EVANS:
Rattlesnake Ranch to
to West Coast
Key elements combined to
Jay O’Connell’s latest book starts at the end.
With an obituary, just two paragraphs in length.
When a life ends after 93 years and only a few dozen words
can be summoned, one might assume that there must not be much to tell.
But, maybe, just maybe, the life was so eventful that it could have filled
the entire newspaper for a year and still not revealed all.
To try to condense such a life into the mere confines of
an obituary was, perhaps, just too challenging for loved ones to attempt.
That’s what author Jay O’Connell discovered as
he began his research more than a decade ago on Evans and Sontag, the
notorious Tulare County train robbers from the 1890s. What began in 1998
as a series in The Kaweah Commonwealth about Chris Evans, his family,
and sidekick John Sontag, eventually took to the stage at the historic
Fox Theatre in Visalia — Evans and Sontag: The Visalia Bandits —
and evolved into a permanent exhibit in the Tulare County Museum at Mooney
Jay, who was raised in Three Rivers and currently works in
the television industry, has written and published two previous books
on local history, Co-Operative Dreams: A History of the Kaweah Colony
(1999) and A Strength Born of Giants: The Life and Times of Dr. Forest
Grunigen (2002). He currently resides in the Los Angeles area with his
wife, Susie, and their two sons, JP, 10, and Colin, 4.
Being raised in Tulare County and having a keen interest
in local history, Jay was familiar with the story of Evans and Sontag
and, as train robbers with a grudge against the Southern Pacific railroad,
much has been written about the duo in the past.
But new life was breathed into the story as the stars aligned
to provide Jay with enough information to write about the outlaws, their
exploits, the shootouts and their ultimate capture, and so much more from
the perspective of Eva Evans, Chris Evans’s oldest child of seven.
The memoir-- When she was in her 50s, Eva
Evans wrote her autobiography. That’s where the first inkling of
a love story is revealed, and it’s not the traditional romantic
tale; instead, it’s about the undying devotion of a daughter for
As Jay came to know Eva through a half-dozen years of tireless
research, he believes that her memoir is true… mostly. It seems
Eva’s recall of events was accurate, but she was not always truthful
when it came to discussing her father’s escapades and would change
the facts to maintain his innocence.
Eva not only misconstrued some details to protect her father,
but dodged bullets and lawmen in her quest to aid and abet him.
Ironically, she donated her life’s story to the Huntington Library
in San Marino, which was founded by the railroad magnate family that her
father so despised.
The stage production--
The contemporary performance of the Evans and Sontag melodrama, produced
by Jay in conjunction with the College of the Sequoias theater department
in 2002, was the first step toward publishing this never-before-told story.
When the play originally debuted in San Francisco in September 1893, Eva
Evans and her mother, Molly, played themselves in the lead roles, despite
having no formal theatre training.
After more than 100 years, the play, created by Richard Cullen
“R.C.” White, resurfaced, and it ended up in Jay’s possession.
Bob Lilley, an Atascadero attorney and White’s great-great-grandson,
discovered the original, handwritten script — the only known copy
— in a trunk of family memorabilia.
Eventually, Lilley made his way to Visalia — the setting
of much of the play but from where it was banned from being performed
in the 19th century — to donate the historical treasure to the Tulare
Lilley has since passed away, but the play and epic story
have been preserved.
archives-- Also a result of his relentless research over the
past years, Jay located Eva’s stepdaughter, Lillian Kinkela Keil,
who was by then in her 80s. After several phone conversations, Jay established
a working relationship with this woman who, herself, led an incredible
life that was depicted in a 1953 movie and, according to Jay, is a biography
waiting to happen.
Lillian was in possession of Eva’s memoir as well as
materials never before known to exist — manuscripts, letters, scrapbooks,
photos, and more.
Jay never had the opportunity to thank Lillian in person
for her contribution to the story of her stepmother’s life. She
died before he was able to meet her.
Coinciding with the flurry of train robberies in the Central
Valley in the 1890s was an emerging style of journalism, promoted by William
Randolph Hearst and his San Francisco Examiner. His sensationalistic style
ensured that readers maintained a frenzied interest in the Evans and Sontag
saga as entire front pages were devoted to the story.
What created an even greater interest is that the coverage
was sympathetically slanted toward the outlaws and the plight of the Evans
family. To compete with the Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle attempted
to keep pace with the coverage, as did the Los Angeles Times and the Tulare
County and Fresno newspapers of the day.
As the posses closed in and the outlaws’ life of crime
came to an abrupt end, Hearst turned his attention toward the melodrama
that would make its stage debut in San Francisco. This play also commiserated
with Chris Evans and John Sontag and portrayed local lawmen as bumbling
Eva Evans and her mother, Molly, portrayed themselves in
the play to earn money for Chris’s legal expenses. Performances
were staged for sold-out crowds, due in part to Eva wearing pants and
riding a horse onto the stage.
The newspaper archives fill in gaps and provide an accurate
timeline of events, from holdups to shootouts. Jay spent countless research
hours buried in print.
Just as an actor immerses himself into a role, a writer must know his
subjects. That was the focus of Jay’s “outlaw tour”
on which he embarked several years ago with other Western history buffs
and Tulare County Historical Society members.
As a result, he was able to determine the site in north Visalia where
the Evans home once stood. He ventured into the Sierra mountains to find
the family’s beloved Redwood Ranch and Chris’s giant sequoia.
He walked the hallowed ground of Stone Corral where a deadly
shootout occurred. He headed for the hills and even brought home a case
of poison oak for his efforts in his quest to track down what so many
lawmen could not — Camp Manzanita and Fort Defiance, the hideouts.
Train Robber’s Daughter is a compelling tale of nonfiction that
takes readers through nearly a century of Eva Evans’s life. It’s
a scholarly work with an in-depth index, references, bibliography, and
16 pages of photos, but it reads like a novel as the protagonist’s
life is extraordinary.
Husbands come and go, she has appearances on stage and in
courtrooms and careers as an actress and photographer, dealt with drug
addiction and attempted suicide, is known by several different first names,
orchestrated jailbreaks, and cultivated friendships with a flamboyant
San Francisco Examiner columnist, a famed poet, outlaws, and an outspoken
anarchist and feminist.
And since the book begins with an obituary, it seems fitting
that it would end with a startling admission...
Train Robber’s Daughter is available now at The Kaweah
Commonwealth for $18.95 plus tax or on the author's website at www.ravenriverpress.com.
On Friday, Feb. 1, it goes on sale at major booksellers and will be in
the “Outlaw Section” at The Book Garden in Exeter.
Evidently, the word is out about Woodlake High School, Three
Rivers, and its hospitable school district community. There are currently
two foreign exchange students staying in Three Rivers, and Cheryl Williams
of Inter Ed, a Clovis-based foreign student exchange program that specializes
in the placing German students, is hoping that there’s room for
Williams contacted the Commonwealth earlier this week to
help solve an urgent problem when once in awhile the best laid plans don’t
work out. That’s what happened last week, she reported, when arrangements
had been finalized to place one of Inter Ed’s students in Exeter
High School for the remaining six months of the current school year.
According to a communication received from the Exeter Union
School District, they already have one foreign exchange student and to
add another would violate district rules.
“When we found
out that our student would not be attending school in the Exeter district,
we also lost our host family,” Williams said. “That’s
when I contacted Woodlake High School and they said yes.”
But, of course, there’s a catch. In order for the student
— Christoph “Chris” Roling, who arrived in Fresno on
Tuesday, Jan. 23 — to finalize his agreement to attend Woodlake
High, he needs to find a host family in the district, Williams said.
Inter Ed, founded two decades ago by a Fresno State professor
who benefited in his academic career by a similar program, has a very
stringent application process and places more than a dozen students during
each school year. Students who come to California choose from one-year
or six-month academic programs, must maintain above-average grades, and
participate in extra-curricular school activities at least four days a
Williams thinks Chris would be a good fit in Three Rivers
because his background at home in Süderbraup, Germany, is similar
to the small-town, rural lifestyle. He has all A’s and B’s
on his transcript; likes math, science, and history; plays sports; and
is taking lessons on the keyboards.
Like most teens, in his spare time, he’s into music
and socializing with friends.
“Chris, like all
our students, comes from a good family in Germany, and he has completed
a very extensive application and screening process,” Williams said.
“This program is a proven win-win for the student and the host family.”
Inter Ed works with German students primarily because of
the opportunities to enhance their English language skills. The home-stay
experience is a big part of the organization’s mission to provide
significant lifetime learning and foster the acceptance of cultural differences.
Chris Roling is currently staying in temporary quarters in
Clovis while he gets acclimated to being in California. He’s anxious
to start his classes at Woodlake High as soon as his placement becomes
To learn more about Inter Ed, visit www.inter-ed.org
or call Cheryl Williams, 940-4713, and help Chris find a friendly host
Fire captain is
It figures that if your dad was a drag boat racing champion
and you grew up going to boat races, you might be a chip off the old block.
That certainly applies to Cal Fire Captain Derek Staberg, who, at a special
banquet on Saturday, Feb. 16, in Anaheim, will be presented with the National
Jet Boat Association’s 2007 championship trophy in the eight-second
Staberg, 39, of Lemon Cove, where he lives with his wife,
Darcy, and their two children, was raised in Three Rivers and is a 1987
Woodlake High alum. Right out of high school, he embarked on his career
as a CDF firefighter.
For the past four years, he’s been racing drag boats
under the tutelage of his father, Dean Staberg. Dean still owns and operates
3-D Boats in Lemon Cove, where he and wife Mary, Derek’s mom, now
Derek’s boat, “Fully Involved” is a 3-D
custom-built boat powered by a 540 cubic-inch big block Chevy engine.
In 2007, he was the high points racer in the season’s event series
at Lake Ming near Bakersfield where more than 100 boats competed.
After Derek picks up his 2007 hardware, he plans to compete
in the seven-event 2008 series that begins March 15 at Lake Ming near
Bakersfield. The first three events in the series are scheduled for Kern
County then the series continues in Chowchilla with other locations/dates
to be announced.
It’s award season in Woodlake:
People of the Year
Nominations will be accepted through Wednesday, Jan. 30,
for Woodlake’s annual awards of Man, Woman, Youth, and Business
of the Year and Spirit of Woodlake. Winners will be announced in advance
and then honored at a banquet to be held Saturday, Feb. 23, beginning
at 6 p.m., at the Woodlake Memorial Building.
The awards are presented to those who have made a significant
impact on making Woodlake a better place to live. Anyone may complete
a nomination, however, nominees must reside within the Woodlake Elementary
School District boundaries with a couple of exceptions.
The Youth of the Year nominees must live in the Woodlake
High School District, which includes Three Rivers and Seville. The Spirit
of Woodlake nominee must have a connection to Woodlake, but may live elsewhere.
Applications are available at Woodlake City Hall or by emailing
Sally Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Woodlake Rodeo Queen
The Woodlake Lions Rodeo is now accepting applications for
the 2008 Rodeo Queen contest. Queen contestants are judged on horsemanship,
poise, personality, appearance, and ticket sales.
Contestants must be between the ages of 16 and 24, unmarried,
and may live anywhere in the Central Valley. The winner will be crowned
Saturday, May 3, and receive a tiara, belt buckle, and saddle.
The 2008 Rodeo Queen will reign at the Woodlake Lions Rodeo
during the weekend of May 10 and 11 and represent the Woodlake Lions Rodeo
at rodeo events throughout the year.
An application may be downloaded at www.woodlake-lionsrodeo.com.
Contestants must mail the application and a resume by Friday, Feb. 8,
to Woodlake Lions Rodeo, P.O. Box 545, Woodlake, CA 93286.
Draft of county
Plan now available
The January 2008 draft of the Tulare County General Plan
is now available for review. The document also includes the Goals and
Policies Report, the draft Environmental Impact Report, and the Tulare
County General Plan Background Report.
Copies are available at the Three Rivers Library and other
county library branches and the County of Tulare Resource Management Agency,
located at the Tulare County Government Plaza, 5961 S. Mooney Blvd, Visalia.
The documents may also be found at the County’s website:
The Board of Supervisors hopes to adopt the General Plan,
which will guide growth in Tulare County until 2030, during Spring 2008.
The process began in 2003.
The value statements created that directed the direction
of the General Plan are:
—The beauty of
the County and the health, safety, and welfare of its residents will be
protected and enhanced.
—The County will
create and facilitate opportunities to improve the lives of all residents.
—The County will
protect its agricultural economy while diversifying employment opportunities.
will have the opportunity to prosper from economic growth.
—Growth will pay
its own way by providing sustainable, high-quality infrastructure and
A California primary
For the first time in as long as local voters can remember,
the California primary really counts. That’s because it was moved
last year from its traditional first Tuesday in June to a prominent position
on the election-year calendar — the first Tuesday in February.
In the past, presidential front runners have often come calling
in June only for cash contributions to fuel a stretch run to their respective
conventions. In 2008, a host of candidates from both the major parties
will be scrambling for votes and delegates that could make California
the preeminent prize of the so-called “Super Tuesday.”.
On the Democratic side, California will send the largest
state delegation to the party’s convention in Denver, Colo., that
takes place August 25 to 28. A big win February 5 in California and in
a few other Super Tuesday states could spell a momentum swing for any
candidate that would be difficult to sidetrack.
Lost in all the California hoopla are the 441 delegates that
go almost exclusively to the statewide winner. Each of California’s
53 congressional districts contributes 241 of the 441 delegates; 81 at-large
delegates go to the statewide winner. Among the remaining 119 are included
super delegates (VIPS), more pledged delegates, and a handful that go
to Denver uncommitted
From California’s Republican Party, there are 159 district
and 14 at-large delegates who include three members from the party’s
leadership. All of the 159 are pledged to district winners; only 11 of
the 14 delegates are pledged outright to the statewide winner.
The Republicans nominate their candidate in Minneapolis-St.
Paul on September 1 through 4. The conventions have been scheduled later
than is customary because of the Summer Olympics that will be held beginning
Party affiliation is most critical in the primary election
because it determines who gets which ballot. The Democratic Party will
accept ballots from those registered “Democrat” or “Decline
The Republican Party will accept ballots only from those
registered “Republican.” Those registered as “Independent”
or anyone wishing to change party affiliation were permitted to do so
before the registration deadline of January 22.
Of more immediacy are the seven statewide propositions and
Measure C being proposed by the Woodlake Unified School District. Voters
will say yea or nay, making a final determination in these ballot initiatives.
Measure C is only local ballot initiative. The $4.1 million
bond issue seeks to fund improvements to the Woodlake High School campus.
Although the County of Tulare sample ballot states that the
maximum duration of the Measure C bonds cannot exceed 40 years, Tim Hire,
WUSD superintendent who wrote the tax measure statement in the same document,
said the school district opted for a duration of 25 years, not 40 years
as the code allows.
“We realized that
if we collect the fees for 40 years there would be a level assessment
and even though assessed values increase, the dollars collected would
stay the same,” Hire said. “In the 25-year term, if values
increase as they are projected to do, we can repay the obligation sooner
and the term of the tax levy actually decreases.”
Whether your primary motivation is a party, a candidate,
or ballot initiative, your vote really will count. on Tuesday, Feb. 5.