Local Historians Debate the Importance of Valley History

May 17, 2011 | 2011 Articles, Books & Tales, Every Other Book, Hometown History, Lorie Lewis Ham, Mysteryrat's Maze, Reedley News

by Lorie Lewis Ham

This weekend a group of local history writers from the Fresno area will be debating whether knowledge of local history improves Fresno and the Valley, in a discussion at the Woodward Branch Library called “Rediscovering the Valley’s Past: A Panel Discussion on Local History by Local Historians.”

The panel discussion, co-sponsored by Fresno publishing company Craven Street Books, the Fresno County Public Library and Valley Public Radio/FM 89, will address how studying local history can strengthen community ties and a sense of civic identity.

KRL had the opportunity to talk to one of these writers, Scott Morrison, and to review his latest book, Murder in the Garden, Volume II. Image © Linden Publishing

KRL: Could you share with us just a little about your background and how you got into writing about local history?

Scott: [I am a] Native Californian whose family has resided in Fresno County since the 1890s. Graduated from Sanger H.S., 1968, CSU-Fresno, 1972. Deputy Sheriff, Fresno County Sheriff’s Office for 28 years, primarily as a detective, homicide, sex crimes, intelligence. I was injured on duty in 1998. While recovering on light duty, I was asked to create a computerized homicide log as a tool for the homicide unit (a handwritten log going back to the 1970s is all that existed up to that time). I created a the log in spread sheet form, listing the date of each homicide, crime report number, victim’s name, location of occurrence, weapon used, detectives assigned, suspects names, case status, and a short synopsis. In the Records Division at the Sheriff’s Office we had homicide reports going back to 1931. I read each report and entered the data in the spread sheet, over 1100 homicides, from 1931 to 1999. During the course of the project, I came across an amazing investigation dating to 1935. Knowing that no one at the department was aware of the case, I wrote an account of the crime for my union newsletter, which was well received by my co-workers. As I did research for the first article, I came across information on other interesting cases. Anyway, before long I was writing a new story every two months. A few years later, Linden Publishing was looking to publish a book on early day crime in Fresno. Friends at the library referred them to me. Murder in the Garden: Famous Crimes of Early Fresno County, came out in 2006. Murder in the Garden, Volume II: More Famous Crimes of Early Fresno County, came out in 2010.

KRL: What led you to write Murder in the Garden I & II?

Scott: Initially I wrote the stories for my union newsletter to inform co-workers of some of the interesting cases investigated by earlier generations of deputies, cases which have since faded into history. The two Murder in the Garden books have widened my audience to the general public. The stories in the books primarily cover the period 1856 (founding of Fresno County) to the 1930s.

KRL: Why do you feel local history books like this are important?

Scott: History has always held a fascination for me. I can’t imagine living in an area and not having a knowledge of what prior generations dealt with in the locality.

KRL: Upcoming projects?

Scott: This fall I’m going to commence research which, I hope, will turn into another book with local connections.

KRL: What kind of research do you do for your books?

Scott: My primary research comes from a review of crime stories which appeared in early day Fresno newspapers. Other sources are Fresno County Superior Court Archives, the California State Archives and the Fresno County Clerk’s Office.

KRL: Please tell us a little about your upcoming presentation?

Scott: The event is at the Woodward Park branch of the county library, 944 E. Perrin, Fresno, on May 21st, 1-3 pm. It will include a panel of local history writers (William Secrest Sr., William Secrest Jr., Catherine Rehart, Kent Sorsky, James Benelli, Janice Stevens and myself). The panel will discuss the importance of a knowledge of local history to the community.

Review of Murder in the Garden II by Scott Morrison

If you are a crime or history buff, this is a great book for you; especially if you are interested in crime in the Fresno County/San Joaquin Valley area. In Murder in the Garden II Morrison tells the stories of 16 real criminal cases from the bizarre to the ordinary. There are stories of prison breaks, robberies, a deadly manhunt that seemed to go all through the Valley from Ione to Reedley and Kingsburg, the murder of a beloved man known as the broom man and many more.

It was very interesting to read these tales of crimes from the past and especially to see the names of the small towns that surround us; towns you tend to think of as safe and calm. One of the most intriguing and scary stories was the tale of a very creepy black widow woman who seemed to try and kill everyone around her.

I think we often don’t realize the rich history of our very own cities and counties, thinking the only interesting things happened in big cities or other countries far away. Books like Murder in the Garden are an important part of helping educate not only those of us in this area about our history, but those outside the area as well. I think it would be fun to see some of these stories made into a movie, or TV episode because they are every bit as interesting, even if much more low tech, as the crime that we humans seemed fascinated by in today’s world.

To learn more about our Valley history and hear some of its many historians, don’t miss out on this panel on May 21. Details below.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

Press release:

Would knowing local history improve Fresno and the Valley? Local historians will debate at Woodward Park Library on May 21 at 1 p.m.

Panel of seven local history writers, including Catherine Rehart (“Valley Legends and Legacies”) and William B. Secrest (“California’s Day of the Grizzly”), to discuss how history builds community

Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley have a rich and fascinating history, but most Valley residents don’t know much about the Valley’s past. Is the Valley in danger of forgetting its history — and will rediscovering local history build a stronger community? Seven Fresno-area history writers will debate this issue at “Rediscovering the Valley’s Past: A Panel Discussion on Local History by Local Historians,” to be held Saturday, May 21, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.., at the Woodward Park Regional Library.

The panel discussion, co-sponsored by Fresno publishing company Craven Street Books, the Fresno County Public Library and Valley Public Radio/FM 89, will address how studying local history can strengthen community ties and a sense of civic identity.

The panel will also discuss whether local history is relevant to the Valley’s fast-growing urban population. Valley residents increasingly come from outside the region and have few personal ties to the area’s past. The San Joaquin Valley is the fastest-growing region in California, with the population of Fresno alone growing 17.5 percent in the last decade, making Fresno the fifth largest city in California, according to U.S. Census Data.

The panel will also present intriguing tidbits of local history and speak on the challenges of historical writing.

The historians on the discussion panel will include:

• Catherine Morison Rehart, author of the popular The Valley’s Legends & Legacies series and Heartland’s Heritage, a history of Fresno County. Rehart has won two Golden Awards for history from the Valley Independent Publishers, the History Education Award from the Fresno Historical Society and a 2010 Horizon Award for writing from the Fresno Arts Council.

• William B. Secrest, Sr., author of numerous books on San Joaquin Valley history, including California’s Day of the Grizzly, California Desperadoes and When the Great Spirit Died: The Destruction of the California Indians 1850-1860.

• Pat Hunter and Janice Stevens, authors of Fresno’s Architectural Past, William Saroyan: Places in Time and Remembering the California Missions , winner of the Native Daughters of the Golden West Image Award.

• William B. Secrest, Jr., author of Greetings from Fresno and co-author (with William B. Secrest, Sr.) of California Disasters.

• Scott Morrison, author of Murder in the Garden: Famous Crimes of Early Fresno County and Murder in the Garden, Volume II: More Famous Crimes of Early Fresno County.

• James Benelli, author of Ski Tales: The History of China Peak and Sierra Summit, winner of the 2011 International Skiing History Association’s Skade Award for outstanding regional ski history.

This event is free to the public. There will be a question-and-answer period after the panel discussion. Books by the historians on the panel will be available for purchase and signing by the authors.

What: Rediscovering the Valley’s Past: A Panel Discussion on Local History by Local Historians
When: Saturday, May 21, from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Where: Woodward Park Regional Library, 944 East Perrin Avenue Fresno, CA 93720.

1 Comment

  1. Sounds like a great book and I do love true crime stuff!!! What a wonderful panel discussion this will be!!!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.