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Madera Biographies: RHODES


Through the inheritance of exceptional ability from his father and grandfather, both of whom were attorneys of prominence, and through the diligent cultivation of his talents, Raleigh E. Rhodes has gained a reputation as one of the leading lawyers of Madera County. In the field of criminal law he has met with especial success. His preeminence as a criminal lawyer has been established by his skilled management of numerous important suits, notably the Lawson, Rockwell and Derby murder trials, also the Fornier case, the most bitterly contested of any ever tried in the county. As attorney for the Valley Railroad when projected through Fresno, he successfully fought the condemnation suits in behalf of the railway.  The family genealogy is traced to Major Joseph T. Rhodes, an officer in the Revolutionary war under General Washington. The grandfather, Col. F. A. Rhodes, a native of North Carolina, became an influential attorney and served as United States consul to Texas stationed at Galveston. In the family of Colonel Rhodes was a son, William H., who was born in Windsor, N. C., in 1822, and was orphaned by his motherís death when he was a child of six years. After his preliminary education lie was sent to Princeton, N. J., where he was a student in the university. Upon the appointment of his father as consul at Galveston he joined him in that city, where he continued his classical studies. In 1844 he matriculated in the Harvard Law School, and at the expiration of his term returned to Texas, where he was honored with the office of probate judge. After a brief sojourn in New York at the conclusion of his service as jurist, he took up the practice of law in Windsor, N. C., and remained there until he heard of the discovery of gold in California. In 1850 he came to San Francisco, where he was a member of the vigilance committee of 1856 and one of the most prominent lawyers of his day. During those times he was editor and part owner of the True Californian, for which he prepared some very able editorials and literary articles. As a brilliant writer, he won a reputation on the coast. He was a man of classical education and intellectual attainments, and his writings, judged by the standard of both that day and this, possess great literary merit. In literature he had a fondness fur the Jules Verne style of writing. He delighted in scientific fiction and acquired prominence by several imaginative articles of that kind which came from his pen. Socially he was popular and prominent, a genial companion, a prominent Knight Templar Mason, and one of the founders of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco. In that city his death occurred April 14, 1876. His wife, who was Susan M. McDermott, was born in England. But at an early age came to Oroville, Cal., where she had a brother in business; she survived her husband a great many years, dying in 1901 in San Francisco.

The next to the youngest of four sons, Raleigh F. Rhodes was born in San Francisco October 1, 1868. After completing the studies of local schools he entered the law office of Colonel Flournoy and later for six years was with Naphtaly, Freidenrich & Ackernian, of San Francisco, one of the leading firms of attorneys on the coast. After two years of study in the Hastings Law School, in 1889 he was admitted to the Supreme Court of California. For several years he continued in his native city, but in 1893 came to Madera. Three years later he formed a partnership with H. H. Welsh, and opened an office in Fresno, but after three years came back to Madera, where he has since conducted a general law practice. During his residence in Fresno he became actively connected with the Fresno County Bar Association. The Democratic Party receives his ballot and influence, and in 1902 he was his partyís nominee for district attorney, but was defeated by R. R. Fowler. As an attorney his ability is unquestioned. The high principles of honor which have guided him in the conduct of his practice justly bring him the confidence of associates and acquaintances and give him a high rank among the attorneys of Madera. Socially he is popular, and fraternally holds membership with Yosemite Parlor No.130, N. S. G. W. His marriage took place in Berkeley, and united him with Lillian Welton, who was born in New York City and is a graduate of the Berkeley high school. To this marriage three children were born: Welton, Marjorie and Beatrice. The family, of which she is a member has not been without influence in the east, and to her grandfather, former United States Senator Thomas Morris, of Ohio, belonged the distinction of having appointed Ulysses S. Grant to the West Point Academy.

Guinn, J. M., History of the State of California and Biographical Record of the San Joaquin Valley, California, (Chicago: Chapman Publishing, 1905), page 276.

Transcribed by Harriet Sturk.


    Welton C. Rhodes, sheriff of Madera County, is a native son of Madera and is a native son of California in the second generation, for his parents were both born in San Francisco. His father, Raleigh E. Rhodes, practiced law for a time in Fresno, and was the first city attorney of Madera.
    Sheriff Rhodes was born in the Yosemite hotel, in the City of Madera, January 24, 1894, the son of Raleigh E. and Lillian (Welton) Rhodes. It is his proud claim that he was the first child born in the new county, which had been organized in the preceding year. His parents had come to Madera in 1893. His father died in 1915.
    The future sheriff attended local schools in Madera, and then took a special course in the University of California. He was the foreman of the first paving construction job in the city, which was incorporated in 1906.
Enlisting in the Great War, W. C. Rhodes was assigned to the Military Police and was stationed in Virginia, and had the rank of first lieutenant. He is now a captain in the Officers Reserve Corps.
    Returning to Madera at the close of the war, Mr. Rhodes became under- sheriff and served in this capacity from 1919 to 1924. In 1924 he was appointed county auditor. In 1927 he became sheriff and has continued in that position ever since. He has a staff of four, three deputies and a jailer.
    Mr. Rhodes is vice president of the California Sheriffs association and is chairman of the board of directors of the National Association for Identifi­cation, and he organized the San Joaquin Peace Officers association, He is a member of the Native Sons and of the Elks Lodge.
    Mr. Rhodes is married to Eva Mae Burgess, also born at Madera. They have two children: Raleigh E. and Billie Mae.

From the History of Fresno and Madera Counties, 1933, Joseph Barcroft, editor for Madera County

Last update: January 29, 2003
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