February 29, 2012


by Stephen Bly
Copyright 2008

I often get asked where I grew up. Folks suppose that I was born and raised in some rough and tumble part of the West with a tradition of gunfights and wild adventure.

They’re right.

Visalia, CA
Home for me was a ranch just north of Visalia, California in the great San Joaquin Valley, in the farm town of Ivanhoe.

“California?” you choke. “Doesn’t sound like the wild west.”


California has a long history of gun totin’ adventure. From Joaquin Murietta to the Dalton Brothers, from Visalia saddles to the Miller and Lux Ranch, the Valley is filled with western history.

Old cowboys experienced times when they had no place to go and nothing to do. So, they told stories. But they had no motivation to tell a story quick. In fact, the longer the better. TV was a brand new technology in 1954 and they hadn’t learned to sit comatose in front of it yet.

And neither had I.

One of the advantages of modern automobiles is that they run so smooth there’s seldom a backfire. But those random air-shattering blasts from the old rigs added adventure to an otherwise ordinary, routine day. Me and my young pals were always confident the sound was a gun blast from a bank robber making his getaway. . .even though our little town didn’t have a bank, a fact that never darkened a ten-year-old’s imagination.

And I often thought about Sontag and Evans and lived out their stories on many occasions with my friends.

Suspected of being the masked outlaws behind a series of violent train robberies in the central San Joaquin Valley, John Sontag and Chris Evans hid out in the vast reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

On August 4th, 1892, Sontag and Evans appeared in Visalia. Deputy Sheriff George Witty and Detective Will Smith tried to take them into custody, but faced a double-barreled shotgun and revolver instead. Smith was slightly wounded. Witty received forty wounds that almost proved fatal. Sontag and Evans returned to the mountains, but not before killing a posse member and a horse.
Body of John Sontag at Stone Corral

Another posse followed them and surrounded a log house. After another gunfight, two more posse member killed and another wounded. They hightailed it back to town.

Sontag and Evans paid several other visits to Visalia but again evaded a posse.


On June 11th, 1893 the outlaws were again sighted and chased. They took up quarters in a deserted cabin at a place called Stone Corral, just miles down the road from where my hometown of Ivanhoe. After a fierce battle, both Sontag and Evans were shot and Sontag died. Evans was arrested, put on trial, and found guilty of 1st degree murder. However, he escaped from the Fresno jail back to the mountains. Evans had a new partner named Ed Morrell. By now, the duo had become folk heroes of sorts because of the many stories told about them.

The many exploits constituted one of the most spectacular criminal careers in that region. Yet, Evans and Morrell quietly turned themselves in May 18th, 1894. The sheriff foiled a lynching plot and both of them were sentenced to life imprisonment. Evans was released on parole after seventeen years. Morrell was eventually pardoned.

What notorious historical people or events have you lived near?

Stuart Brannon's Final Shot
Stuart Brannon's Final Shot, by Stephen Bly 
with Janet Chester Bly, Russell Bly, Michael Bly & Aaron Bly
Finishing Dad's novel was a family affair.

It's 1905. Two orphans flee Oregon's Tillamook Head. One of them is branded a hero. Do they tell what really happened & risk a dangerous man's wrath?

Meanwhile, a retired lawman searches for his missing U.S. Marshal friend & grapples with the game of golf on behalf of a charity celebrity tournament.
"Stuart Brannon's Final Shot delivers and reminds us what we'll miss most about the beloved author." Jerry B. Jenkins, NYT Bestselling novelist & biographer
"(Stephen) Bly throws his readers into the fray from the first page and never lets up. . .I've loved (Stuart) Brannon since his first appearance many books ago, and though I know he eventually had to hit the trail, he will be missed." Award-winning author Kathleen Y'Barbo

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