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Hanford's Mussel Slough Tragedy Remains Relevant, Over 130 Years Later

Mar 7, 2016

Today, Mussel Slough doesn't show up on many maps of the San Joaquin Valley. But in 1880, this small settlement northwest of Hanford was the site of one of the bloodiest gunfights in the Old West. It pitted a group of Kings County farmers against the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad in a fight for their land. 

This historical plaque marks the site of the gun battle.
Credit Flickr user Andrew Ranta / Creative Commons

In the end seven people were dead and the gunfight made national headlines, eventually inspiring countless newspaper and historical accounts. It also gave birth to several fictionalized accounts of the fight, turning the events of Mussel Slough into a powerful Western myth. They included the famous novel "The Octopus" by Frank Norris.

The book "Gunfight at Mussel Slough: Evolution of a Western Myth" by Terry Beers
Credit Heyday Books

This week on Valley Edition we look at both the fact and fiction of this often overlooked portion of our local history with Santa Clara University English professor Terry Beers, author of the book "Gunfight At Mussel Slough: Evolution of a Western Myth." In it Beers talks about how the truth of what happened on May 11, 1880 is significantly more complex than the conventional narrative, and how the event captured the interest of the nation.