Blackmail affects Clovis citizen

By Don McAlvy: Columnist

Arthur E. Curren, first newspaper publisher in Clovis, told a strange story that happened in Clovis in its early days.
Curren had come to Clovis from California in 1929. He came to celebrate the joining of his old Clovis News to the Clovis Journal and creating the Clovis Evening News-Journal.

Arthur E. Curren tells the incident of the “Blackhand Affair” on the Liebelt corner, later called Thornton and 21st streets one mile northwest of Clovis. The date would have been 1908.

“Many old-time citizens,” said Curren, “would recall the “Blackhand Affair.” A telephone call from E. R. Hart, the first mayor of Clovis, brought the News editor (Curren) to his office posthaste.

“We learned that E. B. Leepy, a pioneer property owner, attorney J. S. Fitzhugh and others, had received letters in hand-printed form and signed ‘Blackhand,’ demanding that certain sums of money be left at the aforesaid fence corner at a certain hour in the evening.

“Failure to comply with such demand would result in death. A posse composed of the writer (Curren), C. A. Scheurich, E. R. Hart, Marshall Coke Buchanan and others, equipped with the necessary shooting equipment, approached the designated corner at dusk with
the avowed intention of capturing the author of the letter, or to learn if the entire affair was a hoax.

“Mr. Leepy previously placed at the designated spot, a package containing a dynamite cap instead of the $5,000 in bills as demanded.

At the appointed hour a buggy driven by a lone woman stopped at the corner where she alighted and took the package with the resultant explosion and alarm. (The dynamite cap didn’t harm her but did scare the devil out of her.)

“She was a Mrs. Irwin, who was employed as bookkeeper at the Wooding Market and was taken into custody.

“She explained that her life and also that of her husband were threatened unless she would call for the package at the place mentioned and deposit it in another.

“No further development appearing, the matter was subsequently dropped, after a trial at which her authorship of the letter could not be proven.”

None of the persons in this drama ever told their side of the story, except for Curren.
Curren, noted as a storyteller, told this story and this is his best one:

“At the beginning of Clovis only sound to disturb the monotony of the situation was the mournful sound of the coyote on the distant prairie, except that occasionally ye editor would take his mandolin and get out in a daisy patch covering an alleged street in front of his newspaper office and keep harmony with said coyotes.”

He died Nov. 21, 1967, at 85, buried in Hayden Square, Mission Garden of Memories, Clovis.