by Derryl Dumermuth
Since 1872, the year of Tulare's birth, this city has been ably represented in Congress by several dozen men (no women, not yet). In 2002, Devin Nunes, TUHS class of 1991 and our current congressman, is probably the youngest (at age 29) to be sent to Washington D.C. to represent the city of Tulare and its neighbors. Bob Mathias, TUHS class of 1948, had the distinction of being the only congressman from this district who, because of his Olympic fame, was known and admired worldwide. He served four terms as an effective legislator, from 1966 to 1974. Both Nunes and Mathias were elected as Republicans.
From 1936 to 1948, Tulare was represented in congress by Alfred Elliott, a Democrat, and certainly the most colorful representative ever sent to Washington from this district. He was highly respected for his effectiveness even though he irritated and angered many of his colleagues and constituents because of his outspokenness in dealing with those who did not share his opinions. No sugar coating the issues for Elliott. In Congress he fought for the completion of the Central Valley Water Project and other water issues important to California.
Alfred James Elliott was born in Yolo County in 1895 and came to Tulare with his parents fifteen years later. He attended Laurel School briefly and Tulare Union High School for a little more than one year before dropping out to work. His background in farming brought him employment in the field of agriculture. For five years he worked for Hulett Merritt, owner of the huge Tagus Ranch north of Tulare. There, among other duties, he managed the ranch's swine department, the largest herd of registered hogs west of the Rocky Mountains.
An interesting story illustrates Elliott's independent, and sometimes impulsive, nature. It seems that Merritt was criticizing the way his employee was feeding the hogs. Elliott handed him the bucket, said "You slop 'em", and quit on the spot.
For 34 years, from 1931 to 1965, Elliott was employed as secretary/manager of the Tulare County Fair. One month before opening day of the 1951 Tulare County Fair, the main building on the grounds was destroyed by a disastrous fire. The annual event opened on time in makeshift quarters. In recognition of his record breaking length of service the new auditorium on the fair grounds was named in his honor on Pioneer Day, 1954. In September 1965, two months after his retirement, he was selected as the grand marshal of Tulare's annual Dairy Fiesta Parade.
On November 8, 1932 Elliott was elected to the Tulare County Board of Supervisors, and chosen as chairman for one term. In addition he served two terms as president of the Tulare Chamber of Commerce.
Elliott entered his own hogs in competition in fairs throughout California, winning his share of prizes. One episode seems too bizarre to be true, and surely the story must be apocryphal, but it does fit his impetuous nature. It seems that on one occasion, at the State Fair in Sacramento, he offered to buy the hogs from the exhibitor whose hogs had been judged superior to his. Assuming that Elliott wanted the hogs for breeding purposes, the man agreed to the sale, money changed hands, Elliott fetched his rifle from his tent, and shot the newly purchased hogs, thus effectively eliminating the competition.
In 1948 Elliott entered the newspaper business. He bought the nearly bankrupt Tulare Daily Bee from Fred Allen and changed the name to the Tulare News. He operated the newspaper first as an afternoon daily, then a semi-weekly, a weekly, an afternoon daily again, a morning daily, and finally suspended operations in 1951. To house his enterprises he constructed a building at King Avenue and N Street, the building now occupied by Carl and Irving, Printers.
Elliott married Jessie June Soults of Tulare in 1914. The couple had two children, a son, I.J., and a daughter, Esther. Jessie died in 1940 and Elliott married Rae Moore twelve years later. She died in 1967. He married Ruth Anderson in 1969 and she survived him. Alfred Elliott died in 1973 at age 77.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare", and co-author, with his wife, Wanda, of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z". Both books were written as fund-raisers for the Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the Museum's gift shop.
1. Alfred Elliott, 1895 - 1973