Infamous Tulare County train robbers’ story to steal show at 210 Connect

Terry Ommen presents the story of local train robbers Chris Evans and John Sontag at Dec. 9 evening of history; proceeds benefit 210 community center

The Sun-Gazette

VISALIA – A local historian and a local musician will bring to life the story of Visalia train robbers Evans & Sontag next weekend.

On Dec. 9, 210 Connect will host a special evening of history and music when noted Visalia historian Terry Ommen will present “Evans & Sontag: A Train Robbers’ Story.” The tale of the train robbing duo is so compelling it has been the subject of several books and a play. They were loathed by local law enforcement after killing a Tulare County Sheriff’s Deputy but beloved by many who felt that the train companies had railroaded them out of their land and financial institutions who foreclosed on their farms.

Visalia’s Chris Evans and his friend John Sontag robbed trains in the 1880s and 1890s. To many, they were not villains but heroes – brave individuals who were willing to take on the evil railroad empire. At the same time, they were depicted as crazed outlaws by some newspapers. At one point, a headline in William Randolph Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner described Evans as “Visalia’s Jekyll and Hyde.”

Ommen, a retired Visalia Police Department officer, is Tulare County’s premier historian. He was named 2017 Visalia Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year for his efforts to highlight Visalia’s history and has written countless newspaper articles, blog posts and three books about local history. 

Historical Evans and Sontag photos will also be auctioned off during evening. Proceeds will benefit 210, a community center run by First Presbyterian Church of Visalia.

In addition to Ommen’s talk, Lon Hannah of the Sons of the San Joaquin will debut his new song “The Ballad of Sontag & Evans.” Hannah is a former Visalia Unified School District music instructor and member of the acclaimed Western music group Sons of the San Joaquin. The Sons were founded in 1987 by Joe and Jack Hannah— who grew up near Ivanhoe in rural Tulare County — and Lon Hannah, Joe’s son and Jack’s nephew.

By the early 1990s, the singers had made a name for themselves, and they’ve taken home a dozen Western Music Association awards since 1997, including several Group of the Year awards.

The public is encouraged to attend the free community-based presentation, which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9. The historic Evans and Sontag auction photos will be still on display starting at 6:30 p.m. A drawing for a $25 210 coffee shop gift card will also be held.

210 Connect is a monthly public forum sponsored by the Visalia Times-Delta and First Presbyterian Church held at 210, 210 W Center Ave. in downtown Visalia.

Information: (559) 739-9010 or https://www.facebook.com/210Connect

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