Most people who drive through the tiny Centerville community on Highway 180 barely know the name of the liquor store, but everyone recognizes the wooden “Indian man” that’s been propped up against the entrance for about 60 years.
The dummy wears jeans held up by a belt with a large belt buckle. A lot of times it’s wearing a bandanna or cowboy hat, but sometimes customers change up his look and add sunglasses or a baseball cap. Most customers call him the “Indian man,” even though his outfit doesn’t really look like the traditional clothing of an American Indian.
But the night of June 27, the dummy went missing, said Manpreet Singh, whose family has owned Circle C Market on Kings Canyon Road since 2010. Singh said the dummy has been at the store for about 60 years.
“People going to Pine Flat Lake, Avocado Lake, Reedley, Sequoia (National Park) – all of Fresno that’s been out here at least once, they’ve seen that Indian man,” Singh said Monday.
After the theft, Singh’s family posted a sign in the dummy’s place: “Please return the Indian Man dummy. It holds sentimental value to us, customers and everyone else around us. Thank you.”
Since then, one customer, Rosalinda Ramirez, posted a photo of the sign to Facebook echoing those sentiments. The Facebook post took off as people shared their shock and sadness about the theft. Many also shared selfies taken with the dummy over the years.
“When I came from Mexico to Reedley (in) 1983 the Indian was already there,” said Joel Silva.
“Wow! Who would do such a thing? I always look that way when driving by, sometimes I wave! That’s just mean and so unnecessary! #disrespectful,” said Pam Acuña.
The story that’s been passed down to Singh through the years is that the dummy represents Three Fingered Jack, a Mexican outlaw who may have joined Joaquin Murietta. A Sequoia Parks Conservancy blog post chronicled the story of Three Fingered Jack, noting that in history “the truth becomes lost in the tangle of stories told, often changing and sometimes disappearing entirely, and the legends that remain are all that we have left to glimpse a snapshot of the past.”
The previous store owners told Singh’s family that the Indian man was stolen in the past, but customers tracked it down and returned it to the store.
Said Singh: “People miss him.”