On the night of November 2, 1916, Fred French, while performing his duties of deputy night watchman for the community of Kingsburg, encountered Lew Cowan behaving in a drunken and disorderly manner in the pool hall. Cowan and French engaged in a wrestling match, and bystanders pulled them apart, whereupon Cowan ran away. French then called Constable George Boyle who along with U.S. Marshall S.J. Shannon, found and arrested Cowan. Cowan also caused a disturbance at that time and managed to land a punch to the face of Boyle. They took Cowan to jail, but by that time he had become calm and pleaded that he was sorry and would go home and sleep it off if they would just release him. Constable Boyle then took him home.
Cowan's mother received him at home, but could not stop him from collecting a shotgun and shells and leaving the house. He met a fellow named, "Larson," who had been with him in the initial altercation in the pool hall. Allegedly he threatened Larson and force him to accompany him. The two men walked to the railroad depot, where they spotted French leaning against a fence. Cowan raised the gun and fired both barrels, hitting French in the head and killing him instantly.
Cowan sent Larson home and absconded. Ensuing searches failed to find Cowan. A copy of the wanted poster issued for him can be found in
the historical jail.
In her book, "Bit of Sweden in the Desert," Pauline Peterson Mathes, gave this account: "Thirteen years after her father's murder and the day after her mother's funeral Alice (Fred French's daughter) was sweeping the sidewalk in front of their home when and old looking, bearded man came along, tapping a cane as he walked. He asked if that was Fred French's house. She told him her father had been dead for 13 years, having been murdered in 1916. The old man then looked at her with tears streaming down his face, and said, "Oh, I'm really sorry to hear that.' He went on in the general direction of the old Cowan place. Was that old man Lew Cowan? We'll never know."