Forget the 1906 earthquake: The "Spanish Flu" which swept through Sonoma county in 1918  was the worst disaster to hit Sonoma county - or at least, since the smallpox epidemic  wiped out nearly everyone in the Pomo communities in 1837.

Our ancestors here were caught off-guard even though there was a month's notice that it was remarkably deadly and would inevitably reach Santa Rosa. From mid-September onwards the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier printed bad news every day. There were seventy deaths a day in New England. It was spreading rapidly through the Army camps in the East and Midwest; the number of soldiers and sailors infected doubled every few days - 23 thousand total, 42 thousand, then 14 thousand new cases in a single day. The military reported 112 dead, then 377, then 653. By the beginning of October the killing disease was now in almost all states.

They had no defense against this influenza, which usually resulted in a severe case of pneumonia. Although this was before the discovery of antibiotics, they could treat pneumonia with an antiserum (or "syrum," as the Press Democrat spelled it), but only if treated early. The patient also had to be in a hospital with a well-equipped lab, as a saliva sample had to be injected into a mouse to ID the type of bacteria. An effective vaccine was developed at this time, but only in limited quantities and after the peak of the pandemic.

The Spanish Flu reached Sonoma county around October 12. A highway crew working near modern-day Rohnert Park was rushed to hospitals in San Francisco. "There are already considerably more than one hundred cases receiving attention," reported the PD, but it's unknown if they were counting the 75 sick children at the Lytton Orphanage. Strike that; by the time the newspaper went to press there were 102 children ill. One of them was teenager Helen Grouel, who became the first person here to die because of it.

On October 18 Walter Reiman, a sailor on furlough to help his dad harvest grapes at their Windsor vineyard, died after being back only five days. As the incubation period for influenza is 2 to 7 days, he must have brought it home with him. Later that same evening his fiancée, Edith Olin, died as well.

While the PD and the A-C were trying to quell panic by reassuring readers this was a "mild" form of the flu, there was no denying that the crisis was now upon us. That same day all schools, churches, lodges and "places of amusements" were closed until further notice. By then there were 59 known influenza cases in Santa Rosa, with two more reported during the Santa Rosa Board of Health meeting. The Board further required on November 4 the wearing of gauze masks by everyone when in public - although the newspaper wryly noted that as the Supervisors voted to pass the ordinance, not one of them was wearing a mask.

The County Health Board already required masks to be worn by anyone infected or nursing someone sick, and before the ordinance the PD did its civic duty with many little items mentioning clerks and shopkeepers wearing masks, noting that everyone on the train up from San Francisco was wearing them, and so on. Still, there was resistance; twenty people were fined $5 for not wearing them after Nov. 4 and the paper noted in San Rafael "a number of people were arrested and were compelled to decorate the mahogany with five-dollar pieces in the recorder’s court." Some people wearing glasses were caught wearing the mask beneath their nose because their lenses fogged up (the PD printed tips on how to avoid this); others thought it was just unfashionable. District Attorney Hoyle said, "a mask may not add to your beauty, but a homely, living, useful citizen is better far than an unnecessarily sacrificed life, regardless of looks."

Given the ferocity of that flu it seems incomprehensible the Health Board waited almost three weeks to require masks in public, but the general knowledge level of preventative hygiene at the time seems shockingly poor. Never once was the importance of frequent hand-washing mentioned, although it had been recognized as a critical method to stopping the spread of disease for over a half century. Instead, the Board offered a mishmash of advice, including:

*
  Avoid public gatherings of any kind and stay off the street

*
  Do not cough, spit or sneeze promiscuously

*
  Don’t attend funerals. Say it with flowers

*
  Don’t visit your sick friends unless you can be of some material advantage to them

*
  Don’t wait until in the night to call a physician. They are all being overworked and need all the regular rest they can get

*
  Avoid coal oil heaters, with their noxious fumes

Likewise the advice on what to eat while sick is mostly the reverse of what we believe today. Dr. Adelaide Brown ("eminent woman physician of San Francisco, and member of State Board of Health") told the Press Democrat that the diet should be mostly milk, sugar and starch, no meat broth, no vegetables (unless pureed) and no fruit with fiber. "No other foods than those mentioned should be used. Do not experiment with the patient's digestion during the critical period." Notice there is no mention of the importance of keeping the patient well hydrated.

Lacking modern medicines, people turned to folk remedies and the Victorian-era pharmacopoeia. It appears they mostly nursed themselves as if it were just a really bad chest cold, but some treatments had antibacterial effects which might have saved lives - and others might have made their conditions worse, or even killed them.

Someone wrote to the PD to remark the late, esteemed Dr, William Finlaw said "there was no better remedy for those ailments" than camphor in a steam vaporizer. It was a sensible idea, but the correspondent added that "a smoker may crumble a piece of camphor gum the size of a pea, and mix it with the tobacco in a pipe, or cigarette," which is really not a good idea if you've got pneumonia.

Newspaper ads promoted camphor-based Vick's VapoRub to be used in a vaporizer, melted in a spoon and inhaled, or rubbed into the chest and back between the shoulder blades "until the skin is red...attracting the blood to the surface, and thus aids in relieving the congestion within." Never mind that in years earlier, physicians used that same basic argument to promote leeches.

Some drug stores sold atomizers which were to be filled with abietene, a kind of turpentine made specifically from California's native Gray Pine, and sprayed on the back of your throat and inhaled every ten minutes to prevent the flu (supposedly).

Dr. Bonar, the city health officer, specifically warned against quack cures and preventatives like that: "Don't be taking drugs. If ill, consult a physician. Gargles and nasal douches are of doubtful value, if not a real danger...Avoid all advertised cures." But that advice appeared only once in a Press Democrat article and not at all in the Petaluma newspapers - while local merchants bought large ads in every edition to peddle nostrums exactly like those.

In Petaluma, Schluckebier Hardware advertised Phenolene (caustic, poisonous carbolic acid) as a disinfectant to mop floors, pour down drains, spray under beds and then "put three drops in a tumbler of warm water, then gargle the throat and stuff it up the nose." Towne's Drug Store suggested "formaldehyde liberally yet judiciously used is most valuable," but did not say how it should be used. Today formaldehyde's recognized as causing bronchitis and pneumonia when inhaled with even small exposures, not to mention being a carcinogen.

Press Democrat, October 26, 1918



Press Democrat readers were assured the disease had "run its course in most Army camps" - hopefully showing not everyone would croak - but there was considerable fear in the days following the closures. The PD quoted a "well-known physician" saying "there is a lot of hysteria about now as well as influenza.” While this doctor and others interviewed were not named, they agreed this was a mild form of the flu. This was all propaganda; there were still 300+ deaths daily in the camps and not everyone here was taking the situation seriously. A few days later Earle E. Jamison died; he was the ticket agent of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in Santa Rosa and had constant contact with the public, yet once Earle caught the flu he had to remain on duty a "day or two" until replacement was found.

At the end of October - before the Board of Health made gauze masks mandatory - the District Attorney’s office announced the situation was so dire they were considering a quarantine of the entire county. It seems many of those urban dwellers who had summer cabins around the Russian River and elsewhere were fleeing up here to escape the epidemic raging in the cities:

...I have been informed that persons from the bay cities, fearful of the disease there, are rushing to the country resorts and are occupying cottages, built many of them in cool, damp places, and saturated with a two weeks' rain, which must necessarily endanger them to cold, and frequently to resulting pneumonia, whether they in fact have Spanish influenza or not. This should he stopped at once.


The news did not get better as October faded into November. There were 310 reported sick in Santa Rosa with deaths almost every day. The married daughters of Serafino Piezzi died four days apart and a double funeral was planned as soon as the rest of the family recovered themselves. Rocco Poncetta of the Hotel Italia de Unita (5 West Sixth st.) died at age 31; the PD commented he was "a man of strong and robust constitution," reinforcing the popular notion that the young and strong were most likely to die.

Then on November 5 came the most shocking news of all: There were 400 influenza cases at the Sonoma State Home - almost one-third of the institution's patients. A few days later it shot up to 500.

Now the Sonoma Developmental Center (at least, as of this writing), the Press Democrat still called it by its old name: The Sonoma State Home for the Care of the Feeble-Minded at Eldridge. The 1,400 patients there ranged from people needing custodial care because of severe cognitive issues to those suffering epilepsy; criminals deemed "feeble-minded" by someone in authority were sent there for indeterminate sentences as were some accused of anti-social behavior - see “SONOMA COUNTY AND EUGENICS“ for more background on the place in those days.

"Medical Superintendent Fred O. Butler M. D., and his staff of assistant physicians and the nurses and attendants are doing everything in their power for the stricken inmates," the PD reported, but they clearly were not following best medical practices for dealing with an epidemic. The next day 25 were reported dead. Four days later, another 24. Five days after that, the death toll was over 70. By the end of the month there were 85 dead.

It is maddening to read the day-to-day coverage of this crisis at Eldridge. Complete management of the situation was ceded to Dr. Butler; additional medical help was neither requested nor demanded. There was no talk of evacuation. There was no charitable outreach from the community. By contrast, a month earlier Santa Rosa and other towns had mobilized to help the Lytton Springs orphanage, with nurses rushing there to help, department stores donating blankets and bedding and businesses collecting donations to buy medicines. 

Petaluma Morning Courier, October 27, 1918


Aside from their appalling indifference to the Sonoma State Home situation, citizens of Santa Rosa rallied together to fight the epidemic as if it was just another part of their patriotic duty in those last months of WWI. The Red Cross Shop became like a command HQ, distributing food, medicine and many hundreds of masks sown by volunteers; nurses were dispatched; babies and small children with sick parents were placed in temporary homes. The elite Saturday Afternoon Club clubhouse on 10th st became a critical care hospital, handling 53 patients ("some of them the worst cases near Santa Rosa" - PD).

Finally, after three weeks of emergency measures, the tide began to turn shortly before Thanksgiving. The public library reopened and the mask order was lifted. All schools reopened.

But the good news was short lived. Influenza came roaring back after Christmas, with 243 new cases in San Francisco with 35 deaths. While there had been ongoing cases of flu in rural areas, in Santa Rosa masks were ordered on again because it had "returned to the towns."

This second wave proved just as severe and heart-breaking. In one week a toddler, mother and grandmother all died; Adeline Gray on January 9, 1919, her mother Julia Marsh two days later, and then 3 year-old Alice Gray on Jan. 16. They are buried together at the Calvary Cemetery.

Some schools reopened in the middle of January, with students and teachers wearing masks. On the 26th the mask ordinance was dropped again, although "it is highly advisable that masks be worn whenever one person approaches within ten feet of another." Theaters, pool rooms and lodges remained closed.

The epidemic was never declared over and lingered in Santa Rosa until the end of April. Obituaries as late as November of that year mentioned the person had contracted the Spanish flu and never recovered.

The official report of the Board of Health stated there were 67 deaths from influenza in Santa Rosa and 1,145 cases, although "many more cases were unreported or unrecognized." There were 87 flu deaths at the Sonoma State Home.

It's now understood that 9 out of 10 Spanish influenza victims died from pneumonia - that the flu stripped the inner lining from the bronchial tubes and lungs, which left the patient susceptible to infections. "In essence, the virus landed the first blow while bacteria delivered the knockout punch," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, when the definitive study was published in 2008.

Even factoring in pneumonia, a final tally proves elusive; remember Edith Olin, the young woman who died within hours of her fiance? She had tuberculosis and her cause of death was listed as such, even though there's little doubt that her death was hastened by his return to the area carrying the flu.

About 85 people are known to have died in Santa Rosa during the 1906 earthquake with another handful killed elsewhere in the county, but those numbers are also squishy; some remains were probably totally consumed by the fire and some people who were mortally wounded probably died elsewhere. Throw in a fudge factor and guesstimate the earthquake killed 120 in Sonoma county. But even without counting the pneumonia cases, the total influenza deaths in Santa Rosa combined with the Sonoma State Home remains higher. Even with the joy of the war ending, those were very dark days.

Ed Heald wearing influenza mask. Photo: Sonoma County Library




INFLUENZA CONTINUES TO SPREAD
Malady Has Now Reached Practically All Parts of Country, and Is Epidemic in Western and Pacific Coast States — Movie Releases Stopped.

Washington, Oct. 9 - Spanish influenza now has spread to practically every part of the country. Reports today to the Federal Health Service shows the disease is epidemic in many western and Pacific Coast states as well as in almost all regions east of the Mississippi river. Its spread also continues in army camps. The number of new cases reported being greater than on the day before.

 The disease is reported from many parts of California, while in Texas the malady has been reported from 77 counties, with a number of cases varying from one to 4,000 in each county...

...The National Association of Motion Picture Industries decided at a meeting here tonight to discontinue all motion picture releases after October 16, because of the epidemic of Spanish Influenza. The embargro will remain in force until further notice, it was announced by Wm. A. Brady, president of the association.

- Press Democrat, October 10 1918



DOCTORS OF THREE STATES ARE MOBILIZED

Mobilization of all the doctors of California, Nevada and Arizona to combat the epidemic of Spanish influenza were ordered today by the U. S. Public Health Service, It was announced here by Dr. W. G. Billings, sanitary officer of the service for California and Nevada. The public was warned by Dr. Billings to avoid picture shows, churches and all other places of assemblage until the epidemic was passed.

- Press Democrat, October 10 1918



SPREADS IN CALIFORNIA

The total number of Spanish influenza cases in California has reached the four thousand mark, according to the State Board of Health.

- Argus-Courier, October 12 1918



INFLUENZA HAS APPEARED HERE

More Than a Dozen Cases Reported in Santa Rosa and the Immediate Vicinity Monday Night—State Highway Camp Near Wilfred Station Suffers: Spray Your Throat and Nostrils and Keep Away From Crowds.

Spanish Influenza secured a hold in Sonoma county over Sunday and according to reports made to the county health officer there are already considerably more than one hundred cases receiving attention.

The Golden Gate Industrial Farm and Orphanage at Lyttons reported 75 children in bed with the malady Monday morning. By night the number of cases there had increased to 102, as stated in another column.

Half a dozen or more men working in the State highway camp on the Cotati boulevard near Wilfred were also reported down with the disease. Some of these have been removed to Santa Rosa hospitals, while others were rushed to San Francisco for treatment. By prompt isolation of every case and early detection of the malady in schools throughout the county it is hoped to keep it within bounds; but every family should take unusual care to prevent exposure. Children should he kept off the streets as much as possible. Avoid crowds wherever you can.

Physicians state that best thing to do after possible exposure is to spray the throat and nostrils with a solution of 10 per cent argyrol, or some other good disinfectant.

According to reports by local physicians Monday evening more than a dozen cases of the malady exist in Santa Rosa and the immediate vicinity.

- Press Democrat, October 15 1918



132 CASES OF INFLUENZA AT LYTTONS; HELEN GROUL DIES
Public Responds With Needed Assistance When Informed
Orphanage Now Transformed Into a Hospital - Urgent Need Exists for More Nurses, Bed Clothing, and Money With Which to Buy Medicines — Local Branch of Red Cross Interests Itself in the Matter

Death invaded the Lytton Springs Orphanage yesterday, when Helen Groul, whose critical illness was reported in these columns Tuesday morning, closed her eyes in the long last sleep. She is the first victim to be claimed in this county by the dreaded Spanish influenza, which is now raging everywhere and has the Lytton Orphanage tightly within its grasp.

"Thirty-one new cases developed here today,” said Captain S. Charles Isaacs, now in charge of the orphanage at Lytton, when interviewed by a Press Democrat representative last night over the long-distance phone. "One hundred and thirty-two of our children are now down with the scourge. We have two hundred and twenty-three children here at the present time." Yesterday there were two hundred and twenty-four; today there are only two hundred and twenty-three!

What will it be tomorrow?

Public Responds to Call

The sad news from Lyttons published in these columns Tuesday morning met with an instant response in the hearts of the thousands of Santa Rosans, and offers of assistance soon began to come in. The first report of money being collected came from the employees of the Santa Rosa Poultry Association and Egg Exchange, where a hurried collection was taken and the sum of $11 sent to this office. The Press Democrat added $5 to the above amount, and last night Manager J. J. Fitzgerald of the Poultry Association walked into the office with another bunch of coin and left it here to be forwarded to the orphanage today. The list of donors is as follows...

- Press Democrat, October 16 1918


PLEDGED PAIR NEAR IN DEATH
Well Known Young Auditor for Proctor Bros. Succumbs to White Plague Last Night, Following Death of Her Fiance a Few Hours Earlier.

Miss Edith Olin, for the past six years auditor for the Proctor Bros., died at the home of Mrs. Jane M. Emperor. 421 College avenue, last night about 9:30, after a few weeks' illness. Death was due to consumption.

Miss Olin came here seven years ago from Orfino, Idaho, where she had been residing with an aunt since the death of her parents. The aunt is her only living relative...

...Walter Reiman, who enlisted in the U. S. Navy some time ago. died Friday at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Reiman, near Windsor, after a brief illness with influenza. The young man secured a furlough and came home last Sunday to assist his father gather the grape crop, and was taken ill a few days later.

Mr. Reiman was the fiance of Miss Edith Olin, who died later in the evening, and news of his death, coming a few hours before that of his fiance, is an occurrence as remarkable as it is sad.

- Press Democrat, October 19 1918



DON’T GET SCARED IS THE ADVICE OF LOCAL PHYSICIAN
Statement Last Night That the Cases of Influenza Here So Far Are of a Mild Form—People Advised to Be Careful, But Not to Become Hysterical.

‘Tell the people not to get hysterical,” said a well-known physician last night to a Press Democrat representative. “It's good advice to give people, believe me, for there is a lot of hysteria about now as well as influenza.”

Another physician stated that out of all the cases he has under his care, all of them are light, with the exception of a single pneumonia case.

Other physicians were seen and they agreed that the influenza here is of a mild form to date. They agreed that people should take care of themselves, but there is no occasion for alarm if care is taken.

- Press Democrat, October 23 1918



INFLUENZA WORSE OUTSIDE OF CITY
More New Cases Reported From the Rural Section Than Within City Limits — Epidemic at Standstill Within City at the Present, According to Reports

While the number of cases of Spanish influenza reported to the city health office shows no increase for the previous 24 hours, the number of cases reported to local physicians increased and from all accounts the country surrounding town is suffering worse now than the city.

Only 12 new cases were reported to the city health office up to 5 o’clock last night, although it is known other cases have developed in town which will he reported this morning. The total to date at the same hour was 396 for the city with only two deaths known to be directly caused from pneumonia caused by influenza.

The most of the deaths resulting from the disease are from out-of-town and it is believed this is due to the fact that those residing in town are being more prompt in calling in a physician and take no chances, while the country people try to wear it off, a very serious matter in the case of influenza, and almost sure to result seriously, if not fatally.

- Press Democrat, October 30 1918



MAY QUARANTINE COUNTY AGAINST THE INFLUENZA
District Attorney Issues Appeal to Residents to Take Necessary Precautions to Protect Themselves and Others From Dreaded Epidemic.

The District Attorney’s office has been aroused by the large number of fatal cases of Spanish influenza and pneumonia throughout the rural section of Sonoma county and will take steps to protect the residents unless they take the necessary precautions for themselves voluntarily. In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Hoyle suggested the possibility of a general quarantine of the county against outside districts pending an improvement of conditions in other parts of the state. He said:

For more than three weeks last past so-called Spanish influenza has been prevalent in Sonoma county. During that time many of our valuable citizens have suffered from the malady, and several have passed to the Great Beyond, as a direct result of the dread disease, from resulting pneumonia or otherwise. It is the nature of the disease to leave one in a weakened condition, thereby making the patient susceptible to any disease for which the weakened condition makes an opening. A cold creates just such an opening and pneumonia results. Other diseases follow instead of pneumonia as the condition of the patient may make one susceptible...

...I have been informed that persons from the bay cities, fearful of the disease there, are rushing to the country resorts and are occupying cottages, built many of them in cool, damp places, and saturated with a two weeks' rain, which must necessarily endanger them to cold, and frequently to resulting pneumonia, whether they in fact have Spanish influenza or not. This should he stopped at once.

Unless the public takes the necessary and proper steps immediately for stamping out the disease, I shall call upon the state health officers for a strict general quarantine of the county.

If you are afflicted, stay inside until you have fully recovered, exercising every precaution to prevent the spread of the disease. If you have thus far escaped, use every precaution to avoid it. A mask may not add to your beauty, but a homely, living, useful citizen is better far than an unnecessarily sacrificed life, regardless of looks.

Yours for the public welfare, G. W. Hoyle, District Attorney.

- Press Democrat, October 31 1918


25 INFLUENZA DEATHS AT SONOMA STATE HOME

Inquiry over the long distance telephone to the Sonoma State Home at Eldridge last night as to the influenza cases in the institution elicited the information that since the epidemic broke out there had been twenty-four deaths among inmates and Mrs. Markee, one of the attendants, died yesterday. A number of the cases had developed into pneumonia.

 Among those who are suffering from influenza are the woman physician, Dr. Thorne, and Supervisor Johnson. Both their cases are slight. Secretary R. Q. Wickham stated last night.

 "There are over four hundred cases of influenza here and we have had twenty-four deaths to date among the inmates, and, this afternoon one of the attendants, Mrs. Markee, died. Otherwise the other sick ones seem to be getting better," stated Mr. Wickham over the phone.

 Medical Superintendent Fred O. Butler, M. D., and his first assistant, Dr Whittington, have been working night and day with the patients, and prior to her sickness Dr. Thorne was constantly in attendance day and night. The physicians and the nurses and attendants have been doing loyal and efficient work for main hours day and night since influenza became epidemic. Everything possible is being done for the sick and to safeguard the inmates and protect those as yet not stricken with the illness. There are nearly fourteen hundred inmates in the Sonoma State Home.

- Press Democrat, November 6 1918


EMPHATIC DONTS FOR INFLUENZA
City Health Officer Makes Suggestions to General Public for Prevention of Infection and to Aid in Restricting Epidemic.

"There ia no doubt but that we are in the midst of a very interesting epidemic which will have extended and far reaching results. The climatic conditions here are ideal for its spread," declared R. M. Bonar, the new city health officer, yesterday, after having heard from most of the physicians of the city and getting reports of 25 new cases of influenza for the day. This brings the total cases to date to over 355.

With the view of giving as much assistance as possible in preventing the further spread of the malady. Dr. Bonar makes suggestions and urges upon the general public adaption of the following rules:

Don’t attend funerals. Say it with flowers.

Don’t travel. If you must, use your own conveyance. The closed railway coach is the best place In the world to become infected as many sick are traveling, spreading the disease.

 Don’t visit your sick friends unless you can be of some material advantage to them, and then wear a gauze mask.

  Don't be taking drugs. If ill, consult a physician. Gargles and nasal douches are of doubtful value, if not a real danger. The wash is on the throat or nose only a few moments being quickly carried away by the natural secretions. If used too strong or frequently they may impair the delicate membranes, making the person more susceptible to infection. Avoid all advertised cures.

Do not allow children to associate with those having the malady in the house. Under no clrcumstances allow a well person to sleop with one ill with influenza.

Keep in the open air. Avoid unusual fatigue and over eating and wear a mask of six layers. Bacteria cannot penetrate gauze. Don’t use antiseptic of any kind on mask, and wash dally, boiling it.

Don’t wait until in the night to call a physician. They are all being overworked and need all the regular rest they can get.

- Press Democrat, November 6 1918



MALADY TAKES ON NEW LEASE

Despite the precautions being taken, there has been an increase of Spanish Influenza cases this week in Santa Rosa, with eight new cases reported Monday and ten yesterday. The new eases in many instances are in families where it had prevailed previously.

 One mother was reported down with her four children yesterday, but they are all doing as well as could be expected and are being given the best of care.

 The city health officer urges all to comply with the mask ordinance and take all necessary precaution against spreading the malady and hold it in check. There can be no release from masks while there is so many new cases being reported.

- Press Democrat, November 13 1918



INFLUENZA NOW IS DECREASING
Santa Rosa Has Had 462 Cases Since October 18, When First Case Was Reported, While Total Deaths in Entire Suburban District Totals 37 for Period.

With six new cases of Spanish influenza reported Saturday, the total in Santa Rosa since the first outbreak, October 18, has reached 462. In the same period there has been 37 deaths in the district which includes Russian River township and the country to the east as far as Glen Ellen, but not the Sonoma Home at Eldrldge.

 While all indications point to a gradual falling-off in the epidemic in Santa Rosa, there has been a flare-up owing, it is believed, to carelessness resulting from the patriotic demonstration Monday. It is hoped the improvement will continue during the coming week, and if so some of the more stringent regulations can be released.

 The San Francisco theaters were all opened Saturday and each played to standing room. The churches will be open today, but the mask is still retained and insisted upon for all attending gatherings. The San Jose State Normal will resume November 25, when the San Francisco schools will reopen, by which time masks will be discarded.

- Press Democrat, November 13 1918


STRONG TAKEN - THE WEAK LEFT
Epidemic Is Still in Force at the Sonoma State Home, Where Over Fifty Deaths Have Occurred to Date — Most Fatalities Among High Grade Inmates.

They are battling with the epidemic of influenza at the Sonoma State Home for the Feeble-Minded. So far over fifty deaths have occurred to date and there are scores of inmates still down with the disease. The physicians and nurses and other attendants have had a hard task to perform for several weeks in ministering to so many of the sick.

A singular feature of conditions at the State Home is that the deaths have occurred among the strongest and highest grade inmates, both as regard boys and girls and the low grades have suffered little. Among those who have died were many boys and girls who were able to help about the institution and in the grounds.

- Press Democrat, November 14 1918



THE QUARANTINE IS ENFORCED

The quarantine for influenza has been put in force in this city by the Health Board and the yellow signs with the word "influenza" prominently displayed, are already noticed on a number of homes here.

- Argus-Courier, November 25 1918



85 DEATHS TOLL AT STATE HOME
Epidemic Is Subsiding and New Cases Are Among Girls — Eighty of the Dead Were Males - Secretary Wickham Visitor Here.

Secretary R. Q. Wickham was in town from the Sonoma State Home on Monday.

From Secretary Wickham it was learned that the epidemic had carried off by death eighty-five inmates.

He says there have been over five hundred cases of influenza at the institution and of the eighty-five deaths about five were girls, all the others being boys, youths and men.

At the present time, Mr. Wickham states, there are a number of cases, the illness having crossed to the quarters occupied by the girls, but no serious conditions are expected now.

Mr. Wickham paid a high compliment to the untiring labors of Medical Superintendent Fred O. Butler, Physician Whittington and Dr. Thoren, the woman physician, and the nurses and attendants who worked night and day in nursing and administering to the sick. "I tell you they ail stood up nobly "under the strain,” said Mr. Wickham.

- Press Democrat, November 26 1918



BAN PLACED ON DANCIN6 HERE UNTIL FURTHER ORDER

In an effort to check any further outbreaks of influenza the City Health Officer Thursday evening issued an order forbidding all public and private dances until further notice in Santa Rosa.

The Health Officer said it is generally recognized that dancing is one of the most successful ways of spreading influenza owing to the dancers being in such close contact that they cannot help inhaling each other’s breath and passing the germs.

Already eight cases, it is said, have been traced to two young men who visited a dance here recently from an outside town while ill and spread the malady.

- Press Democrat, December 20 1918



Clubhouse Opened as Emergency Hospital

The good women of the Red Cross made another noble response on Saturday to the demands of care for sick women and children and by night Saturday the Saturday Afternoon Club’s clubhouse on Tenth street was opened as an emergency hospital. Mention has been made of the shortage of nurses and it was with the idea of caring for many of those who are sick that the clubhouse was opened as a hospital. The clubhouse during the day was fitted up with cots and all other arrangements were made for the reception of the patients. It is a nice, cosy place, and it is mighty fortunate for some of the sick women and children of the town and neighborhood that such a place and such excellent care was available. Several patients were taken to the emergency hospital Saturday night.

- Press Democrat, December 29 1918



STRANGER ARRIVES IN TOWN WITH INFLUENZA

The county health officer was called to a local hotel yesterday to see a man who was ill. An examination showed that he was suffering from influenza, having arrived Thursday night, circulated about the hotel during the even[ing] and had been out during the morning for breakfast and about the street before giving up and going to bed.

The man was removed to a hospital and last night he had developed pneumonia and his fever was 104 degrees and his condition was considered critical. How many were exposed to the influenza through contact with this man is unknown, but it is such cases which has caused the necessity for holding the masks as a protective measure.

- Press Democrat, January 25 1919

Watch a film or read about the U.S. during WWI and expect to find due praise for the war efforts by American Red Cross. They mobilized the entire country in support of the troops; more than eight million civilians donated a dollar to join and that was just the beginning - volunteers spent countless hours sewing bandages and knitting items to comfort soldiers and war refugees. In April 1918 alone, the Santa Rosa chapter created 3,000 pieces including 275 pairs of socks, 860 abdominal bandages, 91 helmets (?) and 410 “helpless case shirts” for amputees.

People also turned out in support of the Red Cross itself. In Petaluma on May 20, 1918 there was a Red Cross parade where 3,500 marched behind the California Governor many of the women in nurse costumes. There was a giant flag, several floats including one dedicated just to sock knitters, and every schoolchild in town walked the half-hour route with their teachers. Leading the procession were sixteen young girls with oversized knitting needles and yarn bags pulling a replica of a sheep on a wagon - which could have symbolized either peace or the importance of knitting wool.

Red Cross parade in Petaluma on May 20, 1918. (Photo: Sonoma county library)


But during the war the Red Cross also became a critically-needed social welfare agency here at home, particularly during the Spanish Flu crisis (more about that later). As far as I can tell this history has been completely forgotten, documented only in the newspapers of the time. Although this isn't the story of the national Red Cross Shop endeavor, here's what happened in the heyday of the Santa Rosa and Petaluma shops, in all their patriotic, poignant - and sometimes puzzling - glory.

The concept only reached California after the United States entered the war in April, 1917 but had taken root earlier in Chicago and a few other places East. At face value it was merely a charity resale store but it went deeper than that - it was where neighbors helped another cope with rationing and wartime shortages by selling homemade and repurposed items of all sorts. They took in and sold anything and everything that came through the door and published want lists, all together giving us a unique glimpse of life here in the autumn of 1918.

The Petaluma store was the first to open that July, on one of the corners of Washington and Keller streets. While Petaluma was only opened on Saturdays, the Santa Rosa store at 428 Fourth st. (the middle of the block between A and B streets, now lost under the mall) was open six or seven days a week.

The mainstays of both shops were the same as any resale store today: Used clothing and shoes, but there was also high demand for adult underwear, probably because of the wartime wool shortage. In Santa Rosa they wanted "children's underwear or things that can be made into it" and it was mentioned some were making children's clothes from flannel scraps or men's shirts.

It's a surprise to learn they were selling lots of food: "If you have any extra vegetables in your war garden bring the surplus to the shop tomorrow...housewives, when you do your Saturday baking remember the Red Cross Shop." They also sold perishables like milk, cottage cheese, eggs, butter and even meat; Petaluma offered "fine large dressed ducks" for $1.50.

That presumably put them in some competition with local grocers, but the Red Cross Shops went even further by selling livestock. On Egg Day, September 1, Petaluma announced "our latest donation is a fine live thirty-pound pig." A couple of weeks later the shop had "two splendid hogs," and "Henry J. Myers, the popular secretary has been appointed temporary guardian of the 'hog pen' and is grooming the animals to the best of his ability."

Not to be bested, Santa Rosa offered live chickens and a while-you-wait butcher. After you picked out your hen, "Joe Ginotti rushed it to James Evans, manager of McCullough Produce Company, who killed and dressed it, while you wandered about choosing a certain pie or batch of doughnuts."

The Santa Rosa shop even sold cats. A Persian angora kitten was advertised and another cat - donated, dumped or stray - was adopted (abducted?) by a five year-old girl, as told in a cute anecdote:

Then there is the cat. You know the one that caused all the excitement the other day. Well, that cat is wise, or very lucky. At any rate, it has a good home, now. Mrs. J. K. Edwards incautiously brought her small daughter to the Shop. Julia Catherine saw the villain, and, with true womanly spirit, demanded to have him for her own, to cherish for all time. Mrs Edwards objected, and saw a streak which was Julia and the cat, about a half block down the street. So the villain came out ahead after all. injustice triumphs. But Julia Catherine is happy. So is the villain —and what more is necessary? Thus endeth the Epic of the Cat.


RIGHT: Julia Catherine Edwards, 1917 Juvenile Rose Queen and later cat owner (Sonoma County Library)

Little Julia's incautious mother was Florence, part of the remarkable Rockwell family. Several members can be found criss-crossing notable events in Santa Rosa's history over the decades and even played a small role here. Most Red Cross Shops had a tea room; when the one opened in the Santa Rosa shop that October it was decorated with engravings by Carlo Gino Venanzi, the Italian artist brother-in-law of Florence, which were certainly worth far more than anything else in the shop.

Another funny story was told in the Press Democrat: "Mrs. Ronk, initiated into the selling department yesterday, was rather shocked when a man walked in and said: 'Madam. I have been drinking; I have had a fight with an Indian; he tore my clothes off me; I want a pair of pants.' With the assistance of Dr. Stevens he was properly clothed for the street."

The stores also acted as an agent for people looking for specific items. Among the stuff wanted in Petaluma was a piano stool, small white beans, a brown untrimmed hat. In Santa Rosa the list included odd ends of ribbons, veil cases, red Pyracantha berries (at Christmas), clothespin aprons, bantam hens and Karo Corn Syrup buckets - which were like paint cans and are still found for sale on eBay and Etsy (hopefully empty of 100 year old syrup). One woman came in and wanted a headless doll.

Petaluma also came up with innovative ideas of things to sell. The shop asked for cabbage donations so the Domestic Science class at the high school could make "Liberty Cabbage" (sauerkraut) to sell at the shop. They also asked residents to "dig up your bulbs now; this is the time and bring them to the Red Cross Shop...you can buy 'em back if you really have to have them."

There are no known photos of the Santa Rosa or Petaluma Red Cross Shops, but this was an interior of a shop where the Red Cross chapter was about the same size as Santa Rosa's. (Library of Congress)


Santa Rosa's finest hour came during the peak of the Spanish Flu epidemic of October-November. (The Petaluma shop was ordered closed for that month.) The whole town mobilized heroically, as described in the following article. The Red Cross Shop partnered with the restaurant in the nearby Occidental Hotel as the shop took soup and custard orders for the bedridden. Volunteers sewed and gave away an untold number of flu masks. And most importantly, they placed babies and small children who had sick parents in temporary homes.

The Petaluma shop reopened just before Thanksgiving and both shops began gearing up for an unusual Christmas. Petaluma's high school manual training class made doll furniture. The motto in Santa Rosa was "Make Your Christmas Presents Out of Salvage" and enlisted teens and adults alike in painting and decorating boxes and unwanted furniture. More skilled hands made dollhouses and birdhouses and sewed or knitted lovely things.

Even though they didn't launch until the war was almost over, the shops played a central role in involving civilians with the war effort by collecting materials wanted by the government such as foil from gum wrappers or cigarette packs, newsprint, rubber scraps and peach pits and walnut shells to make gas masks. Shops in both towns accepted thousands of pounds of clothing and shoes for the international Belgian Relief program.

The Santa Rosa Shop closed on Feb. 1 1919, having lost its free rent and not finding anyone volunteering to manage it. Petaluma stayed open but moved to 155 Kentucky street.

During those late months of 1918 the Argus and PD had some little item about the shops almost daily, obviously written by volunteers there, although sometimes they struggled to find things to write about. In Petaluma we learned "a musical cow bell attracted the public generally" and Peter Murphy came to donate a pile of fruit jars and all of his window shades. In Santa Rosa, Blanche Hoffer entertained with her accordion one afternoon as another woman tootled on a "soprano horn" which apparently just had been donated. It sounds like they had great fun, and many of the items are still fun to read today. A doggerel verse, "Down Fourth Street Row" is transcribed below and is a sweet tribute to the women and men who ran the places.

While few good things came out of the first World War, the Red Cross Shops certainly fall on the positive side. How great was it to have such spots in small towns where every day we could join the effort to help disabled soldiers and victims of war - while also getting a good deal on a few washrags, potatoes for tonight's dinner... and maybe a kitten.


Image from "What to do for Uncle Sam; a first book of citizenship" (1918)





DOWN FOURTH STREET ROW

"I'll tell thee everything I know,
Although it is not much -
I wandered down that Fourth Street row
Past stores, saloons and such.
I went until I saw a place
They called the Red Cross Shop;
Inside I saw a beaming face
And thought I'd better stop.

"What is this Red Cross Shop?” I said,
"And why these glowing smiles?"
The workers for the cross of red
Come many weary miles;
They gladly work, day after day.
And fix a tea room grand
For small Blanche with her gentle way,
To feed the hungry band.

But I was thinking of a plan
To make the floor look clean.
And hide it under so much bran
That it could not be seen.
So having no reply to give
To what I had been told.
I looked quite sternly positive
And said, "Why is this gold?"

Em’s accents mild took up the tale.
She said, "I go my ways
And when I find a gold band frail,
I bring it for the blaze.
I put it into this they call
The Red Cross Melting Pot -
They sell it - silver, gold and all —
And then it goes for shot."

But I was thinking of a way
To open the Tea Room wide,
And so go on from day to day,
With lots of food inside.
"What is this Red Cross Shop?” I cried,
"And wherefore all these toys?"
Just gaze upon this fruit stand wide —
Oh! Those are for the boys!

I sometimes fix the grab-bag stock,
Or put the shoes in rows;
I sometimes sell an old, old clock,
And sort the Belgian's clothes.
And that's the way (she tried to wink)
In which our Shop gets rich;
And very gladly, I should think
Your old things here you'd pitch.

I heard her then, for I had just
Completed my design
To keep from out that Shop the dust
By flooding it with brine.
I thanked her much for telling me
The way the Shop gets rich.
But chiefly for her wish that she
My old things here would hitch.

And now, if e'er by chance I wish
Some pictures — old or new -
Or madly seek a small blue dish,
Or tea of special brew,
Or if I drop upon mv toe
A very heavy weight,
I start! For it reminds me so
Of that Red Cross Shop that I know —
Whose Bess is mild, whose Blanche is slow,
Whose Emma's face is all aglow,
Whose Anna croaked once like a crow,
Whose Verda off to ride did go,
Whose Helen ran the car so slow,
Whose Ira wandered to and fro
And muttered mumblingly and low
As if his mouth were full of dough;
Who sent the Belgians lots of clo'
One Sunday, not so long ago -
The Shop in Fourth street Row.

- Press Democrat, September 29 1918



RED CROSS CHRISTMAS SHOP HAS MANY USEFUL ARTICLES
Patriotic Women of City Are Busily Engaged in Preparing Articles for Sale at Red Cross Shop, Which Gets the Entire Proceeds, as There Is No Expense to the Shop.

There is only one thing that makes Christmas shopping difficult; the problem of knowing what to give and where to find it. The Red Cross Shop is solving that problem for you this year. Miss Blanch Hoffer is head of a corp of artistic workers who are getting the goods out for the opening, December 7. There you are going to he able to find dozens of worthwhile suggestions.

Mrs J. Warren Jenkens has gathered together a group of willing workers who are designing and making those things that every lovely woman likes to have many of such as boudoir caps, camisoles, aprons and bags.

Every afternoon five or six friends of Mrs. James Gray gather at her home on Spring street and devote their time to covering boxes of every size and shape with beautiful wallpaper. Beautiful boxes - such as these are, have a place in almost any room.

Miss Hoffer's studio looks Just like Santa Claus' workrooms. Each day more Christmas presents are finished and hidden away in boxes. Doll houses for little girls: bird houses for the spring gardens. Cookies concealed in such lovely painted boxes as Miss Hoffer has created will have a flavor all their own. Flowers arranged in the delicately decorated black glass bowls will be more attractive.

But what will be the most extraordinary part of this interesting dispiy is that all are made of salvage — to see what beautiful gift — can be purchased and yet comply with the spirit of the government's request that everyone give useful, practical things. All articles made are immediately useful or wearable — excepting the children's toys, which one the only non-useful things anyone ought to give and everything at the Shop is to he moderate in price.

There has been a request for two books — "Peck’s Bad Boy" and Beeton's Geography, Biology and History. If you have these in your library and can spare them — there is someone to whom they will be of use.

- Press Democrat, November 27 1918

 When the big book of Sonoma county history is writ, there should be a special chapter on some of the remarkably dumb business ventures that were tried here and flopped spectacularly.

 Near the top of the list would be Jack London's eucalyptus obsession, which caused him to squander a fortune. London wasn't alone in the mistaken belief that blue gum trees would be a valuable cash crop but he was probably the largest investor, planting about 100,000 seedlings. The trees proved worthless (plus a fire hazard, to boot) and just made London's Beauty Ranch stink like cheap menthol cough drops.

London only wasted money with his dream of a eucalyptus plantation, but in the 1870s a Glen Ellen farmer inadvertently launched an environmental disaster. In 1871 Julius A. Poppe set up a fish farm but he didn't stock it with Steelhead or Rainbow Trout or another native fish; instead, he imported common carp all the way from Germany.

Often called a "trash fish," common carp could be the eucalyptus of the piscatorial world. They grow big very fast, spawn prolifically and crowd out any other species in its vicinity. And like blue gum trees, they are mostly worthless - very difficult to clean as well as eat because of their tiny bones, not to mention being also an acquired taste. Yet it was a traditional food for German/Central European immigrants and carp ponds became a local fad, with Poppe selling breeding fish to more than a dozen farmers.

Big winter storms caused some of the ponds to overflow and by the middle of the decade carp were found in creeks, rivers and the Laguna. That was the death knell for commercial carp farming in Sonoma county, although Poppe also sold stock to farmers in Southern California, Hawai'i, and even Central America.

But there seemed to be an upside to the release of the fish into the wild; carp fishing in the Laguna became a popular sport and a tourist draw. In 1879 the State Board of Fish Commissioners even supported carp by introducing catfish, which would eat the "water dogs" - newts of the now endangered tiger salamander - which preyed upon juvenile carp.

Shift forward fifteen years and attitudes are flipped. Sportsmen realized the carp were forcing out trout and other types of fish which people actually liked to eat, while carp were also reducing the food supply of migratory ducks. Thus in 1896 the state introduced largemouth bass into the Laguna to eat the carp ("all the carp which are now in the stream will eventually be destroyed, as black bass are death on carp" - Sonoma Democrat, 4/24/1897). Two years later the bass itself had become such a nuisance that someone began trying to wipe them out with dynamite: "Every few days a stick of powder is touched off under the water and as a result dead bass in great quantities can be seen floating on the surface," reported the Sebastopol Times in 1898.

What a fine example this was of the Unintended Consequences Law; in less than a quarter century, a modest side business of a few farmers ended up wrecking an entire ecosystem. Even today, catfish and bass appear to be in all our local waterways, while Mr. Poppe's carp can still be found in Green Valley Creek, Estero Americano, the Petaluma River and elsewhere.

Although the carp and eucalyptus projects didn't make any money (or at least not much), at least they moved the ball forward; Poppe successfully imported fish from Germany and sold some. London indeed planted a carpload of trees which no one wanted. But John M. King badly fumbled between the dreaming and the doing. John M. King wanted to become the first steamboat captain on the Russian River.

A 1908 steamer with the same dimensions as King's Enterprise


Nothing is known about King - whether he had any experience aboard ships or even how old he was. "John King" and even "John M. King" was a surprisingly common name at that time. From descriptions in the weekly Russian River Flag newspaper we know he indeed built a very small stern-wheel steamboat in 1869. There are no photos but it must have resembled the Mazama steamer shown above. Named the Enterprise, King's little ship was only fifty feet long and sat high in the water, with a draft of only a foot and the paddles dipping in merely ten inches. Although it was so tiny that it probably looked like somebody's hobby boat, the specs were a good match for the shallow Russian River except for one issue - the very first article about him mentioned "...in the season of high water the Captain expects to run to Healdsburg."

Paddling around the lower Russian River and piloting a boat through the bendy twists of the river around Healdsburg are two very different goals. Yes, his dinky steamer was more maneuverable than a larger craft, but that's not gonna help if that part of the river dried up completely (or nearly so), as it did every autumn back then. The river was only legally declared navigable in 1976 by a court revising the meaning of "navigable" as not necessarily allowing passage year-round. And closer to King's day back in 1886, the state Supreme Court had declared specifically that "the [Russian] river is not navigable for boats larger than canoes, skiffs, etc., and is not in fact navigable for commercial purposes."*

Captain King built the Enterprise just downstream from Heald and Guerne's lumber mill, which is to say a mile west of today's Safeway store in Guerneville. He also built two barges to tow with his steamer; he had a contract with the mill to carry shingles and lumber to the mouth of the river, where presumably an ocean-going ship would connect to take the barges down to San Francisco. But before he began barging or making his quixotic run to Healdsburg, King wanted to show off a bit.

King took out an ad in the Flag announcing an "excursion" from Guerneville to Duncan's Mills. "...The trip will afford one continuous panorama of the most beautiful and romantic scenery," he burbled, as well as the chance to see lumbermen's camps - which seems to me a bit like the SMART train trying to draw riders by promising scenic views into junky backyards and homeless encampments.

Alas, a cancellation notice quickly followed. "The excursion trip is postponed for a few days, owing to an unavoidable accident which will be soon remedied, when all will be right again." As the summer and autumn of 1869 passed, King continued to tinker with his boat and just before Christmas the Flag reported that he was actually towing cargo. The excursion to Duncan's Mill and back (with dancing on the barges in tow) supposedly happened Dec. 23-24, but nothing further appeared in the paper.

He failed to meet his goal of reaching Healdsburg before Christmas, but told the Flag he "intends next Summer to make regular trips - three times a week — from the month of the river to Healdsburg." Besides working on his boat, "the Capt. has constructed a dam and lock, which gives the river a three foot rise above the dam," reported the Flag. "He will open the lock and let the boat ride through to the sea on the accumulated waters."

Then sometime after the New Year with the river around its winter peak, he made a run for Healdsburg. He sank two miles past Guerneville.

"The indomitable Captain has got her afloat again," reported the Flag a few weeks later. King was aided by someone from the Mare Island Navy Yard as well as fifteen men clearing obstructions in the water. "Capt. King's steamer, 'Enterprise,' will probably reach Healdsburg today. as she is now but a short distance below town," the paper reported on March 24.

He didn't. The ship ran aground again and this time could not be budged. It stayed wherever it was for months, maybe years.

In November of 1871 a visitor was told "...she twisted off her shaft and went to the bottom; and how the hulk now lies half-buried in the sand — a warning to any man so presumptuous as to attempt steamboat navigation on a river along which there is not yet enough traffic to have made even a decent bridle-path..."

Hannah Clayborn, who writes some about the steamboat in the "Roads, Ferries, and Bridges" chapter of her Healdsburg history page, suggests it got no farther than the Windsor area, but Dr. Shipley's "Tales of Sonoma County" says King almost made it to the summer dam:

She struck hard aground and fast, the water went down and left the tug high and dry on the bar and it had to be abandoned until the next high water when the fall rains set in, at which time she was repaired, re-caulked, and with the crew who brought her up the river the spring before, they sailed, or rather steamed, down the muddy water back to the sea...

Why he risked - and ultimately, lost - his river hauling business at Guerneville is a mystery. What was so important about reaching Healdsburg by water? His steamer was so small he could not have carried much cargo aboard, and he certainly could not have gotten his barges through the channel. And even in the middle of the rainy season, Healdsburg was not cut off by road, or at least no more than other towns. A January, 1870 letter from a Healdsburger who went to Vallejo remarked, "the road to Santa Rosa was so so - very fair for our county; from thence to Petaluma it was too abominable to talk about to strangers."

My guess is that King's venture was bankrolled by Thomas W. Hudson, who owned considerable property on the southern end of Healdsburg. A one-term member of the state Assembly 1869-1871, the only bill he tried to get passed was to declare the Russian River navigable so state money could be spent on improvement. "This is intended to encourage and protect the indomitable enterprise of Capt. John M. King," the Flag noted. Hannah Clayborn wrote, "...declaring the river navigable would have served Hudson's interests, as he owned the west bank of the river and half of a ferry system throughout the 1860's, a natural location for a proposed Healdsburg Wharf."

There's an odd little Believe-it-or-Not! twist to the sad tale of steamboat captain John M. King, and I'm not sure what to make of it. About two months after the (final) sinking, he wrote a letter to the Flag informing them he was now running a sawmill near Cloverdale, and would return to the Russian River soon and build a new ship which he would name the "Perseverance.” Alas, he wrote, Heald and Guerne were trying to break him and had attached the Enterprise for money owed. They had even attached his dog, Gipsey, "which I valued more than money." The pooch was supposedly sold for $200. "This seems like a large sum. but I would not have taken twice that amount for it."

The next week Tom Heald wrote the paper. "Heald and Guerne have not attached the boat as represented by King, and, as to his dog 'Gipsie,' I never as much as knew he had such a dog. Heald and Guerne do not wish to 'break' J. M. King, nor to 'keep him broke,' but suppose we will have the pleasure of seeing the 'Perseverence' when she comes along."





* The 1976 case was Hitchings v. Del Rio Woods Recreation & Park District. One of the lawyers in the 1886 Wright v. Seymour suit was this journal's favorite antihero, James Wyatt Oates.




The Steamboat “Enterprise.” — This boat now being built at Heald's Mill by Capt. John M. King, will be launched next Saturday the 15th. The machinery is all aboard now and the boat will be completed within two or three weeks, when she will make an excursion to Duncan's Mill on the Coast, going down one day and returning the next. As many of our citizens will want to join the excursion the Flag will give timely notice of the day set for it to come off. The livery stables will run stages down to the landing twelve miles from Healdsburg. Capt. King has been running a barge on the river, drawing from fourteen to twenty-six inches, according to the load. He has made six round trips from Heald's Mill, carrying, in the aggregate, 200,000 shingles and 20,000 feet of lumber, besides considerable farm and dairy produce. He has built another barge drawing only twelve inches when loaded. He is now building the “Enterprise” to tow these barges. The boat is 50 feet long; 10 foot beam on the bottom and 14½ on deck; Engine 15 horsepower; draught 12 inches; depth of hull 44 inches; dip of paddles (stern wheel) 10 inches. She is built in a superior manner and fitted up with a cabin and all necessary conveniences for carrying passengers. Capt. King having a contract for carrying the lumber from Heald & Guern's Mill the regular trips of the boat will be between that point and the Coast. In the season of high water the Captain expects to run to Healdsburg. This would give us cheap freight between Healdsburg and San Francisco while the mud road to Petaluma was at its worst. We hope Capt. King's enterprise in building the “Enterprise” will be richly rewarded.

- Russian River Flag, May 13 1869



Particular attention is likewise invited to the advertisement of Capt. John King, of the new steamboat "Enterprise." He proposes an excursion which will give every one an opportunity to enjoy the delightful scenery along the navigable portion of Russian River, and also to visit the coast on the first steamboat ever built or run on this river. We hope the Captain may have an encouraging benefit on this occasion. His pioneering energy should be well rewarded. It is twelve miles we believe to the Mill from which the excursion starts.

- Russian River Flag, May 20 1869



Read Capt. King's advertisement carefully once more and decide whether you can afford to lose the trip. — We learn from Capt. King, and you will learn from our correspondent “Visitor,” that the excursion is postponed for a few days. Be ready for another announcement.

- Russian River Flag, June 3 1869




Letter from "Big Bottom.” Big Bottom, May 29th, 1869.

Mr. Editor: The most important event of th« day to the people of Lower Russian River, is the successful launching of the steamboat “Enterprise" built at Heald’s Mill by Capt. J. M. King. The scene was witnessed by many of the citizens — ladies and gentlemen — who met there on the occasion. The little boat sat on the water beautifully, and promises all that her sanguine friends could have anticipated of her. The excursion trip is postponed for a few days, owing to an unavoidable accident which will be soon remedied, when all will be right again. When ready, due notice will be given to all. - Visitor

- Russian River Flag, June 10 1869




The steamer Enterprise, Capt. John King, has steam up again and is running. It will make a trial trip to the mouth of the river this week. The Capt. has constructed a dam and lock, which gives the river a three foot rise above the dam. He will open the lock and let the boat ride through to the sea on the accumulated waters. — Capt. King says that three locks would be sufficient to make the Russian River navigable to Healdsburg the whole year; also that we may expect to see his boat up here the first Fall rains.

- Russian River Flag, August 12 1869




We visited the steamer Enterprise, lying one mile below the mill. Capt. King is quite confident that he will visit Healdsburg by steam before Christmas. Says he intends next Summer to make regular trips - three times a week — from the month of the river to Healdsburg. Next Saturday he intends making his first trip to the mouth of the river.

- Russian River Flag, August 26 1869




Capt. King of the steamer Enterprise was in town last week having some repairing done to the machinery of his boat, which will soon be skimming over the waters of Russian River.

- Russian River Flag, September 2 1869




A Success. - The new steamer Enterprise recently constructed by Captain King for navigating the Russian River, made her trial trip on the 23d ult., and we are glad to learn, proved a success. Her speed was some ten miles an hour.

- Petaluma Argus, October 7 1869




The Steamer Enterprise. — We are pleased to learn from Mr. J. W. Bagley that Capt. King's boat, the Enterprise, is now successfully running on Russian River. She left Heald & Guern's Mill on the 16th with several passengers for Duncan's Mill, with barges in tow loaded with charcoal. On her next trip she will carry hoop poles and several thousand Christmas trees for San Francisco. At last, after several unsuccessful attempts, Russian River is navigated by a live steamboat, and we hope, when the river rises, to see the little vessel throw out her bow lines and stern lines and spring lines to the Healdsburg wharf! Captain King is entitled to great praise for his indomitable pluck and perseverance under difficulties and we hope his "Enterprise” may prove a great success. Since the above was in type we are informed that the boat will leave Heald & Guern's Mill today at 12 o'clock on a pleasure excursion to Duncan's Mill and return at noon tomorrow. Fare down and back, $2.50. Two barges fitted up for dancing will be in tow.

- Russian River Flag, December 23 1869





Mr. Hudson's bill declaring Russian River navigable and providing for its improvement, has passed the Assembly. This is intended to encourage and protect the indomitable enterprise of Capt. John M. King, who has built a steamboat to navigate Russian River, and it will no doubt become a law. It will be of great benefit to our county.

- Russian River Flag, February 17 1870




The Enterprise. - Some weeks since Capt. King attempted to make a passage to Healdsburg with the “Enterprise," but a little above Heald and Guern's mill the pilot backed the boat upon a snag and sank her. This occasioned delay and considerable expense, but the indomitable Captain has got her afloat again and with the experienced help of his friend Capt. Parker, of the Mare Island Navy Yard, he will make the first voyage to Healdsburg as soon as some obstructions can be removed from the river, which he is now engaged in doing, with a force of fifteen men. The boat is now above the mouth of Mark West creek about ten miles below Healdsburg. The captain has bought new sixty horse power engines for her and he will keep her here when she comes up until they are put in.

- Russian River Flag, March 10 1870




Capt. King's steamer, “Enterprise,” will probably reach Healdsburg today. as she is now but a short distance below town.

- Russian River Flag, March 24 1870




The Russian River Boat.

We have learned with considerable regret that Capt. King's boat the "Enterprise.” is, for the present, a failure. The Captain has met with many serious difficulties in his undertaking, the chief of which lately, seem to have been the summary manner in which some of his creditors have secured their claims, whether rightfully or not we have no knowledge, and of course have nothing to say upon that head, though we had hoped that the Captain's energy and perseverance would be rewarded. At his request we publish the following letter:

Eds. Flag: — I take this opportunity of thanking you for the many favors you have done me during the time I have been endeavoring to prove that Russian River is navigable. Although I differ very widely from you in politics, yet as long as I can use a hammer and cold chisel you may consider me one of your subscribers. Messrs. Heald & Guern have attached my boat, but that will not prevent me from making a living, as some friends have engaged me to run the Perseverance Saw mill, which is located thirteen miles above Cloverdale. They also attached my dog, "Gipsey,” which I valued more than money. They sold the dog for $200. This seems like a large sum. but I would not have taken twice that amount for it. They may break me, but they cannot keep me broke. The first of August, I will commence building another steamboat, at the mouth of Russian River, to be called the "Perseverance.” Again thanking you for past favors I ask that you do me one more by publishing this letter. Respectfully, yours,

John M. King.

- Russian River Flag, May 5 1870   




A Card From Mr. Heald.

Eds Flag: — If I may be permitted the space in your paper to correct some errors in the card of John M. King, in your issue of May 5th, I will be thankful for the favor, as it seems to throw the blame of the failure of his boat where it does not belong. I think, however, the fact of his trying some four weeks to get the boat to Healdsburg over the shoals, with the river falling every day, without any probability of a rise till next December, and only making twelve miles, should convince any one that the “Enterprise for the present is a failure," and Heald and Guerne not wholly answerable tor it, if they had lately attached the boat; but the facts are, that Heald and Guerne have not attached the boat as represented by King, and, as to his dog “Gipsie,” I never as much as knew he had such a dog. Heald and Guerne do not wish to “break" J. M. King, nor to “keep him broke,” but suppose we will have the pleasure of seeing the "Perseverence” when she comes along.

Thos. T. Heald. May 8th. 1870.

- Russian River Flag, May 12 1870 




IN THE REDWOODS.
Life among the Lumbermen - How the Redwoods are Cut and Hauled, etc.
[Correspondence to the Bulletin.]
Stumptown, Sonoma Co., Nov. 20th

...Two or three hours I listened to these heavy stories, and to my hosts narrative of his financial shipwreck through a rash steamboat venture up Russian river with one King; how she twisted off her shaft and went to the bottom; and how the hulk now lies half-buried in the sand — a warning to any man so presumptuous as to attempt steamboat navigation on a river along which there is not yet enough traffic to have made even a decent bridle-path...

- Russian River Flag, November 30 1871




The safe was open and Sonoma county's treasury was gone, every last cent. As a key was needed to unlock the safe and the end-of-year tax money was going to Sacramento the following day, it was presumed the robbery was an inside job. It was: the county treasurer stole all of it. Maybe.

In January 1857 one William A. Buster was the county treasurer and kept the county's safe at his house. That was not as dumb as it may seem; at the time Santa Rosa was still a village at a muddy crossroads - later that year, the newspaper editor boasted there were "probably upward of a hundred" buildings. There was no bank and although it was also the county seat, the only public buildings were the courthouse and jail, both criticized for being undersized and poorly constructed.

Initial details in the newspapers were scant, but add in later remarks and it seems Buster was playing cards at the saloon on Saturday, the 17th and went home around midnight, accompanied by two friends. They found the front door partly ajar and the safe open with all the money gone: $14,439.13 - equivalent to over a half million dollars today.   

Buster offered a $500 reward for recovery of the funds and left for Sacramento, where it was presumed he intended to lobby members of the legislature to not hold him personally responsible for the theft. While he was there he also picked up $2,795.10 from the State School Fund intended to support county schools. Also while he was there he hooked up with Joe Nevill.

"I told Nevill what I wanted to get," Buster later told the court, meaning indemnity from the stolen tax money. "[Nevill] went with me and seemed to know most all the members. Harrison and Taliaferro talked favorable; Edwards I did not see. Nevill seemed to be very kind, and done all he could for me, and we drank considerable with members of the Legislature."

His pal Nevill was still around the next morning as he prepared to leave. "He said he was out of money, and so was I, and if we would take some of the money and go to a faro bank we could win expenses."

"I took out one hundred dollars - it was lost; we drank some brandy - it was good brandy." Lest we get distracted by his tasting notes, keep in mind that Buster is talking about dipping into the school fund money.

"[Nevill] insisted the stake was so small he could do nothing, and wanted me to increase it and he would certainly win. I did so until we had lost a thousand dollars. He swore by his right arm and the blood of his heart, that if he lost he knew where he could get the money and would pay me back."

The two men took a boat to San Francisco with Buster growing anxious over having gambled away so much money. Nevill proposed a poker game "and make a sure thing for me to win." A third man joined the hand with Nevill as the dealer. "I watched him deal; he took my cards from the bottom and the other man's from the top - the other man bet along moderately for some time and then raised to four hundred and fifty dollars."

Buster continued: "...And then I found that Joe was not acting fair with me, and I was then all out except what I had in my pocket, one hundred and forty dollars and a bit. I talked with him, told him I was broke and ruined; he said he would make it all right in the morning." He wandered down to the wharf where he found a Faro table and lost the $140.

He returned to Santa Rosa with only a bit (12½ cents) in his pocket and immediately confessed having gambled away the school money. Buster was jailed until the next session of the court in April. There were four indictments against him. Apparently there was also talk of people storming the jail and lynching him.



When all this occurred, Buster was already in trouble for playing fast and loose with the county's treasury. A year before he had "borrowed" $2,000 from the safe and loaned it to a man in San Francisco. When this was discovered he was indicted by the Grand Jury and due to appear in court in January, 1857 - which is why he hadn't gone to Sacramento on New Year's Day to make the big end-of-year deposit, as was customary for county treasurers. That indictment was quashed when it came before the court, and at the sentencing he went on at length about this 1856 crime and seemed miffed at having been arrested for embezzling that $2k; after all, he had paid it back with interest.

William Anderson Buster had no prior government experience; he was elected treasurer in 1855 as part of the "Settler's Ticket" that swept the local elections that year. (His opponent was one of the town founders, Barney Hoen.) Aside from either having a gambling addiction and/or being remarkably stupid, all we know about him is that he was 37 at the dawn of 1857 and with Margaret had four children: Harriet, John, Missouri (female) and Eliza. Years later he would say he was just a farmer, but I cannot find anything about what he was doing in Santa Rosa at the time. The only clue comes from his courtroom soliloquy where he volunteered, "Gentlemen, I have borrowed money of many of you, not by dollars but by hundreds and thousands, in my business, and paid you back honestly."

The Buster trial lasted all of April, 1857. He was found guilty of embezzling state money (2½ years), county money (2½ years), and county school funds (8 years). He also paid a $300 fine for gambling.

His odd speech at his sentencing hearing (transcribed below) is worth reading in full, although much has been already excerpted here. Even skipping the part about how easily he was conned by Joe Nevill, Buster comes across as a rube.

He pled guilty to gambling, but insisted he did not steal the treasury money in the safe. Yes, he admitted, "I was in debt in my business, and wanted to borrow a thousand dollars," but the money stolen included the $2000 and $88 interest from his "borrowing" crime the year before. The proof of his innocence, he argued, was he had bothered to repay that earlier theft: "If I had been disposed to rob myself, I might have taken much more; and you all know I am in the habit of doing things by the wholesale." In other words, I’m obviously innocent of the 1857 crime because I hadn’t already committed it in 1856.

Gentle Reader may now pick up his/her jaw from the floor.

According to the Petaluma Journal, "The prisoner shed tears quite copiously during his remarks." The court apparently ruled his terms were to run concurrently, so he was sentenced to eight years.

Unfortunately, nothing further appeared in the newspapers about the case against him. Yes, he confessed to "borrowing" money the year before and gambling away the school funds, but it wasn't explained why he was convicted of embezzling the $14,439.13. Did the prosecutor show he gambled it away or tapped it for loans to himself and others? One might expect juicy details like that would have appeared in the press, but papers were few and far between in 1857 California.

The ease of the robbery - knowing where the key to the safe was and when the home would be empty - gives me reasonable doubt that he was guilty. Then a few months later, the Santa Rosa paper printed this:

It is well known that some eight or ten thousand dollars of the missing public moneys [sic] for the loss of which Wm. A. Buster is now serving a term of years in the State Prison, was abstracted from the county safe without any agency of his. Since that time, it has been a matter of wonder how certain men not more than sixteen miles from Santa Rosa, having no lucrative business, could become “men of leisure" and always have plenty of money.

The “men of leisure" remark was likely just a swipe at Petaluma, as this was the beginning of the feud between Petaluma and Santa Rosa newspapers - but what was this about "it is well known" that Buster didn't steal the money?

In 1860 and under a different editor, the Santa Rosa Democrat urged the governor to pardon Buster. "...There is no doubt but his temporary departure from the paths of rectitude is thoroughly cured, and we dare say, that a large majority of his old acquaintances, even here where his misdeeds were committed, would trust him to-day, as readily as they would men whose integrity has never been impeached."

The warden at San Quentin gave him a week furlough (!) to visit his family in Santa Rosa, and later in 1860 he was pardoned. The family continued to live here for a few years - apparently next door to the notorious Otho Hinton - then moved to Anderson Valley. They ended up in the Los Angeles County town of Wilmington, where William Buster died in 1890.

The obl. Believe-it-or-not! epilogue to this story is that in 1859 the Petaluma Journal mentioned that treasurers in nine other counties had vanished with public funds. And at the exact same time in 1857 while Buster was awaiting his trial(s), the state treasurer Henry Bates was arrested for losing about $300,000. In Bates' first trial there was a hung jury, followed by a second mistrial. As far as I'm able to tell, the only person in California who went to prison for stealing public money in those days was William A. Buster - who possibly did not steal it. Well, not all of it, anyway.










Robbery of the County Treasury.

W. A. Buster, Treasurer of Sonoma County, reports that the safe in which was deposited the public funds, was robbed some time during last Sunday Evening. Of the particulars of this affair, we are unadvised, other than by rumor. As near as we can get at the matter, it would appear that at the time of the robbery there was, or should have been. In the safe, from $13,000 to $14,000, all of which belonged to the State, excepting about $1,200. - That the robbery was discovered about 1 o'clock, A. M., Sunday morning, by two acquaintances of Mr. Buster's whom he was lighting to their rooms, and that his attention was called to it by one of them remarking that the safe door was open. We further learn that the safe exhibited no evidence of force having been used upon it, but on the contrary went to show that it had been opened by a key.

Whoever committed the robbery was evidently perfectly familiar with the premises and state of finances. One day later, and they would have had dry picking, as Mr. Buster was to leave for Sacramento early on Monday morning to pay into the State Treasury the money belonging to the State.

Mr. Buster had offered a reward of five hundred dollars, for the apprehension of the robber and recovery of the money.

- Sonoma County Journal, January 23 1857

 

 THE MISSING FUNDS -- We cannot learn that any additional light has been thrown upon either the whereabouts of the funds missing from the County Treasury, or of the perpetrators of the robbery. Mr. Buster, we believe, has gone to Sacramento, probably with the view of getting the Legislature to release himself and bondsmen from the payment of the sum due the State. The Board of Supervisors meet on Monday next, when it is probable an additional reward will be offered for the detection of the robbers. We are also informed, that the County Attorney has given an instruction to the Sheriff, to retain in his hands, until further ordered, all moneys which may be paid in, belonging to the County.

- Sonoma County Journal, January 30 1857

 

The Late County Treasurer.

By reference to the Report of the Board of Supervisors, it will be seen that W. A. Buster, late Treasurer of Sonoma County, is a defaulter to the State to the amount of $17,263.98. Of this sum, $14,439.13 was money collected in this County, for State purposes, and paid over to him, to be paid by him into the State Treasurer's hands. The remainder, with the exception of $29.75, is money drawn from the State School Fund, $2,795.10 being the proportionate amount due this County for school purposes. This money he drew from the State Treasury since the reported robbery of the County Treasury, but when called upon by the Board of Supervisors to make an exhibit of the same, he was unable to comply. How this money has been disposed of, remains to be proven.

The evidence that Mr. Buster was unlawfully appropriating the public moneys to private purposes, has been so strong from the time of his entering upon his official duties, that legal proceedings were instituted against him as early as October, 1856, at which time the Grand Jury found an indictment against him for the improper use of public funds. In the following December he was arrested on a bench warrant and held to bail in the sum of $3,000 to appear at the January term of County Court. From some informality, the indictment was quashed at the January term, but the case submitted to the Grand Jury which will be summoned previous to the setting of the April terms of the Court, and bail fixed in same amount. On the 5th last, his sureties surrendered him to the Sheriff, and he is now in prison awaiting his trial at the April term of Court.

Of the guilt or innocence of Mr. Buster we wish not to speak at this time. The feeling already existing against him, is strong. We would not add to this feeling by giving publicity to the thousand and one stories in circulation, lest the public mind might become prejudiced to such an extent as to render it difficult to obtain an impartial and unprejudiced jury to try him. He is now in the hands of the law, and no doubt justice will be meted out to him according to his deserts. If proven guilty of the offence charged, his punishment, according to the statutes of 1855, will be imprisonment in the State Penitentiary from one to five years, or a fine, discretionary with the Court.

Since his imprisonment Mr. Buster has sent in his resignation, and the Board of Supervisors have appointed Dr. J. HENDLEY of Santa Rosa, who is now acting as County Treasurer.

 - Sonoma County Journal, February 13 1857

 

THE ROBBERY OF THE SONOMA TREASURY. -- Some time since it was stated that Mr. Buster, the Treasurer of Sonoma county had been robbed of $13,000 of State and county funds. — The people in that section now generally believe that Mr. Buster robbed himself, as appears by the following from the Napa Reporter:

MR. BUSTER. — This County Treasury "busting" official, it in currently reported, went to the Capital to have his bonds cancelled, which he didn't do, as far as we can learn. Report also says that he was paid the apportionment of the School Fund due Sonoma county, which he "bucked off" before reaching the locality of the county safe. He is now in the Santa Rosa jail, we understand. He'll do to play second fiddle to the State Treasurer.

- Daily Alta California, February 16 1857

 

Wm. A. Buster, Late County Treasurer, was arraingned [sic] on Tuesday, and entered the plea of "not guilty" to two indictments, one for using and loaning County funds, and one for using and loaning State funds. His counsel, C. P. Wilkins, gave notice of a motion for a change of venue on the ground that the prisoner could not obtain a fair and impartial trial in Sonoma county.

Oliver Baileau, arraigned for branding cattle with intent to stal the same, was discharged - the jury rendering a verdict of "not guilty."

An unsual number of persons have been in attendance. There is no apparent indication in regard to time of adjournment. Should Busters' application for a change of venue be denied and his case tried at this term, the court will probably be in session during next week.

- Sonoma County Journal, April 10 1857

 

COURT OF SESSIONS -- The case of the People vs. W. A. Buster charged with using and loaning State funds, is drawing its weary length to a close. On Saturday last the Court appointed Thomas Hood, elisor, to bring into Court, on Tuesday, 48 jurors. This duty Mr. H. performed. Out of the number the Court succeeded in getting a panel. The prosecution was commenced on behalf of the State, on Tuesday evening, and closed on Wednesday morning. The defence offered no testimony, but asked time to prepare instructions, which request was granted. The case was submitted to the jury on Wednesday evening, who, after a half hour's absence, returned a verdict of "guilty." - Sentence not passed at out latest date. On the charge of gambling, to which it will be recollected, Mr. Buster had plead guilty, the Court has fined the prisoner $300. On the charge for using and loaning County funds, he is yet to be tried. As order for the jury has been issued.

- Sonoma County Journal, April 24 1857



BUSTER SENTENCED. -- Last Wednesday morning the Court passed sentence on W. A. Buster, found guilty of using and loaning State Funds. His sentence is thirty months imprisonment in the State Penitentiary. The venire issued last week for a Jury to try the prisoner of the charge of using and loaning County Funds, was returned into court on Wednesday. A panel has probably been selected [be]fore this. We learn that there is still another indictment against him - that of embezzling the School Money, upon which he is yet to be tried.

- Sonoma County Journal, May 1 1857

 

Defaulter Convicted. — W. A. Buster, the late defaulting Treasurer of Sonoma county, has been found guilty of trafficking in State funds; and has also been fined the sum of $300 for gambling part of the money away. He will shortly be tried for squandering the moneys of the county in the same way.

- Sacramento Daily Union, May 4 1857

 

COMMITTED. -- Last Wednesday. Deputy Sheriff Greene passed through Petaluma, on his way to San Quentin, accompanied by the late treasurer of that county, W. A. Buster, who is about entering upon new duties in that institution for the next eight years.

- California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, May 8 1857

 

The People vs. Wm. A. Buster

This trial which has occupied the Court of Sessions for the last four weeks, terminated last Saturday. There were four indictments against the Defendant - the first for permitting gaming, upon which he plead guilty, and was $300. The second, for using and loaning State Moneys, which came to his hands as Treasurer of Sonoma County, on a plea of not guilty and a verdict of guilty, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years' imprisonment. On the third, for using the moneys belonging to the County, he was found guilty and sentenced to 2 1/2 years' imprisonment. - On the fourth, for embezzlement of School Moneys belonging to the County of Sonoma, he plead guilty, and was sentenced to 8 years' imprisonment. On being called upon, before sentence in the last two cases, if he had any cause to show why judgment should not be pronounced against him, he said: -

"I wish to state to the people here how all this came about, and if I say anything incorrect, I want to be corrected. I don't know that Mr. Wickersham, the District Attorney, has had any cause to do so, but I think he has not only prosecuted but persecuted me. In his argument to the Jury, he said that my attorneys had not even proven that I had previously sustained a good character. I was born in Tennessee, and have taught school about ten years of my life; and I defy any man to bring anything against my character up to the time these indictments were prosecuted; and I don't want any disgrace cast upon my family.

In the early part of my official duties, I did not know that there was any exceptions taken. After I borrowed the $2000, testified by the high Sheriff, I started to Sacramento, on the 4th of January, 1856. I deposited the money at Sacramento, and went up into the mines on other business, and remained until the 16th, when I returned to Sacramento, and settled with the State Treasurer, and came down to San Francisco and loaned to Menefee $2000. When I came home I was surprised to hear that it was reported I had run away, and some of my securities had withdrawn - that it was known how much money there should be in the Treasury, and all the Scrip had been bought up a few to make a run on the Treasury - and I was to be raised right out of my boots! I met all the warrants presented, and was then easy until July '56.

Gentlemen, I have borrowed money of many of you, not by dollars but by hundreds and thousands, in my business, and paid you back honestly. Now, as to the August report: I did make a previous report which the Board of Supervisors accepted, but did not publish, and I was censured, and also charged with not having made a report; and I had to make this report, going back and including my previous one, and am charged of using $2000 of the public money, which I had to raise to make up the amount of the August exhibit, which I shall neither admit or deny; but I think the District Attorney took a very ungentlemanly course to make it appear that I was delaying the Board of Supervisors and trying to borrow money to make my exhibit. It is not true; and they did not wait one day on me, but remained in session three days after on other business. The District Attorney did not read all the report.

Above what I exhibited with my report, there was sixteen or seventeen hundred dollars at that time paid into me by the Sheriff and that was all that could have been lost to the people if I had eat it up.

I had bought some county warrants; as I have been charged with one crime I might as well admit that. The new Board met to organize and I wanted them to do business; the old Board had ordered me to give a new bond in the sum of $40,000, which, under the excitement against me, was out of the question. I expected them to require me to make a full exhibit, and I was ready to do so. I was indicted in January, and had to be here, and could not go to Sacramento on the 1st of January, '57; it was usual for other Treasurers to settle with the State any time during the month, and I did not think it was material. Some one reported that I was not going to Sacramento; God forgive him, for if I knew who it was I could not.

I was in debt in my business, and wanted to borrow a thousand dollars. I concluded on Saturday the 17th of Jan. to go to Sacramento on the following Monday. I was at the saloon on the evening of the 17th (Saturday) at 10 or 11 o'clock, playing cards for one thing or another. Treadwell (Jo.) and Russell went home with me to go to bed; they found the front door partly open and the safe partly open. I had gone round the back part of the house, and they called to me. I went round and all the money was taken out of the safe - God knows by whom, but I didn't. That is the only thing for which I can make no showing excepting my acts.

If I had been disposed to rob myself, I might have taken much more; and you, all know I am in the habit of doing things by the wholesale. From the time I should have started to Sacramento up to the time the safe was robbed, I paid two thousand and eighty-eight dollars, and offered to pay more. Now, you will all agree with me, that any man who would have done this, (if he intended to steal) would have been a fool; but I could only deny the charge and give the above reason; and my best friends passed me by without speaking and thought me guilty, and I was almost driven to despair.

Sometimes I thought I would not go to Sacramento - Dr. Williams told me he heard I was afraid to go; I told him that I had rather die than be thought afraid to go; I don't know what fear is. I went to Sacramento, and fell in with Jo. Nevill; some of you know who he is; and now I will relate the only thing I regret in this whole matter. I told Nevill what I wanted to get; (a relief bill passed) he went with me and seemed to know most all the members. Harrison and Taliaferro talked favorable; Edwards I did not see. Nevill seemed to be very kind, and done all he could for me, and we drank considerable with members of the Legislature.

Next morning I went to draw the School Money, and he helped me pack it up; and after I had deposited it, he said he was out of money and so was I and if we would take some of the money and go to a faro bank we could win expenses. I took out one hundred dollars - it was lost; we drank some brandy - it was good brandy; he insisted the stake was so small he could do nothing, and wanted me to increase it and he would certainly win. I did so until we had lost a thousand dollars. He swore by his right arm and the blood of his heart, that if he lost he knew where he could get the money and would pay me back.

We got aboard a boat and started for San Francisco. I felt so bad I could not sleep; he said he could not and would get up a game of poker, and make a sure thing for me to win. I gave him a twenty; he was to put up the cards so as to deal me a full; I suppose you know what a full is. I watched him deal; he took my cards from the bottom and the other man's from the top - the other man bet along moderately for some time and then raised to four hundred and fifty dollars. I supposed he meant to bluff me, and proposed to let Jo. hold my hand until I went for the money, but he would not consent. I then sent Jo. for the money; when the money was up, I said I had three fives and two sixes - I will always recollect the hand; he showed four kings, and took the money - and then I found that Jo. was not acting fair with me, and I was then all out except what I had in my pocket, one hundred and forty dollars and a bit. I talked with him, told him I was broke and ruined; he said he would make it all right in the morning.

I felt as though I was gone in, and the next morning I went down on the wharf and had a great mind to throw the hundred and forty dollars in the Bay, for I knew that amount was no use to me; I went and bucked off the hundred and forty dollars and kept the bit. I had lost all confidence in Jo., and told him that he had ruined me; he told me not to go home; I told him by the Gods I would and let the people all know what I had done; he said he could not find the man he was to get the money from, but would get me the money and bring it up.

I came home and was loathe to tell it. Dr. Williams asked me if I had brought the School Money, and I said yes. Ogan wanted me to pay a school warrant, and I told him just how it was; and I was then charged all over town of stealing the School Money; and I suppose it was no better. I was then delivered over by my securities to the Sheriff, and had to go to jail, where I have been ever since.

Many reports were circulated against me, and I understand they threatened to take me out of the jail and hang me; all I could hear was through my family; no man could come, he was denied admission either by the Sheriff or Jailor. I don't know which, nor do I care.

I was told I would be punished to the extent of the law, and I don't believe there could have been a Jury in the county but what would commit me. I was without money and without counsel; I told C. P. Wilkins my situation, and he offered to do all he could for me; he was in bad health, and I asked Temple to assist; he said he could do me no good before this community, but he would assist all he could. I made an application for a change of venue, but was denied, and was advised to run away; I could have done so and been gone long ago, but I would rather hang than to acknowledge the crime by running away and thereby saddle it on my family.

I expect if I live, to serve out my term and come back here - for if I cannot live here. I cannot anywhere. I don't make these remarks with the hope of influencing the Court; I want them to do their duty - appoint the time which they see cause to allot me, and I will go and try it. I have nothing more to say."

The prisoner shed tears quite copiously during his remarks, and when he took his seat he covered his face with his hands and wept. The Court House was crowded to excess, but the strictest order prevailed.
 
- Sonoma County Journal, May 8 1857

 

PARDON ASKED FOR.

Margaret F. Buster, wife to Wm. A. Buster, given notice that she will apply to the Governor for the pardon of her husband, now an inmate of the State Prison, for the crime of embezzlement of the county and school funds of Sonoma county, and for using and loaning the funds of the State; also for using and loaning the funds of this county. The aggregate term of imprisonment imposed by the Court for these offences, is eight years. We learn that petitions to this effect are now in circulation for signatures.

However deeply we may, and do sympathize with the afflicted wife and children of the prisoner, we cannot so far forget our duty to society, as to thus early lend our aid in favor of the object prayed for. The character of the crime for which Mr. Buster is now incarcerated within the prison walls, has been, and still is, one of too frequent occurrence in California to permit this course on our part. Few indeed have been the cases of either County or State officials retiring from posts of trust, with an untarnished name. Many have been the evidences of peculaton or defalcation, on the part of men placed in positions of honor and trust; but few the convictions. Indeed, until within a few months past Justice has apparently withheld her hand, and the criminal has escaped merited punishment.

Though others equally guilty, and may be much more culpable, have been allowed to escape through the meshes of the law, and Mr. Buster alone occupies the prisoner's cell, we cannot see that he should be thus early liberated. Scarce eight months of the eight years have yet expired. For the Governor to pardon the prisoner, under the circumstances, at this early day of his confinement, would, to say the least, be setting a bad example. There can be little or no doubt that a too free exercise of executive clemency, is pernicious in the extreme to the well being of society. If to the difficulty of conviction is to be added a ready pardon, we need not be surprised should crimes of every kind become of even more frequent occurrence. It is not the severity of law, but the certainty of its enforcement, that deters men from crime. While, therefore, humanity pleads for the liberation of a devoted husband and a kind parent, justice and the public good requires that the laws of our land be faithfully and impartially administered. But while we thus stand for the supremacy of law, let me not forget the demands of humanity, and if need be, let us all show our sympathy for the bereaved family, by more convincing proofs than mere words, or scrawls of pen and pencil.
 
- Sonoma County Journal, November 13 1857

 

Wm. A. Buster.

We last week called attention to the fact that Wm. A. Buster, formerly Treasurer of this county, and who is now in the State's Prison, where he was sent for embezzling the public funds while in that office, was here on a visit to his family. He returned on Saturday last.

We have before had occasion to speak of the propriety of enforcing the remainder of Mr. Buster’s sentence — and as we are informed a Legislative committee will visit the State Prison soon, and that the case of Mr. Buster will be laid before that committee, with a view to his release prior to the expiration of his sentence, we deem it appropriate that we repeat those views. Our opinion, as heretofore expressed, is: that the Governor would be fully justifiable in interposing the pardoning power in his behalf; and we will endeavor to express as plainly as we can our reasons for that opinion.

While it is not contended even by his most interested friends that he was not guilty of the offense charged, those who know him best, even among those who are not his personal or political friends, do not pretend to ascribe to Mr. Buster a really depraved heart. We believe it is admitted by nearly all these, that he was led away by the circumstances that surrounded him, having lived the early part of his life in an humble, unpretending sphere, away from the follies and dissipations incident to life in towns, and particularly in that society composed of county officials, who are very liable to be flattered by the vicious, and tempted to dissipation by his most intimate associates. In fact he was a novice, wholly ignorant of the vices to which he was exposed, on entering upon his official career. He engaged in those vices and follies which we all see almost every day of our lives, not realizing that any harm was likely to grow out of his indulgences. He held the key of the county safe, and at the same time was allured with the prospects of wealth to be derived from speculations and gaming. he embarked in both; but it does not require a great stretch of the mind to divine how and wherein he must fail to cope with the more experienced and shrewder portion of mankind, whom he in this sphere had to contend with. He became, as he supposed, temporarily embarrassed, and used the public moneys in his keeping. We will not say he fully intended, and thought he would be able to replace this from his own funds; for these thoughts can bedemonstrated only by himself and his God, But so far as we have heard the expression of those who were acquainted with the circumstances, we believe all are impressed with this belief. This, we admit, is not a legal excuse for his conduct — neither should it prevent his punishment; but wo do think it should materially mitigate that punishment.

All know the theory upon which penalties for crimes is based. It is, first, to imprison the criminal, that the power to do harm may be placed out of his reach. Second, that the fear of punishment again shall in future deter him from crime, and thus reform the abandoned; and thirdly, an example to the depraved part of the world that if they are detected in similar crimes they will be punished in like manner.

In Mr. Buster’s case, the two first of these reasons are out of the question, so far as future punishment goes. There is no doubt but his temporary departure from the paths of rectitude is thoroughly cured, and we dare say, that a large majority of his old acquaintances, even here where his misdeeds were committed, would trust him to-day, as readily as they would men whose integrity has never been impeached. Even more, that the lesson he has already had, would have the effect to make him even scrupulous in his efforts to do right. Everything indicates this: He has a family — an interesting, and we may say a respectable family, with whom he wishes to reside. Were he a depraved, irredeemable outlaw, who cared not what part of the world he might be compelled to flee to, nor how soon he had to go, it would be different; he is trusted by the keepers of the Prison to visit his family, fifty miles off, without guard or bond — with no more than his own word and his attachment to that family — rather than leave which, he will return to the degrading bondage with which he suffers.

The man who will thus suffer affliction, with the hope of once more being called an honest man by those who have best know his short-cormings — who would prefer incarceration in the State Prison to abandonment of his family — is not at heart a bad man; and after the serious evidence ho has already had of the danger of crime — would be the last man in world again to violate the law.

We have but one more reason to give why he should be released. Other men, both before and since the development of his case, have proven in like manner, and even to greater extent, delinquent, but have uniformly escaped punishment. So generally has this been the case, that persistance in the continuation of his punishment has no terror to others. Men of more craft, but less real merit than he possesses, escape with impunity — laugh at the law, and call him stupid for allowing himself to be proven guilty. They attribute his conviction, and his punishment rather to his verdance, than to the excess of his crime.

Then every argument for the punishment of criminals, so far as he is concerned, fails. Holding these views of the matter, which we certainly do, we hope Governor Downey will take the very first opportunity to give Mr. Buster an entire legal pardon for his offense, and in doing so, we have good reason to believe he will receive the approbation of nine-tenths of this community.

- Sonoma Democrat, January 26 1860

 

PARDON BUSTER. — We are pleased to see so much interest taken in the pardon of this unfortunate man, as has of late been manifested by our citizens. We learn from good authority, that a petition has been forwarded to Governor Downey, signed by the proper officials of this County, asking his release, and hope soon to hear that it has been granted. There is no doubt but that the news of his pardon would be welcomed with gladness by a greater portion of our people.

- Sonoma Democrat, June 28 1860

 

We are pleased to announce that Gov. Downey has at last complied with the prayer of many citizens of Sonoma County, and pardoned Wm. A. Buster. It is our candid opinion, that the action of the Governor in pardoning Buster, will meet with the approval of two-thirds of the people of the County. Mr. Buster arrived home on Friday last.

- Sonoma Democrat, October 18 1860

Older Posts