It crashed through the treetops on the Vine Hill farm, and the only reason the bomb didn't kill the farmer milking a goat was because it got snagged in the branches. Had it exploded, he would have been the first war casualty on American soil since Pearl Harbor. It was January 4, 1945.

The farmer called the sheriff and soon deputies, FBI agents and Army ballistics experts from Hamilton Field were speeding to that West County goat farm. None of them knew what they were handling - they didn't even realize it was a live bomb, so they took it to the sheriff's office and put it on display in the lobby.

All they knew was that it probably had been dropped from a balloon. "Hundreds of residents of western Sonoma county had seen the mysterious balloon sweeping inland from the vicinity of Jenner, highlighted by rays of the setting sun," the Press Democrat later reported.

A couple of days earlier the PD had a front page story about the "mystery spheres" which had been found in Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Oregon. They were believed to be of Japanese origin, but the Army hadn't confirmed that; all that was known for sure was that they carried incendiary devices. That story repeated speculation that the balloons were carrying enemy soldiers, which was the working theory for a couple of weeks: "There was no actual evidence that the balloon had carried enemy saboteurs but that seemed the only logical explanation for its arrival. It trailed an elastic cable that had been cut, possibly indicating that it once was equipped with a cage capable of carrying a crew of perhaps four or five who, on arriving over the United States, cut themselves free and parachuted to earth in a small-sized 'invasion.'"

The same day the Vine Hill bomb landed, the Office of Censorship ordered a complete blackout of any balloon stories in newspapers and on radio. The curtain of silence remained in place until the war ended in August.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott


In other times and places they may have been considered twin villages. The two communities brushed against each other, each with a mercantile district, its own places of worship and sometimes populations of roughly the same size. But never did they have equal standing, which is because one of those communities was entirely Chinese immigrants and this was the American West in the 19th century. Specifically, this was Sebastopol and its Chinatown. Its two Chinatowns, actually.

Before diving in, it pains me to admit the tale you're about to read is incomplete. I've pecked away at the history of this fascinating lost world for ages, returning to it whenever another historic newspaper or trove of other data came online. But it's been a while since anything really significant surfaced; it looks like some sections of the puzzle - critically important sections, at that - will always be missing. So here I've put together what I have, in the hope that someday a family memoir, a dusty photo album or a history by one of San Francisco's Six Companies will appear, allowing scholars of Chinese culture in the West to cement more parts of the picture together.

This project began over seven years ago after finding a remark by West County historian Bill Borba: "Sebastopol had two Chinatowns that must have had in the neighborhood of 200-300 Chinese in them..." Sure enough, I found the fire maps which showed the village seemed to have two Chinese enclaves about a block apart. I soon learned this was a very unusual situation.



The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com. - Jeff Elliott

Interpreting history is sometimes like assembling IKEA furniture. After an unexpected amount of sweat and cussing you've finally got the thing put together and it looks okay - but then you discover an overlooked part which seems as if it must be important. So back you go, pouring over the documents to figure out where the hell it fits in. And that, Gentle Reader, is how we have arrived at the puzzle of Santa Rosa and its hoboes. They had a significant presence here (albeit usually an unwanted one) for decades; where do they fit into the Santa Rosa story? Why and when did they arrive?

Before diving into that history, however, comments on Facebook and other social media about my previous article, "THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOBOES," suggest many are comparing those 1931 hoboes and their hobo jungle with today's homeless and their encampments on the Joe Rodota trail and elsewhere. The situations could hardly be more different.

First, the hoboes never considered themselves homeless. Living a rootless life under the sky was theirs by choice; this point came across strongly in the profile of the Santa Rosa hoboes as it does in other primary writings, such as the (highly recommended!) Tales of the Iron Road. They chafed when forced to stay under a roof because of weather or infirmity, itching to get back to the camp fire world they loved.

Despite the hardships, their attraction to hobo life was being part of an extended community where acceptance was unconditional as long as you honored their rules and customs. Since it appears most were cast away at a young age or suffered some form of parental abuse or abandonment, becoming a hobo was like joining the Club of Lost Boys. The far-reaching hobo network became a new family, and many of those men spent most (or all) of their adulthood in the comfort of being part of that.

Our modern homeless do share one thing with the hoboes of yore - Santa Rosa's cluster of "skid row" services on Morgan and Wilson streets.

Hoboing was at its heyday c. 1910 when an evangelical group started a rescue mission on Washington street, near the current location of the Catholic Charities homeless services center on Morgan. That was followed by a shelter for “down and outs” at 117 Eighth street, between Davis and Wilson. In the mid 1960s - even as the hobo life was on the wane - the Redwood Gospel Mission and House of Refuge opened in the same area, with the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and Catholic Charities following later. It made sense at the time for all those Good Samaritans to operate their charities there because the locations were only steps away from Santa Rosa's railroad yard, which was where all hoboes came and went.

Indulge me a moment to editorialize about how this is still causing problems today: It's now been a long time since trains were the hobo express, and continuing to offer those services in that neighborhood only tethers the homeless to the downtown area. Today everyone concerned would be better off if the charities there moved to a designated area where the homeless living in vehicles could park, others could camp and where meaningful humanitarian aid could be coordinated.



Theirs was a distinct American subculture that lasted roughly one hundred years, from the end of the Civil War to circa 1970. At its 1910 peak the hobo population was estimated at 700,000, large enough to make them the fourth largest city in the United States, should they all get an unlikely itch to settle down in a mondo hobo jungle.

In the early years tramps, vagabonds or "vags" were apparently rare in Sonoma county, although they were frequently the subject of little filler items in the local newspapers, usually jokey vignettes reprinted from East Coast journals. The gags were usually that a tramp is ignorant (trying to eat ice cream with a fork), rude (correcting his host's grammar after receiving a free meal) or deceitful (a haven't-eaten-for-days tramp begs for a penny and is told the person only has a silver dollar; no problem, says the vagrant, he can make change).

The first mention of drifters in the area came from the Santa Rosa paper in the summer of 1876, when a tramp attempted to sexually assault a 7 year-old girl south of Hopland (he wasn't turned over to the sheriff, but members of the family beat the man severely). There was an influx of unemployed men the following year when the Long Depression hit California and caused massive unemployment, and the Democrat made the point that these fellows were different that the usual vagabonds found around here: "Many of them are now in this section of the State seeking work, and they are generally designated 'tramps.' From the fact that there are every year some persons strolling about the country pretending to be hunting work but really trying to make a living without having to work for it, the name of tramp has become one of opprobrium..." (Transcriptions of this and assorted other articles follow at the end.)

After that the Santa Rosa newspaper was mostly silent about tramps for nearly a decade - but come 1886, there was plenty to report. "The question, 'What shall be done with the tramps,' has been frequently asked," began one story in the Democrat. A reporter counted fifty living in the seasonally-dry bed of Santa Rosa Creek.




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

Santa Rosa was filled with bums; there were panhandlers on Fourth street and drunks hanging out in the park, there were petty thefts and burglaries and vegetable gardens raided. The Press Democrat said the Police Chief and Sheriff were working together on "a new drive to rid the city of all 'undesirables,' especially the canned heaters." Uh, "canned heaters?" Everyone knew that was what you called the worst screwed-up addicts - in 1931.

If there's any year in Santa Rosa's history to NOT visit in your time machine, it's 1931 (see sidebar). Prohibition was still very much a thing and that year about 800 people were arrested in Santa Rosa, more than half of them for something to do with booze. Money was tight and pockets were empty; farmers and chicken ranchers were lucky to break even and only prunes and Gravensteins made any profit at all. In the Press Democrat's classifieds, the Help Wanted section was usually entirely missing - while the Real Estate section filled several columns. ("For Sale at foreclosure: 5 acre; modern 5-rm house, chicken equipment. Near town, $3,800.")

Add a few more points to the misery index because of the influx of hoboes that spring. There were several well-established "hobo jungles" along the railroad tracks in Sonoma County: on Lakeville in Petaluma, near Cotati, under the Healdsburg Railroad Bridge, by the Laguna in Sebastopol and close to Fulton. But the best known jungle of all was in Santa Rosa - and that's where many hoboes went in March, after a murder in the Petaluma jungle led to a police crackdown. The same month Marin authorities ordered every jungle in that county cleared out "for keeps" after a robbery at the San Rafael railroad station. The PD reported that sent about 150 denizens headed north.




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott


On a fine clear winter's day in January, 1896, Kanaye Nagasawa walked into the office of the Santa Rosa Republican. He must have been a most welcome sight - readers were always interested in the big Fountaingrove vineyard just outside of town - and as a bonus for the newspaper this was right after New Year's, which is always the sleepiest time of the year for news gathering. Was he bringing in an item about prestigious visitors at the winery, perhaps? That a record-setting number of barrels were sold over the holidays on the East Coast and in England?

Nagasawa brought news, all right, but it came with the request that it be suppressed as much as possible. He likely paid calls on Santa Rosa's other two daily papers and made the same plea to their editors.1 Thus a day later, in its column of short local items the Republican printed this brief notice, following tidbits about members of the Congregational church having "a real good social time" and Elmer Carter getting a new bicycle:

While laboring under temporary insanity, Miss Mary M. Harris of Helena, Montana, took an overdose of strychnine and died of the same Thursday night at Fountain Grove. A coroner's inquest was held.

There was no obituary, or even mention that she was only sixteen years old.


The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott

All Bernice wanted was a good night's sleep. She didn't mean to throw the town into an existential crisis. At least, I don't think so.

On July 2, 1951, she went to a City Council meeting. "I am complaining about roosters that wake us up," she said. "I think we should get rid of these birds."

It was a shocking proposal. The birds in question were chickens and Bernice Gardner lived in Petaluma, a town which had long shackled itself to the Leghorn and its skill at reliably cranking out lovely white eggs - which sometimes pop out fuzzy baby chicks, hence: Roosters.

"We must consider the poultry business," Councilman Walter Brown said, adding helpfully "all roosters crow." Perhaps he was wondering if Mrs. Gardner didn't understand she was complaining about chickens. In Petaluma.

The acting City Manager pointed out there was no prohibition on keeping animals within city limits and presented a thumbnail history of an earlier tussle over the issue that limited the animal kingdom to dogs and cats. This was useful, as it gave the Council members a moment to recover from shock and gather their political wits about them.

Councilman Norwood suggested they could write an anti-noise ordinance. A zoning ordinance might be the thing, Councilman Shoemaker thought. Norwood added that they could make it a nuisance ordinance. "We would do something about a howling dog. It's the same thing, only a different noise."

City attorney Brooks offered his two cents, although I'll bet he billed the city at a considerably higher rate. He said the Council could write a general ordinance or a specific rooster ordinance - but if roosters were being kept with malicious intent, a special specific ordinance could be enacted. With that said, the council voted to hold the item over for the next meeting.

Note there was no thought of restricting - much less banishing - chickens within city limits.

Bernice and husband Ralph, both in their early sixties, lived in the 600 block of Baker street, a Westside neighborhood off of Bodega Ave. where many homes have big backyards and plenty of room for a hen house. She told the Council, "at 5AM it's anything but trivial. There are two across the street from my house, and another large on nearby which crows every five seconds. I have called the neighbors at 5AM to complain but nothing has been done about it."

She seemed to make a valid point but at the next Council meeting, a woman named Clara Perry said she represented the neighbors and they had something to say - and not about chickens, but about Bernice. This was an eccentric thing to complain about, Clara charged, and surely the Council had more serious matters to consider. The record does not reveal whether she was, or was not, in possession of a rooster.

Again punting on a decision, the Council decided Bernice should next visit the Planning Commission. She also needed to file a complaint with the police signed by six other persons. It's likely they now believed she was an isolated crank - although there was always a risk the rooster fight could turn into a replay of 1948.

That was the year of the petition against "fowls and livestock within the city limits" (Bernice was one of the three ringleaders in that effort). Petaluma was no longer a rural community the petitioners argued, and animals were both a nuisance and health risk, specifically "chicken raising in residential areas [is] an insurmountable source of rat nuisance." About 300 signed the petition and a draft ordinance was hammered together. At the first Council meeting of 1949 the room was packed with protesters and a counter-petition with 900 signatures was presented. Their lawyer made a 15-point argument against the ordinance; #7 was that seized animals would be denied due process. The Argus-Courier headline the next day was, "Livestock Ordinance Beaten Down by Opposition Barrage."

Alas for Bernice, her 1951 appearance before the Planning Commission didn't go so well, either. Commissioners were only willing to discuss future considerations on the "subject of nuisances." Nor could she muster even six people to sign her noise complaint. All the city had received was a single letter which condemned all "roosters, hens, flies, rats and odors" within the city. It was anonymously signed, "A Petaluma Citizen."

Petalumans, it seems, were a remarkably tolerant bunch when it came to barnyard noises; a quick search of mid-century newspapers turns up surprisingly few police blotter items. In 1952 a woman on I street called the police over her neighbor's cow, who "mooed all night and was still making a noise the next day." A couple of times the Argus-Courier joked that rooster complaints were resolved via a dinner table. In fact, there's only one other occasion that can be found where a resident thought roostering was serious enough to merit the government's attention.

The year was 1945, and a woman complained to the City Council that roosters were waking her up each morning at 4:30. At the next Council meeting five of her neighbors showed up to defend the right to crow. "Mostly all the speakers felt the situation could be amicably corrected by the neighborhood itself," the A-C reported. Note the article implied at least one of them thought the matter couldn't be settled peaceably.

So here's the obl. Believe-it-or-Not! reveal: The warring neighborhood in 1945 was Baker street, same as in 1951. One of the neighbors fighting the complaint in 1945 was again Clara Perry, who lived three door away from the woman who was so bothered by the crowing. The woman who said she couldn't sleep in 1945 was again Bernice Gardner. And Bernice - who apparently couldn't stand to be around chickens even though she was living in the most chicken-y town in America - had spent about twenty years of her early married life on chicken ranches in Vallejo and Cotati. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.

The "Diablo Winds" are apparently a Regular Thing now, with the high, dry northeasterly gales ripping through the North Bay and too often creating firestorms. But how common were these damned winds historically?

Start with our three examples that caused major fires: The 2017 Tubbs Fire, the forgotten Great Fire of 1870 and the 1964 Hanly Fire. Beyond those incidents, however, it's hard to say with much certainty.

First, "Diablo Winds" is a modern term, invented in 1991 (Wikipedia has a good explanation of the meteorology), so looking for that name in the old newspapers is a non-starter. A century ago and more they may have sometimes called it “Boreas,” although that was the classical name for a cold north wind often accompanied by rains. But the bigger problem is that our ancestors didn't care much about recording wind speeds; while they diligently kept records of rainfall down to the hundredth of an inch, apparently no one in Sonoma County had an anemometer in the old days.

Searches of the Santa Rosa and Healdsburg newspapers turned up surprisingly few historic windstorms that match the Diablo pattern with certainty (I limited my research to autumn and early winter storms with no rain mentioned). If I find more I'll add it here and flag the update in the title of this article. Sources of all newspaper items are transcribed below. But I think it's safe to presume these big winds weren't very common.

The most surprising discovery was 1871, the year following the Great Fire. Once again there were "large fires were seen in the direction of Napa and Sonoma, and it is feared serious damage was done in those localities."




The rest of this article can be read at the SantaRosaHistory.com website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at SantaRosaHistory.com.

- Jeff Elliott


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