History is mainly a series of unfortunate events, as the great philosopher Lemony Snicket tells us, and this week Santa Rosa has endured more than its share of history. Sometimes, though, there are events like this one, which begins with a truckload of awfulness but everything turns out okay in the end - and that's the sort of history story we might all welcome right now, lordy knows.

Once upon a time it was March, 1933.

The whole world was in a handbasket and going fast; Japan pulled out of the League of Nations, ultimately dooming the last hope of maintaining world peace. In Germany, each day found the Nazis grabbing more control, with U.S. newspapers printing photos of "Hitlerites" pasting boycott signs over the windows of Jewish-owned stores. As Franklin Roosevelt had just taken office none of the New Deal reforms were yet in place. It was the darkest time of the Great Depression and since Prohibition was still a thing, no one could even drown their misery in a damn beer.

In Graton a hundred farmers attended a meeting of the newly-formed Farmers' Protective League. The objective was to convince these apple, prune, cherry and berry growers they should organize and protest, but leave their pitchforks and guns at home.

All/most of them had mortgages which were underwater, and their common enemies were the banks. Land values had plummeted and farmers weren't getting much for their crops. Bankers were unsympathetic and foreclosed on farms which had been in families for years or decades or generations, selling the properties at auctions for rock-bottom prices or stashing them away for the institution's real estate portfolio. (Remember that the family in Grapes of Wrath weathered the dust storms but couldn't survive their bank eviction.) Nationally, around one in ten farms had been seized since the start of the Depression and meetings like the one in Graton were being held all over the country.

"When they attempt to foreclose we'll say 'no!' but not by rope or shotgun," said Rev. Charles Phillips, the priest at St. Sebastian's church in Sebastopol and the organizer of the League meeting that day at the Community Hall in Graton. "Our strength will be in numbers. It is a question of understanding and brotherly love, not of cold blooded murder."

The pastor was not being melodramatic; there was more than a whiff of violence in the air over this issue, and maybe even rebellion. Wilfred Howard, who was elected president of the League, said farmers would do something "even if it meant revolution."

"Iowa" was then a rallying cry much like "Lexington and Concord" had been in 1776. In that state a "farmer's mortgage holiday" movement began which quickly spread to at least ten states. The largest group there warned "open revolt" was possible and the same day of the meeting in Graton, 2,500 Iowa farmers marched on the state capitol building threatening they would "forcibly adjourn" the legislature unless something was done. "You can't make peasants out of us!" warned the president of the Iowa Farmer's Union.

Those activist farmers were remarkably successful in shutting down foreclosure sales. When an auction was scheduled, the farmer's neighbors would attend en masse and crowd out other bidders, buying livestock and farm equipment for a few pennies in order to give it back to the foreclosed farmer. Outsiders were also scared away by nooses hanging on barn doors and farm gates to show the locals "meant business." And in the most widely reported incident, on January 4, 1933 in Le Mars, Iowa, the "Council for Defense" beat up the sheriff, forced the judge to issue a statement calling for a mortgage holiday, and dragged the representative of the mortgage company down the courthouse stone steps while threatening to lynch him.

The focus of the Graton meeting was the pending foreclosure of James Case, who had a fifty acre farm on Mirabel Road outside of Forestville where he grew cherries and apples. A 70 year-old retired Methodist minister, Case had lived there for over two decades; his farm was called a "showplace" and he was respected for Burbanking a cross between Gravensteins and the sweeter Jonathans.

(RIGHT: James L. Case in a detail from a 1920 family photo)

Case had a $14,000 mortgage with the Analy Savings Bank in Sebastopol. In the autumn of 1932 he turned over to the bank his entire earnings from his crop of 7,000 boxes of apples, but still couldn't meet the full interest-only payments on the mortgage, much less pay for insurance and taxes. For reasons which seems legally fishy (at least today), the bank placed the farm in a sort of pre-foreclosure receivership, paying a man named Frank Close to become the farm manager. More about Mr. Close later.

The Press Democrat interviewed bank president Arthur Swain, and the article should have included a trigger warning: Mr. Swain came across as a more horrible person than even villainous banker Henry Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life."

In Swain's view, Case had no one to blame but himself because he was too stupid to not foresee that someday an unprecedented economic catastrophe might decimate crop prices. Rather than irresponsibly investing in the future of his farm, Case should have given every spare dime to the bank: "...instead of reducing the loan when good years came along Case has seen fit to use his money elsewhere," and even increased the loan by another $1,000.

"Case refused to do his part when the opportunity was given him," said Swain. "So it is in the hands of the law...unless the borrower is willing to do everything in his power and to act honestly and fairly, we are driven much against our will to resort to our legal rights."

So what was Case doing that was dishonest and unfair? Swain offered him a second mortgage which would be secured by his farm machinery, but Case didn't accept the deal. When Swain learned Case was giving some of the equipment he owned to his son, the bank moved swiftly to foreclose.

Then to demonstrate he was utterly tone deaf to the outside world, Swain concluded his interview by boasting about how well his bank was doing.

Swain's loathsome interview appeared just before the big July 9 gathering at the "doomed Case ranch," as the Farmers' Protective League was now calling it. Around a thousand were expected to attend the all-day picnic and rally, with signs advertising it on all roads leading to Forestville. This was now national news with at least one reporter from as far away as Kansas.

American flags hung from the Case farmhouse porch as the crowd gathered. A telegram from the governor was read in support.

The main speaker waved the edition of the Press Democrat with the Swain interview at the crowd. "His story makes a case for us instead of himself! Swain says the bank will be fortunate to sell the ranch now for $14,000, the amount of the mortgage!"

J. Stitt Wilson, the former Socialist mayor of Berkeley, urged the audience to rise up. "The sale must be stopped! They did it in Iowa and you can do it here!"

"Yes! Yes!" roared the crowd, according to the Press Democrat.

Wilson declared this was not going to be a radical action, but true "Americanism," not unlike the Revolutionary War. "Human rights and human laws transcend any law, and if necessary, we will break every law to reach our needs. But there is no law that can prevent hundreds of thousands of farmers from the San Francisco bay north into Mendocino county mobilizing and giving notice that no foreclosure will be permitted."

What would happen in the next few days would be a turning point in American history, Wilson proclaimed. "Your children may return here to place markers under these very oaks to commemorate you courage."

The rally was on a Sunday, and a full week stretched ahead before the foreclosure auction. Every day, tensions rose.

League president Wilfred Howard sent a telegram to the governor asking him to intervene, as anything might happen. "Our League can no longer be responsible for what will result. The aroused public sentiment is something that can no longer be held in check."

Banker Swain - who apparently found a great sale on shovels and decided to dig himself a deeper hole - agreed that the Case foreclosure was now a Big Deal, but any compromise by the bank would destroy the nation: "The whole capitalistic system is involved in this controversy...this agitation is beginning to destroy business confidence...should these agitators be successful in taking the law in their hands, the results would be disastrous. Are we to allow a few radical socialists to run our banks?"

Also: FDR asks Henry Morgenthau, head of the new Farm Credit Administration to look into the situation. Howard sends Morgenthau a telegram pleading for the government to intervene. Morgenthau calls Swain. And just three days before his farm was to be sold at auction, James Case hires an attorney.

As the clock ticks down, Case's new lawyer requests to postpone the auction for a week until he could appeal to the Superior Court. But there is a hitch - no Superior Court judge was available to approve or deny. Donald Geary was on vacation and Hilliard Comstock was presiding at the Superior Court in Ukiah.

It is Friday July 14, 1933, and there are THREE THOUSAND people jammed shoulder to shoulder in front of the courthouse in downtown Santa Rosa. The Press Democrat describes there is "grim determination and anxiousness" in the crowd, "somber, serious, not a smile on a single face."

From the top of the courthouse steps a lineup of speakers holds the rapt attention of the crowd. Ex-mayor Wilson declares the moment of crisis has arrived: "This is a historic meeting with national significance...we have fired the shot that will be heard around the world," he vows. "We must lift this crushing and horrible nightmare of law pressing down people...we aren't destroyers, but preservers, preservers of the liberty that flag represents" he declares as he dramatically points to the American flag above his head.

J. Stitt Wilson addresses the crowd from the Santa Rosa courthouse steps. Detail from Press Democrat photograph, July 15, 1933

As Wilson finishes, there is a "moment of intense silence" as everyone waits for the auction to begin. Then, according to the PD:

...A man pushed his way through the crowd and forced his way to Wilson's side, whispering in his ear. There was a hurried conversation and Wilson turned and faced the great crowd before him and cried: "I have an announcement to make. Judge Comstock has signed a restraining order. The sale has been postponed. There will be no foreclosure sale on the Case property today!" Someone called for three cheers, then Wilson shouted, "Let's do it again: Three cheers for Judge Comstock!"

With the tension broken, everyone joins in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, because naturally.

Afterwards Judge Comstock explained to reporters that his ruling was based only on the merits of the case, and it could have been resolved earlier if James Case had not waited until the last moment to retain consul. It turned out that the bank had accepted a $771 payment from the farm's cherry crop after "notice of breach" was served, so there was no accounting as to what Case really owed.

Comstock insisted he wasn't intimidated: "I want it understood that I deplore such a demonstration as this -- a demonstration that makes Sonoma county farmers, who will soon be rich men again, the objects of pity or contempt in the eyes of the nation. Our hops and grapes alone will save us. But there are my own people. I know them and I know they would not have used violence."

But this is not yet the happy ending, and there were new depths to which Mr. Swain and his bank would sink.

The day after the foreclosure was halted, the Press Democrat published a document that Swain was prepared to give James Case once the bank had the deed to his farm. He would have a three-month option to repurchase his property for about $14,000 (after a few adjustments) - although if he had a spare $14 thousand laying around he would not have been in such a pickle in the first place.

But even if he did manage to scratch up all that money somehow (reminder: no money to borrow during the darkest time of the Depression) there was a catch-22 to the agreement - he would have to turn over "the full possession of the ranch and the right to the bank's representative to gather and market the crops." In other words, his place would be in permanent receivership with him paying someone (of the bank's choosing) to manage his orchards.

If that smells a little fishy, a great deal more stink was discovered at the Superior Court hearing a week later. Banker Swain was also president of Sebastopol National Securities company, which actually held the Case mortgage. Frank Close - the guy who the bank had earlier hired - sold the entire cherry crop from the Case farm to the Securities company (the price was never disclosed). That company in turn sold the crop for $771, which it placed in the bank as a partial interest payment.

Much of the court doings were tangled up with the confusion of Swain having two hats but one head. Although investor Swain insisted in court that Close was an agent for the Securities company, at the time banker Swain made it clear that he answered to the bank. The $771 was first deposited in Close's bank account, then one of the Swain personalities apparently thought that might look bad and transferred it to the Case mortgage account.

It also came out in court that Swain had a side deal with Close to sell him the entire farm for $15,000 after foreclosure.

After a full day of testimony, Judge Comstock ruled: The temporary injunction against the foreclosure was made permanent. You can't say someone is in breach of contract and then accept money from them as if it were business as usual.

Comstock also remarked that he thought Swain was duplicitous - that the repurchase offer he made to Case wasn't done in good faith, and he intended to sell the farm to Close all along.

Case and his supporters were jubilant, both for him personally and what it would mean for other farmers now that a Superior Court judge had set such a precedent. "This day has shown that the faith of the farmer in the courts of California is justified," a grower in similar trouble told the Argus-Courier.

The Petaluma newspaper also burbled over what had happened: "...Superior Judge Hilliard Comstock, young, progressive, alert and courageous, has ruled against one of the most powerful financial institutions in Sonoma county...he administers the law as he interprets it, regardless of the power of those disappointed by his rulings."

Despite losing the decision and being personally slapped down by a judge, Swain continued to explore new ways to act like a cartoon villain, swearing he would get his hands on the Case ranch yet. "Appeal? Of course we'll appeal! And we will be backed by financial, real estate, and business interests of the state in doing so." The next month the Analy Savings Bank did appeal the decision and filed another breach notice against Case, but before they came to court FDR's New Deal programs (such as the Emergency Farm Mortgage Act and Farm Credit Act) had programs in place to help poor farmers.

James LaDue Case continued to live on his farm until 1947, when he retired and moved to Sebastopol. He died there in 1951 at the age of 88, outliving his old nemesis Arthur Swain by a dozen years.

The en...oh, wait, there's more.

If you've lived in Sonoma country for a few many moons, you've probably heard about the Case foreclosure before, but told with a different slant. In that version, the hero of the day was Press Democrat editor and publisher Ernest Finley.

This alternative history seems to have originated in an August 3, 1975 feature in the PD about his family. "Ernest L. Finley--A Man of Vision," written by Sheri Graves Gayhart, spreads it on thick. "Sonoma County farmers had little hope of saving their lands without the personal interest and support of a man as strong and influential as Ernest L. Finley."

"Fighting for what he believed was right, he turned a grim situation into what was perhaps his finest hour," the writer exclaims, going on that Finley was working "...behind the scenes, quietly, with no fanfare and no publicity" to negotiate an ethical solution. In this telling, Judge Comstock was little more than a bureaucrat who "ultimately decided the issue on the basis of a legal loophole."

Versions of the story which have subsequently appeared in the Press Democrat have dialed it back somewhat but still followed her lead, downplaying Comstock and putting the spotlight on Finley.

Trouble is, author Gayhart didn't mention where she found her facts and the newspapers of the day do not support her interpretation.

As far as I can tell, Finley apparently mentioned the James Case situation directly only once in an editorial, while the PD ran a handful of generic editorials and cartoons on the hot topic of farm foreclosures during those months.

Finley's only direct involvement implied in the 1933 PD was a July 15 front page photo of Finley with Swain's hand on his shoulder as they pose looking over the bank's refinancing offer - the deal Comstock called dishonest. The photo caption states approvingly that Swain's proposition was "considered most liberal."

Unless new information surfaces about Ernest Finley's actual involvement, I'm calling this out as a kind of “stolen valor.” Hilliard Comstock faced the sort of decision that few of us will ever have to confront. Swain indeed represented powerful business interests which did not want this sort of precedent to stand, and given time, probably would have destroyed Hilliard's reputation to further that goal. The mob of 3,000 outside the courthouse were a more immediate threat and their actions could have gone in any of a number of directions - a riot, an attack on the courthouse, even sparking a national populist uprising which could have squelched the New Deal reforms before they took root.

The story of James Case's farm is probably the most significant event in our history from those days, but it's not important for anything he did, or any telephone calls Ernest Finley may or may not have made. It should be remembered for what Hilliard Comstock had the courage to do, standing up alone for the principle of the law, come what may.



John Wilkes Booth escaped after assassinating Lincoln and spent his last 25 years living comfortably in Forestville. Believe it or ...no, don't believe it. Not a chance it's true. But many locals were convinced he really was hiding there and were eager to shield him.

The tale of Thomas Jerome, the man supposed to be Booth, has more angles than a funhouse mirror. A superficial writer could look at the funny side of it all, as if today the denizens of a trailer park convinced themselves an elderly newcomer was actually Elvis. Or it could be viewed as an interesting 150 year-old conspiracy theory which won't go away - the History Channel and other cable shows have produced sensationalized "Booth Escaped" programs in recent years. But peer deeper at the story and it reveals how strongly our ancestors clung to every awfulness the Confederacy represented, even decades after the Civil War. And that side of the story is a revealing insight which doesn't appear in our Sonoma county history books.

In the decades after the assassination there was no shortage of men who were whispered to be Booth. The most famous one died in 1903; a friend not only wrote a book about his supposed confession, but afterwards had the presumed J.W.B. mummified - remains which were later dragged around Midwestern carnival sideshows for decades. Other Booth sightings had him in England, Brazil, Italy, Mexico and every other continent except Antartica. He supposedly turned up in China where he fought for the emperor; he became a famous Episcopalian minster preaching all over the South under a different name. A guy in Missouri contacted the predecessor to the FBI in 1922 because he was certain his 80-something neighbor either was Booth or knew where the hideout was.1

In 1937 Izola Forrester, a prolific newspaper and magazine journalist as well as a pioneer screenwriter, wrote "This One Mad Act: The Unknown Story of John Wilkes Booth and His Family" where she claimed Booth escaped, hiding in Southern California before heading to Asia and dying in India. What makes her book particularly interesting is that she claimed to be Booth's granddaughter. Spoiler alert: That's very unlikely.2

Historians point out that Forrester's book is filled with errors and misconceptions regarding the assassination and the Booth family, but what interests us in Sonoma county is her section about a Booth look-alike who had lived in Forestville. This part of her book is mostly oral history, as she is not straining to prove Thomas Jerome fits into her elaborate conspiracy theory. The majority of mistakes there are probably due to the faulty memories of her interviewees who were recalling a man who had died some forty years earlier.

Here she mainly interviewed Elisha Shortridge who was close to 90 at the time, living in a log cabin somewhere deep in the redwoods outside Forestville. He was a fascinating character; he had a Zelig-like quality to pop up at some of the most interesting local events in the 1880s and 1890s. I'll certainly be writing about him again, and soon; watch for the story of the Wirt Travis murder.

"Pioneer" Shortridge (as he seemed to be universally called) didn't need much encouragement to talk about Thomas Jerome. "Yes, I knew him," he told Forrester. "He came into the valley in 1870. You mean the feller they say shot Lincoln, don't you?"

"...From the first time he showed up, we all noticed his resemblance to the man who had shot Lincoln, and it was whispered about he was actually Booth himself. I've seen him often. Talked to him over and over again, and I can remember just how he looked. He was very handsome, and sort of stately, and he wore good clothes. Always looked dressed up, and he had big black eyes, and wavy black hair off a high forehead. When he did drink, he drank hard. He'd seem to stand up just so long, then he'd have to get away from up here. He liked to ride horseback, and he'd go away down to San Francisco by himself, and stay by himself for a few days, but he always came back. He could talk to you on anything you wanted to know. Didn't mind saying he'd been an actor once. He was a fine man, and everyone liked and respected him, but we all thought he was Booth just the same...

When she showed him a photograph of Booth, Shortridge replied, "if I was shown those pictures off-hand, and asked who that man was, I'd say I used to know him up here, and his name was Tom Jerome. Looks just like he did when he first came up. Wore his hair and moustache the same way, same eyes, same air about him. Same man, I'd say, only younger."

Forrester also interviewed the son of William Clarke, the man who undoubtedly knew Jerome better than anyone else. He recalled hearing Jerome read or recite Shakespeare and poetry. Shown photographs of Booth, the younger Clarke said "Mr. Jerome might have sat for any of them."

"...I've heard the talk about him, and he did look exactly like Booth, but he never claimed to be him. There was a mystery around him that no one, not even my father, could solve. He had plenty of money, and was always well dressed, and he looked distinguished... My father was the only person he talked much with, and he died in our home."

Clarke (or someone) showed Forrester a picture of Thomas Jerome taken in the early 1880s. She agreed he was a dead ringer, if you account for a few extra pounds added over the 15+ years that had passed since Booth's last portraits. "[It] might well have been his likeness, far more so in resemblance than any other persons who have claimed to have been Booth...when I left Forestville I almost believed they belonged to the same person."

As mentioned earlier, the flaw in Izola Forrester's book was that her historical research skills were weak. Had she done a little digging, there was more to learn about Tom Jerome.

He was supposedly about the same age as Booth, although we can't be sure - I can find nothing about him before he appeared in California in 1868, working as a photographer in Eureka. He claimed variously to be from Alabama or Virginia.

He was still a photographer when he appeared in Sonoma county in 1870 living near the Russian River, but by the next year he stated he was an artist. This is how he identified himself in the voter rolls for the next 17 years, changing his occupation more specifically to painter in 1888. He was described as being 5' 9" tall, dark complexion with dark eyes and "arms both crooked", whatever that meant.

In a nutshell then, here is the recipe for a John Wilkes Booth: Take one (1) Southerner with dark hair born in the mid-1830s, stir in enough education to be well-spoken and enough vanity to be well dressed, add a dollop of mystery (dark past preferred) and mix well. Serve in any community still hot over the Confederate cause and where people thought it was cool to harbor the man who might have killed Lincoln.

And in 1870 California, Santa Rosa and its surrounding region was just such a place. "There wasn't anyone who'd ever have given him away up here," Elisha Shortridge said.

When Thomas Jerome came to Sonoma county he stayed with the Myers, according to Shortridge, and a few years later Jerome married one of their seven girls. Dillon Preston Myers was likely happy to approve of his daughter's wedding to an ersatz Booth and "unreconstructed rebel" - according to Shortridge, Myers was a well-known "Secesh."3

Shortridge continued:

California was full of them in those days," he stated reflectively. "They all stuck together, had their own meeting and drinking places and their own ways. Feelings ran mighty high up here in war time, and long afterwards. Folks were divided in sentiment even when Jerome came up and he belonged to the 'Secesh' sympathizers...in those days and in my time up here, there was something bigger and mightier in this land that the law or government; something that bound men together in a tie of secret brotherhood stronger than family or country, even to the death. It stretched everywhere. You couldn't get away from it even if you wanted to. I ain't saying anything, mind, against it. It was all around this part of the country, and it was 'Secesh...'"

Forrester asked if he was referring to the Knights of the Golden Circle, the most prominent of the Confederate secret societies which were the direct ancestors of the Ku Klux Klan. In California during the Civil War the group encouraged sedition, including training militia groups that went to fight for the rebels in the Civil War. The KGC's propaganda efforts undermined Union support in the West (Santa Rosa's weekly Sonoma Democrat was long rumored to be financed by KGC backers) and was involved in an attempt to split off Southern California into a separate, slave-holding state. Immediately after Lincoln's assassination it was presumed the KGC was behind it, and that John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators were active members.

Shortridge confirmed the KGC was active in Sonoma county during the war and remained a presence afterwards:

"That's what they called themselves, but there was more to it than the name. You never knew who belonged to it, and who didn't, but it held the Southerners together. There were plenty of them up here. Even by the time Jerome came to live up here, the sentiment still burned low and deep like that fire there. Southerners and Northeners hated each other for years and years after Lincoln was shot. All you had to do was start an argument on slavery or States' rights, and the war was on again."

Even those who didn't believe Tom Jerome was secretly Booth assumed he had some sort of high-status position during the war. Shortridge said, "It was generally believed that he had been in the Confederate Army, as a spy. But nobody asked him questions. You couldn't take liberties with him. He was friendly enough, but stand-offish, very dignified and usually alone."

Clarke's son told Forrester almost the same thing: "No one ever took any liberties with him, or called him anything but 'Mr. Jerome.' He made no explanations about himself, but people believed he had been in the Secret Service of the South, and was an unreconstructed rebel who wouldn't take the oath of allegiance to the North."

The Jeromes had two children; the older daughter apparently didn't want to talk about her father but her younger sister remembered him as austere and mysterious. She said he had been an actor, knew Booth when both were young and had "doubled" for him, but would not say exactly what that meant. She also mentioned the Confederate Secret Service, which suggests some (or all) of what she knew spilled out from the echo chamber.

However swashbuckling his past, his life in Sonoma county came to center upon relationships with the Myers family in Windsor and the Clarkes of Forestville.

He married Ida Myers in 1874, and a year later daughter Frances was born. The second girl, Edith, came along in 1880, the same year Ida died of TB. After that the Myers raised their grandchild Frances and Edith was sent to live with the Clarke family.

Art dealers tell me there are no records of Thomas Jerome paintings, so it's doubtful he made his living by the paintbrush. According to local newspapers he was a partner in a Windsor grocery store in the early 1870s and converted a Forestville saloon into a store in 1880. His friend William Clarke was Forestville's Postmaster for most of the 1880s-90s and Jerome became his deputy PM in 1890. After that he no longer identified himself as an artist but a "clerk."

Thomas Jerome's death is as vague as his origin. Although he supposedly died at the Clarke home there is no Sonoma county death certificate for him, nor any newspaper obituary that can be found. The cemetery records list only that he died sometime in November 1894.

Izola Forrester believed she solved the puzzle after daughter Frances gave her the address of cousins in Philadelphia. Forrester contacted them and was told that yes, their uncle Thomas McGittigan was a Confederate sympathizer and believed to have gone to California, where he disappeared. But either the Philly cousins were out of touch with their own family or Forrester misunderstood what she was told. There was indeed a McGittigan generally matching the profile but he was an Irish immigrant who became a Union soldier, then spent the rest of his life around Philadelphia. A photo of McGittigan as a youth convinced Forrester he was neither Booth nor Jerome. As the Myers family came from Pennsylvania, perhaps Izola was confused by something Frances said concerning the other side of her family tree.

Frances Jerome's family remained here and flourished; there are now great-great-great and 4-g grandchildren in West county, but the family only knows about the Booth story through Forrester's retelling. That probably isn't surprising, as Frances said "it would kill me" if it were proven she was the child of John Wilkes Booth, so it wasn't a story she herself would have passed down. To some people, treason and murder are not points of pride. Imagine that.

Photo of Thomas Jerome grave marker: FindAGrave.com

1 The Booth-escaped conspiracy theories were collected in The Great American Myth by George S. Bryan, 1940. A Rolling Stone overview of the conspiracy stories commented, "author George S. Bryan made it clear that Booth was a favorite of the nut theorists."
2 Following the assassination, women came forward claiming they were John Wilkes Booth's wife and/or mother of his children. The Booth family dismissed these women as pretenders, and brother Edwin later said there were “twenty [widows] that wrote to me just after John’s death.” One of them, however, Izola Mills, had two children that she convinced a grown daughter of brother Junius were fathered by John Wilkes. Rose Booth generously supported Mills and her children whom she treated as if they were her own. It has since come out that Izola Mills was simultaneously drawing a U.S. Navy pension for the children claiming their father was her deceased husband. And as John Wilkes was performing hundreds of miles away when Izola Forrester's mother was conceived, it is very unlikely he was the father. The only link between Forrester and the Booth family was Rose Booth's willingness to accept her grandmother's doubtful claims. Source: The Forgotten Daughter – Rosalie Ann Booth
3 Forrester refers to him as "Dr. Myers" which is clearly an error, as he was a farmer and contractor of some sort. My bet is she wrote "DP Myers" in her notes and when writing it up later, misread the "P" for an "R." On the rare occasions when he was mentioned in the newspapers during his lifetime he was always called, "D. P. Myers."

She was a good hen, sitting patiently on her nest for nearly twenty years. Then she loudly blew up.

In the 1920s and 1930s she was Petaluma's first goodwill ambassador, greeting visitors driving into town from the south.

Her name was Betty.

She was originally part of a float for the very first Egg Day parade in 1918 and made by Albert Welchert, a German carpenter turned chicken rancher. "Mr. Welchert is building the biggest hen that has ever been made," the Argus-Courier noted. "It will be twelve feet long, ten feet high, five feet across the back and will be sitting on golden eggs."

There's no photo of her debut. We first see her in a picture from 1920 when a couple of flappers are dancing on her back for a newsreel movie - quite a change from seven years before, when Petaluma banned "rag" dancing and arrested people for it. (All images shown below.)

The Welcherts moved to Oregon in 1921 and presumably gave the big hen to the Chamber of Commerce, who built a perch for her a mile south of city limits on the old Redwood Highway (roughly where Petaluma Blvd. South meets McNear avenue, close to the Vets Building).

She didn't have much company out there, except for her noisy neighbor: The Colony Club, about a quarter-mile further down the road. Petaluma's nightclub!

Bill Soberanes, Argus-Courier's columnist and "peopleologist" later wrote often about the Club as a place where "Petaluma's Cafe Society set" dressed up for dinner and dancing. It wasn't very big - about the size of a modern three-bedroom ranch house. Still, it had a dance floor, and outside it advertised both "DRINKS" and "COLD DRINKS."

Like other swanky places it often had a floor show. Among the headliners were contortionist Rue Enos ("Making Both Ends Meet"), harmonica virtuoso Ernie Morris ("formerly with the Minevitch Harmonica Rascals"), "tap tumbler" Tommy Konine and song stylist Charlotte Day ("she's gorgeous to look at"). Should Gentle Reader think I'm cherry-picking the really unusual acts, note that I have avoided descriptions of the ventriloquists and puppeteers.

The joint closed every night at 2AM when the master of ceremonies said, "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here." That sounds less threatening if it can be imagined said in Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon voice.

Meanwhile, things weren't going so well for Betty.

Some artistic pioneer happened to notice her big, beautiful white sides were like a blank canvas. And get this: If someone wrote a comment there, officials would eventually paint over it, thus providing a fresh canvas for a response! It was like instant messaging, except not so instant.

In 1934, the Argus-Courier reported the "big hen" had been vandalized by someone "placing obscene language thereon... This is the second time within a year that obscene language has been painted on the 'big hen.'"

Not to worry: The paper also stated, "Officers at the Chamber of Commerce have information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the offenders, it is said." Uh, nope.

Apparently this cat-and-mouse game with the vandals went on for years. The next evidence was shocking: Betty was now disfigured! A 1936 image shows the remains of the latest grafitti, but also now gone was her lovely wattle; no more the red mask around the eyes, so typical of the Petaluma's noble leghorn. Both were clearly visible in the 1920 picture.

It gets worse. An undated photo (1937?) shows Betty with eyelashes! What next, lipstick?

Then came the awful night of October 27, 1938. It was a Thursday. 10:25PM.

"A blast that shook the outskirts of Petaluma on Thursday night and blew its 'advertising chicken' to smithereens," the Petaluma paper announced. The Colony Club shook like there was an earthquake. A man who lived about a mile away said "it seemed as though the walls would fall in." The explosion "scared the wits out of passing motorists," the Press Democrat observed, and plaster chicken nuggets were "littering the highway with chunks of stucco, twisted wire and sticks."

Petaluma police and the Highway Patrol rushed to the scene. No evidence was found, except for a piece of a dynamite fuse. An investigation began immediately, and the result was possibly my favorite newspaper headline of all time:



The lawmen on the case were Marin Undersheriff Frank Kelly and Sonoma county Chief Criminal Deputy Melvin "Dutch" Flohr, who became Santa Rosa's much-respected police chief a couple of years later.

"Both Kelly and I are of the opinion that Tam students are the logical ones to be involved," said Dutch. "Tam" meant students of Tamalpais high school, whose football team was about to play against Petaluma. The Tam principal told the Argus-Courier a "thorough investigation of all Tamalpais students revealed that none were involved."

The other suspects were from Santa Rosa Junior College. Kelly said Santa Rosa students were spotted in Kentfield around 10PM, where they were trying to sabotage a pre-game bonfire before a football game against Marin Junior College. That gave them time to reach the chicken. But Floyd P. Bailey, president of SRJC "didn't believe any [investigation] was necessary...Santa Rosa students were too busy at their own bonfire and rally Thursday night to be bothered with any trips or blastings."

The Argus-Courier ran a photo obituary, showing Betty's scattered innards. "Largest Hen's Career Ends," read the headline over a final image of poor Betty.

Whodunnit remained a mystery. An A-C article years later mentioned in passing that she was bombed because of the upcoming "Santa Rosa-Petaluma annual football classic." No one was charged.

The crime was finally solved via an anonymous confession which appeared in Lee Torliatt's Golden Memories of the Redwood Empire (the most enjoyable book about Sonoma county history, IMHO):

We got together a bunch of guys and somebody said it would be a great idea to blow up that big, ugly chicken. If you came from Santa Rosa, that seemed like a hell of a good idea. A couple of farm boys, I can't mention their names, provided the dynamite, we got a car caravan together, and went down and planted the dynamite in the chicken.

So there you go: It was the dirty rotten sneaks from Santa Rosa - as if there really was any doubt.

There's an epilogue to our tragedy: Some time later, Betty's spot was taken by "Chantacline." This chicken was nearly as old as Betty and stood for many years between the Petaluma train depot and Hotel Petaluma, which was her owner. Chantacline was smaller and more delicate, supported with guidewires. There would be no dancing on the back of this hen, no sir.

Like her predecessor, Chantacline was repeatedly vandalized. The worst happened in 1945, just a day after her most recent repainting had finished. Both legs, tail and head were broken and her wires were cut. Since Chantacline belonged to the Hotel Petaluma and not the town's Chamber, hotel manager Harold Eckart was determined to Sherlock out the perps. He succeeded; five Santa Rosa High School students were taken into custody and ordered to pay $500 in damages.

All of this is now gone, of course. There are no giant statues of plaster poultry on the old route, and Colony Club burned down in 1955 (another place was built north of Petaluma). With the heyday of Betty and the nightclub now about eight decades in the rearview mirror, there's few still around to be nostalgic about their passing. Even in the 1970s, details about the Club were Trivial Pursuit-type items in Bill Soberanes' columns.

Places like that little stretch of road are suspended in a kind of twilight zone, reserved for places which were landmarks even though nothing historical happened and no one noteworthy setup home or business. Yet for a generation or more, there was probably no patch of Sonoma county better known.

It was where stylish couples and flirty singles danced to the tunes of Kim Kimmel on the Hammond organ, the women in their rayon dresses from Carithers and men in their worsted tex sport coats bought at the Penny's.

For those traveling through or returning home from San Francisco, there was also that whimsical super-sized chicken announcing the egg basket of the world was up ahead, just around the curve. And sometimes there was a bonus message concerning the pitiable intelligence or lack of personal hygiene possessed by some local football team, which was always quite informative.

Newsreel cameramen filming dancers, Petaluma, California, March, 1920 (Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)


Betty in 1936 with its most recent defacement not quite scrubbed clean. (Photograph by John Gutmann)


Undated image of Betty, probably 1937 or 1938

Argus-Courier obituary photo, November 3, 1938


In April 1865 the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union. The Confederate newspaper in Santa Rosa did not.

Over the four horrific years of the Civil War, the Sonoma Democrat remained steadfast in its support of the South and opposed to the Union and everything it stood for, including freedom for the slaves. This article covers what happened in Sonoma county at the end of the war and mirrors the earlier story of how the Democrat reacted to Lincoln's 1860 election ("THAT TERRIBLE MAN RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT").

A devil's advocate might defend the Democrat by arguing the paper only reflected its readership - Sonoma was the only county in the state which didn't vote for either Lincoln's election or re-election. But the Democrat went way, way beyond simply standing as the loyal opposition.

For starters, the paper consistently lied to its readers about how the war was going. Victory for the South was always just around the corner because the Union troops were in disarray, cowardly or unwilling to fight. In 1863 the Sonoma Democrat reported, "The battle of Gettysburg was, on our part, a triumphant success an overwhelming victory...General Lee had won the ground and could have held it, hut he chose, for military reasons, to fall back, after he had utterly broken the backbone of the Yankee army." That was a reprint from the Confederate paper in Richmond, Virginia - enemy propaganda, in other words, flipping the truth about the South's critical defeat.

The Sonoma Democrat was edited and published by Thomas L. Thompson. Although there was no Civil War combat in California, of course, week after week Thompson battled Samuel Cassiday, editor of the Argus in Petaluma, the only major town in the county supporting the Union.

Each of them denounced the other as a misguided fool and hypocrite. To the Argus, the Santa Rosa paper was deceitful by insisting the Rebels were only defending their constitutional right to govern themselves, while they actually wanted to hold on to their slaves. To the Democrat, the Petaluma paper was dishonest in stating the Yankees only wanted to preserve the Union, while they actually wanted to take away the South's slaves.

This was no temperate political debate; it was a blood feud, each editor reacting to the other's latest outrage - and often reacting to the other's reaction to their reaction. These guys would have loved Twitter.

Their pages are full of fightin' words which reflect the passions of the Civil War quite clearly, and could provide enough material for a series of articles (maybe even a book) - but historians rarely discuss the feud. The reason why: Thompson's Sonoma Democrat also quite clearly reflected the Confederacy's racist malignancy.

I defy anyone with a measure of basic empathy to read through the 1860s Sonoma Democrat and not come away sickened. The problem goes far beyond merely the use of "the n-word," although that appeared hundreds of times in the Santa Rosa paper (along with every other racist epithet imaginable). It's that the Democrat smothers the reader with its unceasing and pathological hatred and loathing for the entire black population of America. Sometimes the paper published a speech or sermon trying to justify slavery on historical, legal or biblical grounds, but mostly Thompson didn't bother and preached to his Confederate-fan choir as if it were a settled matter - everyone with any smarts just knew blacks were inferior, the abolition of slavery would never work and the South was winning the war. Today we have a term to describe such delusional thinking: The Dunning–Kruger effect, meaning the smug over-confidence of the ignorant.

Then suddenly, Thompson's favorite soapbox was taken away when the South surrendered.

Petaluma, joined by like-minded Union patriots in Marin, held a nine-hour celebration with a marching band, fireworks and a mock battle. There were three parades, all featuring banners with the artwork of a local man "whose patriotism is only equalled by his ingenuity in caricaturing treason and traitors." What impressed most was a float 14 feet high and nine feet wide depicting "the Goddess of Liberty, holding in her hands the Stars and Stripes, and supported on both sides, by two 'recording angels.'"

Meanwhile, Santa Rosa sulked and the Democrat - true to form - lied to its readers, claiming the displays seen at the Petaluma parade "were devoted almost entirely to the abolition of slavery and the elevation of the black race" (none had any reference to slavery or race). Editor Thompson, who did not yet know the details of the surrender at Appomattox, held out the hope that General Grant's terms would roll back the clock to the good ol' days before Lincoln: "...it has always been understood that he, like George B. McClellan, is for the 'Union as it was.'”

Petaluma did not have long to celebrate, nor Santa Rosa long to grump. Three days after the parade came news of Lincoln's assassination. From the Argus:

...All that we could learn was that Lincoln had been shot dead, in Ford's Theatre, and that Seward had been stabbed several times, while in his bed, and was yet alive. At length the boat arrived, and to Mr. Charles Yeomans we were indebted for a [San Francisco] Bulletin Extra, giving the details. This was read from the Journal and Argus office to the throng outside. We soon had the sad particulars in type, passing extras, to those outside clamorous for the news, at the rate of 1,200 an hour...

The Petaluma newspaper continued: "...To render still more intense the excitement, a dispatch came announcing that the people of San Francisco had literally sacked five Secession newspaper offices, and that the Military and Police force was powerless to restrain them."

In another article on the same page, the Argus reprinted an item from a San Francisco paper reporting that the assassination news led to mobs destroying the printing presses and type cabinets of all pro-Confederacy newspapers in the city. (It's said the De Young brothers founded the Chronicle using the lead type they swept up in the street.) Soldiers at the Presidio were called out to assist the police force, and the combined armed force patrolled the streets until the next day, quelling the only Civil War-related riot in California.

The San Francisco "Lincoln Riot," April 15, 1865, destroyed the presses of pro-Confederate newspapers and journals. Photo: Lincoln Museum, Ft. Wayne, Indiana via foundsf.org

You can bet Thomas L. Thompson was nervously peeking out the windows at the Democrat once word reached Sonoma county that angry patriots were busting up the offices of disloyal newspapers. And given his years of snarkily taunting Petaluma, should he also fear being tarred and Petaluma-chicken feathered?

Luckily for Thompson, nothing happened - but both Petaluma and Santa Rosa papers suggested it was a close call.

Writing of Petaluma's reaction to news of the San Francisco "Lincoln Riot," the Argus stated, "This deed of righteous vengeance gave birth to dark thoughts and significant murmurs which required the combined efforts, cool heads to keep in restraint. The remotest semblance of exultation, over the fall of Lincoln, either by word or act, would have called forth swift and summary vengeance...it was a critical time and we felt rejoiced when night drew its curtains about our city and the people had dispersed to their homes..."

A couple of days later, Thompson wrote that someone in Petaluma was spreading rumors: "We have heard that some worse than brute in human shape, circulated a report at Petaluma [that Santa Rosa was not in mourning] and we deem it due to our people, as well as those in other portions of the State, to denounce the originator of the slander a wilful and malicious liar."

Of course, Thompson being Thompson, he could not write a single paragraph without including some provocative remark. He now claimed the Sonoma Democrat was always respectful to Lincoln despite everything: "...as the great head of the Nation, which we have been taught to love and respect from our infancy, we have ever been willing to accord to him that respect which is properly due to the Chief Magistrate of the country." Maybe Thompson bumped his head and forgot the barrels of ink he had used over the previous four years denouncing Lincoln as a dishonest, incompetent, lying, cowardly, deformed, witless tyrant - and that's not even the rough stuff, where the president was accused of being a race traitor.

The history of those days cannot be written without mentioning "The Battle of Washoe House." For those unfamiliar, there's a story that a mob of Petaluma men did start to ride towards Santa Rosa but got no further than the famous roadhouse, drowning their indignant anger in suds. (A variant says their wives had to fetch the drunks home the next morning.) There's no proof the story is even partially true; it was not mentioned in any period newspaper or book that can be found and as commented above, the local papers suggest there was nothing more than grumbling in Petaluma. Should something turn up I'll correct it here, but after a long search I'm ready to file it away as a tall tale.*

A few days later, both Santa Rosa and Petaluma had funeral obsequies for Lincoln. Petaluma went all out, as might be expected. A rifle salute was fired every thirty minutes from sunrise to sundown; a cort├Ęge, complete with hearse, traced a route through all the main streets with church bells tolling the entire time. In Santa Rosa the procession went from the Fourth streed courthouse to the Methodist church a block over, then back to the Plaza. "Nearly all the business houses in town were draped in mourning," the Democrat reported. Nearly.

There followed a brief and uneasy truce in their (un)civil war. at least in the sense Thompson temporarily dialed back his attacks on the government and black people - perhaps he feared those buckets of hot tar and sacks of chicken feathers were still sitting in the back of Petaluma wagons. The Democrat reported, without comment, about residents of other counties being arrested for rejoicing over Lincoln's death, and meekly protested the Democrats now felt like strangers in their own country.

Cassiday, on the other hand, kept hammering away, writing that the national Democratic party, the Sonoma county Democrats and the Santa Rosa paper were all guilty of treason. He took to calling Thompson "Limberback" for reasons unknown, although apparently it was a pretty good insult.

That truce lasted only a month after the war. Thompson wrote an obnoxious (but tame, for him) op/ed stating abolition was just a Yankee social experiment that may fail. "We the whole people of the United States, who have paid the price in blood and treasure for this little experiment in New England ideas, will endeavor patiently to await the result."

The Argus shot back angrily: "We rather think you won't have long to wait. Have you heard from Jeff. [Davis] lately? By the way, Limberback, where was your blood and treasure expended? On which side of the line did you invest? Didn't you lose most of your cash on the Confederacy?"

And then they were off again. Soon the Democrat was relitigating the war, insisting the South had the higher moral ground and a right to secede in order to maintain its slave economy. Thompson was back to flinging "the n-word" in nearly every issue and the newspaper's racism was as bad as ever - no, actually worse.

I'm sure I'll have to mention again their epic feud; any researcher looking at Sonoma county during the Civil War (and following years) can't go very far without stumbling over their quarrels. And some of it is great fun in its own right; later in 1865 the Democrat offered a parody endorsement for "Dr. Gunny Bags’ Extract of Butternut Sap" which "cured political maladies, especially that peculiar type called fanaticism." A fake testimonial declared, "I poured a little on the wheels of the Petaluma Journal and Argus, and it acted like magic. It immediately expelled the flatulency which had so long inflated the editorials of that paper."

But like so much of what appeared in the Sonoma Democrat at that time, "Dr. Gunny Bags" is ruined by Thompson's compulsive need to insert racial slurs. That shift in the article changes it from satire to white supremacist pornography, so I'll never transcribe that item or write more about it than what appears right here. It's enough to point out that a cesspool stinks without offering a scratch 'n' sniff card to prove it.


* "The Battle of Washoe House" first appeared in print in Adair Lara's 1982 "History of Petaluma: A California River Town." On pg. 50 she quoted Ed Mannion, an Argus-Courier columnist and local history buff per the fable of the "Petaluma Navy" which was poised to attack Santa Rosa once there was "an extremely high tide" (in other words, once the entire county flooded, yuk, yuk, yuk). In the next paragraph, Lara introduced the Washoe House story, stating, "...LOCAL HISTORIANS say that these guardians of the national honor got as far as the Washoe House..." (emphasis mine). Adair does not recall her source but agrees it could have been Mannion. Perhaps it was an old saloon tale or the sort of spoof which Mark Twain called a "quaint" which appeared in some lost, non-local newspaper. My personal theory is that it was either born or gained traction in 1958, the year of Petaluma's centennial. That was also the 99th birthday for the Washoe House and members of E. Clampus Vitus mounted a plaque at the roadhouse in celebration. The Clampers were up to their usual hijinks that day, including trying to push an old fire engine into the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma. The events ended with a group dinner at the hotel ("A whole chicken for each man, and served on pitchforks" - Pet. A-C, April 14 1958) where the Clampers heard the "vigilante bell" story and other old tales.



Petaluma Argus, April 20, 1865




REJOICING!

From Plymouth Rock to where the Pacific's waves lave [sic] shores of California, Oregon and Washington, the capture of the Rebel army under Lee, by the conquering hero, Lieut.-Gen. U. S. Grant, has called forth demonstrations of unbounded enthusiasm and rejoicing. The mountains echo back the shouts from the vallies, and to the outermost verge of civilization, bonfires have been kindled to herald the downfall of one of the most wicked and uncalled for rebellions that ever blotted the pages history. On Wednesday the loyal people of Sonoma and Marin counties assembled in this city, to exchange congratulations upon the encouraging prospect of a speedy restoration of our Union and termination of the further effusion of blood. Our city was filled to repletion with the inhabitants of the surrounding country. About noon the Lincoln Cavalry, Lieut. Causland, and Bloomfield Guards, Capt. C. R. Arthur, led by the Bloomfield Brass Band, entered our city with flying banners. About the same time the Washington Guards, Capt. W. A. Eliason, from Santa Rosa cheered us with their presence. At 1 1/2 o'clock, P. M. the above named Companies, with the Petaluma Guards. Emmet Rifles and City Guards, Major Jas. Armstrong, commanding, preliminary to a grand review on Union square, East Petaluma, escorted the patriotic boys of our Fire Department, comprised of Sonoma, No. 2, through several streets. The review at Union Square was witnessed by a vast concourse of ladies and gentlemen, and reflected great credit upon our citizen soldiers. A sham battle, in which the Lincoln Cavalry made repeated charges upon the Infantry drawn up in battle array, was the most exciting feature of the review. The clash and clatter of the cavalry, so they swept down upon the serried lines bristling bayonets, followed by the rattle of musketry as volley after volley of brank cartridges greeted the assailants, on a small scale, gave a fair representation of a battle scene. Nobody was hurt, however, and at 4 o'clock the Military was dismissed. At 7 1/2 o'clock in the evening a procession was formed on Main street, headed with the military, led by the Bloomfield Brass Band, and marched through the principle streets with a good display of fireworks, torches, transparencies and banners. The houses of the loyal people throughout the city were illuminated. As the procession moved along, cheer upon cheer answered the waving of handkerchiefs by the patriotic ladies along the route. God bless our mothers and sisters for the noble self-sacrificing spirit which has prompted them to buckle the armor upon sons and brothers, and bid them strike for their country, in its hour of peril! Their heart's treasure has strewn a thousand fields; but they can today rejoice that their noble slain repose beneath their Country's Banner. A large number of transparencies and banners, painted by Mr. Samuel Dearborn, of this city, whose patriotism is only equalled by his ingenuity in caricaturing treason and traitors, was a prominent feature of the procession. The following are a few of the inscriptions and devices:

Representation of the Goddess of Liberty, holding in her hands the Stars and Stripes, and supported on both sides, by two "recording angels." This was a splendidly executed device, being fourteen feet high and nine wide, and was drawn on a wagon through the streets, to the admiration of everyone.

"The Angel of Peace." (Picture of Gilmore's 'Swamp Angel.'")

"The rebel Hill; the difference between his place and name is all in your 'eye,' (i)"

Picture of Johnny Crapeaud in Mexico. Johnny is represented as a frog, under the iron heel of Brother Johnathan [sic].

"Steel Bayonets, Yankee Shoe pegs."

"Long may he wave." (A picture of Jeff. Davis suspended by a rope around his neck.)

Sam's large transparency, the one used in the last campaign, was changed to suit the occasion, and was carried on an omnibus.

"Blessed are the Peace Makers--Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas and Porter."

"The Rebellion shipwrecked on a 'LEE' shore."

"Sound the tocsin, beat the drum, the year of Jubi-'Lee' has come!"

At about 9 o'clock the procession was disbanded on Main street, when a platform was erected in front of the American Hotel, and the meeting organized with I. G. Wickersham, Esq., as Chairman. Prof. E. S. Lippitt addressed the vast assemblage present for over an hour, after which the Glee Club sang a patriotic song, and the Band played several spirited pieces. So ended the jubilee over the capture of Lee's army.

- Petaluma Argus, April 13, 1865



Treason and Hypocrisy.

We can endure with a good deal of patience the rebels in their revolt, for although it is one of the most henious crimes known to our laws, yet it is true, the great mass of them, from habit, education, and their entire surroundings, have been honestly led to believe they are justifiable in fighting against the Government, for what they term their independence. In fact we cannot refrain from respecting an open and manly enemy. One may contend for a principle, amid many trials and through sacrifices, the principle for which he is striving may be most pernicious and dangerous in its tendencies. And while we insist that the rebels should be punished, for the good of society and the well-being of future generations, yet we deeply commiserate them and painfully regret they had not received a better and more correct education.

But there is a class of men in the North, for whom we neither can have respect or feelings of pity. They occupy a position so perfectly inexcusable, and without excuse, that patriotic men cannot help but feel that the severest penalty known to our laws would, at best, very inadequately punish them for the crimes of which they are guilty.

We refer to that hypocritical and treasonable portion of the Democratic party, which cover itself with a flimsy mantle of loyalty, just sufficiently heavy to save them from being banished beyond our lines, or from imprisonments in the cells of our military prisons--some of them, even then, only avoiding the latter by the nimbleness of their heels. Men who belie their early education, stultify their judgements, an go contrary to the clearest promptings of their consciences; who remain under the Government; claim and receive its protection, which they are constantly scheming for its overthrow; who for the sake of saving their necks will urge men to enlist, while with the next breath they proclaim that the guilt and entire responsibility for the war, in the first place, and for its further continuance, rests upon the North.

Now, in the name of all that is sacred and solemn, if the rebels are right in this struggle, and are willing to lay down their arms just as soon as they have the promise and security that they will be protected in their just and constitutional rights, but can any one believing this, aid the Government in the further prosecution of the war? If we held such views we would not stop under such a government a single day, but would join our destiny with the party battling for the right; and so would every man who is worthy of the name. Those who hold that on Mr. Lincoln rests "the odium, the blood, the guilt of a further prosecution of the war," while at the same time they are urging men to enlist, demonstrate to the public, as clear as the noon-day sun, that they are both hypocrites and traitors, and although personally they may be very insignificant and beneath the notice of the military authorities, yet some of them occupy positions which places a lever in their hands by which they may accomplish much mischief. And the community which patronizes and sustains such persons, will be very likely ultimately to find, that they have been warming a viper into life, which will turn on them and fasten its envenomed fangs into their quivering flesh.

- Petaluma Argus, April 13, 1865



From the San Francisco Dispatch
Great outburst of Popular Feeling.
WHOLESOME DESTRUCTION OF COPPERHEAD NEWSPAPERS.

This afternoon between the hour of two and three o'clock, P. M. the loyal people of San Francisca, paid their respects to the office of the Democratic Pres, which they at once proceeded to demolish without ceremony. The types and other printing material were cast out of the windows and down the stairs, the stands and cases were smashed into fragments, the papers were distributed on the viewless wings of wind, much more expeditiously than the carrier ould have done it, the window frames were bodily torn out of the fastenings, and thrown down upon the pavement, where all the debris was gathered in a pile--the office, in fact, completely destroyed and gutted.

An immense multitude gathered in the streets and watched the proceeding with interest. Not the least attempt at resistance or rescue was made, showing that this prepeeding met with universal approbation.

After the consumation of this act of signal justice, the crowd moved off to the office of Marriot's News Letter, which was served in a similar manner. Great enthusiasm prevailed. A number of persons secured the latest impressions. One person cried out "here's the last issue of Marriot's News Letter. The work of destruction was accomplished when Chief Burke accompanied by two companies of armed police, with bayonets fixed, marched round several squares and up Clay street to the News Letter, where the Chief spoke in favor of moderation, as the crowd began to move away, only, but ever, to rush up to the office of the Monitor (weekly Copperhead,) where they in a manner demolished, or in Secesh parlance, "wiped out."

The office of the Occidental shared the fate of the Press. During its destruction, the Vox de Mejico, the loyal Mexican paper, took in its flag, but after the occurrence threw it out again amid loud cheers.

The proprietors of all the papers destroyed made good their escape, and no violence was perpetrated at that time.

This act of justice, happening upon the heels of the sad intelligence announcing the double murder in Washington seems most appropriate.

- Petaluma Argus, April 20, 1865



Petaluma in Mourning.

...All that we could learn was that Lincoln had been shot dead, in Ford's Theatre, and that Seward had been stabbed several times, while in his bed, and was yet alive. At length the boat arrived, and to Mr. Charles Yeomans we were indebted for a Bulletin Extra, giving the details. This was read from the JOURNAL AND ARGUS office to the throng outside. We soon had the sad particulars in type, passing extras, to those outside clamarous [sic] for the news, at the rate of 1200, an hour. To render still more intense the excitement, a dispatch came announcing that the people of San Francisco had litterally[sic] sacked five Secession newspaper offices, and that the Military and Police force was powerless to restrain them. This deed of righteous vengeance gave birth to dark thoughts and significant murmers [sic] which required the combined efforts, cool heads to keep in restraint. The remotest semblance of exultation, over the fall of Lincoln, either by word or act, would have called forth swift and summary vengeance. Those of known secession proclivities seemed to fully realize the position of affairs, and deported themselves accordingly. It was a critical time and we felt rejoiced when night drew its curtains about our city and the people had dispersed to their homes...

- Petaluma Argus editorial, April 20, 1865



The Death of the President.

The announcement of the sudden and tragic death of President Lincoln reached Santa Rosa on Saturday last at about 11 o’clock. Two dispatches were received from San Francisco bearing the terrible intelligence, and the people stood aghast for a time, loth to believe that such could he true, but the announcement was soon affirmed by other dispatches. The effect upon the minds of the people of every sect, partv and denomination was the same. A truly mournful gloom was soon spread over the entire community.— Business houses were all closed, and the flags upon the public and private buildings were lowered to half mast. We have heard that some worse than brute in human shape, circulated a report at Petaluma to the contrary of what we have stated, and we deem it due to our people, as well as those in other portions of the State, to denounce the originator of the slander a wilful and malicious liar. We have never seen any gloom so generally shared in as that occasioned in our midst by the sad announcement of the brutal and fiendish assassination of the Chief Magistrate of the Nation. We have never been a supporter of Mr. Lincoln's peculiar policy in administering the government, but as the great head of the Nation, which we have been taught to love and respect from our infancy, we have ever been willing to accord to him that respect which is properly due to the Chief Magistrate of the country. We have heard nothing but the deepest sorrow and regret expressed by all our people at the sad announcement of his death.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 22 1865



THE NEWS--AND HOW IT WAS RECEIVED. —Those who have advocated the war, and accepted and ratified every act of the administration, without hesitating a moment to consider the consequences hereafter, looking forward alone to the subjugation of the South and the liberation of the negro, have had a gay old time this week over the news which has been transmitted across the wires. The intensely loyal had a good pow-wow at Petaluma on Wednesday, and at Healdsburg and Santa Rosa, demonstrations of joy were manifested in various ways. It is not because of the prospects of peace that they celebrate, but rather the triumph of might. We are informed that the transparencies in the procession at Petaluma were devoted almost entirely to the abolition of slavery and the elevation of the black race. It may be that these sticklers for Sambo, celebrate too soon, for Grant has made the terms, and it has always been understood that he, like George B. McClellan, is for the "Union as it was.”

- Sonoma Democrat, April 22 1865



A NUMBER OF ARRESTS.--From our numerous exchanges we see that in almost every portion of the State men have been arrested for rejoicing over the assassination of President Lincoln, and have been sent to prison. Here is a chance for the great Democratic Constitutional expounder, of this city, to declaim against "unconstitutional arrests."

- Petaluma Argus, April 27, 1865



Mob Violence.

San Francisco stands alone in the category of cities which, upon the arrival of the recent dreadful news from Washington, was disgraced by a resort to mob violence, in order to appease the grief and indignation of her people. It is gratifying to hear that even there those who had recourse to such dangerous and unlawful proceedings formed bnt a small portion of the inhabitants, and the outrages committed were condemned and deeply regretted by the more respectable classes of the community. Generally those who give vent to their feelings on such occasions as the present by a resort to unlawful measures are men who have nothing to lose and everything to gain by throwing a community into a state of tumultuous excitement, and in such times it becomes every good citizen to raise his voice in behalf of law and older. Since 1851, San Francisco has been subject to periodical outbreaks of popular excitement, and on this occasion we find in the ranks of the mob men who at other times have sustained the law, and wo can only account for their conduct on this occasion in believing it was instigated by a desire to gratify a spirit of revenge harbored against certain loyal publication offices in that city as well as against Democratic papers. It is a well known fact that had it not been for the timely interference of the military on the 15th inst., the offices of the Alta and Bulletin and the Overland Telegraph Company would have suffered. It is positively asserted by the Flag newspaper, the organ of the disorderly, as well as by citizens of San Francisco who witnessed the proceedings that these establishments were included in the programme laid down for the mob to execute. The military commandant of the coast was appealed to for protection, and did prevent the destruction of these as well as certain Churches in the city which were also threatened, by the establishment of a military guard about them. From the best information we can gather we are fully satisfied that credit is due to Major General McDowell for the prevention of further and more disastrous, destruction of property than did occur. We regret exceedingly that we cannot record that he saved the property of Democrats as well as of other citizens, for to assume that they are not entitled to the protection of law is to ignore the rights of fully one-half the population of the loyal States.

All reports of the destruction of newspapers elsewhere in the State besides San Francisco were without foundation. In every other section the people manifested their grief by more quiet and respectful proceedings. True, in some instances, threats were made by persons who imagined it would be proper for them to imitate the example set at San Francisco, but thanks be to the cooler heads of the more orderly masses, we are spared the necessity of recording any further violation of law. It is to be hoped that every law abiding citizen, be he Democrat or Republican, Abolitionist or Copperhead, will continue to exert himself in behalf of law and order, for surely no good can come of violent demonstrations, be they of what character they may.

We append hereto some very sensible remarks upon this subject taken from the S. F. Bulletin:

“Every intelligent Unionist must perceive that no good can possibly result from lawless bursts of anger at this time. The duty of the hour is a calm adherence to the legal sanctions of order, that society may as soon as possible recover from the disturbing effects of civil war and the passions that follow in the train. Mere brutal violence is an affront to the spirit of the great dead, whose marble serenity still hushes the nation’s capital. We should go through this memorial week--about to be made sacred forever in our history his by obsequies -- with dignity and decency worthy of our grief and of his character. Everv good citizen should frown upon all incitements to scenes of disorder, chief among which, and altogether the most reprehensible, are incendiary publications of the character of the American Flag, which should be discouraged and discarded by every friend of sobriety and good government. The civil and military authorities should continue their efforts to preserve the peace, and use every proper means to prevent inflammatory appeals and expressions.”

- Sonoma Democrat, April 29 1865



The Opponents of the Administration.

Some people place a poor estimate upon the patriotism, virtue and intelligence of the American people when they endeavor to fix the responsibility of the recent tragic occurrences in our Nation’s history upon those who, in their wisdom, have seen proper to exercise the privileges of citizenship by recording their votes against the peculiar policy of those who administer the Government. The right of freely expressing one’s views and the free exercise of the right of suffrage are privileges which have been guaranteed to the people of this country, not only by the Constitution of the United States, but by that of every individual State in the Union... At the recent Presidential election over fifteen hundred thousand American citizens entered their protest against the peculiar policy of those who were administering the Government. If it were true that these people desired the downfall of the Government or the assassination of its Chief Executive, then, indeed, are we a degenerate nation. We do not believe that the masses of the dominant party attribute any such designs or motives to those who opposed them in the last Presidential contest--but, rather, they stand with the lamented President, who himself spurned to assume such to be the case, and in his last Message administered these fanatics a withering rebuke by taking upon himself the defense of the Democratic party against this senseless cry of disloyalty and treason.

But, we regret, there are some high in authority who see proper to take a different view from Mr. Lincoln, and declare or insinuate that those whom the late President would defend from the foul invectives hurled against them are guilty, as charged by the fanatical press of the country. We have heard nothing from the East of this tirade against Democrats; it appears to be confined alone to the Pacific coast. — And feeling, as we do, that they have cause to and do as deeply mourn the loss of the lamented dead as any who set themselves up to be models of loyalty. we deeply regret that such should be the case here. In the defense of the Democracy by Mr. Lincoln we have another reason Democrats everywhere should deplore his loss; for surely we had a better friend in him than we may ever hope to find in those who rule the country now.

- Sonoma Democrat, April 29 1865



Military Arrests.

David James and two sons, Wm. P Durbin and son, Charles Ramsey and son, and John Stilts were arrested by military order in Green Valley, Solano county, on Monday List, lor rejoicing over the death of President Lincoln. — A company of militia were despatched from Benecia to execute the order, and met with resistance from the parties, two soldiers being wounded. After an exchange of several shots, the above named parties surrendered themselves to the militia, and are now confined at San Francisco, where they will be tried by military court for resisting the execution of the order. Four men were arrested at Colusa on Thursday of last week, by a company of soldiers from Sacramento, also charged with rejoicing over the death of the President. The names of the parties so arrested are...

- Sonoma Democrat, April 29 1865


Will Awaken Reflection.

There is scarcely a Copperhead journal in the State but that comes to us clothed in mourning, and filled with lamentations over the untimely fall of Abraham Lincoln, by the hand of an assassin. How sincere they are in their protestations of sorrow is a matter of little or no importance to us; but we are curious to see what effect it will have upon those who had been educated up to an intense degree of fanatical hatred of Lincoln by these same organs. Ignorant men and women whose minds are plastic material in the hands of unscrupulous demagogues, when once thoroughly indoctrinated with sentiments, however brutal, are hard to uneducate; and in the present instance very many of them gave utterance to their joy at the cowardly assassination of President Lincoln, little dreaming that the journals which had always held him up to them as a "monster in human form;" a "tyrant whose iron rule was insufferable," would exhibit such an agony of grief at his removal. Even the lowest order of intellect can discern that either in the beginning or end they have been dealt falsely by; that if their leaders were sincere at the outset, they have deserted them now; and if sincere now, they willfully deceived and betrayed them into a false position in the beginning. Those who, upon hearing of the assassination of Lincoln, exclaimed, the 'Abolitionists' have been rejoicing over the capture of Lee's army but now it is our turn to rejoice, little dereamed that their leaders would fail to join with them in their origies [sic] over a slain "tyrant." How chilling must have been the effect upon the patrons of the Santa Rosa Democrat, when upon unfolding its pages expecting to find a ponderous leader under the caption, "Caesar found his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and Lincoln his Booth," their eyes were greeted with an ostentatious display of mourning, and professions of inconsolable sorrow. However bitter the disappointment to some, it will not be wholly barren of good results. Some minds are so constituted that just such impressive lessons are the only instrumentalities that will arouse them to the perception of new truths. Party leaders, so long as they keep up a semblance of consistency and sincerity, may keep such minds in the grooves of old beaten tracks, but when, as is the case just now, those leaders stand unmasked, shrinking from the position into which they have betrayed their dupes, their misguided followers will be slow to fall into line and follow them into new and unexplored fields. The whole stock in trade of the Democratic leaders, in this county, has been vituperation of Lincoln, By falsehood and misrepresentation they kept men in their party trammels by systematic and unscrupulous appeals to the lowest instincts of brutalized humanity. Like the keeper who shrinks back powerless to command the obedience of animals whose appetites have been whetted by the blood of some hapless victim, these same leaders stand trembling in the presence of the demoniac spirit they have instilled into the hearts of their followers, and which will not down at their bidding. This condition of affairs has awakened reflection in the minds of a small minority in that party, who can lay some claims to intelligence and respectability, and they unhesitatingly renounce their allegiance to it. Oceans of hypocritical tears will not suffice to remove the stain of Lincoln's blood from the Democratic party; it will adhere to it with the tenacity of the poisoned shirt of Nessus.

- Petaluma Argus, May 4, 1865



Beginning to Reap the Penalty.

So long as there was a remote possibility that the armed rebellion with which our Government was struggling, might ultimately accomplish its end, Norther traitors could hold up their heads with some assurance; but now that the cause which has commanded their entire sympathies, is hopelessly crushed, they beging to have a foretaste of the infamy in store for them and their posterity, for generations to come. Every day is rendering more legible the line of demarkation between loyal men and traitors. Where loyalty and treason have been unequally yoked together in business firs the work of severance and readjusting is rapidly going on. Aiders and abettors of treason are being made to feel that they are regarded as moral lepers who live by the sufferance of the community they infest. As well might they attempt to elude their own shadows as the disgrace which will attend them at every step throughout their lives and brood over their graves after their death.

- Petaluma Argus, May 4, 1865



The Day of Reckoning.

What did you with the inheritance bequeathed to you by the founders of our Government? When treason uplifted its bloody hand against the National life, what position did you assume, that of loyalty or disloyalty to your country? These are grave questions, but they are interrogatories which will meet you at every turn in life, and whether you are willing or not, answer to them will be exacted. The antecedents, associations, and records of some of the would-be prominent men of this county have branded their brows with treason, in characters so legible, that even children will recognize them, and shrinking from their path will point after them and say, "there goes a TRAITOR."

- Petaluma Argus, May 4, 1865



"LET THE GALLED JADE WINCE."--No wonder Limberback, of Santa Rosa, is afraid that during the coming canvass "Democrats will be denounced as sympathizers with treason and assassination." Jeff. Davis is certainly a good Democrat. Jacob Thompson, C. C. Clay, Beverly Tucker, and Geo. N. Saunders, dictated the platform which was adopted by the Democratic National Convention at Chicago. They are good Democrats, yet they are directly implicated in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and are supposed to be in sympathy with the  late rebellion. The plot to assassinate the President was doubtless well known in the wigwams of the Golden Circle, or Knights of the Columbian Star, and no sensible person will attempt to deny that the leaders of the Democratic Party of Sonoma County, were members of that organization. Is it strange that the people hold the Democratic Party responsible for the rebellion and the assassination of Mr. Lincoln?

- Petaluma Argus, May 11, 1865


U. S. BONDS--The Santa Rosa treason mill has been selected as one of the papers to advertise the U. S. 7-30 Loan! That is proper and right. The paper has been loyal for two weeks through fear of being destroyed by an outraged people! This brazen-faced hypocritical, teason-breeding tool of Jeff. Davis, after working four years for the Southern Confederacy, now has the impudences to advise loyal men to invest in the Government Loan! Oh, what cheek! Limberback is subjugated! He will be a howling Abolitionist in another month. Advising the people to subscribe for the National Loan! Aint, that funny! He will be advocating negro equality pretty soon. Can't be subjugated, oh no! Where is the last ditch? Ha, ha, haw-haw!

- Petaluma Argus, May 11, 1865


New England on Trial.

New England chuckles over what she deems the complete success of her blind theories; she has obtained in the hour of national insanity, what she vainly endeavored for half a century to win from the calm judgment of our people, viz: The privilege of testing the the truth or falsity of her Abolition dogma. We the whole people of the United States, who have paid the price in blood and treasure lor this little experiment in New England ideas, will endeavor patiently to await the result. If upon a practical demonstration, Emancipation shall prove a benefit to humanity, white and black, then glory be to New England. Then who would not be an abolitionist? If the negroes and their former masters can inhabit the same soil equal in all things, and nearly equal in numbers, each happy and all things harmonious in their new relation, then New England ideas have triumphed. New England stands or falls by the result. The test of Emancipation is the test of New England, and woe to the disciple of John Brown if after a fair trial we find that we have paid so dearly for their teachings, only to be deceived in the result.

- Sonoma Democrat, May 13 1865


"We the whole people of the United States who have paid the price in blood and treasure for this little experiment in New England ideas, will endeavor patiently to await the result." - Santa Rosa Democrat.

We rather think you won't have long to wait. Have you heard from Jeff. lately? By the way, Limberback, where was your blood and treasure expended? On which side of the line did you invest? Didn't you loose [sic] most of your cash on the Confederacy?

- Petaluma Argus, May 18, 1865

Older Posts