Santa Rosa's quite the plucky little town, according to this press release from the newly-created Chamber of Commerce: Less than five months after the devastating 1906 earthquake, all signs of damage were cleaned up, stores were back in business, and industrious workers were constructing "stronger and more handsome structures" that complied with the strictest building codes.

It was mostly a pack of lies.

All that new construction was being approved at a reckless pace, with the single building inspector reviewing a dozen plans at once and five major structures given the go-ahead at a City Council meeting. Many of those "temporary business buildings" mentioned by the Chamber were lean-to sheds or wooden roofs to shade open-air tables, and any shoppers who dared visit Fourth street had to navigate a dangerous obstacle course of construction materials and broken sidewalks. Contrary to the Chamber's claim, there was plenty of debris around; the hulking wreckage of the old courthouse still loomed over the downtown area, and it would be another two months before the demolition contract would even be awarded. Most galling is their claim that Santa Rosa generously "housed and fed, despite her own distress, hundreds of refugees from San Francisco." Despite tons of donations piled in a warehouse, Santa Rosa stopped food aid after three weeks except to "widows, orphans and the sick" - even refugees were expected to find a job, if only shoveling rubble for $2/day.

But most interesting in the Chamber's press release is that the earthquake isn't even mentioned once. Here the Chamber followed the lead of business interests in San Francisco that insisted the great city was destroyed by fires that followed a minor tremor. The story is detailed in one of the best books about the quake, "Denial of disaster" by San Francisco city archivist Gladys Hansen:

As part of this public relations strategy, James Horsburgh Jr., General Passenger Agent of the Southern Pacific Company, wrote to chambers of commerce throughout the state to candidly detail the railroad's efforts to "set the record straight." Essentially, the Southern Pacific Company began to rewrite the entire history of the disaster - a simple and sanitized version - to diminish the impact of the earthquake, and to assure easterners that investment in California enterprises would continue to be good business.

The scope of the Southern Pacific Company's reworking of the history of the catastrophe was, and is, breathtaking. The company's point of view was that there was barely an earthquake.

Published a few weeks later and widely distributed nationwide, Southern Pacific's travel magazine, "The Sunset" became a primary source of the fire-not-earthquake (mis)information about what happened in San Francisco. Horsburgh's letter to the chambers of commerce went further, urging anyone from the groups speaking about the disaster should emphasize "how quickly and wonderfully San Francisco and California recovered from the effects, and how thoroughly and systematically they began the work of reconstruction."

That, of course, was exactly the myth peddled by Santa Rosa's Chamber, which was joined at the hip with the two local newspapers, particularly the Press Democrat: A gleaming new 20th century phoenix was arising overnight from the old farm town's ashes. Variations of that fairy tale are still told today, but in truth it took another year before the professional businesses moved out of the emergency shantytown at Fifth and Mendocino, and it wasn't until 1908 before Fourth St. again became something like the town's social hub. Also not mentioned in the Chamber's PR was that many were still fighting an ongoing battle with the insurance companies. Some appeals dragged on for another five years, and ultimately fewer than ten companies paid their losses in full.

The railroad may have provided the Chamber with free spin, but it didn't pay to have it printed. In November, the Chamber held a fundraiser at the roller skating rink to pay for the production of brochures. The entertainment that evening was a match between Santa Rosa's "ladies' polo team" (hockey on skates) and competitors from another town.

Sends Out Bulletin Regarding Santa Rosa's Progress

The newly organized Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce has sent out its first bulletin throughout the east regarding the conditions here, and the upbuilding of Santa Rosa. Among the facts covered in the bulletin are these:

The vast amount of work accomplished in the reconstruction of the business portion of our beautiful City of Roses, which had been laid low by the awful devastation of April 18, 1906, is the wonder of every visitor.

All debris was removed from burned area [sic] within weeks' time of the disaster.

Temporary business buildings were immediately erected surrounding the old business section, and merchants having secured stocks from adjoining towns resumed business with courage and success.

Business buildings partially destroyed were immediately repaired and occupied by former tenants[.]

Residential section, slightly damaged, was soon repaired, and our yards and homes now seem more beautiful than ever.

A stringent building ordinance was adopted by the City Council before any permits for permanent buildings were granted. In the two months this ordinance has been in effect permits over $400,000 worth of business buildings have been granted and the same are now under actual construction, in fact, it is estimated that over one-third of the business area destroyed is in course of rebuilding, with stronger and more handsome structures.

It is noteworthy that less than one-half dozen families left Santa Rosa owing to the calamity, and praiseworthy that she housed and fed, despite her own distress, hundreds of refugees from San Francisco. The Southern Pacific and California Northwestern railroads have been compelled to put on additional freight trains to handle the merchandise required, and materials for reconstruction.

Hotel accommodations are only temporary. Enterprising capitalists will find here a splendid opening.

There is a great demand for laborers, both in building trades and crop harvesting.

Sonoma county conditions are excellent. Fruit crops are large, and marketing at good prices; grape crop short but prices unusually high; hop crop a record breaker, prices above expectation. Large shipments of poultry continue to San Francisco and Nevada daily; likewise dairy products.

There is a feeling of courage and hopefulness alike by our enterprising merchants, property owners and residents.

- Press Democrat, September 7, 1906

Santa Rosa had about 100 social groups for women in 1906 according to gossip columnist "Dorothy Anne," but Mattie Oates belonged to only three: The Married Ladies' Card Club - the first post-quake party in Santa Rosa was a get-together at Mattie's house - the Saturday Afternoon Club, and "The Bunch."

The Saturday Afternoon Club was the most intellectual club in town; in the excerpt below, Mattie presented a paper on early 19th century German poets. The highbrow group could also be snooty; an item from 1904 found a member denouncing Sunday newspaper comics as "a bad influence on children."

But at least twice a year, "The Bunch" rented a lodge hall and held a dance, which was usually a highlight of Santa Rosa's social season. Particularly wonderful in this newspaper item below is the lyric phrase of dancers spending "happy hours in the mazy whirls." According to citations in Google Books, "mazy whirls" dates back at least to the 1840s.


The dance at Germania Hall Thanksgiving evening by the popular "Bunch" crowd was one of the jolly reunions of these young people. For some time past the dances have not been frequently held, and the absence of the terpsichorean events during the past few months made the dance Thursday evening all the more pleasant. The hall was elaborately decorated. The orchestra was partly hidden beneath branches of holly, which were dotted with tiny red, white and blue electric lights. Streamers of the national colors, with purple and yellow added were effectively used across the ceiling and hall.

The dances held until morning and every one present spent happy hours in the mazy whirls. Delicious refreshments were served. The patronesses were Mesdames John P. Overton, Allen B. Lemmon, James Wyatt Oates and E. F. Woodward.

- Santa Rosa Republican, November 30, 1906

...The Saturday Afternoon Club met at the residence of Mrs. Dr. Thompson yesterday afternoon, Mrs. James Edwards presiding. The large attendance testified to the extent of the interest taken by the members in the subjects discussed: Mrs. James W. Oates read an interesting paper upon Goethe and Schiller, their Friendship and Relative Importance. Mrs. John B. Davis entertained the club with a sketch in the life of Mendelssohn, while Miss Hahman and Mrs. Hall gave selected readings from the Faust legend...

- "Dorothy Anne" gossip column, Press Democrat, November 18, 1906

Violent deaths were almost weekly news in Sonoma County a century ago, but I've never encountered a story quite as disturbing as this. Usually the cause is accidental death by stupidity (falling asleep on the railroad tracks) or gruesome suicide, such as the lumberjack and father of five in Occidental who chopped his head open with an axe then disemboweled himself (yet still lived for two days). This tale, however, reminds me of Frank Norris' great novel "McTeague," as a situation pinwheeled completely out of control.

In summary: A Santa Rosa carpenter and his wife visited a man near Cloverdale. They all drank a few glasses of wine. Mr. Cloverdale offered beer, which his guests refused. That made Cloverdale angry, and he threw the glasses and cussed at them. A fight ensued, and the carpenter smashed the other man's skull with his fists. Amazingly, the coroner's jury ruled it to be self defense.

Bilderdack Will Probably Not Be Prosecuted For the Fatal Beating He Gave J. McMillen

It is probable that there will be no prosecution of J. Bilderdack, the Santa Rosa carpenter, who administered a beating to J. P. McMillen, from which the latter died on the Brown ranch, a few miles from Cloverdale last Sunday night. At the inquest it was shown by evidence that Bilderdack had to fight for his life before he beat McMillen into insensibility. The Coroner's jury found that McMillen died from the blows inflicted by Bilderdack. At the conclusion of the inquest Bilderdack was allowed to have his liberty, and he has left the scene of the occurrence. At the inquest he was represented by Attorney George W. Hoyle of Cloverdale.

According to the statements made by Bilderdack and other witnesses they had gone to the carpenter's cabin to have some wine and several toasts were proposed. Finally when Bilderdack refused to drink any more McMillen poured out two glasses of wine and demanded that he and his wife drink it anyway. In order to have harmony they drank the wine, and then McMillen is said to have seized a bottle of beer and filled the glasses with the beverage. This the Bilderdacks say they positively declined to consume and this angered McMillen more than ever and he is said to have thrown both glasses and its contents at Bilderdack and to have followed it up with some abusive language directed towards Bilderdack and his wife. Then the fight was on and Bilderdack avers that he had to defend himself. McMillen died several hours after the beating. The injuries causing death were blows beside the head.

- Press Democrat, September 14, 1906

Should we be surprised that chain letters were appearing in mailboxes 'way back as 1906? Probably not, but it's interesting that they were still so unusual that the local newspaper deemed them newsworthy and necessary to debunk. If our ancestors were really so gullible, we are fortunate that the heirs of recently deceased Nigerian millionaires hadn't yet discovered the U.S. mails.

According to a often-cited web article on the history of chain letters (Ex cathedra, variations of this sort of "Letter from Heaven" began circulating in the late 1800s, but didn't really take off until postcards became so popular in the early 20th century. That web page describes this exact message as a luck chain letter that started in 1906 and continued to circulate for a few years.

An "Endless Chain of Prayer" Traveling Through the Country is Said to be a Hoax

The endless chain of prayer that originated, according to rumor, with Bishop William Lawrence of the Episcopal Church of Massachusetts, and indignantly repudiated by him with emphatic denial of its authorship, recently struck Sacramento, and is having its run, the Union says.

The prayer is one for mercy to all mankind, followed by a statement that those who rewrite the prayer and sent it on enchain shall experience some great joy. It is added that it has been said at the Holy Feast of Jerusalem that whoever rewrites the prayer shall be delivered from some great calamity. Each recipient of a copy of the written prayer is requested to rewrite and send it to nine or ten friends. It has been traveling about Sacramento the last three weeks very diligently, somewhat enlarging Uncle Sam's postal receipts. It may reach Santa Rosa.

It is regarded as a hoax, pure and simple. The religious press has denounced it as such and the clergy everywhere has blacked its eye mercilessly. Perhaps no one has spoken more bodly [sic] and incisively upon the subject that the Right Rev. Bishop W. H. Moreland, who says it is merely an appeal to the superstitious; that Bishop Lawrence, who was alleged to have been the author, is a level-headed prelate and a clear thinker, and did not, could not have concocted such a scheme, Bishop Moreland says Bishop Lawrence did everything in his power to deny the statement that he was the author of the letter. The letter, Bishop Moreland says, is not worthy of being called a prayer, as it appeals only to fears and superstitions. He considers it an affront to the hearty instincts of any man.

- Press Democrat, October 26, 1906

The "Prayer Chain" Arrives

Mention was made the other day of the "endless prayer chain," that would probably reach Santa Rosa before long. It has arrived and quite a number of Santa Rosans have received copies from friends, known and unknown, asking them to rewrite and forward the prayer to their friends. One young lady received the prayer from a friend in Petaluma so it is evident it has reached there also.

- Press Democrat, October 27, 1906

A vignette of life in 1906 Santa Rosa, when storekeepers just threw waste paper into the street and expected the city to clean it up. No wonder their kids tossed orange peels on the sidewalks as they walked to school.


John White, deputy street commissioner, will make an example of some of the Fifth street merchants if the practice of throwing papers on the streets is not discontinued at once. The street is the principal business thoroughfare of the city and each morning is littered by waste paper carelessly thrown from business houses. It is cleaned frequently by the street department, but never looks clean only while the men are at work. Mr. White will cause the arrest of merchants who persist in littering the street after this warning.

- Santa Rosa Republican, October 19, 1906

Gentlemen, place your bets: Santa Rosa's horse races were long popular with the San Francisco gambling set (see "Wide-Open Town" series), but as of October, 1906, they could now lose their shirts on something else running at the track: Motorcars.

The premier auto contest followed a short card of regular horse races on Santa Rosa's old mile track. There were two car races; the first was a formal ten mile handicapped race, the winner to receive a silver cup. Trouble plagued contestants; 13 cars entered, but only five were on the track that day, and one of them broke down in the second lap. The other race was a "free-for-all" that was won by a Locomobile, which became in 1908 the first American-built car to win an international competition.

The best speed in both races was about ten miles in 13 ½ minutes, or an average of over 45MPH - not shabby at all for cars of that era.

Preparations For the Meet in Santa Rosa on October 26 Which Will be Under Driving Club Auspices

The horse races that are to take part her on October 26 under the auspices of the Sonoma County Driving Club, mingled with automobile races, are attracting much attention and interest. Special excursion trains to be run here from Ukiah and waypoints will bring large crowds here and San Francisco is interested in the auto races. The following from a San Francisco paper has this to say about the latter feature:

"Quite a number of the local dealers are planning to take part in the automobile races to be held next week at Santa Rosa. Arthur Van Valin has made arrangements to take a thirty-five horse power Studebaker to the meet, while J. H. Jackson of the Berkeley Automobile Company says he will probably enter one of his American machines in the special handicap event.

"While several large cars are expected to compete, at least one or two of the smaller horsepower machines will take part in the ten-mile handicap race. The J. W. Leavitt Company will enter one of the fourteen horsepower Reo cars. The handicap which it will receive from the larger machines will give the little car an equal chance for the prize.

"Should the American and Studebaker cars race on equal terms, a good speed test should result, both of these machines being rated among the fastest touring cars in the city. Jackson gave his machine a test on the road to San Jose and Almaden last Sunday; when he took part in the run of the San Jose Automobile Club to the latter place. Although he did not let the car out to the limit, over forty miles an hour was registered at times by the speedometer."

- Press Democrat, October 20, 1906

Spectators Liked The Chug-Wagons in Contest

The ten mile handicap automobile race was won Friday afternoon at the Santa Rosa Stock Farm track by the Buick car, which was propelled to victory by C. S. Howard. At the completion of the tenth lap Howard was given the signal that he was the victor and he leisurely tolled off another mile, just for luck. When he came to the grand stand and halted he was presented with the handsome silver loving cup provided by the Sonoma County Driving Club.

Howard had only four competitors in the race, out of thirteen cars entered. Accidents of various kinds to the remaining cars kept them from participating. These accidents were to parts not usually carried as emergency supplies and could not be obtained until the evening train arrived from the metropolis. An attempt was made to have the club postpone the auto races until Saturday afternoon, but this was not considered advisable.

In the race were a $2600 Studebaker car, driven by L. Allen, which came in second, and a $3700 Studebaker, which was the scratch car, secured third place...The high priced Studebaker car was the favorite and was believed to be a winner. At the second lap the "sparker" failed to work properly and for eight miles VanValin, the driver, stood on the top of his car, propelled with his left hand and kept vigorously at work with his right hand on the machinery.

Between the handicap and free-for-all race for autos, VanValin was unable to get the "sparker" to working properly, but nevertheless he entered the second contest. This was by far the prettiest and most interesting race of the day. The Studebaker car was in the lead until after the fifth mile, when the Locomobile, driven by A. D. Whitehead, gradually forged ahead and won the race by about fifty yards. Many of the spectators thought the driver of the Locomobile was Charles Talmadge, in his Rambler car. He was seen on the track just previous to the race, and this gave rise to the belief. These local people cheered lustily for Talmadge only to find that he was not driving the car. It gave added enthusiasm to the race, however.

- Santa Rosa Republican, October 27, 1906

Here are two stories about women being assaulted from the same paper, same day, even the very same page. In one case, the attacks are taken very seriously; in the other, the woman is ridiculed for making the charge. And both stories leave the reader wondering if there was more to the incidents than told in the newspaper.

The first tale could have been lifted from a generic B-movie western: A drunken gang terrorizes women in a rural community, even threatening the shutdown of a post office until Johnny Law shows up. As told in the September 24, 1906 Santa Rosa Republican, policemen from Santa Rosa spent two days rushing back and forth on country roads to crack down on "rowdies."

But why were our local cops churning up the dust between here and a farm near Occidental? Why wasn't the sheriff called? Likely because he was away at the time, and the situation was serious enough to warrant immediate attention. Besides the attacks upon women, postal service was threatened and that, as the newspaper warned ominously, could get the drunks "entangled with the federal law."

Reading closely, however, it appears that these troublemakers were conducting a reign of terror over a broad swath of West County. The Mount Olivet post office was at the current intersection of River Road and Olivet Road (three miles west of Fulton), and according to the 1900 county map, that hop yard was about eight miles further west in the hills above Occidental, which would mean that anyone along modern-day River Road or any of the other coastward roads might be attacked by these aggressive yahoos.

The other story is far more a mystery. On the same Sunday evening that Santa Rosa's finest were chasing down hop field drunks, a woman ran up Fourth street screaming. She told the crowd that gathered that she was on Third when a man tried to drag her into a vacant lot. A search for the attacker was fruitless.

Yet the real assault on the woman came not from a man grabbing at her in the dark but from the newspaper, who ridiculed her story of the attack. "It is believed to be an attempt to gain notoriety," the news item concluded, with a sneering tone. Why such skepticism - and particularly why such disrespect, unprecedented for an article about a woman during that era? Was Alice a prostitute, or otherwise a person of such basement-like stature that she could be openly humiliated in the paper by being called a liar? Was the reporter a jilted lover, or someone who otherwise had a vendetta against her?


A number of drunken rowdies who have been employed in the hop fields near Mr. Olivet have kept up a reign of terror there for a couple of days past. Women have been badly frightened, the inebriates have attempted to take hold of several of the women, and the woman who carries the mail from the train to the postoffice has been so badly frightened that she will not carry the mail any longer. If these men should continue to interfere with the mails they may feel themselves entangled with the federal law.

Constable Sam J. Gilliam was called to the Purrington hop yard Saturday afternoon and remained until 2 o'clock Sunday morning. He and Constable Boswell were both there again Sunday and on Monday morning a hurried call for these officers was again made. Constable Gilliam was at the time enroute for the scene. Every year these drunken orgies are enacted and it is hoped that the officers have now quelled the disturbance so that it will not break out again.

Probably Attempt to Gain Notoriety

A woman who is said to be Alice Rodgers, or Alice Sawyer, and who stops at a hotel on lower Fourth street, claims to have had an exciting encounter with a bold, bad man Sunday evening. She had been out walking with another woman who was stopping temporarily at the hotel, and her companion had returned twenty minutes previously to the time when the woman came screaming toward the hostelry.

Guests at the hotel listened hurriedly to her story, and then started over to Third street, where she said a man had grabbed her and attempted to drag her into a vacant lot. The woman said had been severely choked, but those who examined her throat and neck failed to see any marks thereon. A search was made for the alleged assailant of the woman, and although parties were hurriedly on the scene after the woman set up a lusty screaming, no one could be seen running away.

The matter was not reported to the police officially and no further attempt was made to capture the alleged assailant of the woman. It is believed to be an attempt to gain notoriety on the part of the fair guest at the hostelry. Monday she denied herself to callers and refused to discuss the matter. Although the woman has been a guest at the hotel for many days, her name was never placed on the register.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 24, 1906

Did those early cars turn some drivers into bad people, or did bad people just like to drive cars? It may also be a coincidence, but although there were probably fewer than a hundred automobiles in Sonoma County in 1906 (there were 41 the year before), drivers were involved in a disproportionate number of serious anti-social crimes.

Just a few weeks after a child molester lured girls into his automobile, here was Sonoma County's first hit and run. The rules at the time required drivers ("chauffeurs," in the parlance of the day) to be considerate of horse-drawn vehicles, yet "Autocar 720" sped past a buggy on the road to Sebastopol, making a swift getaway after the spooked horse threw a family out of their buggy.

The law also required cars to stop and wait for the horse to pass if given a hand signal, which was challenged the year before by Dr. Crocker, whose car hit a buggy carrying a family of five, seriously injuring a passenger. The Healdsburg doctor appealed the fine given to him for causing the accident, using a novel defense that speed limits and laws requiring him to take precautions around horses were unfair.

Mysterious Speedy Gas Wagon Bearing Above Number Wanted

If "Autocar 720" will call at Justice Simon Graham's court in Sebastopol its driver will hear something interesting if not entertaining. J. L. Mello is exceedingly anxious to see the outfit again. While driving with his wife and child along the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol road recently the noisy gas wagon came up behind them and the Mello horse did the airship act, The auto "shover" put on more hurry and disappeared in the gloaming, nor left one lingering smell of gas behind. The man, woman and child were thrown out of their vehicle into the road, all three sustaining bad bruises. Hence the desire to meet auto seven-twenty in the Gold Ridge city, ere it is worn out with continual illegal speeding along the public highway.

- Press Democrat, September 27, 1906

Raise a weak cheer for the Santa Rosa newspapers in 1906; their reporting on people of color was certainly better than the two previous years, but that only means the dial was turned down slightly from red-zone disgusting levels.

Start with the Great Earthquake: Four Chinese men and a Japanese man died that horrible morning, all at either the Saint Rose or Occidental hotels. Hooray that the papers didn't refer to them as "Chinks" or "Japs," but they were identified only by race, whereas Whites usually had their occupation and/or place of death described. (For the record, two of the Chinese men were merchants, two were cooks, and the Japanese man worked as a dishwasher at the St. Rose.) But any effects of the quake in Santa Rosa's "Chinatown" on Second Street and non-fatal injuries of community members were ignored. Sure, perhaps there was no damage there and no one was harmed, but that's very hard to believe, considering it was only two blocks from the worst of the fires and devastation. More likely that it was a textbook example of racism by omission.

The most contentious racial incident occurred in March, when a local bricklaying contractor misled African-American workers from Los Angeles into coming here to break a strike. A group of out-of-town masons confronted a Black man in a bar, mistakenly believing that he was part of the group from LA, and a fight broke out. The two newspapers printed quite different accounts of the incident; in the version told by the Republican, the man was attacked by a mob - but in the Press Democrat, he was a troublemaker who "ran amuck."

Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley gets both the highest and lowest marks for racial coverage that year. In December, the newspaper ran a perfectly matter-of-fact report about "Charles Jefferson, a colored man" being assaulted for tipping his hat to a White woman. Yet a few months earlier, the paper had printed a ginned-up story about "a foxy Chinaman. Ah Wang" who supposedly allowed himself to be arrested to gain a free ride from Geyserville to Santa Rosa. That story, complete with pidgin dialect, read like a tale whipped up in a saloon. It was a shameful throwback to the tired, racist crap that the PD routinely published in years past.

Gets Free Ride From Geyserville to Santa Rosa, and After Minute or Two in Jail Pays His Fine

Talk about a foxy Chinaman. Ah Wang holds the record, aided and abetted by a well known Santa Rosa lawyer, Reuben M. Swain, Esq., Referee in bankruptcy, etc.

Ah Wang was tried before the Geyserville justice on Wednesday on a charge of having attempted to induce a young girl there to enter his room. He was acquitted on this charge, as the evidence did not sustain the complaint. Then a second complaint was filed against him, and he was convicted and fined twenty-five dollars or twenty-five days in the county jail.

He was brought to jail here, and no sooner had he been given into the custody of the officer in charge of the county bastille than he set about paying his fine.

In the eyes of the law after his entry and reception in jail and the turning of the key in the lock he had served one day of his sentence and consequently in order to regain his liberty he had only to put up twenty-four dollars. He had some money and borrowed the rest from his attorney, Mr. Swain, who had been to Geyserville to defend him. He then paid his fine.

It seems that the Celestial desired to make the trip to Santa Rosa anyway, and by having the constable bring him to jail he saved the price of the face [sic] from the northern town. By going to jail for a few minutes he served a day of his sentence and thus saved another dollar.

"Me heap sabee law, you bet, I likee advice Judge Swain, you bet," was his gleeful comment.

- Press Democrat, August 16, 1906

Attack Made at the Corner of Third and Main Streets on Thursday Afternoon

Charles Jefferson, a colored man, who has been employed as stableman in a stable on lower Fourth Street, was the victim of an assault on Thursday afternoon at Third and Main streets at the hands of a white man.

The colored man lifted his hat to a passing lady, whose son keeps his horse at the stable, as she was approaching a buggy at the sidewalk. The perpetrator of the assault stepped up and with the exclamation: "I'll teach you to take off your hat to women in this country," struck Jefferson a violent blow in the mouth and felled him to the ground, and then, according to the statement of Contractor Rushing, who says he witnessed the assault, kicked him while down.

Jefferson could make no effort catch his assailant. Contractor Rushing tried to stop him as he ran off. The injured man later swore out a John Doe warrant for his assailant's arrest in Judge Atchinson's court, and the warrant was given to Constable Boswell to put into execution. The lady to whom Jefferson said he doffed his cap called at the police station and said the attack on the colored man was entirely unprovoked. She did not see Jefferson's salute, as it happened, and said it would have been all right anyway, as she had seen the man frequently when she went to the stable with her horse, and had always found his respectful. Jefferson's face was badly cut.

- Press Democrat, December 21, 1906


Because a colored man attempted to be polite to Mrs. Birdie Miller on Third street Thursday evening, he was brutally assaulted. He was first knocked down by a vicious blow in the mouth, and then kicked in the face while he was prostate on the ground. The man who made the assault ran away in a cowardly fashion after injuring the man he assaulted. Mrs. Miller is incensed at the treatment given the colored man who had spoken to her, and so expressed herself to Justice A. J. Atchinson and others after assault. The man works in a livery stable where Mrs. Miller's son keeps his his horse and she drives in there frequently. It has come to a pretty pass when an inoffensive man is brutally assaulted for being polite.

Contractor W. E. Rushing witnessed the assault and he characterizes it as a piece of dastardly work. He attempted to overtake the fleeting man, but was unsuccessful, and later informed the officers where the man was employed and gave a description of him.

Charles Jefferson is the man assaulted and he bears a reputation of being peaceable. He has never been in trouble during the months he has been in Santa Rosa and he deeply regrets the unfortunate occurance. He was given no opportunity to defend himself and the savage kick he received in the face opened a large place on his forehead between the eyes from which blood flowed freely. Jefferson said later he would like to be turned loose with the man who struck him in a field so he could get a chance at him.

A warrant was sworn to by Jefferson for the arrest of his assailant and Constable Boswell made a search for the man without avail Thursday evening. The man was seen by several persons and later talked to others of what he had done and will be pointed out to the officers at the earliest possible moment and taken into custody.

- Santa Rosa Republican, December 21, 1906

Priorities, priorities: Five days after the catastrophic 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, bodies were still under the rubble, the town was still patrolled by armed soldiers and dark at night because there was no electricity or gas - and not to mention that the community was still reeling from the marathon of forty funerals held the day before. Naturally, the powers-that-be in town decided that it was a swell time to ram through major civic improvements.

That first salvo appeared in the April 23 edition of the Democrat-Republican: "One of the first things the City Council should attend to is the establishment of the new street lines. All the business streets should and must be widened, and now is the time to do it."

The proposal made some sense, in a morbid, Albert Speer-ish way. The quake and fires that had killed so many had wiped clear most of the downtown core from 3rd to 5th streets around the courthouse square, as well as much of 4th street down to the railroad station. But why widen the streets at all? The answer came in another Democrat-Republican op/ed on April 30:

For a long time it has been generally recognized that the majority of Santa Rosa's business streets were too narrow, and now that the opportunity for widening them has arrived it must be embraced. It will only be a few years until electric cars are occupying all our principal streets, and in addition to this the ordinary demands of business must be considered. Third, Fourth, Fifth, A, B, Main, Mendocino and D streets can now be improved in the respect noted without difficulty and practically without cost, and the authorities should see to it that the lines are set back before any of the foundations of the new buildings talked of are laid. We have it in our power to make Santa Rosa one of the finest and most attractive little cities in the whole country, and we will be playing false to our own best interests if we fail to do so.

There was the vision laid out: Santa Rosa would become San Francisco, maybe Manhattan in matchbox scale, a little California town of expansive boulevards with plenty of room for the new electric streetcars to share space with the new automobiles. It would be a town that had the bones to grow, and maybe even sprawl over the entire Santa Rosa plain.

Alas, like other failed schemes to bolster Santa Rosa during this era , it mostly went nowhere. Self interest trumped the common weal. A setback of a dozen feet or more would not have been a hardship for most businesses because the buildings often had behind them a shed, large porch or an open yard that formed an ad hoc alley with other yards. Such a space was even a hazard; on the day of the earthquake, Fire Chief Muther witnessed the fire spread because of empty boxes and crates piled high behind these buildings, and not getting too far ahead of the story, such conditions would become a fire risk again in early 1907.

But aside from a single meeting of 5th street property owners to discuss widening that street, the debate was reduced to widening two blocks on 4th, between Hinton Ave. (the east end of Courthouse Square) and E Street. And even that caused an ugly fuss.

For two months between May and July there were heated debates over who would donate how much and who would be compensated. The man who owned the corner of 4th and D wanted the city to give him $2,800 and part of his neighbor's lot for "damages," and a bank demanded over five thousand dollars to move their vault back a few feet. It was suggested that money be drawn from the General Fund (empty, because of the earthquake) or the street improvement bond (impossible, because this was not an anticipated use by the voters). A petition was submitted to the City Council demanding for the frontage on 4th street be taken by eminent domain. Most of these tedious arguments are not reproduced here (you're welcome).

A potential breakthrough offer came from the Masons on May 23rd, as the lodge volunteered to give up fourteen feet of their lot if other property owners did likewise. No one did, and the fighting seemed to intensify even more. After all this tussle, it was finally agreed that the two blocks of 4th street between Courthouse Square and E street would be widened - slightly. From Hinton Avenue to D, the town's main drag was just stretched from 66 feet to 81 feet; for the short block between D and E street, it was expanded from 60 to 78 feet.

Goodbye, San Francisco's Market Street - hello, a little more room for the buggy at the hitching post.


The movement in favor of the widening of Fifth street is to be commended. It is not an effort to injure anybody, but to help all having property on that street and the city generally. All our people admit that most of our streets are too narrow. Most of them admit that property values would be increased by quite general street widening. This is especially true of the business and residence portion of Fifth street. At the same time, it is a fact that the interior lots will receive more benefit than those at the corners of blocks. These differences should be adjusted by mutual conference, if possible. If this cannot be done the courts should be called upon to determine damages and benefits. At all events, the street should be widened, and now is the time to do this. It is not a pleasant task to interview people and endeavor to make them see what is best for them and the public generally, but the committees having this matter in hand will certainly do the best they can to bring about the desired result.

- Santa Rosa Republican, May 25, 1906


There was a meeting of the commission on widening Fourth street between Hinton avenue and E streets Saturday evening at the city hall, at which many Fourth street property owners were present. These had come by special invitation to discuss the matters in hand. It was stated that the Women's Improvement Club are willing to give $1000 toward the project, and other encouraging matters were reported. On motion of C. C. Farmer it was unanimously agreed that the street should be widened in the blocks mentioned. The only persons who will be paid damages for their property are Willis W. Gauldin and the Union Trust-Savings Bank. The former asks $2800 for the alleged damages to his property. while the bank wished to be reimbursed in the sum of $5077. The destruction of their vault, and a large slice of property on Fourth street, is taken from the financial institution. At the meeting of the city council this evening it is anticipate that some definite action will be taken toward the proposed widening of the street.

- Santa Rosa Republican, June 27, 1906

Hard to believe today, but a century ago the courts couldn't settle on a legal definition of gambling. Were you really placing a bet if you didn't hope to win money - but instead a beer, a handful of cigars, or even a cheek full of bubblegum? Apparently not, according to the 1906 Court of Appeals, ruling that a Petaluma man was innocent of a crime for dropping his nickel in a slot machine that could not give him hard cash in winnings.

The slot machines in question were apparently the sort invented in 1891. For a nickel, the five drums in the machine would spin, each holding the picture of ten playing cards. If the wheels stopped on a combination that displayed a winning poker hand, the bartender handed over a few cigars as the payout. According to several gambling history web sites - which freely plagiarize from each other, with never an original source cited - high-ranking cards were routinely removed from the drums, making a big jackpot impossible.

(Image courtesy

But because no payout was in coin, the machine was "a banking device," according to the court. The law narrowly defined gambling as being paid in "money, credits, checks and other representatives of value." Cigars, beer, and gum, were apparently worthless in the court's eyes.

Decision in the Slot Machine Cases by the Appelate Court Occasions Much Interest Here

In the case of C. C. Williams of Petaluma, the Appellate Court has decided that a slot machine played by the dropping of a nickel and the pressing of a lever to disclose the face of cards is a banking device, and is [not] a gambling machine. But where the machine pays in cigars or tobacco it does not fall within the inhibition of the law, the court holds...

...Williams was one of the Petalumans arrested on December 4, 1905 and fined $100. It was on the words "other representatives of value that the case rested. The Appellate Court held that according to the rules of law the words coming after the words 'money' and 'checks' means incorporated items of a similar nature, and [sic] did not embrace cigars and other merchandise." In his opinion Justice Buckles holds as follows:

There is nothing in section 330 which prohibits gambling for cigars. It follows that the practitioner must be discharged.


Some of the points made in the opinion of Justice Buckles are set forth in the Sacramento Union as follows:

Williams was arrested for operating and conducting this machine and it was charged that a banking game was played upon it for "money, credits, checks and other representatives of value."

But there is no pretension, say the Court, that money or checks were played. It was charged that cigars are "other representatives of value."

The machine was operated by dropping in a nickel and pressing a lever, and cigars were delivered according to a schedule of card showings. The machine was used for cigars only. The slot machine is, says Judge Buckles, a banking game. But it is not a crime to run such a device as described unless played for "money, credits, checks and other representatives of value." If played for something not included in these, it is not a crime.

What did the legislature mean by "other representatives of value?" The gaming is limited to the kinds mentioned in the law and the Court cannot extend the prohibition.

The ingenuity of man has devised a banking game in the cigar slot machine by which gambling may be carried on for property not included within "money, credits, checks and other representatives of value." There is nothing in the law which prohibits gambling for cigars, hence the prisoner must be discharged, says the Court.

- Press Democrat, August 2, 1906

...Or turn it into a big summer hotel, or something else useful. Who cares about those millennia-old redwoods, anyway?

We came dangerously close to losing the renowned woods in 1907 and 1908. The first threat is described below; the 1907 articles will follow later. For an overview of historical efforts to save the grove, search the Press Democrat archives for the January 20, 2008 article by Gaye LeBaron (sorry, no permanent link available).


There is a possibility that the beautiful redwood grove at Guerneville known as "Armstrong's Grove" will be sold in the near future. It is proposed to construct a big summer hotel in the beautiful grove, and with its attractive surroundings it would be a popular place. A magnificent park will be created around the mammoth hotel.

- Santa Rosa Republican, July 26, 1906

What speed, they worked; just a handful of months after the 1906 earthquake destroyed most of the Santa Rosa Flour Mill, the huge plant that spanned the entire west side of Wilson Street between 7th and 8th was rebuilt and ready to again turn out their famous "Rose" flour. But first things first; job #1 was to spend a few weeks turning out beer-makings. Maybe that's why they were so motivated to rebuild quickly.

Snarky innuendo about Santa Rosa's inebriate class aside, giving a priority to grinding barley, undoubtedly for the nearby Grace Brothers Brewery, actually makes sense. The brewery needed a steady supply of large quantities of crushed barley, and until the local mill was again operating, processed grain would have been shipped in by rail. That's never a good idea because barley (or any other grain) will oxidize rather quickly once it is cracked, which can result in off-flavors or even contamination of the beer. This must have been a particular concern for Grace Brothers during the hot summer months of 1906 (no refrigerated boxcars or airtight storage in those days, remember).

By contrast, refined flour can be stored for about a year - presuming it's kept away from moisture and bugs - and is easy to transport, so for all the woes that Santa Rosa endured after the quake, a shortage of flour was never a problem. Besides nearby sources such as the Golden Eagle mill in Petaluma, flour could always be ordered from more distant companies, as seen in the 1905 Santa Rosa Republican ad at right (click to enlarge) from a San Jose mill. And anyway, literally tons of flour was sent to the town for earthquake relief; an inventory at the end of the year found "more than two [train] carloads" still sitting in the warehouse.

As an aside, homemakers (or their hired cooks) in 1906 probably only used flour for biscuits and thickened gravy, cookies, cakes, pie dough and similar. Bread-making was a job left to professionals, not something made at home, and no mystery why; successful baking with a cast iron wood stove required an expert touch to maintain accurate oven temperatures, and even newer model gas stoves were problematic because of fluctuation in the city gas pressure (plus using stinky coal gas in Santa Rosa). And then there was the challenge of having a reliable source of yeast, which required maintaining your own sourdough-like starter - no mean feat in the days of primitive iceboxes.

We can get a glimpse of what food came out of their kitchens from contemporary recipes, such as those found in the 1908 cookbook produced by the Fulton Presbyterian church. Hometown cookbooks from that era (and you'll find scores of them in a Google book search) are remarkably consistent; baking any sort of regular bread was rarely mentioned. Instead were given instructions for making things like cornbreads and muffins - mostly forgiving recipes which used baking powder/soda instead of temperamental yeast, and which merely required a few minutes in a "hot" oven.

Wheels Will Soon Be Grinding Again And Then "Hurrah For Santa Rosa Flour"

On Thursday the new machinery needed to replace same destroyed at the Santa Rosa Flour Mills, and the large smoke stack and fittings arrived here.

The work of installing the machinery will commence this week and the mill we be splendidly equipped throughout. The new proprietors, William P. Shearer and J. O. Kuykendall are receiving many compliments and are assured of much business when the wheels begin grinding again.

It was learned Thursday that if all goes well the grinding of barley will commence in about ten days and the good Santa Rosa flour will be ready for distribution in about thirty days, turned out by the new machinery. The "Santa Rosa Flour" is one [of] the things that for years has made Santa Rosa and John Mather, the former proprietor of the mills, famous.

- Press Democrat, August 24, 1906

Below: Santa Rosa Flour Mill employees, c. 1906, with nary a hairnet between them. What was that special flavor in the Rose brand flour? Image courtesy the Sonoma County Library

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