Questions we forgot to ask grandpa at the reunions: Did you ever shoot anyone? Were you ever shot at? Did you ever shoot yourself?
Open any Sonoma county newspaper from a century ago and prepare to be surprised at how often our ancestors reached for their guns to shoot someone. Keep in mind we're not discussing the rootin' tootin' days of the Wild West but the early 20th century, when Santa Rosa and the rest of the looked pretty much like any place in Mid-America, particularly after 1910 or so. Breakfast was poured from a cereal box, people chatted on telephones, electric appliances were in the kitchens and in the evenings kids listened to recorded music their parents didn't like. It wasn't so different from today except everyone's clothing had too much starch and men's pockets bulged with guns.
It appears most were packing a snub-nosed "bicycle revolver," so named because it was small enough to be carried by a cyclist to fend off dog attacks. There were many models that promised to prevent accidents by being "hammerless" with no exterior hammer to catch on clothing and/or with grips which prevented the trigger from being pulled unless the handle was being squeezed at the same time. Still, there were many cheap little .32 and .38 caliber revolvers available with no safety features at all - sometimes not even having trigger guards. As a result, the most likely person to be shot was the gun owner himself and filler items in the papers reported doctors patching up many a leg and foot wound.
When they did draw their weapons and begin blasting away our ancestors proved to be lousy marksmen, with their intended victims rarely seriously injured or even hit. In one of the wildest events chronicled here, Santa Rosa barber Andy Carrillo was in a four-way shootout in 1907 where he shot one man in the chest, causing a fright but little harm. When another of Carrillo's bullets grazed someone else, that fellow pulled out his own gun and the two of them began shooting at point-blank range, both missing entirely. When the case came to trial, Carrillo went free - he was not even found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. But had he not slightly wounded the guy, the customary penalty for shooting at someone was merely a fine of $5 for each shot fired.
Among the shooting stories of 1913 was an incident near Guerneville that seems like a sketch from an old cartoon: Boys steal Farmer Jones' fruit, Farmer Jones puts up a warning sign, boys steal fruit again and Farmer Jones peppers them with his trusty ol' shotgun. Not so comic was that his gun was loaded with lead buckshot, not salt, and the boys were not comically wounded in the backside as they were running away. Farmer Jones badly injured one of them, with a doctor removing 24 pellets from a youngster's face. This time the grand jury called it assault with a deadly weapon, but the judge allowed him to plead down to simple assault because he hadn't intended to hit the kid in the face - he was aiming for their feet but alas, missed. Pay the forty dollar fine, please.
The other episode happened in downtown Santa Rosa. Since the previous year, the Rose theater was the target of pranksters, who jumped on the roof, shouted "fire," and otherwise tried to panic the audience. Police were called to no avail. This time the manager grabbed his gun, ran through the restaurant next door and began firing away, although it was so dark he could not identify the people he was shooting at. Naturally, no one was wounded. This story had an unexpected O'Henry twist, however, when it was discovered that the theater projectionist was in on the malicious mischief: It was a cover for his theft of little parts and tools from the theater, along with his breaking some equipment which he could steal after the theater bought replacements. He pled guilty to petty larceny and was given a fine of $90 - or, as they might have said around the courthouse, two face-shots plus a couple of grazes.
BYSTANDER HIT BY BULLET AND SUES FOR DAMAGES
Peter Daliavanto, a 19-year-old youth, through his guardian ad litem, A. Bacci, commenced an action in the Superior Court yesterday against J. W. Leroux, a well known Cloverdale citizen, in recovering $750 damages.
The complaint alleges that on September 13, plaintiff was struck in the leg by a bullet and sustained severe injuries. He alleges that the bullet came from a revolver in Leroux's hands at a time when defendant was aiming at A. Guicco for the purpose, as he alleges, killing Guicco. In other words, he says he was an innocent bystander and that Leroux's aim was unsteady and the bullet intended for Guicco stuck him.
Allison B. Ware and Phil Ware are the attorneys for the plaintiff. The complaint gives the first news here of the alleged assault upon Guicco by Mr. Leroux. It is known here that Mr. Leroux has been worried over domestic troubles for some time.
- Press Democrat, October 1, 1913
ONE OF A GANG OF VANDALS ANNOYING THE ROSE JAILEDWith the plea of guilty made by C. Croft before Judge Atchinson, Monday afternoon, petty thievery which has extended back for almost six months at the Rose Theater, was brought to an abrupt end. Croft pleaded guilty to the charge of petty larceny preferred by C. N. Carrington. He was sentenced to a fine of $90 or ninety days in the county jail, and elected to serve out his sentence.
The arrest is the culmination of a long series of thefts and acts of rowdyism after the shows were out, which have perplexed and bothered the management of the Rose Theater since last June. With the giving of a false alarm of fire early in June last the management has been continually harassed by several unknown individuals. Throwing rocks on the roof of the theatre was a favorite pastime of the hoodlums. This was stopped when Mr. Carrington ran through the restaurant next the theater and fired at the men. The first time the trigger was pulled the gun failed to go off and this is responsible for the saving of the life of one man as he had time to get out of the way before Mr. Carrington could pull the trigger again. One shot was fired at a man who was on the roof of the theater but the bullet did not take effect.
During this time many things have been stolen from the theater and several machines broken. Suspicions fell on Croft, the operator, who has been with the theater ever since it was opened. A search warrant was issued Sunday morning and Chief of Police Boyes and Constable John Pemberton went to Croft's residence, on Santa Rosa avenue. They found a lense [sic] from the machine first broken, a roll of tickets and a number of tools. They later searched the attic of the theater and found a moving picture machine and a number of parts of machines which had been stolen and hidden in the loft.
Croft was arrested and readily confessed his guilt. He said that he had no excuse to offer and could give no reason for his actions other than it was a policy of his to steal little things at every job he had. He said that he smashed the machines because he wanted Mr. Carrington to get new ones.
It is known that several were involved in the plans to harass and annoy the Carringtons, as different ones have been seen about the place at the same time. It is believed that Croft is one of a gang and could throw some light on the attacks if he were so inclined. The Carringtons have been put at a loss of about $500 altogether by the work of the gang.
One moving picture machine was stolen, another taken out and left on the roof of the building and a lamp-house valued at $40 was broken all to pieces Saturday night after the last performance. It was this last act of vandalism which led to the discovery of Croft's part in the job. It is known that he is the only one on the inside who has been involved but the authorities have a clew on which they are working which may lead to the arrest of his associates.
- Press Democrat, January 28, 1913
IRATE FARMER SHOOTS YOUTHSBoys Stealing Fruit Give Severe TreatmentWarning.
I have a shot-gun. It is not loaded with salt.
I use No. 8 shot. Stay out of this orchard.
Disregarding the above sign which is prominently displayed in front of a peach orchard above Guernewood Park three boys were shot Sunday and more or less seriously injured by the owner of the orchard. One of the boys was shot in the face, the other in the neck and the third in the hand and stomach.
The boys were found a few moments later by Sheriff Jack Smith, who took them in his auto and rushed them to Rionido where they were given medical attention. One of the boys had twenty-four of the shots taken out of his face.
The farmer who shot them claimed to have been bothered so much with people stealing his fruit that he was compelled to resort to heroic measures to save his crops. He put up the sign which is about then feet square. The boys admitted that they saw the sign but "took a chance." They decided not to prosecute the farmer, and all parties considered themselves well out of the mixup.
- Santa Rosa Republican Ju;y 7, 1913
FARMERS ARE VICTIMS OF LAWLESS HOODLUMS
A few days ago a Sonoma County farmer was indicted for shooting at some boys who had been caught stealing his fruit. The boys had been warned repeatedly but took no notice nor paid the least attention to the signs that had been placed in plain sight to warn trespassers. Now what was the farmer to do? He had been annoyed repeatedly by summer campers coming into his orchard, taking no heed to his warnings, so when the boys bent on stealing, came into his property he was so incensed that he raised his gun and fired the shot hitting all of the boys.
This is only one case of trespassing. The farmers in this and other countries also are being repeatedly annoying by summer campers going on their places, stealing fruit, shooting in many cases killing stock, and destroying sometimes many thousands of dollars of property, by carelessly throwing burning cigarette and cigar stubs in the dry grass.
What would the city man think if you came to his yard and set fire to his house? The people seem to take no notice of the signs placed near approaching roads and trails; in many instances tearing them down or disfiguring them so that it is impossible to read them.
Now can you blame the farmer when he takes the law into his own hands, when the people treat him as if he were an agent to serve them and long after their pleasures?
- Marvin A. Watson letter, Santa Rosa Republican July 21, 1913
PEPPERED BOYS AND IS FINED $40Farmer Jones Dealt With Leniently by Judge Seawell Here on Monday
Farmer J. C. Jones who "peppered" three San Francisco boys with small shot while they were robbing his peach orchard, located on top of a hill, some distance from Guerneville, appeared in Judge Seawell's department of the Superior Court on Monday to answer the Grand Jury indictment, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon. He was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of simple assault, and under the circumstances the Court was lenient with Mr. Jones, who is seventy years of age, and fined him forty dollars.
Jones told the Court of the depredations of the young hoodlums in his orchard on a number of occasions. This case was an aggravating one. He had already given the boys a basket of cherries, he said, and while his back was turned they broke into his orchard and filled baskets and hats with fine fruit and decamped. Next day they broke into the orchard and stole fruit again. The third time they came they were received with a volley of small shot from Mr. Jones' gun.
Farmer Jones told the court that he had not intended that any of the shot should hit the boys in the face. He said he aimed at their feet, but was fired down hill.
Several good citizens of Guerneville were on hand to give Mr. Jones a good character...
...Dr. C. J. Schmelz was called as a witness. He is the resident physician at Rionido, and he extracted the small shot from the boys' anatomy. The boys admitted to him that they had been stealing fruit, and said they did not wish anything to be done to Mr. Jones.
- Press Democrat, August 13, 1913