Want to start an argument in 1910? Surefire ways to pick a fight included expressing strong views in favor of socialism, women's suffrage or school vaccinations.

By that year the anti-vaccine movement had been smoldering in the U.S. for a decade, fueled in equal measure by fears about the safety of vaccination and opposition to the principle of the government requiring perfectly healthy children to get the shot. In California, it was a significant political issue; twice the state legislature passed bills repealing the vaccination law and specifying vaccination "shall be practiced only when smallpox exists" but the governors at the time declined to sign it. Even when the state Supreme Court upheld the law in 1904 and the U.S. Supreme Court said the same thing the following year, the naysayers kept forming local chapters of the Anti-Vaccination League, signing petitions to have the laws repealed, and writing letters to the editor, often claiming that vaccines were "superstition" or "fanatic faith" that didn't prevent smallpox. Oh, and this was part of a conspiracy by doctors trying to bamboozle people by using "cooked-up statistics," all in order to perform a large scale experiment on the public and/or make themselves rich on fees from giving injections. (For more on this history, see this excellent study of the anti-vaccination movement.)

The press fanned the flames of distrust by printing all sorts of nonsense; an article in the 1904 San Francisco Call claimed, "Any person who eats a small quantity of lettuce twice a day, morning and evening, is as well protected against smallpox as it is possible for any one to be." Also, the newspaper noted, it would be smart to "avoid contact with people who have smallpox."

The papers were  irresponsible in printing stories concerning the most popular conspiracy theory - that the smallpox vaccine could (somehow) cause fatal lockjaw. A vaccinated child who steps on a rusty nail can contract tetanus just as anyone else, but rarely did the papers suggest the cause of dying could be something other than contaminated vaccine. A hallmark of these articles is also to claim doctors were "puzzled" by the death or were insisting they could not be blamed for it, making them sound villainous. In a particularly egregious bit of yellow journalism, the San Francisco Call reported the 1904 lockjaw death of little Myrtle Conklin with a lengthy quote from the doctor who gave her the shot, including "My duty ends after I have applied the virus...I fail to see just how I was responsible for this death." The article was accompanied with a picture of beautiful baby Myrtle - who was actually eight years old when she died.

Some Santa Rosa parents were among those protesting the compulsory vaccinations, as described in the earlier item from 1907. But it was Berkeley that was at the vanguard of the "anti-vaccinationist" movement in the Bay Area, with some type of showdown nearly every year in that decade. One year 249 children were ousted from school for failing to have proof of vaccination when classes began in September, and their parents vowed to raise money for an injunction to force the school board to admit them. Another year they obtained a six month waiver from the district because they insisted the state would repeal the vaccination law by then. Another time the Berkeley parents swore they were gonna start their own private school for all their little special snowflakes to attend, as the law only mentioned vaccinations for public school students.

Whether it was an unintentional loophole or a carve-out in the law, the "private school" exemption made big news in 1910, when a Superior Court judge in Santa Cruz ruled it made the vaccination law unconstitutional because it was discriminatory - and besides, there was no need for enforcement as there was no epidemic at the time, revealing his bias for the anti-vaccinationists.

The judge's decision caused excitement statewide; the Press Democrat printed the story below at the top of the front page, directly below the paper's nameplate. Other papers added local color by interviewing their Superintendent of Schools, which as a group disliked the law because it forced them into the awkward role of being the vaccination police. "Parents have said to me frequently that they would take their children out of the public schools and send them to private schools rather than have them vaccinated," the San Francisco Superintendent told the papers.

Vaccine foes redoubled their efforts, forming new Anti-Vaccination League chapters and collecting thousands of signatures on repeal petitions. There was further buzz when the Alameda County Deputy District Attorney sent a letter to the school board stating vaccinations should be suspended until the state Supreme Court heard the appeal (the board ignored him and ordered vaccinations to proceed).

Nothing came of it all, but the fuss made 1910 the last hurrah of the anti-vaccine movement. There were no further reports in the papers of parental mutinies against the state school systems, nor lurid reports of children dying of vaccine-linked lockjaw. The issue remained settled until chiropractors revived it as a cause about a decade later, as  discussed earlier.

Class Legislation, Which Favors the Wealthy Over the Poor, Declares Judge Smith of Santa Cruz Superior Court in Refusing Mandate

Santa Cruz, March 22 -- Judge L. S. Smith rendered a decision against the State Board of Health here today in an action brought to compel the pupils of the Watsonville schools to be vaccinated. The Watsonville trustees had refused to enforce the law on vaccination and a petition for a writ of mandate to compel them to bar from the schools all children who had not been vaccinated was applied for by the State Board of Health. The action affected about 250 children.

The Court held the law was unconstitutional in that it exempted children attending private schools making it class legislation. The law as framed, he held, particularly favored those who were able to send their children to private schools, while the great majority were unable to do this and would have to suffer the consequence if the law was sound. He declared every one would favor the enforcement of the law if there was a demand for it, but as there was no epidemic there was no reason for its enforcement."

- Press Democrat, March 23, 1910

A century ago Santa Rosa was a far more colorful place. Everything was clean and bright; the town almost glowed. Words on painted metal signs popped out like neon, buildings gleamed and the sky was always electric blue with white fleecy clouds in the distance. Or so it appeared in the colorized Mitchell postcards of 1910.

Of course, every town or picturesque site photographed by Edward H. Mitchell was likewise well-scrubbed and, well, pretty as a postcard. No one would spend a hard-earned penny to buy a souvenir of a grimy factory or a vacant lot. Between about 1898 and 1923, Mitchell produced approximately 8,000 views of the Western United States which are prized today by collectors for their vibrant colors. But although Mitchell always identified where a picture was taken, he almost never revealed the year. Thanks to an item in a Santa Rosa newspaper about Mitchell's release of a new series, we know his 19 views of Santa Rosa were published in 1910.

Burbank figured prominent in this series and rightly so, as he was Santa Rosa's main tourist attraction. Also offered were a few downtown scenes that were interesting because they caught our ancestors unawares as they were waiting for the train and shopping and loafing on street corners. Note the family staring at the photographer as the driver of their auto climbs the steps of the Post Office; note also the horse manure in the street.

We can also date when most of the photos were taken to the spring of 1910 because several of the buildings were brand new - pictured are the recently completed Sonoma County Court House, the Post Office that just opened, and Luther Burbank’s soon-to-open Information Bureau. (The only obvious exception is the postcard of Burbank's cactus, which was a reprint from another photographer and copyrighted 1908). The postcards were also numbered in sequence, from #2419 to #2436 - except for the view of the library, which had the much lower number of 420. And with that, let's step into the wacky world of the Mitchell postcards.

Santa Rosa's Carnegie Library was built in 1902, heavily damaged in the 1906 earthquake, and rebuilt with a few architectural changes - you can see the Mitchell postcards for both incarnations at right. It makes fine sense that Mitchell would replace the old view with the new one and keep the same catalog number. As far as Mitchell mysteries go, this is pretty dry toast; we're just lucky that he didn't tinker with the town. Mr. Mitchell, it seems, liked to retouch his pictures. He liked to retouch them a lot.

Postcard collectors hunt down the variations. Hats appeared and disappeared, as did street lights, flagpoles, signs, chimneys, church steeples, even mountains in the background. Streams became walking paths. Locomotives appeared on previously empty train tracks. Young men turned into old men while still holding the same enormous watermelon. Oranges were shown growing on eucalyptus trees. His all-time most popular card was #2, "Seals on Seal Rocks", showing the tourist attraction near the Cliff House in San Francisco. Over the years Mitchell varied both the number of seals and rocks. And speaking of the Cliff House, which burned to the ground in 1907, Mitchell had a great view of the old place photographed in the background from the crowded beach; when it was rebuilt two years later, he kept the same people on the beach and just pasted in the new building.

Needless to say, all these tweaks were a lot of work in the days before Photoshop, particularly when most modifications were trivial. On an earlier Santa Rosa card (#856) "Field of Burbank's Crimson Poppies", some reprints had houses in the background vanish behind painted shrubbery and a glimpse of his old carriage house blurred out. Why on earth did he bother making these tiny changes? It seems a little nuts, frankly, maybe O.C.D.

Mitchell also republished some images with new numbers and titles, so the retouching was probably intended to keep the line "fresh" in the face of much competition. While other publishers couldn't beat him in quality, they undercut his prices in 1908, leading Mitchell to send the newspapers a statement that emphasized his business ethics:

We were the first lithographing establishment in the country to give our workmen an eight-hour day and did it of our own accord. We pay our men as much per week as foreigners in the same line receive per month, and further out money is paid to American workmen who spend it at home and keep it in circulation. It was to notify the trade of these facts that we recently added the imprint 'Printed in the United States.' on all our cards."

This isn't the place to wade deep into the history of Mitchell's postcards; there are collectors who have documented his output and personal life to a remarkable degree (mitchellpostcards.com is a good place to start.) Still, basic information can be tricky to find; when starting research on this article, I wish I knew Mitchell partnered and licensed his work with other publishers, particularly Cardinell-Vincent, which is why his distinctive cards appear under other names and sometimes in lesser quality, including "The Road of a Thousand Wonders" series (which originated as a Southern Pacific Company advertising slogan in the October, 1905 issue of Sunset, the magazine published by the railroad).
As far as I can determine, this is the first time the 1910 Santa Rosa series has been presented together in their original context. Missing are cards 2424, 2425, 2426, and 2434; what they pictured - or even if they existed - is unknown. The Sonoma County theme continued with at least three views of Petaluma, which can be seen here, here and here.

Credits: Cards 420, 2429, 2430, Sonoma County Library; 2421, 2422, 2435, UC/Berkeley, Bancroft; 2419, 2427, 2428, 2431, 2432, 2433, CardCow.com

(CLICK or TAP any image to enlarge. Higher resolution images may be available from original source)

420 - Public Library, Santa Rosa, California

2419 - Sonoma County Court House, Santa Rosa, California

2420 - Post Office, Santa Rosa, California

(see related article)

2421 - Santa Rosa Bank, Santa Rosa, California

(see related article)

2422 - Occidental Hotel, Santa Rosa, California

2423 - Overton Hotel, Santa Rosa, California

(see related article)

2427 - Burbank’s New Residence and Information Bureau, Santa Rosa, California

2428 - Bridge and Burbank’s Residence, Santa Rosa, California

2429 - Burbank’s New Residence, Santa Rosa, California

2430 - Burbank’s Experimental Grounds at Santa Rosa, California

2431 - Luther Burbank School, Santa Rosa, California

(The school was at the current location on Julliard Park, 201 South A St.)

2432 - Burbank’s Fruitful Spineless Cactus, Santa Rosa, California

2433 - Cedar of Lebanon, Santa Rosa, California

(see related article)

2435 - Northwestern Pacific Railroad Depot, Santa Rosa, California

2436 - Interior Sonoma County Court House, Santa Rosa, California

(see related article)


A large number of handsome postals have just been turned out by Edward H. Mitchell of San Francisco showing a number of different views of Santa Rosa. They are colored and are to be sold by the local dealers at one cent each. This firm printed 300,000 cards, 20,000 each of fifteen different views. Five views are Burbank postcards and include the bridge and Burbank's residence; the experimental grounds, his new residence, the information bureau and his old residence, and his fruitful spineless cactus. The other views are interior of the court house, exterior of the court house, Occidental hotel, Overton hotel, postoffice, public library, Santa Rosa bank building, Luther Burbank school, Northwestern Pacific railroad depot, Cedar of Lebanon.

- Santa Rosa Republican, April 22, 1910

What's better than a circus coming to town? How about TWO circuses in the same month, with one headed by Buffalo Bill, himself?

Envy anyone who was a kid in 1910 Santa Rosa. There were plenty of things to do downtown, if you had at least a dime and a nickel; there were four movie theaters that screened about two dozen short films every week (sometimes with vaudeville acts as part of the show) and the Pavilion roller skating rink on A street with a bowling alley around the corner on B street - bowling being quite the national fad that year. Adults and children alike were crazy over everything related to aviation in 1910, and we had Fred J. Wiseman as our hometown bird-man; you could bicycle up to Windsor and watch him practice flying over the pastures. And even if smaller girls and boys didn't understand all the particulars in the indictment and trial of Dr. Burke, they must have known from all the grown-ups whispering that something really important was happening at the court house (teens continuing their studies in behind-the-barn sex education must have been stupefied when the testimony turned to the possibilities of astral or immaculate conception).

The Barnum & Bailey circus was first to arrive that September. (Yet another smaller circus had visited Santa Rosa in May: The Campbell Brothers Circus, with twenty "happy jolly funny clowns", a lady in a cage with a bunch of snakes, and The Marvelous Renello, who could flip a complete somersault on a bicycle.) As typically happened, Sonoma County virtually closed down for the two days Barnum & Bailey were here; the County Clerk said not a single marriage license was issued the day of the first performances, which was unprecedented. The papers reported celebrity sightings of a boxing champion and Jack London, and even the Barlow boys marched into town from their Sebastopol work camp. But even though it was a cracking good show, it was only a warmup to Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Far East shows later that month - after all, it would be the last opportunity ever to see the legendary Buffalo Bill.

Col. William F. Cody - AKA Buffalo Bill - was America's first superstar, as Larry McMurtry points out in his enjoyable bio, "The Colonel and Little Missie." Probably every boy and young man (older ones, too) in late 19th century America dreamed of living his rootin' tootin' life in the Wild West, at least as it was portrayed in lurid dime novels. Gordon Lillie - AKA Pawnee Bill - was one of those young men, a schoolteacher with a yen for western adventure. Lillie found work teaching English at the Pawnee Indian Reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and learned to speak their language fluently. He was hired by Cody's Wild West show in 1883, when an interpreter was needed for the Pawnees performing in his show. (Much of the rest of the frontier exploits claimed in Lillie's backstory - including that he was named "White Chief of the Pawnees" at age 19 - should be viewed as suspect.) Lillie started his own traveling Wild West show in 1888, the same year publication began of a new series of dime novels about the fantastic adventures of a hero named Pawnee Bill.

The "Two Bills'" show was an awkward marriage of necessity. These traveling shows were enormous operations and enormously expensive; Cody employed as many as 500 people who had to work together like cogs in a high-precision machine. With a performance in a different town every night, there was no room in their schedule for even the slightest glitch. At the same time, audiences were declining after 1906 because of competition from motion pictures and vaudeville. A merger of rivals made good business sense, and they unveiled the combined show at Madison Square Garden in 1909 (don't miss the the New York Times review).

When the show arrived in Santa Rosa on September 29, 1910, apparently every child in the vicinity was on hand to greet them: "At least 1000 youngsters volunteered their services as assistants to the men engaged in erecting the twenty-two tents that house the Wild West-Far East," reported the Santa Rosa Republican. As that was a Thursday and thus a school day, a new record for en masse truancy was surely set.

...the sight of Colonel Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) walking about the grounds, exercising a general supervision over things, and moving at that with a democracy befitting ordinary folks, was too much for them. No strength of will yet developed in adolescent man is sufficient to resist the temptation to drop all other concerns, however grave to gorge vision with such rare intimacy with the living heroes of your best beloved, if contraband literature.

Buffalo Bill bade Santa Rosa farewell that autumn evening, but he continued bidding farewells elsewhere in 1911, 1912 and 1913. The Two Bills show finally came to an end in July 1913, when a sheriff in Denver seized the company's assets for a printing debt. Cody was notoriously bad at handling money and had already mortgaged his ranch and interests in Cody, Wyoming to Gordon Lillie. To cover the costs of launching the 1913 tour he had obtained a loan from a man he considered a friend, but who also co-owned the rival Sells-Floto Circus. When the Two Bills show had to declare bankruptcy, Cody defaulted on the loan. He lost the use of the "Buffalo Bill" name and had to perform with the Sells-Floto tour for 1914-1915. The following year Cody agreed to star in a World War I recruitment show, the "Military Pageant 'Preparedness'" which was part of a new Wild West touring company started by friends of Pawnee Bill. Sick with kidney problems and more than a little addled, Cody only made a few appearances.

Colonel William F. Cody died in 1917, over six years after he said his goodbye in Santa Rosa. The essence of him was captured by Gene Fowler in his book, "Timber Line": "Indiscreet, prodigal, as temperamental as a diva, pompous yet somehow naive, vain but generous, bigger than big today and littler than little tomorrow, Cody lived with the world at his feet and died with it on his shoulders."

Barnum & Bailey Enterprise Pays Regular Visit to Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa gave a royal welcome today to an old-time friend--the Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth--here in its biennial pilgrimage through this section of the country and both city and country reveled in the delights of the gorgeous parade, the great tented city erected on Santa Rosa avenue, and the charm of the regal performance beneath the acres of gaily-bedecked canvas that never loses its power to lure...

...It is to the Barnum show that one looks for all that is latest and best in the arenic world [sic] and there were no disappointments this afternoon for while it would seem that all the sensational acts and thrillers had been exhausted long ere this, the Barnum show came across with two new heart action quickeners and creep-massagers. The first of these was Jupiter, the balloon horse. The intelligent equine stood on a narrow platform attached to a yellow balloon and ascended to the top of the tent. When the top was reached a pyrotechnic display broke out on all sides of "Jupe." Did he plunge out to the hard earth beneath and dash out not only his own brains, but those of his fair rider? Certainly not. He gave a fine exhibition of a splendidly trained equine, immune to all noises and distractions.

Desperado supplied thrill No. 2. Concerning Desperado: Waiting until the band stopped playing a funeral dirge, Desperado took a header, and those who weren't looking at that exact instant saw him standing on the sod the next. Desperado lit squarely on his indestructible wish-bone and slid to earth. These two acts were the headliners of the bill.

Everything else on the bill was in great profusion. There were three rings and two stages with a quarter mile track. Droves of performers filtered into the big tent from the dressing rooms and circulated about the rings and stages until one got cross-eyed trying to follow the mystic maze of the immense affair.

The management was lavish in its treatment of the guests of the day. With a program of such excellence it might seem unfair to particularize, but mention should be made of the aerial displays. A word as to the menagerie. Nothing more complete, if as much so, has ever been seen here before, and if the Barnum show offered nothing more than its animal display, a visit beneath its canvases would be worth while. The display was varied and exhibited under fine conditions as regards clean and roomy cages. The herd of four giraffes was an especially fine thing and the entire zoo made an especial appeal to the thoughtful.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910

No Marriage Licenses Issed Late Friday

The clerks in the office of County Clerk Fred L. Wright declare that circus day, Friday, has broken a record in their office. Up to a late hour Friday afternoon, not a single marriage license had been issued and therein lies the broken record.

Each circus day heretofore has brought with it its quota of brides and grooms. Some circus days six and eight couples have come here and launched on the joys of the matrimonial sea. The lack of applicants for the joy permits on Friday cause consternation in the office of the clerk.

Other than in the matter of issuing these permits, it was a dull day in the clerk's domain. "Cupid" Casey Feldmeyer wore an elaborate smile all day long in anticipation of the matrimonial onslaught Dan Cupid would cause to be made on the office, but it never came, and toward late afternoon the smile began to vanish.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910


Bob Fitzsimmons, erstwhile champion heavyweight of the world, and Jack London, one of the foremost literary lights of his time, drove in to this city shortly before noon Friday. They were accompanied by Mrs. Fitzsimmons and Mrs. London, and came to attend the circus performance given here by Barnum & Bailey's aggregation. Fitz and London are friends of many years' standing, and the former and his wife are making a visit with the Londons at their bungalow, situated near Glen Ellen, in a picturesque nook. The party took dinner at the Campi restaurant, and then attended the afternoon performance at the big tent.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910


More than one hundred of the boys who are gathering the crop of berries at the Barlow berry fields came over on an electric train Friday morning to enjoy the circus. They were accompanied by Superintendent Frank C. Turner, and enjoyed a splendid day's outing. The lads marched up Sebastopol avenue behind their drum corps and attracted much attention by their manly bearing and military precision.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910

Great Sport of the "Wild West" Exhibition That Soon Comes to Santa Rosa

Football on horseback bids fair to rival polo as a game for horseback riders in this country. The Buffalo Bill and Wild West and Pawnee Bill Far East is demonstrating the sport this year as one of the features of that popular exhibition. It is played by a group of horsemen, trained to expertness in the new "fad" mounted on the lively Western ponies which are features with the Wild West.

A large ball standing half as high as an ordinary horse is used as the "football." The knees of the ponies are padded and by running into it the ball is thus propelled from goal to goal. Aside from the interest which the game creates, there is a strong element of grotesque comedy in the exhibition. The horses are rigged out after the fashion of the regulation football player, with guards and leads of all sorts, presenting a grotesque appearance. In every way the football horses are interesting, and the diversion is proving a great hit with patrons of the Wild West exhibition. The show comes to Santa Rosa on Thursday, September 29th.

The horses play a star part throughout Buffalo Bill's entire program. Ray Thompson's trained Western range horses are a special feature, and their graceful evolutions are supplemented by the marvelous high school exhibitive feats of Rhoda Royal's twenty thoroughbreds, Bucking horses, Indian ponies and Arabian steeds are numbered among the equine stars of the Wild West, contributing vastly to a program of lively events.

The big Indian battles, the Wild West scenes, and the reproductions of historic events and materially to the distinctive entertainment of which Col. Wm. F. Cody, the original and only Buffalo Bill, is the originator and founder. In all that is presented during the Wild West performance, realism and truth prevails. Everything is real and authentic. There is no sham or subterfuge, and riding at the head of his galaxy of horsemen, directing the entertainment and appearing at every performance, the real, genuine and only Buffalo Bill appears at every performance, rain of shine, for the last time in our city.

- Press Democrat, September 9, 1910


Sheriff Jack Smith has requested that attention be called to the fact that there are some suspicious characters in town at the present time, who came in the wake of the circus. These people follow the circuses despite the efforts of the management to prevent them and at Sacramento on Wednesday there were three bicycles and two horses and buggies stolen. In this city things will also be missing if care is not taken to guard their property by the individuals. When going out tonight care should be taken that houses are securely locked, and pocketbooks should be stowed away in safe places. In crowds is where the light fingered gentry delight to do their nefarious work.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 29, 1910


Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Pawnee Bill's Far East shows are here. Wholly superfluous information for the small boy, to be sure. There were about 500 of him on hand this morning to superintend the unloading of the special train of 78 cars, which transports the big organization. He was active and enthusiastic in his work, but no sooner had the cumbersome red wagons, bearing canvas, stakes and poles, reached the show grounds than the small boy rapidly multiplied himself, developed a most remarkable ubiquity, and his enthusiasm enlarged to a fever.

At least 1000 youngsters volunteered their services as assistants to the men engaged in erecting the twenty-two tents that house the Wild West-Far East, its twenty-seven nationalities, its 700 horses and other animals. They even offered the best of their muscular works to the "roughnecks"--men employed on the most arduous tasks upon the grounds. In many ways the lads were an interference and hinderance to the progress of the canvas city's growth, but everywhere they met with good-humored tolerance, for it is a jolly lot of workmen employed by the Buffalo Bill-Pawnee Bill combination and having ample time in which to complete their tasks, they accepted liberally of the "assistance" to the rapturous delight of the juvenile laborers.

There were constant desertions from their elected posts of industry, though. Not that the boys really meant to shirk what they considered solemn duty, but the sight of Colonel Wm. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) walking about the grounds, exercising a general supervision over things, and moving at that with a democracy befitting ordinary folks, was too much for them. No strength of will yet developed in adolescent man is sufficient to resist the temptation to drop all other concerns, however grave to gorge vision with such rare intimacy with the living heroes of your best beloved, if contraband literature.

Pawnee Bill was adopted by the Pawnee tribe of Indians and that is how he gets that name. He speaks twenty-four tribal dialects and is familiar with the sign language which is universal among the tribes from one boundary to another. He and Buffalo Bill are among the most noted of the Indian scouts and fighters of the early days. The operating expenses of their show is about $6000 per day. 

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 29, 1910

Novel Advertising Method Attracted Attention

Several prominent Santa Rosans were "stung" Thursday by an elderly couple who were driving in a dilapidated vehicle, and who were advertising the Buffalo Bill shows. This was unknown to the aforesaid citizens who were "stung" until time for the denouement of the drama.

Outside John Hood's jewelry store a woman sat up an awful shrieking, as if she were having a terrible case of hysteria. An elderly man came running to the vehicle from a refreshment parlor, grabbed the woman in his arms and kissed her, at the same time telling her everything would be all right. He took a large bandana handkerchief and with this repeatedly mopped the woman's brow.

Henry Silvershield, Deputy Sheriff Chris Reynolds and others took hold of the horse to prevent the animal running away while the old gentleman in the vehicle gave attention to the woman with the hysterics. She kept telling the man, "I asked you not to leave me alone," and "I just knew this would happen," and she screamed at the top of her voice.

When Deputy Sheriff Reynolds finally made so bold as to inquire what was the matter, the old gentleman turned to him and said: "Nothing, my friend; but I'll meet you this evening at the Buffalo Bill shows." Then the couple drove off, while the vast crowd that had assembled gave the astonished deputy a merry round of laughter. Reynolds muttered "stung" and dropped back into the crowd. He had seen the disturbance from Judge Thomas C. Denny's court room and hastened to the rescue.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 30, 1910

To the Press Democrat in the early 20th Century, it was an annual good-news story. Troubled youths from the city spent halcyon summers enjoying fresh country air on a Sebastopol ranch, picking berries for a few hours by day and filling the warm evenings with ballgames and swimming and horseplay. And at the end of all this fun come September, the PD always reported the boys went home from their outing with pockets bulging from their share of the thousands of dollars earned. 

The children were from "The Boys' and Girls' Aid Society," a San Francisco institution for boys "not sufficiently wayward to require assignment to the reform school, and too hard to manage to be placed in family homes or orphanage." (In 1907, two Santa Rosa kids were sent there for repeatedly stealing chickens.) Their summer destination was on the Barlow ranch outside of Sebastopol, near the current location of Taft Street Winery off of Occidental Road. Between 100 and 200 boys - and it was always only boys, some as young as seven - had been coming up here since 1902.

Both Santa Rosa newspapers were enthusiastic about the program, and fluffy stories about it were also popular "evergreens" in the Bay Area dailies and regional magazines (see Sunset Magazine: "Berries and Character," 1906). What's not to like about reading that bad boys were being reformed by spending summers in the country? And their days spent here surely were among the happier childhood memories for the boys, who otherwise would be training at the Aid Society for a lifetime of factory or machine shop work. Then why were they always trying to escape?

The Sebastopol newspaper reported there were "only a few attempts to get away" in 1910, which was apparently less than the dozen or so who tried to flee in 1908. Escape was not easy, despite the campground living situation; not only did the boys have their clothes taken away from them at night and locked up, but there was a $10 bounty on runaways - the equivalent of almost a week's wages for the average Santa Rosa household - so the community was always alert for escapees.

When there were serious incidents with escapees, the local press ignored or downplayed it. In 1910 the Santa Rosa papers didn't mention the dramatic story of 15 year-old Albert Sheuger, who escaped from the Barlow camp and made his way back to Oakland, where he committed nine burglaries in two weeks. (In one of the first robberies he discovered a suitcase filled with patent medicine, and thereafter pretended to be a door-to-door salesman if anyone answered his knock.) In 1905, the Press Democrat reported three boys gave an overweight policeman quite a workout as he chased them through the brush on the banks of Santa Rosa Creek. But no mention appeared in the PD that one of them, 14 year-old Ray Riley, escaped again and made it to a relative's home in Santa Clara county. His family members testified in court that he showed up with his back, arms, and legs all bruised purple from allegedly being whipped with a strap following the earlier getaway.

Aside from looking for escapees wearing only nightshirts or ill-fitting garments snatched off a clothesline, "the boys' hands will be found scratched and stained from the berries," the PD helpfully tipped off would-be bounty hunters in 1907. A close look at the photo shown at right indeed reveals their fingers were so stained as to appear dipped in paint. Which brings up a central question: How much berry picking were they doing on the Barlow ranch, anyway?

The Barlow family had 100 acres in loganberries and blackberries (making it the largest blackberry patch in the state) but even that wasn't enough to keep a hundred or more boys busy for a full summer. As mentioned in a previous article, the program kept expanding, with "the Aid" bringing up more and more youths. In 1907, they had worked for the Barlows and two neighbors, picking 125 tons of berries. The following year they were hired out to 22 growers between Sebastopol and Forestville and picked 157 tons, plus "many tons" of peaches and plums. So popular were the child workers that still more farmers were planning to take advantage of the boys and not hire adults. One of the Santa Rosa papers reported, "arrangements are now being made for next year's picking by several who have heretofore depended on Japanese help, or any who came along." Meanwhile, older boys from the Society were sent to work at the canneries. In essence, The Boys' and Girls' Aid Society was operating a temp agency for child labor - and with each passing year, more farmers around Sebastopol were relying upon children for ultra-cheap field work. By 1917, a state report (more about that in a minute) found "this district has come to depend upon the large annual influx from the society."

At the end of the season there were always articles about how much money had been earned. It usually worked out to an average of about $30 per child, or roughly $2.50 per week. Still, quite a nice handful of coin for a young person at the time.

But their paychecks were also docked for quite a large number of deductions. Money was first taken out for their lodging in the Barlow tents, food, transportation to and from Sonoma County plus salaries for supervisors and other adult staff. (We probably don't have to guess who paid the $10 bounty for hauling escapees back to camp in handcuffs.) Once they were back at the Aid Society home in San Francisco, they were expected to use their earnings to pay for their own clothes, shoes and even dentistry.

We get a good look at how the program developed through a 1917 state report on farm labor. When there was a shortage of farm laborers during World War I, the state of California studied how well male and female urbanites would fare as substitutes. It found that adults, coaxed into seasonal farm work via promises of good wages or appeals to wartime patriotism, frequently quit or performed subpar. But although they needed more supervision, children usually did very well and sometimes outperformed experienced adult workers because they worked faster at picking crops and similar piece work. This was a significant finding because the state had just passed a wartime emergency act that could cut the school year to six months so high school kids potentially could be enlisted as farm laborers.

Those 1917 researchers found Sebastopol the ideal place to study because it had more urban youth farm workers than anywhere else, with four hundred young people in the berry fields that summer. In addition to the 158 Aid Society boys then working at the Barlow place, there were two large groups of Boy Scouts from the East Bay and two groups from Bay Area youth ecumenical clubs, presumably working from mostly patriotic motivation.

The state report found the boys from the Aid Society were least productive because "a number of the boys [were] feeble minded or crippled," yet they ended the season with the most cash in their pockets. Part of the reason was because they were in the fields twice as long as the Boy Scouts or the other groups, twelve weeks compared to six or less. Also, the Barlows were less aggressive in making their child workers pay for their own food and lodging; one farmer, Lee Maddox, even charged the Boy Scouts working at his ranch for kitchen utensils and medical supplies. A third of the boys working on the Kinley farm technically ended the season in debt to the farmer, which was hopefully forgiven or billed to the Oakland church group that sent them there.

This 1917 report had several conclusions. The good news was that all of the farmers (except one) thought the boys did good work. But the state also found the food was sometimes "scanty" and the amount of money left to the boys after the living expense deductions was "nil or negligible." Most damning was this conclusion: "This work is justified only as a means of financing an outing for the youngsters."

To be fair, the Barlows and other growers probably would have been horrified if anyone suggested they were exploiting children or abetting the Aid Society to do same. Working outdoors in pleasant weather, even under guard, even being cheated on wages paid on the amount of fruit you pick was character-building and completely different from slaving away in a sweatshop being paid for the number of pieces of cloth you sew...right?

Consider, too, this was the Progressive Era in America, when attitudes about juvenile delinquency were just starting to become less rigid. By 1910 Santa Rosa had created a "Detention Home," so youthful offenders didn't have to be incarcerated in jail cells next to adults. Yet at the same time, San Francisco papers reported a young man named Joe King, who had been in and out of reformatories for 13 of his 20 years, was sentenced to five years in San Quentin for burglary.

The Bay Area poster child for reforming the system in 1910 was Eugene Griffin, 17 and completely illiterate. An Alameda County judge and District Attorney tried to find a way to keep him out of prison, where they were certain he would become a hardened criminal. Griffin had been sent to the Preston School of Industry at Ione (AKA San Quentin for Kids) after several minor burglaries. While attempting to escape Preston he stole a revolver, taking a shot at an instructor trying to capture him. His probation officer issued a moving statement that the juvenile justice system was broken. The retiring superintendent at the Preston School was "cruel in his punishments," and his replacement was proposing shipping all troublemakers to San Quentin. "For my part I would rather have a boy of mine have his neck broken and die at the school than to have him sent to San Quentin. I do not believe those two methods of treatment are the only alternatives...California needs an adult reformatory." Griffin ended up sentenced to two years at San Quentin.

And some in 1910 still believed criminality was a biological problem. Rev. W. H. Scudder, a Congregationalist minister in Petaluma - and who was once the president of a rescue home operation in San Francisco - asked a doctor to consider operating on his son to remove his criminal traits. "In the east and in Europe," reported the San Francisco Call on February 7, "several children, the victims of moral obliquity, have been operated upon very successfully, it being discovered that the trouble lay in their skulls being too small to contain their brains. This defect has been remedied by removing portions of the skull and thus allowing the brain room to develop." Alas, there appears to be no record as to whether Reverend Scudder's incorrigible son had the mind expanding operation.

Photographs courtesy Western Sonoma County Historical Society


Much interest is being taken in the large company of boys from the Boys and Girls Aid Society of San Francisco who are spending the summer and are picking berries on the Laura Barlow ranch in Green Valley. The boys have also contracted to pick the berries on half a dozen other places in the Gold Ridge district. The Analy Standard gives an interesting account of the Barlow place, from which the following extracts will be read with interest:

It is a strenuous life at the Barlow ranch from the last of May to the first of September. At 5:30 in the morning the bugle sounds the reveille, a rush of dressing follows with a refreshing wash up at the spring taps, towels are hung on the individual hooks, and combs, brushes and tooth-brushes fly to duty, for at 6 the breakfast call comes and no youngster under Superintendent Turner is permitted to make the time in his toilet allowed in the free-for-all contest the "Tennessee Shad" described in the story. A good job is expected. ["The Tennessee Shad" was a popular comic novel that year -ed.]

After breakfast the hundred boys gather on the play grounds and stand with uncovered heads for the flag raising. Every day the central flag floats out on the breeze and when the camp is occupied, Saturdays and Sundays, each tent has its flag up. The bugle gives the call for "colors" and the boys stand at attention. After this service they are told off in squads for the day's work, and leave at 6:45...left at the camp is the matron and her three assistants, the bookkeeper and the cook.

At noon the boys have a field lunch of hearty sandwiches, with cakes or cookies, and at night at 6 they have a hot dinner at camp. Their dining tent is a fly with tables to seat the entire company.

The kitchen is a permanent building with two ranges, one with hot water. The office and sewing room are [illegible microfilm] and each boy has his peg or box for clothing, numbered and sacred to his uses.

After dinner they have till 8 o'clock for playtime. Often they will get their day's work done early. It is planned to so divide the squads that they will finish about the same time and this is done by sending a greater or less number of boys to a field.

Saturdays are rest and play days, and Sundays are devoted to godliness and cleanliness, which is next to godliness. The games of Saturday are ninepins, baseball, football and quoits. There are four baseball nines at the camp. The boys go to the "ol' swimmin' hole" often during the week, but it is a part of the regular Sunday forenoon program for the boys to put on their tights and take a swim. "The water is fine," deep, and clears rapidly. In the afternoon, Rev. William Rogers conducts the service and to this gentleman is due the credit of four years' work every summer Sunday afternoon.

At 8 o'clock in the evening comes bed time, and "taps" at 8:15. After "taps" the camp is in charge of the nightwatchman. Boys love an organization of semi-military form. When they cannot have it they will frequently steal away from home to hunt Indians, or buffalos; or to become cowboys, and the great need is recognized in "Sons of Daniel Boone" and similar boys' leagues. It has its place in this Aid Society, and appeals to the boys, as well as enables the officers to keep complete control at all times. The boys, many of them, come to the society through the juvenile courts, more untamed than criminal -- the stuff from which for want of training, criminals are made frequently but from which, with training some men of national fame for ability and unright [sic] character are made, as was a very notable case from Father Vaughn's school in Wisconsin. Father Vaughn spent his life and a fortune, achieved as actor and platform lecturer, in support of the same work among boys from Chicago, that is done for these California boys by the Aid Society.

At the end of the season each boy finds himself with a good fund of money earned and credited from day to day for work in the berry fields of Sebastopol.

- Press Democrat, June 18, 1910


More than one hundred of the boys who are gathering the crops of berries at the Barlow berry fields came over on an electric train Friday morning to enjoy the circus. They were accompanied by Superintendent Frank C. Turner and enjoyed a splendid day's outing. The lads marched up Sebastopol avenue behind their drum corps and attracted much attention by their manly bearing and military precision.

- Santa Rosa Republican, September 2, 1910

San Francisco Lads Make Good on the Barlow and other Ranches in Green Valley

The hundred boys of the Boys and Girls Aid Society of San Francisco who have been picking berries on the Barlow and other ranches, in Green Valley, came to town yesterday to take in the circus. The kids made a very neat appearance and were much complimented on their deportment. Superintendent George W. Turner was in charge of the delegation.

The boys will return to San Francisco next week, after having spent several months in this county. The Analy Standard has this to say of the boys:

"The Boys and Girls Aid Society boys will break camp next Tuesday morning and go back to San Francisco that afternoon.

"The boys have had a fine season. The weather was pleasant and the work abundant at all times. Superintendent Turner reports that the boys have earned close to $3,900, of which sum over $3,000 was in the berry fields and the rest in other fruit picking and cannery work. The boys have been well contented, with only a few attempts to get away on the part of boys recently sent to the society by the courts. The escapes came early in the season's work, except a case about two weeks ago, when a lad hid for three days in a barn on the Graham place, and finally got to Santa Rosa. Mr. Turner is well pleased with the results of the year's outing and returns to San Francisco feeling that the work has been of material assistance to fruit growers, that it has been fine training for the boys, and that the 100 who have been here for some time during the summer will enter work in the city in better physical condition than they would be in if they had not had the out-of-door life. There have been about 100 at the camp constantly, some coming out as others returned."

- Press Democrat, September 3, 1910

What the Detention Home Is Accomplishing

The Detention Home on Third street, started a little over a year ago, has proven one of the best things of its kind in Sonoma county. Under its protection boys and girls from all over the county have been cared for, and good positions and homes have been found for many...

...Mrs. Newcomb, the matron, is loved by all the children, her motherly ways making her a favorite. Many of the children on leaving write regularly to her and their letters are promptly answered by her. She is always interested in their welfare and keeps in touch with all of them.

This home for boys and girls, although in its infancy, is growing right along, and more and more interest is shown in its undertakings. Up to the time it was established the children who were detained for their conduct or other reasons, were put in the county jail, but under this arrangement they are separated from the criminals and put in much better environment, and it helps them to help themselves.

- Santa Rosa Republican, March 18, 1910

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