railroadriot

SANTA ROSA’S 1871 RAILROAD RIOTS

When the first train entered town in 1871 and stopped at today’s Railroad Square, it was Santa Rosa’s coming of age moment. Step aboard that morning train and you’d be in San Francisco by lunch, instead of being lucky to arrive in the city even the same day. But progress did not come without pain – in the weeks following its debut the railroad also brought chaos and violence, the likes of which Santa Rosa had never seen.

This is the second story to appear here concerning the arrival of the railroad in Sonoma county. It may be helpful to read the part one with its background on some of the fits involved in bringing the train to Petaluma and Santa Rosa (well, nearly to Santa Rosa). The previous item, a whimsical overview of 1870 Santa Rosa, also helps set the stage for these events. The sidebar at right further explains who the players were.

We don’t know the exact date when the locomotive finally puttered across the newly-built bridge over Santa Rosa Creek, except it happened sometime in mid-March 1871. That may seem strange; one would expect some sort of ceremony, given that the Sonoma Democrat newspaper had spent three years beating the drum for a train to Santa Rosa. But its actual arrival was overshadowed by other news – that about a hundred Chinese railroad workers had just passed through town heading north to start work on a different railroad line.


WHAT’S WHAT

Railroad buffs recite the interwoven histories of the various companies like family genealogists can name all of their great-grandparent’s offspring. For the rest of us it’s confusing, in part because all of the local railroads felt compelled to redundantly include “Pacific” in their names and that they’re often mentioned only by initials. Here’s a cheat sheet for the era of this story:

 

SAN FRANCISCO & NORTHERN PACIFIC   The SF&NP was the company bought by industrialist Peter Donahue that build the line between Petaluma and Santa Rosa in 1869-70. Donahue sold it to California Pacific in 1871 for $750,000, then bought it back in 1873 for $1 million once the line was completed to Cloverdale. It later became part of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad (NWP).

 

CALIFORNIA PACIFIC   CAL-P mainly provided service between Sacramento and Vallejo, where a ferry took passengers on to San Francisco. The line also had branches to Calistoga and Marysville. Besides buying the SF&NP, the company also owned a steamship line. Central Pacific took control of the company in a July 1871 stock swap and the company continued to exist in name for several years, while assets such as the SF&NP were sold and the rail lines leased back to Central Pacific.

 

CENTRAL PACIFIC   One of the giant national railroad companies, the CPRR built the western side of the transcontinental railroad. Owners were Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins, collectively called “the Big Four.” It was the largest employer of Chinese immigrants in the late 1860s, with about twelve thousand working on the railroad. The western terminus was at Sacramento, so passengers to San Francisco and points beyond had to transfer to the California Pacific until CPRR built its own line to Benicia in 1878.

The company building that line was California Pacific, which already had rail service in Napa county as far as Calistoga. The plan was to build a branch into Sonoma county and claim the $5,000 per mile in bond money that voters had approved in an 1868 referendum.*

The so-called “railroad election” of 1868 also settled that the main rail line from Sonoma county to a San Francisco ferry would follow the route of today’s SMART train, straight through the county. Santa Rosa and Healdsburg had instead voted heavily for this route California Pacific seemed now ready to build, which would terminate in Vallejo and avoid Petaluma all together. That vote ratcheted up the animosity between Santa Rosa and Petaluma, which began ten years earlier. The Santa Rosa newspaper argued Petaluma wanted to screw over the corn and wheat farmers north of them; it would be much cheaper to ship their crops to Vallejo, where there were grain silos. In Petaluma it was claimed the railroad company was plotting to just build a branch line between Calistoga and Healdsburg and claim the entire value of the bond on a technicality.

Now that Santa Rosa was poised to get what it wanted, the racist Sonoma Democrat was willing to (somewhat) overlook that California Pacific’s workforce was entirely Chinese. And since the taxpayer bond money could only be spent on work in Sonoma county, California Pacific was starting with the route between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.

But Donahue’s SF&NP railroad didn’t stop railroading once they reached Santa Rosa. That crew – which employed mostly (or all) Irish immigrants – kept pushing on north, so that in March there were two railroads being built, more or less side by side. “Trouble is confidently expected to spring from its action,” commented the Democrat. “An irrepressible conflict is threatened between the rival forces on the roads — a sort of international war between Ireland and China.”

You can bet that Northern California’s racetrack-crazed hoi polloi were following developments closely and wagering on the outcome. All the local newspapers updated their gamblers in every edition, with papers from Sacramento to San Jose reprinting the latest status.

March 18: SF&NP is ahead, having finished grading to Mark West Creek. But they have only 300 men, working just picks and shovels; California Pacific has 500-1000 Chinese laborers with a hundred plows and scrapers to grade the roadbed.

On March 20 work on Donahue’s line came to a halt as the Irishmen went on strike for $30 a month and board. The SF&NP agreed to their demands, but the walkout cost them a day. The Chinese continued working their eleven hour days for $5/month.

A hundred more Chinese men arrived and 200 more Irish; their campgrounds were compared to the bivouac of small armies. There were SF&NP construction freight trains running at night while California Pacific drove 100 horses and mules through Santa Rosa. Both crews were making progress at about a mile per day.

The first riot started around midnight on Sunday, March 26. Some three dozen SF&NP workers were in Santa Rosa that night; this might have been a regular practice for their day off or perhaps they were on hiatus because the company was focused on hiring carpenters to build a bridge over Mark West Creek.

From the account in the Democrat (transcribed below) a “big row” started at the boarding house where the men staying. “Most of them had been indulging too freely in fighting whisky” and it seems the ensuing melee pretty much trashed the place. “Several parties interfered, and it was with the greatest difficulty, they managed to put an end to the fight.” They were dragged into court the next morning with their “bunged up heads” but where they were held after the situation was brought under control is unknown; Santa Rosa only had a small calaboose behind the jail for holding drunks, so they must have been all tightly crammed into the few available cells.

Besides being liquored up, it’s quite possible the men were anxious about being fired. Working right next to a rival crew was certainly unusual; there was also the curious fact that the Chinese were only grading the road – there was no mention of California Pacific preparing to lay ties or rails or build bridges. There were also rumors that some sort of buyout deal between the railroads was in the works. “We have had a great deal of railroad gossip during the past few days,” the Healdsburg Flag had reported a week prior. “Dame rumor has been busy promulgating reports of a variety of sales, transfers and negotiations between the various railroad companies of the country.”

On April 13 came the news that Donahue had sold the SF&NP to California Pacific. The 300-400 Irishmen were promised they would stay on until the road reached the Russian River, which would take about ten weeks (train service to Healdsburg began July 1). Some left for San Francisco, some went looking for work elsewhere in the North Bay, and some apparently came to Santa Rosa looking for trouble.

“During the past week no less than half-a-dozen street fights have taken place, and in some cases deadly weapons have been drawn,” the Democrat noted at the end of that week. Although “a number of belligerent individuals” were involved, it’s not said whether these fights were individual brawls or rose to the level of riots.

California Pacific immediately abandoned the road they had been grading, with some 150 Chinese workers sent to Cloverdale to begin working on the road south of there. There was never any definite number of how many immigrants were employed by California Pacific in Sonoma county, but it can be safely assumed hundreds were to be laid off.

On April 17 those men were ordered to Santa Rosa to await arrival of the paymaster. Per usual, California Pacific had not hired the men directly, but had subcontracted with one of the Six Companies in San Francisco, in the case the See Yup Company. “Having taken quarters within a short distance from town, they came pouring through our streets in small squads during the day.” The Democrat continued with a description of what happened after he arrived:


The paymaster, who is also a Chinaman, hired a horse and rode out to camp to make arrangements for paying off the men. He found the camp in a state of great excitement. The men seized him and took his horse away. They became furious, owing to a misunderstanding about wages, and, procuring a rope, started in to hang the China boss. We understand they put the rope around his neck, and would have carried out their intentions had not outside parties interfered. As soon as their victim could free himself from their power, he came to town…

The paymaster was “decidedly frightened” and refused to return to the camp, holing up at the Kessing Hotel on Main street. The next morning the entire Chinese crew came into town and surrounded the hotel, “evidently determined to wreak vengeance.” The standoff lasted all day, with some sort of agreement on how much they would be paid made that evening. Even with the deal made, he was so shaken he did not leave the hotel until the train left for San Francisco the next day.

Not all was grim in those spring days of 1871. Donahue’s carpenters built a train platform between Third and Fourth streets with a little depot (the present stone depot building was not constructed until 1904). The irrepressible boys of Santa Rosa – noted here earlier in 1870 for racing horses through the streets at full gallop – hitched horses to railroad flat cars and spent hours riding back and forth on the tracks. “This may not be fun for the old plugs but it is jolly sport for the youngsters.”

Now here’s the obl. Believe-it-or-not! postscript: Sonoma county was incredibly lucky  the entire rail project did not collapse in July 1871.

At the time California Pacific bought Donahue’s railway, railroad bonds were as hot as internet stocks during the dot-com bubble and CAL-P appeared to be flush with cash and impeccable credit – its doings were mentioned in Chicago newspapers and in papers throughout the Eastern seaboard as it boasted of plans to expand over the entire West Coast. Its good reputation was due in large part to Director Milton S. Latham, also manager of the California branch of the London and San Francisco Bank, who brought in British investors from that institution in 1869-1870. (“Milton Latham” would be the correct answer to this Trivial Pursuit question: “Who was governor of California for only five days because he resigned to take the seat of a U.S. senator who died in a duel with the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court?” Ah, 19th c. history…)

But in truth, California Pacific was badly mismanaged. It expanded recklessly even though its only reliable income was its Sacramento link to the transcontinental railroad. The company was actually deep in debt, borrowing in early 1871 to cover interest payments on its loans. (MORE)

RIGHT: Portion of a California Pacific/CPRR map c. 1872 showing the Sonoma county routes which were proposed after the acquisition (Bancroft Library)

When SF&NP was sold, California Pacific promised it would connect the Sonoma county railroad with its main line, as seen on the map. “…A junction will be effected between the two lines, commencing at a point somewhere near Petaluma, passing one or two miles south of Sonoma, and connecting with the Napa road at a point between Suscol and Adelante” (Adelante was renamed Napa Junction and is now part of American Canyon). That extension was not built, nor was the branch shown to Bloomfield.

Central Pacific acquired control of California Pacific only three months after the deal to buy the Sonoma county route. It was a strategic move because the railroad giant needed the CAL-P route to San Francisco via Vallejo – or at least until it could build its own direct connection with the transcontinental line. Yes, they agreed to finish the road through to Cloverdale because that could be completed before the June, 1872 cutoff for the $5,000 per mile subsidy, but the company had no interest in pursuing Latham’s dream of building a West Coast rail network which would not pay for itself.

As it worked out, Central Pacific sold the main Sonoma county railroad back to Donahue in January, 1873 and he eventually finished the line which is followed by the SMART train today, and will again connect us to San Francisco Bay ferries (knock wood). But it’s easy to imagine how it could have all gone afoul; Central Pacific might have put the train service on hiatus after it had the construction bond money if the company could not easily find Donahue or another buyer. That would have left our ancestors with abandoned, rusting tracks, unused except for kids being pulled around by those poor damned horses.

* The “railroad election” of May 12, 1868 guaranteed California Pacific $5,000 per mile if it built five miles of track from the Napa county line by June 21, 1872. However, if any railroad company first built ten miles of rail and reached Healdsburg, California Pacific would get nothing and the other company would receive that $5,000 per. For more on the railroad bonds and the 1868 referendum, see “Redwood Railways: A History of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad and Predecessor Lines” by Gilbert Kneiss (the Sonoma county library has several copies).

 

Another Railroad for our County.

At the annual meeting of the stockholders of the California Pacific Railroad, which was held a few days since, the subject of building the long-talked of Vallejo and Sonoma railroad was brought up and received with much favor. Mr. Jackson, President of the Company, in his official report said:

The subject of building what is known as the “Extension Road,” or Sonoma branch, will naturally engage the attention of the company at once. The building by another corporation of a line of railroad passing through a portion of Sonoma county, which contains our survey, has caused in the minds of the community generally a doubt as to our plans in the premises. When it is remembered that bonds have been issued, predicated upon this road to be built, it will be seen that good faith and legal obligation combine to compel its erection. How far the road already built from Petaluma to Santa Rosa may compete with the branch of this road proposed, is a subject that may well engage the close attention of the Board of Directors when it shall come to definitely adopt one or another line of survey.

From this it appears that the California Pacific is legally bound to construct the road in question, and that it is the intention to do so at an early day. In this connection the Vallejo Recorder states that work will soon the commenced on the road, and expresses confidence in the speedy completion of the enterprise.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 21 1871

 

San Francisco, March 7th. – Four hundred Chinamen to work on the Sonoma and Northwestern branch of the California Pacific Railroad were sent up to-day, and six hundred more will be sent as soon as possible. Grading is to commence at Santa Rosa, working toward Vallejo immediately. The road will be finished through to Cloverdale from Vallejo this season. It is rumored that Colonel Donohue [sic] will not extend his road from Santa Rosa northwards at present, but when he resumes work will continue the line down from Donohue, on Petaluma creek, to San Rafael or Saucelito, so as to greatly shorten the trip by steamer.

– Sacramento Daily Union, March 8 1871

 

The Vallejo and Sonoma Railroad.

For years this proposed railroad has been talked about, all manner of reports being put in circulation concerning it. Now, when hope had well nigh died out in regard to it, the prospect brightens up wonderfully. On Saturday last a party connected with the road came over to Santa Rosa and secured the right of way as far as Windsor, on the route to Healdsburg. From Napa we learn that active preparations are being made there to begin the good work, and the Vallejo Chronicle, of Monday last, says:

Arrangements were consummated on Saturday afternoon last, which give assurance of the early construction of the Extension Railroad of the California Pacific Company running through Sonoma County. The English capitalists interested in this Company have shown a disinclination to enter upon this enterprise without a definite guarantee of assistance from Vallejo, and their hesitation delayed operations until recently, when the embarrassments have happily been overcome. Their demand that the city of Vallejo should issue bonds to the extent of $100,000, redeemable in twenty years, conditioned that this shall be the lower terminal point, has been compromised on a satisfactory basis. General Frisbie, having the welfare of the town in view, proposed in lieu of the issuance of bonds, to transfer to them $100,000 valuation of his own property situated in Vallejo and suburbs. This offer met their approbation, the property has been transferred, and the last objection to commencing operations thus satisfied. W. L. Wrattan, of Sonoma County, will take immediate steps to secure the right of way, and Mr. Lemon, the contractor grading the California Pacific, will take charge of the grading of the first section of the road running northerly from Santa Rosa. The first road built in Sonoma County secures local aid from the county of $5,000 per mile — hence the reason for commencing in the middle of the road. It is extremely probable that this road will come into the present line at Napa City, pursuing a route from Santa Rosa through the Sonoma hills at the head of Carneros Creek, and coming down on the eastern side through Brown’s Valley. In the meantime, five hundred laborers will be employed in grading on the Santa Rosa section as soon as the stakes are driven. This road, stretching into the upper coast counties, will add another important link to the chain of railroads that form the railway system west of the Sacramento, and having its lower terminus at Vallejo.

We trust that every one of the “five hundred laborers” will be a decent white man. No Chinese serfs will be regarded with favor in this county, and the Company would do well to keep this in mind.

P. S. — Since the above was set up a gang of Chinamen, about one hundred in number, with picks, shovels, and camp equipage, said to be the advance guard of the railroaders, have passed through our town. We want to see the road built, but don’t like the employment of the “heathen Chinee.” In our opinion, no Company that employs Chinamen ought to get a dollar of subsidy.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 11 1871

 

RAILROAD HANDS.— The California Pacific Railroad Company have put on an additional force of Chinamen on their road between here and Healdsburg. On Wednesday last, a large amount of camping material was sent up on the road. Our people are now satisfied that this Company intend to construct this road, which will link us to the rising city of Vallejo. With two railroads running through our county, the chances for cheap trade and low freight, are decidedly favorable.

The railroad bridge is now completed and passengers are landed at the foot of Third street. The company are pushing on their road towards Healdsburg with all possible speed, and will doubtless reach that place by the early part of June. Capt. Wright, the superintendent, has displayed great skill in the construction of the road, and will leave nothing undone that will tend to its early completion, two hundred more workmen are to be put on the road immediately.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 18 1871

 

Two hundred and seventy-eight men are at work grading the road of the North Pacific Railroad from Santa Rosa towards Healdsburg, and it is calculated that the cars will run into Healdsburg by the 4th of July next.

In addition to this work, we now learn that the California Pacific Railroad Company have commenced operations for the building of a road from Suscol, via Sonoma and Santa Rosa, to Healdsburg.

The San Francisco papers have it that upward of a thousand Chinamen have already been sent, during the present week, upon the line of survey between Santa Rosa and Suscol, and that Gen. Frisbie has deeded property in Vallejo to the value of $100,000 to aid the construction of the road and secure its terminus at Vallejo.

– Marin Journal, March 18 1871

 

The Railroad.

Work on the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad is progressing with all reasonable dispatch. There are now some three hundred men actively employed between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg and the work of grading will be finished to Mark West Creek (a distance of six miles) to-night. The ties and iron have been secured, and will be shipped and laid down without a day’s unnecessary delay. The Company claim that the road will be completed and the cars running into Healdsburg by the first of next June. Mr. Donahue avows his determination to push the work to an early completion, and we have no question that he will make good his declaration.

The Healdsburg Flag this week, in speaking of the rumors in circulation relative to the intentions of the rival companies, says:

We have had a great deal of railroad gossip during the past few days. Dame rumor has been busy promulgating reports of a variety of sales, transfers and negotiations between the various railroad companies of the country. But railroad companies are generally pretty good at keeping their business plans to themselves, particularly those not yet consummated, and therefore we are inclined to give these rumors little credence. This much, however, is certain: that the California Pacific has secured the right of way from the Napa line, by way of Santa Rosa, as far as Windsor. It is said they will complete the road to this place, and perhaps to Cloverdale, the present season. They have now on the line between Santa Rosa and Napa a force of five hundred to a thousand Chinamen and intend to push the work ahead with all possible rapidity. Meantime the Donahue line is going speedily forward. Capt. Wright has men distributed in squads nearly all the way from Santa Rosa to this place, and the grading will be done in three or four weeks from this time. Parties connecting with each of the roads have been surveying around the town within a few days past, but we are not aware of their having made any precise location for a depot. Sonoma county is destined to witness a great revolution in her commercial status within the next few months. We may not have two railroads through the entire length of the county, as now seems somewhat probable, but we certainly shall have one at least as far north as Healdsburg, and by that to San Francisco, and the other to Vallejo; and we shall have communication by two routes and be in easy and quick access to nearly all parts of the state. Russian River Valley is the garden of California – we may say of the world – and though not equal in size to the largest valleys of the State, yet in soil and climate it is unequaled by any other locality. But for want of easy communication, with all its natural wealth and beauty, it has, up to this time remained in comparative obscurity. A new era is dawning upon “Old Sonoma,” and she will soon arise from her slumbers and walk forth in the front ranks of counties on this coast.

– Petaluma Argus, March 18 1871

 

THE SONOMA RAILROAD.— The Vallejo Chronicle of March 23d has the following:

The work of grading the two railroads through Sonoma county still continues. The California Pacific Railroad Company, by the personal attention there of G. L. Wratten, has secured the right of way from nearly every land owner on the line from Santa Rosa to Healdsburg, and the deeds therefor are in possession of the company. The survey from Healdsburg to Cloverdale is now engaging his attention, and from the favor in which the “valley route” is held by the citizens of that district, no trouble will be experienced in procuring all the privileges needed for laying the track of this company. The farmers there feel that Vallejo is the natural market for their wheat, and they exhibit a most lively interest in the rapid building and early furnishing of this branch road. Lemon, the contractor, has about one hundred plows and scrapers at work, besides his Chinese laborers, one hundred more of the latter having gone up from San Francisco on Saturday last. He is grading the road ready for the ties at the rate of a mile per day, and all camps of men and horses very much resemble a small army. On the other road the men who had quit work have been re-engaged at increased wages, they having refused, as we stated at the time, to continue under the original contract. They are working with pick and shovel, but of course with these tools make no such progress in grading as do those using plows and scrapers. We do not know whether both these roads are needed, but of one thing we are assured, and confidently state that the California Pacific Road means business and will surely build the branch from Santa Rosa to Cloverdale. If the Donahue road shall also be built our neighbors will have no cause to complain of monopoly. we do not know that any one need object to the building of either of these roads, as each will serve as a check upon the other in the matter of charges, and if the companies can afford it, the public certainly can.

– Sacramento Daily Union, March 24 1871

 

BLOOMFIELD. This town has the advantage of a rich agricultural country, and is steadily progressing. It boasts a number of handsome churches, stores, schools, and private residences. The Bloomfield people have been anxiously expecting railroad connection for some time, and they ought to have it. Provision was made for a branch road in the bill on which a subsidy was voted to the Petaluma route, and good faith requires that it should be built without unnecessary delay. Besides, the resources of the Bloomfield region, together with its trade and travel, give it importance in a railroad sense.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 25 1871

 

The Railroad.- Parties lately from the front report work upon the railroad in full progress. An addition has been made to the working force, and grading is going on at both ends of the line. Freight trains have been actively engaged in transporting material from Donahue to Santa Rosa, even extending their trips into the night. Superintendent Wright reports that iron will probably be laid and the road open for travel as far as Mark West Creek to-night. A force of carpenters are at work upon the bridge at Mark West, and will have the stream spanned at an early day. Meanwhile, grading on the section between Mark West and Healdsburg is being crowded with the energy characteristic of Mr. Donahue.

[..]

The California Pacific Railroad Company have put on an additional force of Chinamen on their road between here and Healdsburg. On Thursday last a drove of over one hundred horses and mules passed through town. They will be used in the construction of the road between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.

Lewis N. Parson, the manager of the carpenter work on the Donahue railroad, has a number of carpenters at work building a platform along side the track between Third and Fourth streets, which is to be some one hundred and forty feet in length. The work of erecting the depot buildings will soon be commenced and prosecuted vigorously…Two hundred more workmen are to be put on the road immediately.

– Petaluma Argus, March 25 1871

 

ON A STRIKE. The Railroad Hands Drop the Shovel.

Nothing has been more apparent to the citizens of this place for some weeks past, than the fact that great dissatisfaction existed among the men employed on the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad. From the time the road reached this point, it was apparent to everybody that the workmen were far from being content with the condition of things, and this feeling increased day by day, until it culminated on Monday last, in a strike. All the trouble was embodied in the extremely low wages that the hands were receiving – $1.50 per day and find themselves. Now, every reasonable man will admit that on such wages the laborer could barely provide himself with the necessaries of life. One thing is certain, and that is that he could save nothing out of such a small pittance for his labor. Each month would find him without a dollar, and in the future he could see nothing but gloom and want. Surely it is not to be wondered at that white men were restless and dissatisfied with such meagre recompense for their toil. That they should try to better their condition was but natural, and that they succeeded in their effort is a fact that all who are in favor ot strict justice will be gratified to learn. On Monday last a portion of the hands working near town refused to go to work for the wages the Company had been paying. The rest of the force went to work as usual. During the day it was observed that those on the road were inclined to follow the example of the others, unless a change for the better took place speedily. When night came they held a meeting together, and resolved to make a united strike on the following morning. Tuesday came, and the men sent one of their number to consult with the proper officers, and inform them that not a man would go to work again for less than $3O a month and board. This proposition the Company at first refused to comply with, but after consulting with their Attorney here, who very properly advised them in the premises, they told the workmen they would acquiesce in the demand, and for them to go to work again. This was the proper course to pursue. The demand made by the workmen was anything but exorbitant, and the Company will see ere long that in granting it they have greatly advanced their own interests. In the afternoon the men resumed their labors, feeling content and happy over the change, and we are greatly mistaken if they do not show by their labor that while men can work with a will when they receive a reasonable return for the labor performed.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 25 1871

 

Healdsburg, March 30th – Work is being rapidly pushed forward on the railroad between this place and Santa Rosa. Passenger trains will run to Mark West on Monday next, and are expected to reach here in about six weeks.

– Sacramento Daily Union, March 31 1871

 

THE RAILROAD.- We learn from a gentleman who visited Healdsburg a few days ago that the construction trains on the Donahue line are now running to Mark West Creek and beyond, and the work is being crowded ahead with all possible dispatch. Three or four hundred men are employed upon the road, and camps are established within half a mile of Healdsburg. The California Pacific Company are running a huge gang of Chinamen, who are also grading pretty fast. We understand the Company have secured the right of way to Healdsburg, but the fact that they have no iron or ties in sight, gives rise to many uncertainties as to the immediate completion of this railroad.

– Petaluma Argus, April 1 1871

 

Fun for the Boys.—There are a couple of old horses running around our streets, which the young urchins seem to do pretty much as they please with. Sometimes one can see five or six of these youngsters perched on the back of each horse, and doing their level best to ascertain which can outrun the other. At other times they hitch on to one of the open cars on the railroad, and ride up and down the track for hours. This may not be fun for the old plugs but it is jolly sport for the youngsters.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 1 1871

 

BIG ROW.—On Sunday night last a big row occurred at a boarding house in this place, where some thirty or forty railroad hands are stopping. The most of them had been indulging too freely in fighting whisky, and about midnight it took effect, when the ruction began in earnest. Tumblers, chairs, and other articles of a like nature, were used to the best advantage by the combatants. Several parties interfered, and it was with the greatest difficulty, they managed to put an end to the fight. A trial took place on Monday morning, and of all the bunged up heads we have ever seen, we observed in Justice Middleton’s court on that occasion.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 1 1871

 

Sonoma Railroad.— The Vallejo Chronicle has information of the progress of the grading of the Sonoma extension of the California Pacific Railroad. Above Santa Rosa ten miles of the grade are already completed, and in ten days more the whole sixteen miles to Healdsburg will be ready for the ties and iron. On the upper section three hundred men and one hundred teams are employed and the grading being light is expedited very rapidly.

– Daily Alta California, April 3 1871

 

The Donahue road, it is now stated positively, has been purchased by the California Pacific, and the work which, during the first part of the week was going on actively between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, will be at once stopped.

– San Francisco Examiner, April 15 1871

 

NEAR CLOVERDALE.— One hundred and fifty Chinamen, together with a large number of wagons and teams, have been put to work about two and a half miles south of Cloverdale by the California Pacific Railroad Company. We are informed that that Company has taken possession ot the route surveyed by the Donahue surveying corps, and that trouble is confidently expected to spring from its action. An irrepressible conflict is threatened between the rival forces on the roads — a sort of international war between Ireland and China.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 15 1871

 

The [Healdsburg] Flag furnishes us the following; From one hundred to two hundred Chinamen were put on the line of the California Pacific Railroad, on Wednesday, between Healdsburg and Cloverdale.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 15 1871

 

FIGHTING. —The peace and quietude of our town has been greatly disturbed lately by a number of belligerent individuals. During the past week no less than half-a-dozen street fights have taken place, and in some cases deadly weapons have been drawn. Fortunately no more serious damage has occurred than bruising one another up, but if such disgraceful conduct continues it wil result in some one being seriously hurt.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 15 1871

 

Out of Work.—In consequence of the sale of the Donahue railroad, a large number of white laborers who have been working on the California Pacific road near Healdsburg were thrown out of employment. Some of them started back to the city, while others wended their way towards Napa and Vallejo. As Donahue is to complete the road as far up the valley as Russian River, he keeps his men steadily at work.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 22 1871

 

Row Among Chinamen.

On Monday last, a large gang of Chinamen belonging to the See Yup Company, of San Francisco, but who had been working on the California Pacific Railroad between this place and Healdsburg, were discharged, owing to the Donahue Company having been bought off. They were ordered to come here and pitch their tents until they were paid off. Having taken quarters within a short distance from town, they came pouring through our streets in small squads during the day. The paymaster, who is also a Chinaman, hired a horse and rode out to camp to make arrangements for paying off the men. He found the camp in a state of great excitement. The men seized him and took his horse away. They became furious, owing to a misunderstanding about wages, and, procuring a rope, started in to hang the China boss. We understand they put the rope around his neck, and would have carried out their intentions had not outside parties interfered. As soon as their victim could free himself from their power, he came to town, and his countenance wore anything but “a smile, childlike and bland.” On the contrary, he was decidedly frightened, and had no desire to return to the camp. At the Kessing Hotel be found Mr. Lemon, the contractor, and told him of his trouble. The Chinamen insisted that as they had been hired for a month, they must be paid a full months’ wages. The contractor would only pay them for the number of days they had worked. Things remained unchanged until Tuesday morning, when the whole gang came into town, and, finding their “Injun” at the hotel, they surrounded the premises, evidently determined to wreak vengeance on the Chinaman who had been acting as paymaster. In the evening a compromise was effected, and each received pay for the labor done, when they returned to camp, and had a big pow-wow. The one that was threatened with having his wind shut off did not accompany, but kept himself closeted in the hotel until the train started the next day for the city.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 22 1871

 

Purchase of the Donahue Railroad.

[From the Vallejo Chronicle.]

On Thursday afternoon, as announced in the Chronicle of that day, the negotiations that have been pending for some two weeks past between Peter Donahue and the California Pacific Railroad Company, terminated in the purchase by the latter of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad line from Donahue past Petaluma and Santa Rosa to Mark West Creek, a distance of thirty-one miles. The purchase includes the dock and wharf at Donahue, also the hotel, enginehouse and car house at that point, some fifty acres of ground, and the two steamboats, Sacramento and Milton S. Latham, together with all the side track, station-houses, watertanks, bridges, etc., in any way appurtenant to the road. The effect of this purchase has been to stop work on the Sonoma branch of the California Pacific Road, which will not now be constructed. Instead thereof a junction will be effected between the two lines, commencing at a point somewhere near Petaluma, passing one or two miles south of Sonoma, and connecting with the Napa road at a point between Suscol and Adelante. The exact line will depend upon a presentation that a new survey shall make, which has already been undertaken. The joining of the two roads will be at once effected, and the wheat crops of Sonoma and Russian River valleys will this year add their tribute to the swelling shipments of Vallejo’s commerce. Petaluma will be added to the cordon of cities bound together by iron bands, and her citizens will be welcome visitors in our streets, as they pass back and forth in their visits to the Capital of the State, or the commercial metropolis below. In addition to the link from Petaluma to the Junction, the branch will be built to Bodega and that extensive lumber region will be brought thus closely to our doors. The President of the road, Colonel J. P. Jackson, and Colonel Donahue went over the line on Friday, with a view of arranging for the finishing of the road at its upper terminus, the location of depots and the discharge of one set of laborers. The price paid, or the terms of the payment, are matters not given to the public, but being satisfactory to the parties themselves, we can afford to be content with the possession of the road, be the cost to the owners what it may. There are a number of benefits for Vallejo which the purchase above named secures and which we will again refer to at greater length.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 22 1871

 

The California Pacific Railroad have abandoned work on their own road between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, and will push work on the Donahue road, that being the more advanced.

– San Francisco Examiner, April 24 1871

 

Santa Rosa.

Within the past few weeks while out looking for items of a local nature to interest our readers with, we have had a good opportunity to judge of the progress in the march of prosperity and improvement that our town has made within the past year. To those who have not investigated this matter we would say, that if they will devote a few hours to rambling over the town, the many evidences of life and enterprise now going on in our midst, will strike them with astonishment. It is our firm belief that there is not an interior town in the State at present that is making such rapid strides forward as Santa Rosa. There have been some one hundred and fifty buildings erected within the past year. Many of these are large and elegant residences, while the majority consist of stores and cosy cottages. This does not include the buildings that are now in course of erection. It does not matter in what direction the footsteps may wander, the ear will be greeted with the sounds of the mechanic’s hammer and plane. That portion of our town where the depot is located is almost entirely built up, and complaints can be heard every day on our streets that the lumber yards cannot procure building material from the mills fast enough to supply the great demand. The scarcity of lumber has compelled some to send to San Francisco and have the frames of their buildings made there, and then shipped here in such a manner that they have nothing to do but put them together. This difficulty will soon be remedied, for we have redwood and other timber in our county in a sufficient quantity to supply the whole State. But on our main streets we observe a disposition on the part of our business men to do away with old frames and erect on their site fine fire proof brick buildings. Within the past week, Mr. J. M. Roney and Mr. Mapes, owners of property on Fourth street, bare commenced the erection of two or three brick buildings, which are to be two stories high. The old stable, formerly Wood Bostwick’s, is being hauled away, and in a little time a force of masons will be at work putting up we are informed, as substantial a brick building as can be found this side of the Bay. The Hall of Records is nearly completed, and soon our elegant and commodious College will have received its finishing touch. Every branch of business is now thriving. Our hotels and restaurants are crowded. The merchants have no complaints to make of hard times, and our farmers are perfectly content with the healthy condition of their varied crops. What do these signs of busy life indicate? That our town is going backward instead of forward! Certainly not. That now as the railroad has gone by us we are necessarily dead and buried! No. That because we voted a subsidy that we are impoverished and bankrupt! Again the answer comes, no. Then what do they indicate? Simply the fact that the railroad has been a benefit instead of an injury to us. It has brought men of means along with it to develop and build up out of the vest resources which we have at our command, one of the moat prosperous and handsome towns in California. It has brought about a competition of capital, which on more than one occasion has proved beneficial to those who are compelled to pay interest money. It has created new life in our midst, and in a very short time from now Santa Rosa will rank first among the important towns on the Pacific Coast.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 20 1871

 

To Healdsburg. —The railroad has now been completed to Russian River, within a very short distance of our beautiful sister town of Healdsburg. It seems to be the opinion of most people that the company will not bridge the river this summer. Should this be the case, it is difficult to tell when the directors will resume the work of pushing the road on to Cloverdale. As things now stand, Healdsburg will receive as much benefit, if not more, than any other town in the county from the construction of this road, and we are far from being envious of her good fortune. Although the road will terminate where it is for the present, our Cloverdale friends can rest assured it will reach them in the course of time.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 27 1871

 

Healdsburg Items. – The section men of the Railroad have struck for higher wages, and it is reported that the company will employ Chinamen in their stead.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 23 1871

 

A New Town.

Since the completion of the railroad, new towns are springing into existence all along its line. We are informed that a plat of the town of Fulton, on Mark West, has just been made, and that lots will soon be offered for sale there. The place can already boast of a large warehouse which contains about eight hundred tons of grain. Many dwelling houses are in course of construction, and a blacksmith and wagon shop. The Railroad Company contemplate erecting in a short time a passenger and freight depot, and a store for general merchandise will also soon be established. Fulton is pleasantly located, five miles north of Santa Rosa, in the midst of one of the richest agricultural districts of the county, and must in time grow to be a place of considerable importance.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 14 1871

 

Description of the County Bridge Across Russian River.

The want of a bridge over Russian River on the county road, at Healdsburg, has long been felt. The improvements caused by the railroad and consequent increase of local traffic necessitated that it should he done. Accordingly the Board of Supervisors, encouraged by the Railroad Company with a contribution of $5,000 of county bonds – a portion of the subsidy granted to them – proceeded to carry the long desired want into execution.

Plans and bids were advertised for and a Howe Truss structure 400 feet long, is three spans of about 125 feet each, was contracted far. The dimensions of the bridge and its principal timbers are as follows, viz:

[..]

– Sonoma Democrat, November 11 1871

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LET’S GO, 1870!

Thank you for the ticket purchase to   SANTA ROSA, CA.   in the year 1870. We just KNOW you’re going to enjoy your visit back then!

Your costume will be arriving by drone shortly (DO NOT WASH OR HAVE CLEANED). Prior to departure from the atavachron station, the purser will issue you $ 52 in replica gold coins which will have the purchasing power of approximately $1,000 today.

To make the most of your trip, it’s helpful to be as knowledgable as possible about local topics. As many events carry over from the previous year in your time window, our bots have prepared this overview of 1869-1870 by scanning a local newspaper,   The Sonoma Democrat. Selected tips and advisories from previous time travelers are also included.

TRAVEL ADVISORY   Those with asthma or other respiratory difficulties should note that air quality will be very unhealthy to hazardous throughout Sonoma and Napa counties during the Great Fire, October 15-22 1870.

GENERAL   Santa Rosa is a frontier village on the cusp of becoming part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. In the space of two dramatic weeks between October 15-31 1870, railroad service begins, the first streetlights appear and there will be fears that a wildfire is poised to destroy the town. Aside from the 1906 earthquake and the 2017 Tubbs fire, these are the most impactful days in Santa Rosa history.

FROM CORY298: When the topic of Santa Rosa comes up in Petaluma, shake your head sadly, tsk-tsk or optionally chuckle; if Petaluma is mentioned in Santa Rosa, shake your fist and cuss.

The population of Santa Rosa is about 1,800 with the overall Santa Rosa Township approx. 3,000. Petaluma, the other major community in the area, has around 4,500 residents. A significant rivalry between the towns began a dozen years earlier and in 1870 there will be a renewed call to split the county in half, with Petaluma intended to be the county seat for the southern section. You will be expected to express your feelings about this rivalry generally.

Santa Rosa is roughly 30 square blocks with an open plaza in the center (see 1866 map below). Salmon run in the adjacent Santa Rosa Creek, but the waterway is not navigable in 1869 due to obstructions from two buildings that collapsed into the creek bed. Small corn and wheat fields surround the village on the other three sides. Santa Rosa has no library, no bank (until November, 1870), no water, sewer, or gas utility services.

All streets are unpaved and plank sidewalks in front of businesses or homes are at the prerogative of property owners. Until late 1870 there are no streetlights so a lantern or the company of a local resident is recommended when walking at night. In November the downtown area after dark is transformed by the addition of lamp post lights fueled by “gasolyne” (essentially large gasoline-fed bunsen burners). As a result, the Santa Rosa newspaper states, “Main street at night looks quite brilliant.”

TRAVEL   San Francisco can be reached via steamboats/ferries departing from Petaluma/Vallejo. Stage coaches to those towns may not connect reliably with ship departure schedules, so an overnight layover may be required.

All roads are unpaved and during rainy periods the Petaluma and Sebastopol road is sometimes nearly impassible. 1869: “…[there are] two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider.” 1870: “…[there are] lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface.” When a stage becomes stuck in mud, all passengers are expected to assist in pushing it out.

THE RAILROAD   The train will not actually arrive in Santa Rosa until mid-March, 1871, but daily service begins Oct. 22 1870 as stages shuttle passengers back and forth from the downtown hotels to the terminal point of the approaching track (MORE details). The objective is to connect Santa Rosa to Petaluma immediately (preferably direct to its steamboat pier) with rail extensions further north to come in following years. Work is intermittent in 1869 due to the developer having financing and supply difficulties; by the end of the year there is only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma.

Since the rail line will eventually connect to the ferry in Sausalito, there is a widespread conspiracy theory that Petaluma is somehow responsible for the slow progress. Supposedly interests there wish to block or delay construction because a direct train connection to the Bay will lead to a dropoff in steamboat passenger and freight traffic.

FROM RAILROADGUY-SF: The excursion departs San Francisco at 8:30AM and there will be no food, drinks or bathroom breaks until the party returns to the steamer at 5PM, so be prepared.

A new developer takes over the project in August 1870 and work resumes swiftly. The first San Francisco excursion train to Santa Rosa is announced for December 31 and over 1,200 people will take the trip, riding open freight cars fitted with seats. Unfortunately the tracks terminate a mile south of Santa Rosa and the train will start its return to Petaluma an hour after it arrives at the end of the line. There will be only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport visitors into Santa Rosa, so those wanting to visit the village will have to dash for it. As this is the most popular event in this venue, arrive early and please refrain from gambling on the running excursionists with other time travelers.

POLITICS   Avoid generally, but understand most in Santa Rosa still view everything through the prism of the Civil War. Sonoma county was one of the few places in the state which never voted for Lincoln, and Santa Rosa remains a hotbed for Confederacy sympathies in 1870. In Santa Rosa it is not the “Civil War” but the “War for Southern Independence.” The Democrat newspaper will regularly denounce the government as a fanatical mob of revolutionaries who have divided the nation and trampled on the Constitution.

Travelers not on the women’s suffrage tour will be interested to know this venue includes a Jan. 21, 1870 lecture by nationally famous activist Laura de Force Gordon in Petaluma. Women’s suffrage is the main political topic in this time window, as Wyoming gives women the vote in December, 1869 and the 15th amendment is ratified as part of the Constitution in March, 1870, which grants citizens the right to vote regardless of race, but does not include women.

Other names which will be heard mentioned on the subject include Anna E. Dickinson, arguing forcefully for women’s rights and considered one of the most eloquent speakers in the nation and Emma Webb, an actress who opposes suffrage (and also gave speeches in support of slavery during the Civil War). During 1869 there will be evening Lyceum debates over suffrage at the Santa Rosa courthouse in April (decision in favor suffrage) and May (decision against). There are no women participating in either debate.

Trigger alert: Those wishing to avoid exposure to extreme misogyny should avoid reading coverage of these events in the Sonoma Democrat.

THE GREAT FIRE   The “Great Fire” of 1870 matches the pattern of the 20th century Hanly Fire and 21st century Tubbs Fire. It begins in the Calistoga/St. Helena area and burns through Knights Valley and the Mark West Creek watershed towards Santa Rosa, driven by high winds. On the night of October 16 the fire is three miles from the village and a collection is taken to pay three men to stay up all night and sound the alarm if needed. No lives are lost, but farms are destroyed with some livestock killed (MORE details).

LODGING   Santa Rosa has an acute housing shortage in 1870, in part because of anticipated rapid growth once the railroad arrives. Finding a room in a boarding house or private home should be a high priority as the hotels are expensive (if rooms are even available), charging about $1 per day and 40¢ per meal. From the March 12 1870 newspaper: “There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know ‘if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?’ Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time.”

FUN & GAMES   There is great excitement on April 27, 1869, when the first velocipede arrives. Purchased by a group of young men for about $60 in San Francisco, a crowd will gather in the plaza to watch them attempt to ride it, and fail. By the end of the week they are accomplished “velocipedestrians” practicing on the Sonoma road. In June some will open a velocipede school which closes after two days because everyone who wants to learn already has. By July the paper reports “the velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust.”

October 1869 will see the formation of Santa Rosa’s first Base Ball club, which will begin playing as soon as instruction books on the rules arrive from San Francisco. On December 4 they challenge any nine who show up at their field as long as they are residents of Santa Rosa.

DRINKING   Santa Rosa is already on its way to becoming a saloon town in 1870, with six bars in the village. There are breweries in Healdsburg and Petaluma but none in Santa Rosa. Isaac De Turk’s winery in Bennett Valley produces 6,000 gallons of wine, most or all of which is shipped to San Francisco.


POKER NO, FARO YES

Card players should expect to play faro, which is by far the most popular game throughout the West until the early 20th century. It uses a regular deck of cards but suits don’t matter; just bet on any of the 13 ranks – a king, 4, etc. The “bank” deals two cards pushed up from a spring-loaded shoe as in blackjack. The first card turned over is the loser, and the second is the winner. It’s the simplest card game possible but every dealer has additional rules on betting.
Faro is popular because it is fast moving and a social game like roulette, where there are often onlookers placing bets during the course of the game. Betting on the order of appearance for the final three cards remaining in the deck has the highest stakes.
Faro game in Bisbee, AZ, 1900
This card game is also famous for cheating. From an often reprinted 1882 booklet titled “Faro Exposed”: “…all regular faro players are reduced to poverty…almost every faro player has some peculiar system which he strives to believe will beat the bank, but in the end all systems fail.” For more on faro, see the comprehensive “Faro: A 19th-century gambling craze.” Other popular card games include monte-bank, chuck-for-luck, seven-and-a-half, keno and rondo.

Public drunkenness is scorned but not against the law in Santa Rosa. In late 1870 the City Marshal will construct a Calaboose behind the jail to hold intoxicated men until they become sober. Previously the Marshal had crated drunks. (Crating is a traditional prank children in this era play on drinkers whom they find unconscious, placing a Queensware crate over them and weighing it down so the victim cannot easily escape.)

There is no temperance group in Santa Rosa akin to the Dashaway Associations of the early 1860s and the Blue Ribbon Clubs of the late 1870s. This will be a disappointment to experienced travelers who know those popular non-religious meetings are great opportunities to mingle with locals, find lodging and even employment, if desired.

GAMBLING   Wagering at card games is a preoccupation for many men, but caution is strongly urged. Violence can erupt over trivial gambling disputes, and in 1870 a man named Charles Coburn is stabbed repeatedly at a card game in Sebastopol. Also that year a man known only as Clark is stabbed in the neck at Santa Rosa’s Rialto saloon over cards. Travelers will not desire to experience emergency medical care in this time window.

Often any opportunity to place a bet is welcomed. In Sept. 1870 an imitator of Edward Payson Weston calling himself Prof. Western wins $5 here for his prowess at long distance walking. Young men are racing their horses on the road to Petaluma “for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece.”

Depending upon the time of your arrival, there are any of six horse tracks in the vicinity: The Petaluma Race Course, the Santa Rosa race track, the Sotoyome Race Course near Healdsburg, Watson’s race track near Bodega, Gannon’s track at Sebastopol and the James Clark race track south of Santa Rosa. Having so many racing venues in the area is a point of local pride. A racing program consumes most of a day, including amateur scrub races and sometimes foot races.

FROM TAILROTEEL: Bet on the raccoon.

Be advised many travelers find an event on Jan. 11 1869 at the Santa Rosa plaza upsetting, as a large crowd of men and boys form a ring to watch a raccoon fight “all the dogs in town.”

CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES   For travelers not part of the “Tom Sawyer” tour, expect to see lots of youths in 1870 Santa Rosa. There are 581 school age children (exactly one-third of Santa Rosa’s population) and the newspaper complains frequently about the lack of parental supervision.

Besides gambling on scrub horse races on the Petaluma road, boys eight years old and younger are often seen riding at full gallop. Mobs of small boys roam the streets late at night, sometimes making a racket with homemade musical instruments. The 1869 velocipede fad is followed by 1870 stilt walking, with children wobbling around the main streets on stilts up to five feet high.

Map of 1866 Santa Rosa

 

 

Great Sport.—On Monday last there was quite a large crowd of men and boys congregated in our plaza for the purpose of witnessing an encounter between a coon and all the dogs in town. A ring was soon formed, and the friends of the combatants took their positions. The betting seemed to be in favor of the coon, although there was no limit to the size and number of his antagonists. Among the canines present, “Ephraim,” the cat-exterminator, was the favorite, and a number of his friends thought Eph. would get a notion into his head that the coon was nothing more nor leas than one of his particular admirers belonging to the “Thomas Cat Serenaders,” in disguise. If this should happen, the coon would get a “head put on him sure.” Everything being ready, the coon was pitched into the ring, and a shout of joy went up announcing that the sport had commenced. His first opponent was a canine of ordinary pedigree, and as soon as he came in sight the coon got his back up,” and assumed a hostile attitude, ala Joe Coburn. This round did not amount to much. The second dog was brought forward, and he eyed the coon closely. All at once the coon fastened on him, and in a short time he beat a retreat. Great shouts of victory were now heard arising from the coon’s corner. Some half dozen dogs were then put on him at once. But this resulted the same as the former ’bouts, and those backing the coon could not help but cheer over this last grand victory. Things bad gone one way long enough, and loud cries were heard for Ephraim. Eph. was led towards the ring by a little urchin, exclaiming as he approached, “Here’s Eph., now let that darned critter get him back up!” In a minute Eph. had Mr. Coon down, but he could not hold him long, owing to the interference of other canines, resulting in a general fight and race around the Plaza. The crowd then dispersed much pleased with the sport. – January 16 1869

Why are They not Removed?— For some months past there have been a couple of old buildings lying in the bed of the Creek, almost at the very entrance of the town, and it is a question to many why the Trustees do not have them removed. Almost the first thing that meets the eye of the stranger as he enters the town, are these miserable old dilapidated wrecks, which certainly does not tend to make one form a very favorable opinion of the town. We hope the city trustees will take this matter in hand, and attend to it without further delay. – March 13 1869

Velocipede.— As the velocipede mania is extending all over the Slate, it has at last reached Santa Rosa. Mr. Henry Allen, a mechanic, of this place, has commenced the construction of one of these new “hosses.” It is a three wheeled one, and runs either way. Some time next week, it will make its appearance on the Sonoma road. – April 24 1869

Bad Roads. — Every winter loud complaints are heard about the dreadful condition of the public roads in this county, and the season just closed has proven no exception. At this time it is not only difficult, but dangerous, to travel between Santa Rosa and Petaluma or Sebastopol. On the first several adobe quagmires are encountered, which threaten to mire the horses and pull the buggy or wagon to pieces. On the latter are two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider. We are aware that considerable work was done last summer on both the roads mentioned, but not sufficient to keep them in proper condition for travel. This is a matter of great importance to the county. Many a man, intending to settle among us, has turned back and gone elsewhere, discouraged and disgusted with the terrible roads. It would be better to expend three times as much annually on the roads than to have them in their present condition. – March 27 1869

The wonderful velocipede “hoss” arrived in town on Tuesday last, direct from the city. No sooner had it been taken off the stage than a large crowd of aspirants for velocipede honors, surrounded the wonderful animal and earnestly gazed at its strange appearance. To all those who made a thorough examination it appeared to be perfectly gentle and decile, exhibiting no kicking or “bucking” propensities. It was led into the Plaza, followed by a large crowd, when a person possessing quite a reputation as a rider was induced to try it and see what it could do. No sooner had be mounted than be got “bucked” off. He tried it again, and met with the same fate. Other owners in the “critter” tried it and they too met with similar results. Since its arrival it has became quite gentle, as there are now a number who can ride it without the use of spurs. Every afternoon, on the Sonoma road, this strangely constructed beast goes through a course of exercises, and creates great amusement for those who witness its “fantastic tricks.” – May 1 1869

The velocipede fever has abated at this burg. The new machine from the city, purchased at a cost of fifty or sixty dollars, is now used up and laid aside, while the one built here only serves for the amusement of boys. Our folks evidently think velocipeding too much like work to be good fun. – May 29 1869

Woman Suffrage. — It will he remembered that the question of female suffrage before the Santa Rosa Lyceum, several weeks since, drew on a denserly [sic] crowded house and elicited an able and interesting discussion. The champions of the “strong minded” succeeded on that occasion, obtaining a decision in their favor. But the supporters of the negative have never been satisfied, and so last Saturday night they threw down the glove for another contest on the same subject. The other side, confident of victory, promptly accepted the challenge, and this (Saturday) evening has been fixed upon to “fight their battles o’er again.” The question reads: “Resolved, That women are entitled to the right of suffrage.” Affirmative— Barclay Henley and John Ferral; Neg. Major Brown and Wm. McCullough. A rattling discussion is anticipated, and we advise ail who can to be present. – May 29 1869

Miss Emma Webb, a beautiful and talented young actress, intends to take a the stump against female suffrage. With such a Webb we should be able to catch all the young fellows who have gone off after Annie Dickinson, and other strong-minded females. – June 5 1869

Getting it Down to a Science. — There are quite a number of boys around this place, who on velocipede riding are becoming immense. They prefer the two wheeled one, on account of it being the most difficult to manage, and are trying to see how many different ways they can ride it. So far the youngsters have got along admirably, and perform some expert movements, but one of these young velocipedestrians, Master Pope, proposes to cap the climax by standing on his head on the saddle and working the cranks with his hands. Pope is determined to beat young Seigrist, of San Francisco, or “any other man.” – June 12 1869

Velocipede School. During the past week a velocipede school has been organized at this place, under the control of Millett & Co. These gentlemen have fitted up a room, near the now Presbyterian Church, and have some ten or twelve new velocipedes, of all sizes, constantly on hand for the use of those who desire to learn. The velocipede is excellent for exercise, and we advise all who want to harden their muscles and promote digestion to give Millett & Co. a trial. – June 19 1869

The Velocipede school, started at this place, last week, closed up business in a day or two, as the boys around here were experts in Velocipede riding. – June 26 1869

The velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust. – July 24 1869

We observe that Master John Dougherty, the “Little Giant” of Sebastopol, has at last got into the papers, and is hailed as a rival of Gen. Tom Thumb for lilliputian honors. Master Johnny is now fifteen years old, and yet weighs only thirty pounds, and is but four inches shorter than the General. The Herald was the first to bring our little friend before the public, a reporter having noticed him while on a recent visit to the city. – September 25 1869

Base Ball Club. — A number of the young men of this place met a few nights ago in the Board of Supervisors room and organized a base-ball club, styling themselves “The Young Wide-Awakes.” They have sent to the city for books of instruction, and intend in a short time to take the wind out of the sails of the Red Stockings. – October 23 1869

Be Careful. — There are a number of young boys around here, scarcely any of them over eight years of age, all of whom have horses, and make it a practice of riding at full speed up and down the roads. We fear if these daring juveniles don’t slack their speed we will be compelled to chronicle an accident before long. – November 13 1869

Challenge. — The first nine of the Lightfoot Base Ball Club desire us to state that they will play against the field, or, in other words, any nine outsiders, residents of Santa Rosa, who will meet them on their grounds this afternoon, Saturday, at 3 o’clock. – December 4 1869

On the Rampage. —Laura de Force Gordon, of Oakland, is going to stump the State in favor of Female Suffrage. She has challenged Miss Emma Webb to meet her and discuss the merits of the question. Miss Emma, were she to agree to meet Miss Gordon, would always have the best of it, for she claims that every lady can be a woman and every woman a lady, while Miss Gordon wants to make every woman a man and every lady a pot-house politician. – January 8 1870

Woman’s Rights. — We understand that Mrs. Laura de Force Gordon intends lecturing at the Court House this (Saturday) evening on the subject of Woman’s Rights, but as we have not been officially notified of it we can not say positively that such is the case. If the report is true, we can only say “let her rip” — howling female dervishes are at a discount, and petticoat nuisances will sooner or later be abated. Such women can do more good by staying at home and raising a family than by going around over the country showing their boots, breeches, stockings, shirt buttons, etc., to curiosity-seeking crowds. – January 22 1870

Dear Editors — A large, intelligent and appreciative audience, last evening, listened to a most eloquent and cogent appeal on behalf of woman suffrage, by Mrs. Laura De Force Gordon. She showed most clearly the manifest injustice of a republican government in denying to one-half its citizens (?) no ! not citizens, but one half the people, the right to a voice in its laws. Women are taxed equally with men. They are alike amenable to law, yet are classed with criminals, idiots and pauper’s. Her argument on this head was unanswerable.

She also showed in strong terms that women do want the ballot and that they will have it.

Her last argument was clear and forcible as to their need of the ballot in regard to the care of themselves and their children in earning, owning and disposing of property.

Mrs. Gordon is an exceedingly pleasing and interesting speaker and commands the entire attention of her audience. She was compelled, by press of engagements in San Francisco and vicinity, to postpone her lectures in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg until after the Woman Suffrage Convention which meets in San Francisco on Wednesdav next. We hope that Sonoma county will be largely represented and an interest awakened in this important subject.

Mrs. Gordon will lecture again here, in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, as soon after the Convention as arrangements can be made. We send from this town a petition of four hundred names, of some of our best men and women to Congress and our State Legislature for the enfranchisement of woman. If the Democrats in our Legislature are as rational and consistent as those in Wyoming we shall soon enjoy all the rights of citizenship m a free republic. Justitia. Petaluma, Jan. 22d, 1870. – January 29 1870

None to Rent.— There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know “if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?” Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time. – March 12 1870

Pretty Good.— Three of our citizens, who are experts at trout fishing, went up to Mark West Creek one day during last week, and returned home in the evening with three hundred of these fine fish. This is what we call pretty good work for one day. All of the streams in this vicinity are visited daily by parties who are fond of fishing. – April 16 1870

Horrible Noise.— Some few evenings since the youngsters of our town who keep late hours, favored the citizens with a serenade which was not appreciated by anybody. They had with them a number of instruments of a peculiar kind, and the way the serenaders bandied them was a caution. We are fond of music, but hope that the youngsters will not annoy our citizens with any more of just such musical treats in the future. – April 16 1870

Female Suffrage.— Mrs. Carrie T. Young lectured at the Court-house on Wednesday evening last, in favor of Woman Suffrage, We regret that her talents are not employed in promoting some worthier cause. – April 23 1870

Horse Racing.—A number of scrub horse races came off here during the week, on the Petaluma road, just below Santa Rosa bridge. The boys of our town had the management of them and they would run for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece. – May 21 1870

Stabbing Affray. —On Tuesday evening last a stabbing affair occurred at the “Rialto” saloon, in this place, in which a man by the name of Clark was stabbed in the neck by a man named Willis Cockerill. From parties who were present and witnessed the difficulty we obtained the follow)ng information about it. The parties were engaged in playing cards together when a dispute arose about a trifling sum of money. One word brought on another until at last it came to blows. They were separated by outside parties, but soon clinched again, when Clark drew his pocket knife out. Cockerill then drew his knife and cut at Clark, the blade entering the neck below the left ear. The wounded man fell to the floor, and bled profusely. Dr. Allen was immediately called in to his assistance, and proceeded to dress the wound. Cockerill was arrested by Marshal Park, and had his examination before Justice Brown on Wednesday morning. He was found guilty of simple assault. The injured man is out on the streets again, and expresses a great astonishment at the arrest of Cockerill for the commission of such a trifling offense. – June 18 1870

Cool Customer. — Clark, the man who was stabbed here on Tuesday night last, has learned to take such things cooly. While lying on the floor, covered with blood, he calmly asked for a “chaw of terbacker,” and next day invited the party who did the cutting to take a drink with him. – June 18 1870

The Social Evil.— St. Louis, following in the wake of Paris, Berlin, and other European cities, has concluded to deal with the “social evil” in a practical manner, by licensing houses and providing medical examiners, etc. Santa Rosa hasn’t any of that kind of evil, so we don’t feel particularly interested in the license question. – July 30 1870

Great Walker. —A huge bilk, calling himself Prof. Western, the “greatest walker in the country,” gave an exhibition of his agility in that line in this town on last Wednesday night. He never stopped walking to settle his bills, and victimized us to the amount of five dollars. Look out for him, for he will walk off with a red-hot stove if he gets a chance. – September 3 1870

Our Calaboose Our town authorities not having authorized the building of a “lockup,” the City Marshal is often at a loss to know what to do with troublesome reprobates. He cannot arrest one who is beastly drunk and keep him until he sobers off. because no place has been prepared in which to stow him away. But on Thursday morning last, as there was a man who could not take care of himself, and, besides was making himself a common nuisance, the Marshal took a queensware crate, and turned it into a temporary calaboose, and in it confined the inebriated individual. It served very well for the purpose. – September 17 1870

Calaboose. — Workmen are now engaged in putting up the calaboose in the rear of the jail. Although this is an institution that is but little needed here, it is well to have one on hand for the accommodation of all persons who would disturb the peace and quietude of our town. – October 1 1870

Keep Them at Home. — There is a number of small boys in our town ranging from eight to ten years of age, who are out on the streets almost nightly to a very late hour. We would suggest to parents that there is no place where children are as safe from temptation at such hours as home. A little precaution in this matter may save much trouble in the future. – October 15 1870

New Gas Lamps. – Within the past week a species of gas called the gasolyne has been introduced into our town, and so far has proved satisfactory to those who have used it. No chimney or wick is required, and each lamp has a patent burner which generates the gas. There is no danger whatever of explosion as the gas is consumed as fast as it is made. The town trustees have had four gas lamps put up in the Plaza, which are a great convenience to all persons who have occasion to be out at nights. The Kessing Hotel is lighted up nightly with this gas which is a great improvement on coal oil. Both livery stables have adopted it, and as it is much cheaper and safer than coal oil, its use will soon become general. Frank Coe has purchased the extensive right to sell these lamps in this county and Napa, and will attend promptly to all orders left at the Hotel. – October 29 1870

More Buildings. — Since the completion of the railroad to this point, there is scarcely a day passes but what strangers are looking for vacant houses. Many of them are energetic men, and have not the means at command to buy homes for themselves and families. They desire to rent and locate among us, and by their labor and industry assist in building up the interests of our county. Those of our citizens who have a surplus of capital on hand, should take cognizance of this matter, and not allow worthy men who come here with the intention of making Sonoma county their home for the future, to go away and locate somewhere else. Here is a chance, gentlemen, to show your liberality and enterprise. – October 29 1870

Calaboose. — This institution in the jail yard is now completed, and ready to accommodate all disturbers of the peace of our town. At present there is little if any necessity for it, but as the town is growing so rapidly in population, it is well to have one on hand. Two or three persons here already been confined in it, for having turned the sidewalks into lodging apartments. Our Marshal is ever on the look out, and all can rest assured he will make no distinctions among law breakers. There was a party of noisy individuals out late on last Sunday night, and if they make a few more such trips to town, they need not be surprised if the Marshal gives them free lodgings for the remainder of the night. – October 29 1870

The New Gas.— Last week we mentioned the fact that gasolyne had been introduced into our town. It has worked to such perfection that almost every house in town, especially the business portion of the community, has adopted its use. A number of new gas lamps have been put up, and our Main street at night looks quite brilliant. The great charm about this gas is that it is much cheaper than kerosene oil, and will not explode under any circumstances. Coe, the popular hotel keeper, is kept busy filling orders both here and in other portions of the county. Frank has secured the agency for Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. – November 5 1870

Rapidly Changing. — Our town is rapidly changing from its former rural appearance, and beginning to assume the life and activity of a young city. The streets are usually crowded to a much greater extent than formerly, and the mode of travel by pedestrians is assuming the Montgomery street style. We understand that two omnibusses will soon put in an appearance at the depot, When we will hear the cry of “Free bus to Colgan’s Hotel,” “Right this way for Kessing’s Hotel,” “Take your baggage free of charge,” etc. No less than eight stages are running here daily. Who says the railroad has not thrown new life into our town? – November 5 1870

New Buildings. — In strolling over town a day or two ago on a “localizing” tour, we observed a number of new frame buildings being erected. Even on the outskirts of town the evidences of industry were apparent on all aides. Several gentlemen owning land just outside of the city limits have erected large and handsome residences thereon, and otherwise greatly improved their premises. No one will deny, now, that in a year or two Santa Rosa will be one of the handsomest interior towns in the State, and as far as educational facilities are concerned, she stands second to none other. – November 26 1870

Crowded. — Both of the hotels at this place, although large and commodious structures, are now crowded to their utmost capacity. The travel through our county has increased to such an extent within the past month, that our land lords are kept busy day and night providing accommodations for their numerous guests There is some talk on the streets about the erection of a large brick building to be used as a hotel. None can doubt but what it would pay, and before long some enterprising persons will take the matter in band and commence work in earnest. – November 26 1870

The Plaza. — Now that our town is attracting considerable attention throughout the State, and numbers of persons are visiting it from a distance, for the purpose of taking observations, and perhaps making it their home, would it not be well for us to endeavor to make the town present as creditable an appearance as possible? It looks well, now, but yet there are many things that can be done which will add greatly to its beauty, one of which is to take hold in earnest and improve the plaza — lay out gravel walks through it, plant some nice shrubbery, and give the fence a new coat of paint. We are under the impression that this would add greatly to the appearance of the town, while the cost of the work would be but trifling. As the case stands now, the visitor, in passing through, finds but little worthy of admiration in it. If we are. to have a plaza, let us keep it in good condition, or abolish it entirely. The matter is in the hands of the citizens, and it rests with them to say whether the work shall be done or not, – November 26 1870

Real Estate. — Considerable business is now being done in real estate in and around Santa Rosa. Parties are in town almost every day, making inquiries in regard to the price of land, location, soil, etc. During the past week quite a number of small tracts have changed hands. Negotiations were under way for the disposal of the two hundred acre tract which faces the property of Mr. John Ingram, but the sale was not made on account of some misunderstanding, Buyers complain of its high price asked for land, which, in some cases, we believe they are correct. Use a little more liberality, gentlemen, and sales will be mere numerous. – November 26 1870

Horrible Condition. — The streets of our town are now in a most horrible condition, and in many places are almost impassable. On the low grounds the water has lodged in such quantity as to form lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface. In fact there is scarcely a good crossing to be found anywhere? Can not our town officers take some steps to drain or in some other manner improve their condition. Should they continue much longer as they are now, it will be found necessary for every man to provide himself with a mud scow to get around to attend to business. Besides this it is now impossible for the ladies to go out “shopping,” a little amusement which is generally very popular with them, but seldom meets with the hearty approbation of their liege lords. If something is not done in their behalf soon, our town officers may expect to hear “Rome howl” ere long. – December 10 1870

Base Ball. — The young men of Santa Rosa have organized a base ball club, which promises to be an active and efficient institution. They may never rival the Red Stockings, but the exercise will do them good and afford much amusement. – December 10 1870

Fell Down. — A young urchin, who was perched on a pair of stilts some three feet high, which were tied to his feet, fell down on Third street, on Monday last, and severely sprained one of his ankles, there is quite a number of little boys in town who can be seen daily perched on high stilts and some of them, we fear, will meet with a severe accident yet. Older heads have suffered by too hasty endeavors to get up in the world, and our ambitious juveniles will learn that stilts from three to five feet long are a little too much too high. – December 31 1870

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HAVING A GOOD TIME P.S. WAR IS HELL

Dear Folks, France is just like in the movies and the French people very hospitable but their customs are strange. I am well and enjoying it over here. “Beaucoup” love, your son.

Those are the basic bones of most letters WWI soldiers sent to their Sonoma county loved ones and friends – and we know that because the Press Democrat printed hundreds of them during the war. Sometimes they were condensed down or summarized, but others were allowed to flood an entire page with small print. That was very unusual; even in rural towns, newspapers at the time provided only sketchy details of news from locals serving in the war. (Jack Cline has received a letter from Jack True in which he states that he lost his left leg in the battle at the front – Petaluma Courier, Sept. 26 1918.)

The PD printed enough letters to fill a book (which wouldn’t be a bad idea) and a sample of the ones written from France can be found transcribed below, following the roster of those who died. The paper also ran letters from England and stateside training camps.

Rarely did they write about their combat experiences in much detail (“I am now busy and happy doing my bit at the battle front”) which is understandable, as they didn’t want to worry friends and loved ones. But sometimes there are hints of the harrowing war: “We have lots of cannonading and shelling, both from our front and from the Germans, and we have gas attacks quite often. I had to wear my gas mask for four hours one day, and I have to carry it with me all the time, and also the helmet.”

As they were billeted in French villages near the front lines, their interactions with the villagers were frequent topics. “…It’s surprising how we can get along with these people and make them understand us. Not a one that speaks a word of English, but we talk by using a mixture of English. French, Spanish, German, hands, feet, ears and eyebrows.” They were gobsmacked by the amount of wine being consumed (“the equivalent of 26 cents American money would purchase the finest bottle of Port Wine or Claret ever made”) and that their pastoral country life seemed untouched by modern times (“a person here never needs an alarm clock to wake him up. There is always someone going down the street with wooden shoes and you can hear them for four blocks”).

(RIGHT: Hilliard Comstock c. 1918)

There are many other anecdotes about village life I could excerpt here, but I’d rather you scroll down and read the actual letters which are genuine and heartfelt, revealing how the old world culture and the Americans were mutually astonished that the other existed. Okay, one more – don’t miss the story about the Frenchman who learned how to blow Taps on a bugle to impress his girlfriend, causing a wild scramble as the soldiers rushed back to camp.

But don’t presume the PD was just offering up lightweight fare about locals having a good time behind the lines. The paper also printed letters from two correspondents which contained details so raw that editors might hesitate publishing them today.

One of the letter writers was Major Hilliard Comstock, an unabashed hero of this journal. He last appeared here in 1916 as Captain of Santa Rosa’s National Guard Company E when they were sent to the Mexican border to protect the United States from Pancho Villa. Company E and other units of California’s National Guard were ordered into service  in 1917 and became part of the regular U. S. Army.

Comstock caught the Spanish flu once he was overseas and spent the war behind the lines in France training machine gunners, but he kept in touch with his National Guard comrades and others from the North Bay; most of his letters are composed of their war stories.

He wrote a lengthy account of a hospital visit to a soldier who narrowly escaped dying because the bullet was slowed by squarely hitting a button of his uniform; it passed through a lung and exited his side, missing all bones and arteries. Comstock (or perhaps a PD editor) only identifies the man as “Bill H.” but from the details of his injury we can positively ID him as William Herbert. If that name’s familiar, it may be because he was recently mentioned here as a well-known Santa Rosa architect and early partner of Cal Caulkins. The amazing story below does not appear in any biographical material on him (at least, that I can find). Comstock wrote:


…He described the German machine gun fire as very intense after the Americans had lost their artillery barrage. His battalion had advanced quite a bit more rapidly than those on its flanks, so that the Germans made it awfully hot from the flanks for awhile. His plattoon was badly shot up at one stage and had broken loose and run. A big shell burst near him and be found himself whimpering and crying from the shock and excitement. He was in cover in a shell hole, but realized that if he stayed there his nerve was gone, so he forced himself out into the fight again. During the fight he twice traveled back forth with information. But here was the best thing he did. His platoon had advanced right up by the side of a machine gun position. There the boche was in the act of swinging his gun to open fire on the flank of his platoon. With a lucky aim from his pistol he shot the gunner straight through the neck, killing him instantly.

Comstock wraps up the story by writing that the Army would recognize Herbert’s valor and give him a promotion (he was made a lieutenant) but the British commanding officer of his battalion would not recommend him for the Distinguished Service Order because “bravery is only an officer’s duty.”

(Although Comstock was never in combat or wounded, a rumor spread in France that he had been killed. He learned of the gossip and on November 14 wrote to his wife, Helen, to disregard anything she might hear about it: “By the way, if any one has written home that story of my death, I want to say, like Mark Twain, that ‘the report of my death was grossly exaggerated.'” Unfortunately, Helen didn’t receive his letter until December 16. By then two other soldiers had written home and mentioned Hilliard’s supposed death, causing his family anguish and Santa Rosa to lower flags to half staff. Another tragic mail delay involved sisters Ruth and Viola Lundholm, Red Cross nurses from Petaluma, who died of the Spanish flu a few weeks after reaching England. A cheery letter from them about their ocean crossing arrived shortly before a cable informing the family of their deaths.)

The other correspondent whose frank descriptions of the war appeared in the Press Democrat was Constance Cooke, a Red Cross nurse from Healdsburg. From her there were no coy descriptions of the war.

After a few days in Paris she was dispatched to a large military hospital in Beauvais, on the Somme front. Her first letter described the grim scene as she drew nearer the battle zone: “As we passed through the various villages I got my first real glimpse of the meaning of the war. Saw many trainloads of soldiers, French, English, American and Algerian, many wounded returning from the front, and many fresh companies going towards the scene of action. We hear the booming of the distant cannons daily…”

From the hospital she wrote candidly about her patients, both those recovering from surgeries and those with shattered minds from PTSD: “[There] is a dear boy named Blossom — Karl Blossom — who seems to have fallen back on his nerves. I find him wide-awake at any hour I make rounds, so have taken to sitting beside his bed for an hour or two at a time in the wee small hours.” Another: “He suffers from shell shock, and it is pitiful to see him — he is delirious half of the time — living over again those hours of the battle.”

Connie became inured to the sights and sounds of the nearby war, and would go outside when she heard German reconnaissance airplanes, which were sometimes involved in dogfights with French aviators. “These day air battles are exciting to watch. As a rule the machines are too high to see but we can hear their guns plainly and see the smoke from them – like small, fluffy white clouds.”

A crisis came on the night of May 29-30, as a heavy German air raid dropped bombs which landed close to the hospital and shattered windows. A French nurse and her family were killed in their home a short distance away. Cooke was among the five American nurses who moved patients to the basement and lower floors, with some patients apparently sedated by ether. For this she and the others were awarded France’s highest medal for courage, the Croix de Guerre.

(Another of those heroic nurses was Natalie Scott, who crawled across rubble in darkness during the bombing to reach patients in an annex building. After the war she returned to New Orleans, where she led the restoration of the French Quarter in the 1920s and transformed it into an artist’s and writer’s colony. When WWII began she was recruited by the Red Cross, making her one of only three Red Cross workers who served in both wars. And then, after serving in both the Europe and Pacific theatres, she stuck around Asia for three years after the war to work in Korea. Can we please get this woman a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom?)

Press dispatches about the hospital bombing and later the Croix de Guerre made Constance Cooke a household name in the Bay Area, claimed both by San Francisco and Sonoma county. (Nor did it hurt that she was pretty; there were three wire service photos of her in circulation.) Julius Myron Alexander wrote a really awful poem about her which appeared in the Healdsburg Tribune June 6 and was reprinted in the PD the next day: “She came from the land where poppies blow/ From the land of Western sunset glow/ Where murmuring brook and song of bird/ So soft o’er the land all day were heard/ ’Twas there the maiden grew from her youth/ Nourished in love and God’s own truth…”

When she returned home in early 1919 the Oakland Tribune interviewed her about the bombing. Although the newspaper’s article seems to have some heavy-handed editorial additions, it’s still interesting to read:


…The night of May 29 was terrible. The corridors and courtyards of our hospital were filled with wounded men, operation cases, waiting for treatment. The buildings adjoining us were struck, thirty losing their lives. I thought it was our end, but we worked on. The bombing finally became too terrible and we were forced to move our patients to Paris. Air raids were going through every night for five weeks. The brilliantly illuminated red crosses designating the hospitals were used as targets by the Germans. The people of the city slept on the hillsides to escape the foe…the valor of the American girls quickly won the hearts of the French, who at first were skeptical. Many times our nurses worked for three days and nights without sleep, caring for the wounded. The American boys were always regretful during raids that they had no means of fighting back, and declared their preference to the front lines.

Asked if she fell in love with anyone over there, she replied, “yes, I fell in love, but with the whole Yankee army.” I know that sounds cheesey, but I believe she actually said that; read her letters below and you’ll find her tenderly describing patients as “my children.” In truth, she married San Francisco attorney Robert Wisecarver in 1920. During the 1960s she was state chairman for the USO and died at age 101 in 1989. She’s buried in the Oak Mound Cemetery, Healdsburg; stop by next November 11 and say thanks.

 

Eighty Sonoma county residents died in WWI (five of them women). Roster from the Press Democrat, November 11, 1919

 

LIEUTENANT DUHRING NOW ON DUTY ON FRENCH FRONT
Writes Parents of Experiences and Duties Under Shell Fire of Germans—-Dal Peggetto Tells of Delay in Getting Away From Camp.

The many friends of First Lieutenant Frederick S. Duhring of Sonoma, son of Mr. and Mrs. F. T. Duhring of that city, will be interested in a letter dated in France December 6 to his parents, in which he says:

“Today I received two letters from you and a Christmas card from Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Johnson. Was sure glad to get them – the first news from home for six weeks. They were postmarked December 15th, so you can see my mail travels far before it reaches me. I am anxious to know how you spent Christmas.

“I received a letter from Don Campbell today. He was quite sick for awhile in Nice, but from his letter I judge he found that city a wonderful place in which to convalesce, and he stayed there until he was about O. K. He is now back with the old Section, now 586.

“I am about 60 kilometers down the line with my new Section, again listening to the melodious Boche shells (most odious I assure you) and superintending the work of 33 young speed maniacs hauling sick and wounded Frenchmen under shell fire. I am responsible for about ten kilometers of the front and must see that all sick and wounded are transported from the trenches to the hospitals and evacuation posts farther back from the lines. It is quite a job and when there is much activity I am kept busy. There is a fine, eager spirit amongst the crowd, the majority being old hands at this business and well understand what is expected. They were among the very first Americans who came to the aid of France three years ago.

– Press Democrat, March 8 1918

 

MISS CONSTANCE COOKE WRITES HOME FROM FRANCE

The following letter from the war zone was received Wednesday from Miss Constance Cooke, daughter of Editor Frank W. Cooke, of Healdsburg, who was recently reported by the press dispatcher as one of the nurses in a large hospital that was bombarded by the Huns:

At the Front, May 8th, 1918 — Please forgive me for waiting so long. It is because I’ve been “going it” as hard as ever I could for the past three weeks. All I’ve done since coming to is work, sleep and eat. I make it a point to go to bed early (10 p. m. until 6:45), so you see I have a lot of rest. Our food is served in plenty, but is not such well-balanced diet as we are accustomed to i. e., meat, is served In abundance, also cheese, jam, wine, lentils and “war bread” without butter. We’ve scarcely seen butter. green vegetables, milk or desserts since leaving New York, except for the four days at the hotel in Paris where we had butter once a day and also a green vegetable, and occasionally lettuce.

We were quite busy for a few days after arriving in Paris, getting our papers filed and accredited, and securing certain other necessary papers. One evening five of us ventured out to a moving picture show. After sundown there isn’t much light on the streets to guide one. Very few of the street lamps are lighted and those few are made dim by means of being painted with dark paint. We paid the extravagant price of 3 francs 80 centimes (72 cents) apiece for our seats. Were surprised to see a picture produced in Los Angeles – quite American. During the evening a picture of President Wilson was flashed on the screen. We clapped loudly, and as a result became the center of attraction for a few minutes. When the main picture was about finished the curtain descended and the ushers quietly informed the people that an air raid was “on.” Everyone calmly left the theater. When we got outside we heard the awful whirring of aeroplanes and the bang! bang! bang! of the bombs, and looking down the wide drive of the German Elysees we could see the glare of an immense fire caused by the bombing. At first we thought we could walk home in time but as the bombing was continued we fled with others into a nearby “abri” (shelter in a deep basement). We were too interested to stay long so [we] stood in the doorway of the building watching the flames of the bombs.

When an alien plane gets into French territory, wireless messages are signaled and a siren (“alert”) warns the people of the danger, whereupon they seek shelter in the “abris.” When the enemy has been driven away another siren sounds and bells are rung to give the signal for safety.

We have as headquarters when in Paris a splendid hotel with all accommodations and excellent food.

After four days I was sent by Miss Ashe to the Grenelle Dispensary, Paris, to do the same type of work for about a week as that in which I was once engaged at the Petrero in San Francisco. Then came an emergency call for a relief nurse to replace one who was ill, so I was hurried off on the evening train, April 20th, to ———, two hours north of Paris, and 30 miles from the front. I was accompanied by Dr. Pearson of Massachusetts, a brother-in-law of Dr. Harry B. Sherman’s wife, (whose little girl I nursed when she had measles). When we were nearing this historic town the Doctor informed me that we might be bombarded, so not to be afraid. I told him I would be quite frank to admit I that I would be afraid, but that I would endeavor to conduct myself in a quiet and orderly manner, nevertheless.

As we passed through the various villages I got my first real glimpse of the meaning of the war. Saw many trainloads of soldiers, French, English, American and Algerian, many wounded returning from the front, and many fresh companies going towards the scene of action. We hear the booming of the distant cannons daily, and the streets of the town are almost a constant stream of huge camions [sic] going in either direction.

Have had charge of a small hospital for the sickest of the refugees who pass through, on their way south. Two English girls, one a nurse and the other an aide, and an M. D., have completed the staff of the hospital. We have had lots of work organizing things, but have grown to love the little place. Sometime will send you pictures of the building and also of the town.

Expect to be transferred to a military hospital for the care of French and American soldiers tomorrow, as the refugee question in this particular district is about settled. I am glad to go, however, as now that we are “over here” we feel the American boys should be our first consideration.

Received my first letter from America. from Grace, dated April 6th. My, I was glad to get it, I assure you.

Please let all of the family read this, as I don’t know when I’ll have another chance to write. Lots and lots of love, Connie. Do write soon.

– Press Democrat, June 13 1918

 

MISS COOKE TELLS OF THE BOMBING OF HOSPITALS
Daughter of Healdsburg Editor Sends Another Fine Letter From “Over There” in Which She Describes Many Interesting Happenings—Red Cross Nurse Has to Be Most Versatile in Her Accomplishments for the Entertaining and the Nursing of the Sick and Wounded Soldiers.

MISS CONSTANCE COOKE has written her father. Editor Frank W. Cooke, of the Healdsburg “Tribune,” another very interesting letter from France, which will read with much interest by her many friends. Among other things Miss Cooke says:

My undertaking, as you call it, is only a drop in the ocean compared with this ghastly war. You know our ideas have changed by degrees since leaving the United States, and have come to the wonder why we did not start for France long ago. Everyone over here feels as one that no sacrifice can be too great in assisting to win the war for humanity and a higher type of “Kultur.”

I’ve come to believe a lot in “fellowship” since leaving the United States. My! how I crave companions all of the time. Of course, under so many precautions and in the war zone wo have almost no social life, and it is a mighty nice thing to have a few other nurses, Red Cross official and soldiers to chat with during the day’s work.

Have received two lovely letters from Florence Keene; also Grace, Edna H. and Lily have written, and then I hear often from several of the girls who came over in the unit, and from a very dear sailor aviator, whom I met on the Rochambeau.

I think I have written you since coming to Beauvais. I had the novel experience of organizing a hospital for refugees, with the very able assistance of an English nurse and an aide. After three weeks was transferred to the French Military Service, as the need is great for military nurses. You know I found, after arriving in France, that pediatrics should come second to serving our American boys, and I felt very happy to enter into the greater service. Am in a hospital where “gassed” cases are cared for, both French and American. Have been in duty for several weeks, and just love to care for the boys. Most of them havn’t seen American girls from two to ten months, and they appreciate just looking at one of their own kind again.

Mr. Censor probably wouldn’t like me to go into much detail. I wish I could tell you many things of interest. For the past few nights I have been on night duty. I just try to do everything under the sun to “coddle” the men, because It means so much to them after their experiences at the front.

We are near enough to the front to hear the cannons roar daily and nightly, and are always reminded of the proximity of the aeroplanes by their whirr overhead. The other night Mr. Fritz dropped a dozen bombs in our vicinity. As I had experienced the same thing in Paris I was not so frightened this time. Was surprised to find the patients very nervous as a result of the affair, but realized they have shattered nerves after a few weeks’ relaxation, away from the front and flat on their backs in a hospital. Six bombs dropped in the courtyard of the refugee hospital I was in formerly, crashing windows, etc. No one was killed in that particular place, but elsewhere in town. We picked up a few pieces of the shrapnel to stow away in our trunks.

The Red Cross and the Smith College Relief Unit give much comfort to the soldiers in a thousand ways, and give the nurses many things to distribute. In fact, we get just about all we ask for, i. e., cigarettes, chocolate, cocoa, canned milk, jam, tooth brushes ond powder, soap, washclothes, shaving sets, toilet paper, towels, extra pillows (you know a small pillow tucked here and there makes a world of difference. sometimes), writing material, dally papers, matches, lemons, and oranges, and even money for boys who haven’t received pay for several months. Well, all of these things gladden the hearts of our “blessees,” and all of our efforts are used to do just that, aside from nursing.

You know what a clown I can be without trying very hard. Well, I even perform at times. (Wish I had Lily here to sing). Since I have been on night duty I do all sorts of things to keep our patients comfortable and cheerful, and we have just real nice times, even when some are in throes over their various pains. Some of the men have trouble from sleeplessness, and at such limes I make chocolate or orangeade (material given by the Red Cross of Smith College unit) for them.

The other night, after distributing chocolate, various pills, rubbing the aching members of a number of patients in one ward, stuffing in a pillow here, tightening one there, etc., I found dressings over, loosening a bandage here tightening one there, etc., I found a sleepless family on my hands. So I played poker (horror of horrors!) with one of them by the light of the smoky lantern until 1:30 a. m. with the others vastly interested in the outcome of the game. We used cough lozenges for chips. Then I informed them that they just had to go to sleep, but if there was anything else they wanted before I left to say so. One sang out, “Well, if you’ll just stay here and let us look at you, that’s all we ask.” You see it’s just the idea of someone of their own kind fussing around which “hits the spot” as it were, after trench life.

So I left my children and made rounds in the three other wards. In one of them is a dear boy named Blossom — Karl Blossom — who seems to have fallen back on his nerves. I find him wide-awake at any hour I make rounds, so have taken to sitting beside his bed for an hour or two at a time in the wee small hours. Of course, I enjoy every bit of the work and am glad I finally got “onto” myself to do my bit.

We have a comfortable room at the hotel and good food. So you see I’m really quite well looked after. Our unit has been scattered all over France. I never saw Dr. Lucas to speak to, as he left France for America right after our arrival.

“Beaucoup” love, Connie.

– Press Democrat, June 27 1918

 

OLD FRENCH WINE CELLAR IS HAVEN FROM BOMBS
Letter From Healdsburg Man Tells of Exciting Experiences “Over There,” as Well as the More Pleasant Forms of Life.

Ancil Walker, son of Mr. and Mrs. D. B. Walker of Dry Creek Valley, near Healdsburg, has sent his folks a nice greeting from France, where he has been with the American army for over three months now. “I am safe and happy,” is his message.

These brief words were contained in a letter sent by a friend of Ole Johnson of Healdsburg. The latter happened to be writing to Johnson from France when Ancil Walker came along and wrote the note to his parents. The letter from the other writer had this to say among other things:

“I am now busy and happy doing my bit at the battle front. I am down in an old French wine cellar, since our hut was bombarded on the 20th of Aprll. I have been walking and standing around in my rubber boots most of the time, as it is muddy here. I serve the boys as they go and come from the trenches. I make coffee and cocoa, and they claim it is the best they have tasted since they came to France. We give it to them free. We sell at cost candy, nuts, figs and such things and have tables for reading and writing. We have services and entertainments for them and they sure appreciate it.

“We have lots of cannonading and shelling, both from our front and from the Germans, and we have gas attacks quite often. I had to wear my gas mask for four hours one day, and I have to carry it with me all the time, and also the helmet. We have a great opportunity here to do good.”

– Press Democrat, July 12 1918

 

SERGT. WILLIAMS IN FRANCE WRITES JNO. T. CÄMPBELL
Interesting Letter Sent Santa Rosa’s Well Known Citizen by Brave Soldier Fighting the Battle of Freedom ‘Over There.”

A letter from Harvey G. Williams, sergeant in the 66th Aero Squadron of the army in France, to the Honorable John Tyler Campbell is of much interest. Among other things he says:

I received your letter and sure was glad to get it. We always want to hear from home and in my case from California where I hope to spend my days after this “cruel war” is over. I have seen a few of the places you advised me to look up…What a great people are the French. And what a history they have. I turn now to the present. I wish you could see the big dally papers, over here, compared with the dally papers of American cities, they are but toys, I know something about papers, for you know I served an apprenticeship on the Los Angeles Times. That is a great paper.

Mark Twain did not overlook the barber when he visited over in Europe. His account of the barber and the barber shop is good. He gave a funny experience as the readers of Innocents Abroad will attest. I will tell you my experience. Entering the shop I was conducted to a chair — I mean a barber’s chair by a highly uniformed porter. 1 thought He was a major-general. The shaving seems to be a family affair. A kid of twelve or fourteen years lathers your face and he does not skip any part, not even the eyes or mouth. Another kid rubs the lather well in, then comes Agamemnon, the barber himself, razor in hand and he does the work. You sit flat in the chair, feet hanging down to the floor at a right angle from the knees. No lounging with feet elevated and resting on a soft vervet cushion as in America.

I must tell you something about the war – the censor may strike it out, but I will try it. Listen, Germany will be beaten to a frazzle inside of a year. I have talked to too many prisoners not to know what I am talking about. They were always hungry and wanted peace. You would hardly believe your eyes if you could see our boys almost fighting to get on to the front line. They want a lick at the Huns, let me tell you, and let me say to you, don’t talk peace. I don’t want peace until our boys nail the American flag on the door of the Hun capital and they will do it and don’t you forget it.

– Press Democrat, July 16 1918

 

MANY BREEZY NOTES TAKEN FROM ‘THE SPIDER’ IN FRANCE

From Paul Stevens, a Sonoma county boy with the Engineers in France, The Press Democrat has received another issue of “The Spider,” a monthly paper published by the Engineers and which is full of interesting and breezy notes of the life of the soldier “over there.”

Readers of The Press Democrat will be interested in a few of the excerpts taken from “The Spider.” Here is a writeup of a dance:

Chic French Girls “Rag” at E Company’s Dance

American ragtime, Southern melodies by the colored boys, French comedy and American comedy, solos and quartettes. Jugglers and fireaters. jig dancers and ballet dancers, marked the entertainment April 17, near E Company headquarters, under auspices of the Jazz Orchestra. And afterward everyone danced.

E Company was out for an orderly good time. The air vibrated music from the lightest passing two step to “The Rosary.” In front of the hall a line of autos, coupled with brilliant lighting effect, reminded one of a miniature Broadway, while the courtyard, overhung with decorated lanterns and springtime decorations, was a “petite promenade.”

At the dance some were dancing American steps and others French. “But the overseas steps prevailed, for what is a French maiden to do when all pieces are ragtime, and her partner is a burly railroader intent on putting over his schedule of “Bunny Hug” and “Boston Dip?” At that everyone enjoyed it. Including the small Yvonnes and Jeans who, with the older Messieurs and Mesdames, had only come as onlookers. The whole village turned out, and the French folks outnumbered the Americans.

While the floor was cleared for the dance, sandwiches and coffee were served in an arbor.

Here’s some more:

Breakfast In France

The American idea of breakfast is something new to the French. They don’t have “breakfast” in France; they have “dejeuners.” But they don’t have dejeuners until 11 o’clock. Until recently it was a familiar sight in most any French town to see Americans, early in the morning, roaming around desperately looking for a place to eat.

Then some enterprising French restaurant keepers found out the Yankees eat as much at 7 a. m. as they do at 7 p. m. Catering to the new allles’ sun-up appetites they displayed stiffly formal cards: ” Breakfast Served.” And then, ” Eggs and Ham.”

[..]

It Was Too Bad

In a village near which a portion of A Company is located, three Frenchmen went forth to serenade their lady loves not many nights ago. One had an accordeon, another a bass drum, and the third a bugle. They rendered several selections under the windows of each of the three “maisons” which they hope some day to win, while the appreciate demoiselle, in each case threw down a bouquet to her favored lover.

Rumor has it that some sort of an American game was going on not far from the place where the concert took place. The exact nature of this game has not been determined, but it is said that little cubes, speckled with round dots were shaken up in a box and tossed upon a table, while copper and silver discs were exchanged by the players from time to time with such exclamations as “Come on, you seven!” and Here’s where I have to walk home!”

It was 8:15 by the clock, but the players had lost all track of time.

Suddenly the first notes of taps came floating upon the evening air. There was a wild scramble, the five American soldiers broke the half mile record back to camp. They burst into their Company hut, only to find the lights burning. The usual evening activities were in full swing, and there was no sign of preparations to retire.

And then from somewhere in the village was borne the oft-cursed sound of reveille. This was followed in rapid succession by “recall,” “call to quarters,” “overcoats,” “payday,” ”retreat” and “fatigue.” The French trumpeter was serenading his lady love with American bugle calls…

– Press Democrat, July 17 1918

 

MISS CONSTANCE COOKE WRITES OF AIRMEN RAIDS

An interesting letter has been received from Miss Constance Cooke from the war in France. Speaking of the reports of her devotion to duty during the raids on the hospital by German airmen, Miss Cooke says:

“I was very sorry such newspaper reports got into San Francisco papers. It seems the correspondents are keen on exciting the home folks. Many instances, however, come to our notice which are certainly worthy of being known by the public.

“Of course, those successive nights of bombing were rather hard on one’s nerves, but it is ‘c’est la guerre,’ as the French say, and everyone in the war zone expects these things. We deserve no credit. We just happened to be on duty, and stuck to our job, as 99 out of a hundred would do anywhere – 100 out of 100 here; for all of the Americans over here have the one purpose, to stop at nothing which will help win this war,

“The French are glad and proud to have the Americans in the trenches with them, and our boys are certainly doing big things at present. I am proud of them.

“On the Fourth of July there were celebrations all over France to honor the Independence Day of America. You know the French are great for ‘frills’ and fetes. Their preparations in the various hospitals for the benefit of the American nurses and patients were really touching. Decorations were made from the wild red poppy, bachelor buttons anf marguerites.

“There was quite a celebration in the town square. French and American flags were flying everywhere the eye turned. Captain J—- was a little worried that the boche might give us another raid and break up the party, and we expected an offensive at the front. But there was no raid and our boys gained more of the enemy’s lines that day.

“The fete of July 14th is at hand and we plan to return the cordiality of the French as far as possible.

“You would smile If you could see me now with a tiny night lamp, shaded very carefully, straining my eyes to write.

“I think I wrote you about being changed from my ward of American boys, after their departure, to a newly opened ward with twenty Frenchmen. As soon as they were evacuated, I was put on special day duty for one week with a pneumonia case (a boy fron Oklahoma) in a French hospital. As soon as the boy was well enough to get along with an aid, I returned to our Red Cross hospital and took back my original ward. There were only seven patients, but within a day or so there were twenty-seven.

“On the 3d of July, Dr.——-, who has charge of those of us who first came to B——, took Miss Joaquim and me in his machine out to C——, a little village about six miles from the Somme front. Beyond this town a short distance, is located a French hospital for gassed cases. There are seven or eight American nurses and aids on duty there. Dr. C. and Chaplain L. had been invited to a dinner and Miss Joaquim and I had dinner with the nurses. Later we were shown through the entire hospital. It was a tent hospital, i. e. some ten or twelve long tents and two brick buildings – accommodating about three or four hundred patients. It was all extremely interesting to me after the work I had done in B, with the same sort of cases.

“On July 4th, Dr. ——- obtained special permission for fifteen nurses and aids from several different villages to go to C—–, close to the front, where the 1st Engineers are stationed. The officers had planned a barbecue and had sent us earnest invitations to be present. At the work was not so heavy at the time, we were mighty glad of the opportunity to out so close to the trenches. We did not go into the trenches, but were very near to the reserve trenches. On the way out we saw many instances of the use of camouflage and also miles and miles of barbed wire defenses.

“It was quiet in that particular sector so we heard only one or two cannon blasts. Just beyond Field Hospital No. —— we came to a stretch of woods and going around to the rear of them we came upon extensive fields, where the 1st Engineers were stationed. There were hundreds of men in uniform. We arrived in the midst of a boxing and wrestling matches and a vaudeville show by some of the men, also orchestra numbers. At 5:15 all faced the flag floating above and sang our national hymn. Then folowed mess call and retreat.

“They had arranged a long table out under an old apple tree, where we fifteen American women together with fifteen of the luckiest (?) among the officers sat down to ’slum.’ I had heard of ‘slum’ many times from the presented with a huge plate of it – (something like our Irish stew) meat potatoes, vegetables and gravy. We were served on a various assortment of plates, salvaged from evacuated homes. After the dinner we danced for two hours in a tent with a board and canvas floor fixed for the occasion. The men certainly enjoyed having us — said it was their only social in a year. Of course we were glad to be there, too, and enjoyed it immensely.

“As the ward has again been evacuated of 26 patients. I have been put on night duty for three nights at a French hospital. Have only seven patients. Pneumonia, lung and other bronchial affections.

“Miss Gilbert, one of my roommates and I are to return to Paris Thursday a. m. Of course  I am rather loth [sic] to leave but feel the new experience may be worth while. Expect a return to children’s service or to be transferred to the military service.

– Press Democrat, August 16 1918

 

ENGLISH FOOD NOT GOOD AS FURNISHED BY THE U. S.
French Wines Do Not Appeal to One Youth
Santa Rosan Tells Interesting Story of Trip and Describes Scenes Älong Route — Has First Taste of Wine and the French Hospitality — Language and Customs Strange, Yet All Are Enjoying Life and Good Health While Preparing for Active Work of War.

A letter from Corporal Ernest L. Richards of Co. E, 316th Am. Train, A E. F., to a former schoolmate, gives a most graphic account of the trials and joys of the trip from camp to France. It will he read with interest by his friends as well as others…

…Through all the country that we had traveled, we saw many old-fashioned contrivances and buildings, and the people, and the machinery and methods of all kinds of living and working. The people dressed very old fashioned, wore wooden shoes, lived in very peculiar shaped houses, built of stone, which were mortared up with clay or dirt. Some of the American boys could talk the lingo, but most of us had to listed to the peculiar noises and be satisfied. Good water was plentiful in most places, but most prevalent of all was the historic French wine.

A quart bottle of wine was cheaper than a quart bottle of water. The price of a quart bottle of wine varied in the different parts of the country through which we passed, but the equivalent of 26 cents American money would purchase the finest bottle of Port Wine or Claret ever made. This is the point at which I fell, and although I never thought I would indulge in liquor, I took my first drink of liquor from a French wine bottle. There is indeed a very peculiar taste to the stuff and although most of the boys would make a quart bottle bubble almost all of its entire contents away, I could in no way see the enjoyment. Many bottles of wine were drunk on the train before our journey was completed, but it was owing to the fact that any other kind of refreshments were impossible to get. Fruit, bread and candy, and in fact any other kind of luxuries were unseen. All this time we were living on hard tack and canned corned beef (horse). Could you blame us refined fellows from the west for bold indulgence of accepting a drink of French wine?

Upon our arrival here we were billeted to different parts of the village wherever accommodations permitted, and at least we had a good, hard floor to stretch out on, and plenty of good, home made American coffee, white bread, cheese, etc., and such like. The first meal we had in our own quarters and you can just bet it was greatly appreciated and enjoyed by all. Our teeth were as yet mighty sore from eating the hard tack, and it seemed mighty good to get something more tasty to chew on for a while.

This village is almost directly south of Paris, and if anything, a little east. This village is about 600 years old — as quaint and old as many of the other little villages that we saw during our travels. We are about 14 miles from a fair sized town by the name of Clare – a fair sized town. The French people are indeed very intelligent and interesting in every way. They are indeed very anxious to learn English as well as to teach the American soldier boys French. I have been out to several French homes to learn French and lots of fun we had, and certainly see some very new and peculiar things.

Every home is well supplied with wine, which the people consider a great treat and courtesy to offer to their visitors when they come to see them. I was not in any way fond of the different shades of the red liquid that was offered me, nor could I understand what they were speaking of, but it was given with such hearty good will that one could not help but accept it. None of the boys will ever forget the hearty welcome we received from these innocent, old fashioned people. Although we cannot converse, we feel the hearty welcome by their customs and actions and courteous manner of treatment toward us, and they try so hard to explain things to us. Many of the boys have been taken into private homes and given real honest to God feeds, but as yet such has not been my pleasure….

– Press Democrat, August 27 1918

 

CENSORED LETTER FROM ARTILLERYMAN ED KOFORD
Former Santa Rosan Now in France Writes Entertainingly of Life in That Country and Some of the Ancient Cities, But Information Is Cut Out as of Military Value to the Enemy.

Edward Koford, a graduate of the Santa Rosa high school and well-known resident of this city, who enlisted in the regulars shortly after the outbreak of the war, is now in France…

…“After a few days in England we crossed over to France – the battlefield of the nations. We are at present billeted in a very antique village. Its early history dates back to the time of the Romans and Saracens. The height of glory for this place was in the days of chivalry. There still exist many ancient gates and sentry lookouts along with a very intricate system of underground caverns. The boys are learning French rapidly, for we are living in actual contact with the people. (At first the oui, oui, Monsieur, sounded more like wee, wee, manure.)

“The American army abroad is no longer petite. In nearly every city, town and hamlet are to be found American soldiers on duty. Wherever American troops are quartered there may also be found a Y. M. C. A. hut. The Y. M. C. A. is rendering an inestimable service to the boys abroad. We have found the French people very hospitable. Their charming manners, politeness, generosity and cheerfulness have won the hearts of American soldiers. These people are and have been sacrificing such as you people at home will probably never have to do. Vive, Vive la France!

[..]

Yours in arms, “Edw. Koford.”

– Press Democrat, August 28 1918

 

LIEUTENANT E. E. CAMPBELL WRITES OF EXPERIENCES
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. R. Campbell, of Santa Rosa, Now in France With 364th Regiment of Infantry, Tells of His Arrival and the Sights and Scenes He Is Enjoying Overseas.

July 28, 1918
Dearest Mother: -Here at last is a Sunday with plenty of time to myself, so I guess you’re in for a long letter… It was two o’clock in the morning before we finally arrived, and then after that it didn’t take very long to be assigned to our billets. Lieut Tooze and I are together in a room with the deputy mayor. It’s certainly a wonderful room too. Typically French – marble fire place, marble topped hand carved table, and one of those funny French beds. You know, mother, that a Frenchman has peculiar ideas of what a bed should be like. He builds it far too narrow for two people, about four feet high, and a person is supposed to lie on one feather bed and cover up with another one. I most suffocated the first night I slept in one, so I put up my own cot in the room and let Tooze have the bed. My cot is only 16 inches high, and poor Madame le Deputie couldn’t understand how in the world I could sleep on such a thing. When I came in last night I found that she had put a chair under each leg so that it would be high enough, according to her ideas of a bed.

From our room we get a wonderful view of Monsieur’s garden. It’s just like the French gardens that we used to see in the movies – white stone wall with red tile tops on them, roses and all kinds of flowers, and beautiful climbing vines everywhere. It really doesn’t seem true.

We are in a wonderful little village. Before the war it had a population of 117, but out of that 25 have been killed, and all of the other young men are at the front, and all of the young women are away working in the munition factories, so there are only a few old people and children left here. All of the houses are of white stone with either red tile or shale rock roofs. There is a little stream of water running through the village where the men can swim and wash their clothes. Ordinarily water is scarce in this country.

I nearly forgot to tell you about the town crier. In this place a newspaper is practically unknown, and whenever anything happens a funny little old gent goes along the streets beating an old drum and shouting out the news. It Is the funniest thing I ever saw, but at that we have got to be careful and not crack a smile for it is an old, old time-honored custom, and we must respect it, too…

…It’s surprising how we can get along with these people and make them understand us. Not a one that speaks a word of English, but we talk by using a mixture of English. French, Spanish, German, hands, feet, ears and eyebrows. But really I’ve picked up more French here in three days than I did in two months at Camp Lewis…

– Press Democrat, August 31 1918

 

WONDERFUL PRIVILEGE TO HELP IN THE HOSPITALS
Miss Constance Cooke, Daughter of F. W. Cooke of Healdsburg, a Red Cross Nurse in France, Declares Her Part Nothing Compared to the Work of the Soldiers.

Miss Marguerite Snook received an interesting letter from Miss Constance Cooke, Red Cross nurse in France, a few days ago, and from which the following extracts are taken:

I am writing on the date of the fourth anniversary of this awful war. I can remember very well when it was declared. I was in Berkeley for the summer session of 1914. Suddenly one day extras came out with entire pages filled with the beginning of the struggle. The news was dreadful and unbelievable. For the past few weeks now our papers here have had good reports. It does begin to look as though peace were not far distant. We were so happy yesterday to learn of Soissons being regained.

My! you should see some of those towns which have been subjected to bombardments and later been invaded by wanton troops. I can’t imagine a sadder picture, except, perhaps, the ruins of the fine old cathedrals, some of which have been standing for centuries.

The big observation balloons are’almost constantly over us nights and in the daytime we have often watched the maneuvers of the French planes doing all sorts of acrobatic stunts on high. Also, we have seen the Boche planes, which came over us on clear days to get pictures, being chased by the French aviators. These day air battles are exciting to watch. As a rule the machines are too high to see but we can hear their guns plainly and see the smoke from them – like small, fluffy white clouds.

The men in the First Division, which arrived in France on June 26th, last year, are almost entirely easterners and southerners. So far they have done most of the fighting and we have cared for very few wounded out of the more recent divisions. I don’t believe I have met a dozen Californians since coming over.

I was sorry to hear of Fred Cummings’ death. Too bad! He was so young, and had so much to live for yet.

Goodness! I was provoked about those reporters sending news of the bombing raids. I wrote Julius Alexander and told him the sentiments were beautiful in the poem dedicated to me, and that I would try to do something worthy of them before leaving France.

It’s very nice to have people proud of you, but it’s really uncalled for in my case. I am only one of thousands of Americans in the service abroad, and we realize fully that those at home are all sacrificing and doing everything in their power to help Uncle Sam. Why, we who are over here are enjoying the work, day by day, and feel it a wonderful privilege to be helping in the hospitals. It is our thousands of American boys in the trenches and under shell fire daily that we should be proud of. They are the heroes of the day.

You should hear some of their experiences. When I read the encouraging letters they write home, my heart just aches for the boy and his family as well. I’m quite content that some mothers aren’t conscious of what their sons are going through, for it wouldn’t help matters any.

I have only five patients tonight, the others having been evacuated. One is a gas case and another has T. B. Both will have to be returned to the United States, as they are unfit for further active service. Another boy of twenty is from Ohio. He has a shrapnel wound in his back. Although operated upon, they were unable to extract one piece, which lodged in a vertebra. He also has two other shrapnel wounds and a machine gun bullet whizzed through his blouse without even touching him.

He gave me a Boche ring, and when I asked ”Was he dead?” he answered: “Dead?—-Well, I had to put on a gas mask to go near him.”

This boy is in the marines, but has been over the top three times – at Catingy, Belleau Woods and Soissons. He assures me that next time he will get a German Iron Cross to send me.

My fourth son is from Florida – a very attractive boy of nineteen, who graduated from high school last year. He has a hole through his left hand, made by a machine gun bullet, several of the bones being fractured also. We keep the wound irrigated constantly by means of a rubber Dakin tube and solution. He suffers from shell shock, and it is pitiful to see him — he is delirious half of the time — living over again those hours of the battle. I have written to his mother, who has two other sons over here in the First Division.

When men are wounded or gassed, official notice is sent to their nearest relatives. I often write to the mothers, sisters or sweethearts of the patients, because it naturally makes the home folks feel easier to get word directly from the hospital wards. Often the boys do not feel one bit like writing even if they are able. Patient No. 5 is a Canadian man.

Last night Fritz paid us a short visit. No bombs were dropped. This was the first night air raid in seven weeks.

Tonight they came at 11 and stayed until 12:30. It sounded pretty exciting –  bombs were dropped somewhere within close range. We were reminded at once of old times.

It is perfectly amazing to see what a big part the American Red Cross organization is playing in France. It seems there isn’t a thing done in which they don’t lend a hand. I have had a good chance to see how much is done by them for the wounded and hospital patients and also I know how much the boys appreciate it all. It seems their resources are unlimited. I often think of the millions of dollars it must cost to keep up this huge business of theirs – and then simultaneously somes the thought of the campaigns, driven and parades in America — of the knitting and surgical dressing circles — and then I realize that there can be scarcely an individual of mature age who is not giving until it hurts – as they say.

If there are no other benefits from the war – this I am sure of – it will have drawn individuals of nations closer together on account of necessity of sacrifice and giving common to all.

It is rather nice to have my present small ward of patients, for I have more of a chance to “baby” them. All of the nurses feel the same way, and you would, too. No matter how “mangy” they are – and some of them are pretty much so  – we love them.

– Press Democrat, September 6 1918

 

BRUCE BAILEY TELLS OF WAR EXPERIENCE IN FRANCE

BRUCE BAILEY has written Jas. W. Ramage a very interesting letter from France in which he tells of a number of thrilling experiences and of meeting a number of Santa Rosa boys. His many friends here will be glad to read this letter, which is as follows:

Oct. 3, 1918…

…We left our position at the front some ten or twelve days ago and marched to this sector. Our marching was done at night, averaging about twenty-five miles each night, and as this was kept up for five nights it was very tiring. Not to let us get stale on the job, the last two days they marched us from noon till the next morning, and it was on these hikes that we did cover some ground.

I was a mounted man, but just before starting on this trip my horse went lame and I was forced to lead her for four nights. We passed a French horse hospital and I turned her in to this place, and I am glad that I did, for a horse leads a very hard life. It is hard enough on a man, but a horse fares far worse than a man. During this operation the red tape connected with getting rid of my horse was left way behind the column. While trying to catch up with the regiment I passed an aviation camp and found that Harold Bruner was there, so stopped and found him. The pleasure of seeing one another was equally, mutual as it had been a long time since I saw anyone from home and to see such a close friend I can assure you I was entirely compensated for the delay it caused me and the fact that I missed any rest that night.

Harold is a sergeant in the wireless detail of this aero squadron. In endeavoring to catch up with my regiment, I jumped a truck. I never saw saw so much traffic on a road or street in all my life. Artillery, cavalry, trucks, troops, ambulances, etc., going and coming. Finally the truck I was riding on managed to worm its way through and we arrived up where they were having a lot of excitement. Shells of all descriptions. From a currier [sic] I found out that my outfit had turned into the woods some four kilometers back, so believe me, when I tell you it did not take me long to find an empty truck running to the rear. I found the regiment near morning and We have been here ever since.

Two days after we received orders to pack and be able to move in two hours, and we have been waiting ever since for further orders. As things are moving along very nicely for the Allies on this sector, we are being held in reserve about eight kilometers from the front, this about five miles. The guns have been pounding away. It is getting late in the year and we are experiencing wane very very disagreeable weather. It is cold and rainy, and it is nothlg to sleep in wet clothes and wet blankets. Of course, cleanliness is a thing of the past, as water is very scarce to wash or drink. I haven’t had my clothes off in about fifteen days at night. During our march we stopped in an old French billet, and here I picked up some sort of vermin. They were not “cooties” but I had to burn my clothes, and fortunately I had some more to put on. It is rather an exception to have any extra clothes. The fellows leave them behind as it is so inconvenient to wash them, but I foresaw this, and have held on to all the clothes that I could. I do not think it is necessary to state when the men bathe, but you have heard of all those stories about the farmers who are so unacquainted with water; something on that order.

We are being fed very well, considering the conditions under which we exist. Of course we consume great quantities of corned “Willie,” but if a man gets hungry enough he will eat most anything. During the march we ate corned beef and hard tack all the trip and it became very tiresome. Sweets are the things we miss most, but it can’t be overcome. Canteens are very scarce and I had a hard time getting this paper to write to you on. I might explain how I have the use of this typewriter. It was wrapped up in one of my blankets on the end of one of our wagons, so I borrowed it. One runs out of everything here but patience…

…As you understand there is no one from home of California with me in this outfit and as I have charge of or rather am the top sergeant of this detachment of seventy men, I am about as popular as a Hun in Paris. I have a difficult job, hut I am making the best I can out of it.

This is our third trip to the front and I have had many interesting and dangerous experiences to relate, but I will not take up your time with them now…All of us are having the experience of a lifetime, but dodging shrapnel, high explosive shells, wearing gas masks and all those things are experiences one can get along very well without…

Very sincerely, F. Bruce Bailey, American Ex. Forces, A. P. O. No. 742.

– Press Democrat, November 7 1918

 

COMSTOCK TELLS OF SANTA ROSANS
Interesting Letter From Major, Who Left Here as Captain of Co. E, Now an Instructor in France, Giving an Account of Many Boys From Here.

A stirring letter has been received from Major Hilliard Comstock of Santa Rosa. who is in training in France. The letter is as follows;

France, Oct. 14. 1918.

Dear H.:— I told you in a previous letter that I lost my trip to the front by being ill in bed with Spanish influenza, did I not? Yesterday I had a most interesting trip. A lieutenant, formerly of my battalion, and an officer of our old National Guard, who had been transferred among the many others to a front-line battalion, telephoned over to a friend at one division headquarters that he had been wounded and was in the hospital not many kilometers from us and wouid like to see some of us if we could get over to visit him. Many officers of our regiment have made the supreme sacrifice already. Some killed — many more wounded. You understand that my present job is the training of troops for the front line divisions and I am not at the front myself, but the largest part of our outfit has been sent to the front. Both officers and men have been in many severe actions already. Well, to return to my story, — it is wonderful how one’s heart goes out to a comrade, who has “been in” and “made good. I would rather have made this trip over to see Bill H—. than to have done anything I know of.

Right here and now, dear H—, I am going to say. I shall never again judge a man by his personal habits and completely condemn him for having a few bad ones. At the same time I do not wish to sanction them. I hold my ideals about personal cleanliness as high as ever, but I will hereafter and through my life be able to love the good qualities in even those men with whom I would not wish to associate while they do some things that they sometimes do. This lieutenant was a rather unprepossessing looking fellow and could be called somewhat wild. He drank some and smoked a lot — liked to “see life” and all that, but I can love him from now on for what he did in the battle line at Verdon, in our recent drive on that sector. We — myself and another — got on a train which took us to a rather large city not far from here, and quite near to the hospital where Bill was. The train moved so slowly, as all French trains do now (any old time they feel like, and never run on, schedule) that we didn’t get to the city until evening — so we decided to go out in the morning to the enormous new hospital where Bill was. We stayed all night at a hotel and in the morning, just as we were about to go for our breakfast, who should we run plump into on the street but Bill himself, looking quite pale, but feeling fine and cheerful. His wound was from a rifle bullet (German sniper). He was shot squarely through the top button of his uniform, the bullet entering the top of his right lung and ranging down and out under his right arm. It fell inside his clothes, where it came out. He has both the button and the bullet, as well as the trench map of the sector on which his battalion attacked. The map is all covered with blood. As extreme good luck would have it, he had no bones broken and no arteries severed. The wound was a clean one and healed quickly, so he is well and walking around now, though suffering some inconvenience from the wound. His story is very interesting. He described the German machine gun fire as very intense after the Americans had lost their artillery barrage. His battalion had advanced quite a bit more rapidly than those on its flanks, so that the Germans made it awfully hot from the flanks for awhile. His platoon was badly shot up at one stage and had broken loose and run. A big shell burst near him and be found himself whimpering and crying from the shock and excitement. He was in cover in a shell hole, but realized that if he stayed there his nerve was gone, so he forced himself out into the fight again. During the fight he twice traveled back forth with information. But here was the best thing he did. His platoon had advanced right up by the side of a machine gun position. There the boche was in the act of swinging his gun to open fire on the flank of his platoon. With a lucky aim from his pistol he shot the gunner straight through the neck, killing him instantly. For this he was mentioned in orders for bravery in action. This will give him a promotion. It is maintained by the colonel that bravery is only an officer’s duty — thus be does not receive the distinguished service order.

C. P. has been up on the line for quite a while. He is in a division from which I get no news. I pray God that nothing has happened to him. He is a good officer and a fine fellow. Gee! but it would hurt if anything were to happen to him.

F. C. was ordered up to the line on our return. He left this morning. There is another fine boy! I hope he comes through all right. Your letters come regularly now — I hope you get all mine.

FURTHER DETAILS GIVEN

Another letter from Major Comstock. reciting some of the facts, has been received by Dr. D. H. Leppo of this city, and parts of it not in repetition of the letter previously given, are reproduced herewith:

“I know you will be interested to hear the news of some of the boys. Don Geary is here with our regiment, still and so is Burton Cochrane. Both have excellent records as officers. We are a training unit and every little while we send a large number of officers and men to the line. Over half of our old officers and men have gone most of them in the San Mihiel or Verdun sectors. Our officers have made wonderful records. In fact, all of the men who were in the old original regiment have made good in action. Reports have come to us repeatedly of the good state of training that both officers and men from our organization were in.

“It is remarkable what escapes some men have. Lieut. Wm. Hayes Hammond. a nephew of John Hayes Hammond, and an officer formerly in my battalion in a Fresno company, went through the most thrilling engagement last week, when we took the Montfaucan vicinity. He was wounded in a place where, if the bullet had been an eighth of an inch to one side or the other, he would have been killed. As it is, he is already out of the hospital and feeling finely.

“At one stage, with his platoon, he attacked a whole company of Germans, scattered them and delivered a whole platoon of American prisoners whom the Germans were making off with. When he was wounded and had gotten first aid from one of his corporals, two stretcher bearers started to carry him to the rear and a machine gun opened fire on them; the bearers dropped him and ran; he rolled from the stretcher to cover, but before he get out of range several bullets had passed completely through his gas mask, which was hanging on his chest. Isn’t this a thrilling tale? He was mentioned in orders and a promotion for it, with possibly a distinguished service cross.

“Out of three officers who went up from my battalion to the line, all three have been wounded; this one whom I have told you about by a rifle bullet, another with H. E. shell fragments, and the third gassed. A sad case was that of Lieut. Carleton Adams of San Rafael, who has been reported killed. He was married in San Diego the day I was, a week before we left. He was a corporal in the San Rafael company at the Mexican border and won his commission last spring at the same time as Chauncey Peterson and Bill Bagley  got theirs. Chauncey Peterson has been up in the line for some time, but I have not heard from him. Frank. Churchill left this morning to go up.

“Nearly every member of old E Company who was anywhere near officer material and who had the border experience has won his commission. Most of them have made fine officers. The National Guard divisions have the best reputation over here. The old regular army was all broken up by so many of its officers being promoted to high commands and so many non-coms getting commissions. The National Army has shown inexperience in many cases. The fact that a National Ouard division at Chateau Thierry ‘showed up’ a regular division is said to be responsible for us all being classified as U. S. Army now without distinction.”

– Press Democrat, November 13 1918

 

MAJOR HILLIARD COMSTOCK WRITES FROM WAR THEATRE

From Major Hilliard Comstock who commands a machine gun battalion, Judge Thomas C. Denny has received a very interesting letter, telling of some of his experiences in the great battle that has been fought overseas. The letter from the Santa Rosa officer follows:

On Active Service with the American Expeditionary Force, Nov. 3 1918

Dear Judge: I often think of you and I can hardly realize that it has been nearly two years since I have had anything to do in your court. I do not regret it, however, for this war is the greatest cause men ever fought in, and the most wonderful experience any one could ever have.

I have had the bad luck to be kept in the rear areas most of the time as an instructor. It seems too bad that they have put this onto most of us who have had the greatest amount of experience. It has been also the lot of Major Dickson of Petaluma, and many others who have followed the military game longer than most of those who are now in it. We have sent thousands of men into the line, and a great many officers, and they have made a wonderful record. The officers of our old California, organizations, particularly, have won great reputations. They have had some awfully tough fighting. Some of them were with Major Whittlesley in the tough scrap in the Argonne Forest, and lots of them have been in the St. Mihiel and Verdun sectors. They have paid dearly for it, though. Out of seven officers whom I sent from my battalion I got news of five, and two of these five were killed and the other three wounded within one month of the time they went up.

We are now at last in a forward area and have a chance to get into the line soon, if the Boche doesn’t lay down his arms too quickly. I have the word of one who can do it that he will send me into the line the first they have need for a major, so I have hopes.

Have not seen anything of Finlaw Geary since he came to France. The Grizzlies are not near us, and I do not know where they are.

I have seen a lot of Donald Geary. He is doing finely and is much liked by all of his brother officers. The last I saw of him was when he was leaving for a school of instruction a month ago. The regiment has changed stations since then, and I heard he had been ordered up to the line, and that he will not return to our organization, but I don’t know how true it is. Nearly all of the boys from Santa Rosa who were in my old company and who have since been commissioned, have either been transfered to some other regiment behind the lines or have been sent up to the front. I hear very little of them.

We are near a large city on what was a short time ago the front. Imagine a city the size of Oakland simply shot to pieces? That is this city. It gives one a strange feeling to see a city like this destroyed and deserted, but now the population is streaming back and business is started again, despite the fact “Jerry” can fly over and drop a few tons of bombs when he wants.

Best regards to you, Judge. It may not be long now before we are home again.
Hilliard Comstock. Major 159th Infantry. American E. F., France.

– Press Democrat, December 3 1918

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