If any corrections appeared in the 1904 Press Democrat, they were small and well hidden. But here the editor almost admits that the paper got everything wrong.

With a rare, screaming two column headline, the dramatic suicide attempt and imminent death of Grant Moulton is reported with his pleading last words, “write to mother,” repeated no less than four times. Ahead, the grave yawns.

After pronouncing Mr. Moulton virtually dead, he awkwardly survives to contradict the paper. A followup the next day sucks the air out of the melodrama: “I guess I was drunk,” sheepishly explains the nearly departed.

The claim that he lived because he took too much poison is nuts (although records show people sometime survive large strychnine doses). It’s also unclear why the editor felt it was important to punch up the story by claiming that he miraculously recovered from a massive dose, and whether it’s the doctor or the editor saying “too much of a bad thing” is good. The treatment for strychnine at the time was diluted tannic acid.

“Just Say Good-bye to Mother,” His Parting Instructions to a Companion — Son of Wealthy Woman

“Here’s to you, Henry, for the last time. Write to mother.”

With this farewell Grant Moulton drained a glass containing strychnine, in the Call saloon, across the Third street bridge, about half past eight o’clock Thursday night, threw the empty glass defiantly across the room and in a few minutes lay writhing on the floor.

It all happened so suddenly that Henry Buzzoni, the proprietor of the saloon and the man Moulton had addressed, was taken completely by surprise. He recovered from the shock quickly and sent a hurried telephone message to Dr. J. H. McLeod. The physician responded immediately and administered emetics. The doctor worked over the unconcious man for some time and finally he regained consciousness. He was put to bed in the room back of the saloon and it is a matter of doubt whether he will recover.

Prior to taking the poison Moulton ansked Buzzoni, who was seated in a room adjacent to the bar, to give him a glass of beer. Buzzoni advised him not to take beer. “Well, give me a glass of water then?” “All right,” was Buzzoni’s response and at the same time he told the barkeeper to give Moulton a glass of water. Moulton took the glass in hand, hesitated a few moments, then emptied the strychnine crystals into the water, and with the words, “Write to mother,” dashed it to his lips.

The motive for Moulton’s rash act is said to have been a love affair, and the girl in case resides in this county. The saloon man says Moulton in a conversation with him Thursday afternoon mentioned that he had been unjustly accused of having wronged the girl. At the conclusion of the conversation, so Buzzoni says, the young man pulled out his pocket book and memorandum book and handed them to him with the injunction: “If anything happens to me give this pocket book to mother. You will find some addresses in it. Be sure and write to mother.”

Buzzoni did not take the matter seriously. Moulton is said to have attended school in this city years ago. He is apparently thirty or thirty-five years of age now. His mother resides on Twenty-fifth street in Oakland and is reputed to be a wealthy woman. An effort was made Thursday night to reach her by telephone, but as the street number was not known she could not be apprised until morning. There is no doubt as to his having take strychnine as some of the poison adhered to the glass and was examined by the physician after he arrived at the saloon.

– Press Democrat September 23, 1904

His Statement Contradicted but Anyway He Was Feeling Better Yesterday and Was Wondering Why

“I guess I was drunk when I got the strychnine.” was the explanation Grant Moulton offered yesterday morning of his attempt to shuffle off this mortal coil by the strychnine route on Thursday night at the Call saloon. When Dr. McLeod called to see the man he was not surprised to find him somewhat better although still very sick. For one reason Moulton had taken too big a dose of strychnine to end his life — there is such a thing as taking too much of a bad thing you know — and the emetic administered was a strong one as after symptoms testified.

Anyway when the doctor called to see young Moulton yesterday morning he found his patient better and only able to explain his action by saying that he was drunk when he took it. This latter statement according to the saloonman’s version of the happening is not correct. He says that Moulton took the poison with a pretty steady nerve and with a determination that was surprising. Moulton’s mother came up from Oakland to see him yesterday. Unless unlooked for symptoms appear he will get better.

– Press Democrat September 24, 1904

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Less than three weeks later, two youths were again arrested on Second street for “hitting the pipe” on Nov. 29. This time, they were brought before a judge and fined $5.00.

Were Smoking the Drug When the Officers Came Upon Them and Spirited Them Away From the Place

On Sunday afternoon Police Officer Lindley visited a Chinese joint on Second street and removed two youths who were engaged in what is commonly known as “hitting the pipe.” In other words the lads had started in to smoke a pipe of opium. The officer took them to the police station, and there gave them a severe lecture.

This is not the first time that the officers have driven opium smokers out of the Chinese quarters, and have succeeded in putting a stop to the pernicious practice as far as white people are concerned.

The officer caught the boys at the time when he was looking for a lad suspected of having committed theft. They were allowed to go, and it is probable that they will not be found where they were on Sunday for some time to come.

– Press Democrat, November 10, 1904

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Sometimes you wonder if there’s another, far more interesting story lurking behind what’s printed in the old newspapers.

First, some background: James Jeffries was the heavyweight boxing champion in the autumn of 1904, although he had announced that he was planning to soon retire. “Davy Crockett,” was a beloved melodrama that had toured the nation for a quarter century until the 1896 death of the actor known for the role.

Knowing in retrospect of Jeffries’ imminent retirement, it seems clear that the retiring sports celebrity was seeking a second entertainment career. It may appear odd for a boxer to switch to the dramatic arts (tonight only: Mike Tyson in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) but according to a 1905 New York Times review, Jeffries wasn’t a bad actor — although the audience liked it most when he hit things or flexed his muscles. As his production was heading for New York in the spring, they might well have sought a place like Santa Rosa for an off-off-off-off-Broadway tryout.

Then there was the encore. “After the play,” the Times noted, “Jeffries illustrated how he ‘did up’ people, not in the manner of the pioneer Crockett, but in the style of San Francisco, A.D. 1904 [scene of Jeffries’ last match].” Put this together with the Press Democrat item and we discover that the champ finished with a crowd-pleasing three-round boxing exhibition including his manager and sparring partner. A piece de resistance, as the PD wrote.

But as TV detective Adrian Monk says, here’s the thing: how could they have made a profit? “Davy Crockett” was a five act play with at least six actors, several costume changes, props, elaborate stage sets, and even special effects. (Snowstorms! Howling wolf packs!) Even filling all 2,000 seats at the Athenaeum, it’s hard to imagine that a single performance at an out-of-the-way farm town would have made enough on tickets to justify a production like this. Maybe they’d have made the nut by staying around for a few days or week — but one night only?

Then there’s the reference to the troupe’s great success in Nevada. According to the annals of Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City, “Davy Crockett” had a single performance on Sept. 27. That theater seated 1,000 at most, making the odds for a profitable one night stand even more unlikely.

So was there another reason for Jeffries to visit Santa Rosa? Already noted here was an item from three weeks earlier, where the Press Democrat gushed over an unlikely trio: Luther Burbank, a locally-born championship horse, and “a Sonoma county boy [who] wants to go against Jim Jeffries.” The last item didn’t make sense at the time, except as silly bravado — an amateur boxer certainly won’t have an opportunity to climb in the ring against the world heavyweight champion. But what if Jeffries’ stage performances were followed by private sideshows, where locals paid serious money to watch their hometown favorite go up against “the Boilermaker” in a late night backroom? Such an unsanctioned bout would naturally have to be hush-hush to protect his championship title, and arranged in advance. And the question of Jeffries’ stature aside, there was nothing unusual at the time about a slugfest between a visiting pro and a local amateur; it was common, even expected, for traveling carnivals to offer a boxer or wrestler ready to take on all comers.

And Jeffries was game for off-the-books fights. The same month as his Santa Rosa appearance, he was in a San Francisco saloon and famously confronted by World “Colored” Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson, who wanted a shot at the full title. “Tell you what I’ll do,” Jeffries reportedly said. “I won’t meet you in the ring because you got no name and we wouldn’t draw flies. But I’ll go downstairs with you and lock the door on the inside. The one who comes out with the key will be the champ.” *

The secret Santa Rosa slugfest is only speculation, and just maybe the “Davy Crockett” performance alone was profitable enough; after all, John Philip Sousa brought his band here a few weeks later, and no one would suggest that his piccolo players were mixing it up with local toughs behind the barn for a sawbuck. Still, the theory would explain why the editor was so enthusiastic about that anonymous country boy fighting Jeffries just three weeks before Jeffries turns up in the county. For lack of a name, let’s dub him “the Cazadero Kid,” and hope he came out of it without permanent injuries.

As for Jeffries, he was pressed to come out of retirement and fight Johnson in 1910, when he was touted as “The Great White Hope.” It was the only time he lost in the ring.

*Encyclopedia of World Boxing Champions; McCallum, John D. (1975). pg 12

UPDATE: Jeffries announced his retirement from the stage a few months later to pursue business interests. The “Sonoma County boy” could have been Ralph W. Rose of Healdsburg, who in the autumn of 1904 won three Olympic medals (first place in the shot put event, second in the discus and third in the hammer), and set a world’s record in shot put at the end of the year. An item in the May 9, 1905 Press Democrat mentions, “…[Rose] was suggested as a likely man to meet Champion James Jeffries in the pugilistic arena, but Rose, to the satisfaction of many of his friends, decided that he would not adopt the suggestion.”

Champion of the World Appears at Local Theatre in “Davy Crockett”

Tonight, there will probably be a great audience at the Athenaeum to see Jim Jeffries, the champion pugilist of the world, appear in the title role of “New Davy Crockett.” This will be one of his first appearances before the stage footlights. He and his company have been playing to record breaking houses in Nevada and each night the “standing room only” sign has been displayed. Jeffries is said to be a success in the role he fills and the piece de resistance for many of those who see the performance comes after the play proper when Jefferies [sic] gives an exhibition of the physical culture in which he has become so proficient with Joe Kennedy his trainer. Billy Delaney will be among those present. The physical culture will be seen in three rounds. The advance sale at Newman’s has been a big one.

– Press Democrat, October 4, 1904

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