Catching criminals was often the easy part of law enforcement in 1904; hanging on to them proved trickier.

Convicts broke out of jail with astonishing regularity. Even at San Quentin, security was lax; in August, two men assigned to drive the garbage wagon from the prison to a nearby farm didn’t return, instead buying tickets for the train north. The fearless fugitives were last spotted in front of Von Tillow’s news stand in Santa Rosa, probably reading the latest about the rather indifferent pursuit by authorities. A few days later another convict followed (see below), also taking the train. And again, there seemed to be little surprise or upset — hey, after all, it’s only prison.

Bert Short Boards Train at Prison Station Without Capture

City Marshal George Severson received a message at 8:15 Monday morning from warden Tompkins of San Quentin that Bert Short, an escaped convict, was northbound on the evening train. It developed later that the telegraph had been filed Sunday afternoon but had not been forwarded promptly.

On vestigation [sic] Marshal Severson found that the convict had boarded a train at Green Brae for Tiburon and on arrival at that latter place purchased a ticket for San Rafael and boarded the northbound evening train, where he took a seat on the left hand side, drew the curtain and made believe he was asleep while the run was being made to San Rafael. At this point he left the train and has not been heard of since.

The nerve of the convict astonishes the officers. He was not two miles from the prison where he escaped several days ago, at Green Brae, and not satisfied with that he doubled on his track and passed the place an hour later. Short is described as a man about 25 years of age, light complexioned and partially paralized [sic].

– Press Democrat, September 6, 1904

Man Who Stole Hulbert’s Wheel Broke Jail in San Jose and Is Under Sentence to Serve Five Years

At Healdsburg Sheriff Grace and City Marshal Parker Arrive In Time to Find Prisoner Sawing Down Last Bar

The man arrested in Healdsburg on Thursday, who stole a bicycle from H. E. Hulbert’s cyclery in Santa Rosa, as stated in yesterday morning’s Press Democrat, is J. Porter, alias Potter, one of the most desperate criminals, the officers say, in the state. Late Thursday evening the man’s identity was established and yesterday morning Deputy Sheriff Starrberg of Santa Clara county accompanied Sheriff Frank Grace to Healdsburg, and on the afternoon train went south with his prisoner.

Some weeks ago Porter, who plead guilty in the Superior Court in San Jose to a charge of highway robbery, and assault to murder, was sentenced to serve five years in the State’s prison at San Quentin. While awaiting transportation to the penitentiary, Porter sawed his way out of jail. He cut the iron bars of the cage in which he had been placed and left a note for the jailer saying in it among other things, that he was sorry that he had to leave in this manner, and imparting words of advice to the jailer to be a little more careful in his methods of searching prisoners. Although the country was scoured by officers Porter managed to elude them and got to Sonoma county.

Yesterday he tried to escape from the Healdsburg jail by the same route that he adopted in San Jose. When Constable Haigh arrested him on Thursday afternoon he searched him, as he thought very carefully, but somewhere about his person the convict had managed to secret his faithful saw. Shortly before train time yesterday afternoon Sheriff Grace and City Marshal Parker of Healdsburg strolled leisurely up to the jail. Deputy Sheriff Starrberg, having gone to get a vehicle to haul his prisoner to the depot. Their surprise can be imagined when they came upon the prisoner sawing away with all his might at the iron bars across the window in the room in which he had been placed. But one more obstructing bar remained to be sawed through. The others he had bent back and, as Sheriff Grace says, ten minutes more and he would have gained his liberty. Porter was in a fever of excitement when Grace and Parker came upon the scene. The perspiration was pouring and trickling down his face. When he saw that his plans had been foiled he told the officers that he wished they had stayed away for a few more minutes and then they would have had to catch him again.


– Santa Rosa Republican, December 3, 1904
Wm. Cameron Holds Up Sheriff Grace While Prisoner in Custody

William Cameron earned the distinction of being entitled a desperate man Wednesday morning, and that he is in jail on a charge of robery [sic] instead of murder is not due to the fate that failed to kill one or more of three men at whom he shot that morning.

Cameron shot twice at Sheriff Grace and then attempted to hold him up for $60 in gold which he had seen on the latter’s person and held the sheriff in subjection for many minutes at the point of a loaded rifle. William Murphy and John Underhill, two well known Santa Rosans, who had joined Sheriff Grace in an attempt to capture Cameron and a companion, were shot at, Cameron evincing a desire to exterminate all who participated in his capture. He finally surrendered when Murphy shot at him, believing that he had no more ammunition with which to carry on the encounter.

Cameron and a boy named Cormen, each of whom is about seventeen years of age, held up and robbed William Holtman at the Sportsman’s Headquarters saloon near Melitia Tuesday evening. On the morning train Wednesday Sheriff Grace went south in expectation that the youths would board the train to escape from the county. His expectations were realized, and at Kenwood both men attempted to board the train and were placed under arrest. On their persons was found a gold watch, two rifles and a quantity of money stolen from the saloon man.

In order to have Holtman identify the men arrested Sheriff Grace hired a team and drove with them to the saloon en route to this city. At that place Holtman identified the men without being questioned.

Between the saloon and the old Captain Grosse place Corman pleaded to be permitted to leave the vehicle in which they were riding momentarily and when this privilege was granted him he started to run away. Sheriff Grace ordered him to halt, but the prisoner answered by running. The officer drew his pistol and fired two shots in the air, at the same time leaping from the vehicle in pursuit. The second prisoner was left in charge of the driver of the vehicle , and he picked up one of the guns taken from him when he was captured and throwing in some shells started in pursuit of the sheriff. When the officer clambered up on the bank of Santa Rosa creek he was confronted by Cameron with a rifle. The sheriff did not believe the weapon was loaded as he had taken all the cartridges found on the prisoner and had them in his possession. Subsequent events disabused his mind in this respect, as the prisoner shot at him twice to persuade him to use more caution.

When the demand was made on the sheriff by the prisoner for money, the officer came near complying forthwith. He began to argue with the prisoner, and finally compromised by giving the latter $1.25, which he threw on the ground for the prisoner to pick up. The prisoner later demanded that the sheriff give up his revolver, but he was dissuaded from carrying out this request. All this time the official was being confronted with the rifle in the hands of the prisoner, and was himself held under subjection.

Finally the prisoner walked rapidly up the road, and when Murphy began pumping lead at him decided to surrender. He was brought to this city and lodged in jail without further trouble.

The escape of the men shot at from serious injury is due to poor marksmanship of the prisoner, as he readily admitted he intended to kill them. In leaving the wagon where he was a prisoner he swore to kill the sheriff, believing the latter had shot his companion. The experience is a new one to Sheriff Grace, that of being made prisoner by a man under arrest.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 9, 1904

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