Without doubt, both the farmer and the orphanage had the best of intentions. Giving disadvantaged kids a summer in the Sonoma County countryside? What’s not to like?

“The Boys and Girls Aid Society” of San Francisco, described as a home for boys “not sufficiently wayward to require assignment to the reform school, and too hard to manage to be placed in family homes or orphanage,” had a deal with a Sebastopol berry grower to operate a “summer camp” for the boys. There, according to a 1911 profile of the farmer, the boys enjoyed “a pleasant outing in the country as well as an opportunity to earn money.” Living in tents set up in a eucalyptus grove, the kids and their supervisors earned up to $5,000 for the summer’s work. A 1915 survey of the child welfare societies put the organization’s annual expenses at about $37K, so we can safely assume that the money from this farm labor represented a sizable chunk of income for both the Aid Society and the youths.

RIGHT: According to “Child Welfare Work in California” (William Henry Slingerland, Russell Sage Foundation, New York Dept. of Child-Helping, 1915), at the Sebastopol farms “boys pick berries and other fruits for pay, each one retaining his own wages and priding himself on amount earned.” Other pictures in the book portray the boys under their camp tent and at Sunday religious services

But the 1905 Press Democrat story below suggests a less idyllic interpretation. Here boys desperately try to escape, with local police acting as low-rent bounty hunters, earning ten bucks for each child they drag back to the fields in handcuffs. And say, here’s an interesting question: Do you think that the $10 reward came from the kid’s meager earnings, or the Aid Society’s take?


They Are Strays From the Band of Juvenile Berry Pickers on the Barlow Ranch

Two runaway boys, one calling himself Riley and the other Roddick, gave Police Officer Boyes his run of the summer Wednesday afternoon. Boyes is no colt with a crack speed record but the street commissioner’s gravel flies when John M. gets action on his 200 pounds avoirdupois.

They boys are part of a delegation of the San Francisco Boys & Girls Aid Society lads who are picking fruit on Mrs. Barlow’s ranch near Sebastopol. The people in charge of the youngsters have enjoyed themselves for several weeks standing guard and the officers of the surrounding towns have made considerable pin money rounding up the young mavericks at $10 per head.

Riley, Roddick, and a third lad made a jump last week and were overhauled near Petaluma. When they were returned to the Barlow camp handcuffs were slipped on their wrists, probably as a means of future identification. [illegible] the lively trio got underway Tuesday night and fetched up in this city.

One got his slim hands out of the iron [illegible] and another borrowed a file at the merry-go-round with which he skillfully filed off his metal ornaments, Boyes caught sight of his prey and the chase was on. They ran well together at first and the big officer grabbed the two R’s, the other runaway escaping. His captives wiggled convulsively in his grasp and Riley tore loose, disappearing over the creek bank. Boyes hurried Roddick to the lock-up and after a hot rush through the creek brush found the boy stowed away in a thicket like a coon. The third lad was seen hanging around a Southern Pacific freight train but got out of sight before being caged.

The Roddick lad hails from Guerneville, and he has been in trouble before. They boys will be returned to the officers of the Society. If they still persist in misbehaving they will get themselves into very serious trouble.

– Press Democrat, August 31, 1905

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