In 1905 Santa Rosa, gamblers held sway whenever the horses were running at the track. The scene downtown was compared to a “mining camp” as saloons and hotels turned into casinos while cops and local officials looked the other way, or even joined the illegal gaming. Aiding and abetting the scene was the Press Democrat and its editor Ernest L. Finley, who had kept quiet about the problems for more than a decade, then sought to discredit the rival newspaper for exposing Santa Rosa’s dirty laundry. Worse, Finley further attacked an association of residents seeking to clean up the town.

The “Good Government League” didn’t make its membership public at first, which Finley used as an excuse to compare it to a pair of loathed secret society hate groups, most prominently the Citizen’s Alliance, which was much in the news in 1905. An extreme example of an “astroturf” group created by powerful interests posing as a grassroots organization, the Alliance started as a 1903 effort by Colorado mine owners to violently crush the union movement with muscle from the state National Guard. An attempt to start a branch of the Alliance in San Francisco was made, but backlash was so fierce in the pro-labor city that corrupt Mayor Schmitz won reelection by (wrongly) accusing his opponent’s party of being in bed with the Alliance. Finley also invoked the A. P. A. (American Protective Association), a late 19th century anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant hate group that sought restrictions on immigration, even though the A. P. A. was only a historical footnote by that time.

But after the Occidental weekly paper penned an editorial encouraging the Good Government League for taking on “the criminal element and their jack sympathizers…a direct and legitimate outgrowth of a sad state of affairs,” Finley had new, wet mud to fling. While the Republican reprinted the entire laudatory editorial from the West Sonoma Mountaineer, the Press Democrat lifted only a section that inaccurately remarked that the group was based “somewhat upon the order of the vigilantes of the early 50s in San Francisco.” Now, the PD editorial page sneered sarcastically that the Good Government League was no better than a lynch mob: “Unwind the long-coiled noose, and have it ready! … The fool Republican — and its brave Vigilantes forever!”

Finley had painted himself into a corner by attempting to demonize the Good Government League as a sinister force that irresponsibly didn’t care if their efforts damaged Santa Rosa’s “good name abroad.” Once the group’s leadership was announced, however, it was revealed the town’s biggest boosters were in charge: President of the League was Professor Sweet of the Santa Rosa Business College, and VP was none other than the idolized Luther Burbank.

Neither the Press Democrat or the Santa Rosa Republican mentioned the League again, and it’s doubtful that it had much, if any, effect on reducing crime and vice. A race meet the following month drew five hundred men from San Francisco, and they probably didn’t travel here to check out our “improved hotel accommodations,” as the PD absurdly suggested in one editorial. The 1908 maps also show Santa Rosa still had a large red-light district downtown with nine bordellos (down from eleven in 1904), so there was scant sign of progress there, either.

But even if reform efforts failed, this was still a watershed between the 19th and 20th centuries for the town. The Wild West days were near their end; Santa Rosa was looking more like a typical Midwestern or East Coast community of clerks and merchants and electrical machine operators. Just the year before, voters joined the rest of the nation in giving Teddy Roosevelt a landslide victory, marking Santa Rosa’s first break with its Old South political allegiances since the Civil War.

Much credit due for dragging this town into the modern age goes to the new team over at the Santa Rosa Republican, who had taken the helm only about nine months earlier. Their “wide-open town” report was the kind of cutting-edge muckraking journalism much in favor in the cities, but never seen before in Santa Rosa. They clearly worked hard to make a go of it, and surely in 1906, their circulation would’ve soared past the Press Democrat; they were now the official paper for Sonoma County (which meant lucrative legal notices), and more local news was breaking first in the Republican, leaving the PD to play catch-up the next morning. But less than two months after their final League story, the Great Earthquake struck and editor William B. Reynolds and manager W. H. James left for reasons unexplained. Santa Rosa was the worse for their departure.

Analysis of the Good Government League angle of the story also may reveal much about the Press Democrat and its editor. Was Ernest Finley truly unaware that the town’s most respected citizens were leading the group? If so, it suggests that he and his circle were shockingly out of touch, and the Press Democrat represented only the fading voice of Santa Rosa’s entrenched Old Guard.


With a great show of mystery and black type it is announced by the Evening Republican that a so-called “Good Government League” has been organized here “for the purpose of enforcing law and order.”

From reading the announcement, one would think that Santa Rosa is a veritable hellhole instead of one of the quietest and best regulated residence towns in the State, and unfortunately the former impression is the one that the screaming announcement will create everywhere outside.

Judging from the announcement referred to, the alleged organization proposes to do its work in the dark. Every possible effort seems to have been made to keep the preliminary arrangements quiet, and even now its officers and members refuse to allow their names to be known, while they even say that the methods to be pursued “are not to become public.”

The Press Democrat takes no stock in any organization that is afraid to come out into the open, and very little stock in any man who, when it comes to a matter of effecting the public welfare, is afraid to show the courage of his convictions. Such methods smack too much of the notorious A. P. A. and the much-discussed Citizen’s Alliance to ever have our endorsement.

The Press Democrat denies the right of any handful of men to assume to themselves all the virtue and all the morality in any community, and to swell up and say that they propose to scrutinize and select with great caution the members of any non-sectarian and non-partisan organization proposed for the betterment of the public weal. This is a matter in which all good citizens are interest, and one in which every man, woman and child who desires should be allowed to participate.

We think we know something of the motives back of the men who are really responsible for the mysterious organization said to have just been started for the “enforcement of law and order”; but let that pass. We know beyond question that if conditions here really justify any such organization, every decent man who has the welfare of the community at heart wants to get in behind it and help make the organization a success. The writer certainly does, and is not ashamed or afraid to let it be known, either. Instead of proceeding by dark lantern methods, the so-called “Good Government League,” if it ever hopes to enjoy anything but the well-merited contempt of the community at large must throw down the bars, step out into the open, and fight a fair, manly and American fight. If the men back of the new organization are sincere in their intentions they should drop their present methods and call a public mass meeting, with all seats free and unalloted and with the sign out in big letters, “Come and Help us Reform this Sickening Stinkpot of a Town!” because boiled down and stripped of its verbiage, this is the idea and description of our beautiful city that they have really sent out broadcast over the State.

– Press Democrat editorial, September 20, 1905

Dr. C. W. Savage Said to Be at the Head of the Affair, But Refuses to Affirm or Deny Report

The formation of a secret political organization here to be known as the “Good Government League of Santa Rosa and Vicinity” has been announced. The officers and members of the League refuse to disclose or admit their identity, and while a platform has been published declaring the object of the League to be the “securing and enforcing of law and order,” the statement accompanying it says that even its methods of procedure are not to be made public “unless the welfare of the community demands it.”

It was reported upon the streets last night that Dr. C. W. Savage, the dentist, is President of the new new organization. When interviewed by a Press Democrat representative regarding the objects and aims of the League, the reasons back of its formation, etc., Dr. Savage refused to either affirm or deny the report that he headed the organization, but practically admitted that he is a member. J. H. Fowler, the well known capitalist, is another gentleman whose name has been mentioned upon apparently good authority as being actively identified with the formation of the new League. Nobody appears to know why an organization formed with any such object as that mentioned in the League’s platform should be secret in its nature. It is claimed that the new organization will be non-sectarian and non-partisan.

– Press Democrat, September 20, 1905

Its Intentions and Organization Explained by Members Who Show Necessity for Secrecy

The morning paper, in a very lengthy editorial today proceeds to berate the business and professional men of Santa Rosa for daring to organize secretly and map out a campaign to fight certain civic evils that have become so flagrant that decent people can no longer tolerate them.

The “writer” in the Press Democrat has made the mistake that his prejudices against the Republican would naturally lead him into–that of assuming that the publishers of this paper were at the bottom of the movement to organize the Good Government League. As a matter of fact the publishers of the Republican are not members of the Good Government League and had nothing whatever to do with its organization.

An effort is made also by the morning paper to create the impression that the organization is a sort of dark lantern Prohibition affair. The Republican is advised by members of the organization that among the members there is not a single one of the ministers of Santa Rosa. Further, it is stated by the same men that Dr. Savage is not the president of the organization and that it is composed of nearly two hundred men who have joined irrespective of party affiliation, irrespective of religion, and that the league is not formed to put any particular man out of office.

As to the saloons of the city, it is said that the league is not organized to put them out of business. It is admitted, however, that the platform printed in last night’s Republican, represents the exact attitude of the members in regard to the activity of the league in the community and that its work will be along the lines suggested.

Asked in regard to the reason for maintaining secrecy, a member of the organization stated this morning that there was every reason for such a course. It was not the purpose of those who had thus banded themselves together for the common good to have an organization which could be disrupted by the introduction of men who evidently belong to the element for which the morning paper finds it necessary to act as an apologist. The Republican was assured that no amount of raging on the part of the organ of the gamblers would cause the league to make public the personnel of the organization or give out information that would aid the evils to be attacked to secure comfort and relief by invoking an open fight until the league is good and ready to have a fight that will win for the people.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1905

In railing at the men who compose the Good Government League of Santa Rosa, the Press Democrat, the friend of the law-breakers in Sonoma County, has declared that the secret methods adopted by the league “smack too much of the A. P. A. and the Citizens’ Alliance” ever to have their endorsement. But the morning paper has neglected to include the Gamblers’ Protective Association in the category of secret organizations which it so vigorously condemns. Perhaps the fact that the Gamblers’ Protective Association is being helped in its boycott on the Republican by the Press Democrat puts that aggregation of worthies in an altogether different class.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1905

It is to be assumed that the Press Democrat is a good Democratic journal…it ought to be a good advertisement for this community, therefore, instead of a distraction, to have it understood elsewhere that the people have organized to fight for better municipal life. However, nobody with any real conception of the situation would expect the “writer” in the Press Democrat, the acknowledged organ of the gamblers, to take any other course than one which would try to throw dust in the eyes of the people, and claim that publicity about the civic rottenness hurt the town. Yes, it may hurt somebody who gets hit but not the town.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1905

The Press Democrat professes ignorance of local conditions which make it necessary that a secret organization of the community’s leading business and professional men should be formed to change the trend of affairs. With a great show of indignation that the journal “denies the right of any handful of men to assume to themselves all the virtue and all the morality in the community.” Possibly it has not occurred to the “writer” in the esteemed morning journal that there are men in the newly formed league who are somewhat older in years than he is and should be supposed to know what they want and do not want in the community.”

It is to be taken for granted, too, that the ideas of civic morality entertained by a confessed friend of the gamblers will scarcely have any great weight with men who have minds of their own, families of their own, and property and business interests to protect.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1905

It is quite evident that the organization of the Good Government League is causing the publishers of the morning paper a great deal of uneasiness, else they would not make the mistake of “roasting” the men who think they have a right to meet secretly if they like and talk over plans for changing certain conditions in the community which at present meet with their disapproval.

If the morning paper did not feel that the new organization was going to interfere with its friends why should it set up such a howl in a vain effort to fool the public and attempt to hide the real issue-that of a fight for better civic affairs? As a matter of fact the morning paper has not only lost friends but made enemies by its silly conduct of berating leading citizens who know their own business.

And it will not help the cause of the morning paper, either, to charge the Republican with having been responsible for organizing the League, for deliberate distortions of the facts in such a case as this only tend to make the men interested in the movement all the more insistent in carrying out their plans. The Republican isn’t worrying about what the League will do, and it is poor business for the morning paper to exhibit such remarkable alarm at this time. Is it possible that, as the old saying runs “a guilty conscience is the best accuser,” and that the morning paper really has had a hand in matters that it fears the League in its investigations may uncover?

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, September 22, 1905


The Citizen’s Alliance objects to being classified with the Republican so-call “Good Government League,” a communication having been received at this office reading as follows:

Editor Press Democrat: In a leading article of Wednesday you class the Citizen’s Alliance with the late A. P. A. and the Republican Good Government League as a secret society. In this you are unfair. The stationery of the State and the San Francisco Alliances exhibits names of officers. The officials of the Santa Rosa Alliance are no secret. Yours faithfully, Will Tod, Secretary.

It is true that the names of the principal officers of the Citizen’s Alliance are not kept secret, in which respect that organization is ahead of both the late lamented A. P. A. and the Republican’s alleged new “Good Government League.”

At the same time, it works in the dark and the names of its members are never revealed.

To all intents and purposes, the Citizen’s Alliance is just as much of a secret organization as the American Protective Association ever was.

And it is a great deal more of a secret organization than is the alleged “League”–or, than it will ever be, for that matter. A sensible and right-thinking public has already placed the latter organization where it properly belongs–on the shelf along with the rest of the Evening Republican’s withered hopes.

– Press Democrat editorial, September 22, 1905


The natural result of the Evening Republican’s rattle-pated policy is now beginning to make itself felt.

Taking the absurd statements made by the afternoon paper seriously, newspapers outside have begun to comment upon the alleged conditions here; these reports may naturally be expected to spread and unless some way can be found to stop the thing, the better class of homeseekers will be apt to give Santa Rosa a pretty wide berth hereafter.

Sending out reports like those referred to is bad enough when they are justified. But when this is not the case, as in the present instance, such work is little less than criminal.

The press of the State must understand that there is no truth in the reckless reports being spread abroad by the Evening Republican regarding conditions existing here. Santa Rosa is one of the cleanest and best regulated residence cities in the entire State. Any newspaper questioning this statement is invited to send a representative here to see for himself. The “ward strikers,” the “scavengers of political corruption,” the “civil lepers,” the “stranglers of business,” the “blighters of the future of our homes,” etc., that the Republican chatters so about exist only in the fertile imagination of the men now controlling that paper’s feeble destinies.

The only trouble is that the Republican’s managers haven’t brains enough to conduct even a little newspaper fight without making star-spangled [line missing, damaged microfilm] to do much of anything else, for that matter.

And any newspaper feeling disposed to challenge the truth of this latter statement is also invited to send a representative here to see for himself.

– Press Democrat editorial, September 23, 1905

If the esteemed morning paper, which has reached the screaming stage in its denunciation of the purposes of the newly formed Good Government League, would only help in ridding the community of the abuses which the men in the league say exist here, there would be need no longer for the activities of such an organization. Has the morning paper the moral courage to call a spade a spade when it fears that it will lose a five-cent piece in incurring the displeasure of some of its numerous friends?

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, September 23, 1905

If the views of our local contemporary, the esteemed Morning Screamer are correct, then the press of San Francisco are censurable for parading it to the world that the Republican party of that city has organized to make an effort to down graft. It is the idea of the Morning Screamer that the San Francisco dailies should keep still and say nothing about conditions that are responsible for the robbery of the taxpayers

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, September 23, 1905


Friends of law, order, and the rights of persons and property in Sonoma County have grown so desperately tired of the career of the criminal element and their jack sympathizers that a league has been formed, somewhat upon the order of the vigilantes of the early 50s in San Francisco and the “603” organization in Nevada in the early days of the Comstock. We are informed that every large town in Sonoma County is represented in this new league formed to ferret out and prosecute criminals. It is not strange that hard-working, debt-paying citizens should grow desperately tired of being everlastingly bothered, and their lives burdened by persons who not only care absolutely nothing for decency and good order, but besides are notorious for so ordering their lives as to be forever within the shadow of the jail or penitentiary…The Mountaineer is not in favor of secret or “star chamber” proceedings of any kind in aid of the cause of justice but what can be done? How otherwise may these lawbreakers be reached? The new and powerful organization now rapidly increasing in the cities and towns of Sonoma County is a direct and legitimate outgrowth of a sad state of affairs too grievously burdensome to be longer borne in silence.

– West Sonoma Mountaineer editorial reprinted in the Santa Rosa Republican, September 25, 1905


Editor Press Democrat: Will you please print this ? I am a citizen and also a taxpayer here, also a man of family and in business, and the way I look at it have some right to be heard on public subjects once in a while; and the evening paper had an article tonight that it seems to me will do us damage outside, and I want to say so.

This article was printed from the West Mountaineer in Occidental, in this county, and it is not true. When any newspaper goes this far and prints an article from another paper, giving the article a backing at home, it certainly looks to me as if the article ought to be true or else not printed at all, unless to answer it and say it is not true; because it give strangers a wrong idea.

The Mountaineer’s piece says we are getting up a Vigilance committee here. This will give people a nice idea of Santa Rosa, now, will it not? Why should we start a Vigilance committee here, or even a Law and Order League, like the evening paper talks about? Would anybody want to join a League or Committee here, in one of the best home cities in the State of California today, with some of our best men in town in office and the laws enforced and everything all right? Anybody can ask himself a question like this, and I think we all know just about what his answer would be.

I live here, and my business is here, and so I do not want to see Santa Rosa get a bad name elsewhere when the facts are that our city is a model for order, and much ahead of most others in this state in everything that makes a town worth living in and bringing up a family in. This is a kind of newspaper work that I surely do not approve, and I do not think very many other people will approve it either. Nobody here in Santa Rosa pays attention to the evening paper’s big pieces about its Law and Order League, but it seems that they do outside. And where will Santa Rosa get off?
J. M. P. Santa Rosa, Sept. 25

– Press Democrat editorial, September 26, 1905


Friends of law, order, and the rights of persons and property in Sonoma County have grown so desperately tired of the career of the criminal element and their jack sympathizers that a league has been formed, somewhat upon the order of the vigilantes of the early 50s in San Francisco and the “603” organization in Nevada in the early days of the Comstock. We are informed that every large town in Sonoma County is represented in this new league formed to ferret out and prosecute criminals–Occidental Mountaineer

That’s the stuff. And in the immortal words of the typewriter salesman, “Now is the time for every good man to come to the aid of his country.”

The daring deeds of lawlessness and the sickening days of bloodshed that have followed the withdrawl of those three or four advertisements from the Republican’s columns have (in print) certainly been something awful.

By all means, establish old Fort Gunybags once more, and do it quick! [“Fort Gunnybags” was the nickname for the gallows used by the 1856 San Francisco Committee of Vigilance – J.E.]

Unwind the long-coiled noose, and have it ready!

See that the shrill alarum-bell, now cobwebbed and dusty, again swings clear!

At the first tap shoot low; give no quarter; and let the battle-cry be “Nat Reiss, Fifteen Dollars and Silence,” (or something equally alliterative and euphonious)!!

The fool Republican–and its brave Vigilantes forever!

To h–l with the town and its good name abroad!!!

– Press Democrat editorial, September 27, 1905

Has the Morning Screamer been so busy dodging the various bricks it thinks the Good Government League intends to heave that it has no time to keep up with the procession in the matter of the plans of the electric railroad for building a line to the bay? Every paper except the Morning Screamer in this part of the world has known and has printed stories weeks ago concerning the intentions of the electric line. However, it is better late than never.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, September 27, 1905

The District Attorney has made no mistake in directing the enforcing of the law in the latter of gambling and slot machines in this country, and the sooner the fact is recognized that public sentiment is against that sort of thing the better it will be for all concerned. Sonoma County can get along very well without slot machines, the law says they are illegal and it might as well be taken as an accepted fact that they are a thing of the past–Press Democrat

At last, at last, the esteemed morning paper gets itself on record in the matter of enforcing the law against gambling. Some months ago when the District Attorney closed up games in Santa Rosa the Democrat’s eloquent silence upon the subject o f Mr. Pond’s action led many people to the belief that the aforesaid Democrat tacitly stood with gamblers. Now it seems that the public was mistaken in its opinion at that time, or at least, the Democrat may have become a convert to the ideas of the Good Government League. Time works wonders, and it is pleasing to Mr. Pond’s friends to read such an endorsement of his policy.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, December 9, 1905

An Increasing Membership Declared to Be in Favor of Bettering Civic Affairs

At the meeting of the Good Government League on Monday night a statement was prepared for publication so that the community might know something of the plans of the organization. That statement was sent to the press yesterday afternoon and in full is as follows:

The Good Government League of Santa Rosa and vicinity has been steadily growing in membership during the past few months since its organization. It has also been steadily formulating its plans and getting ready for active work. The platform of the league has already been given to the public but as it very concisely states the purpose of the organization it is herewith given that the minds of those interested may be refreshed.

This organization shall be known as the Good Government League of Santa Rosa and Vicinity.

Its object shall be the securing and enforcing of law and order. To this end the League shall study our social conditions and needs; shape public opinion upon questions relating to local government; endeavor to secure the nomination and election of competent and trustworthy men for office; federate the moral force of the community, and protect the common welfare and prosperity.

It seeks to accomplish this object by honest and vigorous investigation of civic affairs; by awakening public sentiment concerning existing evil; by enforcement of present laws; by securing improved legislation; by suppressing graft; by upholding official honor and by stimulating the public conscience and massing the moral influence of the people for the common weal.”

First of all it should be said that this organization is rather constructive than destructive. There may be those who have the idea that it is organized to fight some thing. According to its platform, the great work of the league is to construct, to build up. The study of social needs and conditions is an important factor with the idea of building up in everything that relates to the betterment of the community. The League desires to have a salutary influence on municipal affairs. Just so far as it has any power it desires to assist in securing the nomination and selection of trustworthy men for office. When such men are elected it proposes to stand by them and give them such backing as will make it easier for them to perform their duties. In the past there have been times when our city has suffered because some officer or officers who wanted to do their full duty found obstacles and impediments almost without number. The league proposes to say to a good man: “Go ahead: we will back you.” Such support is worth much to a man in office.

While the main business of the league is constructive, it proposes so far as it has any power, to do away with abuses that may arise from time to time.

The league has outlined as a basis for operation the following departments of work which has been put in charge of committees: Education, Legislation, Amusements, Public Morals, Streets and Parks, Public Utilities, Sewage and Sanitation, Criminology, Publicity, Business Promotion, Arbitration and Harmony, Law Enforcement.

It may be of interest to the public to know that Prof. J. S. Sweet is the president of the league and that Luther Burbank is its vice-president, and that C. B. Wingate and A. Trembley are secretary and treasurer respectively. There is also an executive committee of nine substantial citizens.

The membership is now considerably considerably in excess of two hundred and is rapidly growing. At every business meeting there is a large influx of new members who, with the others, are from the various walks of life in Santa Rosa and are earnest representative men who desire the best things for Santa Rosa, Such a body of active men will certainly have to be counted with in the coming municipal election. These men are not so much interested in the political complexion of the men who serve the city as its officers as they are in having honest and capable men in charge of the affairs of the city.

The foregoing statement of the purposes and condition of the Good Government League is issued by order of the league through its Committee on Publicity. PUBLICITY COMMITTEE.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 28, 1906

The Good Government League

Through the Rev. M. H. Alexander the Good Government League has issued a statement to the public showing that J. S. Sweet is president of the organization, Luther Burbank vice president, C. E. Wingate secretary and A. Tremblay, treasurer. The statement also contains the information that committees have been named on the following: Education, legisation, amusements, public morals, streets and parks, public utilities, sewage and sanitation, criminology, publicity, business promotion, arbitration and harmony, and of law enforcement. The membership is now said to be “considerably in excess of two hundred and rapidly growing.” Most of the other information contained in the statement, which deal principally with the aims and objects of the organization, has already been published. According to the platform, “the purpose of the organization is the securing and enforcing of law and order.”

– Press Democrat, February 28, 1906

Our dearly beloved newspaper contemporary suffered a cat fit last night when it learned, alas, that the Good Government League was really alive, and what is worse, is composed of a great many prominent members of the political party whose battles the aforesaid contemporary fights. And so violent was the seizure that the contemporary was unable to find more than a few scant lines of space to give to the league announcement in connection with the present campaign. There are those who wonder if the contemporary was not fearful of consequences why it is that it attempts to belittle the plans of some of the most influential of its own party.

– Santa Rosa Republican editorial, February 28, 1906

1905 “Wide-Open Town” Series
1 2 3 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *