In the late summer of 1909, two young men in Santa Rosa mounted their bicycles and headed towards Washington state, where they were determined to see the sights of the great Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE). Nearly two months later and with a thousand often-rugged miles behind them, Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco, sick and tearful, stood on a hill outside Seattle and gazed upon the lights of the Exposition, their road trip having tested them in ways never imagined.

It’s a ripping yarn told well in “Two Wheels North” written by Vic’s daughter, who coaxed from dad a narrative of that long-ago trek. It is even worth reading twice, first for the coming-of-age adventure and again for the art of the telling. A small sample of Evelyn McDaniel Gibb’s fine writing: “I locked my eyes on the dark that was the other side of the canyon. Its blackness wavered lesser, denser, the eerie campfire glows like feeble candles in a room too large. Men’s voices also rose and sank and were made of sounds I’ve never heard. A dozen nights ago when I was a boy, all this might have kept me awake.”

Now on the centennial of the trip, and a 72-year-old retired teacher is retracing their route and blogging about it for the Press Democrat (link currently available here, but search their June, 2009 archives for “Bill Harrison” if the file is not found.) Then on July 4, a dozen or more riders will start their “Wheels North” bicycle tour that is expected to reach Seattle in just two weeks. That ride is a search-for-a-cure fundraiser and participants are required to pay $2,000 or $200/day. The Wheels North website also offers high-quality versions of photographs and postcards from Vic and Ray’s adventure.

But what about that fair was so compelling to Ray and Vic? The book is slim on details: “From the day we saw the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition traveling tent show I’d talked hard to convince Ray we could bike the thousand miles up there to see the fair… we’d seen the real Siberian Eskimos and listened to the high-hatted spieler tell about the Igorot people from the Phillippines who would cook and eat their puppies where folks could watch, and the Hawaiian girl, Ieka, who would dance her native hula-hula…” That description of the alluring Ieka may have inspired Vic’s imagination and teenage libido, but what the boys actually saw would inspire outrage today. Here were human beings on display for public amusement, their entertainment value being their culture’s limited contact with the Western world up to that point. Among the people on exhibit were even children, and one of them was about to die.

Ray and Vic were among the curious who crowded into the tent (which would have been near the main mall entrance today) to see the “Real Siberian Eskimos,” as promoted in the large Press Democrat ad shown here. The show was the main attraction found on the Rose Carnival midway that lined Fourth Street, where the Rose Parade would be held that Saturday, May 8. Santa Rosa’s festival was quite the event in 1909, with a parade at noon and then an illuminated parade at night.

The Santa Rosa papers didn’t say much about what happened in the “Big Arctic Show,” but some details emerged from their stop in Oakland the following week. “The people are seen cooking over the flame of walrus oil lamps, making garments of seal skin and sleds of ivory and carved wood,” the San Francisco Call reported. “The children play their native games and the men harness and drive the score of wolf dogs that accompany the tribe…” Even the smallest children were on display, and the public was apparently encouraged to handle them. That a newborn died of bronchitis in Santa Rosa may not be so surprising, and given the group’s limited exposure to Western diseases prior to this trip, you wonder how many other children and adults became seriously ill or died.

The “Eskimos” were actually members of six families of the Siberian Yupik tribe who lived along the Saint Lawrence Bay in the very eastern-most part of Siberia (also known as the part of Russia that Sarah Palin can see from her house). The Yupik were famed sea hunters and shrewd traders; John Muir wrote an interesting 1881 account of attempting to barter with them — and failing. According to an essay on the Yupik at AYPE available from Washington state’s remarkable, an Alaskan firm called the North Star Trading Company had a warehouse on the Bay, and it was a Captain A. M. Baber from that company who convinced Yupik tribal members to join him on a steamer across the Bering Sea for the strange lands of America.

Captain Baber and the Yupiks reached Seattle on September 18, 1908, when he told a reporter from the Post-Intelligencer that they needed to leave nearly a year early to beat the oncoming Siberian winter. “I will find a quiet place on the Sound for the natives and house them this winter,” the considerate Baber told the paper, “although it may be possible that I will take them to the mountains if I find that the climate is too warm for them.” A month later, a followup story finds them temporarily living in abandoned housing for loggers across Puget Sound from Seattle. As for wintering in snowy mountains, apparently the Captain decided that they would actually be more comfortable performing on the vaudeville stage. Before arriving in Santa Rosa several months later, another HistoryLink essay states they performed as far away as Topeka, and even marched in numerous parades. A January, 1909 review of their stage act in Salt Lake City suggests their program was already polished, with sequences of wrestling and feats of strength by the men, a reenactment of a seal hunt, and performances of traditional dances with music. “Special school children’s matinees” were also offered.

After 6+ months rattling around the West and Midwest on trains (which none of them had even seen a year earlier), the opening of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition probably came as somewhat a relief to the Yupiks, even though they were now under constant public observation. They shared the AYPE “Eskimo Village” building with a well-established troupe of Labradorean Inuit and Inuit-descent performers, some who had been touring American fairs for more than a decade. The Yupiks were exhibited in their own area, along with “40 tons of stuff…[presenting] the village just as it was before it was knocked down,” as Captain Baber told a Seattle PI reporter. The Eskimo Village was a must-see show on the Pay Streak midway and the second most popular concession of the fair, behind in box office receipts only to an elaborate cyclorama portraying the Civil War battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack.

(At right: The “Eskimo Village” on the AYPE midway. Photo courtesy Museum of History & Industry, Seattle)

No photographs or exact descriptions survive of the doings inside the Eskimo Village attraction, but it’s safe to assume that the Yupiks periodically put on a show similar to their now-well rehearsed vaudeville act. Between performances, the public could gawk at them making traditional handicrafts. And speaking of the latter, what happened to all those handmade furs and ivories and leathers that the Yupiks produced during their American visit?

The only hint is found in that SF Call item on their Oakland appearance: “…It is estimated that the skins and furs are worth $50,000, but none is for sale, as the pelts, admitted free of duty, must leave the country.” Think about that: With no import fees, valuable raw materials entered the country, were turned into more valuable garments and handiwork, and were then were sent out of the country, apparently without export fees. Where would Captain A. M. Baber, late of the North Star Trading Company, send the finished work, except back to his old company’s warehouse in Siberia? From there, the company could profit by importing the goods back into the U.S. If this was indeed the setup, then how was the Siberian Eskimo show different than a sweatshop?

The Yupiks weren’t the only racial group exploited at the Exposition. Just this month (June, 2009), Filipino-American community groups in Seattle announced that they were demanding a public apology for the related AYPE “Igorot Village.” As noted in a press release, “The zoo-like village reinforced racial stereotypes of Filipinos as a primitive people through displays of spear-throwing, mock battles, semi-nude clothing, so-called headhunters and dog-eating.” And even though the point of the fair was to celebrate the Pacific Northwest and its ties to Asia, another big concession on the midway was “Dixieland,” where visitors saw a plantation exhibit with “every feature of the happy life the darky lived before the troubles came that set him free.”

Nearly four million passed through the fair in Seattle that summer of 1909, and most probably arrived with some of the casual racist views of the day, such as the “White Man’s Burden” presumption of superiority, or simple prejudice against people who didn’t act or look like Euro-Americans. How sad that many likely went home with their biases reinforced by what they saw at AYPE.


The group of Siberian Eskimos that have been brought to America for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition, have come to Santa Rosa to stay until the Rose Carnival is over. They can be seen this evening and daily thereafter, in the tent on Fourth street west of the Occidental hotel. This group of Eskimos has been exhibited in the chief cities of Oregon, and the newspapers of that state speak most highly of the character of the show. Many scenes of the home life of the Eskimos are given, including their daily occupations and their pastimes, and the sight of them is no douby an interesting study in ethnology. The leading educators of Oregon give their hearty endorsement to the show.

– Press Democrat, May 5, 1909


Mayor Gray stated last night that he will christen the Eskimo baby at the “Eski Village” tonight directly after the illuminated parade. He will give “Santa Rosa” a medal. Let everybody be on hand to see His Honor name the baby. That “Eskimo Village,” by the way, is well worth seeing.

– Press Democrat, May 8, 1909


The little Eskimo baby, whom so many hundreds of people saw named by Mayor Gray last Saturday night in the Eskimo Village on the “Midway,” died on Sunday night, and on Monday the little piece of humanity was laid to rest here. Dr. J. W. Jesse was called in and certified that the death was due to bronchitis. The baby was a puny little creature at birth. There were scores at the village on Sunday night, and when they were told that “Santa Rosa” was dead, there were many expressions of regret, particularly from the women and children who were anxious to see the baby.

– Press Democrat, May 11, 1909

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Come winter, come rain, and in some parts of Santa Rosa, come mud in the streets so deep that it could sink your car or buggy up to the axle. The only good part of this story is that a friendly electric trolleyman pulled the Brenards’ wagon out of the muck. Such an accident was not all that unusual for this part of town; an automobile likewise sank up to its axle a year before.

(This is the last in a mini series on the abysmal quality of Santa Rosa streets in 1906; read more here and here.)


Accident Narrowly Averted on Sebastopol Avenue While Wagon Mires in Mud

Thursday night about nine o’clock, there came near being a very serious and possibly fatal accident at the crossing of the Northwestern tracks on Sebastopol avenue. Mr. and Mrs. Brenard, who reside on Second street, were returning home with a load of wood and just as they had crossed the railroad, the wagon mired in the street, up to the axle, just as an electric car was coming along and the horses became frightened at the car, nearly causing a serious accident.

Mrs. Brenard undertook to jump from the wagon in her fright and landing in the mud, also mired to her knees. The road bed is very narrow along the electric track there, and Mr. Brenard says he did not see his danger until it was too late, and at that place it was impossible for a wagon to turn around, even were the road such that a turn could be made. They waited there fully half an hour, and finally an electric car came along and hitching onto the wagon, pulled it out of the mud.

The City Council has been wrestling with the problem at the crossing of the electric tracks and the steam road for many months and recently at a meeting Councilman Reynolds offered a suggestion that the steam officials be interviewed, with an idea of getting their permission to allow the electric tracks being moved ten feet further north and thus widening the street on one side, and the placing the electric track at the edge of the street curb. This would be a good means of obliviating the present serious condition there, and such a step should be undertaken at once, before there is a loss of life and property from the unsafe conditions which now exist.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 16, 1906

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Here’s another reason why Santa Rosa streets were in poor shape; cowboys could still drive cattle herds through town in the early 20th century.

But in 1906, the town passed new rules that cattle, pigs, and sheep could only rumble down specified parts of College Ave. and Cleveland Ave. Unfortunately, the City Council neglected to specify how the animals would get to the designated routes from the Southern Pacific stockyard on North Street, leading a local cattleman to quip that he’d have to airlift his cows.


Claim an Airship Will be Necessary to Get Cattle to Slaughter House

The stringent ordinance which was passed by the City Council at their last meeting regulating the driving of live stock through the streets of the city is meeting with considerable opposition from the stock sellers and buyers, for they can see no way, under the provisions of the ordinance, to get in or out of the city, with their cattle, sheep, or hogs when they dispose of them in the local market or at a distance. Under the provisions of the ordinance live stock can be driven on Cleveland avenue from College avenue on the north to the city limits and on College avenue from Cleveland avenue to the city limits on the west.

In conversation with P. H. Noonan, the largest stock shipper and buyer in this section, a reporter learned yesterday that Mr. Noonan does not relish the provisions of the ordinance at all. At present he sees no way, except possibly by means of an air ship, to get live stock from the Southern Pacific depot to the slaughter house, or from any point outside of the city. If some reasonable way can be provided whereby stock can be taken to the slaughter house and corrals, Mr. Noonan would much rather not drive cattle fresh from the Nevada hills, for instance, through the streets recognizing as he does the element of danger undertaken. The first remedy Mr. Noonan suggests is the removal of the Southern Pacific corrals outside of the city limits. The next remedy he would urge is the providing of a road as near the city limits on the west as possible, with a bridge across Santa Rosa creek at some convenient place.

– Press Democrat, February 28, 1906

Corrals and Oil Tanks Will be Located Outside of the City Limits When North Street is Opened

The Southern Pacific Company has formally notified Chairman W. D. Reynolds of the Street Committee that it is ready to move its cattle yards and oil tanks outside the city limits as soon as North street is opened so that teams will be able to reach the new location. The Company also urges that the matter be attended to if possible before the winter rains set in.

The new location of the Southern Pacific tanks and corrals will be on the Company’s property at the head of North street, and the change about to be made is in conformity with the ordinance passed some time since The tracks [sic] will be raised so as to allow the oil cars to run alongside the tanks and empty themselves by gravity, and the corrals will be constructed in permanent style.

– Press Democrat, September 23, 1905

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