It’s an old, old story: boy meets girl, boy loses girl to another boy, boys bicker over whom girl truly loves, both boys separately abduct girl and end up in jail. This either sounds like a demented episode of Archie Comics or a Rossini opera buffa libretto, with mistaken identities, deceptions, pursuits, and completely absurd plot twists. And that’s exactly how I have presented it – as a comic opera in three acts.
Aside from my poetic license in the telling, all events herein are true, as reported in the Santa Rosa and San Francisco newspapers. Reconstructing this confusing tale wasn’t easy; I had to build a spreadsheet to track what happened exactly when over these two weeks in February, 1906. If gentle reader thinks (s)he can make better sense of the events, please feel free to have a go — and send me a postcard from the asylum afterward.
After a perky overture, the stage lights reveal a man sitting in a jail cell. We meet Charles Smith, a wanna-be boxing promoter making his living as a restaurant waiter and flag man for the railroad. In his aria (“O Poor-o Me-oh”), he laments that he is in the clink for loving too much and being too honest – specifically, for trying to marry a 16 year-old girl and being afraid to fib about her age to a judge or justice of the peace. After a five-day trek around the Bay Area fruitlessly seeking an official willing to perform an illegal marriage, the pair returned to Santa Rosa where he was promptly arrested for abduction on a warrant sworn out by the girl’s mother.
The very next day, a figure appears outside the prison bars. Is it his child fianceé? Alas, no, it is a young man named Frank Russell, who boasts that he married the girl overnight! Charlie weeps hot tears. But soon a friend arrives to tell him that Frank is a liar, and Charlie feels better.
Act one ends with a scene that takes place a few days later in court, where comely 16 year-old Geneva Eagleson makes her appearance on stage. No, your honor, I was not coerced or forced to go away with Charlie, she testifies. On her word that everything’s okay, the judge dismisses the charge of abduction and everyone goes home to a nice dinner.
Only ten days have passed since Charlie and Geneva returned from their marriage quest, and the curtain rises on a night street scene in Santa Rosa’s Chinese neighborhood on 2nd street. A cop is struggling to restrain four people he has just arrested in an opium den raid. Two are Chinese men, and the other pair are a young man and woman. The officer demands names, and the young man says he is Frank Wilson; the woman claims her name is Blanche Woods. There is a struggle, and the young man escapes. It is revealed that he is actually Frank Russell. His mysterious companion, “Blanche Woods,” quietly pays her $10 fine.
A couple of days later, Charles Smith is back in court, and not because of the old charges against him for child abduction. Now he wants a warrant issued for Frank’s arrest – and has a helluva story to convince the judge. According to him, Frankie called Geneva and said he’d help her run off again with Charlie, and they should meet to hatch a plot. Charlie showed up and finds Frankie and Geneva already there, and completely untroubled that his sweetie was huddled together with the guy who claimed ten days earlier to have just married her, Charlie left to fetch his suitcase. When he came back, Geneva and Frankie were gone. Obviously, he tells the judge, Frank must have abducted the girl under the false pretenses that they were going somewhere to meet Charlie. The judge believes all this and issues a warrant for Frankie’s arrest, on charges of “vagrancy” – maybe not so surprising, given that it was this same judge who ruled earlier that it was legal to snatch a juvenile as long as the kid said she went willingly.
Act two concludes with a rollicking comic ensemble, as Charlie, policemen from Santa Rosa and Petaluma, and Geneva’s brother (the lyrically-named Welcome Eagleson), follow a bad tip and almost arrest another couple by mistake.
Scene: A train car. Geneva and Frankie have been missing for two days. As Welcome Eagleson rides southward, he glances out the window as the train pulls in to Wilfred Station (think of the Rohnert Park Wal-Mart location) and sees Frank and his sister boarding the train. As Frank walks down the aisle past her brother, they both pretend not to see the other person. To repeat: I am not making any of this up.
Welcome Eagleson seeks to notify authorities as Geneva and Frankie hop off the train at the Penngrove Station. The couple is soon intercepted by authorities on the outskirts of Petaluma; by afternoon, they are both at the Santa Rosa jail, Frank Russell on charges of being a vagrant, and Geneva Eagleson, simply “detained.”
Act three ends with a trio of despair. Frankie, probably sitting behind the same bars that held Charles Smith less than two weeks earlier, sings of his desire to marry the lovely and illegally-aged Geneva. The girl harmonizes that she cannot bear to be apart from Frankie and even wants to be locked in the same cell with him. And finally, Charlie adds his dissonant theme that he is smugly confident that Geneva was tricked into running away with Frankie, and remains true to him alone.
After an orchestral interlude that suggests the passage of time, we find Geneva Eagleson about to surprise her long-suffering mother with news that she has eloped and finally successfully married. It is a little over a year later. Did she choose Charlie Smith? Frankie Russell? She flings open the door to introduce mom to her new husband, a great guy with a great future: Meet Cyrus Fletcher, egg candler.
POSTSCRIPT TO THE EPILOGUE
Geneva died in Vallejo in 1940 at the age of 51, and was married (at least) once more, to a man named Simpson. She is buried in Santa Rosa Memorial Park.
CUPID MAY BE ONE TO BLAME
Miss Geneva Eagleson Believed to Have Eloped With Charles Smith
Mrs. Froma Eagleson appeared in Justice Atchinson’s court Wednesday afternoon and swore to a complaint charging Charles Smith with the abduction of her daughter, Miss Geneva Eagleson. The warrant was placed in the hands of Constable S. J. Gilliam who caught the late train to San Francisco, where it is believed the couple will be located.
Mrs. Eagleson states that her daughter is not yet of age. Friends of the couple say she is not much more than 16 years old, and that they have been keeping company for some time. Last week Miss Eagleson went to Guerneville for a short visit and it is said that Smith met here there and they went away Saturday intending to get married.
Mrs. Eagleson was at the afternoon train Monday here looking for the couple as she had been informed that her daughter contemplated slipping away. Failing in her effort to locate the pair Mrs. Eagleson, it is said, made every effort to head them off if they had taken the North Shore line or the California Northwestern at some point south of here, but to no avail.
Smith resided here up to a few months ago and was well known about town. He was formerly a member of the local military company and he has [illegible microfilm] of fistic contests here. He held a number of different positions while here. Some time ago he left Santa Rosa and it is said that until recently he has been flagging on the Southern Pacific out of Sparks, Nev.
– Press Democrat, February 1, 1906
CHARGED WITH AN ABDUCTION
Mrs. Froma Eagleson swore to a complaint late Wednesday afternoon against Charles Smith… [same details as the Press Democrat story above]
…Smith is well known in this city, where he has resided for a number of years past. He is sportily inclined, a prize fight promoter on a small scale, and was employed as waiter in local restaurants…
– Santa Rosa Republican, February 1, 1906
Says Girl is Faithful
Charles Smith, the young man who is in jail on a charge of having abducted Geneva Eagleson, declares he will yet marry the girl. He believes she will remain true to him, and will not believe otherwise. This afternoon a young man whose mother runs a local lodging house called at the City Prison where Smith is confined unable to produce bonds, and informed the imprisoned youth that he had obtained a license and married the young girl. He said that the ceremony had taken place, and that he was the happy man instead of Smith. Tears came to the young man’s eyes, and a friend searched the records and ascertained that a malicious falsehood had been told to Smith. When this information was given him, he said:
“Thank God, I would rather stand up and be shot than to believe the girl has married that man. I could never have believed she would be untrue to me, and am perfectly willing to wait.”
– Santa Rosa Republican, February 2, 1906
SMITH IS GIVEN LIBERTY AGAIN
Allowed to Go on Own Recognizance and May Not be Prosecuted
Charles Smith, who is charged with the abduction of Miss Geneva Eagleson, the sixteen year old daughter of Mrs. Froma Eagleson, was taken before Justice A. J. Atchinson yesterday and arraigned. The case was continued to be set. Bail was fixed at $100.
Last evening Smith was allowed to go on his own recognizance pending his hearing. It is possible that there will be no further prosecution of the case.
– Press Democrat, February 3, 1906
GIRL SAYS SHE DECIDED TO GO
Geneva Eagleson Says That Charles Smith Did Not Abduct Her
The preliminary examination of Charles Smith, charged by Mrs. Froma Eagleson with having abducted her 16 year old daughter, Geneva Eagleson, was held behind closed doors by Justice Atchinson Saturday morning. After all the testimony was heard the charge was dismissed and the defendant discharged as intimated in these columns Saturday morning. The evidence to substantiate the charge was lacking.
The only evidence produced at the examination was that of the girl herself. She testified that Smith used no coercion or force to induce here to go with him but simply proposed that they go away and get married. She consented and they went away together and that he refused to swear falsely as to her age when they tried to procure the marriage license affidavit, and as they could not get it they decided to return home.
– Press Democrat, February 4, 1906
CAPTURES AN OPIUM JOINT
Officer I. N. Lindley made a scoop on an opium joint last night and caught a man and a woman hitting the pipe. He promptly arrested the man and his fair companion, and also took into custody the chinks [sic] who were conducting the den. The latter were Tom Kee and Tom Guen. Each was sentenced to five days imprisonment. The man gave the name of Frank Wilson and the woman that of Blanche Woods. These are believed to be fictitious, and from the fact that the woman had been seen in Petaluma recently, it is believed she is a resident of that place.
– Santa Rosa Republican, February 12, 1906
ARRESTED ON A “VAG” CHARGE
Frank Russell May Have to Face More Serious Charge in Near Future
Frank Russell was arrested in Petaluma today on a warrant charging him with vagrancy, sworn out before Justice A. J. Atchinson. Russell is said to be a man who hits the “dope” in Chinatown dens, and the police have evidence that he is the man who managed to escape in the raid Officer I. N. Lindley made on an opium joint there several nights ago. In that raid Officer Lindley made a capture of four parties. One man was charged with “hitting the pipe” and paid a fine of ten dollars. A woman giving the name of Blanche Woods was charged with visiting the den, and she forfeited ten dollars bail. The two Chinese proprietors of the place were arrested, and each was sentenced to imprisonment. One man managed to escape, because the officer had his hands more than full with the other four, and this man has been identified as Russell. It is understood that there are more serious charges that may be urged against him. Russell is the man who recently called on Charles Smith in the City Jail and informed the imprisoned youth that he had just been married to the sweetheart of the man in durance vile. This falsehood was committed without apparent object on the part of Russell.
Constable Boswell went to Petaluma this afternoon to bring Russell back to this city, but had not returned with the man when this paper went to press. Russell was recently fined in Justice Atchinson’s court for a battery committed on a man in a local saloon.
– Santa Rosa Republican, February 14, 1906
GIRL WILL NOT STAY AT HOME
Miss Geneva Eagleson Departs Again and Smith Says Is Enticed Away
The officers have again been asked by Mrs. Froma Eagleson to assist in locating her daughter, Geneva Eagleson who came into notoriety by eloping with Charles Smith two weeks ago. The mother believes that her daughter is being detained somewhere against her will by Frank Russell.
When it was found that the girl was gone Tuesday evening, Charles Smith, her ardent lover, swore to a complaint against Frank Russell charging him with vagrancy, and the officers have been searching all over for the man and up to last night to no avail. Smith is firm in his belief that the girl is being held a prisoner by Russell and that soon as she is able she will communicate with him. Others believe that she may have eloped again.
Russell is the man, who, when Smith was in jail here on a charge of abducting Geneva came to the cell and informed Smith that he had married the girl. This was untrue, and what he meant has never been understood. Russell’s attentions to her daughter are said to have been rather favored by Mrs. Eagleson up to the time of her elopement with Smith. About that time, she was informed as to Russell’s character and habits. Since then she has changed her mind and refused to allow him the freedom of her home.
Charles Smith does not believe that Miss Eagleson has eloped again, and does not want people to think so. He claims that she has been enticed away by Russell, whom he claims has been professing the utmost friendship for him (Smith), friendship which is only mythical. Smith says that on Tuesday afternoon Miss Eagleson went to the Nesbit residence in this city in response to a telephone message sent her by Russell, saying that he (Smith) wanted to meet her there and arrange for them to go away again.
Smith says he went to the place and saw Miss Eagleson and Russell. Then Russell proposed that if they wanted to go away again he would advance the finances. Smith left under the pretense of getting his suit case and just after he left the house he says Mrs. Eagleson telephoned to her daughter that she knew of her intentions and that if she went away the officers would be sent after her. Smith says that when he returned to the Nesbitt residence Russell and the girl had flown, whither he knows not. He says that the girl undoubtedly left with Russell under the pretext that he (Smith) would come after them and meet them somewhere.
Smith was busily engaged in searching for the missing girl and her supposed companion Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. He went to Petaluma where the couple were supposed to have gone and Wednesday word was received here that they had been detected there. Consequently Constable Boswell went to Petaluma armed with a warrant for Russell’s arrest and Welcome Eagleson went with him to return with his sister. Later it developed that the couple in Petaluma supposed to be Miss Eagleson and Russell were not them at all. The incident caused no little excitement in Petaluma. Boswell and the girl’s brother returned home on Wednesday afternoon, their trip having been for nothing.
Tuesday night the police department and others made a search for the couple and it was decided to keep the matter quiet in order that the girl might again escape notoriety. The incidents in Petaluma and elsewhere on Wednesday brought the disappearance of the girl into the public eye again. While the general impression Wednesday was that Miss Eagleson had eloped again, her erstwhile lover, Mr. Smith say, “No,” that the girl does not like Russell and that she has been enticed away and may possibly be in restraint somewhere.
– Press Democrat, February 15, 1906
RUNAWAY COUPLE ARRESTED IN PETALUMA THIS MORNING
Frank Russell and Geneva Eagleson Have Exciting Experience Trying to Avoid Capture
Frank Russell and Miss Geneva Eagleson were placed under arrest this morning on the outskirts of Petaluma by Constable Jimmy Sullivan and they were detained at the city prison there until the arrival of Constable James H. Boswell on the afternoon train, to bring them back to this city. The girl stoutly protested that she would never go back to Santa Rosa, but the minion of the law was inexorable, and the girl was forced to accompany him to this city. No charge was placed against the girl, she being simply detained. Russell is charged with vagrancy.
To those who tried to talk to her Geneva Eagleson would give replies that contained no information. She refused to tell where she stayed last night or the preceding night, although admitting that she had not been at the home of her mother in this city. She replied that she had just arrived from Vancouver in response to a query as to where she had been Wednesday night.
Miss Eagleson requested the jailor to lock her up in the same cell with Russell, and declared she did not want to be separated from him. Her request was denied and the girl was placed in a front room upstair [sic] in the jail. After having been there for a short time she told the jailor that if she were given a pillow she would answer all questions that her interrogators wished. She was given the pillow, but refused to tell of her whereabouts during her absence from home.
The capture of the couple was brought about by Welcome Eagleson, a brother of the girl who has twice run away, each time with a different man. He had boarded the train here this morning to go over to Sonoma to do some work. At Wilfred Station he chanced to be looking out of the window and saw Russell and his sister there ready to take the train. He resolved to lay low and cause the arrest of the couple at Petaluma, and did not attempt to molest them. Russell’s curiously [sic] overcame him and he walked through the car in which Welcome Eagleson was seated and discovered the youth there. Neither spoke and each attempted to conceal his identity from the other.
When the train pulled into Penngrove Welcome Eagleson had arranged with a friend on board to have Deputy Sheriff F. Ralph Starke notified and cause him to arrest the couple there or telephone to Petaluma to have an officer in readiness at the depot. Just as the train began pulling out of the Penngrove depot Russell and Miss Eagleson leaped hurriedly from the train and started to walk in the direction of Petaluma. At this time Deputy Starke was at the telephone communicating with Petaluma and did not realize that his quary [sic] was escaping from him.
The couple sought a ride from a rancher named Evart, who was passing, and obtained the same. Realizing that he could not overtake the couple riding in the buggy, Starke quickly countermanded the order for an officer at the depot and requested that a watch be kept on the road leading into Petaluma for the couple. Constable Jimmy Sullivan jumped into a buggy and at the outskirts of Petaluma caught the couple he was seeking. They reluctantly submitted to arrest and left the buggy of Rancher Evart to take seats in the vehicle occupied by the constable.
The couple had evidently walked from this city to Wilfred early this morning and decided that their chances of escape were good if they managed to board the train without being seen here. In this they reckoned unwisely. Miss Eagleson appeared fatigued and worn out, and wanted to rest and sleep after she had been separated from Russell and placed in the city prison to await the coming of Constable Boswell. She has evidently lost considerable sleep recently and the number of hours that the couple may have spent walking around to avoid possible arrest can only be left to conjecture at this time.
Russell declares that he wanted to marry the girl, and that he is still ready and willing to do so if given the opportunity by the girl’s mother. He declares that he is an electrician by trade, and that he is ready and willing and able to undertake the support of a wife, and will use his utmost endeavors to make Miss Eggleson [sic] happy.
Charles Smith, the other suitor for the hand of the girl who has made a record in runaways, is still anxious to marry her, notwithstanding the fact that she left with Russell.
Russell is the man who went to the cell in the jail while Charles Smith was being detained there because he had eloped with Miss Eagleson, and told him that he (Russell) had married the girl and that Smith need not have further concern about making her his wife. Tuesday evening when it was learned that the girl had disappeared, Smith swore to a complaint again[st] Russell on a charge of vagrancy as told in the Republican of Wednesday, and the officers at once set up a search for the man, but have been unable to locate him.
Charles Smith says that he does not believe that his sweetheart has eloped, but rather that she has been enticed away by Russell. He claims that on Tuesday Russell telephoned the girl asking that she go to the Nesbit residence, with the understanding that he (Smith) was there and wanted to see her. Smith claims that he went to the place and saw both Russell and the girl there, and at the time Russell told him that if they wanted to go away again he would advance the money. At this time Mrs. Eagleson telephoned that she was aware of her daughter’s intentions and that if she attempted again to leave, the officers would be informed at once. This, however, had no effect upon her, for she shortly afterward left, undoubtedly with Russell, and neither of them have been located since.
Wednesday word was received here to the effect that the couple had been discovered in Petaluma, but when Constable Boswell and the young lady’s brother, Welcome Eagleson, went to that city, they found that there was a mistake, and the people were not the ones sought.
– Santa Rosa Republican, February 15, 1906
YOUNG MAN IS GIVEN “FLOATER”
Second Romance of Geneva Eagleson Terminated on Thursday
Frank Russell, who disappeared from this city Tuesday evening in the company of Miss Geneva Eagleson, who two weeks ago ran away with Charles Smith, was arrested at Petaluma on Thursday morning and brought back here by Constable Boswell at 2:15 in the afternoon.
Russell and the girl were seen to board the early morning train at Wilfred by her brother, Welcome Eagleson, who was a passenger. He had a friend notify Deputy Sheriff F. Ralph Starke, who sent word to Petaluma to the officers to be on the lookout for the couple. Russell and the girl jumped off the train as it was leaving Penngrove and securing a ride in a farmer’s wagon continued their journey to Petaluma. Constable Sullivan, however, intercepted them and took Russell into custody and detained the girl.
Constable Boswell went to Petaluma on the train and brought Russell back. Welcome Eagleson had some difficulty in persuading his sister to return home, but finally won her assent if he would drive back instead of going on the train. He consented, and they arrived here about 4 o’clock. There girl was taken home where she was soon joined by Charles Smith, her most ardent lover, who made an effort to learn her story of the latest escapade.
Russell was taken before Justice Atchinson, where he entered a plea of “not guilty,” and in default of $50 cash bail, was remanded to the custody of the Sheriff. Later his stepfather appeared and agreed to provide means to send him to Oregon if the court would suspend sentence and release him. The Court allowed the plea to be changed to guilty and suspended sentence on condition that Russell would leave town at once and not return. Russell promised to leave this (Friday) morning at 6 o’clock.
According to Miss Eagleson’s statement to Charles Smith, she went away with Russell because the latter had told her that he (Smith) would meet them in a certain place in town. He failed to come and then she says Russell took her into the country where he said Smith would meet them. As he did not show up, she says, they went to a rancher’s residence near Wilfred and there she was introduced as Russell’s sister. They spent, she says, two nights at the place. She told Smith that she intended to phone or telegraph to him when an opportunity presented itself.
– Press Democrat, February 16, 1906