A week after the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake came first signs that life in the town was slowly returning to normal. Electric lights were (mostly) on at nights, a couple of lovebirds were married, and someone wounded himself with his revolver.

Frequent incidents involving handguns serve to remind that in 1906, the Wild West days really weren’t so long ago, as many men went around town with a pistol in his pants. Nor did the law consider simply packing heat an offense; trouble came only if you fired the gun recklessly (a $5 fine per shot, please) or threatened to shoot someone (or, of course, did). But judging by reports in the papers, the most common use of handguns was to accidentally shoot yourself in the leg.

All of these self-shootings were probably avoidable. For years, Smith & Wesson had offered a “Safety Revolver” that “only the hand of an adult can fire” because of its safety grip, which prevented the trigger from being pulled unless the handle was being squeezed at the same time (a good technical description of how it worked can be found here). Iver Johnson, another large gunsmith, also heavily advertised its “Safety Automatic Revolver” with the claim that it was “the one revolver that cannot go off by accident;” while their gun had no safety lock, the trigger had to be pulled all the way back. Instead, it appears most men carried a snub-nosed “bicycle revolver,” of the sort shown in the magazine ad seen here. These were cheap, small, and easily concealed, no small consideration for men wearing jeans or fashionable tight-fitting trousers, such as the fellow seen to the right in this post-earthquake photograph (although that other gentleman might well be hiding a battleship in his ample folds).

While putting a revolver in his pocket on Wednesday night, Attorney A. B. Ware accidentally shot himself in the fleshy part of the leg. The wound is a superficial one and not dangerous. The trigger caught and caused the accident…

– Democrat-Republican, April 26, 1906
Gets Arrested and Puts Up Cash Bail

Angelo Paris drew a big revolver Sunday evening on L. W. Eberle and was landed in jail for this offense against the peace and dignity of the people. Monday morning he was released on fifty dollars’ cash bail by Justice Atchinson, to appear in court next Saturday to explain his action.

The troubles between the men occurred over the opening of a door to permit the cool evening air to penetrate the building in which the respective families of the men mentioned reside. As the result of the altercation Paris declared he would fill Eberle full of lead and produced the weapon in sight to carry out the declaration he had made.

Constable Boswell arrested Paris, and escorted him to the station, assisted by Eberle and Officer Lindley. Later Lindley and Boswell searched the premises and found the gun used beneath the bed clothing. The shells had been extracted. Paris put up quite a fight to Boswell and struck the latter before he was subdued.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 23, 1906


An unusual accident happened in a little fight on Main street Saturday night. A local man knocked down a party with whom he had some difficulty, and a pistol in the pocket of the man knocked down went off. The parties to the fight both believed that a tragedy had been enacted, the party down at first being convinced that he had been struck from the bullet from his revolver, and the party who did the knocking felt sure he would be called on to answer to a charge of murder. The incident caused no little excitement for a time.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 13, 1906

M. Davis, a brickmason, was arrested Saturday by Officer McIntosh, and fined $10 by City Recorder Bagley for firing his pistol from the scaffolding of the brick buildings on Fourth street. He was under the influence of liquor and mounting the scaffolding where men were at work began to celebrate by firing his revolver. He fired two shots and was forced to pay $5 for each shot.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 4, 1906

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Horrible industrial accidents were common in the pre-unionization days of the early 20th century, and newsy items about them were a mainstay of the Santa Rosa papers, which often described injuries in gruesome detail. More unusual were life-threatening accidents at home such as the pair transcribed below, which are all the more unique because both happened to involve mothers and sons. One wonders at the luck of little Merrill Bowman, who pitched headfirst off a barrel just as two doctors were motoring past, and surely young Master Black of Cloverdale was just going through an Oedipal phase when he accidentally shot his mum through her pelvis.


Mrs. Charles Bowman of Ripley street was the victim of a serious accident recently, and one that might have proved fatal had a physician not been quickly secured. She was putting up some fruit in a glass, and while screwing a top on a jar, it broke. Her hand came in contact with the jagged glass, severing an artery and a vein. The blood spurted from the wound in streams and great quantities of it were lost.

Dr. Cline made a hurried trip to the injured woman, and she was decidedly weak from loss of blood when he arrived. The severed artery was quickly caught and the flow of blood stopped. Had his arrival been delayed a few minutes, the unfortunate woman would have bled to death.

Merrill Bowman, a young son of the injured woman, fell from a barrel a short time after his mother’s accident and landed on his head, cutting that member badly. Fortunately for the young man two doctors were passing in an auto and saw the fall. They rendered assistance and soon had the young man in good condition, barring the wound in the head.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 30, 1906

While standing by the stove in the summer kitchen of her home in Cloverdale Tuesday afternoon, Mrs. Chas. Black, a prominent resident of that city, was shot in the thigh by her son. The shooting was accidental, and because the lad was so frightened that he neglected to tell how it happened, there was an element of mystery thrown around it. Deputy Sheriff Tom Wilson investigated the matter and then reported it to Sheriff Frank P. Grace and District Attorney Charles H. Pond. Grace and Dr. Jesse went to Cloverdale in the latter’s auto and satisfied themselves that the wound was accidentally inflicted.

Wild reports were circulated that Mrs. Black had been assassinated for a sum of money known to be in the house, but this proved a myth. The people of Cloverdale were considerably wrought up over these reports, which gained wide circulation and were at one time believed.

At the time she was shot, Mrs. Black believed something had exploded in the stove, and not until she glanced up and saw the window pane broken did she realize she had been shot. The bullet entered Mrs. Black’s hip and has lodged in a dangerous place. Dr. Jesse believes there will be no serious consequences unless complications set in. The boy was carelessly handling a rifle and it was accidentally discharged.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 1, 1906

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Early 20th century Santa Rosa tolerated prostitution, and the town’s newspapers mostly kept mum about the doings at the dozen or so “Female Boarding Houses” just a few steps away from the courthouse (or at least, until a series of events in 1907 brought the bordellos under scrutiny – but that’s getting ahead of the story).

But what did residents call this section of town, centered on the intersection of 1st and D streets? There was a passing mention of it being the “redlight district” in a 1905 article about blight around nearby Santa Rosa Creek, but the small crime blotter item below reveals that it was commonly known as the town’s “tenderloin.”

“Tenderloin district” was apparently coined in the 1870s to identify a rough part of Manhattan. The earliest reference for San Francisco appears to be 1891, coming into common newspaper usage around 1894.

Charged With Stealing Coin

Rob Maxwell was arrested this morning by Chief of Police Fred Rushmore and Officer John M. Boyes. He is charged with having stolen the sums of $19 and $13.50 from two women of the tenderloin. One of these charges was admitted by Maxwell under the questioning of Officer Boyes, and the accused told what he had done with a trunk key and the purse which contained stolen money. Maxwell spent the night Saturday in the house, and secured the key to a woman’s trunk, from which he extracted the purse and coin. Warrants were sworn to before Justice Atchinson.

Maxwell later pled guilty to a charge of taking money and not guilty to a second charge. Justice Atchinson has not pronounced sentence.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 11, 1906

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