For all that Santa Rosa had to worry about that terrible day of the 1906 earthquake – fighting the downtown fires, rescuing those trapped, tending to the dead and badly injured – no one in town needed to worry about hunger. Within hours of the disaster, wagons began arriving with food and in the following days, more donations arrived. And more. And more. Before long, tons of food was piling up in the warehouse on North street, probably more than the earthquake victims could possibly stuff down in a year. With so much free food available, town fathers did the natural thing: They began to strictly ration it.

First to feed Santa Rosa was the Petaluma Elks Lodge, which canceled a banquet planned for that very evening and delivered to Santa Rosa their dozen roasted turkeys with trimmings. Ukiah the next day sent a train car filled with food, followed by a train load from Reno; Cloverdale sent cartons of oranges, and a barrel of salt pork came all the way from Patterson, New Jersey. Farmers hitched their rigs and delivered wagons of eggs and oceans of milk. So it went. Santa Rosa was smothered with generosity.

The volunteer work in town was no less noble. The Boyd family opened their home to anyone hungry at any hour. A commandeered blacksmith’s shop became a relief station that doled out meals to hundreds of households each day, with Mrs. Smyth and Mrs. Elliott (no relation) loading their buggies with take-out deliveries for those too poorly to come down to the station. In Santa Rosa welled a spirit of community – at least, for the first seventeen days.

Then on May 4, no more free lunch; food donated to help earthquake victims was henceforth available only to “widows, orphans and the sick.” Anyone capable of work was expected to find a job, even if it was shoveling debris at $2 per day for the city. Why the restrictions, given that the warehouse was bulging with food? Was it an attempt to whip a little Puritan work ethic into the laggard class? Did the volunteers tire of running their soup kitchen? Alas, we don’t know anything more; all local newspapers from the early part of May, 1906 are missing. We only know about the crackdown at all because it received a small notice in the San Francisco papers.

At the end of the year when there was hot debate over what to do with the remaining relief money, the Santa Rosa Republican ran an article about the food leftovers. The quantities were astonishing: still sitting in the warehouse was almost two tons of salt pork, 1,300 pounds of sugar, 30 sacks of beans, loads of canned goods, and “soap enough to supply this city a year or more.” What happened to all this stuff is also unknown; while the relief committee would account for every donated penny, it was mentioned only in passing that the committee would “dispense the food and clothing now on hand.” Hopefully, it was all shipped to the earthquake refugee camps in Oakland, where about 5,000 displaced San Franciscans were still being fed by their charitable neighbors.

Only Women and Disabled to Be Fed
Over $30,000 Is in the Relief Fund

SANTA ROSA, May 4–J. R. Edwards, treasurer of the Santa Rosa relief fund, has issued a statement showing cash receipts of $30,921 from the following sources: Standard Oil Company, $10,000… [ 41 other donors] …No Name, 50 cents; total $30,921.

There has been paid out about $3000 as wages to men engaged in cleaning debris from the streets and searching for bodies in the wreckage, while nearly as much more has been set aside to pay the salaries to the city officials and wages to city employees. The later sum will be paid as soon as the banks open for business. The distribution of this large amount of cash has relieved the money stringency and greatly reduced the number of applicants for provisions at the relief station. The free distribution of provisions will be stopped tonight or tomorrow and only widows, orphans and the sick will hereafter be provided with food, as there is now plenty of work at good wages for all who desire it.

– San Francisco Call, May 5, 1906

Approves Relief Work.

SANTA ROSA, May 5–The relief bureau opened here two weeks ago and placed in charge of B. M. Spencer and a corps of a dozen or more volunteer workers has filled orders for groceries on 4089 applicants, representing 20,880 persons. There are a large number of San Francisco refugees here besides the hundreds of local residents made homeless. The relief work has been carried on systematically. After a thorough inspection General Greeley, United States Army, expressed his approval and appreciation of the methods in vogue.

– San Francisco Call, May 6, 1906

The early days of the relief work in this city following the disastrous fire of April 18 and 19, showed the unselfish devotion of citizens of this city in assisting others less fortunate, and the splendid liberality of the people residing in this vicinity in providing for the immediate wants of the people.

It is well to have a record of these things preserved in print, that those to whom credit is due for their efforts may be given the same. At this lapse of time from the memorable occasion many may be prone to forget the fullness of action of those days, and fall to remember the generous giving of time by the people to aid the worthy cause.

In the history of the relief work many acts stand out prominently in the cause, and for unselfish and painstaking work nothing better could be written than the efforts of the corps of ladies and gentlemen who had charge of the work.

On the afternoon of April 18 Mayor Overton called a meeting of citizens at the Methodist Church, South, and arranged for the handling of the situation that presented itself here. S. P. Erwin was made chairman of the committee to take charge of the work of distributing food supplies. B. M. Spencer was secretary of the committee, and its other members were Frank C. Loomis, George F. King, W. D. Reynolds and C. A. Wright. Hardly had the committee been named when two wagon loads of edibles were at Mr. Spencer’s store, sent by the generous people of Petaluma, for the sufferers. Making a necessity for the occasion, the blacksmith shop of William G. Keenan was pressed into service while the owner was absent, and a relief station established. Keenan was performing rescue work at the Grand hotel ruins, and when he returned to his shop accepted the situation with the best of grace. Not only that, he entered into the relief work heartily, and each day was at the station cutting meats that had been sent here for distribution. A fortunate circumstance was that Petalumans had arranged for an elegant banquet to be given on the night of April 18, and all the viands had been prepared. Among other things were a dozen roasted turkeys prepared for the banquet, and these, with tons of edibles, were sent to this city on a special train.

For seventeen days this committee with the assistance of others who are named in this article, performed splendid service in relieving distress. During that time there were 4473 calls for provisions from families, an average of 263 families for each day the relief station was open. All of the people at the relief station worked without wages or hope of reward from early morning until late in the evening. At the expiration of that time the work was turned over to the general committee, and Herbert J. Waters assumed charge of the distribution.

The services of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Boyd and family stand out prominently among the others. They had been through the Johnstown flood and the Chicago fire, and with the experience gained in those calamities were ready in an instant to succor those needing assistance. They threw open their home, took every one in who applied, fed the hungry and kept a portion of their premises open all night long to feed the people who came. They took charge of providing for the special police who were appointed, and arranged to feed the guardsmen and provide them with coffee during the long hours of the night. Theirs was a most unselfish labor, and they kept it up until there was no further necessity for it.

Mrs. Frank Adams was another whose work was more than appreciated. She took to her home the meats provided for the people, and there cooked them nicely, returning them to the relief station for distribution.

Mrs. Newton V. V. Smyth and Mrs. J. B. Elliott came every afternoon and gave the use of their surreys to haul provisions to the sick and needy, and to those unable to come in person. These ladies did a splendid work, and their efforts were greatly appreciated. Unfortunately the taking of the provisions away in the vehicles gave rise to a report that people were coming in buggies and hauling away the provisions, until it was explained that these ladies were devoting their time and strength to the alleviating of suffering.

The farmers of this vicinity showed their generous spirit daily in their donations to the committee. Day by day many farmers drove to the relief station with eggs, milk, butter, and farm produce of all kinds. Their generous wives prepared many dainties and substantial dishes for the sufferers and these were brought in and given the committee. In this manner tons of provisions were furnished, and the committee were more than grateful for their thoughtfulness.

As the schools closed after the disaster for several days, most of the teachers gave their time to the service of those in distress, and none did more valiant service than these instructors. Early and late they were on hand doing everything in their power. Many deserve special praise, but this article cannot give it at this time. Among those who performed good service were …[38 names].

Major Devine, the chief of the Red Cross service in San Francisco, complimented the local committee highly on its work, and the systematic manner in which the distribution was made. From the start the system was complete, and there is a record of every transaction, those who donated and those who were assisted. To those who were so zealous in the relief too much commendation cannot be given.

One of the most noticeable things to the committee was the manhood and desire to help themselves manifested by the people of Santa Rosa. When the first workmen were paid from the relief funds after the disaster, the number of applicants for relief fell off one-half in two days. This showed that while the relief had been accepted, many preferred to provide everything they needed for themselves, and did so at the earliest opportunity.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 12, 1906


The editor of the Republican has made inspection of the relief goods stored in the McDonald warehouse, for his own information and for the information of the readers of this paper. Herbert J. Waters, who has charge of these goods, kindly acted as pilot and pointed out the goods in store.

As stated by us yesterday, there are some two carloads of clothing in the warehouse, part of which is new and part of which is so badly worn as to be of little value. All of this clothing was fumigated last spring and put away in boxes, after the authorities at San Francisco had refused to receive the same. In fact some boxes of clothing bear the name and address of Mayor Schmitz, showing that it had first been sent to the metropolis and forwarded from there to this city.

In the stock of groceries we found more than two carloads of flour, 3500 pounds of salt pork, about 30 sacks of beans, 9 cases and eight barrels of coffee, half a wagon load of sardines, an equal amount of hominy, baked beans in tins, canned corn, 1300 pounds of sugar, a great quantity of condensed milk and soap enough to supply this city a year or more. Many other kinds of groceries are held in like or nearly like quantities.

Mr. Waters receives $75 per month for managing the business and the warehouse storage bill is $25 per month, making $100 per month paid out of the relief funds sent to this city.

We are curious to know the time this condition of affairs is going to continue? How long does the management of this business intend to conduct a clothing and grocery concern? At the rate these goods are going and have been taken the past three or four months the business will last a dozen years or more.

We are not disposed to find fault with what is doing in this matter. It is enough for the present to state the conditions as they exist. The whole matter is in the hands of the city authorities. If it is well done they deserve commendation.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 6, 1906

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