Who forgets those wonderful summers of their childhood? Carefree days stealing chickens, escaping from jail, attempting armed robbery, hustling stolen eggs, and so much more. Ah, youth!

Or so it was in Santa Rosa during 1907, when rarely a week went by without multiple stories in the papers about hometown hoodlums. Some lowlights:

* Three boys who were in the county jail escaped from the slammer when adult inmates overpowered the jailer. The boys – who took the jail keys with them – were caught near Sebastopol, the trio riding a stolen horse

* A (different) group of three boys waved a gun in an attempt to stop the driver of a buggy on Bennett Valley Road

* A gang of four boys were busted for habitual chicken snatching. Raiding backyard henhouses all over Santa Rosa, their dog herded chickens toward the waiting boys who stuffed the birds into sacks

* The Mayer Gang – average age 13 – had a stolen egg racket, sometimes getting them from the grocer and billed to the Mayer’s family account, then selling the eggs to a restaurant for less than they cost

Robbery, arson, burglary, hookey playing and a 15 year-old girl accused of “immorality” were among the other misdeeds, and by mid-summer both Santa Rosa papers were writing off kids as young as 10 year-old Henry Saunders as “incorrigibles,” most of them destined to be sent to “the Aid.”

That would be “The Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society,” a San Francisco institution for boys “not sufficiently wayward to require assignment to the reform school, and too hard to manage to be placed in family homes or orphanage.” In the view of the PD, it turned scofflaws into good citizens:

There are not a few instances of boys who have been sent to “the Aid” ragged and penniless, ill-mannered and dirty, and unknown to schools or to soap and water, who have been discharged at the termination of their commitments with as much as $100 in cash, a good suit, an elementary knowledge of the three R’s, and a quite comprehensive understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and every prospect of becoming useful members of society.

Quoted in a 1915 book on child welfare, Aid Society superintendent George C. Turner mentioned nothing about education beyond the importance for the children to have an “appreciation of the value of money” earned through labor. “Industrial and economic training is the need; and that in my judgment can best be obtained in the factory, the store, and the shop.” Work was also necessary because children were expected to pay for the pleasure of living in a shelter, but Turner stressed that the boarding fee should be low enough so “the boy or girl can keep properly clothed, and have a little for pleasure.”

With that philosophy, there’s a blurry line between providing helpful vocational education and operating a temp agency for child labor. We don’t know whether “the Aid” hired out the children for domestic help or farm work, although a similar organization, the Catholic “Youths’ Directory” in San Francisco was doing exactly that, as discussed in an earlier essay. But it’s well documented that the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society had a long-standing relationship with Barlow and other Sebastopol berry growers, who relied upon the shelter to provide cheap field labor.

About 100 boys – some as young as seven, according to an approving Press Democrat transcribed below – were paid four cents a box for picking the berries, which the growers sold wholesale for a neat 200% profit. Other boys worked in local canneries, with all of the youths living the summer in a tent city on the Barlow ranch, two miles north of Sebastopol.

(RIGHT: Aid Society boys in the dining tent on the Barlow ranch. Another image can be seen in an earlier essay. Photo courtesy “Child Welfare Work in California“)

The PD painted the operation as a kind of idyllic scout camp (“boys at the Barlow ranch enjoy outing, pick berries, earn money, and acquire habits of industry among pleasant scenes,” read one headline), but a couple of years earlier the newspaper described boys trying to escape, with local police dragging them back in handcuffs to collect a ten-dollar bounty for each kid. Again in 1907, the cops were on the lookout for a pair of escapees from their erstwhile bucolic frolic. “The boys’ hands will be found scratched and stained from the berries,” the paper helpfully tipped off would-be bounty hunters.


Three San Francisco youths, named James Foster, Antonio Mazza and J. Carbauch, stole a $300 horse owned by Elisha Shortridge, of Pocket canyon, and when arrested by City Marshal Fred Matthews of Sebastopol they were all three riding Dobbin who was making time at the rate of a slow jog trot. The officer brought all three lads over to the county jail.

District Attorney Lea has heard statements from the boys and has ascertained that two of them have done time with the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society and he hird had escaped after having been sent to the same institution. From what he learned of the characters of the lads they are bad ones.

– Press Democrat, June 5, 1907

The three lads who rode a horse away from a pasture near Forestville last Sunday and were arrested in Sebastopol, were to have been turned over to the officers of the juvenile court in San Francisco Saturday, but owing to the fact that they took part in the jail break Friday night, they will be detained here until after this matter is straightened out. The boys are undoubtedly bad little characters. The mother of the youngsters arrived from the city Thursday evening and admitted to the officers that she is aware that her son is not of the best.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 8, 1907

While returning to this city Friday night on the Bennett Valley road not far from the Catholic cemetery, Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Pedersen were held up by three boys who were traveling along the road in a wagon. Mr. Pedersen was driving his buggy horse at the time and the animal was coming along the road at a lively gait, and when one of the youths pointed a gun at the Pedersens and ordered them to stop, the horse failed to obey the summons and nothing more was heard of the youthful highwaymen. It was though when the report was first brought to town that they were the boys who had escaped from the county jail, but this was a mistake.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 8, 1907

Youngsters and Small Dog Have Been Following a Lively Profession for Sometime

Truant Officer James Samuels took a quartette of boys to District Attorney Clarence Lea’s office on Monday afternoon. The lads have been following, it is alleged, a systematic plan of chicken stealing in different sections of the city. Their plan of campaign has been followed with considerable success. Their chief stock in trade in the pursuit of thievery has been a small well-trained dog, Officer Samuels says. The dog would invade yards and roosts and frighten chickens in the direction of the boys who would capture them and put them in sacks. So far no complaints have been lodged against the gang.

– Press Democrat, June 12, 1907

The case of two youths, who have not been attending school and who took a couple of chickens recently, was before Judge Emmet Seawell Friday. The court continued the matter until Monday to make some inquiries into the case. Judge Seawell said there was nothing vicious about the actions of the two boys, John and Henry Robinson, so far as he could see, but that he was not satisfied with the environment of the boys and that they should be attending school instead of being allowed to roam at will, and particularly without restraint at nights. The court wants to ascertain if the moral influence exerted on the boys is what is should be.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 14, 1907

Henry and John Robertson, two boys who were recently mixed up in chicken stealing in this city, were on Monday ordered committed to the care of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco. The lads will there be given an opportunity to start anew and learn a trade and otherwise equip themselves for life if they show the disposition to do so.

– Press Democrat, June 18, 1907


Complaint was filed in the Superior Court Monday by H. M. Le Baron of Valley Ford, charging Ethel Saunders, age 15, and Henry Saunders, age 10, with being incorrigibles. The complaint declares that the children are under bad influences when with their mother and that they have no father. Mrs. E. R. Saunders is said to be a woman of bad character and her children allowed to run wild. The boy is accused of stealing and the girl with immorality. The Court will hear their cases and probably send them both to the reform school.

– Press Democrat, July 9, 1907

The two young men, Rogers and Halleck, who were recently arrested at Camp Meeker for robbery and arson, will probably be allowed to enjoy all the fruits of their crimes. A sister of young Rogers arrived here from San Francisco this morning and at the county jail told her brother that his folks would take no part in the matter. The young man pleaded for assistance, but the girl told him that the best place for him was in the jail, as then his parents would not have to worry about his whereabouts. It seems that the relatives have decided to let the young chaps sweat it out along their own line.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 14, 1907


Will Mayer, the 13 year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. John Mayer, was taken into custody yesterday shortly before noon by chief of Police Rushmore and Officer Boyes as incorrigible. It is claimed that he has been stealing numerous articles from residents in the northern part of the city. He refused to answer questions and was locked up.

Late in the afternoon J. L. and Will Allen 12 and 14 year old, were taken to the police station and thoroughly questioned. They admitted having been involved in a number of scrapes with young Mayer and told of the petty crimes committed. Mayer when cornered would admit his part, but denied everything as long as possible. No decision was reached as to what would be done in the case.

– Press Democrat, July 27, 1907

A company of boys composed of Will Mayer, J. L. and Will Allen were arrested Friday by Chief of Police Rushmore and Officer Boyes for stealing chickens and eggs. Young Mayer is about 13 years old, while his companions are 12 and 14 years old respectively. The boys have been doing a regular business along the creek bank and in the yards of a number of residents of this city. One instance is given where one of the boys went to a store and purchased eggs at 30c a dozen, having charged them to his parents, and then going with them to the Jap restaurant and selling the hen fruit for 20 cents.

The officers are puzzled to know what to do with the chaps. Young Mayer has given them trouble for several months past, particularly in playing hookey from school, and he and his companions are considered almost incorrigibles.

Will Mayer was taken before Judge Emmet Seawell Saturday morning and after a thorough examination the boy was committed to the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco until the further pleasure of the court. The young man was very reserved and indifferent until the court passed sentence upon him. He then broke down and begged to be given another chance and he would prove that he could be as good as any body. He then wanted to know if he could come home in August in time for the opening of school here and the court said he would see about it.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 27, 1907
Rogers and Hollett to Be Examined Soon

The information charging Roswell P. Rogers and Vernon Hollett, the San Francisco boys with grand larceny, was dismissed before Judge Emmet Seawell Wednesday morning. Later Deputy Sheriff Donald McIntosh swore to complaints charging the youths with burglary. They are the lads arrested at Camp Meeker, who have confessed to burglary, incendiarism and other crimes.

The boys will be given a preliminary examination before Justice A. J. Atchinson in a few days on the burglary charge. They have confessed the crime and there is no doubt but that they will be given a good long term in the penitentiary, for the matter will be presented to the court in such matter will be presented to the court in such manner as to get evidence of the arson charge against them into the record. The maximum penalty is fifteen years.

Rogers and Hallett were arraigned before Justice Atchinson late Wednesday afternoon and their case was set for trial Saturday morniing. Rogers declared he wanted time to write his father and have the latter come here and secure an attorney to represent him and his companions in crime.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1907

Boys Run Away

William States, age 17, and Claude Chisister, age 14, two boys from the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society engaged in picking berries at Barlows near Sebastopol, have run away and the police and sheriff have been requested to assist in recapturing them. The boys’ hands will be found scratched and stained from the berries.

– Press Democrat, August 2, 1907

Enjoy Outing, Pick Berries, Earn Money, and Acquire Habits of Industry Among Pleasant Scenes

The boys at the Barlow berry farm have been picking seventy crates a day of the blackberries, raspberries and Loganberries that constitute almost the entire crop of 160 acres. This is the height of the season for blackberries, which will close in less than a month, although the “season” is over there will be work for 20 or 25 late-stayers to gather the fruit that ripens late.

The boys at this farm are those from the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco–“the Aid,” as the boys themselves call it for short. There are nearly 100 of them at the berry farm, and their ages range from 7 to 16. Most of them have been placed in care of “the Aid” for reason of moral delinquencies of various sorts; some of them are there because they have no parents to care for them, or have parents who are unable, unwilling, or unfit.

But nearly every boy in the camp has “done something” which is regarded as reprehensible by those who best know what boys should or should not do.

The superintendent of the camp, George C. Turner, denies that he has any “bad boys” in his industrial and industrious army. “Simply abnormal,” is the way Mr. Turner describes them. Truth to tell, there are some quite serious offenses in the catalogue of their crimes–offenses of whose gravity the offenders themselves have almost no conception. These reflect the influence of evil surroundings, and also make clear the good that “the Aid” does. In surrounding these boys with other atmosphere than that of the jails which would otherwise be their abodes.

Many and many a mischievous boy has become vicious and vile because he was sent to jail for some boyish mischief whose character and extend he did not comprehend. Many and many a mischievous boy has been turned from this course by the good influence of “the Aid”–not only boys, but girls, too; but there are not but boys at Barlow’s.

The boys are paid four cents a box for picking berries. Some of them save as much as $50 during the berry season, but $25 is more common. There is a wide range in the varying degrees of skill and industry. They are allowed to spend the money for themselves, subject, of course, to some degree of direction by the officers of “the Aid.”

There are not a few instances of boys who have been sent to “the Aid” ragged and penniless, ill-mannered and dirty, and unknown to schools or to soap and water, who have been discharged at the termination of their commitments with as much as $100 in cash, a good suit, an elementary knowledge of the three R’s, and a quite comprehensive understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and every prospect of becoming useful members of society.

– Press Democrat, August 3, 1907

What the Youngsters Have Made by Picking Berries and Working in Cannery

Next Thursday the Aid Society boys, who have been camped on the Barlow ranch two miles north of Sebastopol for the past three months, will fold their tents and return to San Francisco.

A few figures regarding the work that has been done by these boys since they came to Sebastopol early last June are given. In the party there are 130 boys and they have gathered the berry crop of 90 acres. Of this area 75 acres belong to Mrs. Barlow, 10 acres to W. J. Roaf, and 5 acres to William Taylor. The total number of trays picked on the 90 acres is 50,000. This is equal to 250,000 pounds, or 125 tons. The amount paid for picking was $16 per ton, or $2,000 for ninety acres. The berries were sold for $50 per ton, leaving the grower a balance of $34, out of which he had to pay for cultivation and other work.

In addition to picking berries the boys did various other things. For three weeks past a number of the lads have been working in the Sebastopol cannery and they have drawn in wages $400 per week.

Superintendent Turner informed a Sebastopol Times representative Friday that the earning of the boys since coming to Sebastopol three months ago amount to about $3,500.

– Press Democrat, September 8, 1907

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If any good came from the 1906 earthquake, it was that Santa Rosa finally fixed its dysfunctional water system. Although the town was surrounded on all sides by fresh water (river, laguna, aquifer, even large creeks running through the center of town), the stuff that came out of the faucet was always somewhat foul, and sometimes scarce.

(RIGHT: Postcard of Santa Rosa Creek in the early 20th century, probably the railroad bridge between Third St. and Sebastopol Ave.)

Part of the problem stemmed from the town having both privately-owned and public water utilities with separate pipes running down all the main streets. City water was free, but “hard” and tasted of sulphur. Still, they couldn’t keep up with demand because there weren’t enough wells and the steam engine pumps were underpowered. There was also the problem that about one-fourth of the water disappeared somewhere in the pipes, either from leaks or illegal hookups, so the supply was perpetually rationed. Water from the old McDonald system was “soft,” and considered good tasting, even though water pressure was much lower. This water came from Lake Ralphine, which was found to be contaminated with hog and human waste (maybe it was E.coli that gave the water its je ne sais quoi). Caught in the middle between these two “just good enough” companies was the public, stuck with choosing between bad and worse. The McDonald system had no incentive to upgrade its service – and indeed, continued to operate through the Roaring Twenties – while the city water works had trouble raising bond money for improvements as long as there was a competitor in the private sector. And it surely did not help in the early 20th century that Thomas J. Geary was wobbling between jobs as city attorney and lawyer for the McDonald water system, where he argued that the city water works should be shut down. For more on the background on Santa Rosa’s water wars, see this earlier essay or read John Cummings’ paper, “Ample and Pure Water for Santa Rosa, 1867-1926” (PDF).

A 1905 bond raised enough for basic improvements in the city-owned water works, and the benefits appeared in 1907, when the reservoir was finally patched and covered, a new well drilled, and high powered electric pumps replaced the antique steam engines. Street repairs after the earthquake also fixed many of those leaky pipes.

In the 1907 items below, Santa Rosans are reminded that the 19th century lawn and garden watering rules are still in effect: if you lived west of Mendocino Avenue you could hose the garden only after 5PM, while neighbors on the east side could water their watermelons between 4 and 8PM. But the water still was hard and sulphurous, so on warm summer afternoons the sprinklers danced wild over Santa Rosa lawns with a golden spray and a faint stench of eggs gone rotten.


Until after the completion of the repairs being made to the reservoir, which will not be longer than twenty or thirty days, the hours for irrigating in this city will be strictly enforced.

All members of that section east of Mendocino avenue and Main street will irrigate in the evening between 4 and 8 o’clock. All residents of that portion of the city lying west of Mendocino avenue and Main street will irrigate between 5 and 9 o’clock on the forenoons. The police department will see that the rules regarding irrigation are rigidly enforced.
Street Superintendent.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 9, 1907
Electric Pumps Will Be Used All Day Saturday

Manager Ralph L. Van der Naillen, of the Santa Rosa Lighting Company, will use his big electric pumps on Saturday and give the people of the city a service from them and the reservoir for that day to show what these massive pumps will do when they begin operations in the near future. The city’s pumps, which have seen service for many years will be out of commission on Saturday. They will be used again, however, on Monday, and be kept in use until such time as the city repairs its main leading from the pumps to the city’s reservoir.

At the present time there are three leaks in this main line, and one is a serious one. It permits almost as much water to go to waste as is pumped in to the reservoir. Despite this big waste Manager Van der Naillen declares his pumps will be able to fill the reservoir Saturday. The people will be given a demonstration on that day of what the water system will be like when these pumps of the electric company are finally placed in commission to run permanently.

The electric pumps are giving perfect satisfaction, and if the supply of water at the pumping station will hold out it is believed that the troubles of the city with furnishing sufficient water will be at an end.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 14, 1907

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A year after the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake, the insurance situation was turning ugly. As earlier discussed here, fewer than ten companies paid their losses in full, some insurers declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying a cent, and some companies dragging their heels for months before striking deals to pay a fraction of what was really due. But apparently only the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company truly played hardball, inviting some policy holders to sue them.

At least two Santa Rosa claims slogged through the courts for five years past the disaster – yet the record shows that the firm was highly esteemed for fairness after the San Francisco earthquake. The claims here hardly seem unique; the cases that reached the California Supreme Court both concerned disputes over whether the goods in a store were destroyed by fire in the moments before or after the building collapsed, a situation that the insurance companies surely faced in San Francisco as well.

So why did Connecticut Fire dig in over Santa Rosa’s claims? Maybe because they could. A report on San Francisco insurance settlements prepared for the SF Chamber of Commerce in November, 1906 (PDF) was considered the final word on the subject, and it praised Connecticut Fire as one of the very few “dollar-for-dollar” companies. There was also scant media attention given to the handful of still-unresolved Santa Rosa cases. Between 1907 and 1912, I can find only five small items in major California papers about those ongoing legal battles.

A few weeks after the quake, Connecticut Fire Insurance Company president John D. Browne proclaimed, “All clearly Total Losses must be paid in full. We must retain our reputation for square dealing.” They did retain their reputation, but the courts had other views about their “square deals;” it appears that the company lost every appeal.


Five suits were commenced in the Superior Court of this county on Wednesday against the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company of Hartford, the company who refused to pay its losses in Santa Rosa at the time of the great fire last April. These are the first suits of like nature to be commenced in Santa Rosa.

The plaintiffs in the suits against the Connecticut and the amounts claimed are Naomi E. Davis, as executrix of the estate of H. S. Davis, $1,000; Max Rosenberg, $1,999; Frank C. Loomis, $1,000; O. Fountain and Santa Rosa Savings Bank, $1,000; R. C. Moodey, $500.

The complaints recite that, the defendant company has refused to pay the claims made against it by the plaintiffs. The Hon. T. J. Geary is the attorney for all the plaintiffs.

– Press Democrat, April 4, 1907

Trader’s of Chicago Pays 70 Cents on the Dollar and German National 50 Cents

Attorney Thomas J. Geary, who has had charge of most of the local insurance cases growing out of the great fire of last April, has succeeded in arranging a settlement of the claims owed here by the Trader’s of Chicago and German National Insurance companies. The former pays 70 cents and the latter 50 cents. Among those who held polices…


– Press Democrat, April 10, 1907

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