Everyone’s endured a few bad houseguests, but none so horrible I considered attacking them with an iron pipe or hog-tying them with bailing wire. Well, not many.

Both of these odd stories from 1907 leave the reader hungry for additional details. In one tale, a stranger appears at a ranch near Cotati, where he’s welcomed to supper. Some time later, he “acted like a crazy man” and it was decided he must be tied up. The incident would be unusual enough if it just ended there, but the guest then “gnawed the rope in two as a rat would have done” and instead of quietly running away like a sensible maniac, he draws attention to his lack of bondage and is again tied up, this time with wire.

The other vignette has Mr. William Miller at the home of his sister in Guerneville. Allegedly caught peeping through a keyhole, sister Bertha “struck Miller across the head with a piece of iron and laid open his scalp.” Her husband then joined in and “finished the job she had auspiciously begun,” leaving Miller badly injured. Left unanswered is what Miller saw that drove the pair to beat him so brutally. Was he peeping at his sister, her husband, or the pair of them, behind that closed door?


Constable Samuel J. Gilliam went over to Guerneville Saturday to arrest Clyde and Bertha Ayers, husband and wife, on the charge of assault on the person of one William Miller. According to the story as related here, Miller is accused of peeping through a keyhole and this is alleged to have been the trouble. He is related to the persons who beat him, being a brother of Mrs. Ayers. When the Peeping Tom tactics were divulged Mrs. Ayers is said to have struck Miller across the head with a piece of iron and laid open his scalp, after which the husband of the woman finished the job she had auspiciously begun. Miller was in a bad state as the result of his beating. He denies the peeping portion of the story.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 6, 1907
Raised Rough House at Nesbit Ranch on Cotati

H. Canevascini made a rough house at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Nesbit on the Cotati rancho Sunday evening and was with difficulty restrained from doing harm to the people there. He acted like a demented man and for a time Mr. and Mrs. Nesbit and others had a tussle to prevent being injured by the man. Canevascini jumped over the fence of the county jail Satuday while he was supposed to be sawing wood there and made his way under cover of darkness out of town. He was a trusty [sic].

When the man appeared at the Nesbit ranch he was recognized at once as a Petaluma man, and was given his supper and a hearty welcome. Later when he acted like a crazy man the men folks at the ranch had a hard time to subdue him. The cook at the ranch knocked him down with a chair and then his hands and feet were tied with bailing rope. The man gnawed the rope in two as a rat would have done, and it was found necessary to bind his hands with bailing wire which he could not gnaw.

Early Monday morning he was taken to Petaluma jail in this bound condition and was alleged to be insane. He will be returned to the county jail.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 18, 1907

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Nothing screams elegance more than a string orchestra tucked behind the potted palms in the library.

The year 1907 was probably the last that Mattie Oates was so active in Santa Rosa’s elite society circle, hosting at least four gatherings at (what would become known as) Comstock House. The first was the grandest of all; a reception for two young women where a “stringed orchestra conceal from view by palms and other greenery, discoursed sweet music all afternoon, as the guests crowded the spacious rooms to be welcomed.” The “orchestra” was most likely a string quartet, given the size of the library, but it was a big step up from a record on the Victrola or a local girl whistling, which was the musical entertainment during the Oates’ 1905 housewarming.

This afternoon reception in mid May was to welcome two young women in town to visit relatives. The accounts of the party mention that Mattie had the help of a number of young women (a “bevy of pretty girls will also assist in the dining room,” wrote the Press Democrat’s society columnist), which were mostly the same 10-12 unmarried ladies that were regulars at parties for Anna May Bell, who was something of a godchild to the Oates.

Both of the young women honored at the party had families that were much in the newspapers at the time. Nineteen year-old Helen Chaffee was the daughter of Major General Adna Chaffee, who had retired the year before as Army Chief of Staff, having led troops in every U.S. military campaign in the latter half of the 19th century. A few years after the party, Helen became active in the Christian Science church, becoming President of The Mother Church for a year in 1947. She married at least twice, her last husband being Captain Alcott Farrar Elwell, son of renowned American sculptor Francis Edwin Elwell. (Her husband’s unusual first name was in tribute to his grandmother, Louisa May Alcott.)

Just a few days after this party, the other woman would be newsworthy for a more sordid reason, as her family landed center stage of one of the great scandals of that year. Dorothy (“Dot”) Pond was 31 and had married into a prestigious San Francisco family; her father-in-law was mayor of the city from 1887 to 1891 and ran for governor. But even while Dot was listening to the “sweet music all afternoon” at Comstock House, her brother-in-law, Edward – invariably described by the newspapers as a “prominent clubman” – had just gone missing, leaving $75,000 in debts (about $2 million today). Dot’s husband, a realtor, was left responsible to sort out the mess. “My brother is not a strong man,” he told the San Francisco Call in a front-page story a couple of weeks after the Santa Rosa party, vowing all creditors would be paid “although it may take a little time.” Edward was not heard from again (as far as I can tell), although there was a report that he later committed suicide in Los Angeles, which the family denied.

Thanks to Kurt Morris, researcher at The Mary Baker Eddy Library for details on Helen Chaffee’s role in The First Church of Christ, Scientist

Mrs. James Wyatt Oates will entertain at her pretty home on Healdsburg avenue next Wednesday afternoon in honor of Mrs. Samuel Pond and Miss Helen Chaffee. The latter is the daughter of General Adna R. Chaffee, and is visiting her relatives, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Edwards. Mrs. Pond was formerly Miss Dot Ames.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 8, 1907

… Mrs. James Wyatt Oates has issued cards for a large reception to be given Wednesday afternoon between the hours of three and six, in honor of Mrs. Samuel Pond (nee Dorothy Ames) of San Francisco and Miss Chaffee of Los Angeles…A bevy of pretty girls will also assist in the dining room.

– Society Gossip by Dorothy Anne, Press Democrat, May 12, 1907

…The beautiful Oates residence was the scene of a brilliant reception last Wednesday afternoon upon which occasion Mrs. James Wyatt Oates charmingly entertained in honor of Mrs. Samuel Pond of San Francisco and Miss Helen Chaffee of Los Angeles. Under the supervision of Miss Blanche Hoffer the reception room had been effectively decorated with great bunches of pink hawthorne for the occasion, which made an artistic setting for the receiving party. In the library La France roses combined with delicate greenery formed the pretty decorative features, while in the dining room old-fashioned single yellow roses, used in great profusion, added to the splendor of the scene. The spacious hall, lighted by the soft colors cast by the sunshine though the large stained glass cathedral window, and had beautifully decorated with Shasta daisies, delicate bamboo, and large, red amaryllis lilies. After having met the guest of honor and spent an enjoyable time in social conversation and in listening to the music of a stringed orchestra, the guests were invited to the spacious dining room where elaborate refreshments were served. Receiving with Mrs. Oates were Mrs. S. S. Pond of San Francisco, Miss Helen Chaffee of Los Angeles, Mrs. S. S. Solomon, Mrs. James R. Edwards, Mrs. M. L. McDonald Jr., Mrs. Henry G. Hahman, Mrs. S. K. Dougherty, Mrs. William Martin, Mrs. Mary B. Marshall, Mrs. Charles Dwinell, Mrs. John P. Overton, Mrs. B. W. Paxton, Mrs. Julia Jordan, Mrs. Leslie Johnson, Mrs. Park Cunningham, Miss Helen Overton. Assisting Mrs. Oates were Miss Edith McDonald, Miss Bessie Woodward, Miss Irma Woodward, Miss Beatrice Overton, Miss Rena Edwards, Miss Zana Taylor, Miss Adelaide Parsons, Miss Nelly Hall, Miss Blanche Hoffer and Miss Jean Geary.

– Society Gossip by Dorothy Anne, Press Democrat, May 19, 1907

The reception given by Mrs. James Wyatt Oates at her beautiful home on Mendocino avenue last Wednesday afternoon between the hours of three to six, in honor of Miss Helen Chaffee of Los Angeles, and Mrs. Samuel Pond of San Francisco, was a large and brilliant social affair. The rooms were made to look very attractive by being beautifully decorated for the occasion, and noticeable among the flowers used in carrying out the decorative scheme were a number of Burbank’s most exquisite creations, that had been sent as gifts to Miss Chaffee, one of the fair guests of honor. A stringed orchestra conceal from view by palms and other greenery, discoursed sweet music all afternoon, as the guests crowded the spacious rooms to be welcomed by the receiving party, given an opportunity of meeting the guests of honor, and later being served to delicious refreshments in the dining room by a bevy of charming young ladies. The gowns of the hostess, guests of honor and the ladies assisting in receiving were elegant in texture, color and design, and the most elaborate to be worn here at any social function given this season. Mrs. Oates, who is one of our most charming society women, was assisted in receiving by the following ladies…

– Our Social Affairs by Madame Trice, Santa Rosa Republican, May 18, 1907

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The first anniversary of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake passed with little notice, except for a souvenir section in the Press Democrat, offering a facsimile of their two-page letterpress edition that appeared the day after the disaster. The grand speeches would have to wait until 1908, with the laying of the new court house cornerstone.

There was, however, an all-time great prank that day, and a couple of months later the City Council finally commissioned the gravestone for the unknown dead, bringing to a close the business of the earthquake fund committee. Unfortunately, this also closed the door on any hope that the committee might produce a complete account of all those killed in the tragedy.


While remarkable activity has been displayed here during the past year is the work of rebuilding, the year to come promises to show even more satisfactory results. The coming year will see the completion of most of the larger and more pretentious buildings now under way, and also the beginning of many others. Among the former may be mentioned the New Occidental and The Overton hotels, the Masonic Temple, the Santa Rosa and Exchange Banks, the Shea and the Carithers blocks; while the latter list will include the new Government postoffice, the county court house, the Odd Fellows building and the Brush-Keegan and Todd blocks, in addition to several others. When one stops to consider that just a year ago today the entire business portion of Santa Rosa was mass of ruins, the great work that has been accomplished during the past twelve months appears little less than marvelous. But before another year has been around we will have a “New Santa Rosa” in fact as well as in name and will be a far larger and finer city than before.

– Press Democrat editorial, April 18, 1907
The Souvenir Edition

Thursday the Santa Rosa Press Democrat came out with ten pages, two pages being replete with half tones and descriptive matter telling of the progress made by the City of Roses since the fire and earthquake of a year ago. The paper also contained a souvenir in the form of a reproduction of the Press Democrat on the day following the quake, April 19th. That issue was of but two pages, three columns to the page, and contained a list of the dead and injured, as well as other distressing news of the disaster. – Cloverdale Reveille.

– Press Democrat, April 21, 1907


At the meeting of the Council last night the special committee were empowered to have a monument erected over the last place of the unknown dead, victims who perished in the disaster of April, 1906, and whose remains repose in a large grave in the local cemetery. A neat monument will be set up and will have a concrete base that will cover the entire top of the grave, with a coping around it. The monument and coping will cost $375. Kinslow Brothers will do the work.

– Press Democrat, June 19, 1907

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