In the upside-down legal views of 1907 Santa Rosa, some acts considered child abuse weren’t, and acts not viewed as abuse of children were truly criminal. (Got that?)

In the first story below, a warrant was issued for a man who whipped a horse – but his crime was cussing within earshot of women and children, not the horsewhipping. As mentioned here before, “using profane and vulgar language in the presence of children” was even considered a more serious crime than child neglect.

The other item finds a child molester held for trial on charges of lascivious conduct. That the case reached Superior Court was unusual; in 1906, another offender was told to get out of town by the police, and a Justice of the Peace gave a “hugger” just six months in county jail for “indecent exposure and making improper proposals to young girls” (MORE).

As a side note, the editors of the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican should be commended for publishing these stories, and particularly for naming the offenders. Some newspapers in that era had a policy of ignoring sexual abuse crimes against children; a few years before, The New York World – probably the most sensationalist newspaper in the history of America – pointedly refused to print a story about the molestation of a 6 year-old girl that appeared on front pages of other papers. In a 1903 speech, NY World publisher Joseph Pulitzer said that the press should not “offend the good taste or lower the moral tone” and that “frankness should be linked with decency” – yet in the very next breath defended his paper’s “long and dramatic accounts of murders, railroad wrecks, fires, lynchings, political corruption, embezzlements, frauds, graft, divorces, what you will.”


A warrant has been issued against Tom Samuels, charging him with having used vulgar and profane language in the presence of women and children. Officer I. N. Lindley swore to the complaint, and an additional one of cruelty to animals may be placed against the young man.

It is alleged that while Samuels was driving along Fifth street Saturday evening the horse became unruly and he began to beat it with a whip. A protest from those who witnessed the action is declared to have brought forth an avalanche of profanity and a language which was decidedly more expressive than elegant. Samuels has so far evaded capture.

– Santa Rosa Republican, July 6, 1907

At a preliminary examination held in Justice Atchinson’s court on Saturday morning [after] an elderly man, named Joseph Dunlap, confessed that he was guilty of lascivious conduct towards a little girl. He was held for trial in the Superior Court, and he has announced his willingness to enter a plea of guilty when he comes up before the higher tribunal.

The man could not give bail and was returned to jail. While he only admits that he acted improperly towards one little girl it is alleged that this is not true.

– Press Democrat, April 21, 1907

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