Luther Burbank was Santa Rosa’s #1 booster – except for the year he joined reformers who called the town scandalous and controlled by a handful of political bosses.

“We fail to see how Mr. Burbank’s advice on political matters becomes of any particular importance,” sniffed Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley. “He has always represented himself as being too much engrossed with scientific matters to pay any attention to anything else, and has never before taken any part in public affairs.”

As with most everything else that appeared in the PD about the city elections of 1908, it was untrue. Three years earlier, Burbank was one of the founders of the “Good Government League,” which likewise wanted to clean up the town. The difference in 1908 was that the political field was wide open: No incumbents were running for office. Also, the reformers had a leader who was willing to confront Santa Rosa’s entrenched Old Guard and name names.

The reform party was now called the Municipal League, as introduced in part I of this series on the Santa Rosa city election of 1908. Apparently so frightened that the reformers might sweep into office, the main political parties decided to offer voters a Democratic-Republican “fusion” ticket – a move that only underscored the reformer’s point that a tight group of “bosses” really controlled the town.

Everyone in Santa Rosa knew about “bossism” because newspapers kept readers updated on the latest pre-trial developments in the Abe Ruef case. A year earlier, “Boss Ruef” had plead guilty to bribing the San Francisco Supervisors over utility and cable car deals, followed by indictments against him and his puppet mayor. Ruef tried to block the trial right up to the selection of the jury, arguing that the prosecutor had tricked him into incriminating himself. It was a surprisingly high profile legal fight, with probably everyone in town having strong opinions on the fairness of a trial for the confessed villain. (Sidenote: Santa Rosans didn’t view a fusion ticket as unusual because just such a ballot appeared in the 1905 San Francisco election, when the Dems and Repubs of that city joined forces in a failed attempt to block Ruef’s corrupt Union Labor party from winning.)

In Santa Rosa, the political jabbing was over candidates for mayor. Heading the fusion ticket was Chamber of Commerce president James Gray, who vowed to maintain the status quo. The reform mayoral candidate was Rolfe Thompson, a former D.A. with bonus points among reformers for being the lawyer who had recently won a lawsuit against prostitutes and their landlord. Most remarkable, Thompson called out the people who he said really ran Santa Rosa: State Senator Walter Price (R), Santa Rosa Fire Chief Frank Muther, brewer Joseph Grace, and Thomas Geary, who was currently city attorney.

Even immersed in early 20th century Santa Rosa history as I am, it’s difficult to grasp how these four were the triumvirate (+1) of evil. Muther’s day job was as the owner of a small downtown cigar store with a little rolling factory in the back room – hardly the profile of a kingmaker. Grace also seemed apolitical; during the 1905 Battle of Sebastopol Avenue, he meekly hunkered down lest he offend any beer drinkers. Of Price I know nothing (update here) but of the odious Geary, I’ll believe anything horrible. Besides being the author of the Chinese Exclusion Act when he was a Democratic congressman in 1892, he was the “top gun” attorney in the area and could be found representing the wealthiest private interests before he became city attorney, as when he tried to get Santa Rosa to abandon its municipal water system (he also argued the rich deserved more water because they paid more taxes).

But how far did Thompson really push the “bossism” analogy? He implied that Gray was merely a figurehead in his political newsletter, “The Municipal League,” which apparently presented a crossword puzzle where the solution for one line read


with only a tiny space to wedge in Gray’s name. Was he also hinting that he knew about Abe Ruef-style bribery of elected officials and secret backroom deals? Alas, we don’t know; no copies of the reformer’s newsletters from 1908 survive, and the Santa Rosa daily papers were hardly likely to mention allegations of serious crimes against their endorsed candidates.

Tells People What He Believes of Situation

Luther Burbank, the well known resident of the city, has issued the following statement to the voters. It came from Mr. Burbank on Wednesday morning and is published herewith”

“I believe that the time has come when our city affairs should be divorced from politics, and when citizenship should be placed above partisanship. Having read the platform and the statement of principles of the Municipal League, I wish to express my appreciation of the movement and my hearty endorsement of its candidates.

“I further urge my fellow citizens to give these men their unanimous support. Luther Burbank”

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 1, 1908

It is announced that Luther Burbank favors the election of the so-called Municipal League ticket, and in a signed statement he gravely directs all qualified voters to follow his lead.

We fail to see how Mr. Burbank’s advice on political matters becomes of any particular importance.

He has always represented himself as being too much engrossed with scientific matters to pay any attention to anything else, and has never before taken any part in public affairs.

It is very probable that the motive actuating Mr. Burbank in taking the stand he does is the same that both Mr. McMeans and Dr. Anderson admit actuates them–they all three live in that part of town.

– Press Democrat editorial, April 2, 1908

Thompson and McMeans Address Fourth Ward

A meeting, small in number at first, but large in enthusiasm, was held by the Municipal League at Germania Hall Wednesday evening, and was addressed by Rolfe L. Thompson and Alexander C. McMeans, candidates for mayor and councilman respectfully. Before the meeting closed the hall was well filled, including a number of ladies.

Professor McMeans was introduced by Chairman William R. Smith, the well-known pioneer and made a splendid speech. He declared that the laws of the city should be enforced or they were of no earthly good. The speaker declared he was not the nominee of the Ministerial Union, but that he represented the Municipal League, and that he accepted the nomination in the hope that if elected he might do something for the betterment of conditions in this city. The speaker read the application which saloon men have to sign before being allowed a liquor license, and then stated that women were permitted to conduct houses of prostitution without getting permission at a less cost than the saloon men were taxed. He declared the issue of prohibition was not before the people, neither was there any issue of saloon closing on Sunday or raising of liquor licenses. He declared if elected he would consider the wishes of the people and all things and if the requisite number asked that the question of licensing saloons be placed on the ballot, he would be in favor of permitting people to vote on the question.

Rolfe L. Thompson made a ringing speech, in which he spoke plainly regarding his candidacy, and paid a high complement to Professor McMeans. He declared that the people of the fourth ward had an honor in being permitted to vote for such a man, and that no fault could found with his character. He said no better man could be found in the city for the position of councilman, and predicted a great majority for him at the polls.

Mr. Thompson said at the outset he wanted the people to know exactly where we stood on all questions that he would be pleased to answer any questions regarding his stand. He declared if elected mayor he would administer city affairs fairly and impartially, and give a square deal to all the people. In appointments and in the employment of labor he said he would be fair to all parties.

The speaker said he was representing up a movement of citizens of Santa Rosa for the best interests of the city, and was not representing any class, clique or boss. The people interested in this movement, he said, were of all classes, mechanics, builders, lawyers, professional men, merchants. He asserted that the movement emanated from a growing sentiment in Santa Rosa to get away from bossism, and to destroy partisanship here. The speaker said the fusion ticket was dominated by one lawyer, one cigar maker, one politician and one brewer, and that the ticket emanated from these bosses.

Mr. Thompson denied emphatically and in plain language that he was representing a “dry” town, or in any manner a prohibition issue, and said these things were not an issue in the campaign. “I have no intention if elected,” he stated, “to initiate any new legislation against the saloon.” At this juncture the speaker was interrupted with the information that some saloon men were with him and intended to support his candidacy. He remarked that he was glad, indeed, to know that some saloon men had realized their own interests in the matter, and that they had not been deceived by a little clique of politicians. Speaking further on the subject, Mr. Thompson said he intended to enforce the present laws on the statue books, and that he would simply carry out the wishes of the people. The speaker reiterated his belief that the money lying in the bank in the building fund and not drawing interest should be utilized at once to build a suitable fire department, and said he was against the purchase of other property when the city owned good lots and bonding the town for $75,000 when it could be avoided.


– Santa Rosa Republican, April 2, 1908

[Selection of remarks by James Gray at a rally:]
Ladies and gentlemen: I have been charged with being in league with and under the control of some terrible people, described as political bosses, Price, Muther, Grace and Geary. As to Price and Muther, Mr. Thompson can tell you a great deal more about them than I can, as until up to the date that he attempted to throw his party into the control of the Municipal League and the Ministerial Union, he was either under their employ or taking advice from them in all matters pertaining to politics.

As to Grace Brothers, as near as I can find out, they are conducting a legitimate business of manufacturing here. They are also conducting a creamery which is certainly a great benefit to Santa Rosa and the surrounding country; also an ice and cold storage plant which is used extensively in the storage and packing of fruit. They employ a large number of men supporting a great many families and are one of the institutions that help make Santa Rosa a live town.

I never had any business with them, but they have the reputation of being honorable business men who are received with their families in the best of society, in the homes of members of the Municipal League, and are recognized and taken by the hand by not only Mr. Thompson, but by members of the Ministerial Union. They have built up a large business which they are no doubt trying to protect. If they are taking any interest in the fight, it is for the purpose of protecting their business interests, and has nothing whatever to do with me. I do not see how they are to be blamed for this. If they expect any favors from me they will not get them any more than any other citizen interested in the growth and welfare of the town…

…As soon as it was noised about that I would be a candidate the Municipal League began preparations to make an aggressive campaign, and I must say they laid their plans carefully and have left no stone unturned to get a vote. After a great deal of thought and discussion they finally decided that their wisest political move would be to attack the present administration, make the present city administration as unpopular as possible and connect the present candidate with them. At Mr. Geary, on account of his prominence, they have directed most of the fire. I accepted the nomination because I thought that I could carry out plans that would benefit Santa Rosa…

…They started the movement with good intentions. They thought the Prohibition movement, which is likely to die out before it reaches Sonoma County, whose backbone is the production of hops and grapes, was a good thing. It was a prohibition movement pure and simple, and they should have stuck to their principles, but their leader and candidate for mayor is so carried away with the desire to be elected that he has forgotten his principles and is bowing down and soliciting votes of the interest that he had organized to fight.

We are all pledged to repeal the boarding house ordinance, and of course it will be done as soon as possible after those who are elected have taken office. But what will you do with the parties in dispute? Leave them in the lodging houses on Fourth street, where they were driven from the former from the Behmer house, where they have become a familiar sight to every shopper and mingle with the innocent stranger bringing his family here to locate? Drive them back to their old quarters to plague respectable residents of that part of town? At the most move them to some isolated spot? Or shall we take the advice of Saul’s Letter and cast a mantle of charity over the unfortunate creatures and try to reform them?


– Press Democrat, April 5, 1908

The League manipulators have had a great deal to say about “bosses,” apparently imagining the public would overlook the fact that the men who are most active in support of that organization themselves aspire to be bosses, by all the rules governing such propositions.

They have also indulged in uncalled for personalities and tried to appeal to individual likes and dislikes, regardless of facts. A case in point has been the amusing attempt to make a city attorney Thomas J. Geary an issue in the campaign. In an effort to secure the support of that gentleman’s political enemies, the charge has been made that in the event of Mr. Gray’s election he would be re-appointed to his present position, although Mr. Geary has repeatedly and publicly declared that under no consideration with the accept the appointment for another term, and most of the men who are making the charge know that owing to the pressure of other businesses he has wanted to resign for some time, and did prepare to give up the office last summer when Mayor Overton handed in his resignation, and was only prevented from doing so through the earnest solicitation of that gentleman and others wen public sentiment against allowing Mayor Overton’s resignation to be accepted was so strongly manifested. Having no particular interest in the campaign one way or the other, and having already stated his position, Mr. Geary suggested that we make some mention of the fact in the paper, but we declined to thus dignify the charge. Although Mr. Thompson has known the facts all along, he has continued to charge that “a vote for Mr. Gray is a voted to keep Mr. Geary in the city attorney’s office,” and as far as we know is still so charging.

One of the worst features of the present campaign has been the reckless hurling of charges broadcast effecting the reputation and character of the community. People all over the state have been led to believe that Santa Rosa is a grossly immoral place where crime and vice run rampant, and where only evil influences prevail. Great damage has been done Santa Rosa in this way, and it is likely we will feel the effects for many years to come. It would have been bad enough had any of the charge been true, but when we consider the fact that Santa Rosa is one of the cleanest and best-governed in towns in California, if not in the entire west, the full significance of this phase of the situation becomes even more apparent.

– Press Democrat editorial, April 5, 1908
Delivered at Pavilion Rink Monday Evening

“Every party is supposed to have a platform. Every voter should also have one of his own. Perhaps you would like a photograph of mine.

“I believe in justice to all. I am not a partisan not a politician, have no axe to grind, have no personal interests to boost, am not an expert at political mud throwing, generally mind my own business and rejoice in giving others the same privilege. As it happens I belong to no church, no saloon, no Ministerial Union, no brewery.

“Personal schemes, passion and prejudice should not be allowed to overshadow the public welfare, and any man or any party who, at any time or under any circumstances by threats, fraud, boycott, or any other form of coercion or deceit tries to influence the vote of another is not a true American. He is not a patriot. He is a relic of the dark ages and has not yet arrived. He is a back number and should be made to realize the fact by every intelligent. citizen’s vote.

“I prefer to think that every voter wishes to cast his vote for the best interests of Santa Rosa and to have every honest industry protected.

“The hobo, the hoodlum, the confidence man, the crook, the swindler, the gambler, the bully and the bum are not needed by Santa Rosa. All these tend to weaken the confidence of man in man which is the foundation of all prosperity. Talk is cheap, character counts. Every city should have, above all, good men to attended to its business affairs, men you can trust to hold your purse.

“I am not here to tell you how to vote. Some of the gentlemen whose names are on the fusion ticket are admirable neighbors and personal friends. I have no objection to them except that they are, in my opinion, on the wrong side and have the wrong kind of boosters behind them.

“My interest in the city, its people, its progress, is very natural as I was here at its birth, voted for its first mayor and city council and have continued to do so up to the present time.

“I endorse the Municipal League as a party–it has a right to live and if I shall be honored by giving it my vote tomorrow, whether the party wins or not, by voting as I think for the best interests of Santa Rosa. I, at least, have won. Count me for one.”

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 7, 1908

Read More


War makes for strange bedfellows, and in 1908 Santa Rosa, bedfellows were strange, indeed: The Democratic and Republican parties united to offer a single slate of candidates for mayor, council, and other elected city posts. These normally-bitter rivals joined forces to fight a common enemy: Reformers who wanted to clean up the town, starting with booting the good ol’ boys from power.

The deal for the “fusion” ticket was sealed during the simultaneous party conventions that March, with a delegate from each dashing back and forth to ensure that Santa Rosa voters would be offered the same wonderful “two party system” enjoyed in banana republics and better dictatorships. So close were the platforms of the two parties that you could not slip a playing card between them:

We earnestly recommend and favor the immediate repeal of the so-called boarding-house license…
We hearby pledge…to repeal the ordinance licensing houses of ill-fame…
We demand the payment of good wages for labor at Union rates and declare that eight hours shall constitute a day’s work; in all departments of the city government, and that all appointments and laborers be bonafide residents of this city… We hearby pledge…to protect the mechanics and laborers of the city, asking of them only a fair day’s work at union wages; giving preference in the employment of labor to the bonafide residents of this city…
We favor proper legislation to secure to our citizens abundant and wholesome free water for domestic use… We hearby pledge…to secure abundant free water for domestic use and a just and equitable distribution thereof…
We favor…the regulation of public service corporations to compel them to furnish to this city and its people proper and sanitary light and power, both gas and electric, at fair and reasonable rates. We hearby pledge…to compel public service corporations to furnish adequate telephone service and proper and sanitary light, heat and power, both electric and gas, at reasonable rates…

Aside from repeal of the unpopular law that had legalized and regulated prostitution, the Dem/Repub platforms could be summed up as a vote for business-as-usual. Heading their ticket as candidate for mayor was the quintessential insider: James H. Gray, developer, president of the Chamber of Commerce, and namesake of the town of Graton.

The reform mayoral candidate was Rolfe Thompson, a lawyer and former Deputy District Attorney. (Thompson would become Superior Court judge in 1920 and later be appointed to the state Supreme Court; when he left for that seat in 1929, his Superior Court judgeship was taken by a man named Hilliard Comstock.) Thompson was less specific about what he would do as mayor, except for one point that he repeated often: He would put an end to “bossism.” He maintained that Santa Rosa was being run by just four men – and he even had the temerity to call them out by name.

Thompson’s reform party was called the Municipal League, and will be explored in the following post. For the purpose of introduction, it’s only necessary to know that it was the descendant of the 1905 Good Government League. Also: Press Democrat editor Ernest L. Finley hated them with passion.

In the weeks before the April election, Finley wrote several lengthy editorials scourging the Municipal League. His main avenue of attack was to repeatedly accuse them of being puppets of “the church element,” and particularly a prohibition-seeking group called the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union. And truthfully, the Municipal League leaned towards being a neo-temperance party because Thompson took no position on alcohol; what the temperance movement wanted at the time was for elected officials to show willingness for prohibition to be put to a vote, as was about to happen in Healdsburg that April (the town elected to stay “wet”).

But Finley didn’t stop with insinuations that the Municipal League played footsie with prohibitionists; he wrote at length they were nay-sayers who sought to destroy Santa Rosa by questioning the status quo. Finley’s favorite mud-slinging gimmick was setting up straw-man arguments; when the Municipal League said that a vote for the fusion ticket was the same as “endorsing the present administration,” the Press Democrat editor pretended to misunderstand their allegory and dismiss it as “twaddle” because no one from the administration was running for reelection (the newspaper followed by boasting that the administration was composed of the finest, most unselfish men that could be found anywhere on the planet). When the Municipal League suggested the PD was “owned” by the “same men who aspire to own Santa Rosa,” Finley took the literal meaning in order to call them liars or fools for not knowing that Finley and his partner were the business owners.

Finley’s venom was also directed at the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union’s newsletter called “The Citizen.” Alas, no copies from that year appear to have survived (the county library has a couple of issues from 1909), so we’re left with the snippets and paraphrases that were used in PD editorials. It’s also regrettable that the Santa Rosa Republican didn’t call out the Press Democrat on its lies and misrepresentations, as it had in the political “flapdoodle” of the 1904 election. But the Republican did offer up a column by Tom Gregory describing the fusion conventions. Mostly written in heavy dialect (presumably to make it “humorous”), he drops the hick shtick at the end to make a telling point: “For years and years Santa Rosa has called for a non-partisan choice of city officers, and when the campaign came on the voters have lined up at the call of the bosses.”

Strong Platforms Are Adopted By Both Parties
Dr. J. W. Jesse Chairman at Democratic Gathering Where the Business of the Evening is Disposed of Rapidly and in Good Order

The Democratic convention was largely attended and was a thoroughly representative body. It met in Germania Hall, and harmony and good feeling predominated throughout this evening’s deliberations.

The convention was called to order by L. W. Juilliard, chairman of the democratic city Central committee…

…[A] conference had been held with a like committee from the Republican caucus, and as result of the meeting a plan had been suggested whereby the two parties might unite for the nomination of a single ticket. The plan, he said, was for the Democrats to name the candidate for Mayor, two councilmen and Recorder, and allow Republicans to select the nominees for Assessor, Clerk and two remaining councilmen. The principal object was to bury dissension.

F. J. Hoffman moved that the report of the committee be to be accepted and its action ratified. The motion was duly seconded and carried amid cheers and much applause…


The Republican city convention held last night at Trembley’s hall was one of most harmonious and enthusiastic of gatherings. With but one or two exceptions all the delegates were present as well as a large gathering of spectators and deep interest was taken in the proceedings.

Dr. S. S. Bogle called the convention to order and stated its objects… Judge Barham thanked the delegates for the honor conferred in electing him chairman and voiced a word of praise for the people of Santa Rosa, whom he said he loved better than ever for the splendid spirit they had exemplified in rebuilding the city after the earthquake. He also praised the banks of Santa Rosa for the financial assistance they had rendered in making rebuilding possible with so much alacrity. He complimented the Republican convention on the determination to display courage and be bold enough to present a ticket for election regardless of politics, and after indulging in some pleasantries regarding national politics this fall, he again congratulated the delegates and the Republican Party in being big enough in municipal affairs to rise above politics and name a good ticket with men who who fully realize the importance of their trust…

– Press Democrat, March 7, 1908
Allotment of Councilmen Bone of Contention

“That fusion idee has got into snaggy water,” observed the Up Town citizen. “It’s mighty unnatural fur them two ol’ parties to fall to lovin’ of each other all ter once. An’ th’ rank an’ file are a-askin’ what does th’ higher-ups of th’ scheme, who are mighty bizzy a-bringin’ on this combine goin’ to git out of it? Now that several candidates has pulled out of the Independents th’ Democrats are a-sayin’ to themselves, says they: ‘Why should we carry Republicans along; with all the Democrats off th’ Independent ticket we can put up a straight piece of paper an’ every Democrat in town will vote for it; we might as well have th’ mayor and all four councilmen instid of splitin’ up that bunch of jobs; th’ Indys and th’ Reps can’t fuse, they are so apart, an’ that leaves the Republicans with little change for th’ present an’ less hope fur th’ hereafter.’ Of course, th’ Reps don’t subscribe to that doctrin’, an’ they are hopin fur th’ present as well as th’ hereafter but they druther so many Republicans didn’t git on th’ Indy ticket.

Th’ Democratic secret meetin’ of delegates didn’t run on schedule time th’ other night. Somebody, accordin’ to program moved th’ chairman appoint one man from each ward to act as a committee to confer with like committe from th’ Republicans. Then a delegate who is from Kentucky and was in hot Goebel war there, moved th’ wards git their own representatives. This started trouble an’ in th’ scrap th’ chairman got tangled up in parly’ment’ry law an’ both motions was voted down. Then while they was all talkin’ about how it happened th’ chap from th’ ‘Dark an’ Bloody Ground’ got in his motion an’ it was adopted. Over in th’ Republican meetin’ at th’ same time th’ same protest came up, but it ended smoothly in th’ chair ‘pointin’ the representatives subject to ‘proval of th’ wards.

“Well, look at it any way, an’ th’ withdrawls changes matter some. Th’ Democrats tell everybody that that makes no difference, but th’ most innercent marine would not swaller such an anty-‘lection yarn. Th’ Republicans are still got their heads down sawin’ some purty knotty wood. They’ve got no time for public statements. Th’ makin’ up of th’ fusin ticket is a-worryin’ th’ management. Th’ Democrats want th’ mayor an three concilmen, an’ as they already have a holdover man on th’ council, this would give them three to th’ Republican three, with a Democrat mayor to kick off the tie that will always come up when a vote stands three to three. Reps want three new councilmen, which would put th’ Democratic legislative body of th’ city in th’ minority, a place where they say th’ Republicans orier be. But they’re leered th’ Reps will git mad, so durned mad that they’ll take the independent candidate after all.

“Some of the fellers who do a good deal of standin’ around on street corners are a-perfessin’ to enjoy th’ sight of the new candidate on th’ non-partisan ticket, but a lot of men who know things an’ think sometimes, see a hot fight ahead. Yesterday one of th’ most prominent Democrats in this city said to me, ‘For years and years Santa Rosa has called for a non-partisan choice of city officers, and when the campaign came on the voters have lined up at the call of the bosses. A bitter political fight was quickly on, making it hard to get the right kind of men to stand for the offices. When the whole city should be standing together working only for Santa Rosa, they have been arrayed in two political factions, battling over the old political issues that have descended from father to son down the line of years.”

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 6, 1908

Having floundered about until they themselves scarcely know where they stand; having advanced all their “arguments,” and without visible effect; and realizing that the tide is sitting against them stronger and stronger every day, the manipulations of the so-called Municipal League charge that a vote for the regular Democratic or Republican nominees is a voted “endorsing the present administration,” and appeal for support upon that ground.

Such talk is of course all nonsense. The outgoing administration has nothing whatever to do with the one that is about to come into power, and all sensible people realize it. Neither Mayor Overton nor any of the members of the present city council are up for re-election. James H. Gray is absolutely untrammeled and has publicly and repeatedly declared that no other consideration than that of the interests of the community as a whole will be allowed to influence his appointments. Under the circumstances the League’s latest appeal becomes mere twaddle.

But the supporters of the so-called Municipal League presume considerably upon the credulity and forgetfulness of the people when they advance arguments of the above nature as a reason for supporting the League ticket. The administration which is so soon to go out of power has in many respects been one of the best, if not the very best, Santa Rosa has ever known. More has been accomplished in less time and under greater difficulties than by any other similar body ever placed in control of affairs here.

Going back to four years ago, when the present administration was called into existence you’re reminded that the conditions were anything but what they should have been. The affairs of the municipality were in such shape, in fact, that our people had come almost unanimously to the opinion that it was time to turn over a new leaf and inaugurate a big change. It was seen that the sewer system would have to be extended to the water works further perfected and developed, new bridges constructed, and a large amount of work done upon the streets. This required funds and the only way to secure them was by bond issue.

To insure such a project carrying, it was realized that it would be necessary to have men of high standing in office, so that no one would question the fact that the funds, if voted by the people, would be honestly and judiciously expended. After great difficulty, John P. Overton, President of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa was finally induced to stand for the office of Mayor. With his assistance the consent of three other good men to run for councilmen was then secured. Nothing but the sense of duty induced any of the gentlemen to accept or stand for public office. All were busy men, whose time was valuable. Nevertheless, when finally made to see that their consent meant something to the community, and mighr contribute to the best of the great lover needs to be presented as candidates for there once desired and to it advancement, they agreed to allow their names to be presented as candidates for the offices named and to serve if the people so desired.

Mayor Overton was elected, together with an acceptable city council, and the bonds were voted by a large majority. Meters were provided, several miles of new mains laid, a number of new wells sunk, and finally, after a great deal for careful investigation, which included visits to a number of other cities and consultations with several eminent engineers, a plan was evolved whereby Santa Rosa’s water problem was at last solved.

[.. A lengthy tribute to their leadership on water, sewer and street improvements ..]

The awful havoc wrought by the earthquake and fire is something of which our people do not have to be reminded. The frightful scene of death and desolation that greeted us on the morning of April 18, less than two years ago, is still fresh in the minds of every living inhabitant. The “present administration” had been inducted into office only the night before. What a stupendous and appaling task was presented on the very first day of their official existence! Did the men whom the so-called Municipal League are now trying so hard to belittle shrink from their duty? Did they meet the trying task that was laid before them bravely, and as men, or otherwise?

Every reader knows only too well the story of the days and weeks and months that followed this, the greatest crisis and all the city’s history. Under the guidance and direction of the “present administration,” our dead were buried, the living fed and the widows and orphans provided for. In the twinkling of an eye the whole condition of affairs had been changed. From a happy, prosperous, well-ordered community, Santa Rosa had been transformed almost instantly into a state of utter chaos. Character, ability and brains of a high order were required to meet the situation which then confronted the community. But it was met–bravely, and with a dignity and quiet thoroughness that can never be forgotten or too highly praised.

The men who have since been “big enough to build hotels and business blocks” who had previously shown themselves brainy enough to attract the attention of all the country through the handling of an international legislation, who both before and since have been considered capable of managing some of our most important enterprises, also show themselves capable of handling the many complex and trying situations that then presented themselves.

Even San Francisco, in a somewhat similar position was glad to take advantage of and adopt many of the ideas and suggestions evolved by the “present administration” at that time.

And in two short years Santa Rosa has almost completely recovered, as far as outward appearances go, from the frightful calamity which befel her on that fateful morning of April 18, 1906.

And yet in spite of all these things–this stupendous burden that has been carried so bravely and so well, this neve-racking task that has been so faithfully performed– a few people pretend to find fault with the “present administration.”

Out upon the ingrates who would try to belittle the great work that has been done! When one stops to recall the long the hours of toil that been so willingly and conscientiously devoted to public service, the thousand-and-one details that have been studied and given consideration, the sacrifice of time and attention to private interests that it has all entail, the wonder is that even men to make it their life practice to object and find fault with everything and everybody have the hardihood to do so in this instance.

But let them carp and criticize, if they will. Every man who is a man and who possesses any sense of gratitude and appreciation whatever, endorses the “present administration”–yes, and is glad of the opportunity!

Morally as well as otherwise the present administration has constantly labored for the betterment of local conditions. The very thing for which it is being blamed most was in reality an honest, sincere and painstaking attempt to restrict and regulate an evil has never been regulated before save by the policeman’s club. Except that some authority was provided for doing what had been done for years before without authority, conditions were not changed in the least. The license for saloons has been raised from thirty to sixty dollars per quarter, and while such places kept open until twelve o’clock at night when the “present administration” went into office, they now close at ten o’clock each evening. Card games are no longer permitted in cigar stores, and gambling anywhere is now strictly prohibited.


Who owns the Press Democrat, anyway? We wonder if it is the same men who aspire to own Santa Rosa?–Municipal League.

Ernest L. Finley and Charles O. Dunbar are the sole owners and proprietors of this paper, and have been for many years. Nobody else on earth owns or in any way controls the Press Democrat, or even suggests–much less dictates–its policies. The man who says otherwise either lies or has been misinformed.

This is about as strong as we know how to make this statement. If we knew how to make it any more sweeping we should certainly do so.

We do not know of any many or set of men who “aspire to own Santa Rosa.” We do, however, that a certain set of men aspire to a control of public affairs here. They are the men constitute and stand for the ideas of the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union. They seem to think it would be wise to turn the administration of public affairs over to the church element. We think this is as unreasonable as it would be to talk about handing control over to the saloon men, or the medical fraternity, or to any other aggregation or element representing the ideas of a single class. This and the fact that James H. Gray stands for progress and advancement and for the upbuilding of Santa Rosa, and by nature and experience is qualified to bring about these results, while his opponent is not, is all there is to the fight now on. And everybody knows it.

Candidate Thompson in his little paper now declares that he never said anything of the kind, while half a hundred men can be found who say that he did–and to them.

– Press Democrat editorial, March 29, 1908


Another issue of “The Citizen” published under the auspices of the Santa Rosa Ministerial Union, and the acknowledged organ of that body, has made its appearance. As was to have been expected, local conditions and the campaign now on come in for some attention at the hands of the publishers.

The “Citizen” reiterates the claim that the movement headed by the so-called Municipal League is not one in behalf of prohibition, and admits that the League has perhaps acted wisely in taking this position, because the time for coming out into the open is not yet right. And in another place, further on, it asks what will happen when the Union takes off its coat and “sails into the fight.”

Of course no one will question the motives that prompted the Ministerial Union in issuing “The Citizen.” The organization’s only object is to benefit Santa Rosa, and publication of the little paper referred to is but part of the general plan adopted in furtherence of this end.

It is doubtless for this reason that the paper is, and for a long time past has been printed in San Francisco, rather than in this city. Anything that benefits California benefits Santa Rosa.

The sordid man of business, with no idea above the dollar and for the most part engrossed with such every-day problems as how to meet the rent and pay his employees on Saturday nights, might be inclined to argue differently. He might contend that having the work done here would mean keeping that much more money at home, giving that much more employment to local printers etc. and conclude that if everybody followed the example set by the Ministerial Union in such matters, Santa Rosa would soon disappear from the map entirely.

But this is not what helps a town. And besides, there are other and far more important matters up for discussion and consideration here just now.

The question is not so much how to build up Santa Rosa, keep the wheels of industry turning, and enable our people to recover from the effects of the great disaster, as it is what the municipality shall do to be saved. Santa Rosa is a place accursed. No man who has any respect whatever for himself or his progeny would think of bringing up a family here. Our once fair city, known far and wide as a place of happy homes, good schools and find churches, has gone completely to the dogs. Everyone is dishonest, all men are liars, the Demon Rum has us tightly by the throat, and Virtue weeps and drags her mantle in the dust. In short, we have both Sodom and Gomorrah worn to a frazzle and poor old Pittsburg is not and never has been in the running.

Of course, some people may not believe what we have just said about Santa Rosa. We shall be considerably surprised if anyone believes it.

Santa Rosa is one of the cleanest, best-governed cities in California today, and every man who has traveled about to ant extent knows it.

But people living in other places, and having no other source information but “The Citizen” and Municipal League paper, would form just such an idea of our town as that first above outlined.

Under all the circumstances, the absurd charges being made by some of the intemperate advocates of the so-called Municipal League are not only showing the great love for Santa Rosa in a most unique way, but they are also doing Santa Rosa a grave injustice and working irreparable injury to her reputation abroad.

– Press Democrat editorial, April 1, 1908

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Hey, barkeep! Any customers with Indian grandparents? What? You don’t know? In 1908 Sonoma County, you could be fined $500 and sent to jail for six months for selling alcohol to anyone with just one-fourth Indian blood – or even serving liquor to anyone with any distant Native American heritage “who lives or associates with persons of one-fourth or more Indian blood.”

It was a blatantly discriminatory law – particularly here in Sonoma County, where most of the economy was based on the growing of wine grapes and hops for beer – but not out of line with U.S. Indian policies, which had first outlawed sale of alcoholic beverages to tribal Indians in 1802 (that was during the Thomas Jefferson administration). Various other bans followed, and the very first law passed by the California legislature in 1850 included a prohibition on selling alcohol to Indians (as well as a provision that made it legal to enslave “vagrant” Indians for as long as it takes to harvest a crop). Motivating these anti-alcohol policies were the same confused American attitudes discussed in an earlier post; Indians were regarded simultaneously with great contempt (and potentially dangerous) and as pitiful children needing guidance as part of the “White Man’s Burden.”

California was a “local option” state in 1908, which meant that towns or counties could pass any laws controlling sale of alcohol. (Correction: the “local option” did not become state law until later, and its passage only clarified that counties and municipalities had the right to vote on anti-liquor laws.) Voters or elected officials could prohibit new licenses to road houses, close saloons on Sundays, or even declare the entire jurisdiction “dry” – although few went that far. They could also narrowly restrict alcohol to people with any Native American ancestry, as happened here. In 1915, it became state law that liquor was banned to Indians, part Indians, or whites who lived with or associated with Indians.

But the 1908 “Injun ordinance” probably had far less to do with Native Americans than it did with local politics. The prohibition movement was so strong in Santa Rosa that an ad-hoc temperance party almost took control of city hall in the election a few weeks later – a story of political intrigue explored in the following post. This new law concerning sale of alcohol to Indians was likely a sop tossed to the church-going voters to show that the good ol’ boys were willing to crack down on booze. That message was underscored by an item that appeared in the Press Democrat a few days later. With an introduction linking its commentary to the new county law, a missionary to the Hoopa tribe attests the importance of keeping liquor from “halfbreeds.” After rambling testimony written in dialect, the author concludes, “I know of only one sure remedy and that is a complete surrender of their entire being to the control of God.” At no other time in this period did such a pious message on temperance appear in one of the local papers.

The real moral of this story: One of the most interesting things about racism is how it so often becomes an effective tool to create political advantage. As it was in 1908, so today.

Will Prevent Sale of Liquors to Indians

District Attorney Clarence F. Lea has determined to put a stop to the crimes in Sonoma County that have their inception in selling liquors to Indians. He will prepare an ordinance making it a felony to sell liquor to Indians who are only one third of the blood. Under the state law liquor cannot be sold to Indians, but under this law the prosecuting officers must prove the Indian to be full-blooded. This almost presents conviction of offenders charged with furnishing liquor to aborigines.

Under the proposed ordinance, the district attorney will not have such difficulties to encounter and he hopes thus to prevent crime as well as cause offenders to be punished. Many of the criminal charges made in the county come from a combination of red wine and aborigine. The latest murder, which was perpetuated near Healdsburg on Tuesday, was caused from this combination. Two youths, neither of them twenty years of age, had imbibed three gallons of red wine. A stone finished the life of one of the revelers and the other is in jail awaiting trial on a charge of murder.

– Santa Rosa Republican, January 17, 1908

Board of Supervisors Adjourned Saturday

On Saturday the Board of Supervisors adopted District Attorney Clarence F. Lea’s “Injun ordinance.” at least in June ordinance under the terms of this law, which is published elsewhere this paper, any person who sells or gives liquor to a person who is even one-fourth of Indian blood, or to any person of Indian descent who lives or associates with persons of one-fourth or more Indian blood, will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

A fine of not less than $20 or more than $500, or imprisonment not exceeding six months in the county jail, or both fine and imprisonment, are the punishments for violation of the new ordinance. The ordinance will be in force on the 25th day of February.


– Santa Rosa Republican, February 8, 1908
Well Known Former Santa Rosa Educator Expresses Strong Views on Furnishing Liquor to Halfbreeds

An expression from a Miss Martha E. Chase, formerly president of the Santa Rosa Seminary and for some time past missionary among the Hoopa Indians, in regard to the sale of liquor to Indians at Hoopa district is apropos in connection with the passage by the Board of Supervisors recently of the new law regarding the liquor traffic among Indians which was presented by district Atty. Clarence Lea. Miss Chase in writing reviews says:

“There seems to be the one opinion among these Indians concerning the whisky traffic viz: if there were no liquor sold there will be no drunken Indians. They are having their big deerskin dance at Weitchpec now, and several of our men have said they dared not go because there ‘too much for whisky there.’ Henry Frank called Saturday just before he went to the dance, This is his unsolicited testimony. ‘Too much whisky, that’s what’s the matter. They stop making it then all right. Man see it he got to have it, that’s all. Make him drop all his money. I no like it. Every Injun he no like it.’ Another man of influence said to me: ‘I wish you would send away and get me some medicine make me stop drinking whisky. If I drink no whisky I be rich man now. I make lots of money all the time. Have gold in pocket; this side, that side, get drunk, all gone. Where is it? Some man he take it. I sleep.’ More than one Indian has said he wished he would not drink. ‘It makes man cut man. No good.’ The most progressive man in the valley says he can control himself in every other matter, but ‘That whisky; I can’t help it.’ It is very trying for one to witness their struggle and be helpless to relieve them. I tell them I know of only one sure remedy and that is a complete surrender of their entire being to the control of God.”

– Press Democrat, February 25, 1908

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