The 1908 Rose Festival was a bit ho-hum, but the Press Democrat compensated with this story of its founding, which I’ve not seen told elsewhere. Another key player in launching the parade in 1894 was James Wyatt Oates, who served as General Carnival Chairman.

Bit of History Connected With the Holding of the First Rose Carnival in Santa Rosa

Thomas P Keegan, of this city, naturally feels much interested in the success of the coming rose carnival, for he can lay proud title to being “Father of the Santa Rosa Carnival.” This is matter of history in Santa Rosa.

Mr. Keegan was the originator of the name “Rose Carnival,” as regards the famous fiestas that have made the City of Roses famous in past years. The first rose carnival took place in Santa Rosa on May 10, 1894. On the first of May, 1894, a meeting was held in the court house. It was called for the purpose of making arrangements to hold a flower festival in honor of the visit of some eastern people here. Mr. Keegan attended the meeting and after listening to the exchange of views rose to suggest that instead of holding a mere flower display a floral parade would be far more attractive. He suggested further, but inasmuch as the roses bloomed so beautifully and luxuriantly in Santa Rosa, the city should give a “Rose Carnival,” or “Carnival of Roses.” The originality of the name occasioned some discussion and there were those present who were not inclined to receive it favorably. Others did, notably Miss Isabel Donovan (now Mrs. Driscoll). It will be remembered that Miss Nettie Royal was the first carnival queen and Miss Isabelle Donovan reigned over the second, and one of the biggest rose carnivals ever held in the state.

The next day after the meeting many others came forward and favored the title “Rose Carnival,” and the idea caught favor with the press. A large committee of arrangements was selected and plans were carried out and the efforts of the committee and citizens proved the success of the first carnival. Since the birth and holding up the first rose carnival in the City of Roses the pageant has become famous, east, west, north and south, greatly to the credit of Santa Rosa.

The picture published with this bit of history is the same that appeared in the Press Democrat at the time of the first rose carnival in 1894. Of course Mr. Keegan was a few years younger then. There is a bit of history in connection with the cut, too. It went through the fire at earthquake disaster and was preserved, and is used on this occasion.

– Press Democrat, May 10, 1908

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Here’s a no-brainer: If you’re building a dam across the “Eel” River, expect that you’ll likely have to deal with some eels.

The hydroelectric dam on the south fork of the Eel River promised to finally bring a new source of electricity to Sonoma and Marin County, where the “juice” was notoriously flaky. This power from Mendocino County was expected to be more reliable, more affordable (electricity was about 25 times more expensive than it is today) and available in more areas; in a deal brokered by James Wyatt Oates, new lines would carry service “in all directions throughout the county.” Only one obstacle stood in the way of all that goodness – and that squirmy obstacle numbered in the many thousands.

So great were the numbers of eels trying to return to their upstream spawning grounds that workers first hauled them out of the water with pitchforks. That either proved too much work or eels continued to slip through and gum up the works, so they decided to electrocute the eels (as well as anything else in the river that was nearby). “Now great loads of dead eels are hauled away and buried every few days.”

Those “eels” were not eels at all (or a fish, either): They were Pacific Lampreys, which can grow up to 30″ long and like the salmon, must return to fresh water spawning grounds to breed (MORE INFO). They once outnumbered salmon by 100+ to 1, and their vast populations served as a decoy for spawning salmon from hungry seals, bears, and humans. “They may be the prey of choice for just about everything, except – as my tribal elders tell me – the white people. Every creature loves lampreys because of the high fat content,” a fishery biologist recently told a Washington state newspaper. Although whites considered it a “trash fish,” tribes in the Northwest used its oil for earaches and the skin as bandage wraps, as well as eating them it’s said to taste like a cross between a pork chop and mackerel). The Pacific Lamprey is still mostly ignored by researchers, and is now endangered in the Western U.S.


The Snow Mountain Power & Water Company is having great difficulty with the unusual number of eels in the river this season. The wiggling fishy mass gets into the power plant through the canal. Great piles of eels have been removed with pitchforks. Finally the electricians have hit on the novel plan of electrocuting them as they entered the canal, and now great loads of dead eels are hauled away and buried every few days. The eels are supposed to have been attracted by the great run of young trout of which they are very fond. The Fish Commission is much pleased with the solution of the difficulty as it does away with enormous quantities of the worst enemy the trout have in the district.

– Press Democrat, May 17, 1908

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Remember the elaborate con game in the Oscar-winning movie, “The Sting?” Something like that scam occurred in Santa Rosa, 1908.

The definitive book on early 20th century cons is “The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man,” where it’s noted that the “wire” was invented in 1898 and refined in 1900 by the gang fictionally portrayed in the film. The classic version had two parts; the con man convinced the sucker that he always won horse race bets because he had tapped the telegraph wire, allowing a confederate to block and re-transmit race results after the winning horse was actually known. The confidence man asked the sucker to place a few bets for him because his winning streak was arousing suspicion at a certain private “horse pool room” for high-rollers. (The term “pool room” has nothing to do with billiards – it was the name for an off-track betting hall, also sometimes called “race horse turf exchanges.” They were allowed in some cities even though horse racing was not legal in that state. The wire con was believable because the races – which sometimes were taking place hundreds of miles away – were reported by telegraph connections that were prone to interruptions and delays.)

In part two of the scam, the sucker was told that a long-shot would certainly win the final race of the day, and he should make the largest bet possible. That horse supposedly wins, but it was the practice of the pool rooms to pay off the last race on the following day. The next morning the sucker and the con man arrive together at the private pool room only to find the building empty. The con artist’s final job is to convince the sucker to not report it to the police, arguing that he also might be sent to prison because he was part of the wire fraud conspiracy. And yes, sometimes a murder was faked to ensure the sucker was frightened into silence, just like in the movie – in the colorful parlance of the day, this touch was called the “cackle-bladder” because the con man popped open a pig’s bladder filled with chicken blood to simulate a fatal wound. (A full description of the wire con can be found in a 1914 book available on-line).

The scam that was worked in Santa Rosa was neither as elaborate or as competent. According to an article in the April 3 San Francisco Call, the con man was a well-known young man named Walter Rea (age 21 at the time and a native Santa Rosan). “He is said to have bet $5 on a horse quoted at 80 to 1. When word was received that his horse had won he cashed in and left town. It is believed that a confederate tapped the wire and gave the wrong horse as the winner,” reported the Call. Rea was caught and arrested on the complaint of W. J. Edgeworth, a Sebastopol man who was part owner of the pool room known as “Donahue’s.”

The incident serves as a postscript to the previous post, discussing the outcome of the 1908 Santa Rosa city election and how the town had long profited from an underground economy of prostitution and illegal gambling. In the articles transcribed here, it was revealed that there were two illegal pool rooms then operating in Santa Rosa. Police and the District Attorney apparently looked the other way, even though the election that would be held less than a week later was largely a referendum upon the city’s tolerance for vice and crime (read update here).

Victimized for $400 Dollars Wednesday

One of the two poolrooms which have been operating in Santa Rosa for many months was “stung” Wednesday afternoon to the extent of four hundred dollars. Just how the “sting” was administered was not definitely stated, but it is believed to have been done by means of tapped wires. As the pool room is not a legal institution, those who benefited by the coup and secured the coin will probably not be molested, for if the proprietors have any warrants issued for the arrest of the youth who administered the “sting” they will have to testify in prosecuting that they have been conducting a pool room.

The young man who secured the pool room coin is well known around this city, and immediately after the tip was received that a certain horse had won, he is alleged to have “cashed in” his checks and departed. The man who was “stung” has done considerable talking since.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 2, 1908

The hearing of the case against Walter Rea, charged with beating a local pool room out of several hundred dollars, disclosed the existence of two pool rooms in the City of Roses, according to the testimony.

The testimony showed that Frank W. Brown received information by telegaph regarding races at his place of business, and that they were then transmitted by phone to Donahue’s and later reduced to writing and sent to Donahue’s place. Rea secured three hundred dollars on the purported victory of a certain horse, reported to have won, when the animal had been defeated. The money was paid by Donahue personally.

The case was continued until next Saturday for further hearing.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 20, 1908

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