Wanna make a sawbuck in 1908 Sonoma County? Capture a kid trying to escape the workcamp at the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol.
Every summer, the “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” – forced dozens of boys, some as young as seven, to work in West County fields and canneries. Earlier essays have described the child labor situation here, but the 1908 newspaper coverage provided much additional detail.
The program was expanding every year; in 1908, “the Aid” brought here 170 youths, up from 130 the year before. In 1907, they had worked for the Barlows and two neighbors, picking 125 tons of berries. The following year they were hired out to 22 growers between Sebastopol and Forestville and picked 157 tons, plus “many tons” of peaches and plums. So popular were the child workers that still more farmers were planning to take advantage of the boys and not hire adults. One of the Santa Rosa papers reported, “arrangements are now being made for next year’s picking by several who have heretofore depended on Japanese help, or any who came along.”
Both local papers consistently portrayed the experience as a pleasant treat for the kids (“a delightful outing for many of them who otherwise could have had no vacation”), but the number of attempted escapes suggests differently. At least a dozen boys tried to flee the workcamp in 1908, including Raymond Onion and George Springer, who were named here earlier as possible suspects in the arson that destroyed the barns of Harrison Finley and another farmer that summer. If caught, the escapee was taken back to the camp in handcuffs, and the captor was paid a ten dollar reward. In one potentially dangerous situation, a couple of young men held a group of boys captive with a shotgun, only to find that they were ordinary and worthless runaways from their parents, not the workcamp.
The papers always trumpeted that the boys were allowed to keep some of their earnings, but here it was mentioned for the first time that the boys apparently had to pay their own railway fare between the camp and the area where they were required to work, and that their puny paycheck was docked “a small charge for camp expenses.” (There was no mention of who paid the $10 bounty hunter reward, but we can safely guess it wasn’t “the Aid.”) And although it was expected that “nearly all will subscribe for magazines” with some of their earnings, the money mainly was spent on clothing and dentistry. Clothes I can perhaps understand, but the kids had to pay for their own dentistry?
Included below are also a couple of bonus juvenile escape tales: A boy who fled St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Marin County and stole a horse and buggy was to be sent to Preston School of Industry at Ione (AKA San Quentin for Kids) and a pair of boys at the “Home for the Feeble Minded” in Glen Ellen used a rope made of blankets to get away from that institution. A few years later, Jack London wrote about a similar escape by two boys with epilepsy in a short story, “Told In the Drooling Ward.”
MORE BOYS RUN AWAY
Five Escapes from Aid Society at Sebastopol
On Thursday three of the boys of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society camped at the Barlow ranch made their escape from the camp and up to this morning the officers had been unable to locate them. On Friday morning sometime between one and three two more of the lads left the camp, and in doing so, stole clothing from some of the other boys. It was thought that the first three lads had gone toward Occidental and taken the narrow gauge road from there to the city, but no trace of them could be found, and the officers are keeping a sharp lookout for them.
It will be remembered that a few days ago two little boys left the camp during the night in their night clothes. These later returned of their own accord regretting much that they had attempted to regain their liberty. There are 130 boys in the camp this year and many of them become very restless after they have been in camp awhile, and want to get off for themselves.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 24, 1908
ROBBED FATHER AND RAN AWAY
Boy Who Crossed Continent is in Hands of Law
The boys who escaped from the camp of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society on the Barlow ranch on Thursday and Friday of last week are all back in the camp. Two of them, Raymond Onion and George Springer, were brought in by ranchers in the vicinity and the other three came back voluntarily and reported in.
Raymond Onion is the boy who it will be remembered escaped on the 5th of the month and was picked up in Santa Rosa by the crew of the local train who very generously forebore collecting the usual reward of $10 offered by the Society for the return of wanderers from Camp.
This boy is an Eastern lad who stole a large sum of money from his father and traveled across the continent to San Francisco, where he was relieved of the remainder of the money by his traveling companion. Left penniless in San Francisco he was taken to the Juvenile court and sent to the camp temporarily until his parents could be communicated with. His father refused money to pay his fare back and it was intended to secure him passage on a sailing vessel. He and the Springer boy, who is a friendless orphan who was discharged from an orphan asylum, because of his bad temper, have been the instigators of most of the trouble which the management of the camp has had during the past three weeks. They each made two attempts to escape and were brought back each time and all the others returned voluntarily. They were returned on Saturday to the custody of the juvenile court for such disposition as Judge Murasky may think best. It is the desire of the Superintendent, Mr. Turner, to have the boys stay at the camp voluntarily and much is done to make it pleasant for the boys in his care.
The major part of the earnings at the berry picking is paid to the boys on their return to San Francisco each year and spent by them on clothing, magazines, dentistry, and pocket money or put in the bank. This summer the Society has cared for a large number of city boys during the summer vacation of the public schools, affording a delightful outing for many of them who otherwise could have had no vacation.
Over 40,000 trays of berries have been picked thus far and the boys are being engaged for prune and peach picking which will soon commence. One or two squads will be needed in the Sebastopol cannery when peaches begin to come in.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 28, 1908
USED SHOTGUN IN CAPTURE
Youths Held Up by Boys While Officers are Called
It was reported Wednesday that four boys have escaped from the Aid Society Camp near Sebastopol and the officers were kept busy looking for the lads during the forenoon. It was stated that they were seen near the depot about nine o’clock and Officers Boyce and Yeager started after them post haste but when they reached the freight house they boys were gone and on going down the railroad they found two lads at the freight cars on the siding below the trestle. These boys were arrested but were found to be other than the ones wanted and were allowed to go again. The officers started on down the track but learned that the boys had preceded them to Bellevue.
Two boys near the Ice Factory learned of the runaways and hitched a horse to a cart and drove to Bellevue where they headed off the lads and one of them remained while the other came back and notified the police. He stated that his companion was holding the other boys at the point of a shotgun and wanted to know what to do with them.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 29, 1908
ESCAPES WERE NOT AID SOCIETY BOYS
The article in Wednesday’s paper to the effect that four boys who were supposed to have escaped from the Aid Society Camp near Sebastopol were arrested by two Santa Rosa lads near Bellevue, left the impression that the boys were escapes, whereas they were only suspects, and it is learned from the officials of the Society that there have been no escapes for over a week, or since the dissatisfied ones had been sent back to the city. The four boys mentioned were strangers here, and were evidently well started on the “vag” route.– Santa Rosa Republican, July 31, 1908
THE GOOD WORK DONE BY AID SOCIETY BOYS
The boys of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society passed through Santa Rosa Friday afternoon in two special cars en route to the home in San Francisco. There were 125 boys in the party, some having gone ahead.
The season has been very enjoyable and quite successful financially. Over 39,000 trays of ninety-seven tons of blackberries have been picked; 24,000 trays, or sixty tons, of loganberries, raspberries and mamoths, and many tons of peaches and plums gathered by the boys. They have been of great assistance in saving the enormous crop of peaches, having worked for twenty-two different growers between Sebastopol and Forestville, and have to their credit the sum of $4000.
The amount is credited to the 170 individual boys, who have enjoyed the benefits of the summer outing, and will be paid to them, less a small charge for camp expenses. The money is used for the boys for clothing, dentistry and in useful channels. Many put part in the bank and nearly all will subscribe for magazines on their return to the city.
Not all of this money is taken out of the county, however, as might be thought, as the expenses of maintaining the camp each year are heavy. About $2500 has been expended for supplies in the local markets at Sebastopol, Petaluma and Santa Rosa, it being the policy of Mr. Turner, the superintendent, to favor local dealers whenever he can do so without detriment to the society; $1500 has been paid out in salaries through a Sebastopol bank, a portion of which is spent right here and over $200 has been spent in local travel on the electric line.
More and more are the boys being recognized as a real help in handling the berry and fruit crop, and their reputation for thorough work is well established. When a berry patch is picked by the boys, the grower can depend on having it picked from start to finish at a uniform rate. With the growth of the work and the increased number of boys cared for each year, a larger amount of work is possible.
Originally only the berries on the Barlow ranch were picked, but now the society is in a position to handle the crops on 100 acres of blackberries, and arrangements are now being made for next year’s picking by several who have heretofore depended on Japanese help, or any who came along.– Santa Rosa Republican, September 11, 1908
WILL GIVE THE BOY ANOTHER CHANCE
On Witness Stand in Justice Court Frank Silva Freely Tells of His Escapade
Frank Silva, the youth who escaped from St. Vincent’s Orphanage on more than one occasion, will be sent to the Preston School of Industry at Ione, and will there be given another chance to make a man of himself. He recently stole a horse and buggy from a Petaluma man, was captured and brought here. He was given an examination before Justice Atchinson yesterday, and was held over to the higher court. He told his story frankly and admitted everything. This lad has been give a number of chances, and it is hoped that when he goes to school he will make good.– Press Democrat, August 22, 1908
BOYS ESCAPE BY MEANS OF BLANKET
Two of the boy inmates of the Home for the Feeble Minded at Eldridge escaped from the institution on Monday. The lads were named Holley and Boem, and made a rope of their blankets by knotting the corners together and letting themselves from the dormitory window. As soon as the escape was discovered the attendants at the Home started a search and the sheriff’s office was notified. It is believe that the boys are in hiding on the farm of the home, and will be found in the woods there. This is the third effort of young Boem to gain his liberty from the place.– Santa Rosa Republican, October 13, 1908