It’s the town of Sonoma’s fault, or more precisely, the fault of that little crossroads known as Schellville, just south of Sonoma. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

This is the story of the search for Rodgers Creek. It began as I was writing the previous item, which described a 1909 prank that took place in the “hollow back of Rural Cemetery” and “the little valley back of the graveyard.” As someone who’s tramped around the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery for a quarter century, I knew well the eastern border ended in a “hollow” with a stream, and recalled being told ages ago by a Knowledgeable Person that the stream marked the Rodgers Creek earthquake fault, which someday would lay waste to most of Sonoma County. In years since I’ve also overheard others describe it as the infamous Rodgers Creek and I’ve said so myself, demonstrating I had membership in the League of Knowledgeable Persons. But it struck me as curious that the newspaper story didn’t mention the creek by name, so I decided to do a little research just to verify it. This should be a zippy, two-minute Google, right? Six long days later…

The first thing I discovered was there’s lots of information about the Rodgers Creek Fault, as well as the Rogers Creek Fault. It’s also sometimes called both “Rodger’s” and “Roger’s”, and I often found mixed spellings within the same government documents and academic papers. Case in point is the official USGS report which used “Rodgers” – except once when it didn’t – but click on the link for the fault map and it’s now “Rogers Creek fault.” (UPDATE 2019: Those USGS links no longer are valid – see instead this recent report with maps.) Many other USGS publications also wobble between Rogers/Rodgers, yet a search of their earthquake fault database for “Rogers Creek” returns zip. And worst of all for me, not a single document mentions where the heck Ro?ger?s Creek can be found.

I thought the goal was at hand when I found an obscure 1896 Santa Rosa map that showed members of the Rogers family owned three parcels near the cemetery, and the creek likely flowed through at least one of these properties. (Rogers Way, next to the Fourth street Safeway, was developed from one of these family holdings.) Alas, this was a crazy-making coincidence. But another old map and another reading of the weighty Santa Rosa Creek Master Plan answered the question of what is behind the graveyard: It’s Poppy Creek, to which a drainage ditch extends along the southeastern cemetery border. And yes, as it turns out, the creek happens to overlay the earthquake fault.

(RIGHT: Section of map from Santa Rosa Creek Master Plan, pg. 200. CLICK or TAP to enlarge)

Once I stopped hunting for the celebrated lost creek of Santa Rosa, the real Rodgers Creek was easy to find: It’s a small stream about two miles south of Sonoma that runs between highway 116 (Arnold Drive) and 12 (Broadway). It was chosen as the name for the earthquake fault in 1949 not because of great geological significance, but because it’s so damn interesting. According to a 1921 survey, you can easily see that the creek was formed when a quake diverted the water flow from streams now gone dry, as well as other features that date the significant earthquake to about 200 years earlier (that’s two centuries from 1921, not today).

As years have since gone by, views of the Rodgers Creek Fault have evolved. It’s now orthodoxy that it’s part of the Hayward Fault Zone and stretches all the way to Healdsburg. Locally, it runs parallel to Petaluma Hill Road and east of Taylor Mountain, then cuts through the middle of Bennett Valley and Rincon Valley. It’s also believed that our “Santa Rosa pull-apart basin” (yes, it’s exactly as horrific as it sounds) is a few decades overdue for The Big One, which could mean a slippage of over six feet in a quake of 7.0 magnitude or greater, which is what happened when Rodgers Creek was created.

The current odds are estimated at a 31.7% chance of rupturing in a 6.7 magnitude earthquake or greater before 2045, the highest in the Bay Area (updated 2021). It would be a disaster of catastrophic proportion; right now would be a great time to download the PDF on Santa Rosa earthquake preparedness.

Rodgers Creek Fault Zone in yellow (California Geological Survey)
Rodgers Creek Fault Zone in yellow (California Geological Survey)

Obl. believe-it-or-not footnote: The pursuit of Rodgers Creek began as an attempt to clarify a story about a snipe hunt, an irony that was not lost on me as time passed with little to show for it. Most of my research was spent wandering down yet another “Rogers” blind alley: That Santa Rosa’s forgotten “Rogers Creek” surely was named in honor of seismologist F. J. Rogers of Stanford University, a member of the California State Earthquake Investigation Commission after the 1906 quake who performed the groundbreaking shake table simulations on seismic vibrations through soil. Famous newly-discovered earthquake fault, famous earthquake scientist with the same name – that couldn’t be a coincidence, right? But I was fooled again and tripped up by a different misspelling. In the commission report his full name was only mentioned once, and his initials were reversed into “J. F. Rogers.” There was much puzzlement as I wondered why Mr. J. F., a businessman well known nationally for selling small electrical industrial machinery – not unlike shake tables – had a secret identity as a renowned scientist. But had the commission made the further mistake of naming him “J. F. Rodgers,” I think my head might have exploded. One of the few men so named in that era was a prominent “roadmaster” (a railroad foreman in charge of track integrity). In Santa Rosa, the roadmaster  at the same time was William C. Rogers, who owned the land adjacent to the Rural Cemetery through which the mystery creek flowed.

As a result of these experiences, I’m calling upon Webster’s to add two new words to the unabridged dictionary: “roger,” meaning a small everyday coincidence, and “rodger,” meaning a coincidence that’s completely improbable. Both words will be pronounced the same, of course, so there may be some confusion.

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No one in the world could possibly organize a better snipe hunt than the Santa Rosa Squeedunks, and in 1909 the gang was found one evening out by the Rural Cemetery, making a commotion to herd the tasty little critters towards the burlap sack being patiently held by their newest enlistee. The sucker honored party holding the bag was a Scotsman named Bobbie McIvor; leading the hunt was Charlie Holmes, who was also behind the 1908 revival of “The Ancient and Disreputable Order of Squeedunks” at Santa Rosa’s Fourth of July parade.

 An unexpected bit of fun was had at the expense of the Squeedunk assigned to watch for the owner of the property, who was known to take potshots at poachers. Once Charlie and the rest of the crew pulled out guns and began firing blanks to flush out the snipe, their intrepid sentry assumed it was the farmer shooting at him, and “made a half mile at a speed that would have put [champion race horse] Lou Dillon to shame.”

The other big prank of 1909 happened on April Fool’s Day, which always brought reports of exploding cigars or elaborate tricks around Santa Rosa. This year, someone placed a dummy outside of a family home and began hammering on the door before dawn, shouting that there was a corpse on the porch. As the awakened husband rushed downstairs, his wife, likely in groggy condition, began filling a kettle with water to (somehow) help the deceased. The joke was discovered, but the running faucet was forgotten in the confusion. “The tepid flood continued to run without check until a tardy plumber rendered his services some hours later,” the Republican newspaper reported. Made you ruin your rugs and floors! Ha, ha, April fool!

Completing our survey of 1909 pranks: Hallowe’en passed that year without incident, probably because Santa Rosa police announced they would be patrolling school buildings to prevent mischief. Nationwide, it seemed like it was a pretty quiet holiday, particularly in contrast to the 1907 Hallowe’en when at least seven people died.

Fusillade at Midnight Alarms People in the Vicinity of the Old Rural Cemetery

Those rifle shots and shouts from hillside and hollow back of Rural Cemetery as the midnight hour was waning last Sunday night, that are said to have struck some sort of terror into stout hearts, have been explained and the people are breathing easier. Laughter has succeeded fear and the dread of some mysterious tragedy has faded away.

But that there were shots and shouts on Sunday night there is no question. President Charles H. Holmes of the Ancient Order of Squeedunks, is authority for that and there are half a dozen others. One man whom we will name “Bobbie” McIvor, formerly of the Highlands of Scotland, will take an oath as to it. McIvor accompanied President Holmes and party to the little valley back of the graveyard on Sunday night, the plan being to secure some “snipe” as one dish for a banquet at which the plasterers at work on the new courthouse were to commemorate at the completion of their big contract. Mr. McIvor, Holmes says, very willingly volunteered to hold the open sack and the candle and catch the “snipe” when the others drove them into the attractiveness and allurement of the candle light.

With all the traditions of bravery clustering about his illustrious clansman amid the bonnie braes of Scotland, “Bobbie” took his station. He had been waiting for some time when all of a sudden there was a fusillade of rifle shots and voices from the darkness shrieked at him and bade him “avaunt.” He did so.

But the joke was not all on him, either. Another man in the party had not been informed of the presence of the rifle and blank cartridges. But he had been told to lookout as the man on whose ranch they were standing was a terror to poachers and would as soon shoot a man as not. Consequently at the report of the first cartridge he took to his heels and in leaps and bounds made a half mile at a speed that would have put Lou Dillon to shame, President Holmes says.

It was the old snipe joke after all, and all concerned are still smiling, including “Bobbie.”

– Press Democrat, October 7, 1909

Rumor of Early April Death is Refuted

An April fool joke that materialized in a highly successful way was perpetrated this morning in one of the suburban households of this city. A gentleman and his wife were rudely awakened from sleep at the unearthly hour of 5 o’clock by a tremendous beating at the door, and the voice of another inmate of the place announcing that a man had fallen dead on the back porch. They hurriedly donned their respective raiment and the man sallied out to hold a preliminary post mortem, while his wife rushed upstairs to inform the sleepers above of the casualty and to get some hot water to aid in resuscitating the passed away. By this time the particular day upon the calendar suggested itself to some one, and it was found that the man who had fallen dead upon the back porch not only had not died, but had never lived at all. The entire population of the building had been rousted out with the exception of two or three young men who were either too much under the soporific influence of the April day to desist from slumber, or else they felt that they had no arts about them that could restore to animation the supposed deceased one. The only damage resulting from the misunderstanding was that when the lady went to secure the hot water for the purpose stated somewhere above, she left the facet open and the tepid flood continued to run without check until a tardy plumber rendered his services some hours later. As has been remarked here before there was no grievance ensuing from playing of the joke except perhaps a slight sentiment of disappointment might have been observed displayed on the faces of the fooled that the joke was only a joke after all.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 1, 1909


Chief of Police Fred J. Rushmore has arranged details of officers for tonight and will have an officer stationed at each of the school buildings to arrest any one interfering in any manner with the public property during the night.

Heretofore on Hallowe’en it has been the custom for boys to ring the school bells and play pranks in and around the school buildings. None of this will be allowed this year.

– Press Democrat, October 30, 1909

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