Criminals are clever folk (or believe themselves to be, at least) but 1909 Santa Rosa saw probably the dumbest clucks that had passed through the town in some time.

The crime wavelet happened over just a few weeks that autumn, starting with the disappearances of little things from wagons and buggies: A bundle of laundry, a box of candy, a pair of new shoes, a tobacco tin. There were also larger and more valuable things missing, particularly a box of phonograph records worth $60 and a typewriter. Word reached police that an old man was seen around the West End “Little Italy” neighborhood hawking ladies’ shoes and silks that he claimed were too small for his wife, “she being a woman of some pretensions to bulk,” as the Santa Rosa Republican artfully phrased it.

Collared by police officer Boyes, the crook’s name  was John Stetson – which the police first thought  was an alias, as he was wearing a new Stetson hat when arrested – but about that, he was truthful. He was actually a fairly honest fellow, except for the thieving; he readily admitted he hadn’t purchased any of those items, explaining simply that he had found everything in the street (that the stuff was lying inside a wagon was apparently a trifling detail to him). He led police to his trove of stolen goods hidden on the bank of Santa Rosa Creek, where more shoes, boxes of candy, a pair of scales and other goods were recovered. “Stetson declared that he did not remember stealing the scales, but remarked dryly that he must have done so, as they were with his loot.”

Even as police officers were examining Stetson’s inventory, another pair of light-fingered lawbreakers were at work. In town from San Francisco were Mr. and Mrs.  T. F. Barrett, who apparently also thought there was a bright future in stealing women’s shoes. They loitered near a home as a barefoot servant girl watered the lawn, then snatched her shoes off the porch when no one was looking. The Barretts were quickly nabbed, but not before they had sold the poor girl’s footwear for 50 cents. The Press Democrat noted that Mrs. Barrett was well known on the San Francisco waterfront for the old scam of selling day-old newspapers to commuters rushing off the ferries.

And then a few weeks later there was the genius who robbed the O. K. saloon early one morning. When the barkeep went in the back, the stranger stole four bags of cash hidden under the bar containing about $120 (worth over $3,000 today). If caught, the thief surely knew he faced serious jail time, and would be prudent to make a quick and anonymous escape – hopping an eastbound freight train, perhaps, or hiring a car and driver to rush him to the San Francisco ferry as fast as possible. Instead, he was caught hours later walking on the train tracks to Sonoma, a little south of Kenwood. That’s clue #1 that he was no card-carrying member of the Criminal Mastermind Club.

The man – who gave his name as John Nelson – was found to have almost all the money from the heist still on him. He had two coin purses stuffed with gold and silver and the coins that didn’t fit jangled loose in his pockets. He also carried  a tied  handkerchief filled with nickels. Now, $120 in coinage is bulky, and not exactly light; one of the most common coins of the day, the one dollar silver eagle, weighed about a pound per $17. Thus Nelson had to have at least six or seven pounds of coins on his person and oddly bulging pockets, and probably waddled more than walked. But what I can’t get over is that he also brought along the nickel-loaded hanky; was he expecting to find cigar stores along the tracks?

Once in police custody, he pretended that he didn’t speak a word of English (even though he had said, “please, don’t shoot” when captured). He later said his strategy was to convince the court that “he was a German lad who was not familiar with things in this country,” according to the Republican paper. For coming up with that defense argument, he takes the  prize for 1909 nitwittery. Maybe the all-time grand prize as well.

Buggy robber John Stetson was given three and a half years for burglary because the typewriter had been stolen from an office building (he apparently had a skeleton key that unlocked the door). It was revealed that he had served four previous prison terms for theft and his real name was John Stetson Wilson. Shoe thief Barrett was sentenced to 15 days in the county lockup. “John Nelson” was really an ex-con named Samuel Goldman, and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin. His conviction is notable because it was the first time that fingerprints (called “finger marks” in the paper) were used in a Sonoma County courtroom.

Picking Up Street Bundles Causes Man Trouble

The mystery that has surrounded the disappearance at different times during the past fortnight of various shopping, laundry and other bundles from people’s wagons and buggies in the streets is considerably unveiled, the police think, by the arrest of a personage giving his name as John Stetson, by Officer John M. Boyes Saturday night.

Thomas Hopper Saturday afternoon missed a couple of pairs of shoes out of his wagon. He notified the police and later it was learned that some one was endeavoring to retail shoes down in the neighborhood of Little Italy. Officer Boyes finally spotted a suspicious character walking down Davis street, who as soon as he espied the patrolman turned abruptly into the yard of a residence along there. He entered the same as if he were the owner of it and stopped to pat the dog, a harmless one by the way, that came out to meet him. The officer nabbed him with the telltale box of shoes in his hands. He made no resistance, but would say nothing. He was booked for petty larceny and put in jail.

Officer Lindley and Yeager also ran across some shoes that had been sold in this manner presumably by the same individual. He had been offering great reductions in the foot and shoe line, placing a $4.50 pair of ladies shoes upon the market for seventy-five cents, and making corresponding reductions in gents’ footwear. He also had a special price on a pair of ladies’ silk stockings and chemise. He stated that this was because the articles of rainment belonged to his wife and they were too small for her, she being a woman of some pretensions to bulk.

Upon being questioned Monday he asserted that he found everything he had with him in the street, which he evidently did–in somebody else’s wagon. He had a hat on nearly new and it was a John B. Stetson one. Hence his name, only he dropped the cumbersome middle initial. The shirt he wore was new, never having been through the wash. Where he got it leaked out when Sheridan, one of the men at work hanging doors in the new court house, identified the garment as one he had lost some days ago from his wagon in a bundle of laundry. Some collars of Sheridan missing in the same manner were found in Mr. Stetson’s alleged belongings. Various other articles of clothing ranging all the way from women’s handkerchiefs to table cloths and Turkish turbans he had. All of these he maintained he had found in the street.

Efforts were made to connect him with the disappearance of some phonographic records taken from the wagon on Pratt, the phonograph man, valued at about sixty dollars, but he announced that he hadn’t stolen everything that had been lost in town.

A warrant of arrest was subsequently sworn out by John Boyes against Stetson on the charge of petty larceny. He was arraigned before Justice Atchinson and entered a plea of guilty. He will be sentenced later. Before being remanded to the county jail he had his picture taken. The police believe that if they find his room a great deal more plunder may turn up. Stetson asserts that he was on his way to the hop fields with a partner whose whereabouts at present he professes not to know.

Chief of Police Rushmore announces that the department would consider it a favor if any one who has been approached by parties selling or offering to sell shoes, phonographic records or articles of clothing would inform the department of the same.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 12, 1909

Man and Woman Arrested Here Yesterday–Held for Further Examination

Mr. and Mrs. T. F. Barrett were arrested here yesterday afternoon by Officers J. M. Boyes and N. G. Yeager, and are both locked up in the county jail. They are charged with stealing a pair of shoes from the porch of the home of Attorney and Mrs. Ross Campbell and disposing of them for 50 cents. The shoes belonged to a girl working for Mrs. Campbell and been left there a few moments while she was sprinkling the yard, and were taken when she went on another side of the house.

The police were notified of the theft and the shoes were found to have been sold. Meanwhile the girl recognized a woman on the street she had seen with a man near the Campbell house a short time before the shoes were taken and pointed her out to Officer Boyes who took her into custody.

The woman’s description of her husband tallied with that given by the girl of the man she had seen loitering about the place. Officers Boyes and Yeager picked him up an hour later near the Northwestern Pacific depot. He was taken before Justice Atchinson where he entered a plea of guilty. Sentence was suspended awaiting developments.

Barrett is said to be a well known character in San Francisco, where he sold soap for many years. His wife is said to have sold papers on the water front for years. One of her tricks then was to gather up old issues of the dailies and securing a position near the ferries, sell them to the hurrying commuters, thus reaping a neat harvest.

– Press Democrat, September 15, 1909

Taken to Stetson’s Cache by the Prisoner

Officer John M. Boyes is having great success in securing additional confessions from John Stetson, whom he arrested recently for stealing articles from buggies and business houses in this city. The officer was taken to a cache on the creek bank Wednesday morning, and there recovered two boxes of French mixed candy and two pairs of ladies’ high top boots, stolen from Alfred Burke; some tobacco taken from Mr. Hopper’s buggy, a pair of scales and some other articles.

The officer had both arms full when he returned from the cache on the creek. Stetson declared that he did not remember stealing the scales, but remarked dryly that he must have done so, as they were with his loot. It is more than probable that the typewriter stolen from Ayers & Paul will be located in a couple of days, for Stetson is weakening and it is expected he will produce the machine shortly. Officer Boyes is the only person that can do anything with the man, and he refuses to even talk with others or in their presence. The smooth manner in which the officer goes after the prisoner has gained his confidence and the latter will eventually tell all he knows.

Stetson remarked to the officer that he guessed that everything that had been stolen about the city for many months would be laid at his door. Then he added, “I expect that I got most of the articles, too. Stetson has had remarkable success for a long time, but realizes he is at the end of his rope. He has told Officer Boyes where he disposed of many of the phonograph records which he stole.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September  15, 1909


The Yost typewriter stolen from the office of Ayers and Paul some days ago was recovered Thursday from the second hand store of J. M. Gutermute in Petaluma. It had been sold there by John Stetson, against whom various petty thefts have been brought home.

He had confessed to the stealing of the phonographic records that disappeared some days ago.

Officer John Boyes, who arrested Stetson, has secured all the admissions made by his of crime.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September  17, 1909


When John Stetson entered the portals of San Quentin prison yesterday morning in company with Police Officer John M. Boyes of this city, he glanced around and instantly took on a look of familiarity. Officer Boyes took Stetson to the penitentiary to serve the three years and a half sentence given him by Judge Seawell for burglary in the second degree. He entered a local real estate office and stole a typewriter.

On the way down to the prison, Louis Groff driving the officer and prisoner in his automobile, Stetson chanced to remark:

“Well, I guess this will be the last ride I shall have for three years and a half.”

“O, I don’t know,” said Boyes. “If you behave yourself you may stand a chance of getting out on parole earlier.”

“Not for mine, no parole for me,” smiled Stetson.

Then Officer Boyes  “got next.” Stetson had been there before, once maybe. He was rather surprised to learn after he had landed his man behind the gate that Stetson had been there three times before, and had served a term in Folsom, too, all five crimes being theft and burglary.

Yes, that nice appearing old man, as people classed him here, had served four prior terms in the penitentiary. They told Officer Boyes  that in San Quentin Stetson was always an exemplary prisoner, and was not considered overly bright mentally. His real name is John Stetson Wilson, but he explained that after his first conviction he dropped the Wilson and had gone as John Stetson. At least one of his prior sentences was ten years and one was for five years.

– Press Democrat, October 9, 1909


Two saloons were robbed in this city Saturday morning. The first was the Humboldt on B street…


The second robbery occurred about 8:30 o’clock. It occurred at the O. K. saloon at the corner of Davis and Fourth street, while Joseph Cavagna, one of the owners, was on duty. The man suspected came in a little while before and told two people who were drinking at the bar that he had no money, as a man during the night before took twenty-three dollars away from him. One of the men at the bar invited the new comer to have a drink. One drink led to another until three or four drinks had been consumed. The to men that had been doing the treating then left the saloon and the busted man took a seat at one of the tables. He was sitting there when Mr. Cavagna stepped to the back yard. He wasn’t gone over two minutes, but when he returned the stranger was gone.

Cavagna looked in the till under the bar and saw that four bags containing money was gone. He estimates that there was between one hundred and fifteen and one hundred and twenty dollars in the four bags.

Cavagna, thinking that the man would make an attempt to get away on the south bound train that was due at 8:45, in company with Constable S. J. Gilliam went down as far as Cotati to catch the robber, but he was not on the train. It was not until after their return that Sheriff Jack Smith was informed of the robbery. According to Mr. Cavagna’s description of the robber, he was a young man dressed in a dark suit, fairly good, wore a dark shirt and soft black hat. Mr. Cavagna states he spoke German well and likely was a German. A hack driver saw a man run round the corner at Davis street toward Fifth street about that time in the morning, but he states that the man he saw wore a derby hat.

The deputies of the sheriff’s office and Sheriff Jack Smith spent the day searching for the robber and have notified the deputies all over the county to keep a lookout for the man. Any time a phone message is likely to be received at the sheriffs’ office announcing his capture if he left town.

Sheriff Smith during the day kept his own counsel as to his suspicions as to the way the robber went when he made his getaway from town, but believed he took the railroad toward Sonoma. Working on this idea he dispatched Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds to scour the country between here and there. This clew proved to be the correct one, for Reynolds overtook the man about three miles and a half south of Kenwood. He asked him if he didn’t want to ride. The fellow declined. Reynolds then asked him if he wasn’t going toward Sonoma. No response. Then Reynolds jumped from the buggy in which he was driving and drew his revolver, commanding the man to throw up his hands. The command was answered quickly and the fellow cried out, “Please, don’t shoot.”

Reynolds made the fellow climb the fence that ran along the railroad track and climb into the buggy. And he brought his man to town. Practically all the money stolen from  the O. K. saloon was on the man’s person. He had transferred the money from the sacks in which he had found it and the sack of nickels he placed in a blue handkerchief, while the gold was placed in one purse and the silver in another. Besides this he had slipped a gold piece is several of his pockets about his clothes.

When brought to this city several people, including Joseph Cavagna, recognized him as the fellow that hung around the O. K. saloon this morning. He gave his name as John Nelson.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October  16, 1909

Finger Print System Man Declares it Absolutely

Frank Depue, director of the Bureau for the identification of criminals, was here on Tuesday in the matter of the identification of John Nelson, who had confessed to having robbed the O. K. saloon recently.

Mr. Depue appeared before Judge Emmet Seawell, and after examining several hands, was permitted to view the hand of the suspect. He did not see the face of any man’s hand he examined, the member being thrust beneath the right arm for examination.

When the hand of Nelson was reached there was but a moment of examination, and Depue declared that he was the man. The court announced that he was the individual suspected, and then Depue accused Nelson of having been in the prison at San Quentin under the name of Goldman, for burglary in the second degree, and that he was sent from San Joaquin county on January 11, 1907. This was translated to Nelson by Attorney H. W. A. Weske, and the accused man denied that he was the guilty man.

Judge Seawell told Nelson that all the marks and scars which Goldman possessed were on his body in the identical places where Goldman possessed them, and that his identification by Mr. Depue was complete. The court had no doubt that he was the right man, and he sentenced him to spend ten years in San Quentin prison for his offense.

Depue offered to take the finger prints of the man for Judge Seawell and demonstrate that they were the same as those of Goldman, but the court declared he was satisfied without this being done.

Later Depue gave a demonstration of the method in the office of District Attorney Lea, and took an impression of the hand of Attorney H. W. A. Weske. He then examined many hands and picked Mr. Weske’s dainty digit from the number without hesitancy. Mr. Depue declares that this system is the most positive of any for the identification of criminals, and that there are no two fingers or hands alike in marking. It has been adopted in all the leading states and cities.

An effort is to be made to induce the Board of Supervisors and the council to provide this system for Sonoma county and Santa Rosa peace officers. It is claimed that with this system much more effective work could be done along criminal lines.

Following his test without seeing Nelson’s face, Mr. Depue declared he distinctly remembered seeing Nelson in prison under the name Goldman.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November  2, 1909

Admitted He is Samuel Goldman, Ex-Convict

After Frank Depue had so dramatically identified Nelson, the robber of the O. K. saloon, by means of his finger marks, as Samuel Goldman, a former convict of San Quentin, Mr. Depue had a conversation with him at the jail. The sentenced man admitted that he was no other than Goldman.

During the couple of weeks he has been in confinement in the city prison, he has not spoken a word of English. This he did to carry out the impression that he was a German lad who was not familiar with things in this country. He stated to those present at the after meeting in the jail that the story he told the court was only a bluff, and he carried it out as far as he was able. Nelson paid Depue a high compliment in saying, “If the authorities had told me last night that it was you they were sending for, I would have confessed then, because I knew you could identify me with that blamed ‘Puddenhead Wilson’ trick.”

Nelson speaks fair English now and admits that he is a Russian Jew.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November  3, 1909

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The sun was going down and there was a winter storm approaching, so there would be no do-overs that November day. Friends who had gathered in the field watched as the 24 year-old man took his seat in front of the controls and revved his home-built engine to a roar. Then, according to a local newspaper, “the machine dragged itself over the rough ground for a distance and then evenly ascended.” It was the first airplane flight north of the Golden Gate, and one of the first anywhere on the West Coast. The pilot/designer was Blaine G. Selvage, and his accomplishment is completely forgotten today. And so is he.

That first flight took place November 16, 1909, outside of Eureka. Selvage flew three-quarters of a mile in a minute and a half, an average speed of 30MPH. He might have gone farther, had he more than a gallon of gasoline in his tank.

The most significant aspect of his flight was that he demonstrated control of the aircraft by flying in a circle almost back to his starting point; most first-time pilots barely managed to keep the thing wobbling along in a straight line. The man who might have made the first California flight ten weeks earlier, Glenn Martin (of later Lockheed Martin fame) flew just 100 feet in Santa Ana, barely above the height of clotheslines.

All of these pioneer California aviators – Martin, Selvage, and a bit later, Fred J. Wiseman – were building their aircraft without blueprints, without experienced help, and never having actually seen a plane in flight except for grainy films shown at nickelodeons. What they did share was a brain fever that they could take some wire, bits of wood, a little canvas and a gasoline motor – common items you could find in any garage or around any farm – and somehow end up with a machine that would fly you through the air.

While Martin and most other Americans were trying to copy the Wright Brother’s biplane, Selvage had built the sort of single wing plane that they were making in France. An aviation-enthusiast magazine of the time described it as a “combination of a Bleriot and Antoinette,” which probably meant that it looked much like the actual 1909 Bleriot shown in modern-day flight in the video here, except that his plane had a longer wingspan. More technical details about his aircraft can be found in the articles transcribed below.

A few days after his premiere flight, the Press Democrat reprinted in full an account from the Eureka Herald. The PD had previously claimed that Selvage would be making his first flights from Santa Rosa, and the reprinted article included a preface that Selvage was “formerly a well known Santa Rosa boy.” Selvage and several brothers were rooming together here in recent years and working as laborers; they were probably among the men struggling to rescue the injured and extinguish the fires after the Great Earthquake of 1906.*

Selvage told a local paper that he had a lucrative offer in Southern California for exhibition flights, and might enter a $10,000 Los Angeles competition. Whether he did either is unknown, but about six months later, on June 5, 1910, he was back in Eureka to make arrangements for exhibition flights on the Fourth of July. He said he had been in Oakland, where he made “a number of flights” and was “studying aeronautics and experimenting in aviation.”

Oakland was exactly where you’d expect to find someone like Selvage in 1910. That year it was the hub of all things aeronautical in the Bay Area, with local pilots operating from an old racetrack in nearby Alameda. “The most successful flights which have taken place in Alameda County, Ca., have been made by Blaine Selvage in a monoplane, which he built himself,” an item in Aircraft magazine noted that September. “Three times on the same day he flew several miles and returned to the starting place without the slightest hitch.” The magazine also reported, “Selvage’s ambition is to be the first aviator to fly across San Francisco Bay.”

Being the first to make a transbay flight was apparently a dream of many aviators at the Alameda airfield that autumn. A pilot named Ivy Baldwin twice told the Oakland Tribune that he was about to make the crossing, but his durned Curtiss biplane happened to be in the shop. There were rumors of a $1000 prize offered by an unnamed San Francisco club. New achievements in aviation were reported prominently in this era, but I’m unable to find a story describing the first transbay flight in either Oakland or San Francisco newspapers – probably because all interest in that fizzled as aviation in California suddenly made a quantum leap forward.

The first triggering event for this rapid change was the December announcement of a $5000 prize for the first flight from San Francisco’s Tanforan airfield to San Rafael and back – a 60+ mile round trip probably partly over the ocean, which made the 12 mile hop across the quiet waters of the Bay look pipsqueak.

But the big shock was the January 7, 1911 air meet in San Francisco, followed a couple of weeks later by a similar event in Los Angeles. This was not an exhibition of novice pilots like Selvage who were proud to demonstrate that they could circle an airfield and land without crashing; this was a performance by the best aviators in the world flying the best planes. Hubert Latham, who had been one of the first to attempt crossing the English Channel in 1909, flew over downtown San Francisco and became the first pilot to cross through the Golden Gate. The same day James Radley thrilled crowds by looping over the Bay, circling “Goat Island” (Yerba Buena), flying 25 feet above the water around an Oakland-to-SF ferry boat, and buzzed a naval battleship so closely that the Rear Admiral attested he could have shot it down with a rifle, if he were so inclined. (Both Radley and Latham, by the way, were flying monoplanes similar to Selvage’s.)

Perhaps Selvage felt humbled by their honed skills and expensive, high-powered machines, but his career as a pioneer aviator was apparently over. There may be further century-old newspapers and magazines yet to be discovered that will show he continued exhibition flying after the Tanforan event, but the complete absence of any mention in the press after 1910 suggests that he called it quits. Or maybe his plane was repossessed; in August, 1910 he had accepted $500 from a backer that was apparently secured by the plane (in a snarky little front page item, the Oakland Tribune commented, “When in need of hard cash why–mortgage your air ship of course”).

Blaine’s trail is hard to follow over the next forty years. The 1913 Eureka directory shows him working as a machinist, and married in 1916 to a woman named Faye. That marriage appears to have not lasted long; Mrs. Faye Selvage is in Eureka the following year, but not him. We find Blaine next in 1923, working as a machinist in Stockton, then a building contractor in San Mateo, 1938. Selvage returned to Santa Rosa in his final years and operated businesses dealing in concrete. In 1953 he filed for a patent on a “combined wheelbarrow and cement mixer,” still the inventive thinker.

Blaine G. Selvage, unmarried and childless, died here on July 4, 1967, at the age of 81. No obituary for him appeared in either the Santa Rosa or Eureka newspapers. So forgotten was he at death that even his grave was unmarked, and so it still remains.

(RIGHT: Unmarked grave of Blaine G. Selvage, the first to pilot an aircraft north of the Golden Gate. The grave is in Santa Rosa’s Memorial Park Rose section, E-36)

On the 50th anniversary of his first flight in 1969, there were a few mentions in the Eureka Times-Standard. His brother, Harry, was interviewed, and told a newspaper columnist that he remembered Blaine building the aircraft and testing the engine, and being there when his brother took to the air. He mentioned that after 1910, Blaine did not abandon flying entirely; Harry said “he carried passengers in his private flying service, working out of Santa Rosa” (alas, his brother didn’t specify the decade in which that happened). And maybe some of his airman DNA always remained; the mixer part of his wheelbarrow invention was fundamentally the blade of a slow-turning propeller.

*Born in Eureka in 1885, the 1905 Santa Rosa directory lists him as “G. Blaine Selvage,” and his family genealogists state his birth name was Gelespie Blaine Selvage, which is probably a corruption of his grandfather’s name, Guissippe Selvaggi. At some point before 1909, he swapped the middle name and initial and was known as Blaine G. Selvage for the remainder of his life.

Blaine Selvage, a well known young mechanic of Eureka, has practically perfected a model of a new aeroplane of his own invention, with which he has already made several successful trial flights in private. Mr. Selvage is planning to bring his machine to Santa Rosa, where he will make his first public exhibition and trial flights.

The machine which Mr. Selvage has built consists of two plane surfaces, both 40 feet in length and six feet wide. These surfaces are connected with light but strong supports and rods of different materials, the machine built along practical lines.

A feature of the machine is an appliance whereby the man controlling the machine can make the aeroplane swing and rock from side to side and turn on an unsteady course, much as a bird in flight. This feature of the machine is now before the patent office at Washington and within a short time Mr. Selvage expects to receive his patents. The course of the aeroplane is determined by a horizontal rudder.

The motor which is now being built for the model machine is being built under the direction of Mr. Selvage. The engine is a four-cylinder motor and is capable of developing 30 horsepower. The feature of the motor is its small size and light weight which will make it adaptable for use by the aeroplane.

– Press Democrat, August 12, 1909


A few days ago the Press Democrat mentioned the achievements of Blaine Selvage, formerly a well known Santa Rosa boy, with his self constructed aeroplane at Eureka. The Eureka Herald gives the following detailed, interesting account of his first flight, which will be read with interest by his many friends here:

In the air for a minute and a half, during which time almost a complete circle was traversed, was the feat performed at the Woods resort on the Arcata road yesterday afternoon at 5:30 o’clock. Mr. Selvage made a genuine test and his machine took to the air as nicely as a Wright machine ever tried to do . Mr. Selvage was in town this morning. Despite his modesty as to his achievement the young man was appreciably proud of his machine and exceedingly gratified at the success he enjoyed late yesterday afternoon.

Had the aeronaut had more gasoline in his machine he would have remained in the air longer. One cylinder of his four-cylindered motor began to miss. The aeronaut concluded that it would be well for him to land before any of the other cylinders refused to work. After landing and an examination of the motor made, it was found that the supply of gasoline had been practically exhausted. But one gallon of gasoline had been put in the tank and a part of this had been used in turning over the motor before a flight was attempted. More gasoline had been ordered sent out bit it did not arrive. Hence Mr. Selvage made his initial flight with a shortage of fuel.

The flight was made in a field to the south of the Woods hotel on the Arcata road. The field is no larger than is required for aeroplane maneuvers. Upon starting, the vertical rudder was put hard over. The machine dragged itself over the rough ground for a distance and then evenly ascended. When a height of 20 feet had been attained Mr. Selvage adjusted his planes [sic] to go no higher. He did not care to seek a high altitude upon the initial flight. The machine answered the levers nicely and gave evidence of having sufficient strength to withstand the strain that it must undergo. The motor behaved nicely until the gasoline was exhausted. With the vertical rudder kept hard over the machine circled about the field and would have returned to the place of beginning had there been plenty of gasoline and a landing not been made.

The Selvage machine is a monoplane. It is 40 feet from end to end of the plane, which extends on either side of the light frame work supporting the motor and affording a seat for the aeronaut. The machine was built in this city at the Pacific garage by Mr. Selvage, he making the motor himself.

Mr. Selvage says that he will not attempt to make another flight for afew days, probably not until the latter part of this week or the first of next week. He wishes to place stronger wheels beneath his machine. He is having wide hubbed wheels made especially for the machine. In landing a considerable strain is put upon the wheels. The landing of last evening came very near putting one of the wheels out of commission. Until this matter is attended to the young man will not attempt to make another flight.

The flight of yesterday afternoon was witnessed by a few invited friends of Mr. Selvage He wished to try out the aeroplane in the presence of a few before permitting the general pubic to know of the time of any intended flight.

– Press Democrat, November 21, 1909


Blaine Selvage, the young Eurekan who in an aeroplane of his own construction succeeded in flying three-quarters of a mile in a minute and a half last Tuesday night, stated last evening that immediately after the present storm is over he will make another flight out on the Arcata road near Woods’ resort.

Selvage is putting more substantial wheels under his flying machine and the next time he ascends heavenward it will be with the firm resolve to make a record breaking flight.

The inventor states he is confident he could fly over the top of Eureka, and but one thing discourages such an attempt, the possibility of his engine breaking while in mid air which would necessitate a descent to terra firma. House tops to not offer a descent to terra firma. House tops do not offer all that might be required for a place of alightment.

After several more flights in this county, Selvage will be ready to sally forth in search of new fields to conquer, it being his intention to go to Lon Angeles and try for the Harris Gray Otis prize, the millionaire newspaperman in the City of Angels is offering.

Selvage is confident he has infringed on none of the patents awarded to the Wright Brothers or any other aviator, and he has several applications for patent on his machine pending.

His 40 horse power engine of four cylinders made entirely by himself, Selvage declares to be the greatest factor in his success. A new system of lubrication has been used to advantage in the Selvage engine and even when it is geared to 1000 revolutions per hour the machinery does not become heated.

Other aviators have had considerable trouble with their engines, their machines becoming so heated while working at full speed in the air that long flights are impossible. Selvage thinks he has successfully bridged this gap.

Then again, the Selvage aeroplane is equipped with steering and balancing devices far superior to any yet used. Generally the amateur aviator has trouble on his first flight in keeping the machine right side up, but Selvage did not experience the slightest difficulty from that source in his first dash into the clouds.

The Selvage machine is of the monoplane type used considerably by French aviators, the Wrights are using a biplane.

– The Humboldt Times, November 19, 1909 as reprinted in “Redwood Country” Eureka Times-Standard, November 21, 1969


Blaine Selvage, the young machinist of this city who recently made a flight of three-quarters of a mile in a minute and a half in an aeroplane, monoplane type, of his own construction has already received tempting offers for exhibitions in other parts of the state.

There is soon to be a big jubilation in Ventura and Selvage has been offered $500 and all expenses to make flights in that county during the carnival. Selvage has about decided to accept the offer and he is planning to leave Humboldt county soon to keep the engagement.

After Ventura, he told The Times, he would then fly on to Los Angeles to accept the challenge for a $10,000 purse being offered by the publisher of The Los Angeles Times.


It has been suggested that Mr. Selvage be asked to make a number of flights in this city next Fourth of July or next fair week and something of that nature may be arranged. This winter he wants to go to Southern California where there are flying contests.

Selvage has demonstrated that he has mastered the air in a measure and he will no doubt have more engagements to make exhibition flights that he can attend to hereafter.

– The Humboldt Times, November 23, 1909 as reprinted in “Redwood Country” Eureka Times-Standard, November 21, 1969

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Want to take home a 7-month-old baby? Come on down to the Salvation Army, where little George will be handed over to someone as an “interesting feature of the afternoon’s services.” Thus was apparently the fate of infants unwanted or parentless in 1909 Santa Rosa; the Lytton Springs Orphanage, which was likewise operated by the Salvation Army, did not accept youngsters under school age.

The spring of 1909 was the season for orphaned children: A few weeks earlier, a family of seven kids found themselves alone when their widowed mother Ida May Rice died. The day after her funeral, the court named as guardian the local probation officer, who promptly said that all of the children had been placed in homes. The Assistant District Attorney complemented his swift work was done “without any expense in the county.”

It would not be cynical to presume unhappy fates awaited the Rice children; this was the era when orphans were still taken into homes to work as domestic servants or farm laborers, and three of these children were in their early teens, a prime age for such exploitation. Happily, the 1910 census shows that five of the children were adopted by Myron and Eva Goodsell of Janesville, Wisconsin, who were presumably relatives. What happened to the eldest daughter, 17 year-old Nellie, or the newborn is unknown. Hopefully the latter didn’t end up as another Salvation Army door prize.

Ida May, with her husband Charles Rice, are buried in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Eastern Half Circle 36.


The services at the Salvation Army on Sunday will be conducted by Major Willis of San Francisco. Special subjects will be dealt with at each meeting. An interesting feature of the afternoon’s services will be the giving away of a baby boy, by name of George. George is seven months old, weighs 22 pounds. The public is invited to come.

– Press Democrat, May 22, 1909

Leaves Six Children Orphans to Face the World

Mrs. Ida May Rice passed away on Friday morning at her home on Charles street, leaving several children, among them a new born babe, to mourn her loss. Mrs. Rice succumbed to double pleuro-pneumonia, and everything possible to medical science was done to save precious life to the family. She sank steadily and her spirit was transferred to the better land, leaving the motherless and fatherless children.

Mrs. Rice had resided at 740 Charles street, the place where the Angel Death found her, for the past five years. She was a woman devoted to her family, of lovable disposition, and endeared herself to all with whom she came in contact. Her husband succumbed last autumn and left her a widow. There are six children in the family. Rev. Leander Turney, pastor of the Baptist church, will officiate at the funeral.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 19, 1909

Probation Officer Plover’s Good Work in Behalf of the Poor Rice Orphans

The six little orphan children left by the late Mrs. Rice , who was buried on Monday afternoon, have been found homes by Probation Officer J. P. Plover. This is good news for many people who were attracted to the case by the sad details connected with the death of the mother, preceded as it was by that of the father a short time ago.

Probation Officer Plover was named guardian of DeWain Rice, et al., by Judge Seawell yesterday morning. After this was done Assistant District Attorney Hoyle told a Press Democrat representative of the home finding.

“That’s a pretty good piece of work on the part of Mr. Plover in itself,” said the Assistant District Attorney. “He has found homes for those six Rice children without any expense in the county.”

– Press Democrat, March 24, 1909

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