A year after the Comstocks settled in Santa Rosa, the newspapers began to take notice that a truly remarkable family had arrived.

The first 1909 report on Comstock family members was little more than a “personal mention” item that was probably overlooked by most readers as trivial news: “Hilyard [sic] Comstock…has taken up the study of law. He is reading with Colonel J. W. Oates…” The Press Democrat must be forgiven for not anticipating that this was the launch of a career that would impact Santa Rosa for the next half century; what’s unforgivable, however, is that the PD didn’t explain why this was such a newsworthy story. “Hilyard” was barely 18 years old and had no formal education aside from homeschooling by his mother and tutors, and James Wyatt Oates, a splenetic 59 year-old maverick who had never accepted a law partner, was now taking under his wing a young man whom he had only known for a few months. And for an extra poignant twist, Oates was following in the footsteps of his own brother, who had similarly educated him in the ways of the law when he was about the same age.

The Press Democrat may have misspelled Hilliard’s name, but they were right in noting that he was an avid tennis player. Both he and older sister Cornelia were active in the Santa Rosa Tennis Club, and there were items in both papers about him playing in local competitions. Tennis was apparently a swell way to meet girls; a couple of the sports articles reported that matches drew good-sized audiences, “most of whom were of the fair sex.” The papers weren’t done mangling his name, by the way; he was “Hillyard” in another PD tennis item, and the Santa Rosa Republican sports reporter just gave up and called him “H. Comstock.”

The Republican paper also published a short feature article on eldest brother John Adams Comstock, who was already respected as a word-class scientist – and like all the other Comstock siblings, homeschooled by their extraordinary mother, Nellie. The Republican reporter ooh’ed appropriately at Comstock’s enormous butterfly collection, which was supposedly the best in the nation. (His 1927 survey, “Butterflies of California,” remains the definitive work on the topic.)

John and his sisters were also famed artisan leather workers, trained at the famed Roycroft arts colony. Calling themselves “The Companeros,” their work won highest prizes at state and national competitions, which drew further attention from the 1909 Santa Rosa newspapers.

But the most unusual item on the Comstocks to appear that year was a wire story from Chicago concerning the estate of Judge Harvey B. Hurd, who was Nellie’s father and the grandfather of Hilliard and his six brothers and sisters. Yes, both papers often wrote about inheritances and the value of estates when prominent local citizens died, but I don’t recall any instance where readers were plainly told how much a resident had inherited from someone outside the area. In this case, however, it was a newsworthy story: The Comstocks had real estate in Chicago and Evanston worth about $200,000 which was to be held in trust for Nellie’s children. Projecting the value of that trust in terms of economic status, it would have been worth over $27 million today. In other words, the Comstocks weren’t just richer than anyone else in Santa Rosa – they were worth more than most local banks at the time.

Nellie Comstock and her children were probably the smartest, the most industrious, and the wealthiest family Santa Rosa had ever seen, but were together here only for a few years. John left for Southern California to study medicine; most of the others drifted to Carmel, where they were instrumental in founding the arts scene, endowed with generous donations from the Comstocks. That could have been Santa Rosa’s future instead, and more’s the pity.


Hilyard Comstock, one of the Comstock brothers, tennis players, has taken up the study of law. He is reading with Colonel J. W. Oates. Mr. Comstock has many friends who will wish him all success in his studies, and they predict that it will not be long before he can be hanging out his shingle. He means to “dig” and such a determination always augurs for success.

– Press Democrat, April 20, 1909

The Tennis Championship Between These Two

This afternoon James H. Edwards and H. Comstock are playing the championship set to decide who is entitled to the tennis honors of this city. These two have worked their way to the top, having won all the sets which they have played.

The preliminary games in the Santa Rosa championship tournament were played at the Santa Rosa Tennis Club’s courts Sunday morning and the games brought out some exceptionally good plays. Most of the contests were very close and the court was in ideal condition. The audience which witnessed the games was largely composed of ladies. Much interest centered in the games that James R. Edwards participated in. He was looked upon as a likely candidate for the championship honors.


– Santa Rosa Republican, May 31, 1909

Mrs. Nellie Comstock and daughters, the Misses Cornelia and Katherine Comstock, and Messrs. Hilliard and Hugh Comstock are all encamped at Eaglenest. Hilliard will come over next Wednesday to participate in the finals of the gentlemen’s doubles in the tennis championship, which will be played at 5:30 o’clock in the afternoon.

– “Many Social Events in City of Roses”, Santa Rosa Republican, July 3, 1909

Won the Championship Tennis Doubles

The Santa Rosa tennis championship for gentlemen’s doubles was determined Wednesday evening on the Santa Rosa Tennis Club’s courts. The honor of the tournament and the large silver loving cup was won by George Palmer and Hilliard Comstock. A large number of spectators, most of whom were of the fair sex, were present and watched the final match in which the winners were opposed by Temple Smith and A. W. Scott.


– Santa Rosa Republican, July 8, 1909

Individual Awards at Sacramento in Addition to the Big Prizes Given the Sonoma County Display

In addition to the big prizes won by the Sonoma County exhibit at the State Fair that has just closed in Sacramento individual premiums were won as follows…

…”The Companeros,” whose establishment is in the Masonic Temple building in this city, won first prize for the best piece of tool leather…


– Press Democrat, September 9, 1909

John Comstock Has One of Best in United States

A large number of the close friends of John Comstock, manager of the Companeros Gift Shop, even among those who know him quite well, are not aware that he has a splendid collection of butterflies. He has, however, one of the best collections of United States butterflies owned in this country. Mr. Comstock seldom speaks of his collection, but to those who show an interest in the matter he is quite willing to show his collection and explain the differences to be seen in the many different kinds of butterflies.

He was for several years the recorder of the lepidopteral section of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and during that time and for several years afterward he spent a large portion of his spare time and holidays collecting the pretty little winged insects that fly among the flowers. Although Mr. Comstock’s collection is particularly one of butterflies of the United States, yet he has saved a few of the large, beautiful and highly colored butterflies from Brazil and other tropical countries that have come into his possession. These however, he does not count as being in his United States collection.

In his collection there are about three thousand butterflies. Of this number there are five hundred and some odd different species of the butterfly. There are seven hundred and fifty known species of butterflies in this country, so it will be seen that Mr. Comstock’s collection contains a large portion of those in existence. He himself in his research work has discovered four varieties of the butterfly not previously known, and is accredited with these discoveries by lepidopteral scientists. One of these varieties, which lives only in the high mountains of Colorado is worth $10 each.

In nearly all cases he has secured three specimens of each species, a male and female each. The third one is for the purpose of showing the coloring of the under side of the wings.

California, with its long stretch from the north to the south and its high mountains and valleys, contains a very large number of different kinds of butterflies and is considered as the best field of research to be found anywhere in one state. Mr. Luther Burbank has seen the collection and evinced a great deal of interest in the systematic manner in which it is kept. A large part of the collection Mr. Comstock gathered himself, but still a good many he has secured by trading with other collectors.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 24, 1909

Mrs. Comstock Divides Estate Among Children

CHICAGO, Sept. 24–William S. Young has taken title to an undivided one-half interest to eleven parcels of real estate which Mrs. Nellie Hurd Comstock of Santa Rosa, Cal., inherited from her father, the late Harvey H. Hurd of Evanston. Mr. Young, as trustee, is to pay to her during her life the net income, and on her death to pay it to her children. The property includes an undivided one-half interest in 52 and 54 Lake street, 24 by 140 feet, improved with a five story building. The property at 52 and 54 Lake street was valued by the Board of Review at $83,295, of which $10,000 is in the building.

The foregoing dispatch was received Monday, and it was further learned that Mrs. Nellie H. Comstock, having a life interest left her by her father, Judge Harvey B. Hurd of Chicago, in his estate, and after dividing the estate among her seven children, Mrs. Comstock placed it back in trust to her children, retaining only the life interest. This was in accordance with her father’s wishes. William S. Young was one of the trustees appointed by him. A sister of Mrs. Comstock some time ago brought successful suit to secure the fee simple of the estate for Mrs. Comstock. The property consists of real estate in Chicago and Evanston, and is approximately worth $200,000.

The late Judge Hurd was for a long time dean of the law faculty of the Northwestern University at Evanston, and for thirty years was engaged in revising the statutes of Illinois. He was the author of several measures passed by the legislature of that state. One of them was the child labor law authorizing the creation of a juvenile court. Another was the Torrens land law, which obviated the necessity of securing abstracts to title of land on the part of those making purchase of same. This measure was adopted in California, but owing to the way the legislature handled it, it met with indifferent success.

Mrs. Comstock lives a short distance outside of Santa Rosa on a ranch. Five of her seven children reside in this city.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 27, 1909

Receives Gold Medal at Seattle Exposition

The Gift Shop of the Companeros carried off the gold medal and highest award at the arts and craft exhibition of the A. Y. P. exposition.

This is the second honor of its kind that has come to the Companeros, the first being a blue ribbon first award at Sacramento, for art leather work.

These are the only competitive exhibitions that the Gift Shop has entered this year, and the result speaks well for the quality of the work produced.

Since its establishment here the gift shop has attained considerable of a reputation in the far east for its creations in the fine arts. Over fifty of the largest cities in America are included on their list of agencies. They also hold a membership in three of the most exclusive Arts and Crafts Societies in the United States, namely the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, the National Society of Craftsmen of New York City, and the Daedalus Guild of Philadelphia.

This December will see their work entered in five fine art exhibitions, including that given in Berkeley by the Berkeley Art Association, but as these are not competitive, no awards are expected.

The Gift Shop is becoming an object of pilgrimage to many California craftsmen, and is well worth a visit, for those who love beautiful things.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 12, 1909

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Anyone with a pulse has strong opinions about media bias, it seems today. Entire TV networks are seen as inartfully spinning the news left or right according to political tilt; particular broadcast commentators and print columnists are presumed to be chronic fabricators of lies; Internet-based news resources often can’t be trusted because – well, c’mon, it’s on the Internet, man!

But often the most powerful kind of bias is also the easiest to commit: Just ignore something. If your only news source doesn’t report that someone did X or said Y, then event X or quote Y simply didn’t happen – or at least, wasn’t worth mentioning.

A fine example was found in the 1907 Santa Rosa papers, as discussed here earlier. A downtown market sold contaminated seafood salad and about a dozen people fell seriously ill with food poisoning, with one prominent woman nearly dying. The Santa Rosa Republican printed full details and identified the store; the Press Democrat deftly avoiding mention of the market by name. Was it significant that the market was a regular advertiser in the PD but not the Republican?

Other forms of bias were demonstrated in the Press Democrat in early 1909. In the space of three weeks, three remarkable men visited Santa Rosa, and in each case, the PD censored what they had to say.

Our first visitor was Jacob Riis, the reformer and godfather of investigative journalism who revealed the horrible conditions of the New York City slums in the 1890s. Riis was in Santa Rosa as part of a tour of high schools and colleges around the West presenting his “The Battle With the Slums” lecture with a slideshow of his famous photographs. (His most shocking book, “How The Other Half Lives,” is available online with a separate index of pictures.) Riis, who visited here in March, also exposed the sweatshops that exploited children, and told his audience that all would be better if the kids could only enjoy the “brightness of the sunlight, fresh air and opportunities to see the beauties of nature.” One wonders if he would have changed his opinion if he had come around in the summer, when boys as young as seven were shipped up here from the Aid Society in San Francisco to pick fruit and work in the canneries.

Readers of the Republican paper saw a summary of his “decidedly entertaining and instructive” lecture that was heard by almost 500 people – a remarkable turnout for a town with a population under ten thousand. Over at the PD, however, readers weren’t told who Riis was, and the word “slum” wasn’t even mentioned. Their subscribers learned only that this “noted lecturer” was surprised to discover that Santa Rosa had also been damaged in the 1906 earthquake, that he thought Luther Burbank was a swell guy, and that he “showed remarkable interest in the chicken industry.” Why did the Press Democrat go out of its way to trivialize – and likely insult – this important man? No explanation is clear, except that PD editor Ernest L. Finley had often previously shown antipathy against both citizen do-gooders and muckrakers. (CORRECTION: In error I overlooked that the Press Democrat indeed published an unbiased review of the Jacob Riis lecture in a separate article on a different page in the same March 20, 1909 edition of the paper. A transcription of that article has been added below.)

A few days later, Santa Rosa was visited by card-carrying Socialist “Big Bill” Haywood who was speaking to encourage union membership in general and “relate the stories of hardships and cruelties practiced on the miners.” Local press coverage was a repeat of the Riis visit, only more so; the Santa Rosa Republican published a straight-forward article about what Haywood said, adding only that he was an entertaining speaker who provided “great merriment to his audience.” In a short article the PD presented him as a dangerous rabble-rouser who vowed, “We are going to turn the government upside down.” This time, the word unmentioned by the PD was “union.” Again, the finger of bias points to Finley, who was not only the editor of the paper but president of the anti-union Chamber of Commerce.

The third example of bias grows out of a meeting between Luther Burbank and Elbert Hubbard. A true celebrity in his day, Hubbard was a renowned author, newspaper columnist, and one of the pioneers of the emerging American Arts & Crafts movement. As the latter, he was also a friend of the Comstocks, who had moved to Santa Rosa a year earlier. Three of the young Comstocks had worked for Hubbard in his Roycroft workshops, and matriarch Nellie was described as a “close personal friend” of Hubbard’s in her obituary. It is unknown whether Hubbard met with any of them during this brief visit, however.

Although there was no public event during Hubbard’s swing through town, the Press Democrat squeezed out 300 words about his visit, mainly to note he was “lavish in his praise of the wonderful accomplishments” both here and in San Francisco since the quake. The Republican offered only a short item about him as yet another famous person visiting Burbank, most of its copy shamelessly cribbed from the PD article. A month later, however, a followup article in the Press Democrat rehashed the trip – this time, with a twist of censorship.

The PD reprinted part of an essay about the Burbank visit that appeared in the June, 1909 edition of Hubbard’s magazine, “The Fra” (read the entire piece here). The full essay begins with Hubbard spotting Burbank in the audience when he took the stage in San Francisco, and that his lecture subsequently turned into “a heart to heart talk” aimed directly to Burbank. Describing his trip to Santa Rosa the following day, Hubbard continued his paen to Burbank, and this section of the essay contained several mottoes that are much quoted in writings about Burbank, including “The most beautiful words I heard him utter were these: ‘I do not know'” and, “The finest product of the life and work of Luther Burbank is Luther Burbank.”

But in its reprint, the Press Democrat cut out a section (shown in bold in the transcription below) including this paragraph:

Theology and metaphysics have their jargon and jibberish. They pull the strings that make the puppets dance, and beneath their lingo they hide their ignorance. The pseudo-scientists can no more be cornered in argument and caught than you can corral an evangelist.

There were no ellipsis in the PD reprint to cue readers that this text had been removed, and there was no mention of the magazine’s name, where a curious reader could hunt out the original – complete with its introduction that included an even more inflammatory comment: “Luther Burbank… never goes to church.”

Presumably the PD didn’t want to wade into stormy waters by insulting local evangelicals or bringing up our local icon’s lack of christian faith (which eventually caused him enormous grief when he declared himself an “infidel” 17 years later). Best to just ignore the controversial parts. Who’s to know?

Noted Lecturer Praises Wonderful Rebuilding of Santa Rosa and Progressiveness of People

Jacob Riis, who lectured at the High School last night, is accompanied on his western trip by his wife. It is the first time they have ever been in this part of California, and they were both greatly delighted at what they saw here. In speaking to a newspaper man yesterday afternoon at the Occidental Hotel Mr. Riis showed great surprise at the newness of the city.

“I remarked to my wife after coming up the street,” said he, “that Santa Rosa was as new looking as San Francisco, and we wondered at the fact.” When told that the city was any of the greatest sufferers in the state by the disaster of April 18, 1906, and had been rebuilt since that date, he expressed the greatest surprise at the wonderful work accomplished. “I never thought of the disaster outside of San Francisco,” said he. “Your people are greatly to be complimented on their faith and progressive spirit.”

The noted lecturer showed remarkable interest in the chicken industry, and asked many questions regarded the resources of the county. He spoke of the wonderful work of Luther Burbank, declaring that the horticulturalist stood in a class all by himself as a scientist along those lines.

Speaking of his work Mr. Riis said he was on the coast for a series of lectures before the High Schools and everywhere he had been greeted with large audiences. He declared he was glad on the opportunity to visit Santa Rosa, and speak to a people who had shown themselves capable of doing so much for themselves.

– Press Democrat, March 20, 1909

Noted Author and Lecturer Tells of Great Good Accomplished in the Slums of New York

Jacob Riis, known the country over by his accomplishments in the way of relieving conditions in the over-crowded slums and tenement districts of New York as well as by his writings, delivered a most intensely interesting, instructive, and patriotic lecture in the Assembly room of the Santa Rosa High School last night to an audience of nearly five hundred people.

The earnestness of the man, the Christian spirit which prompts his actions and his easy manner, together with his familiarity with the subject which he handled, made his address impressive. The stereopticon slides of the sights and scenes before and after the work which has been accomplished in New York City’s slums, held his audience spell bound as he described the dark side of life and what has been done to better conditions.

Mr. Riis contends that the environment makes mankind what he is and if the environment is made so as to appeal to the best that is in a child, that child will grow up into a man or woman who will make a good and true citizen, while if the reverse conditions exists, the soul is destroyed and only the clod of clay remains. With dirt, filth and darkness goes crime of all kinds, while with light, fresh air and opportunity to see the beauties of nature comes purity of heart and purpose in the growing youth.

As a police reporter on the New York Sun Mr. Riis had many opportunities of seeing the results of life in the slums, and when he took up the idea of bringing before the public those conditions he spent years writing and working before it had any appreciative results. It was when he was joined by Theodore Roosevelt, after he became Police Commissioner, that results began to materialize. The worst sections of the city were transformed into play grounds one after another, and the laws regarding tenement houses were revised until now the poor and neglected are given many opportunities never dreamed of a few years ago. The work is going on all the time, and each year sees marked advances to the good accomplished.

– Press Democrat, March 20, 1909

Tells of Battle in Slums of New York

Jacob Riis, the well known worker of the slums in New York City, delivered his splendid address at the Assembly Hall of the high school Friday evening. Nearly five hundred people availed themselves of the opportunity to listen to the address and to greet the man who has done so much to ameliorate the condition of the people living in the slum districts of the American metropolis.

The speaker began his work while a reporter on the New York Sun. He had the police detail, and such harrowing tales came under his notice in his department that he finally took an interest in relieving the conditions existing as much as he could by his personal efforts. To show the public the exact conditions Mr. Riis equipped himself with a camera and took pictures of the poverty stricken districts in which his work lay, and showed the people of New York a condition which few of them had any idea existed. The work of Mr. Riis was not appreciated to any great extent until President Roosevelt became a police commissioner of New York City, and undertook to assist Riis in his laudable endeavors.

Mr. Riis contends that environment is everything in life and that only when the environment is such as to appeal to the best in a child’s nature will that child grow to be a man worthy of the name. He contends that where the obverse conditions obtain, the child will be the result of the environment to the extend that its nature will be limited by the sphere in which it grew to manhood. With the surroundings of dirt and filth crime is bred and fostered, while with the brightness of the sunlight, fresh air and opportunities to see the beauties of nature will come a purity of heart and purpose in the child growing to manhood or womanhood.

Through the effort of Mr. Riis’ beginning, the tenement house ordinances were revised until the dwellers in these domiciles are made comfortable and given opportunities to enjoy the fresh air and sunlight, play grounds have been established in the sections where dirt and filth formerly prevailed, and the children of the slums have been provided with opportunities for enjoyment that were not theirs a few years since. The lecture was decidedly entertaining and instructive.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 20, 1909

Tell of Troubles of Miners Wednesday Night

“Bill” Haywood, the “undesirable citizen,” lectured here at the People’s Unitarian church Wednesday evening to a good sized audience, and he entertained them with the story of the labor troubles of the miners in Idaho and Colorado. Haywood has a vein of humor in his address that is captivating, and some of his illustrations were productive of great merriment to his audience.

The speaker was introduced to the audience by James H. Hughes, and launched at once into his recital. He declared if it were not for the staunch support of the union men of the country, he would not be in the flesh now, but sleeping in a bed of quicklime at the Idaho penitentiary. He proceeded, as he said, to give his hearers some information regarding the serious disturbances that he had not gained from the windows of a Pullman car, and said he would relate the stories of hardships and cruelties practiced on the miners of the States named.

The speaker announced at the outset that the Socialist party was the only one which would ever emancipate the laboring men. He said the Socialists were accused of wanting to “divide up,” that they did not want to “divide up” now, but intended to take all that they produced. The conflict he said was being waged between those who produce all and have none and those who produce nothing and have all. He referred humorously to the candidacy of William J. Bryan, “sometimes” candidate of the Democratic party, and likened him to the boy who fell out of the window. The first fall was an accident, the second was a coincidence, and the third became habit. So, he said, it had become a habit with Bryan to run for the Presidency. He also gave Roosevelt a rap for declaring him and his friends “undesirable citizens.”

The problem of the unemployed was discussed by the speaker, and he said Socialism offered the only reasonable solution for the question. He advocated that human beings should have as much sense as a mule, and that when they were hungry and unable to obtain work, they should help themselves to the supplies where found. He instanced passages from the Bible and from remarks of Cardinal Manning, Abraham Lincoln and others to show that there was nothing wrong in this procedure.

Haywood described the bull pens into which the sturdy miners had been thrust, how disease and vermin ran riot among the men, of alleged indignities heaped upon them and the helpless women and children, of the calling out of the military forces to subdue and shoot down the miners when no acts had been committed which would justify such a course in the least. The story of how he, Moyer and Pettibone were taken from Denver to Idaho on a special train, thrown into the penitentiary, and kept eighteen months before trial, was graphically described. Haywood did not pose as a hero in any respect, but gave a simple narrative on the events without much personal allusion. He said the Western Federation of Miners had been born in jail, conceived in the bull pen, was the child of injunction, and the result of a strike to prevent a reduction of wages.

Among the troubles of the miners particularly recounted by the speaker were those of Cripple Creek, Leadville, Lake City, the Couer de Allenes and other places. The blowing up of the depot at Independence, where thirteen men were killed, and other overt acts were discussed by the speaker. He said attempts had been made to trace these crimes up to the miners’ unions, but that indisputable evidence had been obtained that they were perpetrated by the mine owners in order to divert attention from the real cause of trouble and to secure the aid of the militia in subjugating the miners.

The speaker said the Socialists proposed to turn the government upside down and turn the country from a political junk shop to an industrial workshop. He appealed to all workingmen to join the unions to which their respective crafts permitted them to become members and give them loyal support.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 25, 1909
“Undesirable Citizen” Gives His Views Wednesday Night on a Number of Matters

W. D. Haywood, “one of the undesirable citizens” of Colorado, who was involved in the murder charge growing out of the assassination of Governor Steunenberg of Idaho, delivered a lecture here in the Unitarian Church on Wednesday night to a fair audience. He gave a brief outline of the miners’ troubles from the time of the Cripple Creek strike in 1894 up to the time of the assassination and related many of the incidents connected with the use of troops in the mining regions.

His contention was that capital was warring on labor then and still continues to do so, and declared that the only relief was through the Socialistic organization. “We are going to turn the government upside down,” he declared, amid applause. “We will turn the country upside down and make the political junkshop an industrial workshop where all men and women capable will be contributing to the general development and receive in return for their labor the full social value of all they produce.”

In closing he made a strong plea for the support of organized labor, and the placing of the ballot in the hands of the women of the land on the same equality as men.

– Press Democrat, March 25, 1909
Brilliant Author and Lecturer and Editor of “The Philistine” Calls on Luther Burbank Wednesday

Elbert Hubbard, distinguished author and lecturer, was visitor in Santa Rosa on Wednesday. He was accompanied by his wife and daughter, Miss Miriam Hubbard. They came here to visit Luther Burbank.

Mr. Hubbard is the editor of “The Philistine” and also proprietor of The Roycroft Shop in East Aurora, N. Y. His shop is devoted entirely to the making of De Luxe editions of the classics and to publishing his own works. He is a brilliant and forceful writer, and one of the best known.

“You and I are working along the same lines,” Hubbard told Burbank when they bade each other goodbye. He added: “I may say, Mr. Burbank, that this visit is one that I have long had in mind. It has been a very delightful one, but all too short.”

We Santa Rosans get so used to hearing men and women of prominence who visit us praise the beauties of the City of Roses that it has almost become a second nature to expect such a compliment. Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard were delighted with what they saw of the city. Mr. Hubbard had read of the devastation wrought here and in San Francisco by the earthquake. He had also seen published accounts of the rebuilding. He was lavish in his praise of the wonderful accomplishments of both cities. Speaking of his visit here on Wednesday he “just dropped in to see Mr. Burbank.”

Mr. Burbank went to San Francisco last Sunday to hear Elbert Hubbard speak on the “March of the Twentieth Century.” He returned home very much pleased. Hubbard also spoke at San Jose and Berkeley. He left on Wednesday night for Los Angeles.

It is a source of considerable regret that Mr. Hubbard could not deliver a lecture in this city.

– Press Democrat, April 15, 1909

Sometime since Elbert Hubbard, the famous author and writer, came to Santa Rosa to visit Luther Burbank. At the time the Press Democrat published a short interview with him and his estimate of Burbank and his work. From his pen since then has come a splendid tribute to the distinguished Santa Rosan. The part referring to Mr. Hubbard’s visit to Santa Rosa will be read with interest. It is as follows:

The next day I saw Burbank in his own garden, there at Santa Rosa. A modest man with iron-gray hair, furrowed face of tan, with blue eyes, that would be weary and sad were it not for the smiling mouth whose corners do not turn down. A gentle gentleman, low-voiced, quiet, kindly, with a welling heart of love. On Broadway, no one would see him, and on Fifth Avenue no one would turn and look. His form is slender, and smart folks, sudden and quick in conclusion, might glance at the slender form and say the man is sickly. But the discerning behold that he is the type that lives long, because he lives well. His is the strength of the silken cord that bound the god Thor when all the chains broke. He is always at work, always busy, always thinking, planning, doing, dissatisfied with the past, facing the East with eager hope. He is curious as a child, sensitive as a girl in love, strong as a man, persistent as gravitation and gifted like a god.

His hands are sinewy and strong—the hands of a sculptor. His clothes are easy and inexpensive. Children would go to him instinctively. Women would trust him.

Luther Burbank was born in Massachusetts, and those prime virtues of New England—industry and economy—are his in rare degree.

No matter how much money he might possess, Luther Burbank’s mode of life would not change.

He is wedded to his work. His mother, aged ninety-six, is one of his household. His sister is his housekeeper. Two fine, intelligent young women, bookkeepers and stenographers, make up the balance of the family.

They all work—even the good mother reaching out toward the last lap of her century run, is busy. In fact, I rather guess that is the secret of her long life—an active interest in things, with plenty of responsibility for ballast.

It is a very busy household, with every day crammed with work. The stiff, formal and pedantic are beautifully absent.

These people are doing things, so they do not have to pose or pretend.

Henry Thoreau said: “The character of Jesus was essentially feminine.” That is to say, the love that could embrace a world was mother-love, carried one step further. The same could truthfully be said of Luther Burbank.

Much has been written in an exaggerated way of Burbank’s achievements, but the fact is, his genius is of a kind in which we can all share, and is not difficult to comprehend.

Genius, in his case, is a great capacity for hard work. Fused with this capacity is great love, great delicacy, great persistency.

Among scientists there is almost as much bigotry and dogmatism as there is among theologians.

There is canned science as well as canned religion. In truth, most so-called scientists are teachers of text-books—purveyors in canned goods.

Even among the Big Five—Tyndall, Huxley, Spencer, Wallace and Darwin—there were a few slight spots on the sun. Only one of that immortal quintette was ninety-nine and ninety-nine one-hundreths fine.

That man was Charles Darwin.

In the heart of Darwin there was no room for doubt, distrust, jealousy or hate. He was without guile. He loved Nature with a high and holy passion. He had no other gods before her.

The honesty of Darwin, his reverence for truth, the modesty of his claims set him apart as the High Priest of Science. In all the realm of physical research, Darwin seemed to have but one compeer and that was Aristotle.

Now there is a trinity, for Luther Burbank is one with these. He is a citizen of the Celestial City of Fine Minds.

[Theology and metaphysics have their jargon and jibberish. They pull the strings that make the puppets dance, and beneath their lingo they hide their ignorance. The pseudo-scientists can no more be cornered in argument and caught than you can corral an evangelist.

The tactics of the inkfish are not covered by copyright.] With Luther Burbank the clap-trap of science is beautifully missing. The tricks of the sciolist are absent.

The most beautiful words I heard him utter were these: “I do not know.” He makes no effort to explain things he does not understand. He lives out his life in the light.

It is a joy to think that the bounty of Andrew Carnegie has made this great and gentle soul free from bread and butter cares, so he can give his days to science and the race.

“The land that produces beautiful flowers and luscious fruits will also produce noble men and women,” said Aristotle. Also, in producing beautiful flowers and luscious fruits, men and women become noble.

The finest product of the life and work of Luther Burbank is Luther Burbank.

– Press Democrat, May 13, 1909

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I don’t think it’s ever good when your name appears in front page headlines next to the words, “Ugly Scandal,” but it’s particularly rough when the newspaper article appears on the eve of your closing the deal of a lifetime. The person was Harrison M. LeBaron; the deal was the sale of Armstrong Grove to become a state park. The scandal was that LeBaron and the state senator from Santa Rosa were supposedly trying to rook taxpayers by grossly inflating the worth of those irreplaceable thousand year-old trees.

The cash value of Armstrong Grove and the nature of LeBaron’s private deal became hotly discussed topics in the 1909 Santa Rosa newspapers. Although dailies of that era rarely printed letters-to-the-editor, lengthy comments began appearing, sometimes two or more a day, sometimes with correspondence from still another person folded into a letter. Even more remarkable, these same letters appeared in both the morning Press Democrat and the evening Santa Rosa Republican – something I’ve not found before. These waters kept roiling for five weeks, making Armstrong Grove unquestionably the #1 local story of the year.

Some of the background was covered in an earlier post, but the need-to-know basics are such:

* THE ARMSTRONG ERA   The 440 acre woods were first owned by Col. Armstrong, who was one of the lumbermen who made a fortune clear-cutting the Redwood Empire of redwoods in the late 19th century. Armstrong apparently always thought of the grove as a showcase; as the Russian River resort scene was just launching in 1887, he discussed setting aside forty acres for a hotel with park land (the rest he was presumably going to log).

* BEGGING THE STATE TO TAKE IT   Strapped for cash in 1891, Armstrong offered to sell the grove to the state without luck (there was no state park system at the time). When he died in 1900, Armstrong tried to deed it to the state in his will, with the proviso that his heirs would act as trustees. The legislature balked, said to be because of the trustee provisions and also because of pressure from timber interests who hoped the valuable woods would now be sold. The property remained in the ownership of Armstrong’s children, Walter and Elizabeth (“Lizzie”).

* THE LeBARON ERA   In 1908, Harrison LeBaron struck a deal with Walter and Lizzie (more about that later). LeBaron controlled the Dairyman’s Coast Bank, which was the primary financial institution in west Sonoma county. The banker immediately announced he intended to chop down the woods and make a big profit – that is, unless the state would quickly agree to buy the property. State Senator Walter Price (R-Santa Rosa) vowed to present a bill that would purchase the grove, but only if LeBaron would please agree to delay logging long enough to get the state to approve. 

Senator Price produced a very nice illustrated booklet about the grove for his fellow legislators, and as the state senators and assemblymen returned to Sacramento for the 1909 session, it looked like a deal was in the bag for the state to purchase the land for $125,000 (equivalent to about $3.25 million today). Then the article appeared on the front page of the San Francisco Call.

The Call was San Francisco’s great muckraking newspaper, so it wasn’t unusual to find it featuring a story about a crooked politician. But anyone who read past the headlines and the illustration of Senator Price’s semi-disembodied head floating in front of trees found the article was charging that Price and LeBaron were in cahoots to sell the land for 3x its true value. Even more scandalous, in the eyes of the Call, was that LeBaron didn’t own the grove at all – he had only paid the Armstrong heirs a few hundred bucks for an option that expired before the end of the year. If the state bought the woods, Lizzie and Walter would split $40k, and LeBaron (and Sen. Price?) would walk away with a cool $85,000 profit for little risk.

A followup article in the next day’s Call backed off from some of the earlier claims. LeBaron’s profit wouldn’t be so obscene after all, the paper now reported, as Walter and Lizzie’s share was $40 thousand each, and LeBaron had already paid Walter in full. The newspaper also cooled down the hysteric tone; LeBaron was now “the patriotic citizen” and there was no further suggestion of a hidden arrangement between Price and himself. LeBaron was called to Sacramento the same day as the first Call article appeared. The Call article was also wrong about LeBaron’s current asking price. Over a dinner with members of the assembly’s forest committee a few days earlier, LeBaron had been questioned about his deal and forced to lower the price to $100,000. Still, a committee of senators and assemblymen would junket to Sonoma County that coming weekend to see the grove for themselves.

Letters and editorials immediately began appearing in the Santa Rosa papers contradicting the Call articles as well as other letter writers. Armstrong Grove was worth the original asking price; it was worth more; it wasn’t even worth $40,000; LeBaron did own the property outright, but hadn’t paid very much for it; LeBaron had paid top dollar for options on the land and would hardly make any profit.   

There were too many letters to transcribe them all, but stumptown’s founding father George Guerne wrote in support of LeBaron and suggested that should spare himself grief by logging the woods, which he thought had a value of $128,000. Guerne’s estimate was disputed by Andrew Markham, another of the old-time timber barons. That lumberman/banker said the grove was worth about $85,000, and by the way, LeBaron would be making an obscene profit because he had only paid $30,000 for most of the land, plus a small option on the remainder owned by Armstrong’s daughter. Markham said he knew these details because Armstrong’s son, Walter, owed him money at the time, which he paid off by the sale of his share of the grove to LeBaron.

 In a letter that appeared in both papers, LeBaron wrote that he wasn’t about to reveal any details about his dealings with the Armstrong heirs. A few days later, he forwarded a letter from Walter Armstrong:

“You are having a time of it with the ‘kickers and knockers,’ I see by the papers. If I can do you any good let me know.

“Markham does not know it all be any means. I did owe him some money and I paid it. He was sore because he did not get the ‘Grove’ on a mortgage, and because I paid up the loan he felt sore…Sam Wright [who had written a letter quoting Markham] has about as much right to know what I and my sister received on that as he would have to know who President Taft put in his cabinet.” 


The same day that State Senator Walter F. Price and other legislators returned from their junket to Armstrong Woods, he introduced his only piece of legislation that actually made it into law: The infamous eugenics law, which allowed for the forced sterilization of anyone in a state hospital or prison and specifically anyone at the California Home for the Care and Training of Feeble-Minded Children in Glen Ellen.

Walter Fitch Price (1858-1946) was a Republican who served two terms in the state assembly and one undistinguished term in the state senate from 1907-1911, where he failed to win passage of the Armstrong Grove bill as well as an Audubon Society-sponsored bill to crack down on illegal hunting. He was a back-bencher in the pocket of Southern Pacific, according to California Weekly, a progressive magazine: “a man who can be counted on to do any political work that the Herrin organization wants done” (William Herrin was the railroad’s top lobbyist).

In his hometown of Santa Rosa, however, he was an important player as the Republican party became ascendant. He was accused of being among the four political “bosses” or Santa Rosa by the reformers who sought to oust the “Good Old Boy” faction in the 1908 city elections. That August the San Francisco Call also claimed Price ran the Republican machine in Sonoma County along with ex-Senator E. F. Woodward (a friend of James Wyatt Oates, by the way). When he wasn’t in Sacramento he could probably be found at the Price & Silvershield office that sold real estate and insurance. His partner, Henry Silvershield, moonlighted as city assessor.

Price also had a number of political patronage jobs. After his tenure in the state assembly, he was appointed as a Deputy Tax Collector of Internal Revenue, a position that caused some discussion when he was elected  senator, as he legally couldn’t hold a federal and state job at the same time. While senator, he was appointed to the Expert State Board of Examiners. Prior to the 1908 elections, Price was to be nominated as the Collector of Internal Revenue for the Northern District of California. This was a job with enormous opportunities for patronage, as the Collector could hire as many Deputies as he desired and review cases of tax evasion that could be forwarded to the Treasury Department for prosecution. “The man with the strongest political strength will be appointed,” the Call reported. “The victor, it is declared, must be a man who is in a position to rally a large force to the support of the republican party next fall.” It appears that Price didn’t get the post (but I can’t be 100% certain), but that he was considered for the job by Republican party leaders shows he had significant political clout.

LeBaron’s own letter blamed all opposition to the deal on “Democrats and Doodle Dees” operating out of “political spite and prejudice toward Senator Price or myself or both,” while reminding everyone that the grove was valuable because it was one of the few stands of old-growth left. He named a couple of similar properties that were now logged out. “As to the Markham tract,” LeBaron wrote,” there have been different mills upon it and there may now be some dams by the mill site, but there is no lumber by a damned sight.”

Markham exploded. “Mr. LeBaron, you are all wrong and I am afraid you are disturbed,” he wrote in a letter the very next day. His 150 acres of virgin timber land was untouched and not for sale, he insisted, and furthermore, he wouldn’t accept Armstrong Grove if it were offered as a gift. “You had better not use my name in this matter again. I do not care whether you, or Price, or any of the real estate men makes a hundred thousand or five hundred thousand, and I hope you will die a very rich man.”


Far less was questioned about Senator Price’s role in the deal. He immediately offered a statement to the SF Call: “I am not, never was, and never will be financially interested in the Armstrong grove…” But as pointed out in an op-ed from the hyper-partisan Press Democrat, the Republican senator was not accused of having a personal investment; “It has by inference been charged, however, and publicly, that he is financially interested in securing the passage of a bill authorizing its purchase by the state.” In other words, there might have been an understanding that if the bill passed, LeBaron would make a generous campaign contribution, offer a zero-interest loan from his bank, or something similar.

The PD also observed that Price had been working unusually hard to achieve passage of this bill. Besides producing a costly illustrated brochure, he had solicited endorsements from civic groups and clubs to demonstrate he had strong local support. “It does not necessarily follow that there was anything wrong about this; but in view of the conspicuous activity displayed by Senator Price in working up public sentiment on the proposition he naturally laid himself open to some criticism besides very materially weakening his right to claim that he introduced his bill solely because of the [e]ndorsement given the project in this country.”

But maybe Price did have his fingers in the pie after all. As mentioned in the earlier post, an article four months earlier in the Santa Rosa Republican had stated, “Senator Walter F. Price has secured an option on the Armstrong Woods, recently purchased by Hon. H. M. LeBaron…Mr. LeBaron has entered into an agreement with Senator Price on the matter.” If accurate, that clearly sounds as if there was indeed a straight-forward (but probably illegal) investment deal between the two. Too bad the muckrakers at the Call didn’t know about that bombshell.

The State Senate approved purchase on Feb. 23, almost three weeks after the controversial article appeared in the Call. The bill went to the governor’s desk awaiting his signature. And there it died at the end of the session, an unsigned pocket veto by Governor Gillett, a Republican.

The future of Armstrong Grove again went into limbo. LeBaron died in 1914, and his eldest son joined with Lizzie in making a new sales pitch, this time to the county. A tax measure was placed on the 1916 ballot and endorsed by both newspapers, Luther Burbank, and conservationists around the state. It passed, with a selling price of $80,000. Adjusted backwards to 1909 dollars, the cost was exactly half of LeBaron’s original asking price. Never has the county had such a deal since.


NOTE: Two of the 1909 articles below use the colloquial phrase, “nigger in the woodpile.” It may have originated in the 1850s as a reference to hiding escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad, but by the Lincoln presidency, it referred to there being a hidden purpose in a proposed law. Although offensive today, the articles are transcribed here exactly as they appeared in the papers. The goal of this journal is to provide an unvarnished look at early 20th Century Sonoma County as viewed through its newspapers, where racist terms routinely were used to ridicule people of color (although that’s not exactly the case in this instance). To downplay or outright censor the casual racism that appeared in these “family papers” would be to whitewash the unpleasant aspects of our history. -je

A committee of legislators inspect Armstrong Grove, Feb. 7, 1909
Photograph courtesy Sonoma County Library

Ugly Scandal Threatened in the Legislature Over Bill to Purchase Armstrong Grove
Deal to Preserve Big Trees is Urged by Senator on Sentimental Grounds
President of Dairyman’s Bank of Valley Ford Stands to Clear $85,000
Owners Willing to Sell for $40,000 and Option Will Expire With Session

An ugly scandal is threatened in the state legislature when the bill for the purchase of the Armstrong grove of big trees in Sonoma county comes up for final consideration. The measure is fathered by Senator Walter F. Price, and while its passage has been urged on sentimental grounds, it develops that its promoters stand to clear $85,000 on the deal. The grove can be purchased for $40,000. The state has been asked to pay $125,000. The property is assessed for $12,500.

Between the present owners and the state stands H. M. le Baron [sic], president of the Dairyman’s Bank of Valley Ford in northern Marin county [sic]. Le Baron has an option on the property for $40,000. He demands $125,000 and has interested Senator Price in his scheme. Price has been extremely active in behalf of the measure. In fact, he has organized “sentiment” in his county through the city authorities and chambers of commerce of Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Sebastopol and other cities in that district.

Big Profit Involved

Price has not give publicity to the fact that his friend Le Baron stands to make a cool profit of $85,000 at the expense of the state. Le Baron assumes an air of indifference and says he is not eager to sell even at the price named. Be that as it may, it is perhaps more than a coincidence that Le Baron’s option runs “until the end of the session of the legislature.”

Before he went to Sacramento Senator Price made a tour of Sonoma county and was instrumental in organizing meetings at which resolutions were adopted recommending that the state purchase the grove. Very soon after the session opened Price introduced his bill. It is now pending.

In some quarters there was a disposition to doubt the valuation assumed by Price and an investigation was begun. It was not long before it became known that Le Baron has merely an option on the tract and that he had instituted an advertising campaign in furtherance of the measure.

Capitalized Sentiment

Then came the revelation that the astute banker from Valley Ford had capitalized sentiment with a view to an $85,000 profit. His unique investment was predicated upon the prospect of a gain of something over 200 percent, and this without the outlay of more than a few hundred dollars.

The grove belongs to Walter Armstrong and Mrs. Elizabeth Armstrong, his sister, and it is from them that Le Baron has secured his option. He paid $400 for it, and has made it doubly certain by placing a deed to the property in escrow. Le Baron evidently was not inclined to take any chances, for with his deed safe in a Santa Rosa bank, his friend Senator Price, was busy in Sacramento lining up the members of both houses in favor of the deal.

Death Prevented Gift

The grove, which comprises 400 acres of beautiful redwoods, was owned originally by Colonel Armstrong, a pioneer and father of the present holders of the tract.  Colonel Armstrong had frequently said that he intended that the wonderful trees should be preserved. He had made plans to deed the park to the county or the state, but died before he was able to carry out his intentions.

Upon his death the grove passed to his son, Walter Armstrong, and his daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Jones. They too, desired that it should be preserved. An agreement was made by which Mrs. Jones held title to 205 acres and her brother 195 acres.

Some 18 months ago Walter Armstrong decided to take up his residence in Los Angeles and entered into an agreement to sell his portion of the tract to Le Baron under certain conditions. Recently Mrs. Jones gave Le Baron an option on her part of the tract on the condition that it should go to the state and be forever preserved. A deed was drawn up and placed in escrow in the Exchange Bank of Santa Rosa.

Small Sums for Option

For the option Le Baron paid Armstrong and his sister each $200 or $400 in all. He agreed further to pay for the park in case he decided to purchase a total of $40,000 or $20,000 to Armstrong and a like amount to Mrs. Jones. The option was drawn up to run until the end of the session of the legislature. Under the terms of the option given by Mrs. Jones it appears that Le Baron has the right to sell only to the state of California.

As soon as the thrifty banker had gone through these preliminaries he began his campaign to unload on the state at an $85,000 profit. Senator Price covered the county and Le Baron got busy in his own behalf.

Le Baron does not deny the facts. He simply says that he does not care particularly to sell to the state. He evidently overlooks the fact that his option specifies that he must sell to the state.

“Understanding” Denied

“There is no understanding with any one on this matter,” said Le Baron. “I would like to see this grove preserved, but I would much rather that the state would not purchase it for $125,000, as I can get more for it for the lumber. The grove will make fine lumber, and as there is now a scarcity of redwood I could dispose of it easily to great advantage.”

At her home in Cloverdale MRs. Elizabeth Jones confirmed the reports as to the deal as far as she knew them. She said that she desired to see the grove preserved and had given an option to Le Baron on the express condition that it be sold only to the state. For further facts Mrs. Jones referred to her attorney, John T. Campbell.

Attorney Campbell was not impressed by the size of Le Baron’s prospective profit. He said he believed the grove to be worth $250,000, but failed to explain why with that knowledge he had allowed his client to give an option on her half interest for $20,000. At Campbell’s valuation Mrs. Jones should have received $125,000.

Attorney Talks of Risk

“Mr. Le Baron knew when he went into the matter,” said Campbell, “that there would be expenses for advertising, awakening sentiment, and for examination and other things which would cost something. He figured the cost and then added something for the risk and trouble involved before fixing the price at which he was willing to dispose of the property.”

A few years ago the property was cruised and a report made that for timber purposes it was not worth much more than $20,000. There is a vast stand of redwoods, but the trees are of the variety that requires the most expensive machinery.

There is a decided sentiment throughout the state in favor of the preservation of these wonders of nature. In fact, no people have been quicker than those of California to extend a protecting arm toward the forests which have become famous the world over. The Armstrong grove is recognized as one of the most picturesque in the state, but the attempt to hold up the state for a vast profit for its purchase will come as a shock to those who were earnestly working for the measure in the belief that its promoters were actuated by a laudable sentiment and not be a commercial consideration.

– San Francisco Call, February 3, 1909
Made Eroneous [sic] Statements About Armstrong Grove

A great injustice was done to Sonoma county and the State at large by the publication in a metropolitan morning paper of this date of an article purporting to be the facts related to the Armstrong Grove purchase by the State. A bill has been introduced by Senator Price asking for an appropriation of $125,000 for the purchase of Armstrong Grove. The original bill as introduced in the Assembly also asked for a like amount. Later a conference was held between Senator Price and Assemblyman Whitney in which the facts of the proposed measure were carefully gone over. It was discovered that the appropriation asked for was too high. Mr. LeBaron was called to the capital, and after much persuasion consented to sell the tract for $100,000. The bill as originally filed went up to the Forestry Committee. … A full investigation of the real value of the tract. based on facts show that Mr. LeBaron has an option on one-half of the tract from Mrs. Jones, for $40,000. The assumption is, and cannot be justly controverted, that he agreed to pay an equal amount to the other heir, that would make the amount of Mr. LeBaron’s pledge reach $80,000. The bill provides for State payments on an installment plan, leaving it up to Mr. LeBaron to pay interest on the large amounts of capital required for the term of payments. This will easily bring the expenditure, with the other necessary expenses, as the passing of the abstract, and advertising, to approximately $90,000. On this proposition Mr. LeBaron stands, and doubtful too, to make $10,000; not more than any real estate dealer would ordinarily make on a transaction of this magnitude…

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 4, 1909

The Call’s story regarding the proposed sale of the Armstrong Woods appears to be a strange jumble of fiction and fact…As near as we have been able to ascertain, Mr. LeBaron some time ago purchased Walter Armstrong’s interest in the grove outright, paying therefor in one for or another about $40,000. Later, he secured an option from Mrs. Lizzie Armstrong Jones on her half of the property, agreeing to pay $45,000 for the same, said option running only until the adjournment of the present session of the legislature and being admittedly given with the express idea of furthering the sale of the combined properties to the state. According to the terms of the bill introduced by Senator Walter F. Price to provide for its purchase, the cost of the property o the state is to be $125,000. This leaves a difference, or profit, or percentage, or whatever one is pleased to call it, of $40,000 instead of $85,000 as stated by the Call.

We are hardly prepared to say that $40,000 is too much for a private citizen, laying no claims to patriotic motives, to make on a deal of this character and magnitude. Nor are we prepared to say that $125,000 is too much for the state to pay for the property in question. Considering the use to which it is to be put, and the further fact that such bits of accessible virgin redwood forest are none too plentiful, the probabilities are that the Armstrong Woods are worth every cent the state is being asked to set aside for their purchase.

But $40,000, or $4,000, or $4000, or $40, or forty cents, is too much for a public servant to make on such a deal, or any other deal through graft.

Senator Price has practically been charged by the Call with grafting or attempting to graft on this proposition.

If the facts are as we have them, the only point to be considered seems to be whether or not the very conspicuous interest taken by Senator Price in the matter is personal or impersonal. If his hands are clean, and if all the profit on the deal is to go to the man backing the project, we are frank to say that we fail to see anything in the matter so far brought out that justifies public opposition to the bill. From the public standpoint, it will be unfortunate indeed if the plan to secure this wonder-spot of Nature should be defeated by misapprehension on this point, or unjustly.

It seems to be up to Senator Walter F. Price, patriot and reformer, to make the next move. For his own as well as for his pet project’s sake, he should make his position plain and set himself straight before the people if he can.

– Press Democrat editorial, February 4, 1909

The great Armstrong Woods scandal yarn published in the San Francisco Call last Wednesday and hastily amended the following issue, has so pitifully petered out that to make any further reference to it is like respanking the baby or hitting the house cat another swat. What a lovely story it was! A bee-u-tee-ful story! Red hot off the bat. According to it H. M. LeBaron of this county is unloading a patch of redwood trees on the pee-pul of the State of California for $125,000, a clear gain to the prize real estate man of $85,000. Senator Walter F. Price of Sonoma county is engineering the nice little deal through the legislature.

Around the country a few readers thought they saw this alleged nigger in the Armstrong Wood-pile and were interested in the tale, but most of the Call’s readers saw the cap-and-bells in the story. If the managing editor of that journal had not been so carried away with the beauty of its phraseology and its commercial value as a “story,” he would have noted in time that the alleged amount of the “graft” was too huge, too unwieldy to handle and that the tale was over-colored, over-written. As evidence that he did notice the errors, the following issue of the paper contained an amendment in which was added $40,000 to the sums Mr. LeBaron must pay the Armstrongs for the 400-acre tract of redwoods. This lowered the “graft” from $85,000 to $45,000 and rubbed several coats of black off the conspirators. This amendment is not enough, and the fact that the paper has changed its statement on the principal point has caused the public to lose faith in its “news.” Moreover, H. M. LeBaron is not rated as a dishonest man, nor is W. F. Price believed to be a rascal or a fool. Neither of the men are expected to be found in a transparent “get rich quick” scheme that was reported to transfer $85,000 from $125,000 to their pockets in a minute.

The price which the State is asked to pay for the Woods is $100,000, and not $125,000. The industrious political enemies–both lay and editorial–of Senator Price cannot get away from the bigger figure. To keep the argument alive it must stay at $125,000. Mr. LeBaron dropped $25,000, though he doubtless would have preferred the larger amount, and is there any real estate dealer in this highly moral burg who would not? Now the people of the State of California and the people of the County of Sonoma (even if Price’s Sonoma county friends write “red hot stories” to city sensational papers denouncing him and his work) will get the splendid grove of sequoia for a play ground forever and forever more. Here is another argument: Mr. LeBaron paid Walter Armstrong $45,000 for that heir’s share, and with the $40,000 he must pay Mrs. Lizzie A. Jones for her portion of the tract, if he follows up his option, he will be out $85,000 instead of $40,000, as reported Wednesday. This leaves his putative profit $15,000 instead of $85,000 (vide city paper) and $40,000 (vide local paper). Lord, but it does take a heap of instruction to get some newspapers on the right track. However, if those journalistic opponents of the Armstrong Woods reservation proposition keep on scaling down the amount of alleged graft at the present rate of progress, by day after tomorrow they will have H. M. LeBaron paying the State $40,000 or $85,000 to take the block of trees off his hands. Moreover, if the sale is made, he must wait for his money, which will come to him in installments, causing him an expense in interest on the investment. There will be other expenditures to be made which will perceptibly cut down that so-called graft to an ordinary profit. The Press Democrat, a journal published in this city and county, and whose conservativeness on the subject is marked, says editorially:

“Considering the use to which it is to be put, and the further fact that such bits of accessible virgin redwood forest are none too plentiful, the probabilities are that the Armstrong Woods are worth every cent the state is being asked to set aside for their purchase.”

So, the nigger in the Armstrong Wood-pile turns out to be only the chirp of a juvenile cricket. Nobody has seen the cricket, but one person heard him and several persons who did not hear the vocal insect, told what they would have heard the cricket say, if they had heard the cricket say anything.

The end of this poor attempt to dig a scandal out of the proposition to preserve from destruction the grand trees of the Armstrong Woods near Guerneville, reminds me of the fate of the ambitious skunk that backed up against an approaching train. After the cards had passed all that remained between the rails at that spot was a deficit and a disagreeable smell. TOM GREGORY

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 5, 1909


A great deal of talk has been occasioned by the publication of the Call’s article dealing with the proposed purchase of Armstrong Woods by the state, and Senator Walter F. Price has issued the following statement in reference to his position in the matter:

“I am not, never was, and never will be financially interested in the Armstrong grove to the extend [sic] of one penny, and insinuations that I have introduced this measure on such a motive are unjust and not founded in fact. The people of my district wanted the grove preserved and it was because of their indorsement [sic] that I introduced the measure. I have no positive knowledge of Mr. LeBaron’s dealings in obtaining possession of the grove, but I know that he must have paid at least $80,000 for the property. I was one of the legislators who stood out against him when we were conferring on the price, and made him come down to $100,000.”

It is unfortunate that Senator Price is not more specific. Nobody has charged that he is financially interested in Armstrong grove. It has by inference been charged, however, and publicly, that he is financially interested in securing the passage of a bill authorizing its purchase by the state. If such is not the case, Senator Price ought to say so–and prove it, if such a thing be possible. He says he introduced his bill “because of the indorsement…” given the project by the people of this district. Does he refer to the various resolutions passed here by civic and fraternal bodies? It is no secret that in most instances they were introduced at Senator Price’s personal solicitation. In more than one case the resolutions were personally written and prepared by that gentleman. It does not necessarily follow that there was anything wrong about this; but in view of the conspicuous activity displayed by Senator Price in working up public sentiment on the proposition he naturally laid himself open to some criticism besides very materially weakening his right to claim that he introduced his bill solely because of the “indorsement” given the project in this country.

Senator Price says he has “no positive knowledge of Mr. LeBaron’s dealings in obtaining possession of the grove.” He feels very sure, however, that Mr. LeBaron “must have paid at least $80,000 for the property.” Perhaps it would have been better had Senator Price posted himself on the subject. He then could have discussed the matter more intelligently and convincingly. Senator Price is not usually backward in such matters. As a general thing he is fairly familiar with the details of anything happening in his vicinity. His bashfulness in this instance held him back at a most inopportune time. Positive information on the subject of how Mr. LeBaron secured possession of Armstrong grove is what the public is demanding now, and somebody ought to be able to supply this information. If Senator Price is unable to do so, he must not blame the people for thinking it strange. He is the recognized spokesman for the measure, and should have fortified himself with the facts, and ought to be able to supply them, whether he is or not.

While Senator Price finds himself compelled to plead ignorance as to some of the important facts in connection with his principal bill. The Press Democrat believes it is able to supply them. We are in receipt of some later information which we believe to be absolutely authentic and which states that the final price agreed upon between Mr. LeBaron and Walter Armstrong for the latter’s half of the grove was $30,000. This was when the option was replaced by an actual bill of sale. The original option was for $40,000. If our latest information is correct, of this purchase price of $30,000, only $10,000 has actually been paid. This point is immaterial, however, for the purchaser has obligated himself to pay the balance in two equal installments and nobody will dispute the fact that his obligation is good. The option secured from Mrs. Lizzie Armstrong Jones is for $45,000, and on this nothing has been paid, if we except a possible nominal sum put up to hold the option. On an actual expenditure of $10,000, then, Mr. LeBaron, with the assistance of Senator Price, is swinging a $100,000 sale to the state, the latter figure being the one now agreed on as a price for the property. The cost will be $75,000 and the profit $25,000.

There is not necessarily anything wrong about a proposition of the above character. Many a sale of even greater magnitude and promising far more profit is swung on less money. But why not come out and [illegible microfilm – probably ‘admit the details’]? Hardly anyone will contend that the property is not worth the price now asked for it–that is, to the state and for the purpose to which it is to be put. With the amount of profit to be made, the public is not particularly concerned, providing it is legitimate and is applied to no questionable ends. The people of this county, particularly, are anxious to see the Armstrong property secured by the state and turned into a public park. They fully realize all that it would mean, both to them and to the state generally. There is not desire here to block the proposition. Instead, it is just the other way. So much has been said on the subject of graft, however, that some definite assurances that there will be no graft, will have to be forthcoming. If Senator Price cannot supply the kind of information wanted, perhaps Mr. LeBaron can.

Speak up, Mr. LeBaron!

– Press Democrat editorial, February 5, 1909

Legislators Come and See the Trees Sonoma Wants Preserved

The legislative party from the State capital arrived in this city Saturday night, paid a visit of inspection to the Armstrong Woods near Guerneville on Sunday morning and returned to Sacramento on the afternoon train of that day. The time was necessarily limited to a few hours, but the travelers saw even in that brief period that the salvation and reservation of that last stand of splendid trees should now be assured the people of the State of California. Said one member of the party on his return from the grove, “Every statement, every argument spoken or written by the friends of the measure is true. The question of what the tract of trees has been worth, or what it may be worth now to any private party, or what the present owners may have paid for it, is a woeful begging of the whole question. We believe the Armstrong Woods as a public park for all time are worth the amount asked in the bill.”

[… several legislators compliment the forest and the area …]

Another gentleman said, “The time is passing away when ‘anything’ can be worked through a legislature. The people are demanding that their representatives make good. The public evils that have been blighting the land must go. The ‘sack’ that used to swing through the capitol during the sessions is either not there now, or it swings very low. We are all Missourians and the man with a measure must show us. The race track bill went through because its opponents had against it as argument only spiteful and peevish abuse for its champions. It did not make the poolseller less a blackleg because a clergyman said he was such. And behind the measure were the people of California, and it was so ordered.”


Senator H. M. Hurd of Los Angeles, said if they had the Armstrong Woods in the “Southland,” they would not only preserve them, but they would exhibit the trees to eastern tourists as Burbank creations.

Sunday morning the special train of several coaches carried the entire company of local people and visitors towards Guerneville. A transfer was made around a landslide at Eaglenest and the passengers were soon in the famous Sonoma timber belt. El Rio Russian, swollen to the draught of a battleship, was dashing violently to the sea, as if to show the legislators that she was a navigable stream for other than steam launches and salmon. The hospitable people of Guerneville were ready for the party and seventy-five strong they turned out in their carriages and carried the visitors to the place where the grand trees that Colonel Armstrong so long guarded from the destroyer, stand in their majesty. It was an April-like day–cloud and sunshine over the forest. After the light shower, the golden light falling down through the green boughs gilding the raindrops on the foliage and bronzing the red shafts of the kingly sequoia–noble columns in this temple of God. Through the woody corridors the visitors wandered, voicing their admiration and commending the spirit that has moved the people of the State to preserve these matchless things. From Luther Burbank delving down in the long hidden secrets of seed and pollen, they harked back to the day when the Almighty said let green things appear on the earth. Did these then in their obedience to the Voice spring from the newly created soil? After the centuries shall they now pass away?

Guerneville Entertains

After being caught and cameraed by Photographer John Ross in that splendid forest gallery–and made to look how small a statesman is even beside a tree–the party returned to town and found in the Masonic hall the ladies of Guerneville awaiting with tables spread. And the solons proved to be good trenchermen. “It was not a salad and sandwich spread nor a smart luncheon,” said a hungry man, “but a dinner, a mother cooked dinner; one of the best I ever got loose at. And the waitresses were perfection. If Guerneville wasn’t so far away from Sacramento, I;d try to dinner there every day of the session.”

The party returned to Santa Rosa in the afternoon and later boarded their train for the capital.

The legislature visitors were Senator W. F. Price, Sonoma county…


– Santa Rosa Republican, February 8, 1909
Mr. Cnopius Realized Possibilities Years Ago

Lewis C. Cnopius, the well known owner of Camp Vacation, has been interested in the redwood section of that vicinity for more than twenty years. His ability to see into the future foretold to him the possibilities of that beautiful section as a summer resort, and for the purpose of establishing summer homes there for the purpose of establishing summer homes there for the populace of this vicinity and the cities about the bay. With that vision of the future he invested in that section, and his property is among the most valuable in that vicinity.

In going through some of his private papers recently he found a letter from Colonel J. B. Armstrong, the owner of the Armstrong Woods, written in answer to an inquiry from Mr. Cnopius and dated October 2, 1887. In it Colonel Armstrong spoke of the idea he had in mind, and which he attempted to carry out at one time, regarding the big redwood trees of that section becoming a state park, and which is now before Governor James N. Gillett for his signature. The letter has the following to say regarding the matter:

“Your information respecting my forty acre grove of redwoods being set aside for a park is correct. Also that five acres will be deeded in fee simple to the party who will erect a building for a place of resort.

“The forest will remain untouched by the hand of man for all time, except to bring down from the mountain of water of a large spring for a fountain.

“There will be no restriction on the use of the park for public resort–except that it shall not be a camp ground, for permanent occupation might lead to injury done the timber. It is very beautiful in its present natural state, with immense trees and slopes and glades equal to the finest landscape gardening.”

Mr. Cnopius is especially anxious to have the Governor sign the bill preserving the redwoods to posterity, for he knows the value of those trees and the tract of land, and what an incentive they would provide to attract visitors to this section and country.

– Santa Rosa Republican, April 19, 1909

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