It was probably awkward when the man whom the Press Democrat had branded as a killer walked into the office. I imagine the conversation in the newsroom that day in 1911 went something like this:

“Why, it’s Bill! Look, everyone, it’s Billy Boyd! Gee, we haven’t seen you since the quake. You’re looking swell! Say, no one was sending you PD clippings a couple of years ago, were they? Ah, I’m asking for no particular reason, just curious if you were staying in touch, that’s all, heh, heh…”

In its small notice about W. A. Boyd’s visit, the paper correctly reported that he was their usual press operator in April, 1906, but had the night off when the earthquake hit. His replacement was caught in the building’s collapse and killed.

The 1911 item continued by mentioning Boyd returned briefly to Santa Rosa in the chaotic days after the quake but quickly moved on, finding work in Oregon and Washington. But that wasn’t what the Press Democrat had reported two years earlier.

In a 1909 article headlined, “IS FORMER SANTA ROSAN A MURDERER?” the PD told readers that when Boyd worked at the paper they believed “J. L. Byrd” was his actual name. “Byrd never gave any reason why he went under an assumed name here to those who knew the fact, but requested that it not be made known.” That remark was part of an editorial comment attached to an article that stated J. L. Byrd had recently confessed to a Tennessee murder. Boyd/Byrd was also a cad, the 1909 Press Democrat editorial comment further sneered, because he applied to the local union for earthquake victim fund money even though he wasn’t in Santa Rosa at the time of the disaster. A rewrite of the PD story appeared the same day in the San Francisco Call, and probably other Bay Area newspapers as well.

The 1909 Press Democrat piece tainted him thoroughly, what with the suspicion about his name, dubious union fund claim and apparent murder confession; the PD’s 1911 article ignored all of that and wrote only about a friendly visit from a former employee, which only makes the story more bizarre. What part of the earlier item was true? Newspapers of that day rarely printed retractions or corrections but then again, small town papers rarely defamed residents (or former residents) as thoroughly as poor Mr. Boyd.


W. A. Boyd, who was employed by The Press Democrat at the time of the earthquake and has not been here since, arrived in Santa Rosa yesterday from San Francisco where he has been taking a course of instruction at the Mergenthaler Linotype school. He has recently been working in Oregon and Washington.

Mr. Boyd was employed as a pressman at the time of the disaster and his wife had died but a few days before. The night of the earthquake Boyd went to San Francisco to send his young son back to relatives in Texas, getting Milo Fish to take his place and run off that morning’s edition of the paper. Fish had previously filled the position of night pressman but a few months before had resigned and purchased the Campi restaurant, then located next door to the Press Democrat office on Third street.

Although Fish had worked all day at his business, he accommodated Boyd under the circumstances by taking the latter’s place for the night, and was thus in the building when the crash came. He rushed into the street, but was caught by falling walls and killed, together with three boys employed as newspaper carriers. Altogether The Press Democrat lost four of its employees at the time of the disaster.

Boyd returned to Santa Rosa as soon as he could after the earthquake, and was appalled to learn of the extent of the disaster. Like everyone else at that time he was without funds but he finally managed to get hold of two dollars and with this sum left town, unnerved by the combination of circumstances he had experienced.

– Press Democrat, December 8, 1911

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