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THE THREE (OR MORE) FACES OF CHARLIE HOLMES

It was just the grandest day. Veterans marched in the parade, civic leaders rode horseback. Noble men gave noteworthy speeches and afterwards the Squeedunks ridiculed it all. And on that Fourth of July in 1876, Charles H. Holmes Jr. met his destiny.

For the centennial Santa Rosa threw the biggest party yet seen in Sonoma County. An estimated 8,000 celebrated here; “At an early hour the streets were thronged with carriages, horsemen and well dressed and happy looking men and women,” reported the Democrat paper. It was surely more people than the 12 year-old boy had ever seen anywhere, much less crowding the unpaved streets and wooden sidewalks of his hometown.

A procession marched through the “principal streets” led by the Grand Marshal followed by the Santa Rosa Brass Band (“they have improved vastly in their music of late”), the police and departments, veterans (both regular and Bear Flaggers), city and county officials and Odd Fellows’ lodge members. There were some participants that might be surprising to us today, such as “Professors of the Colleges” and a “wagon loaded with coal from The Taylor Mountain Coal Mine.” Charlie Holmes might well have been in the parade as part of “a company of boys, nearly 100 in number, mounted on horses and appropriately uniformed.” By the latter presumably the reporter meant they were wearing shoes, their second best Sunday School clothes and their hair gleamed with a fresh coat of oil.

After the streets had been thoroughly marched, everyone gathered at the grandstand on the Plaza (Courthouse Square). Fine speeches were made, including a stemwinder by General Vallejo which was read by a translator. When all the serious and solemn stuff was out of the way, it was time for the main attraction: The Squeedunks. “The crowd which was immense in the morning seemed by this time to have grown a thousand or two stronger and greeted the appearance of the Squeduncques [sic] with cheers and shouts of laughter.” The Squeedunks, for those just tuning in, were irreverent young men who put together July 4th programs to mock Santa Rosa’s stuffy attempts of propriety. You can read more here about their hijinks on that day in 1876.

Coincidence or no, much of Charles Holmes’ later life maps closely to what would have most impressed a 12 year-old boy that day. He became an admired police chief and veteran, a parade Grand Marshal (many times) and yes, a Squeedunk – the top Squeedunk, in fact. And not to sink too deeply into armchair psychology, but some of the detestable things he also did might be viewed as poor decisions made by someone who never emotionally matured. He was our very own Tom Sawyer, a bad boy who never grew up.

Our first glimpse of young Charlie happened at another Fourth of July celebration, this one in 1883. He was 19 and captain of the “Santa Rosa Cadets,” who entertained spectators by performing military drills. The Squeedunks were again part of the festivities (“…the ‘Dedication of Indecency’ was a well gotten up burlesque on the Declaration of Independence, and consisted mainly of complaints against the Board of Supervisors”).


THE THREE (OR MORE) FACES OF CHARLIE HOLMES

Charles H. Holmes Jr. was surely the most talked about person in Santa Rosa 120 years ago, and that wasn’t always a good thing.

OUR OWN TOM SAWYER
TERRIFIC GUY, TERRIBLE MARSHAL
OH, LOATHSOME ME
BOSS SQUEEDUNCK

Charlie was the sort of guy who always elbowed himself to the front of the line, but people didn’t mind because he was a natural leader in the manner of, well, Tom Sawyer. Evidence of his popularity abounds. His next step in soldiering was signing up with our local National Guard Company E in 1886 and they elected him captain of their baseball team. He joined the Native Sons (NSGW) and was entrusted as president of the local Parlor just a couple of years later. He spent many an evening entertaining as a toastmaster or speaker at banquets, sometimes more than once a week. He told funny stories and warbled comic songs. He was a member of the “All Star Minstrels” that put on elaborate shows at the Athenaeum and he performed in the town’s amateur dramatic company. By 1896 he was a lieutenant in Company E and anyone living in Santa Rosa knew Charlie Holmes and liked him, probably a lot. His public image as The Swellest Fellow Around was locked into place.

Still, it might have come as a surprise when he ran for City Marshal in 1898, which is to say he wanted to be Santa Rosa’s police chief.* Charles Holmes had no business trying to be night constable, much less running for the position of top cop; he never been a law enforcement officer nor elected to any public office – by trade he was a 34 year-old plasterer.

The Press Democrat printed several op/eds endorsing him with abandon, far more in number and enthusiasm than can found in that era for any other political candidate. A few sample lines: “He is so well and so favorably known here that words of introduction are not required.” “He is a man of good habits. He is prompt and energetic in the discharge of every duty.” “In every capacity in which Mr. Holmes has been tried he has given splendid satisfaction.” Holmes easily beat the incumbent city marshal, 655-581.

holmesarmyportrait(RIGHT: National Guard Company E First Lt. Charles H. Holmes Jr. in uniform, photographed c. 1898. Source: “A Military Album, Containing Over One Thousand Portraits Of Commissioned Officers Who Served In The Spanish-American War” 1902)

But less than a month later, he asked the City Council for a leave of absence if Company E were to be mustered for the Spanish-American war. “…There was a ring of patriotism in the voices of the councilmen as they all voted ‘aye’”. Sure enough, they were called up shortly thereafter to join the Army’s Fifth regiment (they called it the “Dandy Fifth”).

Holmes sent an earnest letter to the PD apologizing for leaving so soon after his election: “…these boys are my old schoolmates, and seem to me like brothers. If I have made a mistake I hope you will attribute it to lack of discernment and not a wish of the heart.”

Gaye LeBaron wrote an excellent summary about the wartime service of our National Guard boys, but the Executive Summary is that nothing happened. They were garrisoned in Oakland and San Francisco and were terrifically bored.

The PD printed several letters he submitted with in-jokes about their life in the camps. Some snippets: “We have just received 260,000 rounds of ammunition and several cases of measles.” “The boys have been struck with a craze for shaving off their mustaches.” “Both Neal and Jerry are becoming so fat that they will not be able to reach out and button their vests.” “The camp is overrun with insurance agents, seeking to insure the men and officers. Every man you meet has a proposition to assist your widow to get another husband.”

At the end of the year the war was over and the men were allowed the option of remaining as part of the regular army or being discharged to go home. All but five opted to return to Santa Rosa.

Aside from having his rank later bumped from First Lieutenant to Captain, the 7+ months in the military had no material impact on Charles Holmes’ career. He relieved the acting city marshal and slipped back to his duties as if there had been no interruption. But he could now call himself a veteran and march in parades wearing a uniform, which would have been a gratifying thing for a 12 year-old boy. For the rest of his life Charlie paraded at every opportunity and Santa Rosa kept applauding for him, even when he did things that were awful.

NEXT: TERRIFIC GUY, TERRIBLE MARSHAL

* The city marshal/tax collector was an elected office until the city charter was revised in 1903. Under the new ordinance the title of city marshal was changed to “chief of police” and the role of tax collector was added to the city assessor’s duties.

 

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A new dramatic company has been organized here under the direction of Mr. Arthur Livingston, formerly of the Grismer-Davies company. He is a very capable actor and in the new organization associated with him are Miss Della McQuaid, formerly with the Grismer-Davies company, Mrs. J. B. Davis, Miss Lillian White, Mr. Al Jones, Mr. J. P. Berry, Mr. Charles Holmes…

– Sonoma Democrat, April 16 1892

 

The All-Star Minstrels gave a splendid entertainment at the Athenaeum to a packed house Monday night. Part first included the landing of the steamer in charge of Will Mobley, the introductory march and the opening chorus, “My Dear Old Southern Home.” The following songs were well rendered and well received: “I Heard her Voice Again,” R. L. Thompson; “Little Alabama Coon,” A. O. Prentiss; “The Armorer’s Song,” James U. Edwards; “Oh Miss Susie,” Charles Holmes Jr…

– Sonoma Democrat, February 2 1895

 

BEAN SUPPER.
Company E Sups at the Expense of Lieutenant Holmes.
Short Speeches, Humorous Recitations and Comic Songs Interspersed With Stories.

The long-talked-of bean supper was given to Company E at the armory on Monday night. It was given at the expense of Lieutenant Holmes, whose squad of range shooters were defeated in a recent contest. The supper was very enjoyable. Lieutenant Charles Holmes was toastmaster, and short addresses were, on invitation, made by A. Q. Barnett and J. C. Sims. Charles Orr gave a humorous recitation. Lieutenant Holmes sang a comic song.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 25 1896

 

CHARLES H. HOLMES

The people will make no mistake in electing Charles H. Holmes city marshal. He is so well and so favorably known here that words of introduction are not required. He is industrious, steadfast and worthy of the confidence of all good citizens. He is not a politician. He is aspiring to the office of city marshal because be believes that he is entirely competent to give the people good service, and because his friends and the Democratic city convention believe the same thing. If Mr. Holmes is elected he will give his entire time to performing the responsible duties of the very important office of marshal, which means that Santa Rosa will have an excellent peace officer. In every capacity in which Mr. Holmes has been tried he has given splendid satisfaction. As marshal he will be equally fortunate and no mistake will be made should the people choose him at the coming election.

– Press Democrat, March 19 1898

 

THE MAN FOR MARSHAL

No better selection could be made by the people of Santa Rosa for their city marshal than Charles H. Holmes. Mr. Holmes is not a professional politician. He cannot look back over many years spent in political office. But he can look back upon as busy, as industrious and as honorable a career as any ever enjoyed by a candidate for city marshal here. He is a man of good habits. He is prompt and energetic in the discharge of every duty. He has long been one of the most valued members of Company E of this city and any member of that very excellent military organization will testify in regard to his courage and his resolution. Should Mr. Holmes be elected the people of this city can rest assured that he will do his whole duty, nothing more, nothing less. He will treat every one alike, being guided, as every good officer must necessarily be guided, by the laws which have been enacted for the welfare of Santa Rosa. Mr. Holmes is making a clean and highly commendable canvass and it is not difficult to see that he will have a handsome vote on election day.

– Press Democrat, March 30 1898

 

Letter from Chas. Holmes

To the people of Santa Rosa: Friends, as I understand there has been some little criticism on account of my leaving the office of city marshal to go to the front, after the people were kind enough to elect me, I am afraid my motives have been misunderstood.

I have been an officer in the National Guard for twelve years, having joined when everything was peaceful, and when trouble and the call for volunteers came I did not think it was right when the country needed men, to stand back and ask our boys to go where I would not follow.

The best years of my life have been spent in Santa Rosa; my life is an open book to you all, and these boys are my old schoolmates, and seem to me like brothers. If I have made a mistake I hope you will attribute it to lack of discernment and not a wish of the heart. Respectfully, Chas. Holmes.

– Press Democrat, June 29 1898

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