commiecamp

COMMIE CAMP ON THE RUSSIAN RIVER

Great Scott! There was a summer camp in Alexander Valley where kids were brainwashed with Commie propaganda! Under a banner front page headline the Press Democrat reported July 20, 1929, “…boys and girls of tender years are taught the principles of communism and hatred of the American government.”

There were 36 kids there, ages from 8 to 17, and after morning exercises and swearing allegiance “to the Soviet flag, red with a symbolic sledge and sickle, the children paraded behind their flag and sang the Internationale,” the PD continued. Then came “weird ceremonials and class instructions on the river beach,” including an exercise where an instructor took rocks which “he pounded in his hands until one crumpled, [showing] how the ‘workers’ should crush the ‘capitalist’ government of the United States.” On a bulletin board was a poster reading, “Down with the Boy Scouts.”

“Bay Cities’ Pioneer Camp #1” was near the Alexander Valley Bridge and just one of many summer camps on the river.1 According to the PD story, there was “a near-riot” when women and girls from another one nearby “paraded behind the youngsters of ‘Pioneer Camp,’ waving the American flag while singing The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The PD story was picked up by both the AP and UP newswires and proved quite popular, appearing in papers nationwide and usually on page one. While the item was sometimes cut down to a paragraph or two, the editors always had room to mention the camp was on the Russian River. (Oscar Wilde: “The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”)

Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner lied to readers (no surprise, there) by claiming “authorities immediately raided the place and seized propaganda pamphlets and other evidence,” but what the District Attorney actually said was he could do nothing under state law. He passed the matter to the U. S. District Attorney in San Francisco while sending County Detective John W. Pemberton to investigate. A Press Democrat reporter tagged along and the piece that appeared the next day revealed that much of the original article was either made up or grossly exaggerated. That story apparently relied only upon hearsay from Arthur H. Meese, commander of Healdsburg’s American Legion Post.

Press Democrat, July 20, 1929
Press Democrat, July 20, 1929

The PD writer interviewed camp director M. Martin (his name incorrectly given as “Maury” in the first PD article) who insisted there was nothing anti-American about what they were instructing:


“This is a recreation camp for the children of workers, many of whom are communists,” Martin said. He denied, however, that the children were taught hatred for the United States government. “We had a presidential election in this country not long ago. A large majority of the people voted for one man for president. He was elected. Many thousands of people, though, voted against him. But they were not against the government. They were against the principles of the majority party. We, too, are against the present party; but are not against the United States.”

Nor were they pledging allegiance to the Soviet flag; the kids were waving plain red flags, which had been used by leftist political movements more than a century before Russians added their hammer and sickle.

This was the third year of the camp, the reporter was told, and it was run under the auspices of the Workers International Relief organization.2 “One of the main things that we are interested in is fighting race discrimination,” said Martin. That comment may seem opaque, but I’m betting the reporter didn’t capture his full quote. The group also mainly fought antisemitism – and the previous article had identified most of the children being from families with roots in Eastern Europe. Martin added that all of the children were born in the United States, as were most of their parents.

As for the “near-riot” because of the “Star Spangled Banner” singers, Martin said the story was “ridiculous” – they were being teased because some campers were warbling a popular Al Jolson tune. “We had been taking some exercises on the beach, and two of the girls were singing ‘Sonny Boy’ when the members of the other camp interrupted us with singing and noise; but that was all.”

Martin didn’t know what was meant by “weird ceremonials,” and he never ground rocks together to demonstrate how Commies would crush the Capitalist system – although he admired the concept. “Whoever invented it, though, I think it is a clever idea,” he said.

In sum, the nosy Legionnaire got almost everything wrong except for the headcount and number of tents. He was right about the “Down With the Boy Scouts” poster, however; Martin said “We believe that the Scout organization serves the Bosses.”

The AP wire did a followup a few days later when a few kids were sent home for mild cases of scarlet fever, but not one paper mentioned the PD had reported that the original story was largely untrue.

Despite having debunked its own story, the Press Democrat doubled back and kept repeating misinformation. The next story in the paper claimed “…the principles of communism and hatred of the American government are taught. The children, more than two score of tender age, are said to parade daily, swearing allegiance to the Soviet flag, red with a symbolic sledge and sickle.” The PD also printed an editorial denouncing the camp as a “hotbed of communism, where the red flag of Soviet Russia, is paraded and her dangerous doctrines taught.”

But the PD didn’t stop there. The next Sunday they offered a think-piece that reads like the ancestor of Q-Anon conspiracy babble.

Headlined “SCHOOL HERE LINKED WITH NATION PLOT” the article claimed “investigations of the American Legion” and law enforcement revealed the Alexander Valley camp “was but one phase of a nationwide campaign of the Communist Party in the United States to breed revolution among the school children of the United States.”

The PD item quoted heavily from a magazine article by Mrs. William Sherman Walker which appeared in National Republic magazine.3 Among her startling finds were that Soviet parents dedicate their newborns to the Communist cause: “The names of children, when mere infants are inscribed on the cradle roll of revolution.” She added ominously, “Similar ceremonies have been discovered in the United States as taking place annually in various communities.”

Apparently no copies of that article survive (certainly not online) but about a year later she testified before Congress in her role as the Daughters of the American Revolution “National Defense Committee Chairman” (yes, the D.A.R. still has a National Defense Committee) and had lots to say about the camps. A sample:

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  “Little children are being taught the principles of street fighting. They are urged to become proficient enough in such tactics to take over certain parts of the cities”
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  Free school lunches “train children to abhor private property”
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  “In playing hide and go seek children hunt for capitalists and bring them trembling before a soviet tribunal”
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  Campers are given a songbook that shows how religious songs are ridiculed, such as using the melody of “Onward, Christian Soldiers” but changing it to have “vicious, obscene words”

As the Alexander Valley camp was closing as scheduled, federal agents from the Justice Dept. showed up and warned Martin not to come back the following year. “They told me it would be better for me not to engage any more in that kind of business.” And that was the end of Bay Cities’ Pioneer Camp #1, as far as is known.

But just a week after our local furor died down, red-baiting papers worked up a new lather over news of a similar camp being raided in Southern California.

A “miniature Soviet Republic” in the San Bernardino mountains was found to have “forty scantily-clad children, described as Slavs from the Boyle Heights industrial section of Los Angeles,” according to the AP wire story.

The Press Democrat added “in every detail the camp was identical” to the Pioneer Camp here and rehashed the notion of the Communist Party USA trying to “breed revolution,” but there was a twist to the San Bernardino story: The adults running the camp were all Russian nationals. They were jailed until U.S. immigration officers could investigate to determine whether they could be deported.

It will probably come as no surprise to Gentle Reader that much of those accusations likewise turned out to be hogwash. The camp counselors weren’t genuine Soviets after all; the camp director was 19 year-old Yetta Stromberg, a student at USC. Failing to show they had captured Bolsheviks, Stromberg was charged with the misdemeanor of failing to obtain a permit from the county health department. She was also charged under California’s notorious 1919 “red flag” statute, which made it a felony to use a red flag as a symbol of opposition to the government.4

Stromberg was convicted of the felony, and while she appealed the decision she was held in San Quentin. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which in a landmark 1931 decision overturned her conviction, ruling the state law was vague and unconstitutional.

 


1 Besides the big summer resort scene on the river, there were many (dozens?) children’s camps that popped up for a week or three. There were several ag camps affiliated with 4-H, camps sponsored by the YMCA, Camp Fire Girls, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMI (Catholic), something called the Institute Club of the Hughson Epworth League (Methodist) and plenty more. The city of Berkeley even had its own year-round camp near Cazadero.

2 Martin said there were about twenty similar Workers International Relief camps around the country; there’s an interesting memoir from a boy who attended a camp in Pennsylvania at about the same time. Many parents stayed at the camps as well, although the adult campsite was separated from their children’s area.

3 National Republic was a monthly magazine catering to conservative women who opposed suffrage (even after the 19th Amendment passed) and anything they considered radical or anti-American, including any form of pacifism. It grew in importance during the mid-1920s after the formation of the Women’s Patriotic Conference on National Defense (WPCND), which was mainly a coalition of the D.A.R. and the American Legion Auxiliary. By the end of the decade the magazine’s focus was on perceived threats to the nation such as subversive books, unpatriotic activities in schools, and particularly Communist plots to subvert American nationalism. For more, see: “‘So Much for Men’: Conservative Women and National Defense in the 1920s and 1930s” by Christine K. Erickson; American Studies, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Spring 2004)

4 1919 California Penal Code, §403a: “Any person who displays a red flag, banner or badge or any flag, badge, banner, or device of any color or form whatever in any public place or in any meeting place or public assembly, or from or on any house, building or window as a sign, symbol or emblem of opposition to organized government or as an invitation or stimulus to anarchistic action or as an aid to propaganda that is of a seditious character is guilty of a felony.”

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THE ELIOT NESS OF SONOMA COUNTY

When the history of Prohibition in Sonoma County is written, one name will appear more than any other: John W. Pemberton, County Detective – the nemesis of bootleggers and rum-runners and the scourge of anyone with a blind pig or backroom speakeasy.

Technically the County Detective was the investigator for the District Attorney but “Jock” Pemberton was like our resident G-man, on hand whenever federal Prohibition Agents conducted local raids (in the photo above Pemberton is the man on the right next to the feds). He also was often alongside the sheriff or Santa Rosa police chief during harrowing moments while they were trying to apprehend the most dangerous criminals.

Yet the most important moment of his career happened after his retirement, when he gave crucial testimony showing the California Attorney General was so corrupt he was running a protection racket out of his office.

In 1926, the peak year of Prohibition here, Pemberton was appointed County Detective although he seemed an unlikely prospect for the job. He was 49 when he took the position, with no background in investigating crime; his only experience in law enforcement being a dozen years as Santa Rosa constable, ending in 1923. He had the gregarious personality of a salesman, which is what he was before and after being constable (real estate, then autos). Jock held high rank in both the Elks and Eagles; he and wife Maude were constantly mentioned in the society columns for attending or hosting parties and whatnot.

pembertonduck(RIGHT: Duck hunter in a three-piece suit. 1923 photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Not long after being hired, though, he showed his worth. A 27 year-old man named Jasper Parkins was found dead in his bedroom with a bullet wound to his right temple. The sheriff pegged it as an obvious suicide, even though the dead guy didn’t seem troubled and was about to take a walk along the railroad tracks with his brother and niece. Pemberton argued Parkins had his little target pistol in hand when he bent over to pick something up from the floor and bumped his elbow against the edge of the bed. The coroner’s jury ruled it an accidental death.

A few weeks later came the bust of the most famous bootlegging operation in county history. In March 1927 Pemberton led a raid on the old Kawana Springs resort where he and the sheriff’s department found the long-closed hotel had been retrofitted for a three-story copper still that produced 1,400 gallons of pure alcohol/day. The booze was then trucked to San Francisco and LA where it was processed and bottled as “genuine Gordon gin.”

And that wasn’t all. There were two other stills with 250/150 gallon daily capacity, all fed by mash held in seven 2,000 gallon tanks. The big still had a steam boiler weighing two tons; that and the smaller boilers for the auxillary stills were fueled by gravity-fed oil tanks. It was a massive – and ingenious – operation.

The Press Democrat reported, “Pemberton had had the place under surveillance for some time, and had spent several nights in the vicinity of the resort to make certain of its use before the raid was made.”

The only person arrested was a San Francisco steamfitter named George Darnell, who insisted he was only hired to dismantle the equipment (everything had been drained from the tanks and stills). And no, he didn’t know who had hired him. Darnell was held for a few days and released after paying a $500 fine.

Not resting on his laurels, the same week Pemberton arrested a farmer from Cloverdale hauling thirty gallons of “jackass brandy” – a day after busting bootlegger Joe Garayalde near Sebastopol with 800 gallons of “jack” and three stills.

And that set the pace for the following years. It was a rare week when readers of the PD didn’t see at least one story about Pemberton making a liquor arrest, and it was not infrequent for there to be two or three. Just as he once was a familiar name on the society backpages, he was now a regular on page one. As County Detective he investigated other crimes as well and judging from news coverage, Gentle Reader would be forgiven for mistaking him as being the top lawman in the area.

Pemberton had an uncanny knack for discovering hiding places. He found liquor hidden behind false walls in closets and in secret panels that popped open when a button or push latch was pressed. In one restaurant kitchen, a yank on a roller towel opened a cabinet with cases of whiskey.

He also used his nose to find stills, as fermenting mash has a strong, distinctive odor. In a barn near the Shiloh cemetery in Windsor he found one even larger than the monster at Kawana Springs, and this one was still operating (although not producing as much alcohol). Other places where it was hoped strong smells would mask the stink were chicken coops and old outhouses, sometimes further disguised with open buckets of sheep dip or creosote.

Most of the items about him and the sheriff busting up stills and arresting people aren’t so interesting – unless, of course, you knew the bootlegger, which would have been true for many people in small, rural Sonoma County. Here are a few vignettes from those years that appeared in the PD:

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Dolly Allen of El Verano is a fortune teller. But she failed to see far enough into the future to know that she was going to be raided last night…a party was in progress in Dolly’s place when County Detective John W. Pemberton and Deputy Sheriff W. A. Shulte burst in and seized wine, “jackass” and gin as evidence and confiscated three slot machines. Dolly said afterwards that she had had a “hunch” the raiders were coming, but, according to officers, she apparently didn’t believe enough in her own forecasting power to dump the evidence. (1927)
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“Readin’, ‘Ritin,’ ‘Rithmetic, Rum” – “pupils of a little rural school two miles east of Petaluma carried word to their parents that liquor was being made near the school, and that the odors crept through the windows during class hours, and that one might, if one was careful, sneak up to the windows, of the adjoining house and see forbidden juices dripping from the coil of a little still. County Detective John W. Pemberton and Deputy Sheriff Phil Varner, to whom the children’s tales eventually drifted investigated yesterday and found, they reported, a 50-gallon still, boiling merrily, and about 20 gallons of hard liquor…” (1928)
*
Mrs. A. Garayalde, living on the Guerneville highway, yesterday came to the sheriff’s office here to claim an automobile truck picked up Wednesday when it was found abandoned on a roadside near Windsor, loaded with 390 gallons of wine. She asserted that the machine had been stolen from her garage and that she knew nothing about its wine cargo. (1929 – remember the Garayaldes from above, and Joe would be charged again for having a still in 1932)

(As far as I can tell, neither Pemberton nor District Attorney Carl Barnard were temperance zealots or had any moral objections to drinking. Their aggressive number of arrests, however, brought in a substantial amount of money to the county treasury. Fines generally were in the $100-500 range and in 1927, $100 was the equivalent of about $1,600 today.)

As the 1920s wained the adventures of Jock Pemberton began to look less thrilling. There were fewer busts of even middling-size bootlegging operations; what jackass stills he found were usually small and amateurish. Finding a stash of a few hundred gallons of ordinary wine in a farmer’s shed was now considered a big deal. By end of 1929 Pemberton was arresting drinkers caught with a jug (or even a pint) of moonshine and mainly searching the cars and homes of those he knew as repeat offenders, also busting hotel restaurant owners who likewise had been caught before.

His run as County Detective paused for about eight months in early 1931 as a new District Attorney took office and appointed someone else. In that time Pemberton opened a private detective agency out of his house at 435 (West) College Ave. After that D.A. died in a car crash the new prosecutor brought Pemberton back to his old job, where he resumed knocking over little stills and re-arresting The Usual Suspects over petty (but lucrative) quantities of wine or hootch.

The last hurrah of bootlegging here was the 1932 discovery of a 1,000 gallon rum still near Fulton. His final liquor bust was at the end of that year, when 70 year-old Emil Gerhman, a rancher near Healdsburg, was arrested after three five-gallon cans of jack were found in his cellar. He was fined $100.

Once FDR was elected president, Congress easily passed a bill to repeal the 18th Amendment. Pemberton was 55 when Prohibition officially ended in December 1933.

As tempting as it might be to view him as merely a local “Revenuer,” Pemberton packed a gun and acted like any member of law enforcement at the time. During the Prohibition years he and a deputy pumped four bullets into a car with two bootleggers fleeing the site of a still, shattering the rear window and nearly killing one of them. (The County Treasurer was surely grateful he missed.)

In February 1933 two brothers held up the gas station at the Santa Rosa Municipal Airport, getting away with all of $27.75. Knowing the pair were ex-cons who lived near Cloverdale, the police chief from there and Deputy Sheriff Harry Patteson joined Pemberton in his “heavy sedan” to search for them. The culprits were spotted in a car on a gravel road and Pemberton gave chase, the officers and the robbers locked in a running gunfight. After the suspect’s auto was hit by five bullets they ditched the car and ran into the brush, pursued by the three lawmen as the shooting continued on foot. After one of the brothers was killed the other surrendered, with Pemberton handling the arrest and taking him to county jail.

As Prohibition was winding down in 1933, the county decided to eliminate the County Detective position – but at the same time create a post for a deputy sheriff charged with criminal investigations. “It was generally understood that Pemberton would be transferred to the sheriff’s staff when his present position was wiped out,” reported the PD. In February 1935 he was appointed investigator for Sheriff Harry L. Patteson, who earlier as a deputy had been something of a partner to him during all those bootlegging arrests.

pembertonaxe(LEFT: Chief Deputy Melvin Flohr, James Charles and John Pemberton, left to right. Photo Santa Rosa Republican, March 17, 1936)

Pemberton was well suited for the investigations he made over the next few years, but it wasn’t exciting work. He found out who was passing bad checks, stealing cars and burglarizing houses; he looked into suicides and a couple cases of bigamy. He served warrants on suspects wanted for crimes elsewhere and often was the guard who transported them back to whence they came.

The most notable event in those years was when he obtained a full confession from James Charles, who had murdered his brother with an axe. (Pemberton got him to talk only by assuring the 28 year-old he wouldn’t be hanged.) An insanity trial was held a week later and after the jury deliberated for ten minutes, Charles was committed to the Mendocino State Hospital for the Insane. The reason for the killing, BTW, was that the brother didn’t come home on time that Sunday and Charles was very upset that dinner was late.

The last chapter in his career began in 1943, when he was rehired as a deputy sheriff. John and Maude had gone into semi-retirement four years earlier when there was a surprise election upset and Sheriff Patteson lost to a forest ranger. The Pembertons rented their Santa Rosa home and went to live at their ranch on route 128 near Kellogg, where they intended to start a large rabbit farm. Once Patteson was elected again they were back in Santa Rosa and life resumed as before. Sort of.

John was almost 65 and his dangerous days of running gun battles were over. Now he was mainly a court bailiff and sometimes a deputy jailer; he apparently took care of the Sheriff’s Office mascot, a black cat named “Black Bart” (yuk, yuk). He retired without fanfare in mid-1948, around the time he turned 70.

And here’s where his story gets really interesting.

Another of Pemberton’s duties in those final years was serving as an escort and driver for visiting law officers, so it wasn’t unusual when a special agent from the Attorney General’s office showed up on October 9, 1947. Agent Charles Hoy wanted a ride to specific places in Occidental and between Santa Rosa-Petaluma he had on a list. All (or nearly all?) were taverns.

After each stop, Hoy returned to the car with an armful of punchboards. Pemberton noted the agent seemed interested in nothing else but those things, so when he couldn’t find a place on the list and popped in to an inn to ask directions, he told the agent, “if it is punchboards you want, they got plenty of them in there.” Hoy replied, “I don’t want them.” Pemberton later said Hoy “showed no interest” in places not on his list. After they had hit all the locations, Hoy dropped the punchboards on Sheriff Patteson’s desk saying, “you can have them now,” and left.1


WHAT’S A PUNCHBOARD?

Punchboards were a common form of gambling in the first half of the 20th century, found in taverns, cigar stores, pool halls, even barbershops and lunch counters across America.

They were like primitive versions of today’s lottery scratchers; a colorful sheet – often with a cheesecake picture or sports theme – was glued on a piece of wood. Punchboards bought by Young had titles including: Big Hit, Win Er Bust, Nice Curves, High Bidder and Gold Bucket.

On each were many tiny holes stuffed with slips of paper. A gambler used a little stylus to punch through the top sheet and hopefully find a winning number. There were myriad variations; sometimes there were few holes but a higher cost to play, or a great many holes to punch very cheaply. But always the odds favored the owner of the board; on the example seen here, the chances of winning anything on a brand-new board was 1 in 50.

The “branding” described here was a crude way to establish a monopoly and says nothing about whether the punchboards were rigged by the manufacturer. Few (or even none) of the winning numbers might be on the punchboard, or they might be sold together with a key to which holes had winners so the gambler could pay extra for a tip as to where to punch.

In California punchboards were illegal “lottery devices” – but as in many states, using them was only a misdemeanor not rigorously enforced. Some owners tried to skirt the law by offering payouts in cigarettes, candy, glasses of beer or trinkets instead of cash.

Vintage punchboard, courtesy S. David O'Shea/Pinterest
Vintage punchboard, courtesy S. David O’Shea/Pinterest

What Pemberton and the sheriff didn’t realize at the time was they had witnessed part of a criminal conspiracy that reached to the top of the state Department of Justice.

Attorney General Fred N. Howser (the “N” stood for Napoleon!) entered office in 1947 vowing to keep organized crime out of California. More likely he wanted to keep other foxes out of his henhouse; he had a long history of corruption involving gaming interests. Knowing this, Governor Earl Warren set up the “Special Crime Study Commission on Organized Crime.” The final 1950 report has an entire chapter on the “state-wide plan for racket protection under the cloak of the Attorney General’s Office” which is quite jaw-dropping to read.2

Exactly a week before Pemberton was chauffeuring agent Hoy around Sonoma County, a man named Thompson Norman Young was making a deal in San Francisco to obtain a monopoly on punchboards up in the Marysville area. Later he would testify being told at that meeting they were part of a syndicate which gave Howser $50,000 in exchange for a virtual statewide monopoly on punchboards.

Young would also testify how the racket worked. After a dealer bought punchboards from the syndicate, they would be “branded” – meaning a serial number would be burned into the back of the board with an electric woodburning tool. This was for “protection;” should a local sheriff or police chief bust the dealer, the Attorney General wouldn’t prosecute. And as an extra incentive, a special agent from the A.G.’s office would first sweep through the territory confiscating all other punchboards so the dealer would have a monopoly. One of those former agents testified that indeed happened in Marysville, under orders from Howser’s chief enforcement officer.

Besides the cost of the punchboards, Young was told he would have to pay protection money on each. According to him, the sales pitch was, “…it costs you around a dollar and a half for the brand. That is around seven dollars; you can make forty dollars on a board. You can put five or six boards in each location. Each location should bring you a hundred or two hundred dollars a week.”3

After Young agreed to sign up, he drove the syndicate men to Sonoma County. Their destination was the Buckhorn saloon; besides being the first watering hole in Petaluma a thirsty driver encountered, it was where the punchboards were being branded. (The Buckhorn tavern is still there at 615 Petaluma Blvd South. Virtually unchanged since that time and with its walls covered in old photos, stop by for a taste of Petaluma’s colorful history you won’t find on a tour of the West Side’s elegant Victorian neighborhoods.)

All of this came out because Young turned informant on the syndicate after he contacted the Crime Commission, then became the first witness to testify to the Sonoma County Grand Jury in February, 1950. That ended up with indictments of four men on criminal conspiracy, including Mervyn McCoy, owner of the Buckhorn.

On the day of the indictments, Superior Court Judge Hilliard Comstock signed a search and seizure warrant on the Buckhorn, and the surprise raid netted five tons of branded punchboards from a backroom of the bar – so many the county had to rent a moving van to haul them away. They also found a large stash of “winnings” that could be given away to lucky gamblers, including watches, rings and novelty statuettes. “Among the latter was one of a shapely sea-island hula girl, with electrically operated hips,” the Press Democrat gamely reported.

What appears here only barely skims the surface of a complex and gripping crime story that dominated local news almost daily for five months in 1950. All credit to the PD for its excellent coverage of the case – they even printed every word of the Grand Jury transcript on the front page.4

The punchboard investigations and prosecution in Sonoma County also drew widespread statewide and national attention because Howser’s corruption had become household news. After popular muckraking broadcaster Drew Pearson revealed the Attorney General had taken a bribe, Howser sued him for $300,000 damages in libel (Howser would lose the suit).5

Howser also didn’t have the sense to keep his mouth shut and kept drawing attention to the upcoming trial in Sonoma County. He insisted the charges were trumped up and an attempt to “smear” him during an election year, running a full-page ad in the PD denouncing District Attorney McGoldrick for “foul political calumny.”

howserad(RIGHT: Political ad from Attorney General Fred Howser that appeared in the Press Democrat, March 30, 1950)

Nor did it escape attention that Howser was desperately trying to get one of his boys in to “interview” Young without any other witnesses present. D.A. McGoldrick responded by assigning a 24-hour guard for his star witness. Pause for a minute to let that sink in: The District Attorney in little Sonoma County is protecting a prosecution witness from being – bribed? threatened? harmed? – by the Attorney General of the state of California.

The trial lasted exactly a month, spanning June-July 1950. In the dock sat Merv McCoy of the Buckhorn, charged with being a punchboard distributor. Another distributor from Los Angeles was also there, along with an ex-LA cop who worked for him. The fourth defendant was the Chicago punchboard manufacturer who was supposedly the ringleader and the man who gave Howser the $50k bribe.

The prosecution’s case closely followed what had been heard earlier by the Grand Jury, including Pemberton’s testimony of driving agent Hoy around the county to confiscate punchboards at specific places. Items about his testimony appeared in papers across the state, although the UP newswire screwed up badly and implied he was working for the syndicate. “ExDeputy Sheriff Admits Picking Up Punchboards,” read the headline in the Fresno Bee.

The surprise witness was Thomas Judge, an undercover investigator for the Crime Commission who met with McCoy while posing as someone who wanted to get in on the branded punchboard racket. McCoy sold him some punchboards and allegedly said their operation was safe because Howser was “getting a cut out of the scheme.” When Judge scoffed that Howser was personally involved, McCoy told him Howser would send a letter on the Attorney General’s stationery to anyone he wanted – and that McCoy had indeed provided the name of a friend who received such a letter.

It seemed an open-and-shut case, particularly since the defense apparently had no strategy other than sowing confusion. Jurors were told District Attorney McGoldrick and Assistant District Attorney Dennis Keegan would be called as hostile witnesses (they weren’t). That Thomas Judge was completely drunk when he met with McCoy (he wasn’t). That Young was in cahoots with Drew Pearson, who had “nurtured” Young’s story (which the lawyers said he had completely made up). And there was an uproar when a defense lawyer tossed out an odd remark that a witness had a striking resemblance to Pearson, implying the famed journalist was testifying under a fake name.

And then it was verdict time: After debating five hours, the jury announced they were “hopelessly deadlocked,” 10-2 in favor of acquittal.

Comments by Judge Don Geary and D.A. McGoldrick both politely expressed shock at the decision. But the jury foreman told the PD that jurors “didn’t show much interest” in the testimony of either Young or Thomas Judge and “didn’t believe part of Young’s testimony.” In deliberation “very, very little of Judge’s testimony came up.”6

And so it was all over. Howser’s hopes to continue his corrupt career had actually ended a week before the trial began, when he came in a distant second in the Republican primary. His involvement in punchboard and slot machine rackets were part of the Senate hearings on organized crime the following year, but he was never indicted.

Pemberton lived another ten years. The PD ran a nice photo of Maude and John on their Sept. 20, 1953 golden wedding anniversary. His name occasionally appeared in the “this day in history” newspaper columns. Johnson Watson Marvin Pemberton died on June 23, 1961 and is buried in the Odd Fellows’ Cemetery.

 


1 Pemberton testimony to Grand Jury as reported in the Press Democrat, March 25, 1950
2 Howser shamelessly used his staff to support and coverup criminal activity. One outrageous example from the Commission report noted another of Howser’s agents was convicted of attempting to bribe the Mendocino County sheriff to allow slot machines in Ukiah. Before the trial Howser sent more than a dozen investigators there to dig up information helpful for his agent’s defense, evidence which was not shared with prosecutors.
3 Thompson Norman Young testimony to Grand Jury as reported in the Press Democrat, March 26, 1950
4 Only the testimony of ex-agent Charles Hoy was not made public for reasons unexplained, but his attorney commented to the press “he did what his superiors told him to do.”
5 Pearson had even more evidence against Howser which was not made public until decades later. See: “Howser Hit by Kefauver Committee, Loses Libel Action Against Drew Pearson
6 Press Democrat, July 12, 1950

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THE FIVE THOUSAND MORNINGS OF THE CARRILLOS

Any progress on saving the Carrillo Adobe? Nope; as of this writing (2022) what walls still exist continue to melt like very slowly thawing snow. The last restoration effort remains the shed roof put over the place thirty years ago, paid for by the Carrillo family and other donors. We should also be thankful the chainlink fence was finally repaired in 2012 after a homeless camp was found to be stealing original timbers from the building to use for firewood and tent poles.

Although it’s destined to be a park someday (right, city hall?) its future rests with the San Jose developer who owns the land and intends to build 162 condos next to it. That project is now called the “Creekside Village Townhomes” and a development plan was filed in 2020 (PDF) complete with blueprints, architectural sections, landscaping, elevation setbacks, chosen paint colors, streetlight designs and all the other trimmings a city would expect for a major housing development. The site plans only specify an outline for a “Future Carrillo Adobe Park” next door.

Devil’s advocate: Why should we even care if those ruins are preserved? We’ve been telling ourselves the same tale about the place for 150 years and frankly, it’s not all that interesting. The widow Carrillo arrives with her many children and they build the adobe. After the family moves out, a group of Americans use it for a store. Before long those fellows dash off to establish Santa Rosa and the adobe becomes a barn, a warehouse, a prune drying shed and other uninteresting things. A joke plaque could read: “On this spot nothing happened.”

It’s tragic we have allowed the adobe to fall into shambles, but it’s just as bad (or worse, in my opinion) that we have allowed its history to be scraped down to those bare bones, shorn of anything having to do with the Carrillos or how their lives were entwined with a significant period of history. Why has this happened?

Part of the reason is because researchers find few primary sources available; there were no memoirs written by or about the founding Carrillo family. Some of the Carrillo children were illiterate (at least in english) which would help explain why there are so few letters written by family members.1

There are good accounts of visits to the adobe from two english-speaking travelers (discussed below), but other than that the only contemporary accounts are incidental comments made by a U.S. government agent and others passing through the territory.

Such a dearth of original material is somewhat understandable; it was a long time ago – these were events from the 1840s plus a couple of years on either side of that decade. Less forgivable is that later journalists and historians had almost no interest in recording the family’s personal account while they were alive. Many of the founding Carrillo family lived into the late 19th century (two into the 20th), yet there are only a couple known newspaper interviews, both transcribed below for the first time. There’s more than a whiff of racism in that fact, as the Democrat newspaper in Santa Rosa eagerly printed anything having to with non-Hispanics whom they recognized as “pioneers.” The paper even venerated a flagpole because it once waved the Bear Flag over the town of Sonoma, although it turned out that wasn’t even the original pole.

And for the record, that indifference continued into modern times, ending only when Eric Stanley’s 1999 Master’s Thesis made the point that the adobe was historically significant not only because it was such an old building, but also because of the cultural importance of the Carrillo family living there. His writing was later expanded and incorporated into the Roop/Wick Archaeological Study.

That document is the definitive work on all things related to the adobe, detailing also the periods before and after the Carrillo years. It presents a broad picture tracing how they navigated through some very challenging times, including after matriarch Doña María died and the strongly knit family finally crumbled apart – “change happens gradually at first, then all at once,” as Ernest Hemingway famously (but never actually) said.

What follows covers the period from their arrival in the county to when the adobe was sold to the Americans. Those were mainly happy times, when for about five thousand mornings their great herds of cattle and semi-wild horses grazed on the unfenced Santa Rosa plain, puffing clouds of steam in the cool early hours. An upcoming chapter will cover the later years of Marta and Julio, the only children who remained in Santa Rosa and struggled to make their ways in a strange, and often cruel, new world.


THE CARRILLO CHILDREN

Although I have made my best effort to verify dates, some sources present conflicting data. Please leave a comment if corrections are needed.

*
JOSEFA   Josefa Maria Antonia 1810–1893
m. Henry Delano Fitch 1829
*
RAMONA   Maria Ramona de la Luz 1812–1886
m. Jose Antonio Romualdo Pacheco 1826
m. John Charles Wilson 1835
*
LUZ   Maria de la Luz Eustaquia 1814–1894
m. Salvador Vallejo 1840
*
FRANCISCA   Maria Felipa Benicia 1815–1891
m. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo 1832
*
JOHN   Juan Bautista 1817–1841
*
JOAQUIN   Jose Joaquin Victor 1819–1899
m. 1849
m. 1875
“Sebastopol Joaquin” Profiled here
*
RAMON   Jose Ramon 1821–1864
m. 1847
Profiled here (partially)
*
DOLORES   Jose de los Dolores 1823–1844
Died at age 21, buried in Santa Clara
*
JULIO   Julio Maria Tomas 1824–1889
m. 1842
m. 1862
Profiled in upcoming chapter
*
MARTA   Maria Marta 1826-1905
m. Jose Joaquin Maria Victor Carrillo Montano 1855
*
JUANA   Juana de Jesus 1829–1901
m. David Patrick Mallagh 1851
*
FELICIDAD   Maria Felicidad de la Angustias 1833–1856
m. Victor Ramon Castro of Rancho San Pablo 1853

“I have seen Doña María Ygnacia robed in a neat calico dress of a French texture, with a broad-brim straw hat made by one of her Indian women, mounted on a horse which had been broken to saddle by some of her sons expressly for her use,” wrote a traveler of the family matriarch.2 Such a fine, cinematic introduction to Doña María, who was only 44 when she arrived in Sonoma County, mother to twelve surviving children.

Although this was not long after the Carrillos moved into their adobe in 1839, the family already had created a rancho imposing by any measures. Indian laborers managed by Doña María planted and tended fields of wheat, corn, beans and other crops along with vegetables. Teenager Ramón and another son were wrangling about 3,000 head of cattle and as many as 1,500 horses according to that same early visitor.

It was a remarkable turnaround for the family, considering the death of Doña María’s soldier husband had left them in dire straits four years (or so) past. The story usually goes that she was encouraged by a priest and her son-in-law, General Vallejo, to relocate to Sonoma County, so in the summer or fall of 1837 they trundled 700 miles from San Diego on oxcarts. But in one of the overlooked articles, “Sonoma Valley Before the Gringoes Came,” Marta told the writer they came up by sea – which certainly makes more sense, considering she was bringing along nine children ages four to 23.3

It’s also commonly said they lived for a year or so with the Vallejos before scouting out places to settle. It’s certainly possible some of the younger kids stayed that long overall, but a decision on the location was quickly made. In January 1838, son-in-law General Mariano Vallejo granted her a land grant of nearly 9,000 acres. Prior to that a “log house” had already built on Santa Rosa Creek about a half-mile upstream of the adobe site, Julio said in the interview transcribed below.

Nor was there much question about precisely where the Carrillos were going to live. There was already a heavy-duty stone foundation built some ten years earlier (“the marks where the buildings stood were plainly discernible,” Julio said) which greatly facilitated construction of the adobe. Whether the abandoned footings were intended for a full-scale mission, a satellite “asistencia” – or maybe a military outpost – is an unsettled question. (EDIT: The particular foundation Julio referred to was near the site of the village of Hukabetawi, described below, not the other pre-existing foundation on which the Carrillo Adobe was built.)

Having a ready-to-use building foundation was a great advantage, but General Vallejo probably would have urged the Carrillos to settle in the Santa Rosa area anyway. The secularization of the missions created an ongoing headache for Vallejo, as mission properties were supposed to be given to Indians who had lived and worked there. The missionaries tried to skirt the law by creating popup colonies on land they claimed belonged to the church because. Vallejo evicted them from the Petaluma area with a promise to turn all of Santa Rosa into Mission Indian lands, but granting the entire acreage to the Carrillos was an endrun to the padre’s gamesmanship.4

But catastrophe struck before adobe construction could begin. In late 1837 a soldier caught smallpox while on a trading mission at Fort Ross. Vallejo and other Californios were vaccinated and he ordered Sem-Yeto (Chief Solano) and other Indians in his immediate circle vaccinated as well, while trying to prevent an epidemic by quarantining the rest of the Indians living nearby. It did little good; in May 1838 Vallejo sent a notice to all parts of Alta California warning smallpox was raging in the North Bay. He later estimated the disease claimed some 70,000 Indians in the region and Gov. Alvarado said 200-300k were killed “as far as the slopes of Mount Shasta.” A Californio historian wrote at the time they “died daily like bugs.”

oldvillages(“Old villages” c. 1800. After the 1838-1839 smallpox epidemic only a few remained. Source: “The Ethno-Geography of the Pomo and Neighboring Indians,” Samuel Barrett, 1908. Art by Jeff Elliott)

By the time the Carrillos moved into the adobe in 1839 the world had turned upside down. In the before-times, the Pomo tribelet in the Santa Rosa area (called the Gualomi in mission records) had an established village known as Hukabetawi – where W Third St. meets N Dutton Ave. – as well as another at the site of Santa Rosa city hall. With so many deaths happening so fast, essential family and community links shattered. Like Sebastopol and Dry Creek, Santa Rosa was now a refugee camp mixing people who often didn’t know each other, with Mission Indians next to those who saw the Californios as no better than the missionaries who treated them like slaves.

The chaos of an epidemic ripping through the area surely put adobe construction on hold for most of 1838, although the vaccinated Carrillo boys probably got the jump on cattle and horse ranching. Farming may also have started by the local Pomo, as smallpox did not reach here until later in the year. In fact, I suspect the Indians who Vallejo initially sent “far away” to quarantine were told to go to Santa Rosa and start work on his mother-in-law’s house, as they had recent construction experience in building Vallejo’s own adobe home. Similarly, Salvador Vallejo – brother of the General and soon to marry a Carrillo daughter in 1840 – is credited with supervising the work and possibly the layout of the Carrillo adobe.

The Carrillo children surely looked back upon the 1840s as the best years of their lives. They were young and strapping; the boys in their early twenties or close to it, the girls starting their teens. The rancho prospered and the new adobe gave everyone plenty of room (what is seen today is just the east wing of the adobe; a north wing collapsed in 1944).

The decade was not without its sorrows. Two of Doña María’s sons died as adults; Juan Bautista was age 24, supposedly due to accidental food poisoning by the Carrillo family cook. Dolores was 21 and possibly died while a soldier. Doña María Ignacia Lopez de Carrillo died on February 28, 1849, and her will is partially transcribed below.

There was also the crisis of 1846. The Bear Flag Revolt caused a few weeks of panic because rumors spread Americans were going to kill all Californios in their sleep – while the Americans feared the Californios were planning same. Worse, the family was defenseless because their protectors, Salvador and Mariano Vallejo were being held prisoner; Julio Carrillo would soon be a captive of the Bears as well. Ramón formed a militia to protect the ranchos from possible attacks and there are questions over whether some critical events played out at the adobe, topics discussed here.

The Carrillo rancho also became a social hub for neighboring Californios. Another visitor described young men hanging around, waiting for an opportunity to race and chase down wild horses in the Carrillo’s substantial herd:


…In front of the house there was a courtyard of considerable extent, and part of this was sheltered by a porch. Here, when the “vaccaros” [sic] having nothing to call them to the field, they pass the day, looking like retainers of a rude court. A dozen wild, vicious little horses, with rough wooden saddles on their backs, stand ever ready for work; whilst lounging about, the vaccaros smoke, play the guitar, or twist up a new “riata” of hide or horse-hair…

The writer continued that after an afternoon nap they mounted up and “…away they all go in a cloud of dust, splashing through the river, waving their lassos round their heads with a wild shout, and disappearing from the sight almost as soon as mounted. The vaccaro wants at all times to ride furiously, and the little horses eyes are opened wide enough before they receive the second dig of their rider’s iron spurs…”

That colorful passage was written by Frank Marryat, who spent several days with the Carrillos.5 His visit came in 1850, the year following Doña María’s death so we’re sadly denied a description of her. By then, however, the three Carrillo girls were young women of marriageable age, and we’re treated to a memorable description of “Quilp,” there trying to court 24 year-old Marta:


Breakfast over the Spanish guests were introduced; they were all fine dashing looking fellows, with the exception of one, a short stout man; from the first moment of our meeting war was tacitly declared between us and this gentleman; we found that he was a suitor for the hand of the eldest sister, who, by the way owned a part of the ranche, and I suppose he imagined it was our intention to contest this prize with him; for he commenced at once to show his disapprobation of our presence; we called this fellow Quilp…

QUILP
QUILP
Ramón took the writer on an antelope hunt (!) and when they returned to the adobe Quilp was still hanging around, doing his best to impress Marta he was a great catch: “…he would sit down on a stool in the porch, and throwing one leg over the other, would twang the old guitar and accompany it with a Spanish hymn to the Virgin, which being delivered in a dismal falsetto, bore much resemblance to the noise of a wheelbarrow that requires greasing and was about as musical.” (I urge you to read his whole section about the Carrillos. It’s 22 short pages and is great fun.)

Doña María’s ambitious plans for her rancho required a large, year-round workforce, and according to the 1884 Robert Thompson history, “it is said that at the time of the occupation of the valley by Señora Carrillo there were three thousand Indians living in the neighborhood of [Santa Rosa].” That estimate probably came from Julio – Thompson had interviewed him in 1872.6 The number is likely an exaggeration, but even if just half that many were here it was far larger than the estimated pre-smallpox population of the original villages in the area, which shows the scope of the Indian diaspora after the epidemic.

By most accounts the Carrillos got along particularly well with their Indian workers. The former Mission Indians would have settled in to rancho peonage easily, being used to field and domestic work in exchange for food and clothing. Traditionalist Indians were accommodated by the rancho having a temazcal (sweat lodge) and those converted to Catholicism must have been exceptionally pleased when at age 13, Marta stood as a godparent at the baptism of an Indian child, which was unusual and not just because of her youth.

William Heath Davis, that traveler who visited the Carrillos early on, worried that among them were several hundred “unchristianized” Indians which might pose a threat to the family.7 Doña María told him “she had perfect confidence in her raw help because she treated them so well,” that she kept them well-fed and could speak their language. Julio likewise told historian Thompson the Indians were “…our faithful servants and with their help we were enabled to till our immense fields and drive to pasture our countless thousands of cattle.”

But in her later “Gringos” interview (below), Marta told the writer “occasionally there was a mutiny” which Doña María herself suppressed using her riata/lasso “with the Indians when they were disposed to be ugly.” There is no description of what was done with the protesting Indians once they were roped, but from the context it’s apparent punishment followed.

After Doña María died, this ad hoc Indian refugee community would also fade away quickly. There would be no more livestock, no more crops to tend. There would be no more Carrillos to serve and no more vaqueros and suitors hanging about. There would only be the Americanos, and nobody was sure of how to deal with them.

Around the Twelfth Night of Christmas – a significant holy day in the Mexican Catholic calendar – Doña María saw the shadows of death creeping towards her and wrote a will (partially transcribed below). She would live less than two more months.

Doña María was thoughtful and fair about dividing the lands amongst her children. Three of the eldest daughters – Josefa, Ramona, and Francisca – received no bequests because they were married with their own households. She affirmed Luz already had been given land between Santa Rosa Creek and “the swamp” (huh?) and asked all of the children to regard Luz as the new family matriarch. Although she and husband Salvador Vallejo had their own adobe in Napa, they seemingly spent much of their time at the General’s adobe, judging from biographies.

The three unmarried daughters shared the adobe and land bordered on the south by “El Potrero” creek (eh?) and “the limits of Santa Rosa,” which I’m guessing is approximately E street. The rest of the property belonged jointly to Julio and Ramón. Joaquin – who had his own substantial land grant on the west side of the Laguna – was left a share of the livestock.

Following the Bear Flag Revolt, Ramón took part in the Mexican-American War and remained in Southern California, returning here for a year (or so) after his mother’s death. That was when he met Frank Marryat and settled his affairs with the family, apparently never to return. He sold his interest in the land to Julio for two dollars and Mariano Vallejo gave him $16,672 (over a half-million today) which was presumably for all/most of the Carrillo livestock. Was it a coincidence that sale happened on September 9, 1850 – the day California became part of the United States?

Although there was no more ranching, some farming continued at least through the following year. U.S. Indian Agent George Gibbs came through and described conditions: “…The slovenly modes of cultivation in use, comparatively unproductive as they are, have yet the merit of requiring little or no expenditure of money in wages; the Indians receiving a bare support beyond what they can steal, and then only during the summer.”8 Once Doña María was gone, it seemed the Carrillo’s relationship with the Indians quickly frayed.

Nor was that the only change during 1851 that would have saddened Doña María. Juana married David Mallagh, who with a business partner turned the front part of the family adobe into a general store. They also opened a tavern they called “Santa Rosa House” in the adobe. Then later that year Marta, 25 years old and unmarried, gave birth to her son Agobar. The name of the father was never mentioned.

The next year Alonzo Meacham arrived and bought the store (whether the tavern was included is not known).9 Meacham petitioned the government to open a post office there under the name “Santa Rosa;” historian Robert Thompson quipped, “Mr. M. is entitled to the gratitude of posterity that he did not call the post office Mallaghsville, Buchanansburg, or some other stupid name of like derivation.”

Also in 1852 the Carrillos began selling off their inheritance. Julio sold seventy acres to Meacham, which would become the east side of old Santa Rosa (E street to the middle of Courthouse Square). The situation with the three youngest sisters was more complex, as Doña María had left her other portion of the rancho to them jointly. Felicidad owned 337½ acres outright; Marta co-owned portions with Juana and Luz. It was the deed shared with Luz that became a later scandal.

According to the “Gringos” article found below, one day Marta was surprised to receive an eviction notice because her 1,600 acres had been sold. Shown the new deed, Marta – who could neither read nor write – discovered her name had been forged, and the person who did it was Salvador Vallejo, Luz’ husband. Not wishing to cause a family disgrace, she kept quiet at the time and went to live with one of her brothers. That story has been often retold by history writers since.

None of that is true. County records (Book H:115) show that on May 21, 1852, she indeed signed the deed of sale with an “X” and it was properly witnessed. Luz also signed with a mark while Salvador wrote his full name.

marta deed

This is not to say that Salvador might have cheated her in some other way – such as not giving her a complete share of the proceeds – but the document was not forged. The writer of the 1900 newspaper article must have misunderstood (there was certainly plenty of other villainy in Salvador Vallejo’s life she might have mentioned).

The Carrillo family was also about to lose ownership of the adobe. An old friend of Meacham’s became his partner, before he decided he wanted to be a farmer instead and sold his share to another guy and his nephew. The new partnership called Hoen & Co. turned it into a major trading post. Wrote historian Thompson: “That summer of 1853 business was lively at the “old adobe;” all the freighting was done by pack-mules and it was a purchasing point for settlers up the Russian River valley, and as far north as Clear lake. Trains of pack mules might be seen at all hours either loading or uploading freight…”

Juana and husband David apparently still lived there, and when a smallpox epidemic passed through Santa Rosa their child (Helena Felicidad) died. That loss might have been the reason the Mallaghs decided to sell the adobe and move to San Luis Obispo, where older sister Ramona lived.

They had always rented that front part of the building with the store for $25/mo. Marta – the last unmarried daughter – was living with one of her brothers (according to “Gringos”) and once the Mallaghs were gone there would be no one from the family remaining. With the rest of the adobe vacant, the new owner demanded Hoen & Co. rent the whole place for $300 per month.

Hoen and his partners refused to even negotiate with Walkinshaw, the new landlord.10 Instead, they went to Meacham, who had bought those seventy acres from Julio a year earlier. Paying Alonzo $12/acre, they set up shop over there and added a new line of business: Selling real estate.

Thus sometime, probably in the early autumn of 1853, came a morning when the Carrillo adobe was no longer anyone’s home. There was no smoke seen rising from the chimney, no smell of fresh tortillas in the kitchen, no shutters open to invite the sun. All was quiet and still, except for the distant pounding of many hammers driving nails a mile further to the west.

NOTE ON THE TITLE IMAGE: Some Carrillo family members on Ancestry and FaceBook have asserted this young woman is Marta Carrillo. It is probably not her or any of her sisters, but it is impossible to prove either way. (EDIT: Eric Stanley has corrected me that the set of images likely did include some of Doña María’s daughters.) It came from a set of daguerreotypes purchased decades ago by an out-of-state collector at an estate sale. The background image is a photograph from the Sonoma County Museum collection titled, “Fountaingrove with hills surrounding Santa Rosa” and has been slightly tinted here for effect.marta from ancestry


1 Some of the children could not even write their names, yet others were literate in spanish and maybe english. In 1864 the Democrat published a well-written english language letter from Julio, while Ramón and Francisca strategized via letters during the 1846 Bear Flag revolt in spanish. Doña María corresponded with son-in-law Henry Fitch. I have not seen copies of any of these documents, so some/all may have been dictated.

2 Seventy-five Years in California by William Heath Davis; 1929, J. Howell, pp. 25-26. This passage did not appear in the original form of the book, Sixty Years in California published in 1889. The entire section reads: “Doña María Ygnacia was ambitious, and cultivated large fields of wheat, barley, oats, corn, beans, peas, Jantejas [sic – he meant Lentejas/lentils], and vegetables of every variety. I have eaten from water- and musk melon of a hot summer day in the broad corridor of the homelike adobe dwelling. I have seen Doña María Ygnacia robed in a neat calico dress of a French texture, with a broad-brim straw hat made by one of her Indian women, mounted on a horse which had been broken to saddle by some of her sons expressly for her use, ride over the hacienda and direct the gentiles in sowing and planting seed and in harvesting the same. She supervised the farming herself, but the management of the stock and rodeos was left to her son José Ramon and his brother. José Ramon inherited his mother‘s gift. Although she was the mother of eleven grown daughters and sons, she was well preserved and still looked handsome with all the charms of her younger days. She was of medium height, with all the graceful movements so characteristic of her race.”

3 “‘Sonoma Valley Before the Gringoes Came,’ written for the Sunday Bulletin, March 11, 1900”: undated and anonymous, 7 typewritten pp. Gaye LeBaron Collection, Sonoma State University Library

4 The Creekside Village Archaeological Testing Program, Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, California by William Roop, Emily Wick, 2008; pp. 75, 278-280, 285-286

5 Mountains and Molehills, Or, Recollections of a Burnt Journal by Frank Marryat; 1855. pp. 61-82

6 “Narrative of Julio Carrillo as given by him to by Robert A. Thompson editor Santa Rosa Democrat”; 1872. Bancroft Library, UC/Berkeley (READ). The eleven page manuscript is mostly political remarks and gossip from the late 1840s, but has passages about the rancho and Indians, although not the est. 3,000 population. It shows Julio was quite an articulate speaker in english.

7 Davis op. cit.

8 Roop/Wick op. cit. pp. 287-288. Gibbs’ report reflects his barely concealed contempt for the Californios as well as their use of Indian labor.

9 The common story told about Alonzo Meacham held that he was a shopkeeper burned out by the great San Francisco fire of May, 1851. Classified ads in the Alta California show he was first an auctioneer and then had a company selling building stone until September of that year.

10 Robert F. Walkinshaw lived in Santa Clara and had no other interests in Santa Rosa – he was never mentioned in any of the papers as coming through the area. But a few years earlier he was a controversial figure. In April 1847 he was the sailing captain of the Schooner William, which arrived in San Francisco Bay with a valuable cargo of mining equipment from Mexico, including gunpowder, intended to be used at a mercury mine near San Jose. As this was during the Mexican-American War, the ship was seized by the Americans. The schooner was flying an English flag and in Admiralty Court hearings it was claimed the tools were owned by a British firm. Walkinshaw was a Mexican citizen and members of the firm had lived in Mexico for many years but were still British subjects. Although the judge conceded the vessel and cargo were property of a business based in a neutral country, everything coming from an enemy nation must be taken from its owners as being spoils of war. Military governor of California Richard Mason, however, stepped in and ordered the ship and its cargo released.

 

sources
 

SONOMA VALLEY BEFORE THE GRINGOES CAME
(Written for the Sunday Bulletin, March 11, 1900)

Santa Rosa, March 3. – Old and feeble and bent with age, in a little cottage on Fourth street in this city, lives Marta Carrillo, daughter of the remarkable woman whose indomitable energy and intrepid courage blazed the pathway for civilization in this fair valley of the Santa Rosa.

Marta has lived here seventy years. Many changes have occurred in that time – changes swift and wonderful, to Marta, swifter and more wonderful with each passing year – each one leaving the old lady a little more bewildered than did the last. And the one change which Dona Marta cannot understand at all, and, indeed, one which she makes no pretense of understanding, is the sad, stern change in her own condition that bespeaks the fallen fortunes of the house of Carrillo.

Time has passed quickly with Dona Marta, and to her it seems not so very long ago that all this country about here, including the site where now stands the city of Santa Rosa, belonged to her mother, to her brother and to herself. The memory of those old days is to her fresher than those of more recent and less pleasant times. She recalls distinctly the day when her mother’s residence, the old adobe house, now crumbling to decay on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, was the only dwelling in this section, and when the cattle of the Carrillos wandered over leagues upon leagues of this land, which is now parceled out among “the Gringos,” with only a single acre of it left in the possession of a Carrillo.

All Marta’s brothers and sisters are dead. All died comparatively poor. But the name of the family is inseparately interwoven with the early history of this State; one of Marta’s sisters was the wife of General M. G. Vallejo, Military Governor of Alta California; another sister was the mother of Governor Romualdo Pacheco, while a third married Colonel Salvador Vallejo, brother of the general of that name.

In the year of 1826 Father Ventura, one of the founders of the Mission of New San Francisco, or Sonoma, returned to San Diego after spending three years among the Indians of Northern California. Among his friends in the southern settlement were the family of Colonel Joaquin Carrillo. The colonel had died during the absence of the good padre, leaving a rather small estate to his widow and her nine children. When the estate had dwindled, in the course of three years, to an amount so small that the family could subsist upon it only with great economy, Father Ventura bethought him of the beautiful and fertile country, far to the north, where a home might be built and land in any quantity obtained for the taking. The priest urged the widow of his friend to go to this new country far to and north of the Sonoma Mission, picturing its beauties, its adoptability to cultivation, the docility of the natives, who, he said, could be employed at farming and herding. He bade her place her trust in God and the saints, take her family, go to the country he described, and she would be blessed.

And so Dona Maria Ignacia Lopez, the widow of Colonel Carrillo, with her four girls and five boys, set sail for San Francisco. The family reached Sonoma, where they found the young commander, Vallejo, in charge with a few Mexican soldiers. Dona Maria and her children remained in Sonoma several months. During that time two courtships were in progress, and before the widow left the shelter of the settlement her daughter, Frances Benicia, was wedded to Commandant M. G. Vallejo, while the latter’s brother, Salvador, at that time a captain, espoused Lus, another daughter of Dona Maria.

At that time the country lying west of Sonoma was very little known, except that near the Coast. Nevertheless, Dona Maria determined to follow the advice of Father Ventura and seek a home for herself and children in the then almost unknown land that bordered on the Mission of New San Francisco.

With a band of cattle, a few horses and an ox team, they set out, accompanied by an Indian guide. After two days’ travel they reached a spot that appeared to be suitable for their purpose, and there laid the foundation for what afterward became famous as the Rancho de Cabeza de santa Rosa. The first step was to construct a dwelling. Dona Maria designed the structure and assisted her sons in making the mud bricks and, after they had been dried in the sun, in plastering them together. The result of their labor still stands near Santa Rosa, though the old adobe is now used for a barn and is crumbling away through lack of repairs.

Dona Maria’s executive ability, so unusual in the women of her race, made her the dominant, ruling spirit of the rancho to the very day of her death. It was not long after her first occupation of the land before she had gathered about her a large number of Indians. These she set to work to till the land, to herd cattle, to thresh grain and to do the general work of the place. The Indians were tractable, as a rule, but occasionally there was a mutiny, and during troublesome times the bravery of the pioneer woman is said to have been greater than that of her sons. In those days firearms were exceedingly scarce. The principal weapon was the “rista,” or lasso, which was used against man or beast with equally good (or bad) effect. The long rope with the noosed end was the chief argument employed by Dona Maria with the Indians when they were disposed to be ugly, and though she often faced great odds, it is not of record that the lady was ever worsted in an encounter.

As the years passed the cattle increased in number until they could be counted by thousands. The boys and girls grew to manhood and womanhood. Juanita married Don Pacheco; Marta, the youngest, was as yet unmarried.

In 1840 Dona Maria applied to the Mexican Governor, Manuel Jimeno, at Monterey, for a title to her land. She was given a grant of two “sitios” (leagues) under the caption of “El Rancho de Cabeza de Santa Rosa.” About the same time her son, Joaquin, applied for and received title to the grant known as the “Laguna de Santa Rosa,” consisting of three sitios, adjoining the land of his mother. This made an area of fifteen square miles of land, owned by mother and son.

All went well with the Carrillos until the death of Dona Maria, about 1848. Then the trouble began. The heirs had a disagreement over the division of her estate, which was finally settled, however, principally by the method of the strong arm. Then the Americans began to arrive in large numbers. They cultivated the Mexican habit of gambling, but usually to the disadvantage of the Mexican.

Once divided among the children of Dona Maria, the great estate passed rapidly into other hands. In one way and another the property was disposed of to the Americans, who soon overran the country until not an inch of the original grants was left in the possession of the Carrillo family.

About 1855 Dona Marta married her cousin, Joaquin Carrillo. Their early married life was one or many hardships and privations until the husband by hard work had accumulated a little fortune of three or four thousand dollars. Then they purchased the acre of ground in Santa Rose whereon they now live with their daughter and two little grandchildren.

A few years prior to her marriage, Marta was still in possession of a portion of her share of her mother’s estate. This consisted of 1600 acres lying between Santa Rosa creek and Matanzas creek. These boundaries would now include a goodly chunk of the city of Santa Rosa. One day Dona Marta was served with a notice of ejectment. When she protested she was shown what purported to be a deed to the property, signed by herself. They told her that her brother-in-law, Salvador Vallejo, had effected the sale and he had been paid the purchase price. This was all news to Marta, for, while she could ride a bronco or throw the riata with skill and grace, she had never been taught to write and could not even scribble her own name. But she would not bring disgrace on the family by making complaint, so the purchaser of a magnificent property at one-hundredth part of its value was permitted to take possession, and little Marta, robbed of her birthright, went to live with one of her brothers. The brothers were equally unfortunate; within a few years they, too, had lost their possessions. A few years more and all the children of Dona Maria were dead – all except Marta. But in the meantime love had come into her life and smoothed over the rough places and abided with her through all the years of trouble that followed. And, though lands and cattle and retainers are hers no longer, Dona Marta is happy in the little cottage on the little acre of ground – all that is left of the once vast domain of the Carrillos.

– manuscript copy courtesy the Gaye LeBaron collection, Sonoma State University

 

 

LAST WILL OF MARIA YGNACIA LOPEZ CARRILLO (excerpt)

…I declare that I was lawfully married to Don Joaquin Carrillo (now deceased), in which marriage we begot our legitimate children, Josefa, Ramona, Maria de la Luz, Francisco, Joaquin, Ramon, Juan, Dolores, Julio, Marta, Juana, and Felicidad.

I declare as my executors my sons Jose Ramon, Joaquin, or Julio. I declare as legitimate heirs of the property that I actually possess my daughter, Maria de la Luz, Jose Ramon, Joaquin, Julio, Maria Marta, Juana de Jesus, Maria Felicidad de las Augustias. – (The exception of Josefa, Ramona, and Francisca, who have come to have no share in the property willed.) I declare that the property which I actually possess and which belongs to me is derived from the personal labor of my sons and daughters mentioned in the above clause. – I declare the land that my daughter Luz actually possesses, and its boundaries, are the Santa Rosa Creek, above, almost as far as the limits of the swamp which belongs to me; and the width shall be the swamp, above, along the edge of the surrounding hills. –

I command that my house in which I now live be given up, with all its appurtenances, incomes, outlets, furniture, gardens, fences, and cultivated lands to Marta, Juana, and Felicidad; I declare the limits to be the Santa Rosa Creek, below, as far as the junction of the creeks on the North; and on the South, the creek known by the name of El Potrero as far as the limits of Santa Rosa on the East. –

I command that the rest of my property be divided in equal parts between my children already mentioned; my son Joaquin, having received some cattle on his account, shall have these deducted from his inheritance. – (I bequest to Julio the house and lot in Sonoma without this being counted in the remainder of my property.)

I command that the rest of my lands be divided in equal parts between Jose Ramon and Julio. I entrust my daughter Luz with my family, for her protection, as well as my own sons and daughters, they may look on her as sent by their mother. I entrust my sons not to be unmindful of assisting their sisters in all the emergencies necessary to pass through life, as the sisters may assist their brothers to the best of their ability…

Sonoma, January 6, 1849
Maria Ignacia Lopez

– Translated by Brian McGinty, The Carrillos of San Diego: A Historic Spanish Family of California (part four): The Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 4; December, 1957, pg. 375-376

 

 

THE OLDEST INHABITANT.

What He Has Experienced in the Past — What He Thinks of the Future — No Failure of Crops for a Period of Forty Years.

Knowing the deep interest felt in the matter of the rainfall, we have interviewed an actual oldest inhabitant, in the person of Julio Carrillo, and give our readers the benefit of his experience extending over a period of forty years, from 1837 to 1877:

When did you first come to Sonoma county, Julio?

In 1837. In the fall of that year my family built a log house on Santa Rosa creek about half a mile above the old adobe now owned by Mr. Hahman. The adobe was commenced in 1838-9.

What is your recollection of the seasons? What years were notably dry?

I remember that the winter of 1838-9 was much the same as this — the nights were cold and frosty. The first rain fell in the month of February.

Did you have any rain in March?

We had some rain in March, but think there was none after that.

Did you have in a crop?

Oh, yes; we had planted wheat, corn, beans and peas.

Did the crop mature?

Yes; we had a fair crop. There was plenty of grass and no loss of stock in this part of the country.

What is your recollection of the following winter?

In 1839-10 there was a good deal of rain. I saw snow for the first time in my life that year, on the Petaluma and Cotate [sic] hill. (The latter is now called Taylor Mountain.) There was no snow in the valley. I had come up from San Diego and having never seen snow, I rode out to the hills to take a closer look.

How were the crops that year?

We had a good crop.

How about the next season?

In 1840-41 we had a great deal of rain and snow on the mountains. In February, 1841, there came a tremendous fall of rain. I had gone from the adobe house, where I then lived, to Sonoma, and could not get back. Sonoma valley was entirely flooded; the water came up to the town. The whole of Santa Rosa valley was flooded. That year a mill that Capt. Cooper was building at the mouth of the laguna, and had nearly completed, was entirely washed away. That was the heaviest rainfall I remember.

Were there any other notable seasons within your recollection, either remarkably dry or wet?

There was but little rain in 1843-4, but we made good crops of wheat, corn and peas.

How about the following seasons?

There was nothing remarkable until the wet winter of 1849-50.

The next very dry winters were 1862-3 and 1863-4, when, as everybody knows, we had more than average crops here, owing to the late spring rains.

What do you think of the prospect this season?

I think it will be a dry year, but it does not follow that we will have a failure of the crop. It makes but little difference about rains now if we have them in the spring, and without spring rains you cannot have a crop, no matter how heavy the rainfall in the winter months. That is my experience. Without spring rains we are gone up; but we have never failed since I have been here in having enough rain to mature a crop.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 13 1877

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