tuomeysign2

CALL IT MT. ST. HONORIA

At the very top of Mount St. Helena is a marker commemorating the founding of Fort Ross in 1812. Why there is a sign concerning a place 32 miles away is not explained, and should anyone examine the monument further, a deeper meta-weirdness is revealed: It’s really a sign commemorating an earlier sign.

After slogging up that steep and unforgiving trail for about three hours, a weary hiker also gets a mental workout in trying to grasp what the monument actually stated – which was that on this spot in 1912, a group of descendants of famous people put up this sign because on this spot there used to be a sign reading, ‘two Russians were at this spot in 1841’ which was removed from this spot in 1853.

Whew.

Intrigued but hopelessly confused, our intrepid hiker pulls a mobile phone from his/her backpack, certain that the cell towers also at the summit will provide a blistering signal (and hopefully not enough microwave energy to cause actual blistering).

From the internet, our visitor learns the monument actually describes how the mountain was named – which is a bit odd considering “Helena” does not appear anywhere on the marker. To paraphrase the top three results currently found by Google: During the 18th century Baron Count Rotchef visited Fortress Ross with his beautiful young wife Princess Helena, who was held in high regard by her people because. Helena joined a Russian survey party who ascended the peak in 1841, where they left a copper plate inscribed with her name and the date.

And that wasn’t all; had our hiker Googled a bit further, (s)he would have discovered that as the Russians came down from the mountain, an Indian chief tried to kidnap the princess.

As Gentle Reader can surely guess, there’s a whole lot of hokum to this story – problems that began even before the strange marker-about-a-marker was placed up there in 1912. It’s been like a very old and pretty tangled ball of yarn that everyone likes to handle but no one bothers to unwind and fix.

Here is what we know to be facts: Some Russians actually climbed the mountain in 1841 and left a copper plate there. There really was a “Princess Helena” around here at the time. End of facts.

We don’t know who the “Helena” was in the name, if the Russian named it before the day of their visit, or even that the Russians named it at all. Alexander Rotchev – the last administrator of Fort Ross and Helena’s husband – did not mention the mountain at all in his memoirs.1

The only written evidence the Russians were on the mountain at all comes from Ilya Voznesensky, who was sent to the Russian colonies by the Imperial Academy of Sciences to document the territory. All he states in his travel journal is that on June 16, 1841 he climbed “one of the highest mountains on whose summit no one had then yet been.”2

His journal didn’t mention the plaque or that anyone else was with him, but there were two names scratched into the metal: His and Yegor Chernykh, an agronomist who was at Ft. Ross to train the colonists in better farming techniques. Together they traveled widely in the area, visiting Pomo villages and mapping the Russian River as far as modern Healdsburg.

And, of course, there’s the copper plaque, which we know was actually on the mountain from a sighting of it in 1851. A letter to the Daily Alta California (transcribed below) described how nine men climbed the mountain and found a copper sheet about three feet square, “upon which was engraved hieroglyphics not by us decipherable.” The group – none of whom had obviously seen Cyrillic – wondered if it could be Aztec, or the “handiwork of the Mongolian race as far back as the time of Confucius.” The (un)helpful editor of the newspaper explained they saw the “latitude, longitude and altitude of the mountain, as ascertained by a party of Russian navigators,” and that “it is said that similar copper-plates were placed on several other high peaks in the vicinity of the coast.”

By 1866 the sign was gone. Another correspondent to the Alta wrote, “some years ago a fool or vagabond vandal removed an inscription that had been left on the summit” and the next year another informed the paper, “at the summit I found the post on which the Russians affixed the copper plate which was taken down several years ago by some persons who gave it to the State Geological Survey.”

And that’s the last we hear from anyone who had first-hand knowledge of anything related to the sign. Notice, too, that no one had yet claimed the Russian visit or the copper sign had anything to do with naming the mountain “Helena.” That all changed forty years after the Russians had gone away.

(By the way: The village of St. Helena was given that name in 1855 because the local chapter of the Sons of Temperance men’s group already called itself the “St. Helena Division.” As their Division names usually reflected a town or landmark, it’s safe to presume the mountain was commonly called Mt. St. Helena by then.)

From what I can find, the 1880 Sonoma county history was the first place the princess-namesake story shows up. The claim appears in a lengthy quote from Charles Mitchell Grant, an explorer and member of the Royal Geographical Society who then lived in the Bay Area. He had no expertise about the Russian colony at Fort Ross but twenty years earlier he had bummed around China and Russia, so apparently that made him an authority on all things Russian.3

Besides Grant’s matter-of-fact claim that the mountain was named for the administrator’s lovely wife, he also dishes up the first printed version of the kidnapping story. Grant wrote, “The beauty of this lady excited so ardent a passion in the heart of Prince Solano, chief of all the Indians around Sonoma, that he formed a plan to capture, by force or stratagem, the object of his love…”

That’s a paraphrase from a story in General Vallejo’s unpublished memoir, where supposedly Vallejo’s key Indian ally, Chief Solano (Suisun tribal leader Sem-Yeto), meets Princess Helena while she and her husband are visiting Vallejo in Sonoma. That night Solano tells Vallejo he planned to abduct her and asks for Vallejo’s approval. Vallejo is horrified and shames Solano into abandoning the notion. A translation of the full tale is found in the footnote.4

This isn’t the place to really dive into a full analysis of the story, but I’ll say only I don’t believe it happened as Vallejo described. It fits too perfectly with the school of humor which could be called the “wise captain and the fool,” where a stupid person is the butt of the joke because he must be instructed on how to behave properly. Vignettes with that theme were popular in newspaper entertainment pages during the 19th and early 20th centuries, usually with an underlying racist message – “those people” have strange ideas and aren’t as good as the rest of us.

The less titillating info in the 1880 history was further news about the Russian plaque: “In the year 1853 this plate was discovered by Dr. T. A. Hylton, and a copy of it preserved by Mrs. H. L. Weston of Petaluma, by whose courtesy were are enabled to reproduce it. The metal slab is octagonal in shape, and bears the following words in Russian: RUSSIANS, 1841 E. L. VOZNISENSKI iii, E. L. CHERNICH”.

Unfortunately, that terse description left unexplained whether Dr. Hylton took it away with him or just traced over what was written. Nor was it explained how large the original was. It was later stated the paper copy given to Mrs. Weston was only about five inches across and shaped like an octagon.5

If nothing more was written of the tale of the Russians on Mt. St. Helena, it would have ended up as an obscure anecdote to the history of Fort Ross. But starting in the early Twentieth Century, the story was transformed into a myth about the mountain of the beautiful princess and her thwarted Indian paramour. And all that is thanks to Miss Honoria R. P. Tuomey.

Honoria Tuomey was born in 1866 at her family’s ranch off of Coleman Valley Road. Most of her life she was a grammar school teacher and principal in West County; the Sonoma County Museum has a box of her memorabilia which is greatly filled with yellowed photos of her posing with farmkids in front of one-room schoolhouses. She started by writing poetry and had a lengthy profile of Luther Burbank printed as a Sunday feature in a 1903 Los Angeles paper; Gaye LeBaron wrote a 1990 profile of Tuomey worth reading for general background on her life and works.


(RIGHT: Honoria Tuomey, 1912. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum)

Tuomey is best known today for her two-volume Sonoma county history published in 1926, and although LeBaron’s remarks about those books might seem unkind, they really are worthless except for the biographies that makes up the entire second volume. The first book is interjected with a mish-mash of random facts, dubious hand-me-down stories and bits of melodramatic narrative  – complete with made-up dialog. Parts are even irrelevant to Sonoma county history; while there’s hardly a word about the Chinese there is a full chapter on “the French in California.” Overall it’s even worse than Tom Gregory’s 1911 history, and I suspect some of his research came from tall tales he swept up in Santa Rosa barrooms.

Honoria’s history focused on West County – which isn’t at all a bad thing, as all the other local histories dwelled heavily on Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Sonoma. Still, LeBaron quipped, “It weighted so heavily toward the coast that it threatened to tip the whole county into the Pacific Ocean.” So it’s not surprising Tuomey’s book contains much on the history of the Russians and Fort Ross, with four chapters on it – far more coverage than she gave the Bear Flag Revolt and founding of the state.

Her passion for the Russian colony extended to the legend of the lost marker on Mt. St. Helena, twice climbing the mountain in search of clues, as she later revealed in an article.  “For several years I had read and researched, and interviewed old settlers, and all to no avail so far as obtaining a clue either to the existence and whereabouts of the plate, or its possible location on the mountain.”6

Tuomey’s quest for the marker ended when she came across an old pamphlet mentioning the business about Dr. Hylton and Mrs. Weston. That she didn’t realize the same info could be found in Sonoma and Napa county histories published in the early 1880s says lots about her scholarship.

With an eye on placing a replica on the very same rock to mark the centennial of Fort Ross, Honoria got busy. She asked the Kinslow Brothers – a company more accustomed to carving tombstones – to donate a marble plaque, with this engraved in the center: “RESTORED JUNE 1912 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF FORT ROSS.” She asked a Santa Rosa jeweler to engrave three copper plaques: a reproduction of the original Russian, another with an English translation, and the largest of all with the names of some of Sonoma county’s famed Mexican and American families. And she trekked up the mountain for a third time by herself to make sure she knew the proper place for all this to go. Say what you want about Honoria Tuomey, but she had remarkable dedication to her mission; she was around 45 years old while doing all this.

And thus on the 20th of June, 1912, Honoria led a small army of celebrants climbing up the mountain. At the summit the American flag was raised, messages and poems were read and speeches delivered. There was a stirring benediction and everyone sang “America” at the end. I have absolutely no doubt this was the happiest moment of her life.

Honoria Tuomey at the dedication of the Mt. St. Helena plaque. 1912. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Museum

 

A few weeks later the San Francisco Call presented a Sunday feature on the ceremony with an article by Tuomey. Per the Russian visit in 1841, she wrote:


…The complete personnel of this doughty expedition is not revealed in any records of history, but besides Doctor Wosnesenski and his friend, E. I. Tschernech, it included the handsome young Helena, Princess de Gagarine, wife of Alexander Rotcheff, the last governor of Ross settlement, and John Edward Mcintosh, grantee in 1837 by General M. G. Vallejo of the rancho Estero Americano to block Russian encroachments inland; also a small guard of soldiers. There were some lively thrills on that trip of some forty miles, not the weakest being occasioned by the attempt of old Chief Solano to abduct the princess. Up the rough, almost perpendicular side of the mountain the party mounted to the summit of the north peak, the highest point of elevation. Here upon a flat rock the copper plate was spiked and additional blocks were fitted to form a cairn. While the others knelt, the princess, raising her right hand, proclaimed the name of the mountain forever “Helena” in honor of her royal mistress and namesake, Helena, empress of Russia…

In this new, never-before-told version, it’s getting pretty crowded up there at the summit, what with the princess, the soldiers and all. But thank goodness an armed escort was along on this trip because an Indian chief tried to snatch the princess. It’s all a perfect example of classic Honoria Tuomey: 10 percent was probably true, 10 percent was iffy, 10 percent was clearly junk and the rest was stuff she heard somewhere and thought it sounded good.

It would be easy to presume she just made most of that up, but thanks to her 1924 article, we learn her embroidered details came from Dan Patton, who ran the Mount Saint Helena Inn (7 miles from Calistoga on highway 29) back when Tuomey was on the hunt for all things Russian.

It seems Patton was pals with William Boggs, a notable figure in Sonoma and Napa counties in the decades after statehood. Boggs had known a guy (no name given) who supposedly was one of the soldiers in that pack of Russians who went up the mountain in 1841; when the rest of his countrymen abandoned Fort Ross and left for Alaska at the end of that year he was left behind for some reason. The Russian told the story to Boggs who told the story to Patton who told the story to Tuomey.

“Documentary evidence may not always be obtainable, may not exist,” she wrote, “but the free testimony of those who have lived and made history can be accepted, when known to have come down to us through veracious channels.” Dear Honoria; I know a few people who might disagree with you on that – namely every historian.

Tuomey had other novel and elaborate ideas about how the mountain came to named that won’t be detailed here. In a series of coincidences which Robert Ripley might have found hard to swallow, she believed it was independently christened “Saint Helena” three times – first by a Spanish friar, then by the Russians, and finally by Captain Stephen Smith of Bodega Bay.

Honoria R. P. Tuomey died in 1938. Besides the plaque on the mountain, she left hand-painted signs all over the county marking historic events – most (all?) are gone now, or stored away. But her real legacy is the unfortunate trail of misinformation about the Russian connection to Mt. St. Helena.

One afternoon I dived down the rabbit hole to see what people were writing about it since Honoria’s heyday. In travel guides, books, newspaper and magazine articles I found 27 new and unique details to the three Tuomey theories before I stopped counting. Some lowlights:

The princess on the mountain named it after her aunt, the empress of Russia (who wasn’t her aunt or named Helena); her arms were flung wide, Christlike, or she knelt in prayer as she named it after her patron saint; Russian sailors prayed or sang hymns. Another thread had Chief Solano and other Indians capturing the party at the base of Mt. St. Helena when Salvador Vallejo happened to come riding along to rescue them, or General Vallejo having to negotiate their release with the Vallejo silverware being Rotchev’s gift for saving his wife. The original plaque was given to the Society of California Pioneers museum in San Francisco by Dr. Hylton, where it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake although it was never there.

Never, ever, is the simplest and most likely explanation discussed: That the “plaque” was possibly just the equivalent of 19th century grafitti – two guys taking a break after a long hike and scratching their names on a piece of scrap metal.

As of this writing (December, 2017) the park is closed because Mt. St. Helena burned in the Tubbs fire. I have been unable to reach anyone in the park service who can tell me whether the marker is still intact; the copper could have melted or the whole thing could have been run over by a big CalFire truck.

But if it’s really gone, let’s not rush to replace it – we don’t need to keep inspiring people to write phony history. Should the sign be indeed replaced, let’s at least offer an honest representation of what it said: “Russians Eli and George, June 1841.” And just leave it at that.


1 Most of Rotchev’s papers were destroyed in a 1974 fire, but in the Argus-Courier, October 12, 1963, there was a quote from a 1942 letter from Mrs. Harold H. Fisher: “Mr. Redionoff (chief of Slavic Divison, Library of Congress) wrote me that the A. G. Rotchev memoirs do not mention the mountain…”

2 The odyssey of a Russian scientist: I.G. Voznesenskii in Alaska, California and Siberia 1839-1849 by Aleksandr Alekseev, 1987

3 An overview of Charles Mitchell Grant’s travels appeared in the Royal Geographical Society’s 1862 proceedings. Grant had only one leg and frequently had to travel in a cart when the only transport available was via camel or mule.

4 When Senor Rotcheff…came to see me, he was accompanied by his wife, the Princess Elena, a very beautiful lady of twenty Aprils, who united to her other gifts an irresistible affability. The beauty of the governor’s wife made such a deep impression on the heart of Chief Solano that he conceived the project of stealing her. With this object he came to visit me very late at night and asked my consent to putting his plan into effect. The story horrified me, for if it should unfortunately be carried out my good name would suffer, for no one would be able to get it out of his head that my agent had acted on my account; and besides seeing the country involved in a war provoked by the same cause which actuated the siege of Troy, I, who had never hesitated at expense or trouble to please my visitors…would be stigmatized as the most disloyal being that the world had ever produced. It was necessary for me to assume all the authority that I knew how to assume on occasions that required it to make Solano understand that his life would hang in the balance if he should be so ill-advised as to attempt to break the rules of hospitality. My words produced a good effect, and that same night, repenting of his conduct, he went to Napa Valley, where I sent him to prevent him from compromising, under the impulse of his insane love, the harmony which it was so urgent for me to reestablish with my powerful neighbors…But, fearing that Solano might ambush them on the road, I went to escort my visitors to Bodega. (Nellie Van de Grift Sanchez translation as found in “Spanish Arcadia” by Sanchez, 1929)

5Dr. Thomas A. Hylton was a Petaluma physician in the mid-1850s, and H. L. Weston was the publisher of the Petaluma Journal, having purchased it from Thomas L. Thompson in 1856. His wife was mentioned in 1868 for her skilled needlework for having crocheted portraits of famous men and even De Vinci’s Last Supper. Caroline died in 1909, having lived in Petaluma for 52 years, and Henry died in 1920.

6 “Historic Mount Saint Helena” by Honoria Tuomey, California Historical Society Quarterly, July, 1924

 

The reproduction plaque and English translation (Image: Wikipedia Commons)
In The Presence Of Representatives Of The Sonoma Pioneer Families Of
General M. G. Vallejo – Senora M Lopez De Carillo
Captain Henry D. Fitch – Captain Stephen Smith
Jasper O’Farrell – C. Alexander
Donner Party – Bear Flag Party
And Of
The Native Sons Of The Golden West
The Spanish, British, Russian And Mexican Consuls At S. F.
Dr. T A Hylton Removed The Original Plate From This Rock
In May 1853 And Gave A Copy To H. L. Weston Who Has
Authorized Miss Honoria R. P. Toumey
To Make This Restoration
The Mysterious Copper Plate on the Top of St. Helena.

A correspondent of the Marysville Democrat writes as follows:

“Napa Valley is unquestionably one of the loveliest spots on this earth… At the upper end of the ralley rises St. Helena, an abrupt, lofty mountain — the highest peak north of the bay — upon the very highest point of which there rests, or did rest, a copper plate, the history of which is buried in the silent tomb of oblivion.

“As wonderful as that relic of by-gone ages is, I do not recollect ever having seen even a newspaper paragraph in relation to it. Eight years ago last July, three gentlemen from San Francisco, three from Sacramento city, two from Napa and myself, having heard of the existence of said plate, ascended that mountain’s rugged form and gratified as far as possible, our curiosity. It was indeed a wonder. The plate was thin, about three feet square, upon which was engraved hieroglyphics not by us decipherable, notwithstanding that our company, altogether, understood five different languages.

“While wondering over the defunct history of that old copper plate, we could not help speculating upon the probable race so advanced in the arts which could possibly have occupied this interesting country at so remote a period. Is it not possible that this continent mar have once been connected with the north-eastern coast of Asia? One might be led to look upon that valuable plate as a piece of handiwork of the Mongolian race as far back as the time of Confucius, were it not that the characters do not resemble their language.

“Again, it is not impossible that the original Aztec tribe, the founders of those splendid ruins of Yucatan, may have originated from the Caucasian stock, and gradually worked their way towards Bhering’s Straits [sic] down the continent, having temporarily occupied different portions of the now Alta California in the course of their gradual migration.”

The mysterious character alluded to in the above correspondence, are those of the latitude, longitude and altitude of the mountain, as ascertained by a party of Russian navigators, who made a hasty survey of the coast, when the Russians had possession of the coast near the mouth of Russian river, and expected to hold a large part of California. It is said that similar copper-plates were placed on several other high peaks in the vicinity of the coast.

– Daily Alta California, January 1 1860

Places of Note.

…To me, one of the most interesting points is Mt. St. Helena, not because of any peculiar natural attraction, but it haa bern consecrated by the footsteps of the great Humboldt, and I never look up to that dark mountain pile without feeling as if it had been rendered a sacred spot by the influence of such a presence. Some years ago a fool or vagabond vandal removed an inscription that had been left on the summit by that greatest of philosophers. It was a copper plate set in the rock, and was a valuable memento of long years of the past.

– Daily Alta California, August 30 1866

LETTER FROM CALISTOGA

…At the summit I found the post on which the Russians affixed the copper plate which was taken down several years ago by some persons who gave it to the State Geological Survey. It should be replaced with another plate containing a translation of its inscription…

– Daily Alta California, May 3 1867

 

ACROSS THE MAYACMAS.

…St. Helena, the highest and most shapely mountain in this lofty chain, is visible from base to crest, the line of light and shadow on its rugged slopes is so plainly marked, its clean-cut outline against the sky is so well defined that it is difficult to realize the intervening space of foot-hill, valley and wooded Slope, which makes up the foreground of this far-reaching and surprisingly beautiful landscape. This view of St. Helena, or at all events a similar one, doubtless, inspired the Russian naturalist Wossnessensky, who was the first to ascend it, and who named the mountain in honor of his sovereign, the Empress of Russia. He imbedded, in a rock on the summit a copper plate, to commemorate the event. Upon the plate was inscribed the date of the ascent, “June 12, 1841,” the name Wossnessonsky, and that of his companion, Techernich, and the word “Russians,” twice repeated in the Russian language and once in Latin. This plate was removed by some vandal and afterwards came into the possession of members of the so-called State Geological Survey, who probably took it out of the State where it has no local interest.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 28 1881

 

THE SHORT STORY CLUB HAS MEETING

Miss Honoria R. P. Tuomey read a charming description of the life and writings of Robert Louis Stevenson, having secured the local color for her sketch by a visit to his old camp on the southwest side of Mount St. Helena. It was here that he wrote “The Silverado Squatters.”

– Press Democrat, June 19 1910

 

RESTORATION ON ST. HELENA
HISTORIC PLATE TELLS OF RUSSIAN OCCUPATION
Old Spanish Families Represented at Notable Ceremonies on the Mountain’s Summit Thursday

On Thursday last, June 20th, the great Mount St. Helena was awakened from its sleep of age into a new historical life. Its rocky gorges, its thorn-brushed ridges and its lone wild peak away up against the blue sky, all rang with the echo of a Voice. It was the Voice of the age one hundred years distant from the white hand of the Czar of all the Russias. One hundred years away from the black bearded Muscovite who toiled and climbed from old Fort Ross by the Pacific, through primeval redwood forests o’er meadowlands deep grassed, but angered into life by the growl of the grizzly and the leap of the stag. On and on they came, those Russians of the frozen sea and the aurora land of ice. Wosnesenskl, the Third, Tschernech, and their beautiful princess, up and up the steep mountain side, scaling the cliffs and tearing their chaparal pathway to the wild, desolate peak of the great unnamed mountain.

The story is of June, but the pathway was as December, wild in its every setting. The sacred burden of their pilgrimage was a rudely carved copper plate bearing the inscription
RUSSIANS
P. L. WOSNESENSKL III
E. I. Tschernech
RUSSIANS
This in the rude character lettering of the kingdom of the Czar. This they bolted to a rock of the peak in June of 1841, and as they stood on this great mount “Helena.” Later, woven in a triple story of romance, it became the “Sainted” mountain.

The years that made this story of christening have gone, and too, the rude plate of record was taken from its fastenings and lost to the world forever, save its replica on a film of paper, almost miraculous in its preservation.

Another age has come, the years of the city, the orchard, the vintage; the years of the puffing engine, the harnessed bird of the air, and conquered light of the clouds. It is the day of “Restoration,” and the great mountain feels the footprints and hears the sound of the English-speaking voice.

Sonoma county may well be proud of the little lady who made possible this day of restoration on the old mountain peak.

The notable historical event in all its minute detail and plan, was under the skilled management of Miss Honora R. P. Tuomey, an educator and writer of Sonoma county. She bears a great love for the preservation of these historical landmarks and, too, of telling the story in writing of those days and times, of those men and incidents of early days of this western life.

To Miss Tuomey was given the authority of restoration, and well did she complete the task in every detail. As a princess of the Russians first gave the mountain name, so it was but fitting that a lady of this western land should replace it under the western sun.

It is a long, interesting story, the story of the original plate, of its placement and its final untimely destruction, of which limitations deny in this brief article.

The day of the restoration last Thursday was one of threatening clouds and storm. Invitations had been issued to representatives of the pioneer families of the county and a few guests. Those going to the summit of the mountain from the southern portion of the county chose to go by the Patton toll house trail; those going from this city and section were to climb the mountain from the west, over a trail of steep ascent and heavy with overgrown brush. Those in the party from the Healdsburg section were…

… The copper plates were given by Hood Brothers of Santa Rosa, and the marble tablet by Kinslow Brothers. Harry Parks had charge of the masonry work and bolting to the rock, and was assisted by Mr. Frates…

.. Bolted to the rock on the peak of the great Mt. St. Helena, the story retold, a companion of the mighty storm, the blow of the wind; the drift of the snow and the flash of the clouds of heaven, this tablet bolted to the mountain peak shall stand forever, a leaf from the page of history of the great State of California.
J. M. ALEXANDER.

– Healdsburg Tribune, June 27 1912

 

RUSSIAN TABLET IS RESTORED ON MT. ST. HELENA
THE 100 TH ANNIVERSARY OF FONT ROSS SEES A NOTABLE CEREMONY IN THE HISTORIC SONOMA PEAK

By Honoria R. P. Tuomey

EARLY in June, 1841, there arrived at Fort Ross an adventurous naturalist attached to the national museum of zoology at St. Petersburg, Dr. P. L. Wosnesenski, commissioned to make collections on the northern Pacific shores of Asia and North America. From the summit of Mount Ross this enterprising man of science saw on the far eastern horizon a quadruple peaked mountain looming conspicuously above the lower summits of the Coast range. Speedily he organized a party, caused a copper plate to be made and inscribed by the artisans at Ross and pioneered a journey to the mountain that until then had been unvisited and unnamed by the Russians who had seen it from afar for a generation.

The little riding party passed across pastoral Sonoma, occupied by Indian tribes not wholly friendly and claimed by Mexico, always hostile to the Muscovite “intruders,” whose stout stronghold she dare not attack.

The complete personnel of this doughty expedition is not revealed in any records of history, but besides Doctor Wosnesenski and his friend, E. I. Tschernech, it included the handsome young Helena, Princess de Gagarine, wife of Alexander Rotcheff, the last governor of Ross settlement, and John Edward Mcintosh, grantee in 1837 by General M. G. Vallejo of the rancho Estero Americano to block Russian encroachments inland; also a small guard of soldiers.

There were some lively thrills on that trip of some forty miles, not the weakest being occasioned by the attempt of old Chief Solano to abduct the princess. Up the rough, almost perpendicular side of the mountain the party mounted to the summit of the north peak, the highest point of elevation. Here upon a flat rock the copper plate was spiked and additional blocks were fitted to form a cairn.

While the others knelt, the princess, raising her right hand, proclaimed the name of the mountain forever “Helena” in honor of her royal mistress and namesake, Helena, empress of Russia.  The party returned without mishap to Ross, and the close of 1841 saw the settlements at Ross and Bodega abandoned in obedience to the imperial decree to quit this region, since it had finally been found unsuitable for the purpose for which it was founded in 1812—the victualing of the Russian possessions In the Aleutian islands.

The plate disappeared from the mountain and, while our California historians mention its disappearance, they do not claim to have seen it, and all give its inscription incorrectly in part and misstate the method of its depositing. They give the first word as “Helena,” whereas, that name does not appear, the christening by the princess de Gagarine being entirely verbal. Nor did she call it “Saint Helena.” By two successive coincldences the mountain was named “Saint Helena,” first by a missionary in the early 30’s and in ’42 by Captain Stephen Smith, whose ship, the St. Helena, brought him to Bodega bay. It is stated that a post was erected and the plate nailed thereto, while in fact it was secured to a rock.

The lost Russian plate became one of my quests in my study of local history. For a long while I could find no clew. Finally, while a guest at the Mount St. Helena inn – the tollhouse of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Silverado Squatters” – I was shown by the host Dan Patton, a venerable and widely known Napa pioneer, a copy of an ancient local publication that led me soon to make a pilgrimage to Petaluma. There I called upon a courtly old gentleman for half a century prominent In Petaluma’s business and social life, now, at four score and six, retired within the beauties of his fine old home and big, old fashioned flower garden. After a little teasing of his memory, crowded with the recollections of his long and busy career, Mr. Weston unearthed in his antique secretary a long forgotten scrap of paper, the only copy In existence of the Russian plate. It is of heavy, white linen paper, an octagon 5 1/8 inches in diameter. The face bears this inscription, given here in English:

“Russians, June, 1841, P. L. Wosnesenski III, E. I. Tschernech, Russians.” The latter word, “Russians,” is in Latin. “Jose,” Spanish for Joseph, appears across the upper left corner, and we may but conjecture that this Jose was an Indian or Mexican guide. The remainder of the inscription is in Russian. Upon the reverse side is penned the autographic certification: “Exact copy of the inscription found on a copper plate nailed to a rock on the summit of Mount St Helena by T. A. Hylton in May, 1853.”

“Doctor Hylton gave me this copy, made by himself In 1853,” said Weston. “He was an old friend and fellow townsman. He died on his way east In 1859.”

The seeker after rare historical relics can best appreciate my rapture on that day.

The year 1912 is the centenary of the founding of Ross settlement, and June the anniversary month of the Wosnesenski party’s visit to Mount St Helena. Therefore June, 1912, was fixed as the time to erect a memorial tablet.

The north peak is accessible from more than one point But the only cleared trail leads up the south peak and along the summit, starting at the Mount St. Helena inn, 2,300 feet elevation, on the highway between Calistoga and Middletown. The inn possesses a superabundance of hospitable spirit, but is rather limited as to actual bed and board accommodations. So invitations to the restoration ceremonies were limited to those whose presence was deemed necessary to give dignity and significance to the occasion. The list included Hon. Hiram W. Johnson, governor of California; the consuls at San Francisco of Spain, Great Britain, Russia and Mexico, since each of those countries in succession claimed this territory.

Rev. John R. Cantillon, representing the early mission fathers and particularly Padre Benito Sierra, who as chaplain of the sloop Sonora celebrated at Bodega bay the first religious services ever held on Sonoma soil.

Mrs. L. Vallejo Emparan, daughter of General Mariano G. Vallejo of distinguished memory. Juanita Bailhache Waldrop, Temple Bailhache, Benjamin E. Grant Sr., Benjamin E. Grant Jr., descendants of Captain Henry D. Fitch, accomplished New England shipmaster, Pacific coast merchant and grantee of several large tracts, including the peninsula of Coronado, the Potrero in San Francisco and the Sotoyome rancho near Healdsburg; also relatives of Senora M. I. Lopez de Cabrillo, grantee of the Rancho Cabesa de Santa Rosa and mother of Mrs. Vallejo, Mra Fitch and Mrs. J. B. R. Cooper.

Mrs. Stephen M. Smith and daughter. Mrs. E. Juanita Smith-Rose, of San Francisco, relatives of Captain Stephen Smith, who In ’42 received title to the great Bodega and Blucher ranchos without renouncing his prized American citizenship, but only on condition that he establish certain manufactories. Captain Smith brought round the Horn from Massachusetts a whole shipload of machinery, including the first steam engine ever brought to California, plants for a saw mill, grist mill, tannery, distillery, etc., and four skilled mechanics to erect and manage them. He came the best equipped pioneer that ever settled on this coast. On his way he called at a Peruvian port and married a young Castllian lady, Dona Manuela Torres, to whose brother, Don Manuel, was granted the region about Fort Ross, known as the Muniz rancho.

Miss Elena O’Farrell. daughter of Jasper O’Farrell, who surveyed much of San Francisco, one of whose streets bears his name, and who barely escaped lynching at the hands of irate owners of lots along Market street because he sliced deeply enough into their property to give to the infant city the wide thoroughfare he foresaw it would need. Mr. O’Farrell bought the Ranchos Estero Americano and Canadade Jonive adjoining the Bodego rancho. He made his home at Freestone, renaming his estate the Analy ranch in memory of the principality of Analy in Ireland, ruled for centuries by the O’Farrells, princess of Analy.

Mrs. J. V. A. Frates. daughter of the venerable James McChristian, survivor of the Bear Flag party, and niece of Mrs. Jasper O’Farrell.

George Donner Ungewitter, grandson of George A. Donner of the illfated Donner party.

Mr. Julius M. Alexander, nephew of Cyrus Alexander, a pioneer settler in Alexander valley.

Mr. H. L. Weston, possessor for 59 years of the only existing copy of the Russian plate.

Mr. Donald Mcintosh, grandnephew of John Edward Mcintosh, present at the ceremonies of June, 1841.

Claude O. Howard, district deputy grand president of the Native Sons of the Golden West.

Mr. George Madeira, Mr. Dan Patton and a few other friends, including Mr. and Mrs. Fred. Cummings, Mr. and Mrs. Jirah Luce, Mra A. H. Graeff, Miss Nina Luce, Emile Bachman, T. G. Young, Calvin E. Holmes and Harry Parks, who as a member of the establishment of Kinslow Bros., marble workers of Santa Rosa, who generously donated the marble slab, went along and, assisted by Mr. Frates, made a capital piece of work by securing the tablet In place.

Upon a roughly set tufa platform some 4,500 feet above the level of the Pacific a streak of blue to the west, the party assembled after a reunion and lunch. Three-quarters of California lay smiling below under clear skies. The long serrated wall of the Sierras ran along the eastern horizon, sharply notched where the Truckee flows. Shasta’s white peak to the north, Whitney lording it In the south, Hamilton, Diablo, Tamalpais, Lassen, the northern Buttes lesser features. The bay and city of San Francisco lay near. Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties spread immediately below.

The program opened with the raising of the American flag. Father Cantillon’s invocatlonal utterance followed. Messages were read from Mr. Weston, Governor Johnson and the consuls at San Francisco for Spain, Great Britain, Russia and Mexico, accompanied by the raising In turn of the flag of each of those countries. The bear flag again waved and dipped to Its great successor, the stars and stripes The stories were recited of Cabrillo, Drake, Bodega, the Ross settlement the mission at Sonoma, the raising and lowering of the bear flag and Captain Stephen Smith’s Bodega flagpole. Mr. Patton contributed most of these historical sketches. A poem, ‘The Restoration,” by Julius M. Alexander, was recited by Mrs. Waldrop. Mr. Howard, on behalf of the Native Sons, made a stirring address Benediction and the singing of “America” closed the exercises.

The memorial tablet is of white marble, an octagon 18 inches in diameter and one inch thick. The engraved copper plates are recessed and riveted In place and the slab is fastened with long extension bolts set with solder far into the tufa boulder. Americans are finally commencing to learn that memorial tablets and other monuments are meant to be left intact and not carried away piecemeal as souvenirs. So we feel that this newly erected memorial to the Russians and the Sonoma pioneers will be safe under the sun and the snow on the summit of Mount St. Helena.

There were many intensely funny and a few near tragic incidents on the trip. There was the surreptitious attempt of a well known Healdsburg physician and his son to circumvent the Healdsburg section of the party and scale the mountain by an almost inaccessible ridge to raise a crude Russian flag on the summit and throw bombs at the rest, but the attempt failed ingloriously because those burlesque adherents of the czar got lost and had to return home in chagrin. Then there was the veteran mountain climber, who sat down to rest on the Kellogg trail, was left by his fellows, wandered miles to the inn and finally left on the outbound stage for San Francisco, still laden with 15 pounds of ham, an American flag and a canteen. Again there was the modest Healdsburger upon whom some wag had palmed two left shoes for the climb, and who will, because of an innocent but unlucky observation of Father Cantillon’s, be known for the rest of his life as “the left legged man.” And then the fair daughter of an ancient house, who showed the fearless blood of her ancestors by hastening to view an old, yellow, fierce eyed rattlesnake, declaring it the first of its kind she ever had encountered, and which, through the mercy of providence, was pleased to continue gliding into the brush instead of turning upon its admirer, almost, in her eagerness, treading on its many rattled tail.

– San Francisco Call, July 28 1912

 

FOURTH OF JULY GREETING FROM CALL
Two Thousand Pounds of Red Fire Will Burn
MESSAGE TO FLASH TO PEOPLE FROM HISTORIC TABLET
In Every Direction Will Be Seen The Call’s Best Wishes and Faith in Great State

When selecting a location to make a red fire display upon the night of July 4, The Call chose a spot full of historical significance, for on the very top of Mount St. Helena, where, on the night of July 4 The Call’s red fire will blaze, stands a bronze tablet defying time and weather and telling of a visit made there in 1841 by the Russians.

The original tablet was long ago removed from its place upon the rocks because of the value attaching to it as an historical relic. This removal took place in May, 1855, in the presence of representatives of the Sonoma pioneer families of General M. G. Vallejo, Captain Henry D. Fitch, Jasper O’Farrell, members of the Donner party and Senora M. Lopez de Carillo, Captain Stephen Smith, C. Alexander of the bear flag party, the Native Sons of the Golden West, the Spanish. British. Russian and Mexican, consuls at San Francisco.

COPY OF TABLET PLACED
Actively in charge of the work was Dr. T. A. Hylton,. who. took a literal copy of the inscription and gave it to H. L. Weston, who a little over a year ago authorized Miss Honora and P. R. Toumey to place upon the rock which bore the original tablet the copy which is now there. The inscription is as follows: “Russians. June, I841. C. L. Vosnisenki III. E. I. Tschernegi. Russians.”

The original tablet was destroyed when the Pioneer building was lost during San Francisco’s great fire, and today all that remains to mark the visit of the Russians to this part of California at that early period of the state’s history is the present tablet, which stands defying the winter’s winds and snows .and the blaze of the summer sun to tell of that visit of the Russians who scarcely realized the splendor of the domain, which they overlooked.

WHERE MESSAGE WILL FLASH
Within 10 feet of the spot where tliis tablet rests will flare on the night of July 4 a message of good will, from The Call to its California friends…

– San Francisco Call, June 15 1913

 

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THAT TERRIBLE MAN RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT

As the presidential election approaches, the Santa Rosa paper is relentlessly attacking the Republican candidate. Readers are told he lies about his past to impress voters and he won’t listen to others because he foolishly believes he’s always right. His own party wants nothing to do with him. His proposals are simplistic as well as unworkable and unconstitutional (a document he’s obviously never read) and he will destroy the country if he gets within a mile of the White House. Plus, he looks funny.

The newspaper is the Sonoma Democrat. The Republican is Abraham Lincoln. The year is 1860.

The Sonoma Democrat was the direct ancestor of the Press Democrat and before, during and after the Civil War was relentlessly pro-Confederate. Most of Sonoma County shared those sentiments to some degree – this was the only place in the state which did not vote for Lincoln either time. But editor Thomas L. Thompson shaped the Santa Rosa newspaper into the sort of rag that might have been published in the Deep South at that time, not only pro-slavery but astonishingly racist. Now that the Democrat is online we can search it and find there were at least 330 uses of the “n-word” between 1857 and 1886. To squeeze that many hateful slurs into a four-page weekly reveals Thompson to be an awful person and probably a little crazy. There’s no question he was certifiably nuts when he committed suicide in 1898; the coroner’s jury ruled he was “mentally deranged” after ranting that the Odd Fellows’ Lodge was out to get him.

(RIGHT: Abraham Lincoln May 20, 1860, two days after winning the Republican party nomination)

In the run-up to the election, sample items from the paper transcribed below show Thompson fed his readers a steady diet of anti-Lincoln, anti-abolitionist bile. To make sense of some of these articles it’s important to know this was an odd four-way election with both Northern and Southern Democrats in the running. Besides Lincoln, the official Democratic Party candidate was Stephen A. Douglas, who thought he could somehow forge a grand compromise to keep the United States patched together; Southern Democrat Breckinridge, who wanted to uphold slavery as an absolute Constitutional right; and third-party candidate Bell, who wanted to appease the South by ignoring the slavery issue altogether.

The Sonoma Democrat introduced readers to Lincoln that summer with ad hominem attacks. Lincoln had “neither firmness in his countenance nor fire in his eye” and lied about being a rail-splitter in his youth, as people in that part of Illinois made their fences from pieces of wood picked up in swamps (having grown up near there, I can attest there are no prairie swamps). During his service in the Black Hawk war, the paper claimed he forgot to untether his horse and fell with the animal when he tried to ride away; believing his horse had been brought down by an ambush, “Old Abe” tried to surrender to the non-existant Indians.

Sonoma county readers were told that some delegates at the Republican convention were “mad as March hares, and swear they would as soon go for Jeff. Davis, Douglas or any other minion of slavery, as for this third rate, rail-spliting Lincoln.” Items reprinted from like-minded journals insisted he was a dead weight on the ballot and could not possibly win – although his inevitable loss in New York state would cause chaos, as the outcome would then be decided by the House of Representatives (he won New York by nearly eight points).

But more than anything else, Thompson kept hammering that Lincoln was a “Black Republican.” In Thompson’s argot, this was the worst thing he could call someone because it meant they believed African-Americans were human beings with legal rights. Whatever lip service Thompson and his ilk gave to state’s rights and the constitutionality of slave-holding, its rotten core was always racist hatred.

On election day Lincoln got 1,236 votes in Sonoma county, behind Breckinridge’s 1,466. Petaluma was the only town Lincoln won, with 375 voting for him. Santa Rosa cast 91 ballots for Lincoln and 205 for Breckinridge.

Thompson hunkered down in the final weeks of 1860, bitterly spinning a story of gloom and doom. Stock markets were in a “panic” and banks in two southern states were expecting to be closed. The “free negroes, their aiders and abettors” were plotting to avenge John Brown’s death with help from the Republicans. There was a recurrent theme in the dispatches from the pro-southern papers that the South was keeping a steady keel while the North was falling apart. Charleston supposedly would not allow steerage passengers on steamboats coming from the North to disembark unless there was a guarantee they would not become vagrants.

Thompson also launched a trope that the North was trying to nullify the Constitution and forcing the Southern states to secede against their wishes. Failing to return runaway slaves was nothing short of treason, according to Thompson, who hoped that Congress would mete out punishment “if the present disunion cloud should blow over.” There is the Confederacy mindset neatly summed: 1) we’re the victims; 2) we have the only true understanding of the Constitution; 3) we will never, ever, compromise on slavery. For these reasons and more, one dispatch from Alabama concluded: “Revolution is inevitable.”

 

 

DOUGLAS AND LINCOLN. — The men are entirely dissimilar. Douglas is a thick set, finely built man, with an air of self confidence. Lincoln is a tall (six feet four), lank man, awkward, apparently diffident, and when not speaking has neither firmness in his countenance nor fire in his eye.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 21, 1860

 

News from the Atlantic states.

The Overland stage with the St. Louis mails of the 21st ult. arrived at San Francisco on Monday last. On Friday, the 18th May, the Chicago Convention nominated Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois, for President, on the third ballot, and Hannibal Hamlin, of Maine, for Vice President, on the second ballot. The nomination of Lincoln struck the Republicans of the Middle and Eastern States cold. A forced enthusiasm, however, was got up in some cities…The New Yorkers are as mad as March hares, and swear they would as soon go for Jeff. Davis, Douglas or any other minion of slavery, as for this third rate, rail-spliting Lincoln. They say they can’t begin to carry New York with Lincoln, and the dead weight of their abominable Legislature added. Bets are made that Lincoln will lose N. Y. by 20,000…

– Sonoma Democrat, June 14 1860

…Abe Lincoln has declared, that if he were in the halls of Congress, and the question of the abolition of slavery were to come up, ho would vote for it in spite of the Dred Scott decision. In other words he declared that the highest Tribunal of the land was no authority for him, that he would disregard all principles of law, justice and order, and would by the mere force of physical superiority compel nearly one half of the states of this Confederacy to change their social and domestic institutions, at the beck and nod of a tyranous majority; and this is the candidate of the party who with emulous ostentation denounce the South as disunionists and traitors. This is the party who daily shout and swagger about union and nationality, who complaining of intolerance on the part of the South, deny to her all toleration, all equality, all justice, all rights under the Constitution, and insult her with threats of coercion if she dares resist their sovereign will…

– Sonoma Democrat editorial, July 12 1860

The Pittsburg Post says: An old citizen who traveled in Illinois thirty years ago, and was especially familiar with the district of country where Abe Lincoln resided, says that Abe never split a rail in his life. In those days, he says, the people never thought of such a thing as splitting rails. They went into the swamps and cut hoop-poles and saplings for fences, and used them, round, as nature made them.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 19 1860

At the time of the Black Hawk war, ‘Abe’ enlisted. The company numbered about eight mounted men. They started off in fine spirits to engage in the deadly fray. Arriving at a point on the prairies, about two hundred miles from the Indian lines, the party bivouacked for the night, picketed their horses, and slept on their arms…During the night, the sentinel, whoso mental caliber was in no measure proportioned to his patriotism, imagined he saw the Indians! and immediately discharged his old fusee. The camp was aroused in an instant, and each sprang to his saddle. ‘Old Abe’ shot out in the darkness on his charger like lightning, until the ropes ‘hove taut,’ when over he went, horse and himself, headlong! Thinking himself caught in an Indian ambush, he gathered up, mounted, putting spurs to his horse, took the opposite shute, but soon brought up as before, horse and rider tumbling headlong. ‘Old Abe’ got up, thinking he was surrounded! and shouted, ‘Gentlemen Indians! I surrender without a word. I have not a word to offer. All I want is quarter!’ There ‘Old Abe’s” first campaign ended!’

– Sonoma Democrat, September 13 1860

The conservative and Union loving men of the North are making every effort to defeat Lincoln. All parties concede that should Lincoln lose New York his defeat inevitable.

[..]

By reference to our Eastern news today, it will be seen that there has been a complete fusion between all the elements of opposition to the Black Republicans in New York-—the vote of that State to be cast for Douglas, Breckinridge or Bell, as they shall receive the highest popular vote. This will undoubtedly throw the election into the House of Representatives, and secures beyond question the defeat of Lincoln.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 27 1860

…On one side stands Lincoln, proclaiming the social, moral and political superiority of the North over the South, and calling upon men to enter into an “irrepressibly conflict” for the complete and entire destruction of the Southern States. On the other hand we have Breckinridge proclaiming the equality of the States, the harmony of commerce and industry, the sacred and constitutional right of self-government.–N.Y. Herald.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 11 1860

REPUBLICAN MEETING.– Hand-bills have been staring us in the face upon every corner for the last week, announcing that James Churchman, Esquire, of Nevada, would address the irrepressibles of this place yesterday. Well, the eventful evening arrived and so repaired to the Court House expecting to hear the Democracy entirely demolished. We found assembled exactly seven Republicans, most of whom were from abroad; there may have been as many as twelve, since there were three or four persons there whom we did not know. There were besides these some fifteen or twenty snuff-colored gentlemen, and about seventy-five Breckinridge and Bell men. The irrepressible gentleman had already commenced when we arrived, so that we did not hear the first part of his harangue. We listened to him, however, about three quarters of an hour, and we must say, we heard the most pithless, pointless batch of misrepresentations we have ever listened to. Mr, Churchman’s address is pleasing, and his manner well calculated to attract tho attention of a promiscuous assemblage; but he did not make a single point during the time we listened to him, that deserves the space it would take to refute it.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 18 1860

KEEP IT BEFORE THE PEOPLE, that Abraham Lincoln opposed the war with Mexico and declared it unnecessary and unjust.

Keep it before the people, that the Republicans are in favor of placing negroes on an equality with the whites, and in many of the free States sanction amalgamation.

Keep it before the people, that in Massachusetts the Republicans proscribed foreign-born citizens and attempted to deprive them of the right of suffrage, and would have succeeded had the Democrats not opposed it.

Keep it before the people, that in the same State negroes were elected delegates to conventions and assisted in nominating Republican candidates for Congress.

Keep it before the people, that the infidel Garrison, a leading Black Republican, unblushingly declares, that the Constitution of the United Slates “it a covenant with death and an agreement with hell!”

Keep it before the the people, that this same Republican leader Garrison, blasphemously asserts, that if “God had the power to abolish slavery and would not, he wae a very great scoundrel!”

– Sonoma Democrat, November 1 1860

The contest is over, and from the partial returns so far received, it is doubtful if the State has not gone againat us. In this County the Democracy have scarcely deserved anything else. At a time when every element of opposition was combining against them, when every energy was needed to secure success, they have remained passive and indifferent until they have actually allowed the election to go by default…

– Sonoma Democrat, November 8 1860

San Francisco, Nov. 13th, 1860. Editors Sonoma County Democrat: The great battle is over, and although it has resulted in partial defeat, let not Democrats be disheartened, but rather let them organize and prepare themselves better for the next struggle, when the now prevailing party will have been “played out,” as were their immediate successors. Although six days have passed since the election, little is yet known of the result. According to latest accounts Lincoln is about 1100 ahead, but this seems doubtful, as it is strongly suspected that the despatches are not much to be relied on, having been gotten up more for betting purposes than for the diffusion of reliable statistical information. The news from the East will be sent with the greatest despatch by the Pony, and will be received here the fore part of next week. The telegraphing facilities of the Eastern States will be tested to their utmost, but it is generally expected that the general result will be known by that time. How annoying it is that the knowledge of a great event must be kept from us for days when a few hundred miles of telegraphic wire would put us in immediate possession of the all-desired information.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 15 1860

The news by the Pony confirms the unwelcome intelligence of Lincoln’s election as the next President of the United States. At the same time it brings the news of movements in several of the Southern States, which indicate a fixed determination on their part to remain no longer in the Union. Their perfect and sovereign right to secede, if they desire to do so, must be conceded from the very nature and formation of our government. There are but two means by which any Union of States can be maintained or preserved; one is a community of interests, the other a preponderance of force. The former is the only means which was ever contemplated, in the formation of our Constitution, for the very objects of its formation, viz: “To establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty,” utterly preclude the idea of using force for its preservation, for this use of force would at once defeat every object for which the Union was formed. If these States, therefore, in their sovereign capacity, see proper to secede from the Union, there is no power under the Constitution to prevent them; and any attempt to coerce them would be as unconstitutional as it would be unholy, unjust and futile. This movement may be one pregnant with mighty consequences. There has never been a period in the history of our government when there was so much necessity for wise, deliberate and cautious procedure, and it is well that the people should weigh and consider the causes which have led to these untoward results, and prepare to meet the mighty events which loom up so portentiously in the future, for, as has been well said, it is for them to decide what course they will sustain the administration in pursuing toward those states which may secede.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 29 1860

The excitement in the South continues, accompanied with general depression in the markets and trade, amounting to a panic. There has been a general decline in stocks at New York, and a great increase in rates of exchange at Chicago. There is a tightness at St. Louis, and perfect derangement in monetary affairs South. The South Carolina and Georgia Legislatures have prepared for a suspension of their banks. No suspensions have yet taken place. The Mayor of Charleston has notified the agents of Northern steamers that he would not permit the landing of steerage passengers, unless the companies guaranteed their maintenance, if they became vagrants. Merchants have now goods on hand, but no new orders will be given to the North, except such as are indispensable.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 6 1860

Negro Lincoln Clubs. — We copy the following advertisement from the Pittsburg Dispatch, of October 16th, an influential Black Republican organ: “Colored Men of Pittsburg and Vicinity!–You are requested to meet and form yourselves into Wide Awake Clubs immediately, for the purpose of farthering the interest of the friend of the human race, Abraham Lincoln. Already New York has spoken in favor of universal suffrage. And if colored men would have their rights, they should move for the success of their friends. John Brown, the hero of Harper’s Ferry, is yet to be avenged.”

Is it strange that the South should bo excited und alarmed in the face of such proceedings, sanctioned and encouraged by the Black Republicans of the free States? Does not prudence dictate that they should be prepared to meet and repel a second John Brown raid? Do not the free negroes, their aiders and abettors, contemplate a second foray into the Southern States? Do the negroes not hope to avenge the death of John Brown, and have they not reason to anticipate assistance and protection from the Republicans?

– Sonoma Democrat, December 13 1860

WHO ARE THE DISUNIONISTS?– The New York Herald, of the 10th ult., says: We publish below an account of the Northern Slates which prohibit their officials and citizens from aiding in the execution of the Federal Fugitive Slave Law, and which by their action, have boldly nullified the Constitution of the United States…It will be seen from the above that the Northern States are nearly all in a position of practical disunion–that is, they have refused to sustain the constitution which their fathers adopted.

LEGISLATING FOR TREASON.–If the present disunion cloud should blow over, as all lovers of their country sincerely trust that it may, we hope Congress will make a point of re-enacting, at an early day, some law defining treason, and providing sufficient means for its prevention or punishment…

– Sonoma Democrat, December 27 1860

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1884firecompany

SANTA ROSA’S FIRE LADDIES AND THE BULLY CATARACT

Santa Rosa would probably burn down if they didn’t start a fire company, but many didn’t seem to care if it did in 1860.

This is the story of the origins of the Santa Rosa Fire Department, but you could easily say it’s also about the origins of Santa Rosa as a community. In 1860 the town proper had only about 500 residents and it was very much an I’ve-got-mine kind of place. There was no public school in town until the year before; why tax yourself to educate someone else’s kids? Or why worry about your house catching fire since you’re personally always careful with lamps and candles? An attempt to start a volunteer fire company flopped in 1858 because it was presumed fire-fighting equipment might cost too much. “We must have some kind of fire organization,” the Sonoma County Democrat begged. “Santa Rosa is composed almost entirely of wooden buildings, and if a fire should break out in any part of the town, in all probability the whole place would be laid in ashes.”

The paper renewed its call for something to be done after a September, 1860 house fire. Usually Santa Rosa was fighting fires with a simple bucket brigade – everyone who heard the cry of “fire!” grabbed his personal bucket and ran to the scene, where anyone brave enough would try to beat out the flames just using wet blankets or sacks. This homeowner was lucky enough to live next door to Santa Rosa House, the town’s main hotel, where owner Edward Colgan had a hose and a force pump which helped extinguish the fire without too much damage. (This incident also provides a rare glimpse of the remarkable John Richards, an African-American man of wealth who welcomed former slaves into his home and guided them to new lives.)

Not so lucky was the town of Healdsburg, where most of the business district was destroyed a few days later, even though residents tried to make a firebreak by blowing up the cigar store. “Every effort was made on the part of the citizens to suppress the flames, but owing to their having no fire organization all their efforts were of no avail,” the Democrat commented, again jabbing Santa Rosa with an editorial elbow. Still, nothing was done.

The Democrat coverage of those fires was fairly lengthy, considering they occurred in the autumn of 1860 just before the presidential election. Editor Thomas Thompson was squeezing out almost all local news to make space for tirades against for voting for Lincoln, denouncing him as a coward, fool and abolitionist who – horrors, the unthinkable! – was secretly planning to free the slaves once he sneaked into the White House. How it must have galled Thompson to waste those column inches to chide citizens over the importance of fire protection when the precious space surely would have been better used promoting Breckinridge, the candidate upholding the absolute legal right of slavery in the South.

The turning point came in the new year when Dr. Todd’s home on Third street caught fire. It burned with remarkable speed; only by good fortune was a toddler rescued from being trapped inside. The flames lept to the house next door (home to Joel Miller and family, known to readers via the Otho Hinton story) and threatened the building just beyond that, which was the office of the Sonoma County Democrat. Only the doctor’s home was lost and only thanks to an absence of wind.

Coming so soon after the devastation in Healdsburg, it was no longer a challenge to convince our penny-pinching ancestors that something must be done for the sake of the common good. In just a couple of days, Dr. Alban raised over $300 for the purchase of equipment and at the end of the week, meeting above Fen’s Saloon at the corner of Third and Main streets, 25 men signed up to form Santa Rosa’s first hook and ladder company. The date was February 2nd, 1861.

Other meetings followed and those stairs at Fen’s Saloon must have had quite a workout. It was decided that three hundred bucks might buy a very serviceable hook and ladder truck but what the town really needed was a fire engine. So on June 29th they were reorganized as Santa Rosa Engine Company No. 1, despite having no engine, nor enough money to buy one, nor knowing where to find such a thing. (We know about those developments, by the way, only thanks to tidbits about the company history appearing in the papers during 1870s and 1880s. At the time editor Thompson gave them little mention, as he was now consumed with running wordy commentaries bashing the Lincoln administration and calling for California to join the southern states in seceding from the Union.)

A committee went to San Francisco and found the fire department there had a used engine made by the Hunneman company. An agreement was made: $400 down and three men in town signed a promissory note for the $900 balance. The engine arrived in mid-December. “The ‘boys’ tried her on Monday afternoon,” the Democrat reported, “and rendered a verdict in consequence in perfect accordance with her name – ‘Cataract.'” Then they apparently adjourned to the room above Fen’s Saloon.

The name “Cataract” promised to drown a fire as if it were under a waterfall. Many fire companies at the time gushed boastfully of their engine’s prowess with names such as “Torrent,” “Spouter,” “Cascade” and “Fountain.” (The firemen of Islesford, Maine, however, with their craggy down-easter exactitude, dubbed their fire engine, “Squirt.”)

(RIGHT: An 1850 Hunneman restored at Francestown, New Hampshire, probably the same as Santa Rosa’s Cataract. Photo credit: New Boston Historical Society)

Santa Rosa was lucky to find a used Hunneman engine available; there were probably fewer than a dozen in the state at the time. Today they appear to us like large and fragile toys, but they were quite rugged and considered the standard of excellence for their compact and efficient design, made by a Boston company founded by a coppersmith who apprenticed with Paul Revere. They worked like this:

The engine and a two-wheeled hose carriage arrive at the fire, drawn by horses (which in itself was an innovation in the mid 19th century). The first job is to fill up the “tub;” Santa Rosa’s engine probably held about 200 gallons so a leather hose is hooked up to a fire hydrant, if available, or dropped into a well. Copper nozzles are screwed on to one or both leather hoses attached to spigots on the sides. Firemen take positions holding the two long brass poles on either side of the engine which are called “brakes” (a 18th-19th century name for the handle of a pump) and begin seesawing them like mad. You can watch a video here. Inside the engine, those brakes are operating a two cylinder single acting piston pump. There is also a copper air chamber to produce a steady flow of water but as pressure builds up, the increased resistance makes it harder to pump. Firemen can only work for a few minutes without tiring, requiring them to work in teams. More details of the workings can be found at the New Boston Historical Society.

Note particularly the engine has no “engine” – no steam or other form of power except fireman muscle, and lots of it. It’s a tribute to Hunneman’s design and craftsmanship that the things performed so well; even the smaller model, as seen here, had enough pressure to shoot a stream nearly 200 feet in competitions held elsewhere. The company showed off the “bully Cataract” at a Sonoma mechanical fair later that year but didn’t expect to win any prizes because “our machine is of much less capacity than any engine in the district,” as commented the Democrat.

The provenance of Santa Rosa’s Cataract is fuzzy. There are aficionados who seek to track down the history of every “hand tub” (particularly the Hunnemans), but this one seems to have slipped through the cracks. The Sonoma County Democrat mentioned “the engine has ‘seen service’ in the East, but not enough to injure it,” and according to another paper we bought it off of San Francisco’s Howard Engine Company No. 3, but there is no further genealogy. Possibly San Francisco sold it quickly because it was not as the East Coast seller advertised; with even the smallest model weighing nearly a ton and all shipping to and from the East sailing around the Horn, returns were not as easy as sending a defective gizmo back to Amazon.

The first real challenge for the Santa Rosa company came four months later, at the end of April, 1862 when the Eureka Hotel caught fire. “The flames spread so rapidly through the building that many boarders barely escaped with their lives,” the Democrat reported, “and some made their appearance in the street minus ‘unmentionables.'” The hotel was lost along with an adjoining store, the fire being uncontrolled in part because of an unreliable water supply; their engine drained four wells and its hose was working on the fifth well at the end, the paper noting that moving the hose from well to well cost considerable time. But members of the company bonded over the experience and nearly twenty years later they were still talking about it: “…To hear the old members speak of the excitement and daring of their comrades in vying with one another for bravery and the labor of gaining control of the fiery element, recalls vividly the pioneer days of raging conflagrations in San Francisco.” Their company motto, “Faithful and Fearless” spoke to this pride.

Members of the company were all unpaid, but volunteering was not without its perks. They were exempt from jury duty and militia service – the latter being a particular draw after Congress passed the 1863 conscription act. While California was never required to send a quota to fight for the Union, the pro-Confederacy young men of Santa Rosa probably didn’t want to take chances.

Since the town contributed nothing for equipment or to help retire the amount still owed on the engine, the “ladies” – none of whom were ever named – held annual Firemen’s Balls. The first one in early 1862 was a complete bust so they hit the reset button and held another first annual ball in the summer. That one raised $35, which the company used to buy a “triangle” for sounding the alarm.

Aside from the Fourth of July festivities, these Firemen’s Balls were the only major events in town not hosted by a church. A description is transcribed below, with dancing continuing until 4AM and a break at midnight for everyone to have supper. In a town where rancor over the Civil War ran high (Lincoln received only 18 percent of the vote in Santa Rosa, by far the lowest in the county), these benefits offered a unique, nonpartisan gathering for the whole community.

A crisis came in 1863 because $600 still was due for the engine, while the volunteers were paying interest on the debt plus the rent for the firehouse out of their own pockets. Cataract was about to be sold and the company reformed as hook and ladder. “But at last we see a glimmer of light,” promised the paper. “The ladies, (Heaven bless them!) are coming to the rescue.” And somehow, they did. In July, 1864 the engine was paid off AND a new firehouse was built with the parcel owned by the company. There was a ceremony and afterwards “the ‘boys’ then entertained those present with some tall ‘playing’ from the machine,” which can be left to Gentle Reader’s imagination.

The 1864 celebration at the new firehouse neatly ends the first chapter of the Santa Rosa Fire Department’s story, albeit with large gaps. There are no photos of our “fire laddies” or the Cataract, although it’s probably safe to assume it was a twin to the engine shown in the photograph above. Maps are scarce for that era so I can’t find the whereabouts of the first firehouse nor the 1864 one – although some digging at the Recorder’s office could probably determine that location since the trustees owned the building. And we’ll probably never know how “the ladies” – with some unspecified aid from Otho Hinton – managed to quickly raise a great deal of money. The first county history stated there was “a fair and a festival” but if such events were mentioned in the newspaper they were small and easy to overlook. Afte all, space was needed to reassure Santa Rosa the war was going really great for the Confederacy.

Ten years later in 1874, the town’s firefighting force doubled with the formation of Eureka Hose Company No. 1. This was a hook & ladder company despite the misleading name (some modern historians have mistakenly thought these were two different companies). Their horse-drawn wagon carried ladders, obviously, along with the hooks, which were long wooden pikes with a cast iron hook at the end to yank down walls or roofing in order to allow water to reach hotspots. These hook & ladder trucks are best viewed as a kind of giant fireman’s toolbox; they also carried buckets, spare hose, parts for emergency engine repair and possibly some basic first aid and rescue equipment – some East Coast trucks even included stretchers. And most important of all, the new company added about two dozen fresh pairs of arms to pump away on the Cataract’s brakes.

Ten years after that in 1884, we can say SRFD’s wild ‘n’ wooly days were finally over. The firemen were still all volunteers, but the town provided them with a firehouse on Hinton Avenue, across from the soon-to-be-built courthouse in the square. The door to the north was for the engine company with a separate hook & ladder door next to it. On the second floor, better seen in the bird’s eye view below, was Santa Rosa’s city hall and first public library combined.

But the most significant change was the decision to upgrade to a modern steam pumper engine – after more than two decades of service here and goddesses know how many years elsewhere, the bully Cataract would be sold to help pay for the new gear. The Democrat announced this decision in an odd article, half promising the old engine still had years of life left in her, and half apologizing for the company still using an undersized antique:

The money received for the old engine, which is to be sold, will of course also be applied to the same use. This is a good opportunity for some other community to secure, for a moderate outlay, an engine capable of doing good service for many years to come, for although it is not of sufficient capacity to be exactly what is necessary in a town of the dimensions of Santa Rosa, it would nevertheless be just the thing in a smaller and less thickly settled place.

Santa Rosa Engine Company No. 1 outside Hinton Ave. firehouse, c. 1885

 

Bird’s eye view of Hinton Ave. c. 1883 showing firehouse nearing completion at right (Photos: Sonoma County Library)

 

IT MUST BE HAD.–We must have some kind of fire organization. Santa Rosa is composed almost entirely of wooden buildings, and if a fire should break out in any part of the town, in all probability the whole place would be laid in ashes. We learn there has been an attempt made to organize a fire department here, but failed for want of the “one thing needful.” People have an exaggerated idea, as a general thing, of the cost of forming such an association. We think it would be best to have an engine, but as that would involve considerable expense–and some of our citizens would rather take the chances of losing all they have, by fire, than pay fifty or one hundred dollars toward buying an apparatus that might be the means of saving them several thousand, we propose that they organize a Hook and Ladder Company, the expense of which would be trifling, in comparison with the good that might be effected thereby. This matter must be acted upon, and promptly, too. We are not, personally, so much interested in the matter as are a great many other of our citizens, but are ready and willing to put the ball in motion, and hope all will give it a push.

– Sonoma County Democrat, July 12, 1860

 

FIRE.

On Tuesday morning last, about 10 o’clock, our citizens were suddenly called into the streets by the fearful cry of “fire.” We dropped our “stick,” seized a bucket and hurried to the place of alarm, where we found, as might naturally be supposed, the wildest excitement; for although our citizens will not need heed the old adage, “In time of peace prepare for war,” when the enemy is upon us they try to meet him to the best of their ability. The fire on Tuesday, proceeded from a frame building on the corner of Main and Second streets, owned by a colored man, named John Richards, part of which is occupied as a barber shop. The room adjoining the shop is a bedroom, and a little girl, three years old, the child of one of the occupants of the house, was alone in the room at the time the fire broke out. A box of matches had been left on a table close to the bed where the child was, and it is supposed that the little one in attempting to light a match, set fire to some articles of clothing, which were on the table, and it was soon communicated to the canvas ceiling. The child ran out of the room, screaming, which alarmed the inmates of the house–and on entering the room to see what was the matter, Richards found almost the entire ceiling in flames. He immediately commenced tearing down the canvas, and that together with the force-pump and hose, of Mr. Colgan of the Santa Rosa House, soon extinguished the flames. We could call the attention of those who have ridiculed the idea of having a Fire Engine in this place to the service rendered by the hose of Mr. Colgan, on Tuesday. No particular damage was done to the house, but Richards had his hands badly burned in tearing his hands badly burned in tearing the canvas from the ceiling.

“IN TIME OF PEACE, PREPARE FOR WAR.”–We have several times urged upon our citizens the importance of having some kind of organization to protect our town against fire, and as we have just had another narrow escape from the dangerous enemy, we make one more appeal. Give us something; if the citizens do not feel able to buy an engine, let there be a Hook and Ladder Company organized at once. The cost would be but a trifle in comparison with the good that might arise from such an organization. Almost every one we have conversed with on the subject favors it, and we sincerely hope some of our merchants will call a meeting of the citizens, and do something for the protection of their property.

– Sonoma County Democrat, September 20, 1860

 

Destructive Fire!

A destructive fire occurred in our town on Monday last. About eleven o’clock A. M., we heard the thrilling cry, and on going to the street, found it was only three doors from us, on Third street, and the residence of Dr. S. S. Todd. As near as can be learned, the following are the particulars of the origin of the fire: Mrs. Todd had stepped out to a neighbors, leaving two children, one about four years and the other eighteen months old, in the house, the older of whom states, that his little brother took a piece of paper, lit it, and set a pile of newspapers on fire, that was in a corner of the room. The house being lined with canvas, the flames spread instantaneously, and in a moment the smoke was seen issuing from the windows and roof. Messrs. J. B. Caldwell and Chas. G. Ames were the first to reach the building, and on entering it, the latter found the oldest child trying to open the front door. Mr. Caldwell, supposing that there was no one in the house, was on the point of leaving it with a piece of furniture, when he discovered the younger child standing in a corner, apparently unconscious of danger. The flames spread so rapidly that it was impossible to save much of the furniture. Dr. Todd informs us that he lost, also, a quantity of silver plate, which was, however, recovered after the fire, in the shape of “nuggets.” He estimates his loss at seven or eight hundred dollars. The building, which was completely burned, was owned by J. Ridgeway, [sic] and valued at one thousand dollars. No insurance.

After the rescue of the children, our citizens turned their attention to saving the adjoining building, part of which was occupied as a residence by Joel Miller, Esq.–and the other part by the DEMOCRAT establishment. There was a space of about thirty feet between the burning house and the residence of Mr. Miller, and but for the superhuman efforts of our citizens, the whole building must have consumed. [sic] Men mounted the roof, and with the aid of blankets and buckets, succeeded in preventing the house taking fire. There was, fortunately, but little wind at the time. Mr. Miller’s furniture was all moved to the street, as well as the contents of our office.

We take this occasion to give hearty thanks to those who so ably and promptly assisted us on the occasion. Owing to the exertions of our friends, our printing material was safely and seasonably deposited on the street. Since the fire we have frequently been asked how much pi was made, and remarks have been made that we sustained considerable damage. This is a mistake. Whenever we think of the occasion we are amazed that our loss should have been so trifling in the pi line.

HOOK AND LADDER COMPANY.–We are gratified to know that since the fire on Monday, our citizens are beginning to manifest an interest in the organization of a fire company. Dr. W. G. Alban has taken the matter in hand, and has already over three hundred dollars subscribed for the purpose. We hope every citizen will lend a helping hand. Much has been said as to the policy of procuring an engine or hooks and ladders. We do not profess to be much of a fireman, and the little experience we have had was with an engine company. But in few of the great scarcity of water and the enormous cost of a fire engine and sufficient hose to answer the purpose in our case, we think it far better to organized a Hook and Ladder Company. Something must be done at once to protect us from the dangerous element, and hooks and ladders with a truck can be procured at about half the expense of an engine. We are requested to state that there will be a meeting at the Court House on Saturday night, at which time a report will be made of the money subscribed, and steps taken to effect the organization immediately. We trust every property holder will be in attendance.

– Sonoma County Democrat, January 31, 1861

 

HOOK AND LADDER COMPANY.–Pursuant to call a meeting of the citizens of Santa Rosa was held on Saturday evening, for the purpose of taking steps toward the organization of a fire company…[about $350 collected, 25 named as members of the company, no mention of Hinton in article]

– Sonoma County Democrat, February 7, 1861

 

FIRE ENGINE.–At the meeting of the Santa Rosa Fire Company, Thursday evening last, arrangements were made for the purchase of a Fire-engine. A committee was appointed, who will purchase “der masheen” as soon as possible.

– Sonoma County Democrat, November 14, 1861

 

A Hunneman Engine has been purchased of the San Francisco Howards, for Santa Rosa.

– Marysville Daily Appeal, December 17, 1861

 

FIRE MATTERS.–The fire engine just purchased by the new fire company at Santa Rosa, is expected to arrive this week or the first of next week. It was built by Hunneman, the celebrated builder of fire engines, and was purchased by Mr. Frank Whitney, ex-Chief of the San Francisco Fire Department. The engine has “seen service” in the East, but not enough to injure it; indeed, it is in such good condition, that competent judges pronounce it to be “as good as new.”

The Board of Supervisors, at the request of a number of petitioners, appropriated one hundred dollars to assist in purchasing the engine. The sum thus contributed is small, but had it been greater, there can be no doubt that our citizens generally would approve such an act by the Board, though, of course, all would be better pleased if the engine had been bought with money raised exclusively by the citizens. Vigorous exertions might have accomplished this, undoubtedly had our citizens generally concurred in the importance of the end to be attained. All who have been remiss in their duty in this matter, thanks to the Supervisors and their fellow citizens, may have the satisfaction of seeing their property saved from destruction not by their own providence, but through the foresight of others. The Supervisors doubtless thought that it was their duty to do all in their power to secure the property of the county from danger by fire. One thing is certain, they could not have adopted a less costly plan than the one of assisting the fire company at the county seat to purchase an engine.

We shall publish at an early day a full list of the members and officers of the new fire company. If the two companies at Petaluma and others in the county, will forward us a list of their officers and members, together with the matters pertaining, such as the dates of organization, etc., we shall thus be enabled to publish them together, the whole presenting in a convenient form a commendable chapter of local history.

The Santa Rosa Fire Company propose giving their first Annual Ball on the 8th of January next, the proceeds to be devoted toward paying for their engine.

– Sonoma County Democrat, December 5, 1861

 

FIRE MATTERS.–Santa Rosa Engine, No. 1, received their new (in one sense) machine on–that is to say, it came–Sunday last, together with three hundred and fifty feet of hose. The “boys” tried her on Monday afternoon, and rendered a verdict in consequence in perfect accordance with her name–“Cataract.”..At a meeting of the Company, on Monday night, Andrew Ester was elected 2d Assistant Foreman..An adjourned meeting of the Company will be held in the room adjoining “Fen’s Saloon,” on Saturday evening next, at 1 o’clock, which every member is expected to attend, as very important business will be transacted.

– Sonoma County Democrat, December 19, 1861

 

RALLY, PUMPS AND HOSE!–The first Annual Ball of the Santa Rosa Engine Company, it should be remembered, will take place on Wednesday next. We bespeak for those who may attend a pleasant time, as the company have made ample preparations to secure the desirable end. The profits of the occasion are to go toward paying for the engine. Let those who delight to “trip the fantastic toe” turn out generally. The supper will be gotten up by Mr. VanDoren of the Eureka Hotel.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 5, 1862

 

NEW ENGINE HOUSE.–Santa Rosa Engine Company, No. 1, moved their engine into the new house, recently fitted up for them, on Saturday last. The company is now thoroughly organized, and will soon be in a condition to render valuable service in case of a fire…

[excerpts of by-laws, including fines and penalties. “…for bringing liquor near the engine house wile on duty, without the permission from the Foreman…one dollar”]

– Sonoma Democrat, January 9, 1862

 

FIREMEN’S ELECTION.– [annual meeting to elect officers, all named]

– Sonoma Democrat, February 20, 1862

 

GOES TO THE FAIR.–Santa Rosa Engine, No. 1–the “bully Cataract”–left town of Tuesday morning for Sonoma, to compete for a prize offered for the best working and worked engine by the Sonoma and Napa county Agricultural and Mechanical Society. Notwithstanding our machine is of much less capacity than any engine in the district, we hope she will meet some competitors, even should she not carry off the prize. But nevertheless, our boys are heavy on the muscle, and go to win.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 9, 1862

 

LET THEM CLIMB!–Our fire laddies are soon to be the recipients of an appropriate and useful present, from a citizen of Sonoma. Mr. Anthony Krippenstapel, an exceedingly ingenius [sic] workman, has spent much time in constructing for them a fireman’s ladder, which will be formally presented to the company on next Saturday evening. It is twenty feet in length, and every joint is fitted in the neatest and most exact manner; the material has been thoroughly seasoned, and while the ladder is sufficiently strong to support any weight that may ever be put upon it, yet it is so light that it can be handled with ease by one individual. We remember at the time of the burning of the Eureka hotel, such a ladder as this would have rendered material assistance to our firemen, and we doubt not this donation from Mr. Krippenstapel will be properly appreciated by the department.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 7, 1863

 

Our Fire Department.

Some time has elapsed since we reminded our citizens that our Fire Department is still encumbered with debt. In fact, we hoped that it would never be necessary for us to again make allusion to the subject. Two years ago there was purchased for this community a most excellent Hunnemann Engine, which has been the means at least on one occasion of preventing the total destruction of the town by fire. At the time the Engine was purchased a debt of $600 was necessarily incurred. As is too often the case in small towns, this Department has been mainly supported by those of our citizens who have least at stake in case of a conflagration. We have never seen in any community so little public spirit manifested in regarded to a matter of so much importance as in this. Aside from numerous endeavors to raise by benefits sufficient funds to liquidate the debt, the active members of the Department have been obliged to pay the interest on the $600, and all contingent expenses of the Company, rent, etc, from their own pockets. It is a shame and disgrace to the property holders of the town that this should be so.

But at last we see a glimmer of light. The ladies, (Heaven bless them!) are coming to the rescue. It has been stated that the Engine is to be sold, and the ladies have determined, if within their power, (and what is it they cannot accomplish?) to save our town from the disgrace attendant upon such an event. They propose by means of a series of entertainments, of their own getting up, to assist in relieving the Department of the incumberances hanging over it. If the property holders will pay the $600 due upon the Engine they will provide the Company with a house, and thereby place the Department upon a permanent footing. If it is desired that the Engine shall remain here something must be done at once. Gen. Hinton, we are pleased to see, has taken the matter in hand, and we hope soon to hear of a response on the part of our “substantial” citizens to the proposition of the ladies.

For the benefit of the Department, we re-publish below, from the Statutes of last winter, a law exempting members of this Department from “militia service and jury duty”…

– Sonoma Democrat, October 31, 1863

 

The New Engine House.

Last Saturday afternoon the new Engine House, built by the ladies of Santa Rosa, was formally presented to the Fire Department, with all the necessary title, papers to property, etc. The Company, in uniform, appeared before the house with their Engine duly decorated at 3 o’clock P. M. The house being well filled with the citizens of the town who had contributed so liberally to the enterprise. On behalf of the ladies, Gen. O. Hinton in appropriate and pleasing remarks passed over the property to the Trustees of the Department. On behalf of the Fire Department, Mr. P. B. Hood made a well termed speech in response to the General, after which cheers were given by the firemen for the ladies, the General and the citizens, and the assemblage were invited to partake of refreshments which had been prepared in the new meeting room by the firemen. The “boys” then entertained those present with some tall “playing” from the machine, and she was duly housed in her new quarters amid the cheers and applause of her members. The ladies have also ordered for the Department new leather hose, which unfortunately, did not arrive in time be presented with the house on Saturday. It will, however, be on hand in a few days, and then we can boast that we have as good Engine, house, hose, and Company, as complete in all their fixtures as may be found without the city of Frisco. Our boys are proud of their Company and well they may be.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 4, 1864

 

Letter From Santa Rosa.

Eds. Flag:–Your regular correspondent being absent I send you a short account of the Fireman’s Ball held at the Skating Rink on Friday last. I don’t often go to balls; I have only been to one about twice a week, on an average, since I first flung out my shingle to the Santa Rosa breeze. Balls are demoralizing, don’t you think, Mr. Editor? That is the reason I don’t attend more frequently. Having purchased a ticket at half price, I thought I could afford to be very indulgent on this occasion, so I took Amanda Jane along to show her a little of our Santa Rosa society–she not having been out much since we located here. I spent no end of money buying her Swiss over-skirts, paniers, hair, and such fixings, but, with all the outlay, she did not make an impression that night, unless she did it on some of her partners’ feet, and they’ll recollect her if she did, for she do come down frightful heavy. She keeps her own time when dancing, regardless of the music; shows what an independent girl she is; what a wife wouldn’t she make for some of us. Well, to proceed: The ball was a success, socially and financially, and so much encouraged are our gallant firemen with the result, that they propose again to pander to the tastes of an appreciative community next year. Had this ball not been well attended our brethren of the red shirt had concluded to make it the last, as they have been out and injured on the last three or four. Gus Kohle was here, there and everywhere, and, as a friend remarked, looked as if he and the “Cataract” could smother any fire in town if they could only screw on the hose. Jim Clark made a little speech which pleased everybody, and made another little ‘speech which displeased somebody. Wm. O. Lloyd with his “harpist,” assisted by a local violin and cornet, discoursed most pleasant music and kept every one on the hop till near 4 o’clock. At Kessing’s Hotel a fine supper was served about 12 o’clock. Riley & Brendel also had a large party at their restaurant. Had it not been for a certain unpleasantness with regard to where one should go to supper there would not have been a cloud to disturb the serenity of this ball, by far the most successful of any given by the Fire Company for many years. And Amanda reached home a perfect wreck, and wreaked her vengeance on the crockery by playfully seeing if she could hit my head for saying she did not get a partner to dance with her twice…

– Russian River Flag, February 27 1873

 

ENGINE COMPANY NO. 1–The fire which occurred on Monday night called out the fire company in full force. After the excitement was over many reminiscences were brought up by the old members, and on many points a variety of opinions existed. To refresh certain memories it may not be uninteresting to state that the first meeting for the organization of a fire company was held in the upper story of the brick building now used by Stanley & Thompson as a workshop over what was then known as Fen’s Saloon. It was held on the 2d of February, 1861, and was organized by electing W. H. Crowell President and Thos. L. Thompson Secretary. It was then determined to start as a hook and ladder company. That meeting adjourned for one week. They met again on the 19th of February, 1861, and elected permanent officers as follows…At a meeting held in March 9, 1861, a committee which had previously been appointed to inquire into the cost of apparatus reported that it would cost from $1,200 to $1,500. It was then thought advisable to change from a hook and ladder to an engine company. On the 7th of November, 1861, Thos. L. Thompson, John S. Van Doren and B. Marks, were appointed as a committee to go to San Francisco and negotiate for an engine. The engine was purchased for the sum of $1,350, $400 of which was paid down, and J.P. Clark, B. Marks and A. Bromberger became responsible for the balance, $900. It was then that the ladies of Santa Rosa came to the relief of the company and by a succession of entertainments, fairs, festivals, etc., rendered the company very efficient aid in freeing itself from debt. About this time application was made to Gen. Otho Hinton to devise some plan whereby the company could extricate itself from debt. He took a lively interest in the matter and his personal efforts in its behalf and good counsels enabled the company not only to free itself from debt but to furnish besides a good and substantial engine house, which afterwards sold for $600. On account of his efforts in their behalf his memory is today highly revered by all the old members of the company, and they still keep his portrait hanging in their hall as a mark of the esteem in which he was held. This is an accurate account of the early days of Santa Rosa Engine Company No. 1, which still exists with the motto adopted in its infancy, “Faithful and Fearless” and which it carries out whenever occasion demands.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 1, 1877

 

Santa Rosa Engine Co. No. 1.

Extensive preparations are being made by the Executive Committee and the members of the Santa Rosa Engine Company for celebrating the 21st anniversary of their organization. They propose giving a grand ball at Ridgway Hall on Washington’s Birthday, and it is the purpose of those having it in charge to make it surpass any of their previous enjoyable entertainments…Apropos of the coming event, through the kindness of the efficient Secretary, Mr. J. Doychert, we are enabled to present our readers a brief sketch of their organization. The Society was formed on February 2nd, 1861, as a Hook and Ladder Company. The list of charter members numbers 30 …[living active founders named]…At a subsequent meeting a constitution was adopted and the members, subscribed the sum of $300 as the nucleus of a fund for the purchase of a hook and ladder truck. After a short time it was deemed advisable to purchase, instead, a fire engine. In accordance with this action the members on June 29th, 1861, reorganized as Santa Rosa Engine Company No. 1. By the aid of money subscribed by the citizens they were able to make a partial payment on the purchase price of an engine from San Francisco, the cost of which was $1,300. Subsequently by the material assistance of the ladies and Gen. Hinton, whose portrait at present adorns the walls of the meeting room, and the recollection of whose friendship will ever remain fixed in the hearts of the firemen, the balance due was paid. On December 22nd, 1861, the uniform of the Company was adopted, and the motto, “Faithful and Fearless” chosen as their emblem of duty. The first ball was given on the evening of July 8th, 1862, and netted some $35, which was applied to the liquidation of the engine debt. Four days later a triangle was purchased and this first means of sounding an alarm in those early days on several memorable occasions brought the Company into active service. During the first year of their existence hey were called upon to extinguish a fire in the old Eureka Hotel. The inflammable material burning fiercely, had enabled the flames to gain great headway, and to hear the old members speak of the excitement and daring of their comrades in vieing [sic] with one another for bravery and the labor of gaining control of the fiery element, recalls vividly the pioneer days of raging conflagrations in San Francisco. With a few exceptions, noticeable among which are the burning of the Santa Rosa Winery upon two occasions and the destruction of the frame buildings of Mrs. Spencer, and others, at all of which they rendered material aid, in the latter case saving adjoining buildings in the face of a raging conflagration, our city of late years has been remarkably free from casualties of this nature. But when occasion demands, the Company responds in a manner creditable to themselves and to the citizens. They have paid for and now own one good engine, two fine hose carts and 1,000 feet of good hose…

– Sonoma Democrat, January 29, 1881

 

FIRE.

On last Wednesday morning at about one o’clock an alarm of fire roused our citizens from their slumbers. Our reporter, with his usual fiendishness, saw a large blaze in the northwestern part of the city, and tumbling rapidly into his trousers and getting downstairs in the same dignified manner, sallied forth to do honor to his record as a fireman and to his name as a member of the press. Falling over two dogs and gouging out one of his remaining teeth against a picket fence, he rapidly approached the scene of the now raging fire. The burning building was a two-story dwelling house belonging to Guy E. Grosse, situated on the northwest corner of Tenth street and the Healdsburg road. After getting out of the ditch into which he had by some means found refuge, our man took in the situation. A few small boys were gazing at the flames, which were bursting out of every room. In a short time a number of citizens arrived and before a gret while both branches of the fire department were on the grounds. Nothing could be done to stop the flames, which by this time were rapidly consuming the whole building. After some preliminary tactics, a ten-foot stream was thrown onto the porch in front of the dwelling, which in the course of twenty minutes, by the judicious maneuverings of the heads of the two companies, was so augmented that a very respectable stream of the aqueous element could be forced right and left into the crowds of lookers on. Our man succeeded as usual in spoiling a seven-dollar hand-me-down suit of clothes. During the pyrotechnic display, which by the way lasted for an hour, the ceremony was diversified by the falling of two lofty chimneys–one of which came near ending the days of a telegraphically inclined ex-secretary of one of the organizations; had it not been for the agility displayed by him in talking to the “red-shirts,” he would probably have been crushed into an unrecognizable mass of saur-kraut. Among the ludicrous scenes which transpired during the evening, there were some of another nature worthy of mention. The way in which Messrs. Ed. Nagle and Louis Keser fought the flames, after the tardy arrival of the water, was praiseworthy indeed. They did good service, and were it not for the headway gained by the flames, might have prevented a very serious conflagration. Speaking of bravery, we noticed a Republican reporter doing good work on the corner of Tenth and A streets, nobly saving his hands from the fury etc., by keeping them in his pocket. The course of an hour saw the building a mass of cinders. It was an old house, but had been lately repaired by the owner in a substantial manner; a fine outbuilding had been erected, the main structure hard-finished and painted and was about ready for occupancy. Strong suspicions of incendiarism are indulged in regarding the origin of the fire…As it was unoccupied it was undoubtly [sic] set on fire by some of the tramps who of late have invested our city to an alarming extent.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 16, 1881

 

New Fire Engine.

The citizens of Santa Rosa will be glad to hear that our firemen have definitely decided upon the purchase of a new steam fire-engine to take the place of the one now in use. The new machine, which is one of the many styles, all first-class, built by the Silsby Manufacturing Company, is a beautiful specimen of workmanship, and will cost in the neighborhood of $3,000. This amount is to be made up from contributions and the proceeds of fairs, festivals, etc. The money received for the old engine, which is to be sold, will of course also be applied to the same use. This is a good opportunity for some other community to secure, for a moderate outlay, an engine capable of doing good service for many years to come, for although it is not of sufficient capacity to be exactly what is necessary in a town of the dimensions of Santa Rosa, it would nevertheless be just the thing in a smaller and less thickly settled place. It is to be hoped that the property owners of Santa Rosa will all interest themselves in the matter of securing the new engine, as it is certainly something the importance of which cannot be overrated. The members of our fire department deserve well of their fellow citizens, and the latter should see that they do not lack for proper appliances in their faithful service of guarding property, not to say life, in our community.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 3, 1883

 

A City Hall.

It is announced on good authority that before long Santa Rosa will possess a “City Hall” with all necessary offices and departments for the accommodation of the city officials and the transaction of necessary business. Roomy and convenient quarters for the Fire Company and their engine and paraphernalia will also be provided in the building. The project has not yet been made a matter of record in the proceedings of the Common Council, the arrangement having been made somewhat informally. Col. Mark L. McDonald, not long since, purchased a lot lying east of the plaza upon which one of the China houses now stands. This he proposed to tear down and erect a building in its stead, the understanding being that the city authorities will take it off his hands as soon as sufficient money accrues from the tax levy to enable them to do so. The execution of this project will serve a double purpose, not only providing our city with fitting and needed accommodations, but also doing away with the miniature “China Town” east of the plaza, and redeeming what should be one of the choicest locations within the town limits.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 14, 1883

 

THE NEW CITY HALL.
It is Dedicated with Appropriate Ceremonies

Os Saturday afternoon the members of the Fire Department, with Fire Marshal S. I. Allen at their head, safely housed the engine hose carts and apparatus of Engine Company No. 1, and concluded their jollifications by partaking of a lunch in their new quarters, where addresses were made and toasts were drank.

In the evening a number of our citizens assembled in the new Council Chamber with the members of the Council and several other city officers, and the new edifice was appropriately dedicated amid stirring speeches and flowing wine.

[..]

– Sonoma Democrat, March 8, 1884

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