newspapergirl

LESSONS ON WHO IS SO MUCH LESSER THAN YOU

“I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that this is the chosen spot of all this earth,” wrote Luther Burbank in his first letter from Santa Rosa in 1875. But then he added a qualifier: “…as far as Nature is concerned.”

Something about Santa Rosa apparently didn’t sit well with old Luther, but we’ll never know what. The town was welcoming to “immigrants” such as himself, yet it was still rough around the edges – a Chinese man had just been shot in the back and no one seemed very interested in finding out who did it. It was also a saloon town, where men argued endlessly about race horses and politics, topics which didn’t hold any interest for Burbank. Or maybe he didn’t know what to make of a “humor” item which appeared in the local newspaper around the time he arrived. It went like this: An ex-slave encountered a friend of his former “Massa” and said all the changes since the Civil War had left him sad. While he managed to save enough before the war to buy his freedom, now he wished he kept the money instead. The punchline: As a slave he was worth $1,000 – now he wasn’t worth a damn.

The weekly Sonoma Democrat regularly offered racist items like that – so many that it would be easy to mistake it for a newspaper published in the Deep South. That vignette, in fact, was reprinted from a paper in Mississippi.

This article is a coda to the series “THE HIDDEN LIVES OF BLACK SANTA ROSA,” which explored how the Democrat in the late 19th century ignored African-American townspeople, even when they were men and women of distinction. It disappeared them by rarely offering obituaries and not mentioning weddings, deaths, births, arrivals and departures. But that doesn’t mean the paper ignored African-Americans; it published something about them almost every week – albeit only things which ground them down by reinforcing the ugliest racist stereotypes.

Blacks in the late 19th century faced myriad problems nationwide, although today we focus mainly on the dramatic acts of violence and overt acts of discrimination – lynchings, the Klan, Jim Crow laws and the like. But reading the old Democrat it’s shocking to discover how normalized racism was in Santa Rosa. Those toxic little stinkbombs in the paper reminded African-Americans they were inferior and fair game to be pushed around, and they sent a clear message to whites that blacks deserved lowly status. And probably worst of all, it taught white children all this was just the way of the world. Coming soon: White Supremacy, The Next Generation.

Let Gentle Reader be forewarned that this is not the sort of historical amusement usually found here, and what follows will stray into uncomfortable territory – reading (or writing) about hateful speech is No. Fun. At. All. But we can’t discuss Santa Rosa’s history without being honest about how ugly some of it really was. We can debate how much this material shaped the town, but we can’t deny it existed. And we can’t pretend this problem stopped when the Sonoma Democrat folded in 1897; the Press Democrat continued dishing out offensive racial jokes and short fiction well into the 1930s, only not as vigorously.

We can also argue whether this article is guilty of presentism (judging the past by modern standards). Read through the sections below before taking a position on whether the material in the Democrat deserves “Huckleberry Finn” considerations. No, the Democrat certainly wasn’t alone in portraying African-Americans in a derisive way; after all, most of the insulting stuff they printed came from other newspapers and magazines, and not just those from Dixie land – sources below included leading Democratic party tub-thumpers such as the New York Sun and Washington Post, so it’s fair to say racist material was regularly found in print media that had a politically conservative bent. What still sets the Santa Rosa paper apart, however, is how much bilge our little 8-page weekly managed to serve up on a regular basis.

One way we can try to measure that is by using the search engine at the California Digital Newspaper Collection to find how often the “n word” appeared in the Democrat between 1860 and 1897. The answer is 369 times, but that’s certain to be a gross undercount; an entire year of the newspaper is missing and the collection’s mediocre OCR misses words when there imperfection on the scanned page. Also, the noun sometimes did not always refer to people; Brazil nuts were commonly called “n***** toes” (seriously!) and “n***** baby contest” was the general name for a ball-throwing game at carnivals, most commonly a dunk tank. Finally, some of the most offensive content did not contain the “n word” at all.

Nor is it practical to compare what appeared in the 1860s to items from later in the century. During the Civil War and the years immediate afterward, editor Thomas Thompson was absolutely vicious in his racist hatred – he spat out the “n word” often and his writings were laden with disgust for African-Americans, suggesting they were to blame for the South’s misery after the war and shouldn’t have been allowed to stick around. His brother Robert edited the paper during the final years and race stories published by him often displayed a smug air of superiority; his favorite meme seemed to be tales about bemused rich white men encountering destitute former slaves. Same white supremacist garbage as his brother produced, just with less frothing and flying spittle.

The selections below come just from the 1890s, and are a small sample of what was printed in the Democrat during those years. Although the race articles from that period could be considered “racism lite” compared to the 1860s, the Democrat consistently followed four boilerplates: Blacks were described as happy under slavery, ignorant, clownish or criminal.

Let me forewarn again: All of this material is offensive – but try not to look away, and don’t forget this trash (and more of its kind) was in our hometown weekly newspaper, likely read in every Santa Rosa household where it would have impacted white and black children alike.

(In the examples I’m only providing snippets because I’ve seen search engine results which imply bigots have visited, seeking racist material to fulfill their fantasies of the master race. Dates are provided so image scans of the original article can found.)

*
HAPPY SLAVES   The intro to the “Hidden Lives” series mentioned an 1889 item titled “Slavery’s Sunny Side,” and the article which appeared around the time of Burbank’s arrival are other examples of the “plantation porn” genre.

“Prince’s Well” (January 21, 1893) a longer fictional story from the New York Press about a white hunter encountering an elderly former slave who is hoping the man who once owned him will return as an angel to guide him to heaven.

As I approached the open door of the hut a feeble voice from within called: “Is dat you, Marse Steny?” and then halting steps sounded on the rude plank floor. “Master, is you come fer ole Prince at las’?” In the doorway stood the bent and decrepit form of an aged negro. His hair was white as snow, and his thin hands were extended before him in supplication. His eyes, now dim, seemed dazzled by the light, but tears of joy flowed down the furrows of his cheeks as be eagerly tottered forward. “I’ze watched for you. Marse Steny,” he said in broken accents. As he took my hand in his feeble fingers he bent to kiss it. I gently told him that I was not his master. For a moment he seemed stunned: then raising his eyes and peering closely into mine he dropped my hand, and turning away hobbled back to his hut.

 

“The Darky and His Three Wishes” (May 30, 1896) A reprint from the New York Sun.

The following anecdote well illustrates the spirit of contentment prevalent with the negro in the south before the war: Jack was once asked by his young master to make three wishes…‘Marse Joe, if I had a pa’r of boots and a plenty of fat meat, I doan’ want nothin mo’.” This happy negro I knew personally. He was born a slave and has always lived in Virginia.

*
IGNORANCE   The most common racist trope against African-Americans was a short “humor” item that portrayed someone as ignorant and/or lazy. Dialogue was always spoken in a nearly incomprehensible Stepin Fetchit dialect, which Democrat editor Robert Thompson used to create the “Uncle Potter” caricature of Edmund Potter.

“Knowing a Heap” (July 12, 1890) from the Washington Post.

“Hello, Uncle Mose,” said a colored boy on Pennsylvania avenue, “readin’ de papah?” “Yes, sah; dat’s what I is,” said the venerable negro, as he adjusted his spectacles and shook a fold out of the journal that he held. “Hez yoh notussed dat yoh hez it upside down?” “Hum—er—yassendeed; yer hez ter know er heap ’bout readin’ foh yo kin do dat.”

 

“His Quiet Mind” (April 11, 1891) from the New York Evening Sun.

De good Lo’d looks out fo’ me, honey. In de summer time he sends along de wotermillion ships wif de millons too ripe fo’ de w’ite man. An’ be gives ’em to me. Den he makes de docks so dat I sleep in ’em. Den de winter time comes along and de good Lo’d builds de po’ house, an’ dar’s whar I live in de winter time till de wotermillions come agin. Read yo’ Scripture, honey! Yo’ ig’rance s’prisin’.”

 

“The Negro’s Idea of God” (January 25, 1896) from the Charleston News.

His religion is almost entirely emotional. He believes that God is a prayer-answering God, and that the petition of the man with the strongest lungs will reach the throne of grace first. His conceptions of the Deity are frequently remarkable. There was one old negro named Stephen Donnald in the school who was in his place every Sunday and deeply attentive to all that the preacher and the teachers said. One Sunday, after the school had been in operation for about six months, my father thought that he would find out what progress this old man had made, and so he asked him: “‘Stephen, what is your idea of God?’” The answer came swift as a shot: “‘Well, Marse William, I think He’s kind of cross between a horse and a steam engine.”
*
CLOWNISH   Besides popularizing the notion that all African-Americans spoke like illiterate Alabama field hands, the best-selling “Lime-Kiln Club” books portrayed blacks in other “comic” ways. Stories presented absurd situations where the characters behaved ridiculously; a favorite plotline was having members of the club seeking (and failing) to mimic whites and white society. The Democrat printed some of the original tales in the 1880s as well as stories by later imitators.

“Saturday Night in Santa Rosa” (Sept. 15, 1894) Even without the racist segment, this article was so clueless I can’t imagine why Robert Thompson published it. A reporter ogled young women walking downtown and ranked their desirability, along with providing a general location of where each lived: “Santa Rosa is not old enough to have its exclusive set yet, and all types of humanity may be seen jostling each other on Fourth street Saturday night between 8 and 9 o’clock…The society reporter noted particularly a tall, stately blonde with a magnificent carriage and a superb figure. She was dressed in exquisite taste. It is said she lives on College avenue near Mendocino street…” Four “exquisitely posed heads” later, the article wrapped up with a scene describing an African-American couple using the thickest dialect (“I’ze jest dyin’ fur lub o’ yo’”) and ending with a sound effect of the sort heard in old cartoons.

…After her in the parade came a lady of color, who looked in the crowd of white faces and light dresses like a huckleberry in a bowl of milk. She was accompanied by a swain of ebony hue. He wore a gray suit that will fit him perfectly when he grows a few feet taller and a few yards broader; a large bouquet and sunflower decorated his coat lapel. His wool was clipped short and was highly scented with barber’s oil. When he smiled, his face was all mouth…Just then the loving pair turned down B street. He looked all around to see that no one was near, and as they got opposite Mr. Eardley’s office the reporter could hear a sound as distinct and loud as when a cow pulls her flat foot out of the mud. What’s in a kiss?

 

“Ben’s Wedding Shoes” (March 15, 1890) a short story reprinted from Youth’s Companion magazine, was about the struggle to convince the groom to wear shoes at his wedding.

…Ev’y knot er ha’r wuz kyarded out, en one er marster’s ole beaver hats wuz settin’ on top er his head. His sto’ cloze wuz bran, spankin’ new, en, mo’n dat, he had on er b’iled shirt en collar. “But, grashus, honey, down at de bottom dar sot his ole black feet spread out flatter’n er pancake on de do’steps. I des tuck’n retch under de bed en fetch put de shoes…“

*
CRIMINAL   Besides scouring out-of-town papers in search of insulting racist humor, the Democrat in the 1890s found and printed hundreds of news items about crimes allegedly committed by African-Americans nationwide. The paper’s bias was shown in favoring reports of black-on-white violence, particularly when it was a sexual assault and/or the black person was subsequently murdered by a mob.

Closer to home, we have two events from the 1890s which showed local police targeting black men for suspicion of crimes. The first event took place over two months in 1892, and is told below in three snippets. The other incident is the most unsettling item found here, as it describes an officer tracking an African-American man around Santa Rosa as if it was a hunt for an animal. The Democrat strained to portray this as a humor story – and failed.

A 17-year-old negro boy who killed a white boy. near Miller, Ga., was taken from the sheriff by a mob, tied to a tree and riddled with bullets. (Nov. 1, 1890)     Larned, Kansas—A negro by the name of James Thompson made a brutal attempt to outrage Miss Mabel Welch at her boarding house yesterday. She fought him for two hours, and he finally fled. Last evening he was arrested in a swamp. A few hours later he was taken from the jail by a mob, and hanged to a telegraph pole. He confessed his guilt and said that his soul would go to hell. (Sept. 17, 1892)

 

“Shrewd Detective Work” (April 16, 1892) Officer Hankel saw an African-American man who he thought matched the written description of someone wanted for a murder in Louisiana. Hankel took the surprised man to the station and ordered him to remove a shoe in order to see if he had a scar matching the suspect. On finding a scar, Hankel locked the man in jail and contacted authorities in Louisiana.

Some time ago the police department of this city received a description of a negro who had committed a murder in Louisiana. Among those who had been furnished with a copy of the description was Officer Hankel. Saturday, while the auctioneer was holding forth at Third and B streets, Hankel noticed a negro sitting up on a wagon, an interested spectator of the auction proceedings. The more the officer looked at the negro the more he became convinced that he was the man wanted, as he tallied perfectly with the description. Finally Hankel walked up to him, tapped him on the side, and told him he wanted him. The negro looked surprised, but accompanied the officer to the jail without any trouble. On reaching there Hankel asked him to take off his shoe. “Oh, yes,” said the negro, “you want to see that scar on my ankle.” “Yes, that’s just what I want to see, and I think you are the man I want,” said the officer. The scar was there, sure enough, and Officer Hankel feels sure he is the man wanted by the Louisiana authorities. He has telegraphed back there for instructions, which he will await with some anxiety. He says the prisoner answers the description in each and every particular, and if he should prove to be the man wanted, the officer deserves no small amount of commendation for his shrewd detective work. The prisoner gave the name of Johnson.

 

“The Alleged Murderer” (June 11, 1892) Almost two months later, an Arkansas sheriff arrived with extradition papers for an African-American who was accused of shooting and killing a white neighbor during an argument. A photo taken of the man in custody had been sent back to Arkansas, where several people identified him. The suspect being held here acted very nervous when asked to show his scar to the sheriff. Another witness who had accompanied the sheriff from Arkansas said the suspect looked like the man he had last seen about two years earlier, although “…he is a shade or two lighter. This discrepancy is accounted for on the supposition that the mulatto’s incarceration would cause him to ‘bleach out’ somewhat.”

Sheriff Sewell, of Columbia county, Arkansas, arrived in this city Sunday provided with the necessary papers for taking Johnson, the mulatto, who was three times arrested on suspicion of being a murderer, back with him to Arkansas. Sheriff Sewell was accompanied by J. B. Stevens, who identifies Johnson. The real name of the alleged fugitive from justice is George Frazier…When Sheriff Sewell went to see Johnson, alias Frazier, in the jail Sunday evening, the latter was very nervous. When asked to remove his shoe and stocking and show the scar on his foot, he started to remove the habiliments from the wrong foot, and when his attention was called to the mistake, in his excitement he bared both feet. Mr. Stevens, at whose house Frazier stopped a year ago last fall, was pointed out to the negro and the sheriff asked him if he had ever seen the gentleman before. Frazier replied that Mr. Stevens’ face was familiar to him, and that he thought he had seen him in the jail a few days ago. Mr. Stevens says Johnson, or Frazier, is exactly like the man he knew back in Arkansas, except that he is a shade or two lighter. This discrepancy is accounted for on the supposition that the mulatto’s incarceration would cause him to “bleach out” somewhat. Johnson, or Frazier, persists that he can prove an alibi.

 

“Johnson Liberated” (June 18, 1892) When a habeas corpus hearing was finally held, the defendant had no problem at all in proving he was not the man being sought. George Johnson had lived in Sonoma and counties for four years, including several periods in Santa Rosa. Six local witnesses testified to having known him over the years, as did the Calistoga town marshal. Had anyone from the Santa Rosa police made a phone call or sent a telegram to the marshal in Calistoga or interviewed the many people who could corroborate his identity, George Johnson would not have needed to spend over two months behind bars waiting for that hearing.


The muchly arrested man, Johnson, alleged to be Frazier, the Arkansas murderer, was discharged Saturday on conclusion of the testimony offered on the writ of habeas corpus…E. S. Mitchell said he had known the defendant as George Johnson in Sonoma county since 1888. Peter Wiley knew defendant in Santa Rosa for three years as George Johnson. Marion Sullivan testified to knowing defendant as George Johnson for over a year. Mollie Helton had also known defendant as Mr. Johnson for three years. The defendant was next called to the stand. He gave his name as George Walker December Johnson…He lived in Calistoga during 1883 and 1889, cutting wood for E. S. Mitchell in 1888, and afterwards rented a ranch near Calistoga. He came to Santa Rosa in the spring of ’9O, and again in April 1891. In January ’9l he was in Modesto. Came back to Santa Rosa again in 1892. He said he never was in Arkansas or Louisiana. On cross examination he testified that when the murder was committed in April 1891, he was working in Stanislaus county. C. H. Nash, the marshal of Calistoga, testified that he hnd known the defendant as George Johnson since 1889. Charles Wilson testified to rooming with Johnson in Santa Rosa iu 1890. A. M. Butler said he know defendant in this city in April 1891, when the murder was committed. The case was submitted without argument, and the court discharged the prisoner.

 

“A Long Chase” (Dec. 23, 1893) To 1893 readers of the Democrat there was no subtlety in this writeup about chasing a “coon,” as the paper often mentioned wild animal hunting or trapping (including at least four items earlier that year about raccoons). This item alone destroys any illusion that Robert Thompson was less of a racist than his brother Thomas.

“There is a new coon in town,” and Officer Kennedy made a strenuous effort to see the color of his eyes, Wednesday morning. This particular coon is said to be a bad coon, who was compelled to leave Oakland for conduct which rendered him amenable to the laws of the State and municipality. Officer Kennedy was told of his presence here in town and Wednesday morning he started out to find him. He obtained first trace of him at the Occidental Hotel, where his coonship succeeded in getting his breakfast free of expense. Subsequent investigation by Mr. Kennedy led to the discovery of the colored gentleman in the rear of Mrs. Kidd’s house on Seventh street. Officer Kennedy also found the doors of the empty house all open, and he suspected the Oakland coon had gone through the place. The coon evidently divined the official suspicions which were entertained against him, and when Officer Kennedy looked up he saw the former legging it down the street. It was a stern chase and a long one, and led the officer all over the western and northern part of the city. They went from the slaughter house on the northwest to Pacific Methodist College on the north. From the latter piece the chase took in the Southern Pacific station, and from thence led south again to the Fourth street schoolhouse. The coon went in one door and Officer Kennedy in the other. When Officer Kennedy came out the coon was nowhere in sight. Several of the teachers and school children who were watching the chase had not seen the coon leave the building, though it was evident he must have done so…Officer Kennedy describes the man as being a three-quarter negro, with a slight mustache. He wore dark clothes and a black stiff hat. The two men who saw him leap the school fence say he was laughing to himself…

Read More

moralitycat

MORALITY LAWS APPLY TO THEE, NOT TO ME

Here’s a rare historical nugget: A summary of the reasons why people were behind bars in the Sonoma County jail during 1892, which I think was the only time such a list appeared in a Santa Rosa newspaper in those days.

There were 500 prisoners that year, more than half (315) being held for misdemeanors, vagrancy, drunkenness and unspecified minor offenses – the whole list can be found below. Mostly the rest is predictable: People steal things valuable or not, people hurt other people causing varying degrees of damage, and people do things that may show they are crazy or stupid. Two items that might surprise us today were child stealing (yikes!) and using vulgar language.

Both Santa Rosa and the county had laws against saying bad words in front of children or women, which was the topic of a previous article (see “THE HIGH COST OF CUSSING“). It was usually a charge thrown in with other offenses such as drunkenness or fighting, and continued to be used that way into the 1920s. But there were two cases in the 1890s that stand out because the law was seemingly used in a cruel and vindictive manner.

Alfred Jacobs, a Sebastopol 13 year-old was arrested in 1890 on two counts: assaulting his sixth grade school teacher and for using vulgar language. He was given two consecutive 60-day sentences by Judge Dougherty, but one of them was dropped when the assault charge was dismissed.

The boy stayed in jail as lawyers returned to court four times to debate a writ of habeas corpus. It’s unclear what that meant in this situation – perhaps they were trying to square the circle of arresting a child by using a law meant to protect children. At any rate, they dithered until two months had passed and he was released anyway.

alfredjacobs(RIGHT: 1893 San Quentin mugshot of Alfred Jacobs)

Jacobs would spend much of the 1890s behind bars, including two years at San Quentin for grand larceny. “After his release from the prison, Jacobs devoted himself most industriously to thievery, and has been in trouble many times,” the Santa Rosa paper tsk-tsked in 1897. “District Attorney Seawell regards Jacobs as a dangerous menace to society.” During that decade he was also locked up for vagrancy, horse theft and burglary.

Even if you don’t take his age into account, there’s no question his punishment was harsh; that same year adults were sentenced to only ten days for swearing. Perhaps the judge intended the extended sentence as sort of a “time out” to contemplate and reform his ways – or maybe the judge was an old-school “spare the rod, spoil the child” sadist. Whatever the reason, it’s interesting to note just three days after Jacobs was given his long punishment, that judge gave a lecture on “the moral, intellectual and religious formation of character.”

The other incident where profanity was treated as a serious crime happened in 1894 – and like the case of Alfred Jacobs, it was also heard in the courtroom of Judge Dougherty.

Until she was arrested Kate Norton lived in poverty with her three children. She and her 22 year-old daughter, Bertha, were taken by the Bodega constable to Santa Rosa on charges of insanity.

There was a history of the women being harassed by local boys, which the Democrat shamefully reported as if it were a big joke. “It seems to have been their part at the town of Bodega to amuse the boys, against their will of course, but the young boys of the town have been in the habit of annoying them into a frenzy to enjoy a little loquacious concert interspersed with pungent profanity.” The paper said both were “intensely excitable and emotional and well stored with vulgar phrases and grossest profanity” because they were Irish immigrants.

Kate’s small children were held at the county jail while she and Bertha were brought to the courthouse. There a sanity hearing was held in the judge’s chambers with three local doctors who agreed that yep, the women had to be crazy to cuss at the neighbor children who were tormenting them. Judge Dougherty ordered the mother sent to the Napa Asylum and the daughter to the one in Ukiah. The little kids were to be sent to an orphanage. And with that decision, I have little doubt that Gentle Reader is thinking of some vulgar language to call that judge right about now.

The Democrat closed the item by saying the children were distraught at being taken away from their mother, meanwhile sneering that anything that happened to them was the entirely the fault of mom: “Jailor Weise has the children in the upper story of the jail. When their mother left they were told she would return. As the day wore on they missed her more and more and toward evening gave way to their feelings. A mother is missed even though she be as was Mrs. Norton, wholly irresponsible.”

That 1892 list of jailable crimes is also notable for what it explicitly did not mention: Gambling and prostitution.

By that time Santa Rosa was known for its red light district centered around the intersection of First and D streets, with at least eleven brothels in the immediate neighborhood documented after the turn of the century; Ernest Finley, Press Democrat editor and the town’s #1 booster admitted in 1908 “The tenderloin district has existed in its present locality for 30 years.” Although Santa Rosa briefly legalized Nevada-style prostitution later, in the 1890s it was certainly considered a crime: “…every lewd or dissolute person who lives in and about houses of ill-fame…every common prostitute and common drunkard is a vagrant, and is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding six months.”

gamblingcats(RIGHT: Cat illustrations by Louis Wain)

Santa Rosa was also tolerant of illegal gambling, although on paper the city ordinances were so strict that law enforcement officers could be prosecuted for not being diligent enough in arresting gamblers. Horse races drew the high-stakes crowd from the Bay Area (see the “WIDE-OPEN TOWN” series) but Santa Rosa had a reputation for its saloon town culture, with dozens of men-only drinking holes around downtown, each likely having a cardroom in back, which hotels and cigar shops routinely had as well. The Democrat newspaper encouraged by often printed betting odds on horses, prize fights and even political races while giving a hat tip to big winners at the track or in the backrooms: “A couple of Petaluma sporting men are said to have ‘busted the bank’ in a faro game at Santa Rosa last Saturday night…” (Sonoma Democrat, January 30 1892)

Brothels and barrooms also brought in bucks for their landlords, who were among the richest men in town. Those operations were on prime real estate, with the saloons mostly packed into the stretch of Fourth street between Railroad Square and the courthouse. In short, what we came to call “The City Designed For Living” was in that era “The City Designed For Vice,” with Santa Rosa dependent upon money flowing through its large underground economy. There was probably no other place between San Francisco and Reno with such blatant corruption.

Efforts to reform Santa Rosa didn’t get off the ground until the 1908 election, but there was apparently one man who spoke out at the time: Rev. John B. Reid Jr. of the Presbyterian church.

Reid and his wife were popular when they came here from Great Falls, Montana in 1893, with him being quickly voted in as permanent pastor. A letter he wrote church elders from Montana suggests he was an affable man with a sense of humor and no zealous bible-thumper. Here Mrs. Reid organized the choir and was the church organist; they lived at 432 Orchard street which still stands, and is now the Casa Bello Bed & Breakfast on the edge of downtown.

Then a couple of odd items appeared in the same issue of the Sonoma Democrat in 1895. One story reported there was an unusual church meeting to vote on whether to keep Reid as pastor, which he won by a narrow margin. The other item reported his wife announced he would resign “in order that the Presbyterian Church in Santa Rosa be no longer rent asunder and in the interests of peace and good feeling.” What happened? Was Reid involved in some sort of scandal?

To find out what was really going on, we have to look at newspapers outside of Santa Rosa, specifically the San Francisco Call:


For some time there has been dissatisfaction among some of the elements of the church. Rev. Mr. Reid is a vigorous preacher, and when he hits he strikes from the shoulder. He has pronounced views on dancing, card-playing and other matters, and has taken off the oratorical gloves every time he described the evils which result from these amusements. In so doing, it is claimed by some of Reid’s friends, he has greatly displeased some of the wealthiest members of the congregation, and the difference was soon seen in the contents of the Sabbath contribution-box. Some time ago the elders were notified that, owing to the hard times and the dissatisfaction, it would be best for Reid and the church if he would sever his connection with it.

johnreid(RIGHT: Rev. John Reid Jr. probably c. 1890)

From the context it’s clear that Reid’s objection to “dancing” wasn’t against the social dance parties regularly held by churches around town (although not the Presbyterian church here) and he wasn’t thinking about games of Whist and Euchre (which were the mainstay of women’s club meetings) when he condemned “card-playing.” And when he wanted those “wealthiest members of the congregation” to state clearly what he had said that so objectionable to them, they refused to answer. “Reid asked the elders to specify the charges, if they had any. This they have not done,” the Call reported.

Reid delivered a farewell sermon the following Sunday based on Acts 20:25, which is a passage from Paul’s Farewell to the Ephesians. It can be summarized as, “I tried to help but you wouldn’t listen to me. I’m outta here.” He left town and his next ministry was in Livermore.

His replacement was Rev. William Martin, an Irishman whose preachifying was less objectionable to the sensitive feelings of rich parishioners. “His sermons are not remarkable for close reasoning or deep wisdom but his style of delivery is singularly impressive and he is unquestionably a man whom churchmen would describe as ‘spiritually minded,’” commented the Democrat, which also praised “his courteous manners.” Martin remained here until 1911; his travel lectures about trips to Greece and Europe, illustrated with stereopticon slides, were quite popular. He was a nice man.

 

sources

The Gambling Law

As considerable is being said about the enforcement of the law for the prevention of gaming, we will give it for the benefit of our readers. Section 330 of the Penal Code reads as follows; Even person who deals, plays, or carries on, opens or causes to be opened, or who conducts, either as owner or employee, whether for here or not, any game of faro, monte, roulette, lansquenet, rouge et noir, rondo, or any banking game with cards, dice or any device, for money, checks, credit or any other representative of value, is punishable by a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $1,000, and shall be imprisoned m the county jail until such fine and costs of prosecution are paid, such imprisonment not to exceed one year. Section 331; Every person who knowingly permits any of the games mentioned in the preceding section to be played, conducted, or dealt in any house owned or rented by such person in whole or in part, is punishable as provided in the preceding section. Section 332; every person who, by the game of “three card monte” so called, or any other game, device, sleight of hand, pretentions to fortune telling, trick, or any other means whatever, by use of cards or other implements or instruments, or while betting on the sides or hands of any such play or game, fraudulently obtains from another person money or property of any description, shall be punished as in case of larceny of property of like value. Section 333: Every person duly summoned as a witness for the prosecution, on any proceedings had under this Chapter, who neglects or refuses to attend as required, is guilty of a misdemeanor. Section 335: Every district attorney, sheriff, constable, or police officer must inform against and diligently prosecute persons whom they have reasonable cause to believe offenders against the provisions of this chapter, and even- such officer refusing or neglecting so to do, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

– Daily Democrat, July 19 1883

 

Order of Discharge.

On Tuesday Judge Dougherty issued an order of discharge in the case of Alfred Jacobs, Jr., whose application for a writ of habeas corpus has been up before the Superior Court four times. The prisoner is about 16 years of age. He is what would commonly be termed a tough customer for one of his years, being mischievous and reckless in his conduct. The charges on which he was convicted were for using vulgar and obscene language to his teacher at Sebastopol. There being two charges and two convictions, there were also two sentences, each for sixty days in the county jail. He was sentenced on the 12th of February, and the second judgment was to begin at the expiration of the first. The first judgment was absolutely void, and had so been held by the Court, and the prisoner having been in jail sixty days or more, claims that he has satisfied the only legal judgment, and as the Court thought so too, young Alfred breathes the free air of heaven once more. It is to be hoped that his incarceration will be a lesson to him.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 26 1890

 

The following interesting facts were taken from the register of the county jail Dec. 31, 1892. They go to show to a certain degree the trend of criminal action. There were confined in the jail, for a longer or shorter period of time, during the year 1892, 500 accused persons. Of these the largest number for any one crime was 137 for misdemeanors. Next, vagrancy, drunkenness and minor offenses, 178;
petit larceny, 22;
malicious mischief, 17;
assault with deadly weapon, 16;
grand larceny, 16;
insane, 15;
disturbing the peace, 12;
battery, 9;
arson, 8;
assault with intent to kill, 7;
disturbing the peace, 7; (yes, it was in the list twice)
murder, 6;
indecent exposure, 6;
simple assault, 5;
fugitive from justice, 5;
vulgar language, 4;
assault and battery, 3;
obtaining money or goods under false pretenses, 3;
mayhem, 2;
perjury, 2;
child stealing, 1;
defrauding landlord, 1;
embezzlement 1;

– Sonoma Democrat, January 7 1893 [edited to place in numerical order]

 

Mother and Daughter Pronounced Insane.

Mrs. Kate Norton and her daughter, Bertha, aged 22 years, were brought to this city on Friday by the constable of Bodega township, for examination on charge of insanity. The examination was held before Judge Dougherty and Drs. Smith, Shearer and Jesse in the judge’s chambers. Considerable of a crowd had collected and they were afforded much amusement by the peculiar conduct of the parties. They are natives of Ireland and possess a fair share of that nations fluency of speech. They were both intensely excitable and emotional and well stored with vulgar phrases and grossest profanity. It seems to have been their part at the town of Bodega to amuse the boys, against their will of course, but the young boys of the town have been in the habit of annoying them into a frenzy to enjoy a little loquacious concert intersperced with pungent profanity. The matter was taken under consideration and today upon recommendation of all of the physicians the judge sent the mother to the Napa Asylum and the daughter to the Ukiah Asylum. The two small children of Mrs. Norton will probably be sent to the Orphan Asylum Monday. The family is absolutely penniless and have no means of support and no property. The Norton family were scattered by legal process on Monday. Deputy Dougherty took the mother to Napa, Deputy Murphy the daughter to Ukiah, and the two “kids” will go down to the Home of the Feeble Minded this (Tuesday) morning. Jailor Weise has the children in the upper story of the jail. When their mother left they were told she would return. As the day wore on they missed her more and more and toward evening gave way to their feelings. A mother is missed even though she be as was Mrs. Norton, wholly irresponsible.

– Sonoma Democrat June 16 1894

 

AN IMPORTANT MEETING.
Presbyterian Congregation Considers Pastoral Relations.
Majority Vote in Favor of Retaining the Present Pastor-Appealed to the Presbytery.

The members and congregation of the Presbyterian church held a meeting to consider the pastoral relations Friday evening…The moderator explained the object of the meeting. J. M. Miller moved that Rev. John Reid Jr. be installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Rosa; John McWilliams seconded the motion. A statement by the session was read by Elder Crawford, also a copy of a letter which the session had addressed to Rev. John Reid Jr. in February last. W. E. McConnell on behalf of the trustees made a statement. After some discussion by various members the motion was voted on and resulted in a majority of ten votes in its favor. The total number of votes cast was one hundred and thirty. On the announcement of the vote Elder Crawford on behalf of the session protested and appealed to Presbytery. By request Rev. Dr. Nobles of San Rafael explained that according to church law the vote taken was virtually a renewal of the call extended to Mr. Reid two years ago. Mr. Reid was not present at the meeting.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 30 1895

 

Mrs. Reid explained that her husband had been induced by a consideration for the church’s welfare to send in his resignation. He had exercised his right to give up his rights in order that the Presbyterian Church in Santa Rosa be no longer rent asunder and in the interests of peace and good feeling. Mr. Reid came to Santa Rosa from Montana nearly two years ago. He received a call to be pastor by a large majority vote. Owing to circumstances with which Mr. Reid had personally nothing to do, the act of installation had never taken place. His life and labors as citizen, pastor and preacher since coming here are well known.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 30 1895

 

SANTA ROSA CHURCH ROW.
Presbyterians Disagree as to the Qualifications of a Pastor.

SANTA ROSA, March 23.-There are lively times at the First Presbyterian Church in this city in regard to the pastorate of Rev. John Reid Jr., who came here about a year ago from the Northwest. The trouble began to brew a few weeks ago and the storm culminated at a large congregational meeting at the church last night, when the question whether to keep or part with Mr. Reid’s services was decided by a very close vote. For some time there has been dissatisfaction among some of the elements of the church. Rev. Mr. Reid is a vigorous preacher, and when he hits he strikes from the shoulder. He has pronounced views on dancing, card-playing and other matters, and has taken off the oratorical gloves every time he described the evils which result from these amusements. In so doing, it is claimed by some of Reid’s friends, he has greatly displeased some of the wealthiest members of the congregation, and the difference was soon seen in the contents of the Sabbath contribution-box. Some time ago the elders were notified that, owing to the hard times and the dissatisfaction, it would be best for Reid and the church if he would sever his connection with it. Reid asked the elders to specify the charges, if they had any. This they have not done. Matters came to a focus Friday night, when both factions were well represented. Rev. Mr. Whiting acted as moderator, and the deliberations were very animated. A motion was put that Reid be installed as pastor. The vote showed a majority of ten in favor of retaining Reid. Some of the members of the opposing faction favored accepting the result of the vote, but one of the elders gave notice that he would appeal to the presbytery. When that meets it is probable that the majority and minority factions will be represented. An unpleasant feeling exists in the church over the imbroglio.

– The San Francisco Call, March 24 1895

 

WORDS DEPARTING
Rev. John Reid Preaches His Farewell Sermon.
Vast Audience Moved by Hie Thrilling Discourse.
Th« Pastor’s Relations Severed With Words of kindness—A Crowded Church.

The Rev. John Reid Jr. late pastor of the Presbyterian church in Santa Rosa, preached his farewell sermon to his congregation Sunday night. The doors of the church were opened a little before 7 o’clock to admit a large throng that had gathered despite the fact that the service was announced not to begin before 7:30. By 7:15 every seat in the church and galleries was taken and many people were standing. The folding doors that separate the church auditorium from the schoolroom were opened, and soon every bit of available space in the schoolroom was occupied, but for a half-hour afterwards people arrived at the church and. tried to gain an entrance. It was estimated that a thousand people were present. The sermon was taken from Acts, XX, 25, and when it was over Dr. Reid shook hands with nearly every one. They formed in a line down the aisles and passed out at the eastern door. The evangelical churches had closed so as to be present on the occasion. On the platform were Rev. T. A. Atkinson of the South Methodist church, Rev. W. Angwin of the North Methodist, Rev. B. F. Sargent of the Congregational, and they all took part in the service. Mrs. Reid, who organized the church choir fifteen months ago and who has had charge of it since, presided at the organ…Dr. Reid spoke earnestly, with ease and dignity. His flow of language was remarkable. He used no manuscript. Many were in tears and all were deeply interested. He spoke in part as follows: “I came to Santa Rosa over eighteen months ago because my health had failed me in the Northwest, but I am happy to state that I am more robust than for five years past. There has been much said as to the differences between myself and the officers of the church, but they have been mainly on the lines of church policy and methods of work. Other questions naturally arising out of these made it manifest that the only course for me was at once to resign the work. It has been my pleasure to form most delightful associations whilst among you. I will ever cherish the same in my remembrance.” His relations with the ministers of the city had been most cordial. “During my ministry,” be said, “I have endeavored always to preach in a practical way to the practical upbuilding of character. I believe that the important object of life is not creeds but deeds.” He had endeavored in his preaching to teach men to learn to do and to be, and had not shunned to tell them of the plain truths of the Gospel. He could have had a better time, perhaps, and had more social enjoyment if he had not had this high ideal of his duty. Instead of visiting the hospitals, jails and Chinese Mission he might have spent his time in social enjoyment. It is hard to tell the rich man that his standard of life is a low one, to tell the righteous man that he is not living an altogether righteous life. But these things he had not hesitated to do. During his ministry here he had received into the church sixty new members. Forty-two of these were received on confession of faith and eighteen by letter from other churches. There have been baptised twenty-six in all—eighteen infants and eight adults. “I have formed many happy relations in Santa Rosa and I must testify that you have in this city many men, both in public and private life, who are seeking only for the good of Santa Rosa.” Recalling the words of his text, Mr. Reid then preached an eloquent and able sermon, to which the vast audience gave close attention.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 6 1895

Read More

hobojungle

THE CAPITAL OF HOBOHEMIA

Interpreting history is sometimes like assembling IKEA furniture. After an unexpected amount of sweat and cussing you’ve finally got the thing put together and it looks okay – but then you discover an overlooked part which seems as if it must be important. So back you go, pouring over the documents to figure out where the hell it fits in. And that, Gentle Reader, is how we have arrived at the puzzle of Santa Rosa and its hoboes. They had a significant presence here (albeit usually an unwanted one) for decades; where do they fit into the Santa Rosa story? What drew them here and why did they settle in to stay?

Before diving into that history, however, comments on Facebook and other social media about my previous article, “THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HOBOES,” suggest many are comparing those 1931 hoboes and their hobo jungle with today’s homeless and their encampments on the Joe Rodota trail and elsewhere. The situations could hardly be more different.

First, the hoboes never considered themselves homeless. Living a rootless life under the sky was theirs by choice; this point came across strongly in the profile of the Santa Rosa hoboes as it does in other primary writings, such as the (highly recommended!) Tales of the Iron Road. They chafed when forced to stay under a roof because of weather or infirmity, itching to get back to the camp fire world they loved.

Despite the hardships, their attraction to hobo life was being part of an extended community where acceptance was unconditional as long as you honored their rules and customs. Since it appears most were cast away at a young age or suffered some form of parental abuse or abandonment, becoming a hobo was like joining the Brotherhood of Lost Boys. The far-reaching hobo network became a new family, and many of those men spent most (or all) of their adulthood in the comfort of belonging among them.

Our modern homeless do share one thing with the hoboes of yore – Santa Rosa’s cluster of “skid row” services on Morgan and Wilson streets.

Hoboing was at its heyday c. 1910 when an evangelical group started a rescue mission on Washington street, near the current location of the Catholic Charities homeless services center on Morgan. That was followed by a shelter for “down and outs” at 117 Eighth street, between Davis and Wilson. In the mid 1960s – even as the hobo life was on the wane – the Redwood Gospel Mission and House of Refuge opened in the same area, with the Catholic Worker Kitchen, the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and Catholic Charities following later. It made sense at the time for all those Good Samaritans to operate their charities there because the locations were only steps away from Santa Rosa’s railroad yard, which was where all hoboes came and went.

Indulge me a moment to editorialize about how this is still causing problems today: It’s now been a long time since trains were the hobo express, and continuing to offer those services in that neighborhood only tethers the homeless to the downtown area. Today everyone concerned would be better off if the charities there moved to a designated area where the homeless living in vehicles could park, others could camp and where meaningful humanitarian aid could be coordinated.

Theirs was a distinct American subculture that lasted roughly one hundred years, from the end of the Civil War to circa 1970. At its 1910 peak the hobo population was estimated at 700,000, large enough to make them the fourth largest city in the United States, should they all get an unlikely itch to settle down in a mondo hobo jungle.

In the early years tramps, vagabonds or “vags” were apparently rare in Sonoma county, although they were frequently the subject of little filler items in the local newspapers, usually jokey vignettes reprinted from East Coast journals. The gags were usually that a tramp is ignorant (trying to eat ice cream with a fork), rude (correcting his host’s grammar after receiving a free meal) or deceitful (a haven’t-eaten-for-days tramp begs for a penny and is told the person only has a silver dollar; no problem, says the vagrant, he can make change).

The first mention of drifters in the area came from the Santa Rosa paper in the summer of 1876, when a tramp attempted to sexually assault a 7 year-old girl south of Hopland (he wasn’t turned over to the sheriff, but members of the family beat the man severely). A number of unemployed men arrived the following year when the Long Depression hit California and caused massive unemployment, and the Democrat made the point that these fellows were different that the usual vagabonds found around here: “Many of them are now in this section of the State seeking work, and they are generally designated ‘tramps.’ From the fact that there are every year some persons strolling about the country pretending to be hunting work but really trying to make a living without having to work for it, the name of tramp has become one of opprobrium…” (Transcriptions of this and assorted other articles follow at the end.)

After that the Santa Rosa newspaper was mostly silent about tramps for nearly a decade – but come 1886, there was plenty to report. “The question, ‘What shall be done with the tramps,’ has been frequently asked,” began one story in the Democrat. A reporter counted fifty living in the seasonally-dry bed of Santa Rosa Creek.

“During the afternoon of Wednesday and the forenoon of Thursday, the side streets were almost thronged with these creatures, going from house to house, begging what they could and stealing where the chance offered. And yet this annoyance has no antidote; the County Jail would be inadequate to the demands made upon it were they all arrested,” the article continued. Several more pieces followed, including interviews with some of the tramps.

The influx of tramps traces back to the developments of 1883-1886, discussed here earlier in depth. Those were Santa Rosa’s boomtown years, which began when the courthouse was the scene of a high-profile, two year trial that brought wads of money into town. Then “Kroncke’s Park” opened in 1886, with ultra-cheap subsidized ferry and train tickets from San Francisco. That lured up to 1,500 to Santa Rosa each Sunday, among them pickpockets and “roughs.” A few weeks after it opened, a Democrat article began thus: “The excursion to this city and Kroncke’s Park Sunday, was made up chiefly of hoodlums…” Problems persisted for years, which the city ignored because the park brought in the tourist trade. A surge of articles about aggressive and criminal tramps appeared in tandem (“the tramp nuisance seems to be daily on the increase”), including an item about a policeman shooting a guy in the arm while he was trying to escape arrest for stealing a load of booze.

But a far larger wave of itinerants began arriving in 1888, once the Santa Rosa and Carquinez (AKA Southern Pacific) Railroad was completed. Santa Rosa was now connected to the national rail network. From the North street depot we could ship Annadel basalt, Sonoma county wine and fruit anywhere in the country cheaply; in return we brought in cattle and kerosene and circuses – along with a new style of tramp adept at riding freight cars that came to be called “hoboes.”*

That freight line connected through Napa Junction (now part of American Canyon) and came up through the Valley of the Moon. There soon was an uptick in hobo-related crime along the train route in Napa, which put 43 tramps in jail, and Glen Ellen, where the town constable was robbed. Santa Rosa had a string of burglaries because there was a “centralization of that element of society at the county-seat,” according to the Board of Supervisors, who passed a motion that “all tramps and vagrants confined in the County Jail be fed only good wholesome bread and water.”

Napa valley hobo c. 1920, photographer unknown
Napa valley hobo c. 1920, photographer unknown

Anyone crystal ball-gazing in 1889 might have predicted the hoboes would become a permanent criminal underclass, lurking at the edge of town while plotting to steal your grandma’s candlesticks. But by the early 1890s there were no crimes reported locally aside from the occasional fellow caught sleeping in a barn, with few mentions of hoboes being sentenced to a tour of duty on Santa Rosa’s chain gang. (There were no chains and the work was apparently just sweeping downtown sidewalks and picking up cigar butts.) What changed? I suspect hoboes coming from the East brought with them the new concept of the hobo jungle, with its code of strict intolerance for robbers and other trouble-makers.

And the hoboes certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be banned from Santa Rosa. There were no Railroad Bulls eager to crack hobo heads stationed at our little depot on North street, and the county jail was supposedly quite tolerable, although there were sometimes “tough on crime” spells where prisoners were given only bread and water, or even water alone. Plus it was a short walk across town to the NWP railyard at Railroad Square; from there a hobo could spend his life riding steam trains up and down Luther Burbank’s “chosen spot of all this earth,” never venturing again out of the pleasant valleys of Northern California – and from the 1931 Press Democrat series, we know some indeed did so. But if you still wanted to visit Los Angeles or Seattle or Chicago, the Southern Pacific line was right on the other side of town. It was like Santa Rosa was Grand Central Station for the mythical paradise of Hobohemia.

Once the robberies stopped, the town was also starting to adjust to having a vagrant population. The first sign came in 1892, when a group of boys were fined $5 each (the equivalent of $180 today) for throwing rocks at a hobo – a crime the cops surely would have been ignored a few years earlier, just as kids were never punished for harassing Chinese residents.

By 1894 the Democrat even began publishing stories that poked gentle fun at the hoboes, as if they were merely eccentrics. In January the paper had a fictionalized account of six men who very much wanted the police court to sentence them to jail because of the cold weather. Hoboes always were known by their “road names,” which were monickers like “Fry Pan Jack” or “Cotton Henry.” In the Democrat’s version the men had goofy names such as “Chauncy Hoofsome,” “Insomuch Pillroller” and “Douglas Ticklemush,” which sound more like the cuddly pals of Beatrix Potter than leather-skinned dudes who risked death or dismemberment by jumping aboard moving freight trains.

Later that year the paper attempted to use them as a political allegory (and I do emphasize the word, “attempted”) where the hoboes who hung around Santa Rosa were Republican freeloaders called “Doodoos” (the whole idiotic thing is too long to transcribe; anyone interested can read it here). Still, it shows the hoboes here already shared the comradeship of the later hobo jungles:


…Deputy Sheriff Dougherty, who has made a psychological, phrenological and astrological study of the American tramp, says there are two great divisions of this grand army. One division is called the Doodoos, the other the Blanket-stiffs…The Doodoos are devoted to each other. Dougherty states that when one of them is let out of jail he always returns with tobacco or a Daily Democrat to light up the gloom for his brothers in the cage. He further alleges that they have secret signs by which they recognize each other anywhere…At the present time there are twenty-eight tramps in the county jail, all members of the order of Doodoos. They have a leader, or “judge,” with them, whose nickname is “Aunt Sally.” It appears he made such a success of doing nothing and was such a good judge of whisky that the California branch of the Doodoos promoted him from the bar to the bench…

As years passed both Santa Rosa’s Republican and Democrat newspapers offered stories about the audacious hoboes who passed through the area (see “THE HOBOES COMETH“). A favorite character was “Tennessee Bill,” who set fire to the Petaluma city jail during 1904. Arrested for his usual drunkenness, Bill was foolishly left alone in his cell and soon tore off all his clothes and set fire to them. Asked why, “he answered that it needed fumigation and took it upon himself to accomplish the deed,” according to the Republican. The fire department was called and the cell, along with Bill, were thoroughly hosed down. “A number of ladies were attracted by the excitement and went to the jail door but did not stay long. Tennessee’s vocabulary is not all parlor tongue,” commented the Argus.

Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley was particularly fond of writing about hobo life; under his tenure the PD printed that remarkable 11-part series in 1931, which should be recognized as some of the paper’s most noteworthy journalism. Reading the teasers and blurbs about the series and it seems clear that Finley dearly wished he was thirty years younger and could have written it himself.

Santa Rosa’s hobo jungle began fading away shortly after that. A 1951 Press Democrat article mentioned there were still three near Santa Rosa; it’s not clear if any remained by the time the Wilson street charities opened their doors in 1963.

In 1975 the Press Democrat revisited its legacy of hobo reporting by offering a two-part series by Ukiah bureau writer Vicki Allen on “Hood River Blackie,” the hobo historian. During his 33 years on the Iron Road, Blackie (real name Ralph Gooding) collected details about hoboing going back to the Civil War. “Some people exist and no one pays any attention to them until they are gone,” Blackie told the PD. “I call them the lost generation. It makes me feel so bad that the people of my world are gone. Now, it is like chasing dead men.”

He had retired in 1972 because “nearly all the men I knew and traveled with were gone.” Blackie always planned to write a multi-volume history of their underground subculture spanning a century, complete with 611 biographies of men who spent their lives on the rails. The book wasn’t written, but there are hours of oral history tapes at Columbia and New York University and he can be heard at the vagabond exhibit at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento (don’t know if the exhibit’s still there). A memorable story and song by U. Utah Phillips is all about him.

When Blackie died in Twentynine Palms during 1984 he was 57 and buried in the Joshua Tree Cemetery. Later “True West” magazine did an article about his life and there was a mention in the social column of the Marion Ohio newspaper, Blackie having been born in that town. But apparently only a single paper in the nation printed an actual obituary for him.

It was the Press Democrat.


* Some claim there was a difference between “tramps” and “hoboes,” but I don’t see any distinction in reading the original sources. According to the Oxford Etymologist blog, the origin and meaning of “hobo” is unknown but it first appeared around 1890 in the American West. Locally it can be spotted in a 1893 Petaluma Morning Courier item that also used “tramp” in the same paragraph. A filler the following year in the Sonoma Democrat stated “hobo” originated with French Canadians living in the upper Midwest, an explanation which now seems to have been forgotten. My interpretation is that the names reflect how itinerants supplanted walking (the verb “tramp”) with riding the rails in the 1890s as the main means of travel. Consistently, however, “bum” was used as a derogatory name for drunks and drug addicts.

ABOVE: Chicago hobo jungle, 1931, photographer unknown. Photo Calumet412.com

 

sources
Give Them a Meal. — Owing to a failure of crops in most of the counties south of San Francisco, very many persons are thrown out of employment. Many of them are now in this section of the State seeking work, and they are generally designated “tramps.” From the fact that there are every year some persons strolling about the country pretending to be hunting work but really trying to make a living without having to work for it, the name of tramp has become one of opprobrium, and should not be applied to very many now in this and counties adjoining. Many of these are honest, respectable men, who, by the misfortunes that have befallen them, are compelled to ask for any work that will afford them a living; and whilst it behooves our people to exercise some discrimination as to whom they employ, they will do great injustice by treating all as common tramps and refusing to give them work. And we do hope that whenever application is made for enough work at least to pay for a meal of victuals that the meal at least may not be denied even though there be no work needed. Those who are unworthy may under such pretext obtain their meals, but it is better to give ten meals to the unworthy than to deny one to an honest man who really needs it and is willing to work for it.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 16 1877

 

Blair Hart, who is working with a hay press on the farm of Sam. Agnew, in Sonoma, had his valise stolen from his camp last Tuesday evening by a tramp. The valise contained an Odd Fellows gold pin, some clothing, and two certificates of deposit issued by the Bank of Sonoma valley, one for $120 and the other for $145.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 23 1877

 

Affray at Sonoma.

Last Sunday afternoon about four o’clock, in Sonoma city, Herman Loux, proprietor of the Rail Road Saloon, shot Wm. Moore, a vagabond who had been lying about town for some time. It appears that Moore, being intoxicated, entered the saloon and immediately commenced a series of aggressive insults upon the barkeeper and the inmates. After knocking down an Indian the drunken man seized Mr. Loux by the throat and was doing his utmost to choke him. The proprietor after retreating as far as possible, reached behind the counter and grasping a pistol shot his assailant in the pit of the stomach. It is thought that the wound will prove fatal. Loux was arrested and a preliminary examination took place last Tuesday, in which he was held to answer with bail fixed in the sum of $5.000. He furnished sureties for his appearance on May 3d, when the examination will take place.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 23 1881

 

A Dangerous Vagabond.

Monday afternoon a badly intoxicated young man made himself very conspicuous in the neighborhood of the depot, rushing about with an open razor in his hand with which he said he intended to cut the tail off of every dog in Santa Rosa. He did not confine his blood thirsty attentions to the canine race either, but chased a number of small boys and girls who came in his neighborhood, threatening to cut them all to pieces and badly frightening several. Constable J. J. Lowery finally appeared on the scene and found the drunken fool chasing a cow all around a vacant lot. with the laudable intention of treating her in the same manner as he purposed serving the dogs. When he discovered the officer approaching, he turned upon him savagely, rushing toward him with the razor open in his hand and apparently meaning business. Our friend Jake, however, had no intention of allowing himself to be slashed up to gratify anybody, and when the desperado came within reach he treated him to a blow over the head with his club which laid him out and for the time being rendered him harmless. He was conveyed to the lock-up and left there to get sober. No one appears to know the fellow’s name, but he is said to have “beaten” his way out here all the way from Chicago, and in that case is no doubt a character of the worst type. At the commencement of his spree he had a couple of companions, who also imbibed sufficient “firewater” to render them excessively jolly, though they did not apparently share in his tail-cutting propensities. One of them was subsequently found in the bed of the creek, soundly slumbering in a drunken snooze, and was forthwith carried to the same mansion of rest in which his companion was reposing.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 3 1883

 

TRAMPS.

We are told that there are twenty-five thousand idle white men in California, fifteen thousand of whom are in the city of San Francisco, and ten thousand scattered through the State. These men, with few exceptions are in destitute circumstances and are compelled to move from place to place in search of employment, and those who do not find it are indiscriminately classed as tramps, and set down as a worthless set of vagabonds and treated as such. They are looked upon as little better than thieves, and are driven from the doors of houses where they apply for food to keep them from starving, as if they were dogs. There is something in this that is revolting to our mind—this lumping of the good and bad together and making the innocent suffer for the sins of the guilty. There are many bad men among them no doubt, but when their number is considered, the amount of crime committed by them is very small indeed. No one wishes to be unjust, but the great difficulty is in discriminating. It is often impossible to tell who is worthy and who is not, and the result is that all are treated alike. The effect of this is the manufacture of criminals out of men whose natural impulses are good. Driven from people’s doors, treated as vagabonds and thieves, rudely snatched up by officers and thrown into prison as vagrants,naked and starving, is it strange if they learn to hate their fellow men and become the enemies of society? There is one remedy for this cruel state of affairs and only one. The Chinese must go.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 28 1885

 

About Tramps

The question, “What shall be done with the tramps,” has been frequently asked within the past week and a half, and Thursday morning our reporter heard the City Marshal remark something to the same effect. “Arrest them, and lock them up for a few months,” some one said. “We can’t do it, there are too many of them,” replied the Marshal, and he went on to state that there were fifty tramps encamped on the creek bottom Wednesday night. The creek was dotted with camp fires from the E-street bridge to the cannery, with here three and there five in a group, watching intently the contents of a mysterious iron pot which swung over the flames. The correct analysis of many a serious doubt might have been found in the bottom of their iron kettles. During the afternoon of Wednesday and the forenoon of Thursday, the side streets were almost thronged with these creatures, going from house to house, begging what they could and stealing where the chance offered. And yet this annoyance has no antidote; the County Jail would be inadequate to the demands made upon it were they all arrested, and in many cases nothing could be proven against them, and ladies do not wish to come into a police court and swear that such and such a man came a begging at their doors, and without some such positive proof they cannot be convicted of being tramps or vags.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 4 1886

 

An Officer Visits the Tramps.

Officer Charles made a tour of investigation through the willows along the creek in search of the festive tramp Thursday afternoon and evening, but only succeeded in finding nine, two of whom seemed to bo honest working men, the balance however, were as tough looking characters as one can well imagine. The two referred to were busy cooking dinner when visited by the officer, while the seven were scattered around their camp fire in sundry attitudes or laziness and. comfort. All nodded pleasantly at the approach of the officer, questioned him regarding the winter accommodations of the County Jail, number of meals served a day, associations, society, etc. All seemed disappointed on learning there was no library for the use of winter guests, and thought they would prefer the Stockton Jail, where they had been told the prisoners were allowed to attend church once on Sunday, and ail holidays were observed with an extra bill of fare. The officer was invited to join them at their camp fire and give them some idea of the class of citizens populating Santa Rosa. He declined the invitation, but complied with the request in a manner that would somewhat surprise some of our peace-loving citizens. He portrayed them as fire eaters of the most ferocious character that would not hesitate a moment in taking a shot at a midnight visitor to their hen roost or summer kitchen. His account of our people was delivered in such an unassuming, matter-of-fact way that the creatures around the fire were almost ready to believe it, and when be concluded by saying that there was some talk of organizing a vigilance committee, they were about ready to evacuate this neighborhood, and were profuse in their protestations of their peaceable intentions. After a few remarks of kindred nature he strolled on, and came upon another group of four, distributed in picturesque attitudes around the smouldering embers of what had once been a campfire, surrounded by suspicious looking carcasses, which he was afterwards informed were the frames of rabbits. This party was more reticent and less inclined to be jocose with the arm of the law. A little further on he came upon another party of three, all of whom were young men, none of them being over thirty years of age, and large, able-bodied fellows. They told him they had been unable to get work and were just starting out for Oregon, where they intended to take up land and become ranchers on a large scale. The spokesman of the party said that his father and family were in England and well to do, and were distantly connected with the Royal family; he had come to this country on a walking tour, and meeting his companions at the Bella Union, San Francisco, had accepted their invitation to do this county; he had been much impressed with the country they had passed over so far and on returning to his native land would publish a book descriptive of Sonoma county, it resources, wealth and industry, and above all things the romantic scenery along the meandering course of Santa Rosa creek. Another one of the party said that he was at one time a Bank Commissioner, that being unable to support his family on the small salary, had retired and was en route for the Geysers, where he was summering his family. Number three of the party stated that he was an artist and was sketching the scenery along the trip for his friend, the Englishman’s book, and would like to sketch the officer’s profile for a frontispiece. He stated that before the last Presidential election be had been employed on the Judge, but being unable to caricature President Cleveland was bounced for his inability. Altogether the officer was royally entertained at this bivouac, and wishing the merry party a good day he repaired to his regular beat within the borders of civilization.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

Tramps Again.

The tramp nuisance seems to be daily on the increase. On Monday evening one called at the side door of the residence of a prominent citizen on Fourth street, and in a very impudent manner demanded his supper. The lady of the house did not feel like complying with his demand, when he began using threatening language and acted as though he intended coming into the house. The husband, hearing what was going on, came to the door and asked the tramp what he wanted, when he replied that he wanted his supper, in a tone which showed that if it was refused him he would come in and help himself. The master of the house, not caring to dally with the fellow any longer, picked a hatchet up and told him to get away just as quick as —- would let him. He went. This tramp seems to be one of the most cheeky of those who have been foraging in this town for the last two weeks. He has achieved a kind of reputation around in the localities where he has begged for food. He always claims to be in a state of starvation, not having eaten anything for three days. One family, who gave him a good supper, took sufficient interest in his exploits to put a detective on his track in the shape of their little son. The boy heard him tell the same yarn at several other places. When a good warm supper was temptingly set before him, he always did justice to it, generally managing to stow away something behind his blouse for his brave comrades. When he was simply given a cold lunch, however, he preserved the whole, and added it to the collection under his coat, which he in time deposited with his friends who were camped out by the creek, anxiously and tenderly awaiting his arrival.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 18 1886

 

An Uninvited Guest.

When policeman Mead went off watch at 5 o’clock Saturday morning and arrived at his room in the Santa Rosa House, he found a strange man in his bed. The man proved to be a tramp who had sneaked in and up to the first vacant room. The sight of the officer paralyzed Mr. Tramp and he evacuated without taking his spare garments.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 13 1886

 

Officer Gardner Shoots a Tramp.

Policemen Gardner and Mead had a very lively and interesting time in arresting four tramps, and landing them in the City Prison Saturday night. There were five in the party when first discovered in the lumber yard, where they were engaged in drinking beer and carousing generally. Policeman Gardner apprehended trouble and at half past eight they sallied forth, and solicited his brother officer’s assistance, On arriving at Tom Duffey’s saloon they found the tramps had moved further up town and were then busily engaged taking Mr. Duffey’s saloon by storm. They had succeeded in driving him to the sidewalk, where the officers found him standing, after having broken a dollar’s worth of glasses in trying to maintain his ground behind the bar. It was what would be termed in common parlance a tough crowd, and the officers knew what to expect and were not disappointed. They succeeded in conducting their prisoners as far as the corner of Fourth and A streets when one of the number broke away from Gardner and started down the street at as high a rate of speed as his cargo of liquor would allow. Turning over the balance of the prisoners to Mead and his assistant Gardner started in pursuit, and after calling to his man to stop several time, fired three shots, the last taking effect in the right arm of the fleeing tramp. This checked his speed somewhat and he was captured, when it was found that the arm was in a shattered condition. The four prisoners were lodged in the City Prison and their wounded comrade was taken to the County Hospital where his wounds received the proper attention.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 15 1887

 

TRAMPS OF HIGH AND LOW DEGREE.– There are quite a number of tramps in Petaluma just now. Some of them are high toned fellows, others are low bred. One of the latter rang the door-bell of the writer the other evening, just at dusk and when the door was opened made the demand. “Give me something to eat!” He was given leave to “take a walk.” Another of the Argus proprietors had a call from one of the tony class whose neat apparel and suavity of manners was such as to secure him his dinner, without any hint, either expressed or implied, that he could take a little manual exercise in the wood house in liquidation for the same. Moral – It even pays tramps to be polite.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, January 29 1887

 

How they get Drunk.

The question is often asked how the tramps, who never do anything in the way of remunerative labor, manage to get enough to purchase liquor with which to get drunk. As they are never found in such a condition alone, but in bands of six and a dozen, it would certainly take $4 or $5 to fill them up. The secret is simple, if one may judge from the frequency of their sprees. One of the police force who has had much experience with this class says, that 25 cents serves to intoxicate ten of the hardest drinkers of their fraternity. The two-bit piece is expended for alcohol, from which they can manufacture a gallon of powerful spirits with the aid of tobacco and a root which grows wild on the commons. Hence it is that the professional tramp seldom asks tor more than 25 cents.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 5 1887

 

H. H. Atwater is ordinarily good natured and willing to furnish his share of provisions to tramps, provided they ask him to hand it out and be the judge of what they shall have. On Tuesday morning he was somewhat “riled” to find his cellar cleared of almost everything in the eating line. They had sat down and eaten a hearty meal from cooked provisions and strawberries – washing it down with some fine old sherry – and then filling a market basket with what best suited them. Mr. Atwater is like the preacher who was glad to get his hat back from an unappreciative congregation – he don’t want anything back but the basket.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, May 14 1887

 

The tramps who have been stopping at the railroad bridge for the past few months, living high on fish and potatoes, have gently folded their tents and crawled into Jim Matthew’s barn to wait till the rain is over.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, November 17 1888

 

We have entirely too many vagabonds in this city and vicinity. The good hearted people will have to quit feeding them or be overrun. It is mistaken charity to give alms to big, strong fellows who are too lazy to work.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, December 1 1888

 

FOOTPADS AND BURGLARS.

[..]

The efforts of the officers to bring the perpetrators of the numerous robberies of recent occurrence to justice, are deserving of commendation. Thursday afternoon Marshal Lowrey and Policeman Jones arrested a man found camping in a sheltered and partially-concealed hollow under the lea of the creek bank, about a half mile beyond Appleby’s saloon on the Sonoma road. The camp presented a neat and tidy appearance somewhat foreign to the bivouac of the average tramp, and was well stocked with provisions. Its presence was detected by a thin wreath of smoke seen curling skyward above the tops of the fringing willows and which proved to have its origin in a fire burning at the door of a small tent. The man was somewhat startled on seeing the officers, but soon regained his composure and assumed to take their visit as a matter of course. After making a few inquiries and a hasty examination of the camp, the officers invited the man to take a seat in the buggy with them and visit the Sheriff’s office. He demurred a little, but attempted no resistance. On arriving at the Sheriff’s office a search was made of his garments and a small bag which had been picked up on leaving the camp was examined. On his person were found a good silver watch, a jack knife, a looking-glass in a Russian leather case, some cosmetics and a few other trinkets valuable only to the owner. The bag was found to contain a complete change of woolen underwear of good texture, several towels and napkins and two or three of those pieces of linen so essential to an infant’s wardrobe. While his effects were being inspected the man exhibited no signs of alarm or nervousness, and merely requested, as he was being taken into the jail, that good care be taken of his watch. He will be held for a few days to await the result of a further investigation of the camp and its surroundings.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 2 1889

 

Windsor Burglaries.

From the latest Windsor occurrence, it seems that Santa Rosa is not monopolizing the attention of the tramp thieves which are apparently infesting this part of the county. On Friday night the store of J. J. Lindsay was broken into and a valuable lot of merchandise stolen. Fortunately the thieves, in their haste or inexperience, overlooked the money drawer which contained quite an amount of coin. On the same night, King’s saloon was robbed. The loss, in this instance amounted to only $5 in money and a few quarts of liquor. The Windsor people are considerably alarmed and willing to endorse the opinion generally entertained, that a band of organized footpads has located in this part of the county. A reward of $130 has been offered for the capture of the thieves.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 9 1889

 

Tramps are becoming quite numerous around town. Extra care should be taken of valuables, as they are a light fingered set of gentry.

– Santa Rosa Democrat, August 9 1889

 

Killed by the Cars.

A tramp, supposed to be Fred Schmidt who recently served a short sentence for vagrancy in the County Jail, was killed by the cars near Glen Ellen Thursday evening. As the evening train was nearing Glen Ellen, Engineer Brown saw the man on the track a short distance ahead of the locomotive and just about to cross a trestle. The man had apparently heard the approaching train and was hurrying to get across the trestle. Several shrill blasts were blown on the whistle, but they had no other effect than to make the man increase his speed. When near the middle of the trestle he slipped between the ties and being unable to regain his feet or make his escape by jumping, the cow-catcher of the swiftly-moving locomotive caught him and rolled his crushed and mangled body along the track for a distance of eighty feet before the train could be stopped. The top of the skull was torn off and the face was a mass of splintered bone and mangled flesh. The clothing was torn to shreds and the body was crushed in a frightful manner. A jury was impaneled by Coroner Tivnen Friday morning and the inquest was held in Glen Ellen. The investigation resulted in a complete exoneration of Engineer Brown who had been arrested on charge of manslaughter and a verdict was rendered in accordance with the facts as above stated.

Sonoma Democrat, August 17 1889

 

Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1889. Mr. Davis introduced a preamble and resolution, setting forth the growing intolerance of the tramp nuisance in the State and the expense entailed on the county by the centralization of that element of society at the county-seat, and resolving that after the passage of the motion all tramps and vagrants confined in the County Jail be fed only good wholesome bread and water during the period of their incarceration. The motion was carried by a four to one vote, the negative vote being cast by Mr. Smith.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 7 1889

 

The tramp nuisance in this part of the State is becoming more and more serious in its import. The little jail in Napa contains forty-three of the gentry.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 14 1889

 

Casey, the vagabond who attempted to steal Will Polson’s horse one day last week, was liberated by the authorities soon after his arrest. No charge had been preferred against him, and he could not he held without an accusation.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 28 1889

 

Officer Yoho has a veritable tramp trap in the box cars at the Southern Pacific station. He has secured no less than four from that quarter during this month.

– Santa Rosa Democrat, December 31 1890

 

C. Crowfoot, the constable of Glen Ellen, was robbed of $97, Tuesday night, by a tramp who had begged a night’s lodging.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 1 1890

 

A Tramp Printer.

Harry Watson, a tramp printer, who subbed a few nights on the Democrat and subsequently held the position of pressman on the Petaluma Courier, is wanted by the officers of the law on charge of defrauding the Union Pacific Railway Company out of a ticket. Watson has quite a remarkable history. It is alleged, so the Petaluma Imprint says, that in Butte City he was arrested for arson, for setting fire to a printing office. About eight years ago he deserted his wife and family in Monterey. He had once lived in Monterey and run a paper there known us the News…

– Sonoma Democrat, August 23 1890

 

Struck by a Locomotive.

A tramp was brought to the county hospital, the other day, suffering from a fracture of the right thigh, sustained by coming in violent contact with a locomotive near Fulton. He is supposed to have been asleep on the track at the time he was struck, and his escape from instant death was almost miraculous. His body was thrown several feet into the air, and landed on an embankment quite a distance from the track. Though badly battered up, Dr. Shearer thinks he will recover.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 31 1891

 

There is no doubt that tramp life prevails more extensively in California than in any other State in the union, but the reasons are not confined exclusively to the glorious climate as so many suppose. While it is true that the climate of this State offers some inducements tor this kind of vagabondism, there is another reason why so many respectable farm laborers are naturally led to follow a rambling nomadic existence. It is an undoubted fact that on some of the large ranches in the interior of the State, the farm hands do not receive the attention that the farmers in other States give to their stock. The houses provided for their accommodation are little better than sheds in many cases and the men are crowded into them like sheep in a freight pen, and are compelled to sleep in bunks filled with musty straw or take their blankets and go outside. The itinerant farm hand in California is forced to carry his own blankets or put up with all manner of inconveniences, and it is but a step to professional vagabondism. It may be that the owners of the large farms are unable to look more after the accommodations of their men, when during the busy season it is necessary to employ so many, but it seems that an effort could be made to separate the respectable, hard-working farmer lads from the Chinamen, and professional tramps. Many young men go from the coast counties to the interior to work during the harvest, and none know better than they how vile the accommodations are in most cases.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 25 1891

 

A lady remonstrated with a tramp who called three times in one day at her house. He explained matters by saying he was accustomed to three meals a day.

– Sonoma Democrat, March 12 1892

 

The south-bound freight Wednesday evening ran into a tramp lying in a drunken sleep on the trestle of the upper bridge, north of Petaluma. The sleeping beauty was lying lengthwise with the track, and was thrown over the rail by the cow-catcher. The train was stopped and an examination disclosed the fact that the victim of the catastrophe had received no injury of a serious nature. The sleeper made an indignant protest at the rude manner in which his slumber had been disturbed, and was left to finish his nap.— Courier.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 9 1892

 

The five boys arrested for stoning a tramp, Wednesday afternoon, were fined $5 each by Justice Seawell Thursday. Three vags arrested in Yandle’s barn Monday night wore sentenced to five days in jail by Justice Brown Tuesday. Two Italians were fined $4.80 each by Justice Seawell Thursday morning for having slept in a box car the night before.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 17 1892

 

The board of supervisors of this county have made an offset to the offense they committed in reducing the salary of the horticultural commissioner so that work to him was, unprofitable, by reducing the diet of the tramp to bread and water. The tramps formerly flocked to our county and were happy inside the jail. In fact, one loafer threw a stone through a bank window and found access to jail in that manner. Now, however, the number of free boarders is gratifyingly small and the hobos make a big circuit when Sonoma befronts them in their wanderings.

– Petaluma Morning Courier, February 21 1893

 

A Remedy for Tramps.

The Board of Supervisors of Sonoma county are bricks. They have solved the tramp nuisance problem. At their meeting this month they passed an order directing the sheriff to hereafter feed all tramps confined in the county jail on bread and water only. Necessity brought about the order, flavored as it is with a taint of the dark ages. Sonoma county got a reputation abroad for the splendid manner in which it fed its prisoners. The consequence was that tramps flocked to that county from far and wide. It did not take them long to find their way into the county hotel, and the longer they were booked for the broader were their smiles as they walked into the sheriff’s kitchen. Every tramp in the State will know within a week of the change in the bill of fare in the hobo department of the Sonoma county jail, and it is safe to say they will make a circuit around that county in their pilgrimages to the northern part of the State and return. The action of those supervisors will probably prove as effective as it is novel. —Tulare Times.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 25 1893

 

Walter C. Taylor, of Portsmouth, 0., writes “The Record” that he read in a recent issue of this paper an explanation offered by one of the Coxey tramps as to the origin of the word “hobo,” and believes it to have been incorrect. Mr. Taylor says that the word “hobo” has long been in use in the West among the floating crowds of roughs. The term “hobos” had its origin among the French Canadians of Western Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and has for many years been a current slang expression there to designate rough characters or tramps, Next!

– Sonoma Democrat May 19 1894

 

Floating Population.

The town has been full of hobos this week, fresh from the hop fields and orchards where they have earned a few dollars which they are not anxious to spend for necessities. There is nothing the genuine hobo likes better than to get drunk and be idle. Several have been arrested by the peace officers, and some are now under orders to leave the city at once. One big stalwart “dago” looking fellow who has been peddling little trinkets without a license has been known to beg his meals and have money in his pockets at the same time. In a few weeks more they will leave Sonoma county on their annual pilgrimage to the southern part of the state where amid the orange groves and lemon orchards they will wander until locked up in some jail for the winter.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier September 26 1894

 

The Tramps.

Santa Rosa had her full share of tramps and vagrants this week. For some time these vagabonds have been holding camp along the Santa Rosa creek, but the floods have driven them out and they are flocking into town.

Last night the officers arrested thirteen. These were marched to the limits of the town today and ordered to leave and never return.

The officers decided that they will not feed any more tramps. As soon as arrested they will be imprisoned, but no meals will be given.

There have been a number of very hard characters arrested lately. the officers had a big battle with three, and were required to use a heavy club and do some shooting to intimidate them.

The authorities are determined that the town shall not be overrun by vagrants, and very vigorous measures are being taken against them. A number of buildings have been broken into recently and the people are considerably alarmed.

– Petaluma Daily Morning Courier, January 11 1895

 

Petaluma Infested.

The tramp army has made a recent march on Petaluma, and at present show no signs of evacuating. The hordes of unemployed that were unloaded on this place from Sacramento have begun to scatter, and neighboring towns are now overrun with the tramp element.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 19 1895

 

A Daring Act.

As a Democrat reporter stood at the Donahue depot Saturday he saw a dilapidated looking man of the genus tramp perform a clever feat, which was also dangerous in the extreme. The train was leaving the depot when the tramp ran along the off-side and swung out over the brakebeam of the smoker and got on the trucks. He forgot to waive a last adieu to the reporter, who was so lost in wonder that his eyes fairly bulged out.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 19 1895

 

A MULTITUDE AT SEBASTOPOL
People Honor the Cause of Bryan and Silver.
It is Estimated Five Thousand Crowd the Gold Ridge City.

[..]

HOBOS HAVE A TIME.

As soon as the people had commenced leaving their positions at the boards which served the double purpose of a fence to keep the crowd beck from where the carvers were at work and a table over which they received the meat handed oat by the waiters — this sort of a corral was invaded by an army of hobos, some with sacks, others with pockets long, lean and lank, and all with an unsatisfied hunger which Weary Waggles and Dusty Rhodes have a faculty of carrying about with them. This army invaded the corral, and when they left an army of locusts could not have made a cleaner sweep. It is said that at least two hundred of them had encamped on the laguna within the last few days in anticipation of a feast.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 10 1896

 

ONLY A TRAMP.

“Hobos arrested” This is the title of a news article in a late Grass Valley paper. There is no day that the story it chronicles is not told in other papers in every county in the state.

A “hobo” is a tramp.

A tramp is a man without home, or money, or employment, or friends that are able to give him food and shelter.

Sometimes the tramp is a woman; but generally women who otherwise would be tramps escape the hardships, the perils, the contumely, the hopeless hoping against hope, the endless despair of a tramp’s life by some forbidden route out of the world, or accept in lieu of them a crueler and deadlier destiny.

The tramp is a vagabond on the face of the earth. Every man’s hand is against him — not every woman’s, thank God! The laws proscribe him. The officers of the law hunt him down — for the fees that are in him! Footsore, weary, hungry, sick at heart, with a pauper’s rags concealing his nakedness, turning always from a hopeless past to a more hopeless future! Only a tramp! Drive him from the door! Send for the constable! In prison he will have time to think of the mother at whose knee he lisped infantile prayers ever so long ago, of the bride of his early manhood, of the little children who dwindled away and died because he was denied the opportunity to earn food for them!

Only a tramp! But he is somebody’s son. He was born to something better. His axe was once heard in the forest. His cheerful voice once urged his team afield. His hammer once made merry music on the anvil. Singing like the lark he once rose with the lark and went amain to earn his bread in the sweat of his brow at whatever came to willing hands. What a distance between those happy days agone and this day of shame and suffering and sorrow setting in the darkness of endless night!

Is it the tramp’s fault that he is a tramp? Let those who have made the laws which make the tramp answer on their conscience as they will have to answer at God’s great day of judgment. Is it the tramp’s fault that the government has taken a large percentage of his earnings to support contractors, office-holders, and bond-holders? Is it the tramp’s fault that protective legislation has enabled privileged manufacturers to increase their swollen profits by the appropriation of a considerable part of his earnings to their own uses? Is it the tramp’s fault that the producers of all the necessaries of life have been permitted to unite in great trusts and thus enabled to exact from his earnings the excessive gains which have made them millionaires? Is it the tramp’s fault that the finances of the country have been so managed by foreign and domestic money lenders as to paralyze industrial enterprise and shut altogether from employment two millions of men who are willing to work and want to work and are driven to the highway by tens of thousands because they are denied the right to work?

The tramp is sometimes a woman. Three days ago, two respectable women in Oakland, unable to find any kind of employment, after pawning their last articles of value for $3, “took the county road as common tramps.” “They have agreed not to beg, borrow, or steal,” the story goes, but will exchange work for food and shelter. “Of course if we can get steady work we will stay with it as long as it lasts,” said one of them. Brave women! Too brave to go to the Bay, Too brave to go to the brothel. Brave enough to take the road! Brave enough to be tramps! But when disappointments come — when they can’t exchange work for food and lodging — when the justice and the constable mark them for fees — when the jail opens to them as tramps — then what? God help the tramps!

– Sonoma Democrat, April 3 1897

 

Judicial Leniency.

Michael Henry appeared before Justice Brown Wednesday to show cause, if any he had, why he should not be summarily dealt with, under a charge of vagrancy. After he had told his little tale of woe and plead for mercy, his honor very considerately sentenced him to ten days’ imprisonment in the county jail. Working the prisoners in the chain gang is giving the tourist hobo a wholesome dread of Sonoma county.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 26 1897

Read More