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.
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.”
(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.
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.
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;
disturbing the peace, 12;
assault with intent to kill, 7;
disturbing the peace, 7; (yes, it was in the list twice)
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;
child stealing, 1;
defrauding landlord, 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
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