bessieblitz

THE WARS OF THE PAXTONS

Imagine asking someone in the Bay Area anytime around the turn of the last century to “Name someone who lives in Santa Rosa.” There’s little doubt that first pick would be that guy named Burbank. But depending upon the year, a surprising number of people might have thought of Blitz W. Paxton. Unlike Burbank, he wasn’t famous because of personal achievements; he was well known because he was often mentioned in the newspapers on account of being sued – and he was sued a lot.

The saga of Blitz (and yes, that was his real name) is a pretty good story in its own right, but it’s really all background to the article which will follow, describing the magnificent house Blitz and his family built in Santa Rosa. Whether that second chapter in his life redeems him or not is up to Dear Reader to decide – or maybe you’ll read this and come away feeling he did nothing amiss and was treated unfairly. Either way you’re likely to have strong feelings about him, just as your Bay Area great-grandparents probably had.

When Blitz was born in 1858 his father was already on his way to a fortune; by the time he reached adulthood, theirs had to be the richest family in the north end of Sonoma county. John A. Paxton was a banker and investor who was among the founders of the Santa Rosa Bank and president of the town’s gas company, among other investments. He built the family a 17 room manse in 1880-1881 west of Healdsburg in the fashionable Second Empire style which is still around; you probably know it as the elegant Madrona Manor B&B.

In those years John spent the workweek at his San Francisco bank office, returning on the Friday train where he was met by a servant. “If the weather was a bit nasty, the coach and footman arrived in a closed carriage – some class!” Wrote Dr. William C. Shipley, the Boswell of old Healdsburg. Shipley described the Paxtons living like gentry. “There was a footman, groom and several maids. They had quite an entourage in keeping with their position and wealth, yet with it all they were perfectly likable human people…the whole town gloried in their dignity, majesty and power, but none were envious.” It was a grand life.

According to the biographical sketch of Blitz in the 1911 county history (always self-serving because the sketchee paid to be included) young Blitz had a series of office jobs for a silver mine, a bank owned by his father and a dried fuit distributor. But unspecified “failure of his eyesight” caused him to stop working,

Blitz married Elizabeth “Bessie” Emerson in Healdsburg in 1882. She was from Rochester, New York and they likely met because her sister, Luta, had married into a prominent Healdsburg family and was living there. Bessie was the seventh of eleven children (no twins, either) all of whom lived to adulthood. Her father was an entrepreneur who ran many businesses; her mother was likely exhausted from running after so many children before dying at age 42.

The marriage of Bessie and Blitz quickly soured. A son, John, was born after their first anniversary but while the boy was still an infant, he and his mother were living back in Rochester with her father. It’s unknown whether Bessie or Blitz knew she was again pregnant at the time they separated.

Soon after they split in mid-1884, Blitz left the country for 6+ years traveling in Latin America, then Europe. What he did in those years is a mystery; the hagiography in the county history notes only that “a number of years were pleasantly and profitably passed.” (The history does not mention Bessie and their kids, by the way.)

While he was abroad, his father John disinherited Blitz not once, but twice; the first codicil in 1885 dropped his quarter-share in the $750,000 estate, and the next change took away his one-eighth interest in the farm. Just a few months later, John died in 1888 aboard a ship en route to London, where he was expected to meet – and presumably, reconcile – with Blitz.

Three months after John died, his mother, Blitz was joined in London by his mother, Hannah, and her niece. The three of them toured Europe together, so presumably the only one in the family that had a beef with Blitz was his dad.

Blitz returned to California in late 1890, moving into the grand house at Madrona Knoll Ranch with his mother and aunt. The year before he died John built a two-story winery with an impressive 200,000 gallon capacity; Blitz assumed control of this and other family business. Little happened for the next few years – until Hurricane Bessie landed in 1894.

Overnight the Paxtons found themselves cast as villains in a titillating scandal covered by the yellow press on both coasts.

Bessie and Blitz Paxton illustration from San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 1894

Bessie sued for divorce, charging Blitz had deserted her ten years earlier and had refused to provide child support – and for good measure Bessie also sued his mom for $100,000, claiming she caused “alienation of her husband’s affections.” The divorce was granted but Bessie and Blitz would battle over support for the next eighteen years, making it surely the longest dustup in the history of Sonoma county courts.

Over the years, charges flew. In a later suit she claimed that she went to live with her father because “drugs he compelled her to take wrecked her health and caused her great suffering.” She said he had provided almost no child support, but when they corresponded a year after the separation, Blitz allegedly offered half his fortune ($25,000) – although according to Blitz, she instead unsuccessfully tried to shake down his father for twice as much. (Blitz later said his first disinheritance was because his father didn’t want her to benefit in any way from his estate.)

The core of Bessie’s demand for money was always her children being helpless dependents. Son John had been completely blinded a few years before the divorce in some sort of accident, and his sister, Roma – born after her parent’s separation – was portrayed as an invalid, although nothing specific was ever claimed except that she was “delicate” for once having hit her head. (Roma married in 1908, had four kids and lived to the great old age of 85.)

As the years passed and new lawsuits were filed, Bessie’s pleas became more strident and dramatic. She sobbed in court testimony, claimed that her children were about to go hungry as she was months overdue on all bills. She blasted her wealthy ex-husband as every kind of monster – although in a 1906 appearance she turned her ire towards Blitz’ attorney (and seemingly his best friend) James Wyatt Oates: “I know that if he were left alone Mr. Paxton would provide for me and my blind son, John, and my invalid daughter, Roma,” she complained in 1906, “but Attorney J. W. Oates of Sonoma, who represents Mr. Paxton, will not let him settle the case, because the longer it goes on the larger will be his fee. This is common talk at our old home and is a fact.”

Even as Bessie kept escalating her claims of pauperism, Blitz likewise kept deflating the size of his bankbook. He claimed at various times he was “practically bankrupt,” his investments had flopped, he was “in such bad shape that I cannot tell at this time what I will be able to do,” had no income because he could not work due to gout and heart disease (yet somehow managed a week-long fishing trip with Oates), had “no coin, and no property on which he can raise any” or was nearly penniless from paying lawyers to fight Bessie. In 1905 he filed an affidavit claiming he was flat broke – yet three months later, hosted a party for 300 at his grand Santa Rosa home.

From the beginning of their courtroom conflicts, the San Francisco press framed the story as the cold-hearted millionaire fighting the impoverished mother of his children and his pitiful children. During the 1894 divorce case the Chronicle was unusually honest in suggesting this spin was selling lots of papers: “The article published in the Chronicle lately concerning the suit…caused a sensation here and in Sonoma county, where the wealthy Paxton family is well known. The narrative of Mr. Paxton’s treatment of his young wife and their two children was interesting reading in the clubs and swell places which he frequents.”

Flash forward a few years later and the San Francisco Call offered a headline, “PAXTON HUNTS DUCKS AND CHILDREN STARVE.” Scattered among the selection of articles transcribed below are a few other examples of the anti-Blitz spin (and there are certainly more) but this snark from the 1906 Call is my favorite:

Every parent in the animal kingdom, by studied proximity and conscious sacrifice, feeds and shelters its offspring. Then why does Blitz W. Paxton stand alone? There are some animals that devour their young. Then there is the canis tribe – a class by themselves of carnivorous mammals, such as the dog, the fox, the wolf and the jackal, but these all outclass Blitz W. Paxton in the support and shelter they universally supply to their offspring.

Was Blitz really that rich and was Bessie really that poor? More on Blitz is below and in the following article, but he was never close to being the Daddy Warbucks who Bessie portrayed. And it’s very doubtful she or the children ever faced real financial hardship.

Bessie apparently returned to California in 1892, not long after Blitz came back from Europe. She and the children settled in San Francisco where her brother-in-law (General Richard H. Warfield, the husband of her sister Lute) leased and ran the California Hotel in the city’s fashionable French Quarter centered around the intersection of Bush and Kearny. She remained a “permanent guest” there at least through 1899 – as a side lawsuit in the divorce proceedings, Warfield demanded Blitz pay $315 for two years of food, clothing and boarding.

While the press was telling readers that poor Bessie was counting nickels, she was actually hobnobbing with elites on Nob Hill, particularly multimillionaire James Graham Fair (he’s the “Fair” in the name of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel). A notorious philanderer whose wife had divorced him for “”habitual adultery,” Fair died the year after the Paxton divorce. Women came forward claiming he had promised to leave them a generous bequest and rumors were that Bessie had a final will which named her a major beneficiary; it wasn’t true, but it suggests the newspapers presumed she and Fair had a very close relationship.

The Paxton divorce was settled in the autumn of 1894: Bessie would get $7,500 in cash and $100 a month until the children were of age. Blitz also took out a life insurance policy naming her and the kids as beneficiaries. It wasn’t a grand sum, but $100/mo in 1894 works out to about $40,000 a year in today’s money – and remember, she was apparently paying little for living expenses at her family’s nice hotel.

Following the divorce settlement and the flurry of excitement over the Fair affair, all was quiet concerning the former Mr. and Mrs. Paxton until the turn of the century. Then: Vaudeville!

(RIGHT: Bessie Blitz Paxton vaudeville publicity photo)

Bessie had long fancied herself a singer, and as far back as the original divorce suit she claimed of being “forced to sing in church choirs” to support herself and the children. It comes as news to me that was ever considered a well-paying gig, but she later expanded her claim to “singing in oratorio” and opera, although never were any specifics provided. (Full disclosure: I myself was in two productions of the New York Metropolitan Opera and can likewise say I have made operatic appearances. In one I marched onstage with other spear carriers and in another I waved a flagon in a tavern scene.)

In 1900 she made her first appearances in San Francisco and Los Angeles to polite reviews. Her voice was low but carried well and said to be “velvety in quality.” Her stage name was “Mrs. Bessie Blitz Paxton” to milk the divorce infamy and per usual, she worked in a dig at Blitz when interviewed: “[T]here are bills to be paid,” she told the San Francisco Call, “doctor’s bills the result of my little daughter’s recent illness. Her father won’t pay them so I must, and I am going on the stage to earn the money.” Ever sympathetic, the Call’s headline was, “SINGS IN PUBLIC FOR HER CHILDREN.”

The following year she did an East Coast tour which did not go so well. She began with a troupe playing Midwestern cities. (Lincoln, Nebraska review: a “California society woman with charming vocal powers and a most peculiar manner.”) Bessie was fired a few weeks later for punching the leader of the company after he chided her for a lack of professionalism. According to the Los Angeles Herald, “She wheeled him around and out into the [train] aisle and planted a No. 5 [boxing lingo for an uppercut punch] where it was the most forceful.” She ended 1901 on stage alongside bottom-of-the-barrel acts such as the Carmen Sisters (“banjoists”) and “Fritz the monkey, who turns wonderful somersaults.” For a few weeks she apparently tried to relaunch herself as a novelty act: “Alice Blitz Paxton, The Female Baritone.”

Back home the legal battle with Blitz resumed, this time over a $918 medical bill for daughter Roma. Blitz argued he should not have to pay for it as he did not authorize the treatment and the state Supreme Court agreed. It was another example where he easily could be viewed as heartless – but that was a hefty bill (about $29,000 today) and we have no information about Roma’s ailment or medical treatment. All we have to judge its merits is that the physician was Dr. Grant Selfridge, a homeopath who specialized in hay fever and allergies.

This brings us to 1902, probably the most eventful year of Blitz’ life. He was now president of the Santa Rosa Bank, of which his father was a founder; he had a new wife and a new son and the family had moved into their fine new house in Santa Rosa. That year his mother also died, which seemed to make him the rich man Bessie had always falsely presumed him to be. Soon she was back demanding he double the alimony payments. This round of their epic fight would continue from 1903 to 1908.

Rehashed once again were the accusations from their old separation, with some new details added: Bessie now accused him of stashing away their $500 wedding silverware. It was probably Bessie’s stage experience which brought tearful and wrathful drama to her court appearances, including a moment where she attacked Blitz in the courtroom like a bulldog prosecutor:

Springing to her feet, bitterness marking every gesture, Mrs. Paxton walked toward the man whose abandonment of her has cost her years of suffering, and said:

“And who, if it please you, took care of your children when you took $40,000 from the bank and went to Europe for a good time? You say, you should support these children. You had an opportunity before any suit was filed, but you turned your blind son away from your home when he went to ask for aid.”

Paxton winced and reddened, but tried to smile unconcernedly.

“Oh, you may well laugh,” said Mrs. Paxton, “when you are living in luxury and we are starving.”

At first Bessie’s new legal campaign against Blitz might seem like the action of someone foolish or desperate. He was no longer required to pay child support as John and Roma were no longer minors, being 22 and 20 (respectively) in 1905, the key year for their court decisions. But requesting more alimony was merely a clever gambit by her lawyers; under California’s Civil Code §206 there was an obligation for parents to support children who could not provide for themselves because of infirmities – regardless of age. Now his children were individually suing him as well.

Blitz was ordered to pay Roma and John $50 a month each. He refused and his children’s lawyer asked for him to be imprisoned on contempt. As reported in the Call, their attorney told the court that Blitz was such a monster that he even refused to see his kids after they trekked all the way to Santa Rosa on their own:

Last week, alleges Attorney Hanlon, John, the blind son, and Roma, the invalid daughter, went to Santa Rosa to ask their father for aid, as the court had decided that not only morally but legally he was bound to support them. Leading her sightless brother by the hand, says Hanlon, Roma trudged from the station along the country road to the splendid home of their father. Up the drive they had once hoped would lead them to their own doorway they walked, two children intent upon executing their own judgment, but they were to be disappointed…when these children turned into the driveway leading to their father’s home he was sitting at his ease at that home. But as the children approached the blinds were drawn and a servant was dispatched to meet John and Roma. ‘Your father is not at home,’ said the servant. ‘He has gone to San Francisco. I do not know when he will return.’ Thus repulsed, these children turned back to the station, penniless.”

I tell you, the reporting on the Paxton court hearings was the best entertainment available during the autumn of 1905. Forget sports, forget politics; you can bet everyone in Northern California was eagerly flipping through their morning papers to see if there was a fresh salvo from Bessie and the kids or whether Blitz had finally sprouted horns and a tail.

While Blitz was being threatened with the court seizing his share of Madrona Knoll and/or throwing him in the clink for contempt, Bessie’s society friends organized a gala concert on her behalf at the Tivoli Opera House. “When the total receipts were figured up if was found that a fund of fully $2000 was ready to relieve the temporary embarrassment of the brave Mrs. Paxton and her family,” the Call reported.

Years were passing and like a soap opera storyline, details changed while the plot remained fundamentally the same. Court decisions kept falling in favor of the children, with one point being appealed to the state Supreme Court. John bitterly demanded judges to punish his father. Blitz said he had no property to sell, which was true – he had transfered the Santa Rosa house to wife Jane on New Year’s Eve 1904. The only thing he truly owned was roughly one-third of the Healdsburg property which he had inherited from his mother. Bessie’s lawyers had estimated his share at over $100,000, but much of its value was in the productive winery. That building collapsed in the 1906 earthquake and was not rebuilt, so when Madrona Knoll was sold at the end of the same year Blitz cleared only about seventeen thousand.

And lo, it finally came to pass, eighteen years and four U.S. presidents later: In 1912 there was a settlement for all claims. Blitz paid $5,000 to each of his kids.

Blitz always claimed (at least, when he could find a reporter willing to listen to his side) that he didn’t object to supporting his children, but rather objected to any money reaching the ex-wife he and his family loathed. From a 1905 affidavit:

The affiant admits that he deserted and abandoned his former wife, Mrs. Bessie E. Paxton, but asserts that he was compelled to do so, owing to her meanness of temper and bitterness of tongue; which made the life of this affiant unbearable. Mrs. Paxton further alienated the affection of the parents of this affiant for him and when this affiant returned from his trip abroad, it was only to learn that his father, John A. Paxton, had absolutely disinherited him, as he did not wish Mrs. Paxton to benefit in any way from his estate, owing to the meanness of her conduct.

This contempt for Bessie was also seen in his mother’s will, where Hannah Paxton only left a token $10 each to her grandchildren Roma and John Jr. And it is true that any contribution to John would have been a benefit to Bessie; he apparently lived with his mother until she died in 1937. (He passed away two years later.)

And even before the settlement, Blitz did aid his son. In 1907 he paid for the 24 year-old John to run a cigar stand on Sutter street, but his blindness left him open to theft. Blitz started another at California and Divisadero streets but again was robbed of everything. While today it might seem a setup for failure – or even cruel – to encourage a sightless person to operate a street business like that, magazine and tobacco stands were a common business for the blind in that era, and John did it for the rest of his life.

Personally, I feel Blitz and Bessie were equally despicable for turning John and Roma into pawns. It might look like a zero-sum game but wasn’t; both parents considered they won a moral victory every time he ignored a court order to pay up. Money was only a phony excuse to go to war over their mutual hatred. I very much doubt either of the children ever suffered cold or hunger, but am certain both must have been scarred emotionally by being pushed to the battlefield frontlines in the roles of the pathetic invalid girl and blind boy.

Finally, if l’affaires Blitz haven’t left you totally exhausted, you can open the Paxton matryoshka doll and find another collection of sensationalistic lawsuits, and still more court battles nested inside that one.

Blitz had a younger brother Charles, who was not mentioned here before because he has no real Sonoma county connection. He was a San Francisco stock broker and after their mother died in 1902 the brothers were named co-executors of the estate. Within the year Charles was accusing Blitz of embezzlement while Blitz was trying to force Charles out, charging he threatened “to destroy his reputation and to drive him out of Sonoma county.” Meanwhile, the Santa Rosa Bank – where Blitz was still president – sued the pair of them as executors for not paying back the loans mom took out for Blitz’ allowance in the 1890s. Then when Charles died and Blitz was executor of his estate there were still more lawsuits. At one point I think I read Blitz was suing himself, but am probably wrong about that. Still, as crazy as that seems, you couldn’t blame the poor fellow for getting mixed up over such a little detail.

Roma and John A. Paxton illustration from San Francisco Chronicle, May 11, 1894
MRS. B. W. PAXTON SUES FOR DIVORCE
She Says Her Millionaire Husband Treated Her Cruelly and Deserted Her.

SAN FRANCISCO, March 10.–A complaint was filed to-day in a suit for divorce by Mrs. Bessie E. Paxton against Blitz W. Paxton, who is reported to be worth two millions of dollars. Paxton comes from a rich family in Santa Rosa, Sonoma county, and his fortune is largely in land and mining property.

The plaintiff, who is a young and handsome woman, says they were married in 1882 and lived happily until 1884. She had one son and was expecting another child when Paxton deserted her. She gave birth to a daughter, Roma, on Jan. 3, 1885, and her health was seriously affected by her husband’s cruelty.

His action she ascribes to his parents, who desired him to separate from her. He induced her to return to her father and mother in Rochester, N.Y., promising to meet her there after paying a business visit to Texas. She fulfilled her part of the compact, but her husband returned here, and then went to Guatemala. She learned nothing of his whereabouts until the following year, when he wrote that he should never come back to her.

For eight years, the plaintiff declares, she has supported herself and her two children aided by her parents, receiving no more than $125 last year from Paxton. He refused any further aid, although his little son is totally blind and requires the mother’s constant care. Mrs. Paxton alleges that her husband is living in luxury and that he spends large amounts at costly restaurants on periodical visits to San Francisco, while she is forced to sing in church choirs and give music lessons to get the simplest necessaries for herself and children.

The plaintiff has also secured an injunction restraining her husband from disposing of any of his property, and she demands money for support and counsel fees during this action. The complaint, when it is published tomorrow, will create a social sensation, as Paxton is a well-known club man and a member of San Francisco’s four hundred.

– New York Sun, March 11 1894
Paxton Repudiates Doctor’s Bill.

The action instituted by Dr. Grant Selfridge against Blitz W. Paxton and his former
wife, Bessie E. Paxton, who recently abandoned the society drawing-room for the vaudeville stage, to recover $918 for treating the son of the defendants, was tried and submitted for decision by Judge Seawell yesterday. Dr. Selfridge and Dr. J. S. Brooks testified as to the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s claim. Mr. Paxton was placed on the stand in his own defense and repudiated the claim saying that he did not authorize the treatment of his son by Dr. Selfrldge. The case was then argued and submitted.

– San Francisco Call, March 20, 1901

 

MISHAP TO HARRY CORSON CLARKE
Bessie Blitz Paxton Chastises tha Actor

DENVER, Col., April 25.–Harry Corson Clarke undertook to reprimand Bessie Blitz Paxton, the plump land who sang “Twickenham Ferry” with the Clarke company, with results disastrous to himself.

While the company was en route to Cheyenne, Mr. Clarke undertook to tell Mrs. Paxton how little she knew about the show business, and how much she could learn from hum. He also referred to her failure to attend rehearsals, and ended by an expression which aroused the actress to more real anger, she says, than she has felt since he was married.

Bessie Blitz Paxton thereupon arose in her wrath and her car seat and swatted Mr. Clarke on the ear. She reached over with the other hand and jolted the comedian under the chin. Then she took a firm hold at the nape of his neck, and another and firmer hold farther down, and threw him up against the window sash. She seemed to be trying to let go of him, but could not. She wheeled him around and out into the aisle and planted a No. 5 where it was the most forceful, and Mr. Clarke dived into the stove box.

The rest of the company interfered and held Mrs. Paxton until Cheyenne was reached. Here Mr. Clarke paid her two weeks’ salary, and the actress returned to Denver, arriving this morning.

– Los Angeles Herald, April 26, 1901

 

FILED FOR PROBATE
THE LATE MRS. H. H. PAXTON LEFT PROPERTY VALUED AT OVER $200,000
Will and Codicil Dispose of the Estate the Bulk of Which is Bequeathed to the Deceased Lady’s Two Sons

Blitz W. Paxton has petitioned the Superior Court for probate of the will of the late Mrs. Hannah H. Paxton of Madrone Knoll, Healdsburg,

Among other things the deceased’s property consists of an undivided five-eighths interest in 208 acres of land known as the “Madrone Knoll” place, the interest being valued at $62,500; furniture, furnishings, etc., valued at $5,000; jewelry, etc., $1,000; 200 shares of stock of Santa Rosa Bank valued at $28,125; cash in bank, $889; 60 first mortgage bonds valued at about $60,000; shares of Puget Sound Iron Co., worth about $28,000; an undivided interest in personal property worth about $2,500; Interest in wine 1 bond worth $2,600. T

The value of the property is about $200,000. Mrs. Paxton left a will bearing date October 11, 1894. with a codicil thereto dated January 24,1899, in the possession of Colonel James W. Oates, who is the attorney for the estate. Blitz W. Paxton. Charles E. Paxton and Mary M. McClellan are named in the will as executors.

In the will the deceased’s bequests Include $5.000 to her sister, Miss Mary McClellan; her sister, Ruth McClellan, $6.000; John A, Paxton and Roma W. Paxton, her grandchildren. $10 each.

To her son, Blitz W. Paxton, Mrs. Paxton leaves a legacy of $40,000.

All the residue and remainder of the estate is left to Blitz W. Paxton and his brother, Charles E. Paxton, in equal proportion, share and share alike. The reason for the additional legacy to the former son is explained by the testator for the reason that he did not share his father’s property at the time his brother did, the latter being left about $40,000.

In the codicil to the will, made January 24, 1899, Mrs. Paxton absolutely Revokes the bequest of $5,000 to her sister, Miss Ruth McClellan. The executors will serve as such without bonds and they are given power to buy. sell, convey, compromise, manage and control the estate.

– Press Democrat, September 9 1902

 

She Wants More Money

Mrs. Bessie Paxton has petitioned the Superior Court of San Francisco for an order to compel her former husband, Blitz W. Paxton, to allow her $200 a month. At present she receives an allowance of $100, but she declares that this is insufficient for the support of herself and her two minor children.

Mrs. Paxton obtained a divorce in 1894, and at that time was awarded the custody of her two children, John A. Paxton,now aged 20, and Roma Warren Paxton, now 18. When the divorce was granted Mr. Paxton offered his wife half of $25,000, his fortune at that time. She refused this and went to his father for $50,000. He would not listen to her, and finally when the divorce was granted, she accepted $7,500 in cash and $100 a month to be paid until the children were of age.

Mr. Paxton believes that the children will soon be legally out of her custody, and according to the stipulation she will no longer get the $100 a month. “That is not in any sense alimony,” said Mr. Paxton. “The $7,500 was in lieu of that. I carry a $10,000 insurance policy made out for her benefit and that of the children. 1 will make different arrangements for them when they are out of the legal custody of their mother.” Mrs. Paxton’s petition will be heard on August 21.

– Press Democrat, July 9 1903
LAW IS WITH BLITZ PAXTON.
Banker Defeats His Former Wife in Her Efforts to Get Increase in Alimony.

A petition to modify a decree of divorce, the means taken by Bessie E. Paxton, the singer, the former wife of Blitz w. Paxton, the Sonoma County banker and capitalist, to secure more alimony, is not the proper proceeding, hence Judge Murasky found against her yesterday, and ordered the entry of an order denying her petition. She must file a suit in equity to set aside the agreement she made at the time she secured her divorce, in which she waived all claims against Paxton for the sum of $13,200 to be paid in monthly installments of $100, which agreement, she claims, was obtained from her by misrepresentation.

The matrimonial history of the Paxtons is a stormy one. They were married in 1882, and have two children, a boy and a girl. The boy, who is now almost 19 years of age, is blind. The troubles of the Paxtons commenced a short time after their marriage. In 1894 she sued him for divorce and obtained a decree on the ground of cruelty. She agreed that she would waive all claims upon Paxton provided that for a period of 132 months he would. pay her $100 a month. When the children grew up and the boy lost his sight and the girl became sickly, Mrs. Paxton found it hard to make both ends meet on $100 a month, and she went upon the stage. For a period of two weeks she sang at the Orpheum. Then Paxton fell heir to a fortune estimated to be worth $500,000, and Mrs. Paxton thought it about time that he should do a little more for her than give her $100 a month. She accordingly filed the suit to amend her decree of divorce, basing her claim on the ground that Paxton, to obtain her signature to the agreement concerning alimony, had willfully and fraudulently concealed the true state of his finances.

– San Francisco Call, March 26, 1904
 
 
DEMANDS AID FROM FATHER
Daughter of Blitz Paxton, Banker, Files Suit to Compel Him to Support Her
GIRL PLEADS POVERTY
Says She Is an Invalid and in Need of Necessaries. Marriage Bonds Severed

The litigation growing out of the matrimonial infelicities of Blitz W. Paxton, the Santa Rosa banker, and Bessie Paxton the singer, which began in 1893, when Mrs. Paxton sued for maintenance, and which was further complicated in 1894, when she dismissed the maintenance proceedings and instituted a suit for divorce, became still more involved yesterday, when Roma Paxton, the 19-year-old daughter of the couple, filed a suit against her father to compel him to support her. She says she is an invalid, unable to work to provide either the necessaries of life or medical attention for herself, and she asks the court to order her father to provide for her out of the fortune of more than $100,000 she says he possesses. She asks for $100 a month.

– San Francisco Call, May 27, 1904

 

Sues for Maintenance.

John A. Paxton, the blind son of Blitz W. Paxton, the wine grower and backer,
brought suit yesterday to compel his father to provide for his support. The young man’s parents were divorced in 1894 and since that time the son has been living with his mother. He came of age on August 10 and It is now alleged that owing to his infirmity and need of constant medical attendance his mother is unable to provide for him.

– San Francisco Call, September 11, 1904

 

The Paxton Case.
Divorced wife tells her story in San Francisco Court.
Divorced in 1894.

“Since my husband, without cause or explanation to me, his bride of two years, abandoned me at the behest of his family twenty-one years ago (1884), I have struggled alone, while he has disported himself in luxury,” said Mrs. Blitz Paxton (Bessie Emerson Paxton), wife of the Sonoma Banker, when the suit of her two children against their father for maintenance came up before Judge Graham Friday in San Francisco.

“I simply worshipped my husband; when the blow fell on me I was nursing my little baby boy (John Alexander); my little girl (Roma) was born afterwards. Then misfortune seemed to pursue us; accidents happened to both children, a hard fall in each case rendered them helpless for life, my son having been blind from babyhood. An operation, the doctors said, would save his eyes, but my appeal to his father was in vain. Then it became too late to do anything for his sight. My daughter is delicate from a fall which caused concussion of the brain.

“I tried for awhile to turn my musical training to account, and the songs of happier days, when I entertained guests at my luxurious home, were heard on the Orpheum Circuit. But the children needed my care, and the work was too hard. This suit seems our last hope for relief.

The case was argued and taken under advisement by the court.

– Healdsburg Tribune, June 1, 1905

 

PAXTON WINCES UNDER CHARGES.
Former Wife Verbally Flays Santa Rosa Banker for His Acts Toward Children.
COURT SCENE DRAMATIC.
Mother of Plaintiff Rises and Replies to Defendant’s Statements on the Stand

Blitz W. Paxton, Santa Rosa banker and capitalist, winced under the verbal lash, wielded by Bessie W. Paxton, who was once his wife, in Judge Graham’s department of the Superior Court yesterday. He was in court to fight against the petitions of his blind son and invalid daughter for maintenance. Well-groomed and showing in his dress every evidence of the possession of the wealth the mother of his children says he enjoys to their exclusion, he glanced at the sightless eyes of his son and at the frail form of his daughter without the faintest display of emotion.

With the eyes of the spectators upon him and the accusation of his former wife ringing in his ears he was less at ease, however.

Paxton first presented an answer to his children’s petition in which he denies that he is possessed of the hundreds of thousands of dollars with which they credit him and says that he is worth no more than $30,000. He also presented an affidavit signed by his physicians in which it is stated that rheumatic gout and heart disease compelled him to relinquish his position with the Santa Rosa Bank, which left him without salary or income other than that derived from his small estate, which, he says, he needs for the support of his present wife arid child.

PAXTON MAKES ADMISSION.

Upon taking the stand the capitalist admitted, in answer to questions put by Judge Graham, that he believed he should support his children, but, he said, “I will contribute nothing to them that might be used by their mother for her support.”

Springing to her feet, bitterness marking every gesture, Mrs. Paxton walked toward the man whose abandonment of her has cost her years of suffering, and said:

“And who, if it please you, took care of your children when you took $40,000 from the bank and went to Europe for a good time? You say, you should support these children. You had an opportunity before any suit was filed, but you turned your blind son away from your home when he went to ask for aid.”

Paxton winced and reddened, but tried to smile unconcernedly.

“Oh, you may well laugh,” said Mrs. Paxton, “when you are living in luxury and we are starving.”

Paxton was silent under the stinging accusation.

In an affidavit Mrs. Paxton said that since the expiration in August of an agreement entered into between herself and Paxton at the time she divorced him in 1894, under which he paid $100 a month for the support of his children, Paxton has only sent them $40, and that was to his blind son John. To his daughter Roma he sent nothing.

NO FOOD IN HOME.

“Why, even now,” said Attorney. Hanlon, interpolating, “there is no food in the home of these people that are in sore need.”

Again Paxton smiled; he found grim humor in the lawyer’s statement.

Continuing in her affidavit Mrs. Paxton recited the facts of the abandonment of herself
and her children by her husband, who had become angered, she said under oath, at her through her refusal to submit to criminal means to stay the advent of her baby girl into the world. She said he sent medicines and got a doctor. In his effort to compel her to submit to his demand, but she refused, and although her daughter had been sorely tried through illness her gentleness of spirit has brought much comfort into a stricken home.
At the conclusion of the reading of Mrs. Paxton’s affidavit, in concluding which she reiterates her statement that her former husband is a wealthy man and that his statement to the contrary is made solely to defeat the effort of her children to secure a judgment for maintenance, the case was continued until next Friday to enable Paxton to file counter statements, signed under oath.

– San Francisco Call, October 14, 1905

 

Pretty Hard Up.

An affidavit by Blitz W. Paxton, of Santa Rosa, as to his lack of money was filed in Judge Graham’s court Friday in response to the application of John A. Paxton and Miss Roma Paxton, his two children by his first wife, for an order to compel him to pay their counsel fees and costs in their suits against him for maintenance. Paxton declares on oath that he has no coin, and no property on which he can raise any. His stock in the Sonoma Consolidated Quicksilver company has no market value, he says, and his stock in the Santa Rosa bank and the Puget Sound Iron company is pledged to the Wickersham Banking company for more than it is worth.

– Healdsburg Tribune, February 15 1906

 

BESSIE PAXTON PLEADS FOR AID
Asks Judge Graham to Intercede for Her With Former Husband, Who Is Rich.
SAYS RENT IS UNPAID.
Explains That Her Credit With Tradesmen Is Exhausted and Hunger Nears

“For God’s sake, Judge Graham,” said Mrs. Bessie Paxton on the stand yesterday, “Intercede for me and my children with Mr. Paxton! You have stilled resentment in many hearts and have brought contentment to many unhappy mothers, and why cannot you do this for me?” Here the unfortunate woman, once the wife of Blitz W. Paxton, capitalist of Sonoma, broke down and sobbed bitterly. For several minutes there was silence in the court until Mrs. Paxton partly composed herself. Then she continued:

“I do not know what we will do, Judge. My rent has not been paid for three months; my credit at the butcher’s, the baker’s and the grocer’s, is exhausted and my gas bill is overdue two months. We have nothing but a gas stove in the house, and if the gas is shut off we will have no way to cook our daily meal. We have now but one meal a day, and as the weeks pass we find that we must further economize, even in the amount of food that we can have at this one meal. It is dreadful, and I fear that my mind is breaking under the terrible strain.”

“I know that if he were left alone Mr. Paxton would provide for me and my blind son, John, and my invalid daughter, Roma, but Attorney J. W. Oates of Sonoma, who represents Mr. Paxton, will not let him settle the case, because the longer it goes on the larger will be his fee. This is common talk at our old home and is a fact. Cannot you intercede for me?”

“Well,” said Judge Graham, visibly affected by the, unhappy woman’s appeal, “l have done and am doing all I can for you. The last time Mr. Paxton appeared in court I asked him why he did not conduct himself like a man and see that you and your children were kept from want, but my criticism had no effect upon him.”

Still in tears, Mrs. Paxton left the stand to listen to the argument of counsel on the motion of her children for an allowance pending the hearing of their father’s appeal from Judge Graham’s order directing him to pay them $50 a month each for their permanent maintenance. At the conclusion of the argument Judge Graham allowed the two children $350, but when they can collect that, sum is a matter for conjecture.

The case thus decided, Attorney John M. Burnett, who represents Paxton in this city, requested Attorney Charles F. Hanlon, who represents the children, to consent to the printing of the transcript on appeal in but one of the two cases involved. “This will save us great expense,” said Burnett.

“If you will agree to give these children 75 per cent of the cost of the second I will release you,” answered Hanlon.

Burnett would not consent to such a proposition, Attorney Hanlon settled the dialogue by saying:

“Mr. Burnett, you have chosen to live by the sword, and you can die by it. Prepare both transcripts and turn into useless print the gold that would buy these children food. You have given none, and hence you can expect no quarter, from us.”

– San Francisco Call, February 22, 1906

 

PAXTON BENEFIT A BIG SUCCESS

Success, artistic at every point, and in a financial way far beyond expectation, marked the testimonial concert given to Mrs. Bessie Paxton, former wife of Blitz W. Paxton, and her two children, at the Tivoli In 19 House, in San Francisco, last Tuesday afternoon. Members of society flocked to hear the delightful program that had been prepared for them by Mrs. Camille d’Arviile Crellln, to whom most of the credit for the tremendous success of the affair must be given. When the total receipts were figured up it was found that a fund of fully $2,000 had been realized to relieve the temporary embarrassment of Mrs, Paxton and her children.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, March 17 1906
 
“MADRONA KNOLL” GOES TO HIGHEST BIDDER

About one mile west of this city is located beautiful “Madrona Knoll.” It is one of the most picturesque and artistic homes of this county. Many years ago John A. Paxton, a wealthy mining man purchased the site, cleared it of an undergrowth of brush and built on the knoll a mansion for his home and that of his family. It is an ideal spot from which one may overlook the Dry Creek and Russian River valleys.

After the death of Mr. Paxton and his wife, several years ago, the home was occupied by Blitz W. Paxton, a son. Later he removed to Santa Rosa and engaged in the banking business. The famous madrone home then stood in the name of the heirs as an estate. In the last few year it was decided to dispose of five eights of the estate. Accordingly it was advertised for sale at auction to the highest bidder, Including the entire tract of land, the home and all personal property.

On Tuesday last the sale took place as advertised under the auctioneer’s hammer. Five eights of the estate and all the belongings went to the highest bidder, the Santa Rosa Bank. The five eights of the reality was sold for $25,000.

The five eights of the personal property was knocked down to the bank for $6000. The furniture in the home which belonged to Mrs. Paxton went to the same purchaser for $3800.

The other three eights of the property is owned by Chas E. Paxton of San Francisco.

The auctioneer was John Hansen of Sebastopol. Attorney J. Rollo Loppo of Santa Rosa represented the bank. Colonel Oates looked after the Blitz Paxton interests and Attorney W. H. Rex of San Francisco appeared for Chas E. Paxton. There was a fairly good attendance at the sale.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, December 22 1906

 

THE PAXTON CASE
Offer Made By Father to Contribute to Support of Blind Son

The long standing dispute as to whether Blitz W. Paxton should be compelled to support his two minor children John A. and Roma W. Paxton came to an end Thursday in Judge Graham’s court, San Frandisco, when the judge accepted Paxton’s offer that his interest in his mother’s estate should be turned over to the Judge as an individual to be used for the benefit of his blind son. The estate of Hannah Paxton was left to her two sons and is said to have been worth $100,000. John A. Paxton, who has been running a cigar stand on lower Sacramento street, is anxious to open a new stand up town, and his attorney. Charles F. Hanlon, said that $200 cash was necessary for immediate use. Judge Graham will use his good offices with Judge Seawell, in whose court the estate of Hannah Paxton now is. to obtain the cash, says a San Francisco paper. The order to show cause against Blitz Paxton was dismissed without prejudice pending the court’s investigation of his offer.

– Healdsburg Tribune, July 2 1908
PAXTON PAYS CHILDREN

By the payment of $5OOO to his two children by his first marriage in settlement of all claims, Blitz W. Paxton of Santa Rosa Friday brought to a close the litigation the children have waged against him for the last six years. The chief beneficiary is John Paxton, the blind son. He has been assisted by his sister, Roma, in the legal battle. Mr. Paxton, it is stated, has never been averse to paying for the support of his children, but made the long contest in an effort to prevent any of his money going to the support of his former wife.

– Healdsburg Tribune, September 26 1912

 

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THE MELANCHOLY MILLIONAIRE OF LOS GUILICOS

On the train to Santa Rosa a little over a century ago, you might have exchanged a nod of recognition without knowing who he was. His was a sort-of-familiar face, someone who could be spotted going or coming several times a year, maybe with his wife and daughter or the two young men who were his sons. But once the train arrived, the portly middle-aged man vanished; he couldn’t be found at any of the hotels or bending his elbow at any of Santa Rosa’s many saloons. He wasn’t at card parties or lodge hall dances. He didn’t hobnob at all. Probably not a soul on the trains knew they were looking at Thomas Kearns, the millionaire owner of Los Guilicos.

Official Residence Of The Governor Of Utah Postcard

Kearns had one of those incredible 19th century rags-to-riches life stories. In 1883, legend has it, he was farmhand pitching hay; six years later he was one of the owners of the Silver King mine, then the most valuable silver mine in the world. With his boundless wealth he built an extravagant Salt Lake City home for his family in 1902, which today is the Utah Governor’s Mansion (see postcard at right). Three years later he bought the William Hood House and ranch at Los Guilicos.

Unlike the family’s opulent Utah mansion, the farmhouse near Kenwood was nothing special; it’s unclear if it had been updated since its pre-Civil War construction, or even if electricity was available in 1905. Kearns hired architect William Willcox to expand and modernize the place, but he also took a hands-on approach, working with a Santa Rosa cabinetmaker to design and build a massive 14-foot dining room table and sideboard cabinet. (Photo of the table is below, and the cabinet can be viewed in the previous article.)

From mentions in the Press Democrat column on arrivals and departures we know that Kearns and his family spent quite a bit of time here, including the complete summer of 1905, which was before renovations started. There were some years where he or his wife could be found at Los Guilicos nearly half of the time, particularly after the remodeling ended in 1908. It was a true second home and not a vacation getaway; the Kearns’ should properly be considered locals – their sons even went to college at Santa Clara rather than in Utah or out east. In “Sketches of the Inter-Mountain States,” the 1909 history of Utah and neighboring states, his equal residence in California was acknowledged: “Senator Kearns and his family reside in a magnificent home on East Brigham Street, in Salt Lake City, and at one of the finest ranches in California, near Santa Rosa.”

Yet curiously, this side of his life is rarely, if ever, mentioned in modern profiles, including his book-length biography. Because of that, some of the most interesting questions about Kearns are unanswered and even unasked: Why did he want a house in Sonoma County, where the family apparently had no friends, family, political connections or business interests? And once he owned Hood House, why did he spend so much time here, so far from the life he had struggled to make for himself and everyone he knew? The answer to his Rosebud secret probably lies in the late winter of 1905.

Given his wealth and wealth of connections, it would be surprising if Thomas Kearns had not become a politician. He knew three presidents and hosted a dinner for President Teddy Roosevelt at his Salt Lake City mansion. Consider, for ex, the nexus of money and power revealed in just this one deal: Senator William A. Clark of Montana sought help from Kearns in extending his railway line from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. (Clark was a man so remarkably corrupt that Mark Twain wrote, “He is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag,” and also looked just like Conan O’Brien wearing a cheap fake beard, which is conclusive proof that he was a person of low character.) Also involved in the railroad deal was Richard C. Kerens, who was on the National Republican Committee and a personal friend of Kerns. Our very first glimpse of Kerns in Sonoma County comes from a 1906 PD article about Kerns showing off his new place to his pal (misspelled as “Kernes” in the transcription below).

A TWO-THIRDS TERM SENATOR

Thomas Kearns was a U.S. Senator from Utah between 1901 and 1905, filling out the four years remaining on an unexpired term. Many in the LDS church would have liked the seat go to a member of their faith, but just two years earlier a Mormon polygamist had been elected to the House, creating such national uproar that he was expelled immediately after being admitted to Congress. Kearns was politically well-connected with the Republican leadership, and that he was an ardent Roman Catholic “gentile” didn’t hurt a bit. The Mormon hierarchy endorsed Kearns, amid allegations there was a quid pro quo deal for Kearns to buy the Salt Lake Tribune and defang its anti-Mormon slant.

His alliance with the church began crumbling within a year as political fortunes rose for Reed Smoot, who had been talked out of running against Kearns in 1901. The next year Smoot was elected the junior Senator from Utah, despite opposition from Senator Kearns and the rest of the Republican establishment, including President Teddy Roosevelt. Republicans feared Smoot would face a Congressional inquisition similar to the hearings over the polygamist. And indeed, once he was seated, the Senate opened investigations into whether he was a secret polygamist or if his extremely high position in church hierarchy placed him in conflict with his oath of office.

With the end of his term approaching in 1904, Kearns was denied another LDS church endorsement. Supporters of Kearns retaliated by forming the anti-Mormon American Party, and criticism of the church resumed in his Salt Lake Tribune. The political career of Thomas Kearns ended when Senator Reed Smoot convinced the Utah state legislature to replace Kearns with a Mormon (Senators were not yet elected by popular vote). Kearns said farewell to the Senate in his “Conditions in Utah” speech, where he bitterly denounced the power of the Mormon church. He charged the LDS “monarchy” lied repeatedly to the U.S. in order to gain statehood in 1896, falsely claiming polygamy was banned and the church did not meddle in politics.

But Kearns had no fervent political loyalties. Earlier he made large contributions to both parties, first to the Democrats in 1896 because he supported candidate William Jennings Bryan’s demand for currency using silver, and then to the Republicans in 1900 when it was clear that the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket would win the White House. He was fond of going to conventions and speechified on behalf of his friend Teddy Roosevelt at every opportunity. That he served in the Senate at all was a bit of a fluke, as discussed in the sidebar.

Kearns’ stint in the Senate was uneventful, perhaps because it was so short. No legislation bears his name, and what bills he introduced were pork barrel giveaways for special interests in Utah. He asked for 20 acres be given to his wife’s aunt for a home for old miners; he wanted to open up part of an Indian reservation for mining. An old military fort received an upgrade. It was all apparently small matters like that. A researcher would need to drill down to the voting records to find what issues he supported or opposed and if not for the passion exhibited in his infamous farewell speech, one might think he didn’t really want the job at all.

When the Mormons declined to support his candidacy for reelection, Kearns felt used and betrayed. He had valid reasons; he had brokered a relationship between the Republican party and LDS church long sought by Mormon leaders (a good paper on this topic can be read here) and found patronage jobs in Washington for Mormons. He had vowed to oppose any proposed constitutional amendment against polygamy. He had purchased the Salt Lake Tribune and quashed its LDS criticism (although there’s no proof church leaders demanded he do so). And probably most bitterly, he had been used as a stalking horse to ease the way for Utah to have two Mormon senators. Kearns’ “Et tu, Brute” moment came when Utah’s junior senator, Reed Smoot, personally led the Utah politicking to oust Kearns and replace him with his friend and fellow Mormon, George Sutherland. Smoot drove the knife in further with his remarks about Kearns’ farewell speech, adding an ethnic slur: “It certainly was a spectacle to see Kearns deliver his speech yesterday. It made the people from Utah ashamed that there was such a person as Tom Kearns claiming to be a citizen of Utah. His speech was written in English and delivered in Irish.”

Thus Hood House might also be nicknamed, “Kearns’ Redoubt.” His four-year ascent into politics had ended with an abrupt and humiliating crash, through no fault of his own. He apparently purchased the Los Guilicos estate shortly thereafter. In the summer that followed he probably saw the roomy home with bucolic views of Sonoma Valley as a fine place to lick wounds and drift in melancholy. Years later Santa Rosa newspapers frequently mentioned he was entertaining friends from Utah, and you can bet their small talk tread lightly around some topics of political gossip, particularly the sore point of his own fall from greatness as the Catholic who lost his Mormon blessings.

In hindsight, we can see everyone lost when Kearns was forced out of the Senate, including the Latter-Day Saints church.

The Senate allowed Reed Smoot to be seated, but opened hearings on his fitness to stay. The Smoot hearings dragged on for three years, and became a trial of the LDS church itself. Women’s groups nationally lined up against Smoot and Mormonism in an anti-polygamy crusade that smothered Washington in petitions and letters. But over those long three years, anti-Mormon sentiments weakened. President Roosevelt originally commented that Smoot was not fit for office, but by end of 1906 he said the women crusaders were guilty of “persecution” and “hysterical sensationalism.” The New York Times also flipped, denouncing in 1907 opposition to Smoot as “mindless and bigoted”. At the end of it all, a majority of Senators did vote to boot Smoot, but he was admitted because a two-thirds vote was required.

The big loser in this draw were the women’s groups, having lost some popular sympathy as well as momentum in their great fight for suffrage. The LDS church lost because Kearns might have been able to shorten the hearings – or lobby other Senators to drop some of the most damaging lines of inquiry – if he had remained as the senior Senator. In Utah, the Kearns affair boosted opponents of the church and the American Party dominated Salt Lake City politics through the rest of the decade.

The drama also had far-reaching impacts on American history. Senator Smoot was co-author of the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which is considered one of the major causes of economic hardship during the early years of the Great Depression. Kearns’ replacement in the Senate, George Sutherland, was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court, where he became the leader of the “Four Horsemen,” a reactionary bloc that sought to overturn FDR’s New Deal programs for recovery. The four Justices were frequently hung in effigy at political rallies.

Kearns didn’t live to see what would become of Smoot and Sutherland two decades later; he died in 1918, shortly after he sold Hood House. I would like to think his ghost is still rattling chains in those empty rooms of the place he must have thought of as a sanctum. I would like to think his ghost is having a good chuckle over the two men who destroyed his political life becoming two of the most hated politicians in America.

Fourteen-foot dining room table designed and built by Santa Rosa cabinetmaker F. S. Smith in 1909 for Senator and Mrs. Kearns. Other photographs of the sideboard and dining room can be found in the original article on Hood HousePhoto courtesy Mark Parry/Artisan Architecture

MILLIONAIRES IN SANTA ROSA NOW
Senator and Prominent Chicago Railway Magnate in Party

Former United States Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns of Salt Lake City, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Kernes [sic], Miss Kernes and Miss Baney of St. Louis, and Miss Bettinger of St. Joseph, Mo., are at the St. Rose. The party came up to the Senator’s Los Guillicos [sic] ranch yesterday morning and were met at Kenwood by automobiles from Santa Rosa. After a visit to the ranch the party were taken for a ride through the valley and then for a visit to the grounds of Luther Burbank.

Mr. Kernes is a prominent railroad man from St. Louis and the fact that he is visiting through the Sonoma Valley has given rise to the suspicion that he may be inspecting the line of the proposed electric railroad from Sonoma to Santa Rosa, which is believed to be part of a through line to the bay or to connect with the other lines planned to cross the lower end of the county en route from San Francisco to Lake county with a view of investing in the enterprise. It is known that he was given a good opportunity to see all the advantages of the valley while taking the automobile ride.

– Press Democrat, March 28, 1906
A HANDSOME HAND MADE DININGROOM SET

F. S. Smith of 1209 Ripley street has just completed at his place and has ready for delivery a handsome natural oak dining room set for Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns of Kenwood. The dining table is a massive affair weighing 850 pounds, and is six feet square closed. It can be extended to fourteen feet and is one of the most attractive pieces of furniture ever seen in this city. The buffet, serving table, pedestal and dozen chairs are all made to match. The whole set is handwork by Mr. Smith, and were worked up from designs he drew and submitted to Senator and Mrs. Kearns for approval prior to receiving the order.

– Press Democrat, July 11, 1909
THE KEARNS FAMILY HAVE RETURNED
Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns Entertain Cardinal Gibbons and Other Catholic Church Dignitaries

Former United States Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns and family and Miss Bess Faddies have returned to their beautiful country home in the Los Guilicos Valley, from Salt Lake City. They went to Salt Lake recently to be present at the dedication of the new Roman Catholic Cathedral there, one of the most costly and handsomest edifices in the west.

At their Salt Lake City residence Senator and Mrs. Kearns had the honor of entertaining His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons, who dedicated the cathedral. They had other distinguished guests, including several of the Bishops and other dignitaries of the church.

– Press Democrat, August 28, 1909

The many local friends of Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns will be pleased to know that they expect to spend the Christmas holidays at their very hospitable home “Kearns Ranch” in Sonoma Valley. They will have a large house party of relatives and friends to enjoy the holidays with them. Mrs. Kearns is expected back from New York about the first of December.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, November 21, 1909

The two sons of Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns will be here from Santa Clara College to spend the Christmas holidays. Senator Kearns will also join the family for celebration of the holidays at the beautiful Kearns residence at Los Guilocos [sic].

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, December 19, 1909
DELIGHTFUL EVENT AT KEARNS RANCH
Party Given by Senator and Mrs. Kearns in Honor of Miss Clara Driscoll

At the picturesque Kearns ranch last night there was a brilliant party at which Senator and Mrs. Thos. Kearns were “at home” to many invited guests. The function was arranged in honor of Miss Clara Driscoll who is visiting the Kearns ranch from her home in Salt Lake City.

Many guests from this city drove out to Los Guillicos to enjoy the delightful hospitality and participate in the many pleasures of the evening. Mrs. Kearns, as usual, entertained with the cordial and lavish hospitality for which the home is known far and wide.

After the hour devoted to the reception during which all the guests had the pleasure of a formal introduction to Miss Driscoll, dancing was enjoyed in the ball room adjoining the mansion. Later an elaborate supper was served.

– Press Democrat, December 29, 1909

Mrs. Thomas Kearns expects to leave for Salt Lake City about January 15. The Hearns have a magnificent home there and it is like ‘Kearns Ranch’ near this city, one of the most hospitable of homes. I overheard Mrs. Kearns telling some friends at the Overton party the other evening how much she and Senator Kearns enjoyed their picturesque county mansion in the Los Guilocos [sic] Valley. Thanks to them many Santa Rosa friends have been afforded much pleasure there, too.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, January 9, 1910
SENATOR THOS. KEARNS HERE FROM SALT LAKE

Former United States Senator Thomas Kearns has arrived here from Salt Lake City, accompanied by Mrs. Kearns, and is spending a few days at his beautiful country home near this city, Kearns Ranch. Since his last visit here Senator Kearns has made several trips East and has been a very busy man. He is delighted with the appearance of things in Sonoma county at the present time.

– Press Democrat, April 7, 1910

The week of festivity will be auspiciously ushered in by the reception and high tea Sunday afternoon, at which Mrs. Thomas Kearns will entertain in honor of her sister, Mrs. Gallivan, a charming woman of Salt Lake City, who is here to spend the summer. The hours of the function are from four to seven o’clock and many Santa Rosans are included in the invitation list. They will drive to Kearns Ranch or will take the afternoon train from this city. Of course, it goes without saying that Mrs. Kearns’ attractive hospitality will be delightfully exerted. The hostess and her guests were wishing Saturday when the threatening raindrops fell that sunshine would abound for the happy hours to be spent at Kearns Ranch.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, May 1, 1910

KEARNS RANCH, the delightful country seat of Senator and Mrs. Thomas Kearns near this city, was the scene last Sunday afternoon of a reception given by Mrs. Kearns in honor of her sister, Mrs. Gallivan, a charming woman from Salt Lake City.

With its commodious rooms, richly furnished and arranged in luxury and comfort, the Kearns home is an ideal one for entertaining. It was specially so on this occasion as the affair partook of an outdoor party on the beautiful grounds where Nature has aided the landscape gardner in a distribution of majestic oaks, shrubbery and flowers in all their glory.

After meeting Mrs. Gallivan, the motif for the function, and the hostess Mrs. Kearns, who received their guests on the veranda beneath a clustering rose vine, which was a riotous mass of sweet-scented rosebuds, the guests wandered at will among the flowerbeds and amid a wilderness of roses–at Kearns Ranch during the blossoming time it is a continuous rose carnival–rested on the rustic benches or in the hammocks or swing seats in the shade of the overhanging branches of trees. It was an afternoon of sunshine and everything looked its best. Music, sweet and an allurement to pleasure, mingled very effectively with the enjoyment of the rambles through the grounds. It was furnished by a large orchestra stationed in a leafy nook on the lawn. During the hours of the reception and during the serving of high tea the orchestra played, Miss McDermott presided over the punch-bowl, serving the guests with delicious refreshment.

At tea the guests assembled in the large reception rooms, where tasteful bouquets of roses and other blooms gave a delightful finish to the pretty scene. In serving Miss Bess Faddis, Miss Clara Einhorn, Miss Geraldine Grace, Miss Wickson, Miss Elizabeth McDermott and Miss Helen Kearns were among those assisting.

Mrs. Kearns and Miss Wickson ex- [missing line of type] people from Santa Rosa, Kenwood, San Francisco and other places. Many of those invited drove down to the Kearns home in automobiles and others came by train and in vehicles. Mrs. Kearns was a much complimented hostess. She could not have entertained more effectively.

Mr. Kearns and Miss Wickson expect to leave shortly for Salt Lake City where they will spend some time. They will return before the summer is over, however, to pass several months here.

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, May 8, 1910
MRS. KEARNS RETURNS FROM SALT LAKE

Mrs. Thomas Kearns returned to her beautiful country home, Kearns Ranch, near this city, on Saturday night after an extended absence in Salt Lake City as well as on a  trip to the East. Mrs. Kearns expects to spend a considerable portion of the summer in Sonoma county. She went to Santa Clara College on Monday to attend the commencement. The Kearns boys are students at Santa Clara. Mrs. Kearns’ many friends are glad to welcome her back.

– Press Democrat, June 21, 1910

The week opened very auspiciously with the dinner party at Kearns Ranch…The scene in the spacious dining room of the Kearns mansion was fascinating in the extreme when the guests entered to the strains of music from an orchestra. They stepped into a lovely bower of flowers and light with the immense round table artistically set with its silver and glass and its clusters of daintily shaded candelabra, occupying the center. The rich old oak ceiling and the oak-panelled sides of the room were set off with bright adornments of flowers and more candelabra. It would be hard to picture a more alluring effect from a decorative standpoint or a greater incentive to appetite as one course followed another during the two hours the guests sat at the table enjoying the delightful menu and the intermingling chit chat, story and orchestral music.

The pretty place cards at each corner were set off with a miniature of an ocean liner, this latter feature particularly complimentary to Miss Wright in view of her coming voyage…

– “Society Gossip,” Press Democrat, July 3, 1910
SEN. THOMAS KEARNS IS HERE FOR A VISIT

Former United States Senator Thomas Kearns of Salt Lake City is here for a visit of several weeks at his beautiful country home “Kearns Ranch” near Kenwood. Senator Kearns is a man of much prominence financially as well as politically and is the head of the American party which in Utah has given battle to the Mormon forces. He is a mining man, and owns a large amount of property in Salt Lake, in addition to several newspapers, and other public service enterprises.

– Press Democrat, July 13, 1910
SENATOR KEARNS RETURNS FROM SALT LAKE CITY

Senator Thomas Kearns has returned from Salt Lake and is now at his country home, the Kearns Ranch near Kenwood. Mrs. Kearns has been spending the past week in San Francisco awaiting the arrival of the Senator and they have both returned. The Senator is a busy man and will only remain here for a few days and then he and Mrs. Kearns will go east to stay until after the holidays.

– Press Democrat, October 10, 1910
SENATOR KEARNS AND WIFE HERE FOR A VISIT

Former United States Senator and Mrs. Kearns arrived from Utah on Sunday at their beautiful country home, Kearns Ranch, near this city. Senator Kearns took an active part in the recent elections in Utah, and otherwise has been very busy with the handling of his immense interests. He enjoys a visit to his picturesque estate in the Sonoma Valley, where he is carrying out many improvements. Thomas Kearns is also here and is feeling much better. He recently underwent an operation for appendicitis.

– Press Democrat, November 29, 1910

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FEAR & LOATHING OF EARLY 20TH C. JAPAN

So how bad were relationships between Japan and the U.S. in the early 20th century? Let’s put it this way: Anyone wouldn’t have been surprised if the two countries went to war someday.

International politics isn’t usually on the radar of this journal, but the long-running thread of anti-Japanese fervor can even be found in the Santa Rosa newspapers, and some context helps to interpret where the line was drawn before WWI between geo-political opinions and overt racism.

Unlike many other places in California, Sonoma County had little enmity towards Japanese immigrants. Part of the reason was the respect given Fountain Grove wine maker Kanaye Nagasawa, who came to America via Scotland (where he picked up English with a distinctive burrrrrrr) and was portrayed in the papers as an innovator in the manner of Luther Burbank. Locals apparently also viewed Japanese laborers as kindred spirits, seeking to scratch together enough money for a family homestead. Santa Rosa even had a Japanese employment office because immigrants were sought out as hard-working domestics, farm workers, and general labor.

By contrast, Chinese immigrants were isolated and the target of bigotry in Santa Rosa, usually described in the local newspapers of the day as criminal or foolish “Chinks” or “Celestials” who could barely speak English (which sometimes might have been a feint to play the game of diminished expectations). When they were mentioned in the Press Democrat of that era, it was typically an arrest or something that was an opportunity to write a “humorous” racist vignette (usually with pidgin dialog), often concerning a broken marriage or other personal humiliations of Chinese residents.

Before 1904, most Santa Rosans probably couldn’t find Japan on a map on a bet. But once the Russo-Japanese War began, Japan and its military were in the headlines for much of the year. Many Japanese youths in Sonoma County returned home to fight the Czar, and there was a parade and train station sendoff for the boys.

As the war was underway, a movement began to demote Japanese immigrants to the same dismal legal status as the Chinese. In 1905, San Francisco labor unions created the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League, seeking to expand the ban on Chinese “coolie” labor to include other Asian workers. (If you’re wondering where our elected officials stood on these race-tinged issues, Santa Rosa’s own Rep. McKinlay was among the most anti-immigrant hardliners in Congress, leading California House Republicans who helped defeat Teddy Roosevelt’s attempt to make exceptions in the Chinese Exclusion policy for “officials, teachers, students, merchants, or travelers for curiosity or pleasure.”)

Japan’s victory over Russia in the autumn of 1905 only fed American anxieties. Now it wasn’t only hordes of farm laborers to fear, but the possibility that Japan had a robust industrial base that could undercut U.S. exports to Asia, along with a navy capable of challenging the United States militarily.

(RIGHT: “If Japan Should Attack Us” Sunday feature in the San Francisco Call, Sept. 23, 1906)

Fearmongering became a common theme in the early 1906 newspapers. When the British launched a Dreadnought warship, the Feb. 12 NY Tribune used the news in an op/ed to point out that Japan was building two warships of this type, but U.S. ships were years away. An editorial in the Feb. 11 LA Herald warned, “…little Japan, grown ‘cockey’ by its recent victories, is nudging the sleeping giant and whispering to it to ‘go in and win.’ But recently the Japanese government had the nerve to twist the lion’s tail by criticizing the army formations of Great Britain. And reports come that Japan is working day and night on its naval armament…” An adjacent article by “Captain A. W. Best” warns that the “real aim and aspiration of the yellow races…[is] to win first the Pacific slope of North and South America (and Northern Australia) and having established themselves, like weeds there and choked out the white race in those areas to gradually extend the process to the rest of the world…” There was also a Panama Canal angle: Canal-bashers in Congress implied that if it was completed, Japanese warships could use it to attack the U.S. East Coast.

In short order, the situation became a replay of the anti-Chinese hysteria of the 1880s. Champion of the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League was a San Jose Congressman who delivered a Japanese exclusion speech. The San Francisco school board issued an order to segregate “pupils of the Mongolian race” from public schools, charging that classrooms were overcrowded with Asians (in reality, the order only applied to 93 Japanese kids, since Chinese schoolchildren were already forced to go to the “Oriental School”). Following the 1906 Earthquake, Japanese scientists visiting San Francisco were pelted with rocks, perhaps because one of the Exclusion League’s statements claimed the Japanese liked earthquakes: “Do not for a moment think that the Japanese will keep away on account of the earthquakes. They are raised on earthquakes in Japan, and the earthquake will only make the Nepponese [sic] coolies feel more at home in California. “

The view from Sonoma County can be found by sampling the local papers from January, 1907. Teddy Roosevelt had just ordered the San Francisco Board of Education to keep Japanese students in the public schools, and on the seventh the Santa Rosa Republican printed wire stories about the Governor and an Oregon Senator denouncing the order. The next day, the Republican reprinted an Oakland Enquirer editorial on the “commercial menace of Japan,” warning that the Japanese could horn in on lucrative flour exports if they started grinding wheat grown in Asia. On Jan. 24, the Press Democrat published the editorial cartoon seen at right, powerful in its imagery if rather vague in message (click to enlarge).

Most significant is that both Santa Rosa papers never, as far as I can find, reprinted items from the Bay Area press that suggested that the Japanese were “coolies” or part of a Fifth Column, called for them to be deported or their children removed from school, or otherwise suggested that they were undeserving, lesser people. Yes, individuals were sometimes disrespectfully (in modern eyes) referred to as “Japs” or even “little brown men” in local articles, but if those editors truly intended to publish racial putdowns, they had a lexicon of hateful invective available to them from the San Francisco papers.

Santa Rosa’s big event for that month was a speech by Democratic Party superstar William Jennings Bryan, and more than 3,000 packed into the skating rink on a Saturday afternoon to hear him pontificate about America’s greatness and its destiny to lead the world. In the portion of his speech summarized in a Press Democrat article below, Bryan also pitched the conflicts between Asia and the United States as sort of a crusade for the “active, positive faith of Christianity.” Oh, dear.

The situation only spiraled down. Japanese who had become naturalized citizens but lost their papers in the San Francisco earthquake were denied their former citizenship. 1907 also witnessed two incidents in San Francisco involving White drunks that turned into anti-Japanese riots, and similar riots followed in Berkeley (!) in 1909. The Exclusion League tripled in membership groups, and in 1910 there were an astonishing 27 anti-Japanese laws proposed in the California legislature. William Jennings Bryan, always helpful, told President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 that the problem could be solved if half the Japanese in California were relocated to other states.

Most of those woes didn’t impact Japanese immigrants in Sonoma County, but the California Alien Land Law of 1913 did. They could no longer buy property, or even legally rent land for more than three years, and a 1920 ballot initiative further blocked their ability to have the actual land title held in the name of a trust, business, or their citizen children. The courts later chipped away at the restrictions somewhat, but the entire law was not overturned in California until 1952.

While trade unions and the California Grange sparked the anti-Japanese movement, it was the newspapers of the day that are most to blame for fanning the flames white hot. The pro-union San Francisco Chronicle kept the issue on the front page for much of 1905-1906, even reviving it when interest waned after the quake. It became fodder for a newspaper war with the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner’s long-running “Yellow Peril” series, which most famously offered a 1907 Sunday feature titled, “Japan May Seize the Pacific Coast.” The Hearst syndicate continued playing this alarmist theme for years and hit rock-bottom – which for them, was really saying something – when in 1915 they ran an article supposedly revealing secret plans for a Japanese invasion of California via Mexico. The photos were twenty years old, and the basis of the story was badly-translated fiction from a Japanese magazine.

WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN WELCOMED IN SANTA ROSA
Masterly Address Is Heard by Immense Audience
Splendid Reception Tendered the Distinguished Statesman in the City of Roses Saturday

It was an immense audience that gathered in the pavilion on A street to hear the Hon. William Jennings Bryan, the distinguished Nebraska statesman, on Saturday afternoon. They came from far and near to see and hear one of the country’s foremost men. They saw and heard and went away satisfied, carrying with them the inspiration of a high resolve, and uplifted and elevated by the stirring sentiments expressed by the celebrated speaker.

[..]

Mr. Bryan dwelt at considerable length on modern China and her issue from the dormant condition of two thousand years. The negative creed of Confucius is giving place to the active, positive faith of Christianity, he said. Progressive viceroys of different provinces are organizing schools not for the teachers of the musty philosophy of the past, but the newer ideas of a nearer age placed before the earnest student. “I see the day,” said the speaker, “when Christianity will illuminate the lang [sic], dark places of the Orient.”

Referring to Japan the speaker said she was facing one of the most important crises in her history. She had copied western ways and now it remained to see whether she would borrow western religion, or endeavor to build up the nation without religion, and with agnosticism and infidelity.

Very interesting Mr. Bryan alluded to the religions of other races and the idolatry practiced in certain lands. He then described the visits he and Mrs. Bryan paid to some of the crowned heads of the old world, and of the ceremony attendant thereon. He was pleased beyond measure, he said, to hear President Roosevelt mentioned all over the world as a lover of peace, growing out of his mission in bringing about a cessation of hostilities between Russia and Japan…

– Press Democrat, January 27, 1907

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