1906earthquakesmoke

CAUSE OF DEATH: EARTHQUAKE MADNESS

More deaths from the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake have been found, although these victims died far away at an asylum.

Before getting into that, some bookkeeping is in order. The unofficial death toll for that disaster now stands at 82, with 85 being a reasonable bet. Although the full count can never be known, it’s still likely to fall in the 100-120 range.

This new total of 82 represents two asylum discoveries and an upgrade of three victims to “certain” status. A full list is available as a PDF or a spreadsheet, and a single-page 1906 Santa Rosa Earthquake fact sheet can also be downloaded.

Briefly: The upgrades are thanks to clearing up confusion dating back to the time of the disaster. There were four death certificates for “unknown” persons and the monument over the earthquake victim’s mass grave specifies “FOUR PERSONS UNKNOWN.” Rural Cemetery Archivist Sandy Frary uncovered the original death certificate for unknown #1 and found it was for three unknown persons, not a single individual. The monument also lists the unknown as “NOS. 1-4-6-7” which implied seven burials, so this now synchs up with a newspaper story at the time describing a coroner’s inquest of seven unknowns. All this is hashed out in greater detail in a previous article, “WHO LIES BENEATH?” which has been slightly updated to include the new confirmations.

Sandy Frary also came across an obituary I had overlooked. From the Press Democrat, August 13, 1907:


Mrs. L. W. Stebbins, who died in Ukiah, was buried here Monday from the Christian Church, the Rev. Peter Colvin conducting the services. Mrs. Stebbins’ death was directly due to the great disaster of last year. Her awful experiences in those April days racked and wrecked her mind and body. Her reason failed, and she was taken to the state hospital for treatment, but steadily declined in health…

(RIGHT: Smoke and downed lines on Fourth street in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake, one of only two photographs believed to have been taken that day. Courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Emma Stebbins, a 40 year-old housewife who lived on Ripley street, had died at the Mendocino State Hospital at Talmage, near Ukiah. She had been there almost exactly a year, her mind gone because of “earthquake of [April] 18th and death of father,” according to her commitment record. She spent her days staring into space and answering questions incoherently. Then she stopped eating and died.

The Mendocino hospital was the only place in the North Bay for regular people who lost their wits; the asylum in Napa was then used for the criminally insane, and Eldridge (Glen Ellen) was mostly for those deemed “feeble-minded” – for more background on these mental hospitals, read “THE ASYLUMS NEXT DOOR“. Those admitted to Mendocino were usually alcoholics/drug addicts who cleaned up and went home or those with senile dementia who died there. In the wake of the great 1906 earthquake, there was a surge of people whose cause of mental illness was deemed to be the disaster.

Between the April 18 quake and the end of 1906, fifteen people from Sonoma county were sent to that hospital, almost half of them for reasons apparently linked to the quake. Of those six whose sanity was shaken by the shaking earth, three died. Besides Emma Stebbins, Jacob H. Schlotterback of Santa Rosa was sent there (cause: “earthquake of April 18, 1906”) and was dead in less than a month. Like Emma, he refused to eat. Emma and Jacob count as Santa Rosa earthquake victims #81 and 82. Here we’re only collecting names of people whose deaths were attributed to being caught in Santa Rosa’s disaster, but another local who later died at the asylum was William Newcom/Newcome of Healdsburg, committed because of the “shock of earthquake.” Should it be determined he was in Santa Rosa that morning he’ll be added to the list.

Not everyone with earthquake madness went to the asylum. America Thomas died at home about ten weeks later from “general disability following general neurosis caused by shock” according to her death certificate, and Elwin Hutchinson, a 15 year-old schoolboy who died at the end of 1906, suffered from “partial paralysis and nervous prostration” (Hutchinson’s death certificate did not specify the earthquake, so he is among the three unconfirmed disaster victims). Nor did everyone with serious mental problems die; Hattie Runyon’s family kept her breakdown secret for two years.

But there was a Santa Rosan who died during the quake at an asylum: 26 year-old Annie Leete, who was working as a waitress at Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara. Agnews was the other general population asylum in the area – the South Bay equivalent of the Mendocino hospital.

The tragedy of what happened there is probably the last great untold story of the 1906 earthquake; the destruction at Agnews was worse than either San Francisco or Santa Rosa by comparison, with over ten percent of staff and patients killed (11 employees plus 107 of 1,075 inmates).


Los Angeles Herald, April 19, 1906. Note the misinformation about Santa Rosa

Helen Warwick, a writer for the Oakland Tribune who was in quake-ravaged San Francisco just a few days before, wrote “never, in all my life, had I dreamed or imagine anything so totally and absolutely demolished as the Agnew Asylum.” The roof of the administration building pancaked, all five stories of it. Some brick walls fell exposing the infirmaries and some floors collapsed.

It’s impossible to imagine the terror the mental patients must have experienced being captives in their locked rooms as the world seemed to collapse around them. They were lucky no fire broke out and immensely fortunate that hospital superintendent Dr. Leonard Stocking kept a level head. After digging himself out of the debris he freed the inmates without hesitation, mobilizing about forty men into a search-and-rescue operation. Given that the hospital would have been short-handed to supervise over a thousand unconfined patients even in the best of conditions, it was a courageous action.

Dr. Stocking later wrote a report where he claimed “very few wandered away,” but that was putting the best face on it. The Santa Cruz Sentinel wrote, “Scores of the demented escaped from the boundaries of the institution and are wandering, many half clad, about the surrounding country.” The San Francisco Chronicle reported “200 inmates of the asylum escaped and are roaming over the countryside,” although most newspapers were printing 40-50 had escaped.

Rumors of all sorts flourished in the following days. Governor Pardee had a staff to refute wild stories appearing in East Coast press that San Francisco had been hit by a massive tsunami and that thousands were dying of plague. Also circulating was the claim that the superintendent of State hospitals had ordered the shooting of a hundred patients at Agnews to prevent them from escaping.

(RIGHT: Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara before the 1906 earthquake)

For months, papers were describing deranged people arrested around the state as being allegedly Agnews escapees. A man in Los Angeles who attacked a woman at the train station and tried to drag her away; a guy “in a demented condition” found near Fremont; someone in San Francisco who threatened his mother and others with a pistol.

Fortunately, few from the “ward of the desperately insane” seemed to have escaped. Their housing was on the top floor of one of the buildings most damaged, and seven died. Deputies from the Santa Clara Sheriff were quickly on the scene and followed by other officers – by remarkable good luck there was a state sheriff convention underway in San Jose. The most violent 99 patients were sent to the Central Valley asylum in Stockton by train, according to a wire service story, “crowded into two [rail] cars and were raving and yelling. Many of them attempted to jump from the cars and the attendants had great difficulty in restraining them.”

Volunteer doctors and nurses also poured into the grounds of the wrecked hospital, where medical care was provided under the trees to the approx. 180 patients injured. By nightfall a tent city had arisen. Dr. Stocking’s report described it in glowing terms: “..so comfortable and contented are they that many, both employees and patients, ask to be allowed to camp all summer.” But reporter Helen Warwick painted a different picture: “Some were chatting rationally enough, wandering about from one place to another, others stood and gazed, wild-eyed and dumb–an awful rigidity in face and figure arguing desperate insanity. Some were strapped to benches; some threw their hands in the air and grappled with some imaginary foe, while one woman shrieked and screamed, that the walls were falling, falling, and cowered to the ground begging the others to keep them off.”

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lakejonive1908

LOSING THE LOVELY LAKE JONIVE

Once upon a time Sebastopol had a popular and beautiful lake until the town turned it into an open cesspool. As the saying goes, this is why we can’t have nice things.

A small remnant of the lake can still be seen during the rainy season at the intersection of High School and Occidental Roads but more than a century ago it was year-round. Here’s how the Sebastopol Times described it in 1903: “A beautiful body of water a mile long, 150 feet wide, and from 20 to 30 feet deep, boarded with oaks, willows, etc., is situated within a mile of town and is a favorite place for bathing, boating, and fishing.” Five years earlier a tourist praised in the Sebastopol Times its “crystal laughing waters” which seems a bit embroidered, but it’s safe to presume it was a very pleasant place.

(RIGHT: Colored postcard of Lake Jonive in 1908. Image courtesy Sonoma County Library)

It was known as Lake Jonive (“strangers will take notice that it is pronounced ‘Ho-nee-va,'” the Press Democrat noted in a promotional supplement, adding a syllable lost today). The papers also called it the Lagoon or simply the Laguna, although that shorthand was also used in other stories about plans to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa plain – more about that in a moment.

The Sonoma County Library has about twenty photographs of Lake Jonive, mostly from around 1900 and mostly showing people boating. The photo marked “Pleasure Resort” shows the swimmer’s diving tower and wooden landing where all those women with elaborate, flowery hats rented boats from Joe Moran’s family, on the western shore. Other snapshots show couples lounging on the lake banks, which was also where crews of hop pickers pitched tents during the harvest season. No anglers are pictured but it was a very popular fishing hole where anyone could catch salmon and steelhead, carp (which appeared after a 1878 flood washed them out of a private pond), bass and catfish (which were introduced in following years in efforts to kill the carp). “From the clear waters of this body have been caught salmon-trout that filled the sportsman’s heart with joy,” boasted a promotional article in the 1902 Sebastopol Times.

The last known photo dates from 1912, which may be because the following year Lake Jonive was thick with dead and dying fish.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist told the Press Democrat. “I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air.”

Water samples and dead fish were sent to San Francisco for analysis. Unfortunately, we don’t know the results; the Santa Rosa papers didn’t mention the topic again, and there is no Sebastopol Times microfilm for 1913. But the fish were clearly gasping for air because they were asphyxiating – the lake was so polluted the water was nearly dead from lack of oxygen. Part of the blame likely goes to the canneries; apple pomace sucks up lots of O2 as it decays, not to mention the peels having residual lead arsenate from the insecticides used in that era. What was mainly killing the lake, however, was the 100,000 gallons of untreated septic tank effluent Sebastopol was pumping into the southern end of the lake every day.

In the years around the turn of the century, Sebastopol was perpetually on the verge of a major public health crisis. Following a diphtheria outbreak in 1898 there were calls to do something about the sewage problem. Homes had an outhouse or cesspool and since most of the town is built on a slope, any overflow or leaks flowed down the street or on to a downhill neighbor’s property – and maybe into their private well. A few years later a Sebastopol Times editorial commented the smell was “the most detestable foulness imaginable.” Once the town incorporated in 1902 efforts were quickly undertaken to buy equipment to pump the failing cesspools and three years later, bonds were sold to build an actual sewer system, which terminated in a big wooden septic tank slightly north of today’s Teen Center on Morris street. From late 1906 everything collected there was flushed directly into Lake Jonive without any treatment. This system remained in place until 1929.

(By the way: Except for the events of 1912 and 1913, most of the research here comes from John Cummings, who wrote several excellent papers on Sebastopol history which are available for download from SSU. If you’re interested in this topic or Sebastopol history in general I encourage you to explore them.)

Sebastopol’s toilets may have been the main culprit in the killing of Lake Jonive, but there were other threats. Over the course of three generations – from 1877 to 1946 – there were numerous plans to drain the Laguna and reclaim the fertile soil for cultivation. The proposal in early 1913 was to blast a four-mile canal between the lake and the Russian River. The Santa Rosa papers commented that property owners were enthusiastic because the land “has no particular value” as it was.

(RIGHT: Swimmers in Lake Jonive in 1909. Kids, don’t swallow the water. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Like most of these half-baked schemes, the 1913 plan didn’t get out of the preliminary stages. One that did find some traction came in 1929, when Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley and L. C. Cnopius of Sebastopol blasted a half-mile ditch between their properties which resulted in Lake Jonive – or what remained of it, by then – dropping eighteen inches. Finley also led efforts during the Great Depression to get the state involved in a works project to drain the entire Laguna de Santa Rosa. More about that can likewise be found in the Cummings papers.

While sewage poisoned the lake and reclamation projects repeatedly threatened to destroy it altogether, neither explain what reduced Lake Jonive to its relatively puddle-like size. In a 1955 story on local history, the Sebastopol Times quoted a member of the Moran family as saying, “when [Sebastopol] put in the sewer plant it encouraged weeds to grow and silt filled it in.” Another significant factor was garbage – next to the sewer farm was the town dump, which covered roughly the area around today’s Community Center, park and ball field.

There were apparently no restrictions on what could be thrown there and whenever there were heavy rains the tin cans, bottles and other lighter trash washed into the lake. In 1926 the city council declared it an “unsightly mess” and imposed fees (75¢ for an abandoned car, please). Sebastopol didn’t close the dump until 1966, and then only after strong pressure from the county health department citing both Russian river water contamination and air pollution from the dump’s incinerator.

Lake Jonive was Sebastopol’s jewel, an irreplaceable treasure which the town and canneries killed in just six years. There’s irony in noting it was 1910 – smack in the middle of the tragedy – when the town held its very first Gravenstein Apple Show, promoting the apple industry’s special relationship with the community. Such a pity that was the only thing that Sebastopol thought was worth celebrating.

PLAN TO CUT CHANNEL FOR WATERS OF LAGUNA
Project Would Reclaim Two Thousand Acres of Land

Parties interested in the drainage of the lands lying along the water course in western Sonoma county, known as the laguna, have planned to hold a mass meeting at the office of the Leppo Realty Company, on Fourth street, at 10 o’clock on the morning of January 4th. To this meeting all persons owning land along the laguna and adjacent thereto are urged to be present and take part in the discussions.

It is planned to cut a channel in the laguna to guide the waters straight to the river, and not permit them to overflow hundreds of acres each winter, as they have done for hundreds of years past. This annual inundation of these lands have deposited a rich sediment there, but it has made it impossible to farm them. When a channel has been cut to carry off this water and confine it to a narrow bed, these hundreds of acres will be reclaimed, and they will be among the most valuable and productive in the entire country.

Contractors will be in attendance at this meeting and submit plans and estimates for doing the work, and if arrangements are made they will be in position to speedily undertake and carry out the contract. This will give for farming purposes from 1500 to 2000 acres of lance, which is now considered waste, because of the annual overflow, which makes it impossible to get crops therefrom.

The channel which it is proposed to cut will be 25 feet wide and not less than 6 feet deep at any portion of the stream. This will give an abundant passageway for confining the waters of the laguna, and prevent them from spreading over these hundreds of acres, destroying their usefulness from a productive standpoint. This will give a direct channel from Sebastopol to Russian river, and make a water course of about six miles, on which the people of the Sebastopol section could maintain launches and other small craft. This straight channel will give an opportunity for fish to come from the river, and so stock the streams tributary to the laguna, and will provide the local fishermen with an exceptional abundance of sport along that favorite line.

Contractors who are willing to undertake the work of cutting the channel will present their proposition to the property owners at the meeting on January 4th, and it is certain that the reclaiming of this quantity of land will add materially to the wealth of Sonoma county and to its taxable property, besides becoming valuable for the owners, where not it has no particular value. The project is one of far reaching importance, and it is hoped that every one residing along the stream will attend the meeting.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 27, 1912

 

CONSIDER PLAN DRAIN LAGUNA
Seek to Reclaim About 2,000 Acres of Fertile Farm Land in the Gold Ridge Section

To recover about two thousand acres of land by draing the Laguna de Santa Rosa was the proposition discussed at a meeting of the property owners adjoining the Laguna, held on Saturday morning. It is proposed to cut a channel from the Laguna to the Russian river, a distance of about four miles. This will enable the water to be carried off and the rich land placed under cultivation.

The meeting was called to order and J. D. Baliff was chosen chairman…F. C. Stauvel was appointed to take up the matter with the remaining property owners to see if they would join in defraying the cost.

Two methods were discussed to put the proposed ditch through. One was by dredger and the other by dynamite. The latter was favored as being more economical. It is thought that there will be about four miles that will have to be dredged. The project is a large one and the property owners are very enthusiastic about it.

– Press Democrat, January 5, 1913

 

MANY FISH DEAD AND DYING IN LAKE JONIVE ON MONDAY

County Health Officer S. S. Bogle received a telephone message Monday morning from the Lake Jonive section near Sebastopol, stating that for some unknown cause all the fish were dying in Lake Jonive, and asking that the matter be given immediate attention. Dr. Bogle sent Deputy Health Officer John L. Gist to the scene and the officer found that the report was correct. The top of the water of the lake was thick with all kinds of fish, Mr. Gist says. There were immense black bass, carp and catfish, and some smaller ones too, but hundreds of them, wiggling about in the water with their mouths open as if gasping for air, and all presumably endeavoring to get to a fresh water stream at another end of the lake.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. I have seen fish but the number and the size–some of them immense–and such queer actions. I have never noticed before in all my experience. There were a great many dead fish on top of the water from some cause. There were hundreds and hundreds of fish, all wiggling and with their mouths open as if they wanted to get out of the water to reach air. It beat anything you can imagine.

“Unlike the shyness fish usually exhibit when an angler is after them, these shoals of fish came right towards us. They all seemed to be wanting to get to the fresh water. I telephone and get Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Henry Lencioni to come over from Santa Rosa and when he arrived he was just as surprised as I was. He could not fathom the cause of the trouble any more than I could. We discovered that some distance further up the Laguna the water from the septic tanks of the Sebastopol sewer system empties into the Laguna which passes through Lake Jonive. Draining from the wineries and some pomace has been passing through the sewer into the water. I think possibly some matter may have gotten into the lake from this source. The fish looked as if they were intoxicated. We got several samples of water from the place where the septic tank water empties into the Laguna, then we got some further down and also a sample from the fish pond. We also caught some of the fish and the water and fish we are going to take to the analyst in San Francisco for examination tomorrow. Then we shall know what has caused this unusual stir among the fish in Lake Jonive. I had been told that a person could not catch fish in the Lake. There were certainly enough of them, dead and living, yesterday.”

– Press Democrat, November 11, 1913

 

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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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