1908chinatown

WHEN THE POSSE RAIDED CHINATOWN

All was quiet that midsummer evening in 1912 Santa Rosa, except for two dozen guys trashing the Chinese neighborhood on Second street.

The men were not thugs from a San Francisco Chinese crime gang, although just a few months earlier the community here worried that a Tong war underway in the city would escalate and draw “highbinder” assassins to Santa Rosa. Nor was the havoc caused by a mob of local drunks looking for trouble. Descending on Second street that night was an official posse of lawmen and sworn citizens conducting the first opium raid in Santa Rosa.

(RIGHT: 1908 Sanborn map section showing Santa Rosa’s Chinatown highlighted in blue)

A lengthy account of the raid appeared in the Press Democrat (transcribed below) and offers a glimpse of the small Chinatown near the intersection of Second and D streets, rare because it was never mentioned in the local newspapers except for occasional calls for it to be torn down and replaced with a park, hospital or something Burbank-related.

The excuse for terrorizing the community and ransacking their homes was the new law outlawing opium use in California – apparently the first time personal possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia was criminalized in U. S. history. The law was passed in 1909 and appealed up to the state Supreme Court, where it was upheld in 1911. Shortly after that Chinatown raids began in larger cities across the state. The posse raid in Santa Rosa was coordinated to start jointly with raids in Sebastopol and Petaluma Chinatowns.

Even though opium possession was only a misdemeanor subject to a $100 fine the posse gave no quarter in their quest, frisking the residents and tearing into everything they found. From the Press Democrat account, “Some half dozen places were entered, doors were locked and the Chinese occupants quickly herded into one room, and then the search began. Boxes, drawers, sacks, tins, paper packages, clothing, beds, and in short everything was overhauled and a thorough search made. Doors that were locked and for which keys were not delivered up at once, were burst open. So were trunks and boxes…pretty much of a litter remained after the officers had done their work.”

The incident also revealed no improvement in anti-Chinese bigotry; the PD article ran through all its old racial epithets – “Celestials” being the kindest of them – but the most loathsome comment in the paper was this: “They all gave some kind of a name. There were Chows, Gows, Ons, Gees, Sams, Harrys and goodness knows what else. For all the officers knew some of those names may have been aliases, too. No one cared particularly anyway. The names all sounded alike.”

The reporter further added his/her pissy little judgements of their lifestyle: They “do not smoke very good tobacco,” smells in some bottles “were not over-appetizing” and “the lard in preparing the evening meal had not been of the freshest variety.” In fact, many in the posse may have been there just to snoop and later snark about the quality of Chinese lard or such; while the party included every active and retired cop in town, other members had no apparent reason to be involved, including State Senator Herb Slater, undertaker Frank Welti and 20 year-olds Arley Gard and Ernest Clay.

In truth, the purpose of the whole business – from the federal import ban also enacted in 1909 down to the raids after 1911 – was meant to harass the Chinese community. The import ban only affected the smoking form of opium favored by Chinese – the opium-based “nerve tonics” predominantly used by whites were still legal.

Smuggling the four-ounce cans over from China proved easy; in her oral history with Gaye LeBaron, Song Wong Bourbeau (born 1909 in Santa Rosa) recalled “they ship them over just like you would ship a dozen eggs.” All the ban accomplished was to quickly drive up the price tenfold; by 1912 a night’s smoke cost around seven dollars, roughly half a working man’s weekly wage and a couple of years later it would double again (MORE). To his credit, former U.S. Congressman from Santa Rosa Duncan McKinlay proposed to tax opium at $5 per pound, believing it was impossible to stop the smuggling trade.

Nor did the Santa Rosa police care about opium smoking before the new law made arrests so lucrative – although they did intervene when white youth were found using the drug, as shown in an example here. And while Santa Rosa had raided Chinatown before, then it was for gambling; in 1910 a series of raids busted Chinese men for playing stud poker (a charge which must have caused guffaws at card tables in saloons and fraternal clubs around town). But those fines brought in less that $250, while in that single opium posse raid the city cleared over $1,000. So it’s no surprise that another posse hit the Santa Rosa opium dens in May 1913, this time making more arrests. Likewise in that search they gave “seven places on Second street…a most thorough overhauling.” Because breaking stuff up is just something a posse has to do, as everyone knows.

 HIGHBINDER SCARE IN SANTA ROSA CHINATOWN LAST NIGHT

 Santa Rosa’s Chinatown on Second street between Main and D streets was pretty badly scared Wednesday night. Talk of “Highbinder” was in the air, following the receiving of a telephone message from “My flen in Napa” by Wong Mow, one of the local Chinese merchants.

 The word was passed around like wildfire. Chinese pickets were stationed here and there on the lookout app along the block in front of the Mongolian quartets, and Chief of Police Boyes was notified. The Chief instructed the patrolmen on the meats to make frequent visits during the night to Chinatown.

 The message received by Wong Mow about half past 7 o’clock word that a party of Chinese highbinders from the warring companies in San Francisco were headed for Santa Rosa and were of the number who shot and killed a man in Marysville. The news was sufficient to put Chinatown all on the lookout.

 At one o’clock this morning a Press Democrat representative visited Chinatown. The “lookouts” were still on duty. They were crouching down in the darkness of the shadow of buildings ready to sound an alarm…

…There are many San Francisco Chinese taking refuge here at the present time. A dozen queueless ones arrived here Wednesday night. They have been drifting in for a week…

– Press Democrat, March 21, 1912

STILL IN FEAR OF HIGHBINDERS
Celestials in Local Chinatown Perturbed Over News of Tong Slayings in Other Places

The excitement in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown following the highbinder murders in other cities was increased when the news of the slaying was told there yesterday, and last night the “lookouts” were still on duty. The local Celestials fear that the bad men may visit here.

The casual passerby along the block on Second street occupied by the Chinese quarters last night would not have noticed anything out of the ordinary except for the lookouts crouching in the dark shadow of some building. But the advent of a reporter or policeman known to some of the Chinese merchants was sufficient to draw a crowd of Chinese eager to learn if any news of the approach of the highbinders was forthcoming…

– Press Democrat, March 23, 1912

QUONG SING PROUD MAN ON SATURDAY

Quong Sing, the local merchant, was a happy man on Saturday, when he paraded at the head of the New Cathay Boys’ Band from San Francisco. This band is composed of thirty-seven young Chinese who rendered some splendid selections during their march through the streets. These lads have only been playing five months, but they handle their instruments and their music like seasoned veterans. In the band are two lads of eight and nine years, who play the alto horns. Quong Sing is proud of the new China and the boys who were here on Saturday. He was instrumental in bringing the band to this city.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 4, 1912

POSSES RAID CHINATOWN AND SEVEN ARRESTS MADE
Raids Also Made in Petaluma and Sebastopol
More Arrests in Petaluma and Sebastopol–Opium and Yen She Found and a Number of Outfits on Wednesday Night

There was considerable excitement, quiet excitement at that, in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown Wednesday night. The same can be said of the Chinatown of Sebastopol and that at Petaluma, for in all three places raids were made for opium, yen she and smoking outfits. In all three places both drugs, a number of pipes, hoy toys and other contrabrand articles were unearthed. Five Chinamen, a Chinese woman, and a white man were arrested and landed in jail by the officers, and their cases will come up for hearing in Justice Atchinson’s court. One man was arrested in Sebastopol, and shortly before twelve o’clock he joined the motley crew behind the bars. Four arrests were made in Petaluma.

The raid in Santa Rosa’s Chinatown, located on Second street, between Main and D streets, was headed by Chief of Police John M. Boyes and the officers of the department and of the Justice court, and special deputies aided by Chief Inspector Fred A. Sutherland of the State Board of Pharmacy of California. Sheriff Jack Smith and his posse, had charge of Sebastopol, and Deputy Sheriff Rasmussen and Chief of Police Ed Husler in Petaluma. Deputy Inspector W. T. White of the State Board aided in Sebastopol and Deputy A. J. McDonald of the State Board aided in Petaluma.

For some time the officers and the chief inspectors of the State Board have been aware of presence of the drug and its use in the Chinese quarters in the places named. The inspectors have obtained evidence, and not long since Chief Inspector Sutherland bought a dollars’ worth at one of the places raided on Second street. Consequently the raid was planned for Wednesday night at half past nine o’clock in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Petaluma.

On Second street in this city at the word of command given by sign by Chief Boyes, the posse that had previous divided up entered the Chinese quarters very quietly, no one knowing what was about to transpire. Some half dozen places were entered, doors were locked and the Chinese occupants quickly herded into one room, and then the search began. Boxes, drawers, sacks, tins, paper packages, clothing, beds, and in short everything was overhauled and a thorough search made. Doors that were locked and for which keys were not delivered up at once, were burst open. So were trunks and boxes. A number of packages of Yen She, some tins of opium, pipes and smoking outfits and other accessories in the smoking of the weed were discovered by the various posses and were carefully piled up, and later this evidence was taken to the police station.

Then the Chinamen were each given a “frisk,” or a search, and taken. At times, this was quite amusing, most of the Celestials taking the bantering in good part. Their language, too, had there been an interpreter present, might have savored of the profane. If it did not then, it will when they come to pack those boxes again and clean house, for pretty much of a litter remained after the officers had done their work. They all gave some kind of a name. There were Chows, Gows,Ons, Gees, Sams, Harrys and goodness knows what else. For all the officers knew some of those names may have been aliases, too. No one cared particularly anyway. The names all sounded alike.

Prior to entering the places the officers had provided themselves with search warrants, but none of the Chinese thought to ask for them, anyway. These warrants were procured so that everything might be legally done. It was after midnight before the raid ended here, the search occurring considerable time. Some of the scents discovered in the places during the overhauling of some of the ancient receptacles were not over-appetizing. More than one of the posse pressed into service can testify to that. Those “Chinks,” some of them at any rate, do not smoke very good tobacco, either; and the lard in preparing the evening meal had not been of the freshest variety.

Another thing revealed during the search of several of the Second street “joints,” was that the Chinese evidently do not put much faith in banks. A surprising lot of money was unearthed, and left of course. There were stacks of twenties, tens and fives in gold, as well as silver. The money will be put in another safe place by the Chinese today.

Attorney Rolfe L. Thompson will prosecute the offenders, representing the State Board. He was on hand at the raid Wednesday night, and at the police station when the prisoners were brought in.

Tried a Getaway

The white man, captured on a charge of having sold morphine, lives in this city, and has been a frequent habitant of the Chinese quarters. A warrant was in the pocket of Chief Boyes for his arrest, when he suddenly stepped into the very place where the Chief was assisting in the search. Police Officer George Matthews grabbed and handcuffed him. Later he tried a getaway but was captured by Attorney Thompson and Elmer Mobley, and was taken to the jail and locked up by Matthews.

The Santa Rosa posse was composed of Chief of Police Boyes, [21 other men named].

The Sebastopol Raid

As stated Sheriff Smith headed the raid at Sebastopol, and it was conducted along similar lines to the other places. Some Yen She and an opium outfit was taken from the place of Gong Gee. There was no excitement, and but a few Chinese were found at home. The idea prevailed there as here that in some manner the Chinese had got a “tip” as to what was about to happen. In Sheriff Smith’s posse were [22 other men named].

Raid in Petaluma

Chief Hussler of Petaluma was assisted in the raid there by [5 other men named]. The net result of their work was the arrest of four Chinese and the capture of a considerable quantity of contraband materials and smoking outfits. Three of the Chinese were locked up and one released on $200 cash bail.

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1912

CHINESE PAY $450 FINES
Result of Rain on Opium Dens Wednesday

Ten Chinamen appeared before Justice Atchinson Thursday, charged with having illicit drugs in their possession. This is the catch of the raids in Petaluma, Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, made on Wednesday night by the State Board of Health Inspectors.

The first to appear was Lou Yet of Sebastopol. He entered a plea of guilty and was promutly [sic] fined $100 by Justice Atchinson. The next were four Chinamen from Petaluma. They were considerably incensed over having to be tried here. They chattered and harangued for some time, but were unable to furnish the bail, and three of them were returned to jail to await developments. The other was dismissed. Attorney Gil P. Hall of Petaluma appeared for him on behalf of George P. McNear, explaining that he was only a cook and had just entered the place for a chat.

The five arrested here were promptly arraigned. They had little to say, but appeared to be very distressed. Sam Wo Lung was fined $200 on two charges. Wong Quong was fined $100 and Dock Yen $50 and fifty days in jail. Two others were dismissed for lack of evidence. One was a man and the other a woman. Harry Tong was returned to jail until such time as he could raise the money to pay his fine of $100.

Clint Rickliff, Ed Gautier and Earl Bumbaugh, the three white men captured in the raid on the Chinamen, are to be tried by Justice Atchinson also. These men are all known to be fiends and it is possible they will be sent to some asylum for treatment.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 1, 1912

THREE LONE CHINAMEN REMAIN NOW

There are three lone Chinamen in the county jail at the present time as the left-overs from the recent opium rains in the county. All the other defendants have had their cases disposed of and something over $1,000 has been paid in fines. One of the Chinamen will serve 200 days in jail and the two others are in for one hundred days each. They will have to go a long time without their smokes.

– Press Democrat, August 8, 1912
OPIUM SMOKER IS CAPTURED
Officers Gard and Ragain Arrest Sam Wo Lung While Engaged in Enjoyable Smoke

Officers Gard and Ragain made a very clever capture of an opium smoker and his entire outfit, including the yen shee, which he was heating on his needle preparatory to taking a smoke at 2 o’clock Thursday morning.

The victim of the raid was Sam Wo Lung, who was recently acquitted of having opium in his possession when captured in the last raid conducted under the direction of the State Board of Health. He is considered one of the leaders here and his capture with the goods on him is considered quite a victory for the officers.

When searched at the police station it was found that Sam Wo Lung was well provided with ready cash and he put up $100 cash bond with proper grace and returned to his place, 620 Second street, minus his pipe and outfit. A charge will be placed against him under the State law in Justice Atchinson’s court.

– Press Democrat, October 16, 1912

CHINESE GAMBLERS CAUGHT IN A RAID
Police Visit Doon Kee’s Place Thursday Morning and Capture Six Visitors Playing American Game With the Stakes

Police Officers N. G. Yeager, A. G. Miller and G. W. Matthews made a raid on Doon Kee’s place on Second street this morning about 2 o’clock and arrested nine Chinese found in the room. Six of the number were engaged in playing Studhorse porker [sic] and were greatly surprised at the interruption.

Officer Matthews was the first to reach the table and secured the cards and stakes, while Officer Miller secured the Chinese money being used for chips. All in the room were taken to police headquarters. Several denied they were playing, but none would say who the players were, so all were informed tht they would have to put up a cash deposit of $10 each to secure their liberty.

Doon Kee arrived on the scene, and after some parleying, secured the name of those who were not playing and they were immediately released while $10 cash bail was put up for each of the other six by Doon Kee.

The six charged with gambling were Ah Wong, Ah Ching, Ah Sing, Wong Kim, Sam Kee and Moon Kee.

– Press Democrat, December 1, 1910

ARREST CHINESE FOR GAMBLING
Officers Make Third Raid Early Tuesday Morning and Gather in Fifteen Orientals

In their third raid upon the Chinese gamblers the police shortly after 2 o’clock this morning arresting 14 inmates of Doon Kee’s gambling house. Last Thursday morning at about the same hour 12 Chinese were arrested and later six were fined $10 each for gambling.

Three of the same men were caught this morning and in their case $20 cash bail was demanded, while the other 11 were allowed their release upon $10 cash bail. A woman will also be charged with being in the place, making a total of $180 bail pending their hearing.

– Press Democrat, December 6, 1910
CHINESE CONTRIBUTE TO THE DISTRICT FAIR

Charlie Quong Sing, the pioneer Chinese merchant of Santa Rosa, whose smile and “Nice day, eh?” and “Anything new?” (the latter when he meets a newspaperman) have become regular salutations of everyday life in Santa Rosa, called at the Chamber of Commerce rooms on Wednesday and handed in a donation of two dollars and a half for the district fair.

He counseled Director Walter Price to tell Mr. Dunbar and the committee to call around at the place on Second street a day or two before the fair starts and he will go around with them among “the boys” and they will contribute more money to help the fair along.

– Press Democrat, August 7, 1913

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OUR LOVEABLE, AWFUL HISTORIAN

Good news: Tom Gregory has written the definitive history of Sonoma county. Bad news: Tom Gregory has written the definitive history of Sonoma county.

The 1911 publication of a new county history was a cause for celebration. Over twenty years had passed since the last one and books such as these were the lifeblood of a region – part almanac, part who’s who, part history. For boosters hoping to convince outsiders to live or do business here, it was something of a Bible.

It was a great advantage that the author was also local; Tom Gregory lived in Santa Rosa (his house is still there on the corner of Cherry and E). He was a former reporter and feature writer for the San Francisco newspapers as well as a pretty good poet and first rate humorist. He sometimes contributed to the Santa Rosa papers items both serious and goofy. Here’s a 1910 letter:

Gone. A Canadian 25ct piece which I received in change from somebody on the forenoon of August 16. That coin, minted with probably a million metal brothers, proved to be a mascot of limitless influence, a talisman of occult power, and I lost it by inadvertently passing it in trade on some person to me unknown. Anyone returning to me that magic piece of silver, which came from Canada, will receive the equivalent of its face value (in British territory) in the coin of U. Sam, and my glad hand forevermore.
Tearfully, Tom Gregory.

Besides his considerable writing chops, he was a popular, maybe even beloved, fellow around town – see the full profile of Tom Gregory appearing here earlier – but he wasn’t a scholar or historian as much as he was a storyteller. And that is why his Sonoma county history is so godawful.

Before diving into that issue, it must be said the rest of the book – the 558 biographies of local notables – is reliable (or at least, accurately states what the person paying for the profiles wanted known). That is a goldmine of information for genealogists and is primarily why the Gregory book is cited far more often than any other local history, including the modern one by Gaye LeBaron, et. al., “Santa Rosa, A Nineteenth Century Town.” Tom Gregory might have edited and punched up some of those biographies, but it’s doubtful he wrote any of them; typically that was grunt work done by a freelancer hired by the publisher.

But he bears full blame for the problems that discredit probably every page of the history section. Some of the misteaks could be mopped up with an errata, particularly wrong dates and places or hazy facts. He claimed, for example, the first Mexican settlers hoping to establish a colony in Sonoma were the last passengers aboard “the historic Natalia, the little brig in which Napoleon escaped from Elba” and which sunk in Monterey Bay in 1834. That ship’s Napoleonic heritage was an often-repeated 19th century story, but as H. H. Bancroft wrote there was no proof of that (we now know with certainty it wasn’t the same boat). Errors like this could have been easily avoided if Tom had fact-checked his book against Bancroft’s famed history series – and the Santa Rosa Library, two blocks from his house, certainly had a copy of the complete set.

Unfortunately, there are other places where Gregory wanders too deep into the weeds to rescue. One of these passages was mentioned in the profile, where he made the ridiculous claim the term “gringo” was coined by Mexicans sick of hearing Americans endlessly singing “Green Grow the Rushes.” At times like those his book resembles nothing more than the TV series “Drunk History,” where someone is liquored-up and asked to tell the story of some great moment in history which they only half remember from school days.

Gregory’s old newspaper, the San Francisco Call, produced a 3,000-word Sunday feature on his Sonoma county history (transcribed below) and it presents a good sampling of the book’s accuracy problems, trivial and not-so:

*   FORT ROSS   Gregory started on a bad note by naming this book chapter “El Fuerte de los Rusos,” a literal translation never used by anyone else; the Spanish and Mexicans called it “Presidio de Ross” (MORE). “Fort Ross” was an invention by the Americans. 

Twice Gregory referred to the Greek Catholic chapel there, although every school kid who has taken the field trip knows they were Russian Orthodox. Gregory was presumably confused because both use the orthodox cross. This was no trivial error; the Greek Catholic church was banned in Russia until 1905, which falsely implies the Russian colonists were religious dissidents.

At their settlement the Russians made the first ships out of redwood, Gregory wrote, including a large brig that cost $60,000. It truthfully cost 60,000 rubles, not dollars, as noted by Bancroft, who also explained none of the boats were made out of redwood. The Russian shipbuilder used unseasoned local oak which quickly rotted, with none of the ships still seaworthy after a few years.

*   THE PAUL REVERE OF CALIFORNIA   An American fighter in the Mexican War rode in 1858 from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just four days to deliver a message, according to Gregory, even though the 600 mile trail was “a mere bridle path over high mountains, through deep ravines, round precipitous cliffs, across wide chaparral covered mesas, along the sea beach.” John Brown AKA “Juan Flaco” was pursued by Mexican soldiers and had a horse “shot from under him, forcing him to go 30 miles afoot” to find another steed. Gosh, what a ripping adventure.

The most obvious flub is the date; by 1858 the war had been over for a dozen years – the ride of Juan Flaco took place in 1846. The rest of Gregory’s account is lifted from James M. Guinn, another history book historian who specialized in Los Angeles and Southern California. Guinn wrote about the ride of Juan Flaco several times, later versions omitting some of the more questionable details such as his horse jumping a 13-foot ravine after being shot and then our hero walking 27 miles (not 30, as Gregory claimed), which makes the four-day timeline pretty implausible. Later retellings also acknowledged the well-known route was actually 460 miles, but Guinn hedged, “counting the detours…he doubtless rode 600 miles.” Worse, in none of the versions – including those appearing in academic journals – did Guinn disclose much about his sources.

Had Tom Gregory looked up Bancroft’s account – which was published years before any of Guinn’s – he would have found a much less heroic tale along with sources listed. The remarkable ravine-jumping dying horse and 27 mile march came directly from John Brown/Juan Flaco (here’s another article with his version), but his Los Angeles commander later said Brown’s horse broke its leg after falling into a ravine and he only had to walk four miles to find a replacement. The trip actually took six days and the urgent message wasn’t delivered until the following day, after Brown was “picked up drunk and carried to the flagship.” By that time, the Americans in Los Angeles had surrendered.

*   HOW SONOMA GOT ITS NAME   In Gregory’s telling, “Sonoma” was an Indian name meaning “valley of the moon,” which was inspired by the eastern hills of the Sonoma Valley forming something like a lunar crescent. The priest who founded the local mission also gave the name “Sonoma” to the local Indian tribe. But it would have been more honest if Gregory had simply written, “no one knows.”

Part of his information came from an 1850 speech by M. G. Vallejo, where the general linked Sonoma to the Valley of the Moon, which was the first time the latter name appeared anywhere. References to a “Sonoma” tribe can be found back to 1815 missionary records, eight years before the priest supposedly gave them that name. The silly crescent valley explanation (did Gregory even look at a map?) seems to be something he just made up.

Bancroft would have been no help to Gregory in this case, but he’s still not exonerated; had Tom asked anyone in the UC/Berkeley anthropology department about local Indian geography they would have directed him to this paper published three years earlier. There it’s suggested “Sonoma” might have been named after the “chief” of the local tribal group, à la “Chief Marin” lending his name to his Americanized homeland. Or it could be no coincidence that some Wappo people a little farther to the east used -tsonoma as a place name suffix, much like today we use -town and -ville and similar. At any rate, we still don’t know where it really comes from. (This later article is also interesting reading.)

*   NO HISTORY IS COMPLETE WITHOUT ETHNIC SLURS   Aside from his compulsion to tell everyone about the made-up origin of “gringo,” Gregory felt the need to inform us where “greaser” comes from. Most of us today think of the 1950s rock ‘n’ roll hoodlums homogenized by the movie Grease, but in Gregory’s day and earlier it was an American slur against Hispanics. 

According to Gregory, “The greaser title was first given by the Americans to the Indians. The old time wooden axle of the immigrant wagons needed greasing frequently – an attention and task not nice or agreeable – and the digger’s [a racist epithet against the Indians] willingness to assume this and other humble labors around the camp of the good natured white man earned for him his name as well as occasional rations of beef.”

“Greaser” was indeed an ethnic slam, but not the kind Gregory believed – it was originally an Indian put-down of the American settlers.

 According to Bancroft, the “Caynomeros” – meaning the Southern Pomo of Sebastopol and Santa Rosa – watched wagons rolling into their homeland, “from which came forth human beings with dirty faces and greasy hands, the drivers pulling out greasy mattresses and with greasy hands spreading them on the ground…they called them mantecosos, greasy ones; and at the last it turned out that whenever a Caynamero spoke of any one who had come over the plains, he called him a mantecoso.”

That happened in 1844-5, but the “Saxons” (as Gregory called the Americans) caught on and soon flipped it around with a vengeance. California passed a “Greaser Act” in 1855 allowing authorities to arrest anyone of “Spanish and Indian blood” on charges of being a vagabond and place them in forced labor after confiscating their property.

We could continue mining that book review for errors – for example, Sequoyah wasn’t “chieftain of the Cherokees” and his name had no connection with the Sequoia genus name for the redwood tree – or we could invite Gentle Reader to jump into the book and dig up other problems. Tom Gregory’s History of Sonoma county is available here for download, reading online or searching. Perhaps an enterprising college or high school history teacher would like to assign each student a random page to determine how much is factual, howling wrong or fantasy.

But now, more than a century later, Tom’s version of history has wormed its way into countless books and articles. Because the latter part of the book with the biographies is an often-cited and accurate resource, authors have made the mistake of presuming the rest of the volume is trustworthy as well. Whenever researching 19th century items for this blog it’s not uncommon for me to stumble across a story that seems too mythic or too silly to be completely true; often I can trace it back to Gregory, who probably made it up or was dressing up an old barroom tale as fact. Perhaps the job of writing the county history should have gone to a writer with a bit less twinkle in his eye and much less fondness for spinning yarns.

Sonoma County, Champion History Maker of California

by Frank L. Mulgrew

Again the boats of Sir Francis Drake are beached on the shores of Sonoma county, to allow the daring sailor to scrape the barnacles from their bottoms; the Franciscan padre is accompanied on his weary pilgrimage, which ended in Sonoma: the last mission is built in Sonoma; El Camino Real is lost in Sonoma’s foothills; the Russians sail from their northern possessions in Alaska to Sonoma; the republic of California, with its bear flag emblem, is born In Sonoma; Fremont’s troops halt In Sonoma after their transcontinental march; the best wines outside of Europe are pressed from Sonoma grapes; the fastest horses are bred in Sonoma; Luther Burbank is a resident — in fact, that an astonishing number of the important factors in California history either started or ended in Sonoma county is most interestingly told in a history of that section written by Tom Gregory, a native Sonoman, and published by the Historic Record company of Los Angeles.

Gregory in his introduction confesses surprise that in the collecting of material for his history he found the historic trails of Sonoma interwoven with those of the state and often with the broader road to empires and monarchies. The reader will share this surprise and thank the writer for the delightful guidance over those picturesque and romantic highways and byways.

“Sonoma – Valley of the moon.” We first learn that this soft Spanish word is in reality not Spanish at all, but the Indian name, older than history, for the most eastern vale of this many valleyed county. Writes the historian: “The red Chocuyen looked over that graceful line of level land sweeping from the farthest horn of its crescent in the Napa hills around by the circling rampart of northern peak to its western point where a spur of the great Coast range dips under the tides of the San Pablo. To his nature trained mind was that perfect lunar shape – its arc to the north, and to the south its chord – a wide frontage on the big inland water. And he called it Sonoma.” Padre Jose Altimira, who came to this “most gifted land under the sun,” called the Indian tribe he found in the valley by the name, which was pleasant to his musical Spanish ear. Later the pueblo which grew about his mission received the name, and finally it was given to the “noble territory bordering the wide waterways of the state and fronting 20 league on the Pacific” – Sonoma county.

Gregory’s research has been thorough, his study comprehensive. He quotes tribute for Sonoma from noted authorities, from Padre Altimira to Fra Elbertus and records the acquisition of history makers from the landing of Sir Francis Drake, “that jolly pirate,” to Luther Burbank. “the wizard.” He tells of the geologic origin of the country, of the mountains and geysers and peaks and plains, but in no coldly scientific description. It is rather with the poet’s appreciation of nature’s wonders that he approaches his subject, and romance and rare humor, and the historian’s gift of perspective and true proportion are evidenced throughout in this true story of a wonderful county.

“Sonoma,” writes the historian, “found for herself a place within natural barriers of hill and bay, stream and sea, during those distant days when mighty terrestrial forces were heaving hemispheres into form. And this amphitheater of virile vale and mesa awaited through the unwritten savage years for the coming of the day when these acres would yield their wealth to the home building Saxon.”

However, In this God made valley, which we are assured has “never felt a drought,” there were stirring times between the Indian occupancy and the coming of the Saxon; and if the latter was the first fully to develop its agricultural and other resources, there were many others who appreciated the land and to reach it cut these trails, which often led from European thrones and the stirring events of old world history.

Long before Luther Burbank settled in Sonoma and sent the fame of his magic throughout the scientific world wo find the threads of interest connected. Great names appear – Napoleon, through the famous “gun of Austerlitz” which was part of the Russian fort at Ross and later saw active service in the fighting history of the state; also through the brig “Natalie,” in which the Corslcan made his escape from Elba. The Natalie was wrecked on her way to Sonoma from Monterey, where she had landed the first batch of colonists from Spain. Then we find complications between the thrones of Russia and Spain over the settlement at Fort Ross, in which a famous czar and king might have clashed forces but for the beneficent entanglements of red tape. Again, in 1579, Queen Elizabeth was presented with the land that was to be Sonoma, by Sir Francis Drake, flrst circumnavigator of the globe.

“Drake,” writes the author, “came hurrying along this shore with two millions of Spanish gold and several millions of leaking holes in his weather beaten and battle worn little ship, the Golden Hind, and while the carpenter on the beach was pumping the Pacific ocean out of the craft he made out the title deeds and calmly presented the whole coast to Queen Elizabeth. Nothing small about Francis!”

But “he of England – traveler in every land and sailor on the seven seas…a man who has made more ocean history than any other individual in his day” – mended hie ship and after but a 26 days’ stay ran the gauntlet with his cargo of Spanish gold and, rounding the coast of Africa, arrived home and was knighted by the queen in return for the dollars and dominions he presented her. Although he had set up a pre-emption notice and cairn, no one ever came from England to “prove up” on the claim of New Albion, as Drake called it.

Captain George Vancouver, another wandering Englishman, came sailing down the coast, and but for the martial entanglements of his nation at home, there might have been another English claim. None of the Saxons was destined to reap the harvests of the fertile Sonoma, but the hardy Americans who came later from the inland.

The Russians founded a settlement and fort on the coast, which from “El Fuerte de los Rusos” became Fort Ross. Padre Altlmira founded the Mission Solano, “the last bead of the rosary of missions.” The Greek and the Roman cross were raised together in Sonoma, and, although the czar and the king of Spain were, figuratively speaking, at swords’ points, and the commandante at San Francisco had orders to “drive the Rusos into the sea,” the cross and not the sword prevailed, and when Padre Altlmira officiated at the first service at the new church at San Francisco de Solano, the edifice contained many articles of decoration donated by the Russians at Fort Ross.

Cupid also defied Mars in these early days of Spanish and Russian occupancy. A beautiful but sad story, one of the real romances splendidly told by Gregory, is of Concepcion and her Russian lover. Count Nicholi Petrovich Razanoff [sp – Nikolai Petrovich Rozanoff], the governor of Alaska, who, in 1806, sailed Into San Francisco bay, “his ship filled with articles for the trade and his crew filled with scurvy,” was the hero of this romance.

“His first reception was neither cordial nor commercial,” writes Gregory, “the peculiar trade restrictions of the Spaniards prohibiting intercourse with foreigners, although the people and padres needed the goods. Razanoff could not have bought for cash, as the Spanish port regulations did not taboo Russian gold, but unfortunately he waa without the coin of any realm. But Love, whose laugh at locksmiths has long been a proverb, unlocked the port of San Francisco. The count, while dancing attendance on Commandante Jose Arguello, trying to work that official into a more commercial attitude, met Donna Concepcion Arguello, and the old, old drama of the heart was played. The beautiful California girl took up the work that diplomacy had dropped. She consented to marry her noble Russian lover and the stern old Don was not proof against the coaxing of his daughter. Neither was Governor Arrillaga at Monterey, for it seemed that this fascinating Espanol-Americana had her own way in both the capital and the chief port of the territory.

“When Razanoff sailed with his new cargo for Alaska he parted from Concepcion forever, as on his way across Siberia to St. Petersburg, where he was to get the permission of the czar to wed the Spanish girl, he was thrown from his horse. Before fully recovering from his injuries he attempted to complete the journey, and from the relapse died on the road. It was years before Concepcion. awaiting at San Francisco, learned of his death. She then joined the order of the Sisters of Visitacion, and after a long life devoted to noble work died at Benicia. Bret Harte, the California poet, has placed In tender verse this historical tale of a woman’s waiting years when

Lone beside the deep embrasures, where the brazen cannon are
Did she wait her promised bridegroom and the answer of the czar;
Watched the harbor head with longing, half in faith and half in doubt,
Every day some hope was kindled, flickered, faded and went out.

“The Russian settlement at Fort Ross was a two acre inclosure, the ingenious construction of the walls of which showed the frontier skill of this sturdy, self-sustaining people. The stockade was of thick planks, the lower ends mortised and the heavy timbers placed under the ground, and the upper ends, 12 feet above, were again mortised, every mortise beingr keyed with a wooden peg. Inside, at one of the angles, was the Greek Catholic chapel, two of the walls being a part of the inclosure walls. They were strongly constructed and were portholed for cannon, as was the entire stockade. Two small domes surmounted this church, one circular and the other pentagonal. A chime of bells called the farmers from the field and the hunters from the sea at matin and vesper time.

“The location, from a military point of view, was an admirable selection, as the 10, and afterward 20, guns of the fort commanded not only the land approaches to the town, but protected the shipping in the little harbor, which was itself a cozy cove, lying under a high northern shore, a defense against the fierce storms sweeping down the coast. The founding of this settlement in 1812 was celebrated with gun salutes, mass and feasting.

“In the cove below the fort the pioneer fleet of the Pacific coast was born. These ships were constructed of Sonoma lumber. Among these vessels were the Boldakof, a 200 ton brig, constructed at a cost of $60,000; the Volga, 160 tons, and the Kiakhta. 200 tons. Besides these several boats and launches were constructed for the Spanish at San Francisco. The first of the vessels were built of oak, but the Russians, becoming better acquainted with the pine and redwood around them as lumber material, used that timber in their yard. These were the first ships made of redwood.

“But in time the Russians found the fur fishing growing harder, the seal herds becoming thinner each season, and though industrious and frugal, they were mere novices in farming and wore destined to move out of the land. The prior claimants to this part of Sonoma were wasting their time and claim, and “meantime the permanent possessor of the land and sea was working his ox team across the plains. The Saxon was coming.”

Gregory deals interestingly with the life and customs of all the early settlers of Sonoma, the Digger Indian, the early Spanish at the missions, the inhabitants of the pueblos after the secularization of this missions, the Russians at Ross and the Americans – “the gringos.” He explains the curious origin of this term and that of “greaser” as applied by the Americans to the so called native Callfornians.

“The word gringo has a peculiar origin,” he writes. “The song, ‘Green Grow. the Rushes O,” was popular at the time, and the Mexicans, hearing the American frequently singing it, caught the words “green grow” and applied them to the Yankees, hence ‘gringo.’ The greaser title was first given by the Americans to the Indians. The old time wooden axle of the immigrant wagons needed greasing frequently – an attention and task not nice or agreeable – and the digger’s willingness to assume this and other humble labors around the camp of the good natured white man earned for him his name as well as occasional rations of beef.”

The author deals with his chapters by topics, and every chapter is teeming with interest. His passages are sometimes lively and humorous, and he has rare descriptive powers that take the reader to the picture. It is the interesting story of California and Sonoma from the viewpoint of an interesting person. Some stirring incidents that have been overlooked by historians have been noted in this book, and many of the descriptions of the life of the picturesque and pleasure loving Spanish should inspire fictionists to deal with this period of western history. Here is an incident from the chapter on “A Free and Easy People”:

“One of the most wonderful rides in history – though it has not been told In verse nor set to music – was made between September 24 and 28, 1858, from Los Angeles to Yerba Buena by an American named John Brown. He was known among the Californians as ‘Juan Flaco’ (Lean John) and was sent by Lieutenant Gillespie, U. S. A., who was hard pressed by the hostile California forces, to Commodore Stockton for reinforcements. Brown made Monterey, 460 miles, in 52 hours, without sleep. He expected to find there the fleet, but Stockton had sailed, and after sleeping three hours the sturdy rider completed the remaining 140 miles of his great Marathon in the same speed and delivered his call for help. It was not a broad highway like Sheridan’s, nor was the road as smooth as that of the ride of Paul Revere, but was a mere bridle path over high mountains, through deep ravines, round precipitous cliffs, across wide chaparral covered mesas, along the sea beach. He was always dodging the enemy, harassed and pursued. Riding shoulder to shoulder with death night and day, losing several horses — one shot from under him, forcing him to go 30 miles afoot, carrying his spurs and riata until he could commandeer another mount — Juan Flaco rode on and on, showing that a California man on a California mustang has outridden the storied riders of the world.”

Gregory gives the full story of the Spanish and Mexican troubles over California and of the coming of the Americans, paying honor where honor is due always and giving glowing tribute to General Vallejo, whom he calls “the premier Californian” and to whom he devotes an entire chapter of the history.

“His splendid personality is stamped on every league of these vegas and mesas,” writes the author of Vallejo, and goes on to tell of his splendid work among the Indians, his fine hospitality and keen foresight and judgment. He tells how this great man, after the secularization of the missions, kept the neophytes from returning to a state of nomadic savagery, as they did in other parts of California; how he took care of their property, cattle and land and preserved the good that had been brought to the country by the missions.

The author tells of the secularization showing how this was always contemplated by the Spanish government – before the missionaries, with their retinues, were sent out into the wilderness. Here is an order issued in the year 1773 by Viceroy Bucarili [sp – Bucareli] to the commandante at San Diego and Monterey: “When it shall happen that a mission is to be formed into a pueblo or village the commandante shall proceed to the civil and economical government which, according to the laws, is observed by other villages of this kingdom, secular clergy shall attend to the spiritual wants of these newly formed curacies; the missionary monks relieved from the converted settlements, shall proceed to the conversion of other heathen.”

There are many amusing incidents in the history, and the reading of the book, voluminous and complete though it is, will never be found tedious. The author tells of compulsory church attendance with the punishment of “the stocks,” and of some humorous decisions of the local judges In dealing with the primitive people.

Gregory tells of the deeds and describes with delightful intimacy the personality of the history makers of California – Fremont. Sloat, Sutter, Vallejo and the early Americans and Spanish-American families, as well as the modern great Sonomans, among whom he numbers Burbank. His chapter on Burbank is a classic, and won the approval of the wizard himself, who said it was the best story of his career that has been written. The author’s researches have at times inspired him to poetry and there are many noble verses in the volume. The best of these is dedicated to Gifford Pinchot It begins, “Sequoyah, cultured Chieftain of the Cherokees.”

Tom Gregory, trained newspaper man, approached his subject with the zeal of the native Californian, naturally appreciative of romance, and has accomplished not only a history of his own native land, but a volume of California literature that will live because of intrinsic interest, its captivating style, its authenticity. The history wil find a permanent place in the archives and will carry permanent honor to many notable figures of the west, who with their exploits, might otherwise have gone into oblivion. The volume is illustrated with portraits of prominent Sonomans, steei engravings and full page photographs of scenes and picturesque bits of the country.

– San Francisco Call, August 4, 1912
GRE-GORY MADE MEMBER VIVID IMAGINATION CLUB

The comet [Halley’s Comet – ed.] is now appearing in the western sky, minus its candal appendage. We are assured of this by Professor Thomasini Gre-gory, comotoligist of the Tar Flat observatory, who has been keeping the public posted from time to time regarding the movements of the comet. The professor opines that the shedding of its tail by the comet is due to natural causes, the separation being due to friction when the earth passed through the tail.

The comet is now having fashioned a tail of latest mode, according to Mr. Gre-Gory, intended exclusively for evening wear. It will have three rows of tucks on the end nearest the earth, edged with a filmy lace of the milky way pattern, while up the center will run a single row of star applique. The tail will be looped up on either side by a rosette of young moons.

The old tail, the professor claims, after being separated from the comet, settled over about Occidental. This caused a golden glow over in the western sky several evenings ago, which astronomers of lesser note mistook for a display of the aurora borealis.

Mr. Gre-Gory will head an expedition for the recovery of this tale, which he hopes to place on exhibition in the public library in the rear future, for the benefit of the school children. He will also make a chemical analysis of the tail.

The Vivid Imagination Club has elected Professor Gre-Gory to an honorary life membership.

The progress of Professor Gre-Gory’s investigations is being watched with considerable interest.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 23, 1910

HISTORIAN GREGORY TO WRITE MORE HISTORY

Tom Gregory, humorist, essayist, scientist, politician, poet and all-around writer of remarkable things, having finished the history of this county, will board the Southern Pacific passenger train this morning bound for Suisun. There he will remain for a few weeks gathering material for a history of Solano and Yolo counties. Mr. Gregory is employed by the Historic Record Company of Los Angeles. The matter for the Sonoma work is in the hands of the publication house in Chicago and will be issued soon.

– Press Democrat, July 27, 1911

COUNTY HISTORY HANDSOME BOOK
Fine Publication Compiled by Tom Gregory and Issued by History Record Company of Los Angeles

The “History of Sonoma County,” a handsome volume of more than 1,100 pages, published by the History Record Company of Los Angeles, has made its appearance, the first shipment having arrived yesterday from Chicago, where the books was printed and bound.

Outside of the biographical sketches, which are accompanied by many handsome steel and halftone engravings, the above history was compiled by Tom Gregory, the well-known Santa Rosa writer and newspaper man. More than 250 pages are devoted to this historical portion of the work, which is of a high order throughout and carefully prepared from the most authentic data as well as from personal investigation and research. A feature of the work is the wit and humor flashing out here and there, which relieves it of the tediousness sometimes noted in historical writings. The tracing of Sonoma county’s history begins with the earliest recorded happenings, and is carried down to the present time. A fine steel engraving of Mr. Gregory occupies the first place in the book, and in his preface the author says:

“When I sought to collect material for a story of Sonoma, I soon found myself reaching out into the history proper of California. Every trail leading to this county runs back into the earlier times of the state. The Spanish-American settlement of Sonoma was planned in the City of Mexico…The legislative events occurring in Monterey were soon manifest in Sonoma…The various governments sitting at various capitals marked Sonoma a key position on the line of the northern frontier…When Fremont, advised by Benton at Washington, collected the American settlers for the first strike, they struck at Sonoma…At an earlier day that jolly pirate, Sir Francis Drake, came hurrying along the shore…and made out the title deed and calmly presented the whole coast to Queen Elizabeth…For thirty years the double-headed eagle of the Czar from the palisades of Fort Ross Screamed defiance out of his two throats at his brother bird of Mexico…Then in the rare Indian Valley of the Moon the Padre Pathfinder planted the cross and called to prayer…If this indifferent story of Sonoma were worthy it would be dedicated to the greatest historical character him who sleeps at Lachryma Montis.” The closing reference is of course to the late General Vallejo.

Persons unfamiliar with such work have no conception of the immense amount of labor and research required in the preparation of such a volume. A force of men under the able direction of A. H. Preston, manager of the Historical Record Company, has been actively engaged for something like two years in collecting and preparing the material required while the work of printing and binding alone has occupied several months. A fine history of the Bennett Valley Grange, prepared by the late G. N. Whittaker, is a feature of the work. In addition to the large number of men and women prominently identified with the growth and development of the county, some fine views illustrating the important industries and the general character of the country are shown. The work is a highly credible one in every way, and a valuable addition to the state’s historic records.

– Press Democrat, December 13, 1911

“SONOMA COUNTY, THE GREAT HISTORY MAKER”

In the San Francisco Call on Sunday appeared an exciting half-page review or write-up of Tom Gregory’s “History of Sonoma County,” recently issued by a Los Angeles publishing firm. The article was written by Frank Mulgrew, one of the Call’s reportorial staff, and being himself a Sonoman, the merits of this imperial county are not lost.

The subject of the write-up is significant, as it is, “Sonoma County, Champion History Maker of California.” Both the historian and his reviewer hold that this county contains more real history than any other county in the state. However, Mr. Gregory has written, in his well known comprehensive and readable style, much interesting history into the county and into the book. The well known classic Gregorian face accompanies the review. Hundreds of persons have secured a volume of the history and are decidedly pleased with it. Mr. Gregory was the identical man to write the history of Sonoma county, and the company made no mistake in securing his valuable services for that purpose.

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 5, 1912

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WHEN OUR FUTURE DERAILED

Try to imagine the West Coast criss-crossed by electric streetcars. You could hop aboard a trolley in Santa Rosa and maybe step off in Sacramento a block from Aunt Mabel’s house, or you might start the weekend early by visiting friends in Oakland so the next morning you can all take a streetcar directly to the new amusement boardwalk at Santa Cruz. A world awaits.

(RIGHT: Advertisement from the November 26, 1911 Press Democrat. CLICK or TAP to enlarge)

Such was the bright future that seemed inevitable between about 1905 and 1910. Probably every cosmopolitan area in the country had an electric trolley system that offered an easy way to move around a city and its outlying towns. What later became known as the Key System served every community along the East Bay shore down to Hayward; the Northern Electric connected Sacramento and Chico and all the small valley towns in between, as just a couple of examples. Locally our interurban system was the Petaluma and Santa Rosa Railway, which carried our great-grandparents between those towns as well as to Graton and Sebastopol and forgotten country crossroads such as Liberty (about 1.5 miles west of the Petaluma Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze).

And it was only getting better. Everywhere existing “traction systems” (the formal name) were adding new routes and equally important, making deals to link up with other systems; Northern Electric would soon stretch down to the East Bay, sharing tracks and electricity with the Key System. There was talk about forming great interstate networks and maybe even a transcontinental route.

Thus there was excitement but no great surprise when it was reported in 1908 that plans were underway to build an electric railroad from Marin county to Lake Tahoe, with a spur stretching to Petaluma and Santa Rosa. Despite assurances by Bay Area newspapers including the Press Democrat and Santa Rosa Republican, the deal died quickly, not least because it required $12,000,000 from investors in one of the tightest economies in the nation’s history; it was only a year past the bank panic of 1907 which saw the U.S. financial system near collapse, and no one was in the mood to gamble on risky projects. Nor did it help that the mastermind behind it was Richard M. Hotaling, a San Francisco playboy who knew nothing about railroads, or for that matter, business.*

But aside from Hotaling’s complete lack of business acumen and the wildly ambitious scope of building a Lake Tahoe road, the deal wasn’t that unusual. Typically a group of investors formed a new company to build a specific small railroad. Bonds were offered for sale, and from the newspaper announcements it seems the company claimed work would be completed with remarkable (and improbable) speed and/or the hardest phase of construction was already finished. When they inevitably ran out of money or faced some sort of serious obstacle, work stopped and didn’t resume for months, years, or maybe ever. It was pay-as-you-go railroad tycooning.

Hotaling had also fizzled in trying to start a railroad company in 1905; that time he planned an electric line from Sausalito to Lakeport via Napa. The road was projected to cost up to $15 million, even more than he would later guesstimate to reach Lake Tahoe. Today it may seem like a crummy investment, but in the first decade of the Twentieth Century, it would have had great appeal for one reason alone: It reached Clear Lake, which was the Holy Grail for railroaders. At the time there was not a single railroad track of any kind in Lake county. Everyone went in and out of the area via bumpy stagecoach until 1907, when a company started offering bumpy auto transport between Calistoga and Middletown. And everyone, it seems, wanted to go to Lake county.

Lake county was then being promoted as the “Switzerland of America” (never mind that Colorado claimed the same after the Civil War, and New Hampshire used the motto a half-century before that) and its mineral spring resorts were world famous. Tens of thousands of visitors spent weeks there every summer. You rubbed elbows with royalty and world leaders; you could watch a boxing champion train at one resort and his upcoming challenger spar at another. The most opulent of the resorts, Bartlett Springs, was virtually a small city, accommodating  up to 5,000 guests and an even larger staff. It had a casino, gourmet European chefs, a resident orchestra, five hotels and hundreds of cabins. The Lake county Chamber of Commerce wrote a history of the resorts with a vivid (if somewhat purple) description:

Turrets and towers reaching nearly to the sky, adorned the multicolored flags waving festively in the mountain breezes, loomed high above the stately evergreen forests in which they were centered. These luxury hotels or baronial castles featured every type of architecture-from the airy Swiss Chalet style, Victorian, with accommodations for 500 or more persons in the main hotel buildings. Often these resorts would have their main hotel and several secondary or smaller hotels that could accommodate from 200 to 300 persons. Also dozens of individual housekeeping cottages, annexes, dormitory type buildings and even extensive campground facilities. Posh casinos, mirrored ballrooms, brocade and satin upholstered salons, music halls redolent with gold leaf and formal dining rooms gleaming with silver and crystal were just some of the luxuries offered the clientele.

My lord, it sounded like a county full of Disneylands.

Plans to construct some type of a railroad into Lake county went back to 1869. According to county histories, companies were also founded to lay tracks in 1896, 1900, 1903, two in 1905 (not counting Hotaling’s plan) and 1907. Hey, want to lose money on a sure thing? I’ve got some Lake county railroad bonds I’d like to sell you.

(RIGHT: Proposed Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad route map that appeared several times in the Press Democrat, 1910-1911)

Then come 1908, both Santa Rosa papers herald yet another Lake train scheme. The difference this time is that the 56-mile electric line was to be built by a Santa Rosa company: The Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, headed by William Reynolds – who was also president of the Santa Rosa Bank. Hearing Reynolds’ presentation to the Chamber of Commerce were many of Santa Rosa’s real estate and investment heavy hitters.

Little was written of the project until almost exactly a year later, when the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce heard another pitch. This time it was from a group of Lake county investors with a company called Highland Pacific that proposed their own Lakeport to Santa Rosa train. Rival Reynolds was there and didn’t seem threatened, even proposing the two could share tracks into Santa Rosa from Gwynn’s Corners (the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Mark West). Perhaps the Lake county guys were not aware how much they were revealing their hands to the enemy camp; a few weeks later the Press Democrat reported Santa Rosa’s mayor and the Chamber Secretary had been “busy for several days securing rights of way from property owners for the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Scenic Railway” and they had “practically secured $3,000” to start work.

But the project gained no traction. The PD announced in 1910 that construction would begin at the end of the year and take twenty months. Work appears to have stopped after five miles were graded.

While the Santa Rosa efforts were on hiatus, yet another team showed up to play: The newly-created Clear Lake Railroad Company stated in 1911 they would construct a standard gauge road from Hopland to Lakeport. The shortest route of all at slightly less than 25 miles, it would be a spur from the Northwestern Pacific main line. The NWP would also sell them rails at cost, finance them with discount loans and would be in no hurry to be paid back.

The Press Democrat complained this sweetest of sweetheart deals was really aimed at killing Santa Rosa’s dreams: “The Northwestern revives again this old, old proposition at a time when its revival might have a chilling influence upon the new enterprise.” The PD announced shortly after that “work on the new Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, which has been temporarily discontinued, is to be resumed at once.” Apparently it was not.

The Hopland project broke ground in November, 1911 and quickly became entangled in a labor dispute. Work sputtered along for over five years, the company selling more bonds and making (what appear to be) questionable insider deals concerning Clear Lake frontage. All they accomplished was a few miles of graded roadbed in Mendocino County. And thus endeth this chapter on Lake county rail.

It can be argued that the failure of the Santa Rosa electric line was the biggest setback to the town’s progress since the 1906 earthquake. Not that business interests had such love to serve their Lake county brethren; the attraction was all those wealthy people passing through town. As the Press Democrat explained: “In making Santa Rosa the terminal the city becomes a railroad center of considerable importance. It is estimated that over 50,000 visitors will pass through Santa Rosa in and out annually on their way to and from the various resorts.”

Perhaps just as important, the trolley line would have extended Santa Rosa’s sphere of influence north to Healdsburg; note the 1910 full-page ad that appeared in the Republican selling property in the “new subdivision” on the yet-to-be-built route. Lacking a boost in land values from developments and lacking the draw of a major transit hub, it seemed like Santa Rosa had again missed out on boom times.

But maybe that was for the best. Those were the peak years for interurban trains, and it’s no mystery why interest began to decline thereafter; in 1907 we began to go car crazy on the West Coast and in 1910 California voted to create a state highway system. People wanted their private cars and paved roads, not efficient public transit on rails. During and after WWI electric systems increasingly shut down or switched to freight-only; in the dozen years centered on the 1929 start of the Great Depression, 8,400 miles of track were abandoned nationwide. The Petaluma & Santa Rosa trolley ended passenger service in 1932 for lack of ridership. During those years the Lake county resort scene was also vanishing; several of the resorts – including the magnificent Bartlett Springs – burned to the ground and were not rebuilt. Had it been completed, the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad would have been the train to nowhere after about two decades.

Still, those early years would have been marvelous. Imagine: Just a couple of effortless hours away from downtown Santa Rosa, there awaited “turrets and towers reaching nearly to the sky, adorned the multicolored flags waving festively in the mountain breezes.” I’d certainly buy a ticket. Maybe just one way.

* Richard (“Dick”) Hotaling (1868-1925) was a San Francisco millionaire and one of the heirs to the A. P. Hotaling whiskey fortune. Besides his short-lived railroad venture he managed the family’s 1600-acre Sleepy Hollow dairy ranch in San Anselmo for a few years. But his interest in business matters quickly wained; he was always described in the papers as a clubman and amateur actor, performing at the Bohemian Grove and with a theatrical company in Oakland which usually cast him in the leading roles. He specialized in Shakespearian roles and his interpretations would certainly raise eyebrows today – he performed Shylock with a Yiddish accent and Othello in “African dialect,” explaining to the San Francisco Call there was “no logical reason why Shylock and Othello should speak like Venetians” before laughing, “Wouldn’t it be funny to hear Othello declaim a la Uncle Tom?” Hotaling was also accused of attempting to defraud family members. He claimed his elderly mother gave him the ranch and handed over the one-quarter share in the business inherited by his brother Fred after she was embarrassed in 1913 by Fred appearing drunk after a society ball. His mother supposedly also gave him her own quarter share of stock with the understanding the deed would be recorded only after she died or in the case of a “German invasion,” meaning her fears that the widow of her eldest son was planning to marry a German nobleman seeking to occupy the San Anselmo mansion. The court returned Fred’s stock and ruled in favor of mom in 1919. Dick was also investigated by a grand jury a few months before his death regarding a murder-for-hire scheme to poison Fred and his wife, but was not indicted for lack of corroborating evidence.

NARROW GAUGE RAILROAD
Line Into Lake County Discussed Thursday Night

There was a good attendance at the regular meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Thursday evening and the time was largely devoted to discussion of a narrow gauge railroad from Santa Rosa into Lake county. This is a project in which W. D. Reynolds and J. W. Barrows have taken an especially deep interest for several years. Maps of the proposed line were drawn in 1906 and 1907 under direction of Mr. Barrows, and when he went east last year he gave the matter considerable investigation. At that time the REPUBLICAN gave the story of his investigations and some points in regard to such roads. The proposed road would have a width of 24 to 27 inches and such lines are declared to have proven very profitable. They go up and down grads much steeper than those of standard gauge lines and are declared to be very safe in their management. The meeting Thursday night was addressed by Judge Crawford, Rev. Peter Colvin, R. C. Moodey, Mayor Gray, A. Trembley , John Rinner, Frank Leppo, Dr. Harry Leppo, Dr. Jackson Temple, and others.

[..]

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 18, 1908

MAY MEAN BIG THINGS
Proposed Electric Road May Bring Eastern Lines

The proposed electric railroad that was mentioned in the REPUBLICAN of Thursday, beginning from Belvedere, and running north through Santa Rosa and other cities to Lake Tahoe, is really to be the connecting point with a large transcontinental route.

It will mean the entrance to this city and county and state from the northeast to the bay of either the Hill system, the Rockefellers’ St. Paul system, the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific project of David M. Moffat of Denver, or the Chicago and Northwestern.

The road projected by Richard M. Hotaling is to be 178 miles in length, and can be used for steam or electric trains. It is to cost $12,000,000 and work is to begin by next March.

At Sacramento the proposed road will connect with the Butters road known as the Northern Electric, which is built as far as Chico and is in operation. It will extend to Redding and form an important link in the transcontinental route. Since the death of Henry A. Butters, interested parties have proposed a combination of the Northern Electric and the Hotaling projects, and it is certain that a merger of these two properties will be made within a year. It is these two companies which will be eventually utilized by some big eastern road to get an outlet to the Bay of San Francisco.

The late Henry A. Butters, along with Louis Sloss, E. R. Lillienthal and other wealthy San Franciscans, built the Northern Electric system between Sacramento and Yuba City, Marysville, Oroville and Chico, and projected it north to Red Bluff and Redding because he has great faith in the development of Northern California.

Hotaling and his associates say they have the same faith in the growth of this part of the State and that the three firms of engineers employed by them reported that this section of the state is a fine field for railway development.

Interested parties in both systems said yesterday the logic of the situation pointed to a close affiliation or combination of both properties. They refuse to say when and how the companies might reach an understanding.

Like the Hotaling system is to be, the Northern Electric can be used by steam or electric trains, or both. It is now being operated by electric power furnished by the transmission mountain plants of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company of this city. Presumably the Hotaling road will use powere from the same company. People who are interested in a merger of the two properties say that as one system they could handle by electric power all traffic purely local. In case of some big eastern road later on became interested in the system, it could readily use steam trains for through freight and passenger traffic.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 6, 1908
TALKS ABOUT THINGS HE DOES NOT LIKE

Kinsfolk, Neighbors and Friends:

We need an electric railroad to run from Santa Rosa to Lake county and we need it badly. It is a much easier matter to tell you why we need this road than to try to tell you why the devil is in hogs, or why there should be any devil at all. We can explain this matter to your enquiring minds more satisfactorily than we can tell you why Bryan is in Lincoln, Roosevelt in France or why the thieving Sugar Trust escapes punishment so easily.

We all know that this electric road should be built. We know that it would further the welfare of the county to have it and over a question that is so clear to our minds, we arenot going to divide and quarrel.

We must look after the interests of our county. We must encourage the promoters of this great scheme. Santa Rosa is destined to become a great railroad center. Thousands of people are headed this way. When they arrive, we must prove to them that it will be to their interest to remain…

…But that Santa Rosa and Clear Lake electric line! We must “boost” that. We need it in our business–we need it all the time. With a station every mile or two, the farmers will be able to ship their produce into town in large or small quantities , and at almost any time of day.

[..]

WES MAYFIELD.

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 6, 1910
CONTRACT AWARDED FOR GRADING OF SANTA ROSA AND CLEAR LAKE ROAD
Work Begins on December 1st and Must Be Completed in Twenty Months
GREAT INTEREST IN A BIG PROJECT
Years of Quiet But Energetic Work Has Achieved Results–Passenger Steamers on Clear Lake


…For nearly five years the gentlemen at the head of the undertaking have been quietly, yet none the less energetically working to bring about the consummation of this railroad into Lake county. Their plans were well defined at the time of the disaster of April, 1906, and but for that set back the road would doubtless have been in operation for some time….

…the electric railroad from Santa Rosa to Clear Lake will be a “scenic railroad.” Every one familiar with the route will agree as to this. Through valley and canyon and over hill it will run until its termination on the shores of Clear Lake is reached. It will be the first railroad of any kind to enter Lake county–“the Switzerland of America,” famed far and wide for its unparalleled scenery and climate, eagerly sought after each year by thousands of tourists and pleasure seekers.

Route of Proposed Road

The route of the new railroad runs from Santa Rosa to Kellogg, and thence skirting St. Helena mountain, it will go to Middletown, and then on to Clear Lake. In Santa Rosa the terminus will be on Wilson street between Fourth and Fifth streets, and consequently it will connect for passengers from both the Northwestern Pacific and Petaluma & Santa Rosa railroad depots. It will run up Fifth street to North street to the Southern Pacific depot. From the depot it will pass the Odd Fellows’ cemetery, and will proceed along the line of the Healdsburg road, and then on by Mark West to Kellogg, passing the Knight’s Valley ranch where it is expected the California Trades ^ Training School will be located.

The Lake county terminus will be at deep water on Clear Lake. The plan is to put two large passenger boats on the Lake to connect with every resort frontong on or in touch with the lake.

[..]

– Press Democrat, November 15, 1910
COMMITTEE REPORT FAVORS LAKE CO. RAILWAY PROJECT
Chamber Commerce Representatives Review the Situation

…The local directors have agreed to sell for cash 15 per cent or $528.75 per mile of this stock, thus requiring the sale of about $30,000 worth of stock in Santa Rosa, along the route and in Lake county. Nearly $5,000 worth of stock has been subscribed, we are told, by residents of Middletown. Nearly $5,000 more will be taken at Lower Lake, and nearly $5,000 has already been subscribed in Santa Rosa…

In making Santa Rosa the terminal the city becomes a railroad center of considerable importance. It is estimated that over 50,000 visitors will pass through Santa Rosa in and out annually on their way to and from the various resorts. We believe the road will be a lasting benefit for the community and will be worthy of the attempt to secure same, and should receive the support of all our people…

[..]

– Press Democrat, March 23, 1911
PROGRESS OF THE CLEAR-LAKE ROAD
Northwestern Pacific Makes an Effort to Discourage it by Offering to Expedite Another Line

Subscriptions are steadily coming in to the capital stock of the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad Company, the survey has been finished from Santa Rosa to Middletown in Lake county, and five miles of grading work has been completed in the most difficult part of the road. “The road will be finished before winter,” is the declaration of the men who are pushing the work.

The customary and expected effort to discourage and forestall the enterprise came to light with the publication in San Francisco Wednesday of the account of a conference held in San Francisco between the officers of the Northwestern Pacific and a delegation of business men who had been invited to the city for the purpose of the interview. According to this story, the Northwestern Pacific offers to expedite the building of a line from Lakeport to connect with and feed the Northwestern Pacific main line at Hopland. The road is to be twenty-two miles long, is to cost $200,000 and is to be financed by popular subscription at $100 a share. It is to be a standard-gauge gasoline motor road with a maximum grade of five percent.

The Northwestern Pacific agreed to furnish rails at cost price, and to bond the road at five per cent, to refrain from control of the line and to give ample time for redemption of the bonds. [? illegible microfilm ?] and published ever time it has appeared that the people of Santa Rosa and the people of Lakeport were doing something to connect the two towns by rail. Nothing has ever come of any of them.

Naturally, a direct and independent line from Santa Rosa to Lakeport would not bring as much business to the Northwestern Pacific as would a feeder line to tap the Northwestern at Hopland. Obviously, the direct line to Santa Rosa will bring more business to Santa Rosa than would the “feeder” line to Hopland. That explains, of course, why the Northwestern would prefer a “feeder,” and it also explains, equally of course, why Santa Rosa’s interests are with the independent line. Also, it explains why the Northwestern revives again this old, old propsition at a time when its revival might have a chilling influence upon the new enterprise.

But the new enterprise is not affected by the chill.

“We’ll have our road in operation before there is a tie laid on the feeder,” said one of the men engaged in the building of the Santa Rosa & Clear Lake road, when asked about it by a Press Democrat reporter Wednesday.

– Press Democrat, March 30, 1911

ACTUAL WORK TO BEGIN ON S. R. & CLEAR LAKE R. R.
Money Deposited in Local Banks to Start Work
J. W. Barrows Resigns Position With Western Pacific to Take Charge of Building for New Line–Will Make Headquarters in Santa Rosa

Work on the new Santa Rosa & Clear Lake Railroad, which has been temporarily discontinued, is to be resumed at once. Milton Nathan of the Nathan, Brownscomb Construction Company was in this city yesterday and deposited $5,000 in cash with two of the local banks to start construction work and announced that there was plenty more on hand which would be forthcoming as soon as it was needed…

[..]

– Press Democrat, July 16, 1911

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