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WAS THAT REALLY IN THE PAPER?

Ads in the Santa Rosa newspapers a century ago could be quaint, silly or downright fraudulent, but some required a double-take – did I really see that in the paper? Here is a sample of ads from 1911-1913 that require some explanation:

Actually, this ad, which appeared in the Press Democrat for a week, probably doesn’t require any explanation at all. Great grandma certainly looks happy with her Arnold Massage Vibrator.

Great scott, did a 1911 vaudeville act really include a live grizzly bear? All sorts of trained animal acts appeared on stage in Santa Rosa: Dogs, monkeys, even goats. But even when raised from a cub by humans, grizzlies are famously temperamental – goddesses know what might happen if one was frightened or angered by rowdy drunks in the audience.

As it turns out, the grizzly was a guy in a bear suit with La Angelita and “Petus” doing the “Grizzly Bear” and “Texas Tommy,” so-called rag dances that Petaluma and other cities banned for being indecent. That it was a novelty dance act was remarkably difficult to learn – newspapers presumably didn’t mention that angle so as to not spoil the surprise. Once the ragging craze faded La Angelita began appearing with two other women as costumed Spanish dancers. The ersatz grizzly still showed up for the finale, which confused a reviewer for Variety: “The only drawback to the act is the bear dance, wherein a man parades in a bear skin.”

Another reason it first seemed the act involved a real grizzly was because at least once they appeared on a bill with actual trained bears, “Albers’ Ten Polar Bears.” Apparently that act mostly consisted of the animals rolling a large ball up and down a slide, although the 1911 Oakland Tribune noted, “Herr Albers promises to give them a big feed during the matinee Saturday, so one can imagine the fun while these ten tons of Teddies are at their porridge.” Hopefully they went on last so the stage could be hosed down afterward.

Oh, the good ol’ days, when someone could shop downtown for large containers of lethal poisons. Painting your house? In 1912 you could stop by the Asbest-o-Lite Paint Company on Fifth street and pick up a few gallons direct from the factory. And doesn’t everybody love the smell of fresh paint? Take a good whiff while they mix your color! And if it’s spring, don’t forget to spray your fruit trees with lead arsenic, that safe and economical insecticide.

They did’t know at the time that inhaling lots of asbestos can cause a particularly nasty form of cancer, so it was widely used at the time – in roofing, flooring, wall insulation, wrapped around hot water pipes, lining the interior of forced-air furnaces, and much, much more. Asbestos paint was probably the least dangerous form of exposure as the stuff wasn’t blowing around, but you wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near the factory while it was being made. The Asbest-o-Lite Paint Company apparently lasted only a year.

Lead arsenate was heavily used as an insecticide in the first half of the Twentieth Century (good history here) although it was discovered after World War I that it didn’t easily wash off produce completely and contaminated topsoil. Yet until the introduction of DDT in the late 1940s everyone bought the stuff by the tub.

It was particularly risky for people who handled the stuff in the fields, but only California and a handful of other states recognized long-term exposure could be an occupational disease. Making matters worse, it was common to use it as part of a “bordeaux,” mixing it with other arsenics such as Paris green – a fungicide and also the main ingredient in rat poison  – so all spraying could be done at the same time. That cocktail nearly made quick work of Henry Limebaugh, a farmer near Hessel in May of 1912 when after spraying his fruit trees he forgetfully took a sip from the same hose, leading to an emergency visit from a doctor.

Was that a movie about the Klan playing at the Nickelodeon?

D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation,” is credited with inspiring (and to some degree, inventing) the modern Ku Klux Klan. But that film was not made until 1915; playing here in 1911 was “Night Riders of Tennessee and Kentucky.” A synopsis printed in the Santa Rosa Republican showed it villainized them and since this movie is not mentioned in any cinema history, it would be a pretty big deal to find there was an earlier film with an antithetical view to Griffith’s glorification of the sheet-wearing vigilantes.

It turns out the film was first shown elsewhere in 1910 and the “Night Riders” weren’t the Klan at all – it was about the recent Dark Patch Tobacco War. Once it had a monopoly, the American Tobacco Company sharply dropped what it paid farmers to less than it cost to grow the tobacco. They organized a boycott and formed an association to warehouse the crops until prices returned to normal. The company offered top dollar to any scab growers who would sell their tobacco; in turn, the association organized hooded Night Riders to enforce the boycott by intimidating those sellers, usually burning their fields. The conflict ended in 1908 when the Kentucky National Guard was called up to suppress the Night Riders.

How much of the film was “founded on fact” is impossible to say as no copies survive, but it was most likely propaganda created by the American Tobacco Company to demonize the growers and place the company in a good light. When copies of the movie were circulating in 1910-1911 the company was fighting government charges that it was an illegal Trust and should be broken up (in 1911 the Supreme Court ruled it was indeed a monopoly). Further evidence that it was underwritten by the company is that Mr. Hood and Browning – whomever they were – toured with the movie and narrated it. While live stage appearances with films were presented in that era, it was only in major theaters in big cities and at a premium admission price, not showing weekday nights down at the Santa Rosa Nickelodeon for a dime.

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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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brokentombstone

WE’LL BURY YOU FOR A PENNY

Sonoma County Supervisors could not believe the offer: An undertaker submitted a bid to bury the indigent dead for just one cent each. Included in the price was a redwood coffin with lid, cloth lined and bottom padded. With pillow. They would even dig the grave and see that is was “properly filled in” (thank goodness) and paint a wooden marker. Our thrifty supervisors in 1912 did not hesitate to accept the bid.

(RIGHT: Broken grave marker in the Moke section of the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, 2015)

The Press Democrat remarked one of the courthouse reporters had heard of a similar bargain burial rate in Denver, but that was apparently wrong – it was in Phoenix. A year before their board of supervisors opened bids to find one undertaker proposing to do the job for 14 cents and another bidding a penny – but even that was underbid by the Arizona Casket Company’s offer to bury the indigent dead for $.001 each. “The board generally likes to receive low bids for county work, but these, or the most of them, were too low and the bid of the Arizona Casket Company  was, beside, embarrassing,” remarked the Arizona Republic. “How to make payment might become confusing. If the bidder should bury less than ten subjects in a quarter there would be no coin denomination of money with which to make payment.”

The penny price was a canny bet by the Lafferty & Smith funeral home in Santa Rosa. First, it applied only to those who died at the county hospital; if the dead person was elsewhere in Santa Rosa township they could bill 75¢. Judging by their previous contracts with the county and their competitor’s bid, the break-even cost for providing such a service was around $3.00 per body. Aside from the coffin – and redwood was then the cheapest wood available – the only real expense was the grave digging, and in 1912 simple manual labor like that paid only about a dollar a day. Nor were there a lot of dying indigents; that year only thirty went to the county cemetery on Chanate Road and some of those undoubtedly came from outside Santa Rosa, which a competitor handled for a higher price. So Lafferty & Smith didn’t risk losing a pile of money on their lowball bid.

And if they could locate a relative, they just might find someone willing to pay full price for a proper funeral and reburial of poor ol’ Uncle Joe. “It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral,” the PD observed in the same article.

We can’t be sure how often that happened, but there was an example just a few months earlier when members of a “distinguished Southern family” had Lafferty & Smith exhume a murder victim and replant him in the Odd Fellows’ cemetery. They even reunited the man’s head with his body, the skull having been used as an exhibit at the trial. That was a nice touch.

Lafferty & Smith might not have tried the discount gambit if not for another reason: There was a formidable new competitor in town. The Welti brothers brought along two decades of experience with Halsted & Company, one of San Francisco’s top funeral homes. And not insignificantly, as the PD noted, they were “in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession.” Those up-to-date methods probably included the recipe for Halsted’s embalming fluid (see sidebar).

THE EMBALMER’S SECRET SAUCE

Undertaking was nearly entirely unregulated at the turn of the century; only eight states can be found that even required someone to have a license. Over the next two decades cities and states gradually passed requirements for a diploma, passing an examination or having years of apprenticeship in order to be trusted with handling the dead, particularly when it came to the dark art of embalming.
Even less controlled were the chemicals pumped into the bodies, which regularly killed embalmers handling the dangerous fluids. Arsenic and mercury had been primary ingredients since the Civil War and most undertakers probably had their own “secret sauce” mixing those with other ingredients such as aluminum, copper and zinc. Formulas could be found in every pharmacist’s manual and even in cookbooks and household references.
By the early 1910s seven states prohibited arsenic-based embalming fluid (California required any formula be approved by the state board of health, but did not ban arsenic outright until 1939). Commercial products using formaldehyde, such as the one shown here in a 1912 ad, became available but many funeral homes and hospitals continued to whip up their own, presumably both for cost savings and preference. It’s easy to find newspaper stories through the end of the 1910s about undertakers caught using homebrew embalming fluid, sometimes discovered when suspected poison cases had to be dismissed because the exhumed corpus delecti was contaminated with so much arsenic as to be corpus arsenicum. One formula called for 12 pounds of arsenic per body.
It goes without saying that loading up a dead body with lots of heavy metals and then shoving it deep underground is not environmentally sound, and it was known shortly after the Civil War that cemeteries were public health hazards, often with tons of poisonous materials leaching out of the coffins and contaminating groundwater. (More information here, although some of the regulatory details are wrong.) But short of digging up all the historic cemeteries, there’s nothing to be done now.

Frank and Charles Welti were not elbowing their way into Santa Rosa’s undertaking trade; they bought a well-established business from H. H. Moke, Longtime readers of this journal have bumped into Mr. Moke many times handling the funerals of some of those profiled here, as well as dealing with his own tragedy. On the morning of the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake he lived with his family above the funeral parlor at 418 Fourth st, where his wife, 10 year-old daughter and sister-in-law were killed, presumably when the next door Haven Hardware store exploded, demolishing much of the block between B and A streets. He remarried a year later, his new bride  also an undertaker.

The funeral home was rebuilt at the same location, but not before the couple had one of the oddest experiences in Santa Rosa history. On July 4, 1908 Mr. and Mrs. Moke were apparently entertaining friends at their temporary location on Third street when an exhibition parachutist, jumping from a hot air balloon, drifted off course and  smashed into the skylight above them, raining broken glass on the frightened undertakers. “I’m not a dead one just yet,” quipped the jumper once he realized the nature of his landing spot.

With the sale of his business to the Welti brothers, Henry Herbert Moke apparently retired (the newspapers called him Herbert but he used his first name in the city directories, which is a bit unusual). Although he was only 41, he started learning the undertaking trade when he was thirteen and bought the business twenty years later. Besides money from selling the funeral parlor, Naomi Moke had recently won her lawsuit against an insurance company over the destruction of her late father’s drug store in the 1906 Santa Rosa earthquake. The Mokes also had real estate; if you live on the  north side of Benton street between Glenn and Morgan, it was once his property. Henry stayed busy with his many club memberships and Naomi became president of the Woman’s Improvement Club, the most important civic organization in town.

Remaining behind to work with the Welti brothers was John P. Stanley, 76 years old when the business changed hands in 1911. Not much was known about him personally until a little 1913 article about his new house in Sebastopol appeared in the Santa Rosa Republican. It seems Mr. Stanley was an art and antique collector, designing his bungalow to best show off his stuff.

Moke and Stanley are storied names to anyone interested in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery – which is probably damn near everyone who reads this blog. Stanley bought over five acres (the entire east side) from the Fulkerson family in 1884. Except for a teardrop-shaped section in the northeast which was occupied, he sold the rest in 1907 to his employer, Moke. (A map showing these sections is on the kiosks found at both entrances to the cemetery.) When Moke signed over the cemetery land to the Weltis most of it was still available, Moke having sold only about fifty lots. In 1944 Frank Welti sold those “three acres, more or less” to the county for the new Indigent Cemetery, even though it was  unimproved lowlands next to Poppy Creek and prone to flooding.

Rural Cemetery aficionados know its Twentieth Century history is mostly unhappy. The place was increasingly neglected as no one, including the city or county, took any responsibility for maintenance. By midcentury the place was so overgrown it was considered a serious fire hazard and the county did a 1951  controlled burn that turned out to be not-so controlled, destroying irreplaceable wooden markers.


(LEFT: The newly uncovered tombstone of William Fowzer)

Tombstones lost to fire, vandalism and accident are just part of the old cemetery’s woes. Moke and his predecessors didn’t keep track of who was buried where; historic maps used by the undertakers only marked which lots were available to sell. Since then there have been efforts to assemble a list of all burials with mixed results.

Last summer a group did a pilot survey using a small portion of a map drawn by a volunteer in the 1960s, presumably from his own observations and historical records research. Of the approx. 110 names shown on that section of the map, we could find no markers for 21 of them. That’s an unacceptable failure record of 23 percent.

Those 21 grave markers might have disappeared in the last half century but it’s more likely many were never there at all – it’s not terribly unusual for someone to purchase a cemetery plot and not use it. Or maybe some of the tombstones are still there but long buried themselves. Just last month (Sept. 2015) volunteers removing the ivy and weeds in the back corner found three long-forgotten gravesites from the Moke and Welti eras including the fallen tombstone of William Fowzer, a Civil War Union soldier who was at the battles of the Wilderness, Williamsburg, Antietam and Gettysburg. The old graveyard still has many secrets to yield.

The good news is that the Rural Cemetery is probably now in its best shape ever – thanks to Bill Montgomery and a crew of volunteers (whom you are WELCOME TO JOIN, on the third Saturday of every month at 9AM). And in 2017, a comprehensive directory will be published listing every known burial. Archivists Sandy Frary and Ray Owen currently have compiled over 5,200 names – including 178 who were previously unknown – using primary sources such as obituaries, Coroner’s Death Records and discovered tombstones viz. Pvt. Fowzer. About the same number have been removed because they were listed in error or the person found to be actually buried elsewhere. For many the listing will include details on how they lived and died, and the book will even include the 350 long-forgotten souls down in the floodplain. Once finished, it will be the most important reference book on Santa Rosa ever written. I cannot wait.

WILL BURY THE INDIGENT DEAD FOR ONE CENT EACH
Surprisingly Low Competitive Bid of Lafferty & Smith Is Accepted by the Board of Supervisors Here Monday

For one cent each Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers, have contracted to bury the indigent dead who die at the county hospital and farm.

The bids for the burials were opened on Monday by the Board of Supervisors. When Clerk Felt broke the seal of the envelope and read the bid offering to provide the casket, etc., for one cent, there was a look of surprise. But Dan H. Lafferty of the firm offering to do this, was on hand, and there was no mistake.

For the one cent the firm agrees to provide a clear redwood coffin, planed on both sides; with lid; two coats of a dark color stain; interior of casket lined with mhite muslin, bottom padded and with pillow. They will also place a headboard painted and lettered over the grave. The grave in the county cemetery will also be dug, five feet deep, and properly filled in.

The city of Denver and the county of Sonoma are the only places in the United States where they have burials that cost one cent. In Denver the one cent bid came as the result of the liveliest competitive bidding. The undertaking firm, like Lafferty & Smith here, give a bond for the faithful carrying out of their contract.

For several years Lafferty & Smith have had the contract for indigent burials, the last bid being for $2.85 each. Yesterday they also put in a bid for the burial of the indigent dead outside of the county hospital and farm in Santa Rosa township for seventy-five cents each. This bid was also accepted.

The next lowest bidder, Welti Brothers, also of this city, offered to bury the indigent dead at the county hospital and Santa Rosa township for $3 each. Their bid for the burial of indigents in other parts of the county was $15. The firm of Lafferty & Smith did not bid on this business and Welti Brothers’ bid of $15 was accepted.

“The contract to bury the dead at one cent will be carried out to the letter, and each will be given a decent burial just as our bid reads. We bid knowing that we were bidding in competition, that is all,” said Dan H. Lafferty Monday evening.

It is well known that if not infrequently happens that an indigent dies with some well to do relatives or friends who are willing to pay the expense of a more costly funeral than the county allows. In consequence on such occasion the firm is able to make up for the small remuneration their usually low bid offers. It can readily be seen that the question of profit as represented by the figures of Lafferty & Smith’s bid has no mention.

The one cent bid give a surprise in Court House circles onn Monday. Among the most surprise were the newspaper men present, one of whom had heard of the one cent bid accepted in Denver. And with it all comes the assurance that there will be the same care and attention the firm has given the indigent burials of the past.

– Press Democrat, July 9, 1912
BODY OF CHISHOLM’S VICTIM TAKEN FROM POTTER’S FIELD

From an unhonored grave in the Potter’s field the remains of Van Lear Kirkman Droulliard, the man of distinguished Southern family who was cruelly murdered by L. C. Chisolm in a lonely tent on the ocean front near Fort Ross, have been exhumed and are now resting in a tomb in Odd Fellows’ cemetery. The last resting is also marked with a monument.

Prior to their reinterment, the remains to which was added the skull of the dead man exhibited as mute evidence at the trial of his slayer in the Superior Court of this county, were enclosed in an expensive casket.

The devotion of the heartbroken widow provided the means whereby the body was taken from the county cemetery and given decent burial. Mrs. Droulliard at first contemplated coming to Santa Rosa to look after the disposition of her husband’s body. She was prevented from doing so, and intrusted [sic] the mission to Lafferty & Smith, the local undertakers. They carried out all her wishes in the matter. The body was exhumed several days ago, and reinterred as stated in Odd Fellows’ cemetery.

[..]

– Press Democrat, October 15, 1911
MOKE & WARD HAVE DISSOLVED
Business Will be Continued by Mr. Moke in Future

H. H. Moke and W. B. Ward, who have been conducting the well known undertaking establishment on Fourth street under the firm name of Moke & Ward, have dissolved partnership, and in the future Mr. Moke will be the sole proprietor. Mr. Ward has not yet decided just what he wil do, but will still continue to make his home here.

– Santa Rosa Republican, September 20, 1910
HERBERT MOKE SELLS BUSINESS
Frank and Charles Welti Succeed to Same

H. Herbert Moke, who has been in business here for many years, disposed of his business on Wednesday to Messrs. Frank Welti and Charles Welti. The gentlemen will take charge of the business on Thursday and will become permanent residents of the City of Roses. For some time past the Messrs. Welti have been desirous of coming to Santa Rosa, believing it to be the best city on the entire coast, and they wished to secure a location where they could have the advantages of good climate and be prepared to enjoy life.

Both of the gentlemen who have succeeded to Mr. Moke’s business are experienced undertakers, and they will conduct the business along the modern and approved lines which Mr. Moke has maintained. Mr. Frank Welti will remain here in active charge of the business, and his brother, Charles Welti, will remain for a brief time in Napa. Frank Welti has been with the Halsted Undertaking parlors in San Francisco for a number of years, and has been engaged in the undertaking business for the past twenty years. He is an expert in his line, and his association with the Halsteds, the leading parlors of San Francisco, has kept him in touch with the latest and most approved methods known to the profession. The wife of Frank Welti will be the lady attendant at the parlors. Charles Welti will be here from Napa on Thursday for a brief visit, and he and his wife will become permanent residents of this city just as soon as they can dispose of business and personal interests in Napa city and county.

Both of the gentlemen come highly recommended and are of the genial disposition that makes hosts of friends. J. P. Stanley, who has been with the Moke undertaking establishment for many years past, will continue with the new firm as will also Carroll W. Baker, who has been here for a number of years with Mr. Moke. With these two gentlemen remaining, the new firm has a strong team.

– Santa Rosa Republican, November 1, 1911
WILL OCCUPY NEW BUNGALOW
Mr. Stanley Moves into Cozy Sebastopol Home

Friday J. P. Stanley moved to his new bungalow at Sebastopol. For some time past it has been under construction, and was completed several months ago, but he did not want to move during the rainy season. Now that it is real summer he will make his home there, going back and forth every day to be at his work with Welti Brothers.

It is a cozy home, planned by himself, and his ideas were carried out in every respect. There is one large living room, arranged specially for his art treasures, and those who know him are aware he has a collection well worth seeing.  They have all been collected since the fire. At that time he had many treasures, but lost all. Together with his paintings, he has numerous pieces of antique furniture and bric-a-brac, which will be displayed to advantage.

Mr. Stanley wishes it announced that he has not in any way severed his connection with Welti Bros. but will be found there as usual.

– Santa Rosa Republican, June 27, 1913

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