You lucky, lucky soul; you just won vacation property in Sonoma county! Tell your friends and family so they can rush to buy a lot close to yours!

That was the premise of a con game that swept the nation in the early 1910s. The land existed alright and you actually did own it, as long as you gave the promoters a few bucks for paperwork, sent the county a small recording fee and paid your county taxes. The gotcha was that the property was worthless because it was on a remote, steep hillside. The map showing a neat grid of streets and building lots was a fantasy, which led people in the know to call these “paper subdivisions.” Another name used was “wildcat subdivisions” – they were on land only wildcats roamed.

Sonoma county was dotted with these imaginary little towns, mainly around the Russian River and north of Santa Rosa (outside of Cloverdale there was supposedly Cloverdale Heights, Cloverdale Terrace and Orange City, for example). Very few owners built on their property and almost all stopped paying taxes, letting it default back to the county. But a few years ago a tweak to state law allowed developers to invoke those old deeds as a means to bypass all modern rules and regulations – a crazy story explored here earlier in “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED.” This is the prequel to those events, explaining how the scam began.

Newspapers in the 1910s were virtually homestudy courses in land fraud, with hucksters selling Florida swampland as lakefront property and Montana scrub desert as homesites with exceptionally swell drainage. Much in the news was a particular swindle where conmen made today’s equivalent of $2.25 million/year before they were busted in 1909, selling lots in Boise City, Oklahoma, “the garden spot of the southwest,” promising no home was more than four blocks from the courthouse. “King Corn and King Cotton grow side by side” they boasted in mailers with photos of happy farmers. In truth, the newspapers later said it was an arid “No Man’s Land” and the men didn’t even own the property outright. Over 250 victims came forward to testify against them before they were sentenced to a couple of years in federal prison for mail fraud. The moral of the story, as viewed by other crooked “land sharks:” Better not to document the scam in printed mailers and to rip-off the suckers in person.

Summerland was the most (in)famous and probably the first of the Sonoma County scams, located in the high hills above Guerneville off of Old Cazadero Road (see map). Its origins are murky and might originally have been intended as a legit summer resort, like Rio Nido, Camp Vacation and many others where you could rent a tent-cabin for a week or buy a small parcel and build a bungalow to stay the whole season. The Summerland lots were platted out in 1910 – the year the Russian River resort scene exploded in popularity – and small ads for Summerland appeared in the “Summer Resort” section of Bay Area newspapers over the next several years. No amenities were ever specified except for “sanitary conditions,” which presumably meant outhouses and maybe a well with a handpump.

There was actually more than one Summerland: Summerland Park, Summerland Villa, Summerland Addition #2 and maybe more. Before it was over there would be thousands of lots sold, which would have given the Cazadero area the largest population north of the San Francisco – had anyone lived there.

Behind the deals were three speculators (for reference, they were: the Enright Brothers, banker I. J. Truman and the Guerneville Land Company, all based in San Francisco). We don’t know if any of them were directing the scams, but a man who worked for some/all of them as the representative for Summerland certainly started the ball rolling.

Robert Romer, a former stockbroker who was kicked out of the San Francisco Stock Exchange in 1907, was contacted by the Healdsburg Enterprise about the unusual lottery being held at the M & M movie theater in town. Romer said each night there was a drawing for a “free” lot – although the lucky ticket holder still had to pay the $6.50 county recording fee of course. He explained the goal was word-of-mouth advertising; the winners would be so enthusiastic they would tell all their friends to buy lots nearby at the regular price of $25.00, and they would tell their friends, and so on.

The obvious problem with this scheme was that Healdsburg really ain’t that far from Cazadero – if the winner didn’t know their prize property was in the middle of nowhere, one of the friends they were supposed to sucker into buying a lot probably knew it. So a few days later, an account appears in the Press Democrat about county officials being contacted by lucky ticket holders in Sacramento, wondering about the Summerland property they had just won at the movies.

As the new year of 1912 dawned, the Summerland scam spread over the nation like a flu epidemic. “Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions,” wrote historian Tom Gregory at the time.

There were sightings during March reported in Oregon and Washington after police there became suspicious about the movie theater lottery where every attendee apparently “won.” One of the Portland papers looked into the Summerland offering and told readers it was “said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station back in the hills.”

Romer probably wasn’t one of the two men who claimed to be from the “Exposition Developing Company” jumping from town to town in the Northwest making lottery deals with local theater owners. Instead, he was busy in Sonoma county, trying to sell $50,000 in stock for the “Northwestern Hotel and Water Company,” which was going to build a hotel at Summerland with hundreds of rooms plus a complete utility infrastructure suitable for a town of 20,000 residents. According to the Petaluma Courier, Romer told the Board of Control they had already sold about 5,000 lots.

The Summerland movie lottery scam was made a misdemeanor in April 1913 thanks to a bill written by Santa Rosa’s Assemblyman Herbert Slater (it’s still on the books, but was generalized and renumbered to §532c in 1935). But that was only state law, and the scam was running at full steam everywhere except California.

When two Summerland agents were arrested in Kansas City at the end of 1913, they were charged with old-fashioned mail fraud. (Although the state law didn’t apply, the county recorder and surveyor still went to Kansas to testify against them.) A wire service story stated the men had claimed to represent the “Hot Springs Heights Realty Company” of Sonoma county and had been active across the Midwest and South. It was a lucrative swindle – in Muncie Indiana alone, they pulled in up to $1,500 (over $37k today).

The movie theater bunco game fizzled out in mid-1914 – or at least, the Press Democrat reported the poor recorder’s office was no longer flooded with deed filings. That year there was also a long list of these properties on the delinquent tax list, showing many owners had wised up to the property being worthless. Lots were still being sold, however – only now it was the suckers looking for someone to scam themselves. A 1916 for-sale ad ran for quite awhile in the PD offering a lot at Summerland with a 16 x 16 structure (“sold cheap if taken at once”). In Seattle, A. L. DeLong dumped his property on Effie M. Crowley.

The latter sale didn’t involve Summerland, however – it was another of the wildcat subdivisions, called Glen Artney, which began selling bogus lots about the same time that Summerland took off. It was the phony place nearest to Santa Rosa, in the hills south of Calistoga Road (see map) about four miles as the crow flies – but three times that far by road. And that was just to the edge of the property; a man seeking directions dropped by the Press Democrat offices and was “shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.”

The Glen Artney hustle is interesting to compare with Summerland. Both used the movie lottery ticket come-on, but the Summerland agents apparently “gave away” lots of lots hoping to sell a few more for about $25, plus picking up a few bucks for providing the paperwork. The Glen Artney hucksters picked just two winners each day and advertised others lots were for sale at $50.00 per – or at least that’s what their ad in a 1912 Montana newspaper stated. That Glen Artney even had print adverts is another major difference from the Summerland guys, who slipped in and out of towns without publicity.

But don’t presume the Glen Artney promoters were any more honest or virtuous; that ad from the “Russian River Resorts Development Company” read, “Glen Artney is a beautiful sloping tract 60 miles from San Francisco, reached by the Southern Pacific railroad and interurban car line. School house on property…” The train and trolley car only went to Santa Rosa, of course, As for the schoolhouse, that was the Pine Mountain district school on St. Helena Road, which was actually suspended in 1911 for lack of any students. Modern maps reveal that “beautiful sloping tract” has an average 40 percent grade.

And while the moneymen behind Summerland were the stereotype big city tycoons and land speculators, Glen Artney seems to have been a strictly local affair. There are three names on the fraudulent map that was recorded; one was John O. McIntosh, up until about then the owner of the popular Grapevine saloon in downtown Santa Rosa. John was well known and well-liked, as was his older brother, Don, a deputy sheriff often mentioned in these pages nabbing wrongdoers.

Enlarge the map below to find the other names are Manville and Frank Doyle, the famous co-founder of the Exchange Bank and his son. Although the notarized statement refers to the “map of our lands,” we cannot say for sure this meant the bank was a partner in the deal – they might have been just the escrow agents. But since the Glen Artney property was so nearby, it’s very difficult to believe anyone really thought a town about half the size of Santa Rosa was going to spring up on the side of a mountain along the twisty county road to St. Helena.

A survey made about thirty years ago suggested there were up to 424,000 lots in old paper subdivisions throughout the state (see the “Living Deed” article for more about this) with the largest percentage of them – about 75,000 – in Sonoma county. We were the highest because of the unusual number of high density fake town/resorts such as Glen Artney and Summerland, which begs the question: Why was our county Ground Zero for land fraud?

We know Summerland was backed by San Francisco money, but there was never any mention in the papers of who was behind these other scams. It came as a surprise to me that Glen Artney had a barkeep’s name on the map, but perhaps many/all of the other schemes were similarly locally grown; after all, 1911 Santa Rosa was a pretty small town and details of the Summerland fraud would’ve been well known, particularly after the out-of-towners who discovered they were cheated came staggering into Santa Rosa saloons to drown their disappointments.

It would be a fun question to dig into further: Between 1911-1914, did Sonoma county have a flourishing cottage industry in scamming outsiders who were foolish enough to buy property here sight unseen? Were our own esteemed neighbors – the bankers, Chamber of Commerce businessmen and real estate wheeler-dealers – quietly running a bunco syndicate?

“…[T]he main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers,” commented the Press Democrat in 1914, when the craze was over – not that it should have been stopped years earlier because it was, you know, unethical. But nobody was ever arrested, except for a few of the traveling movie lottery hucksters; after all, it’s not a crime to sell worthless land – even if it’s on a slope so steep a mountain goat would begin to wheeze before halfway up.

1911 Glen Artney subdivision map
To Market Guerneville Realty

The firm of Enright Brothers & Co., realty brokers of San Francisco, has bought 400 [sic – it was 40] acres of land in the vicinity of Guerneville, and will subdivide it into small holdings, and place it upon the market. There is much fine farming land in that neighborhood, and quite a demand for small farms has lately been manifest; so that Enright Bros, seem to have bought in the right place at the right time.

Press Democrat, February 2 1909

“Summerland” is the name of the newest recreation spot for Guerneville. Mesgsrs. Eright, [sic] the brothers who recently purchased the Sutherland place have surveyed it into lots and already made several sales to the tired folks about the bay who want a quiet, pretty place to spend their hard-earned vacations.

– Healdsburg Tribune, April 13 1910
The Most Liberal Proposition Yet Offered The Healdsburg People To Secure a Summer Outing Lot

Last Thursday night Mr. Robert Romer gave an interesting sketch on the old and new methods of land subdivision. He explained that his company had allotted Healdsburg a number of free lots in this tract by means of public drawings at the M & M Theater each evening until the allotment has been exhausted. The object in giving those lots in this manner is to create a nucleus tor attracting by means of the winners the vacation and summer home seekers from this district. These winners become agents and a live advertising medium as long as they are deed holders of record. These lots are given away free to winners but they must defray their own expenses in having the title transferred, which amounts to $6.50 which includes the search of title, attorney fees, notary fees, drawing up the deed, etc., the same as any person is forced to do when they inherit a piece of property. He went on to explain that this very feature made their proposition stronger as it eliminated those winners who would look upon the proposition as a Nickelodeon premium and who would have nothing to lose by being inactive. When they pay to have the transfer made, it makes them look into the proposition deeper and is the best sign of good faith that they will become active boosters and attract their friends as buyers and home builders. How can the owners afford to give these lots away, was answered by him in another way. The amount that is generally spent in advertising is turned over to the winners who in turn act as live unconscious agents without pay. The value of any property is determined by the actual amount of deed holders of record which is the only magnet which will draw.

By having the property made valuable by the winners, their friends are glad to pay $25.00 for which these lots are selling. And these buyers in turn attract other buyers which when once started forms an endless chain and they are the ones that actually pay for the lots that are given away. He also made another point to illustrate this which was keen as it is better understood. For instance in a suit club there are generally 25 members, one wins a suit the first month for $5.00 and the second one for $l0.00, but it is the other 23 in number that average up the difference. Some of the lucky winners this week were Mr. C. P. Miller, J. Silberstein, Mrs. H. Sacry, and Fred Boulden who is going to start to improve as soon as his deed is perfected.

– Healdsburg Enterprise, December 2 1911



A moving picture house in Sacramento is bidding for popularity with its patrons by holding out as an allurement to ticket purchasers an opportunity to secure a “Lot at Summerland, Sonoma county, near Russian River.” When the lucky ones present their tickets, they are told that they must put up six dollars for a deed to the lot. Some of them put up the coin. Others do not. Inquiries are being made of the Sonoma county legislators as to the location of the lots, and as to their worth. But prior to their coming to Sacramento the solons had not heard of the inducements offered.

– Press Democrat, December 6 1911

The Northwestern Hotel and Water Company announces that it will soon erect a hotel large enough to accommodate several hundred summer residents at Summerland near Guerneville, in the near future. The company will also establish a water system for Summerland.

– Healdsburg Tribune, March 14 1912
Persons Who Were “Given” Lots in “Summerland Park” Wonder If It’s a Bilk.

Offices of the “Exposition Developing Company” in the Ellers building are closed today. The two strangers, names unknown, who acted as the concern’s representatives, have flown, and a large number of plucked citizens here who paid $6.50 for a deed to a lot in “Summerland Park No. 2,” said to be a mile from Cazadero, Cal., a milk station in the hills of Sonoma county, are wondering whether they were swindled.

The company operated through several moving picture shows here. Theatre patrons were given coupons entitling them to a “free” chance on a lot. Apparently every one won in the weekly “drawing,” as scores of persons were visited by agents of the concern, during the two weeks it operated here…

…Among the motion picture show houses that innocently aided the company were the Rainbow and Cozy theatres on First street.

“The proposition the men made looked good to me,” said G. E. Chamberlain, one of the owners of the Cozy, today. “They told us that all we had to do was to give away the coupons and that our attendance would increase when people learned we were giving away free lots.

“They furnished us with slides showing pictures of the lands they said they owned, and explained that the scheme was to advertise the park so they could later sell lots. We began to get suspicious, however, when every one seemingly drew a lot and we were getting ready to stop giving coupons when the police told us to quit. The strangers got wind of this and left Portland soon afterward…”

– Oregon Daily Journal, March 26, 1912



The following is a funny yet plaintive cry of the “bungalow lot victim”–it should be called “bunco-low,” but the humor of the statement must not hide the fact that in the name of Sonoma county this small, cheap bunco game is flourishing throughout our neighboring states. Those worthless patches of real estate are not marketed to the unwary in this county, nor now in this state. The scheme has become too well known except at a distance. And yet nothing can save the investors who are caught by the plausibility of the spielers’ landscape descriptions, and the little coin demanded for such a priceless bit of domain. All these resort lots are worthless as the investor speedily learns after his money has passed. This communication is one of the many such which almost daily adds to Mr. Nagle’s amusement and perplexity, as the writers tell him their troubles after they have been bunco-lowed.

Butte, Mont., Dec. 5, 1912
Mr. F. G. Nagle, County Recorder, Santa Rosa, California.

Dear Sir–We have your not of the second inst., returning the deed from Arthur Annis to E. S. Rodds, which we had sent you in our letter of November 29th for record, and wish to thank you for the information as to the worthlessness of the property.

We are, however, returning the deed with our draft for $1.00 to cover the recording fees, and would ask that you place the same on record.

Mr. Rodda had some information concerning the non-value of this property, before he asked us to send the deed. He is already stung a little, however, and thinks it is worth one dollar more, on the chance that some time petroleum or ginger ale or some other good chase may be discovered in commercial quantities on the land, or that some one might want it for a site for a factory for the manufacture of second-hand tooth brushes. He says he came west to take chances, and he is going through with this, even if it costs him another dollar.

Yours very truly, W. E. Collins,

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 18 1912


Fixing It So Can’t Even Give Realty Away in This Place
Bill to Beat Moving Picture Game in Sonoma County Goes Through Assembly.

Up in Santa Rosa moving picture theater owners some time ago conceived the idea of boosting their business by advertising they would give away lots to patrons of their nickelodeons who happened to hold a winning number. This was an alluring bit of advertising, and business trebled within a short time. It was apparent from the start that the theaters were doing it up proper, for many there were who drew a winning number. The lucky person had only to deposit a filing fee to get a deed.

Many deeds were filed. In fact, so many were filed that, the Sonoma county recorder’s office was swamped. Assemblyman Slater was appealed to. He was told the lots were absolutely worthless, and that the moving picture men were getting a corner on all the money in the county. Accordingly he introduced a bill in the lower house the first part of the session making it a misdemeanor for any person to give away worthless lots and collect a fee for transferring or conveying them to the owners of persons drawing lucky numbers.

The assembly heard Slater’s explanation of conditions yesterday, and railroaded the bill through without delay. Tired clerks in the Sonoma county recorder’s office and amusement hall proprietors will probably await with interest the action of the upper house on the measure.

– Sacramento Union, March 14 1913
Assemblyman Slater’s Bill to Prevent Frauds Being Perpetrated Is Signed by Governor

The practice of giving away “free” tickets, entitling holders to lots of land, by moving picture shows and other places of entertainment, was checked Thursday when Gov. Johnson signed Assemblyman Slater’s bill, which has added a new section to the penal code. After receiving their “free” tickets, holders have found themselves compelled to pay $6.50 for deeds in addition to paying a fee for recording. Gross fraud has been perpetrated in hundreds of cases, where lots have been said to be located in some sylvan dell and in reality have been perched on some bald rock or inaccessible jungle.

Thousands of deeds have been filed in a number of counties, and, after visiting their land, the deed holders have never returned for their deeds. The measure Introduced by Slater has been indorsed all over the State and was one of his “pet” measures.

The bill is as follows:

Section 1. The penal code is hereby amended by adding a new section thereto to be numbered 532a, to read as follows; 532a. Any person who knowingly and designedly offers or gives with winning numbers at any drawing of numbers or with tickets of admission to places of public assemblage or otherwise, any lot or parcel of real property for the purpose of charging or collecting fees for transferring or conveying the same, or who, under pretense of charging or collecting fees for such conveyance, receives money, labor or property for executing such conveyance, knowing such lots or parcels of real property to be inaccessible, unavailable for the use represented for it, worthless, or without market value equal to such fees, or charges, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

– Press Democrat, April 27 1913


Western Lots Are Put on Market at Wholesale

Lot selling was done in a wholesale manner in room 19 of the Metropolital hotel yesterday. The lots were located in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal…Women folk, lean folk, fat folk of a good natured kind, sleepy folk, and a few other kind, all seemed to be in a hurry to get a piece of California real estate…

…when callers, of which there were many, presented their cards they were informed by a portly appearing gentleman in that in order to get deeds it would be necessary to pay a fee for surveying the lot, and a few minor expenses, and that $8 good cash, earned by the sweat of the face under the beneficent sky of Missouri, would be necessary to have a look-in on the California real estate.

And some paid the $8.00, and some didn’t. Some looked at $8.00 with a longing look, and after much consideration, came to the conclusion that $8.00 in the hand was worth more than a sand lot 2,000 miles away.

– Springfield MO Republican, June 27 1913


Alleged Land Shark Arrested.

C. E. Ditto, a reputed land shark, was placed under arrest Saturday afternoon on a charge of beating his board bill…The police, while the man is being held, are making an investigation of a certain land scheme which has been worked in Bloomington of late. The scheme is a new one, but it is thought that some real money was secured in some of the transactions.

The play has been put on at moving picture theaters, a ticket being given to each one who pays to see the show and the one at the close of the day who held the lucky number drew a card entitling him to property. The card states that they “are entitled to a lot in Summerland Villa, Guerneville, Sonoma county, Cal.” The Northwestern Dev. Co., is signed to this card. It is said that several have presented these cards to the agent and are then told that to pay for the deed and abstract, that the sum of $9.60 is necessary. It is claimed that a few, thinking that they will get rich, have paid the sum asked and then gone on their way thinking of the riches which are to come.

The police will continue to make their investigation and Ditto will be held on the other charge until the matter is cleared up. Police officers the confident that Ditto is a swindler [sic]

Bloomington IL Pantagraph, November 17 1913
The Guerneville Lots Figure in Kansas City Arrests

The last session of the Legislature passed the Slater bill which was signed by the Governor and is now the law, which put a stop to moving picture houses and other concerns giving “lucky” tickets to lots of land in Sonoma county and elsewhere In the State, It had become such a nuisance and such a fraud in Sonoma county that the introduction of the measure was framed to check it, particularly as the lots were worthless and located in out of the way places and inaccessible places and-—well, the story has been oft told.

This is by way of introduction. Uncle Sam has come to the assistance of the State of California and has swooped down upon men in Kansas City and their prosecution will doubtless check the operation in “lucky” tickets for Sonoma county lots in other States of the Union, for today County Recorder Nagle is receiving deeds for filing and countless inquiries concerning the lots in question. A dispatcn from Kansas City says:

“Kansas City. Dec. 4.—An alleged land fraud which, according to postoffice inspectors, was conducted in several States through the medium of moving picture shows and the United States mails, led to the arrest here today of W. B. Emrich and N. H. Spitzer of Louisville, Ky. The two were arraigned before a United States commissioner on a charge of misuse of the malls.

“According to the federal charge, tickets were distributed among the spectators at picture shows and the announcement made that the holders of ‘lucky’ numbers would be given a deed to a camper’s lot near Guerneville, Sonoma county, California, It is alleged that the lucky ones’ were then required to pay more for the ‘filing of papers’ than the lots were worth.

– Press Democrat, December 5 1913
Man Comes Here With the Idea of Locating on His Moving Picture Ticket Lot

Joe Blakskowski of San Francisco spent $12.50 for abstract deed and filing fees for lot 16, block 17 In “Glen Ertney,” when he drew a free lot is connection with his moving picture show ticket two years ago. The land is a portion of Sec. 23, tp 8 n, r. 7 w., and is located on the mountain side about 14 miles northeast of Santa Rosa off the road to Callstoga.

Mr. Blakskowskl came here this week with the view of settling on his lot and purchasing more for relatives and friends as agents for the tract had interested them with his glowing description. When he arrived here and asked for directions to reach “Glen Ertney,” his castles in the air were shattered when informed that he could not reach the lot on horseback, and would have a very hard time scrambling to it on foot.

Despite his ill treatment in this regard, Mr. Blaks, as he is commonly known, is planning to purchase property here for himself and relatives, and move here to make his home as he has been greatly impressed with the city and its surroundings.

Under the law no more tickets to lots can be given away is this State.

– Press Democrat, January 10 1914

The evil some time since of the giving away of tickets at moving picture shows to lots in Sonoma county, so much complained of in the past, is again to the fore in the announcement of the delinquent tax list of Sonoma county, prepared by County Tax Collector Frank M. Collins.

There is column after column of delinquents on lots that were purchased by the holders of tickets won at moving picture shows in different parts of the State and in other States. Many of the lot holders, after filing their deeds, placing the property on the assessment roll, have never taken any notice of their duties as landowners in the county, hence they have gone delinquent in payment of taxes, disgusted with their purchase.

At the last session of the Legislature, in 1913, the practice of giving away these lot tickets and the fraud connected therewith was stopped by the Slater bill, which was signed by the Governor, and heartily endorsed by the State Realty boards and other organizations. Hundreds of the lots had been disposed of prior to that time and the result is now shown on the delinquent tax list. This explains the length of the delinquent tax roil in large measure.

– Press Democrat, June 5 1914
Recording of Documents Is Up to Date in the Office of the County Recorder

The copying of instruments in the office of County Recorder Fred G. Nagle has been brought up to dale and the well known county official is pleased to have it thus. Everything has been fine for some time.

It will be remembered that prior to the last session of the Legislature the County Recorder’s office here and in other counties of the state were deluged with the recording of deeds to lots of land as the result of the giving away of tickets with moving picture shows in this state and outside. At the session of the Legislature, Assemblyman Herbert W. Slater of this county, introducing a bill which passed both houses and was signed by the governor which made the giving away of such tickets unlawful. The new law attracted much attention and was complimented in the official papers of the State Realty Board and in other papers as being one of the most useful pieces of legislation. Its effect was soon noticeable in a diminishing of the number of deeds.

Copies of the law were also forwarded by the author of the federal authorities asking for their co-operatlon and this has also proved beneficial in the punishment of persons who used the mails to make false representations concerning prarlically worthless lots in this county.

It was learned Thursday that the deeds for the lots obtained in the manner complained of, are very rare now at the county recorder’s office, there only having been one or two in the past few months, and otherwise the practice has been stopped entirely. This is why the county recorder is breathing easier and why the copying has been brought up to dale to the gratification of those who were unavoidably hindred from recording their documents on time as a result of the deluge.

With hundreds of deeds to the moving picture lots coming in weekly it was impossible to cope with the work of copying them and finally special books had to be provided for their speedy recording. But the main reason for stopping the practice was that the county was being given a black eye by reason of the misrepresentations of the lot sellers and Ihe protest was general.

– Press Democrat, September 18 1914

Read More


Murder was almost unheard of in early 20th century Santa Rosa and West County, but in the late summer of 1910 there were two that happened within weeks. And because both killers were Japanese men, the coverage of the deeds in the Santa Rosa newspapers give us a snapshot of media attitudes on race.

Events began with the July murder of Enoch Kendall, his wife and adult son at the Lion’s Head Ranch near Cazadero. Their bodies had been dismembered and parts burned in the cookstove, with their remains of charred bones and ashes piled in the yard. The body of Mrs. Kendall, sans head and both legs, was found in the woods. The Press Democrat’s headline proclaimed it the “Most Atrocious Crime in History of Sonoma County.”

(RIGHT: Kendalls and Yamaguchi, illustration from the Oakland Tribune, August 5, 1910

Suspicion immediately fell on Henry Yamaguchi, a young Japanese laborer who knew the owner of the ranch. The Kendalls were leasing the property from Mrs. Margaret Starbuck of Oakland, who had been trying to evict them for some time; she had filed four lawsuits against the family in Sonoma County, accusing them of stealing and selling some of her cattle. Yamaguchi, who had previously performed a few odd jobs for Mrs. Starbuck at the ranch and at her Oakland home, now worked at the Cazadero Hotel and volunteered to keep an eye on the Kendalls for her.

When the bodies were found the police contacted Mrs. Starbuck. She told them that Yamaguchi had appeared at her Oakland residence unexpectedly around the day of the murders. He appeared to have been beaten up and  told her that the younger Kendall had shot at him. He had fought “all three of them,” according to Mrs. Starbuck, and he told her, “I do ’em all up; I put ’em away. They no bother you no more.” She was alarmed by his remarks, but as the murders had not yet been discovered, Yamaguchi was allowed to leave.

But once the crime was revealed, Yamaguchi could not be found. The local Japanese association immediately called a meeting in Santa Rosa and vowed to help search for him statewide, even raising money for a reward.

At the inquest Mrs. Starbuck told a more incriminating story, with Yamaguchi yelling, “I shot him! I shot him! I shot him!” before saying, “I kill myself; I must kill myself.” The coroner’s jury charged Yamaguchi with murder.

Exactly a month after Yamaguchi’s indictment, the second killing happened in Sebastopol. During the performance of a Japanese play by a touring company in Lincoln Hall (McKinley Street, near the movie theater) Y. Yasuda shot another a man twice from the back. He was immediately arrested, as was another Japanese man who took money from the dead man’s pockets. Yasuda says he acted in self defense and was held over for trial.

Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Grand Jury was investigating the Kendall murder case. Testimony was raising questions about the truthfulness of Mrs. Starbuck. At the earlier inquest she had already contradicted her original story that Yamaguchi appeared to have been beaten; she told the coroner he did not appear to have any injuries aside from a possible bruise on a cheek. It also came out at the inquest that she was the only person who heard Yamaguchi’s confession. Mr. Starbuck testified he came home later and found his wife quite agitated and Yamaguichi sobbing that he would kill himself. The husband said he considered the story “too preposterous” to believe and “if Yamaguichi had fought all three of the Kendalls he could not have hurt them much.” As Yamaguichi was just five feet three and weighed 120 pounds, the crime would have been quite the job for him, what with all the butchery required.

Witnesses told the Grand Jury she remained determine to evict the Kendalls despite losing the four lawsuits against them. She instructed a man named Cox to find her a new tenant. Cox asked how she would get the Kendalls to leave, she allegedly told him, “there are more ways than one to get them off.” She also tried to sell the ranch, which she had denied in earlier testimony:

W. B. Quigley flatly contradicted Mrs. Starbuck regarding the proposed sale or transfer of the ranch to Japanese for colonization or other purposes. He testified that he had about completed negotiations for the sale of the ranch when a hitch occurred and the deal was declared off. Mrs. Starbuck later denied any such deal as that first above mentioned, had ever been contemplated.

While none of this incriminated Mrs. Starbuck in an actual crime, it certainly called into question her other testimony. At the end of the story the Press Democrat commented, “It is declared by those who know that there was sufficient shifting of both the testimony of Mrs. Starbuck and her husband to have considerable effect if the case ever comes to trial. There are those who believe she is still keeping secret more than she is telling in the case.”

Yamaguchi was indicted by the Grand Jury, despite the only thread of evidence against him being an alleged confession to a woman who apparently had a deep and irrational hatred for the Kendalls. Let me repeat that: A man was indicted for murder only on the word of a person who wanted the victims out of her hair. Such an outrageous abuse of justice makes it impossible to imagine racism was not a major factor in the Grand Jury’s indictment.

But the topic here is media racism: Did the 1910 and 1911 newspapers report this story – and the one about the Sebastopol murder – with prejudice? The answer is mixed.

Cheer that the racial slur “little brown men” didn’t once appear in either paper, although both used it the year before in almost every story about local Japanese. In 1910, “Jap” and “Nipponese” were as nasty as the name-calling got. Not that there wasn’t racist news reported that year; there was also a lecture on Japanese exclusion in Santa Rosa, ending with a resolution calling for boycotts against Japanese labor and businesses as well as anyone else who engaged with anyone Japanese.

The downside was that the papers made the two Japanese men into cardboard villains. Readers learned nothing about Yamaguchi, although the police description mentioned he was a member of a Methodist Church in Oakland and “was well known in Fruitvale.” The Press Democrat ran at least a dozen stories on the Kendall murders, several with front page headlines; couldn’t they have spared a reporter for an afternoon to interview people who knew him best? For the Yasuda shooting, we never learned about a motive, aside from hints such as, “the trouble that led to the shooting grew out of some gambling deals.”

There was no interest in reporting on the trial proceedings of a Japanese-upon-Japanese crime, so coverage of the Sebastopol killing instead relentlessly focused on any white people involved in the story, particularly Frank Harrington, the ticket taker at Lincoln Hall and only non-Japanese person in attendance.  Harrington disarmed Yasuda after the incident; according to the Santa Rosa Republican, it was an act of heroism straight from a dime novel:

Mr. Harrison the doorkeeper of the theater, showed remarkable coolness and presence of mind in the turbulent scenes which followed. As the Jap with the smoking pistol came toward him at the door he struck the man in the face, grasped the pistol from him and held him there until he was taken into custody. Had the Japanese escaped from the theater and mingled in the crowd, it would have given the officers difficulty to apprehend him.

Note the soft racism that officers would not be able to identify Yasuda if he was in a crowd of other Japanese. (Note also that the Republican was too busy turning the incident into a ripping yarn to spell the Harrington’s name correctly.) When the trial was held coverage in both papers was perfunctory, the main point of interest being that the Japanese translator was a white man. “The way he handled the questions and answers was a revelation to those in the courts who had rarely heard a Caucasian speak the language.”

Both stories had unsatisfying endings.

Yasuda was found not guilty by the jury, which must have come as a shock to Santa Rosans, as there had been no mention of evidence showing he could have acted in self defense.

Yamaguchi’s picture appeared prominently in newspapers in Santa Rosa and San Francisco and elsewhere, and a $1,000 reward was offered – half from the Governor and half from William Randolph Hearst’s Examiner. Despite false sightings in Oakland, Vacaville and a train bound for Mexico, he was never found.

Mrs. Starbuck and her husband divorced not long after the Kendall murders. History has come to judge her harshly; mentions of the incident found on the Internet today claim she was “implicated” in the crime, and sometimes it’s claimed that she sent Yamaguchi to the Kendalls with orders to “give ’em hell.” Neither were true.



At the meeting held in Trembley hall on Sunday night at which an address was delivered on Japanese exclusion, the following resolutions were adopted:

“Whereas, The petitions of the people of California and other Pacific Coast states demanding relief from Japanese and other Asiatic immigration are unheeded and ignored by Congress, and

“Whereas, the situation is growing more grave and inimical to the welfare of the white race, be it

Resolved, That a boycott be instituted against Japanese and other Asiatics.

1. A boycott against all articles grown or manufactured by Japanese

2. A boycott against all Japanese engaged in business of any kind

3. A boycott against all white persons engaged in business, manufacture or agriculture who employ or patronize Japanese

4. A political boycott irrespective of party against all candidates  who employ or patronize Japanese, or who hold stock in any corporation employing Japanese, or who are not avowedly and openly opposed to further Japanese immigration.

“It is further resolved to enforce and encourage said boycott by every legitimate and legal means to the end that coolie or servile labor may no longer menace the free institutions of this republic.

– Press Democrat, February 8, 1910
Japanese Slain by Fellow Countryman in Lincoln Hall at Sebastopol Sunday Night

From comedy to tragedy the scene was quickly changed in Lincoln hall at Sebastopol on Sunday night. Mimicry suddenly gave way to realism and real murder was done before the eyes of 250 persons, who, at the time were in the hall witnessing a production by a Japanese theatrical company, the play was one of the features of entertainment the Japanese had arranged. The actors were before the footlights and the Nipponese were applauding their offerings of mirth when all of a sudden and without warning, a pistol shot rang out, followed in quick succession by others. Instantly there was wild confusion, and a babel  of tongues. Chairs were upset and men and women scrambled to nearby cover. As described by Frank Harrington, who chanced to be the only spectator at the play and the subsequent slaying, it was certainly a time of terror for the Japanese. When the smoke cleared away Hisayama lay dead upon the floor, shot through the heart and chest. His assailant, Yasuda, still held the smoking weapon threateningly.

Harrington’s Nerve

Harrington took in the situation in an instant. He rushed to the side of the slayer and grabbed the hand that held the gun. A struggle ensued but Harrington wrenched the revolver from Yasuda and turned the weapon upon him, subduing any further onslaught upon anyone, and then kept the crowd at bay while he placed the murderer under arrest.

City Marshall Fisher Arrives

Yasuda was jailed by City Marshal Fisher and a message telling of the killing was sent to District Attorney Clarence Lea. That official jumped from his bed, rang up Court Reporter Harry Scott, and in a very short time they were starting for Sebastopol in an automobile, stopping to pick up Deputy Sheriff Donald McIntosh. At Sebastopol the District Attorney took a number of statements and Deputy Sheriff McIntosh took another Jap into custody on suspicion that he might have taken some coin from Hisayama’s pocket after the latter had been killed. The officials returned to this city at an early hour on Monday morning. District Attorney Lea, Sheriff Smith and Court Reporter Scott returned again to Sebastopol later in the morning and secured additional details. Coroner Blackburn was also notified.

Said to Be Gambler

The dead Japanese is said to have been a gambler and that the trouble that led to the shooting grew out of some gambling deals. Yasuda says he acted in self defense.

Coroner Blackburn will hold an inquest at Sebastopol this evening at seven o’clock.

– Press Democrat, September 27, 1910

Gambling Quarrel Between Japs Result in Death

Hisayame, A Santa Rosa Japanese, was murdered in the Japanese theater at Sebastopol Sunday evening by Y. Yasede, a Japanese from Asti. The murder was committed about 11 o’clock and was the result of an old gambling quarrel the two had had. The murderer was caught immediately after taking the life of his countryman. Frank Harrington, the ticket taker at the Japanese theater, apprehending him. Yasede was held in the city jail at Sebastopol over Sunday night.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn came over from Monte Rio Monday morning…

…The murdered man was shot twice from the rear, and either of the wounds wound have been sufficient to have produced death. One of the bullets entered the man’s back near the spinal column and came out near the nipple of the left breast, evidently having passed through the heart. The other shot entered back of the right ear and came out at the right side of the man’s nose. He dropped in his tracks and expired instantly.

Mr. Harrison the doorkeeper of the theater, showed remarkable coolness and presence of mind in the turbulent scenes which followed. As the Jap with the smoking pistol came toward him at the door he struck the man in the face, grasped the pistol from him and held him there until he was taken into custody. Had the Japanese escaped from the theater and mingled in the crowd, it would have given the officers difficulty to apprehend him.

Coroner Frank L. Blackburn was over at Sebastopol Monday and looking over the matter…

 – Santa Rosa Republican, September 27, 1910

The Coroner’s jury at Sebastopol last night formally charged Y. Yasuda with the murder of Y. Hisayama in Lincoln hall in that town last Sunday night during the performance of a Japanese play. He is in jail here to await the holding of the preliminary examination.

Several witnesses were called at the inquest held by Coroner Frank L. Blackburn…The testimony was sufficient to warrant the formal charge of murder in the minds of the jurymen, and they did not hesitate in returning a verdict.

Medical evidence given showed that Hisayama’s death must have been instantaneous. One bullet severed the jugular vein and the other passed through the heart. The location of the shots indicated the deadly and murderous aim of the accused.

One of the principal witnesses was Frank Harrington, the only white man present at the Japanese play at which the murder was committed and whose evidence is very material. Mr. Harrington grabbed the pistol from Yasuda’s hands after the shooting to prevent further trouble.

Another Japanese has been arrested. He was arrested for having removed coin from the dead Japanese’s pockets. He was a close friend of the murdered man, and half of the money he took belonged to him, so he says.

– Press Democrat, September 28, 1910


At the trial of Y. Yasuda before Judge Emmet Seawell on Wednesday afternoon, F. W. Harrington and J. F. Ames were the witnesses examined. Yasuda is charged with the murder of O. Hisayama in Sebastopol.

Harrington is the man who wrested the revolver from Yasuda after he had killed Hisayama, and as he was trying to escape from Lincoln hall, where the murder was committed during the presentation of a Japanese drama. Harrington told the jury of the events prior to and at the time of the killing so far as they lay in his knowledge. Mr. Ames’ testimony was along similar lines.

At the morning session Thursday Ed F. O’Leary testified to the bullet holes in the clothing of the deceased, and the clothes were introduced in evidence and inspected by the jury.

Dr. J. E. Maddux gave the jury information relative to the course pursued by the bullet that had entered the body of Hisayama.

Fred R. Mathews told the court and jury of the arrest of the defendant, and of his detention awaiting trial.

G. Oka and F. Morseiya, Japanese, were witnesses also. They gave their testimony through an official interpreter.

At the afternoon session of the murder trial, the proceedings were quite brief. Y. Maruyama testified for the defendant, and another witness was recalled for further examination.

Attorney George W. Hoyle made the opening address for the prosecution and was followed by Attorney Thomas J. Butts. The closing argument was made by Attorney Hoyle.

Charles H. Gaffney, official interpreter of the Japanese language in the San Francisco courts, was the interpreter at the trial. The way he handled the questions and answers was a revelation to those in the courts who had rarely heard a Caucasian speak the language.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, March 23, 1911

Y. Yasuda, Charged With Murder of O. Hisayama in Sebastopol, is Found Not Guilty

Y. Yasuda, the Japanese charged with the murder of O. Hisayama, in Lincoln Hall, Sebastopol, last fall, during the Oriental theatrical performance, was acquitted Thursday evening by a jury after less than half an Hour’s deliberation.

The taking of testimony was completed shortly after the opening of the afternoon session. Assistant District Attorney G. W. Hoyle, who conducted the prosecution argued the case, reviewing the points of the trial as they had been brought out in the testimony and asked for a conviction.

Attorney T. J. Butts, who represented the defendant, made a strong plea for an acquittal, on the ground of self-defense, after which Hoyle closed the case and it was submitted to the jury. On the first ballot the jury stood 11 to 1 for acquittal, and after a few minutes argument and explanation, the one went over and the next ballot was unanimous for acquittal.

The verdict came as a complete surprise to some, while others who had watched the case expected no other action. Yasuda left the courtroom with his countrymen after he had shook hands and thanked each of the jurors.

– Press Democrat, March 24, 1911

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Dear Abby: I’m a county game commissioner and my son was “acting out” by allegedly blowing up fish with dynamite in Austin Creek. Boys will be boys you know, but that would be pretty durn illegal if he done it! A policeman showed up at my door to arrest Fred, but I told ’em it was good enough that I ordered the boy to stay in his room. They took him away anyway, and it cost me $250 to bail him out after he confessed to the crime, although I says he didn’t. So while he’s waiting for trial, should I restrict his access to the family dynamite? Signed, Concerned in Cazadero

Commissioner’s Son Charged With Dynamiting Fish

Game Warden John C. Ingalls and Constable Ben H. Barnes arrested Fred Quigley at Cazadero Tuesday and landed him at the county jail Tuesday evening. The young man is charged with having used dynamite in Austin Creek, near Cazadero, to kill fish. The case is an interesting one, and promises to develop other things equally as interesting.

Quigley is the son of a deputy game commissioner, and his offense was against the very laws his father is endeavoring to uphold. The father told the arresting officers Tuesday that he had arrested his son for the offense, had taken him before Justice E. E. Trosper at Cazadero, and the latter had informed the father that there was insufficient evidence against the boy. Quigley, Sr., said that since that time he had had his son under detention at Cazadero.

When Ingalls and Barnes attempted to take young Quigley and bring him to the county jail, the father interfered. He charges that Ingalls knocked him down when he sought to prevent the arrest of his son, and he threatened to have Ingalls arrested as soon as he reached home. He proposed to swear out the warrant before Justice Trosper. Ingalls admitted that he had pushed Quigley out of the way, but denies having struck him.

It is claimed here that after Fred Quigley was landed in the county jail he confessed to dynamiting the stream. The father claimed that his son had not confessed.

The examination of the young man was set for February 18, and he was released on two hundred and fifty dollars.

– Santa Rosa Republican, February 12, 1908

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