cabinclose

THE WICKERSHAM MURDERS

It was a fearsome crime and although newspapers in those days were packed with stories about terrible murders, this incident was so horrific that news of it spread nationwide, becoming the first time most Americans heard of a place called Sonoma county. Even your great -great (-great?) grandmother Augusta in far-away Minnesota read this wire story on the front page of her local paper in 1886:

CLOVERDALE, Cal., Jan 23–Details reached here to-day of a double murder, the victims of which are a prominent farmer, Jesse C. Wickersham, and wife….Wickersham was found sitting in a chair in the diningroom dead, with blood oozing from a wound in the breast and another in the head. Mrs. Wickersham was found dead on the bed in a bed-room up stairs, her hands and feet bound and a wound in her breast. The valuables on both bodies were intact, which showed robbery was not the object of the crime. All the wounds were inflicted by a shotgun. Strong circumstantial evidence points to a Chinese cook, Ah Kai, employed by the murdered couple. Ah Kai is nowhere to be found…1

The picture it painted portrayed nightmarish scenes: A woman tied up on her bed, the gruesome view of her husband, the idea that both were innocents slaughtered senselessly by a member of their household. That the supposed mad killer was a Chinese immigrant only confirmed what fear-mongering politicians and the press had been shouting for years.

But aside from the Wickershams indeed being murdered, most of the important facts in the article were wrong. Robbery probably was the motive; no evidence implicated the Chinese cook, who immediately became the prime suspect only because his whereabouts were unknown and other (more likely) culprits weren’t considered.

The Wickersham killings had an immediate impact on Sonoma county and the state, leading to boycotts of Chinese businesses and expulsion of immigrants from towns – and its ripples even reached Congress as more anti-Chinese legislation passed in the following years. But despite its importance. actual details of the Wickersham case never have been closely examined.

What follows is part one, which dives into the conflicting stories about the double murder; part two follows the manhunt for the Chinese cook and suggests who were the more likely suspects; part three provides overall context, showing why our ancestors were quick to presume the cook was guilty and what they did immediately afterward.

This is a tricky tale to write because every newspaper added, omitted and/or contradicted details found in other papers. Often the differences were minor – but sometimes they were critical to interpreting events. In almost every case I selected a version that came from an interview with someone with first-hand knowledge, but some players were so eager to implicate the Chinese man that they apparently lied or exaggerated, and in one case, possibly tampered with the crime scene. Any non-trivial differences are discussed. If you want the complete scoop, newspaper transcriptions for the whole series will be available for download in a separate text file.

As we begin, keep in mind this is an important moment in our history only because of a perfectly awful set of circumstances. Had the Wickershams been murdered six months earlier or later the tragedy might have been little noticed – but it happened at the peak of local anti-Chinese frenzy. Had the Wickersham ranch not been so hard for authorities to reach, accurate details might have been reported quickly – instead, newspapers fed the public’s hunger for news by printing lies and rumors. And even Mother Nature seemed to conspire to make any possible investigation difficult – there was a Perfect Storm before the crime was discovered which likely obliterated evidence.

Location of the Wickersham ranch and vicinity on the map from the 1898 county atlas

 

The winter of 1885-1886 was fairly mild and dry in Sonoma county – except for the third week of January, when the North Bay was slammed with torrential rains and high winds. There was snow on St. Helena and Sonoma Mountains; major roads were impassible, with the well-traveled route through the Sonoma Valley compared to a lake.

It was just before the biggest storm hit on Wednesday the 20th when two Indians showed up at Elliott Jewell’s ranch, far from any town in the rugged northwest corner of the county. Jewell knew the men and considered them friendly. “You see Wickersham?” he was asked. “Wickersham” was Jesse C. Wickersham, who had a place with his wife about two miles away. Jewell replied he had not seen his neighbor recently. They asked again, “Where Wickersham?” and then, “You come Wickersham?” He promised to ride over the next day and check on his friends. 2

With the weather clear mid-morning on Thursday, Jewell went over but did not approach the cabin, apparently because he saw no smoke from the chimney nor other sign of life. “I had already made up my mind something was wrong,” he told a reporter a few days later, “possibly a murder.” He detoured back to the Indian’s camp about a half-mile away from the Wickersham place, where they had been hired to cut wood. 3

When had anyone last seen signs of life? He asked. Not since mid-morning on Monday; on Wednesday, “they said they had gone down to the house, and fearful of approaching it, they had stood afar off and hallooed for Wickersham, but without an answer.” 4

“Taking the two Indians with me, I attempted to open the door of the sitting-room but found it locked. The window was down and I pulled out the sash. The Indians then suggested that I should come round to the dining-room. I did so. The door did not yield. I went to the window, pulled aside the blind, and there my eyes fell upon the rigid form of my old friend – a blanket about his head and his feet in a pool of blood.” 5

Without investigating further, Jewell immediately returned to his horse and went home, where he fetched his wife and headed towards Skaggs’ Springs, the nearest place where he could seek help. 6


It was fourteen miles to the Skaggs’ Hot Springs resort, where hopefully the telephone and telegraph lines were still up despite the overnight storm winds. Jewell knew the winding road well and in good weather he probably could get there in under three hours. That day it apparently took him twice that long. The weather had made the route treacherous; the next morning the county coroner’s horse would slip and fall along this road enroute to the crime scene.

The long ride probably gave Jewell and his wife time to reflect. They had last seen the Wickershams about three weeks earlier, when the two couples spent the weekend together to celebrate the new year. “We were continually over at each other’s places,” he later told a reporter. But aside from the companionship of being the only neighbors within walking distance, they didn’t have much in common. 7

Jewell was more of a gentleman farmer and the place he called “Castle Rock Ranch” was the couple’s country home. At the time Jewell was 35 and owned the Petaluma News Depot, one of the most important businesses in south county because it handled all newspaper, magazine and book sales. Although his parents were rich he seemingly did well on his own, later owning a hop ranch near Fulton and trying his luck at gold mining in the Yukon. The couple mainly lived in Petaluma before moving on to Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Jesse C. Wickersham had a very different lifestory. His uncle was Isaac G. Wickersham, the wealthiest man in Sonoma county and president of the National Gold Bank of Petaluma – one of nine banks in the state allowed to actually print money. Jesse was 52 and had lived in his uncle’s shadow for years, working as an assistant cashier and notary at the bank, then as an insurance agent for another of his uncle’s companies. He married the sister of his uncle’s wife, a widow who was his same age. He was also dependent upon his in-laws; he and wife Sarah lived with them in Petaluma, and his father-in-law was co-owner of the ranch.

There was something the matter with Jesse which was never explained. “About Wickersham being poorly – that is true,” said a Healdsburg man who owned property near the ranch. “He is a weakly man – unable to ride and unable to look after the rancho properly.” Jewell agreed he was “in a very sickly condition” when he first moved to the country, but said he was better now and “could ride about and do light work.” 8

Or maybe the problem was psychological. Unlike the Jewells who came and went between their ranch and Petaluma, Jesse and his wife apparently remained there all the time. That they chose to live a reclusive life at one of the most remote places in Sonoma county is worth noting along with his earlier “failure to launch” – never advancing beyond menial clerical jobs, despite the remarkable advantage of his family connections.

Another important detail in his bio: Jesse was a Civil War vet who served almost the entire duration of the war, advancing to First Lieutenant (not Captain, as claimed in some of the contemporary articles). He was in the 2nd Iowa Infantry – where nearly half the regiment was wounded or killed – and fought in some of the worst battles, including Vicksburg, Shiloh and Atlanta; perhaps he had shrapnel that later dangerously shifted in his body, or maybe he had severe PTSD.

The cabin of Sarah and Jesse Wickersham as seen today. All photos here courtesy David Otero and Wickersham Ranch

 

The Jewells reached Skaggs’ Springs in late afternoon and fortunately, both telephone and telegraph lines were functioning – no sure thing in rural Sonoma county even 25 years later, as outlying customers provided the wires to connect to the nearest company office, which in this case was Geyserville.

Jewell either spoke or telegraphed the coroner, sheriff and I. G. Wickersham. Some of the misinformation that spread over the following days was probably due to the lo-fi quality of the telephone connection – the wood cutters were first identified as Italians and not Indians, for example. And soon after that all lines to Skaggs’ Springs went down, blocking reporters from asking questions or receiving any updates for two long days.

Although there was little more than an hour before the last “up-train” departed from Petaluma, the county coroner and marshal were onboard headed north, along with Fred Wickersham, the adult cousin of Jesse. They were joined by others in towns along the way;  the party that finally arrived at the Wickersham ranch included at least 17 men and likely more.

It took them around twelve hours to get to the ranch overnight from Cloverdale. The Dry Creek crossing was flooded out; there Sheriff Bishop turned back while the others swam their horses across. Other streams and creeks were swollen from the week’s storms and they also had to swim the horses across Hot Spring creek. The coroner’s horse fell, injuring him and Dr. Swisher “lost his horses” (no further details of what that meant). Healdsburg Constable Truitt called it “one of the hardest trips of my experience.” 9

While they were still slogging through the mud heading to the crime scene, the rest of the county was afire with rumor and gossip. “The news was carried from mouth to mouth, and soon the horror was the theme of conversation on every hand.” 10

The first published article appeared the same evening as Jewell’s telephone calls, which is to say the only known facts were that Wickersham was dead and the whereabouts of his wife and Chinese cook were unknown. The Oakland Tribune set a low bar with its story datelined Santa Rosa: “…there are not a few people here who express the opinion that [Mrs. Wickersham] may have met a fate worse than death to a woman of her character, and that her former servant, after murdering his master may have carried her off to some hiding place, possibly aided by confederate of his own race, for the basest purposes…” 11

Wickersham’s mysterious illness was the core of a widespread rumor the next day. An unnamed man “from near that locality” rode into Santa Rosa and claimed he knew what happened: “…Wickersham, who had been for a long time in low health, died suddenly, while sitting in his chair, from hemorrhage of the lungs. His wife, who had previously dispatched the Chinaman for the doctor, after finding that her husband was dead, threw a blanket over him, and started for the neighbors, fainting on the way.” 12

The hemorrhage theory was chewed over for two days, then forgotten once the bodies were found. But another rumor persisted for weeks – that the Chinese killer had “outraged” Sarah Wickersham. The inquest report did not mention sexual assault and the family vehemently denied it was true. “The statements that have been made in the papers concerning foul outrages are not true, nor are they kind,” Fred Wickersham said the day of the funerals. His banker father also asked for understanding: “Our feelings can better be imagined than described, but it makes the pangs of regret the keener when such reports are spread. It is bad enough, God knows, without making the facts worse.” Ignoring their pleas, newspapers – particularly papers in Sonoma county outside of Petaluma, including Santa Rosa’s Sonoma Democrat – continued to claim she had been raped. 13

Meanwhile, back on the ranch (oh, how I have longed for a chance to use that phrase) the party arrived a few hours after dawn Friday, having ridden all night except for a short rest at Skaggs’ Springs. While others were unsaddling, Constable Truitt was the first to enter the house. This was unfortunate because he was an unreliable figure; he exaggerated his role in the events and gave the press an interpretation of Sarah’s death which contradicted the coroner’s report (he also pushed the “outraged” claim). That he was alone in the house for several minutes casts doubt on whether the crime scene was really undisturbed. 14

Scene of the Jesse Wickersham murder. The door to the left of the fireplace led to the kitchen, and the door on the left wall led to a bedroom, where presumably Sarah’s body was found. A back bedroom can be partially seen through the open kitchen door.

 

When the group entered the cabin they found Truitt examining Jesse’s body, which was in a chair with its back to the fireplace. He had been shot in the back of the head as the couple was sharing a meal.

“He was sitting at the table as though he had fallen asleep,” Marshal Blume told a Santa Rosa reporter. “His head had dropped over to tbe left side slightly and the chin was resting on his breast…The plate was upset in his lap. The plate of his wife, which was opposite, had potatoes on it and was undisturbed. There was a piece of pie at each place. The chair which had been occupied by Mrs. Wickersham was overturned.” 15

There was at least one reporter there who wrote a remarkably detailed account of the scene for the Petaluma Courier. Evidence showed the shotgun blast came from the kitchen doorway:

The kitchen door on both sides was painted white. On the kitchen side, about four feet from the floor, were marks of powder burn almost as large as a man’s hand. The gun from which the shot was fired that ended the life of the owner of the house was evidently held close against the door, and in that position the muzzle would have been only about five feet from the body of the unsuspecting victim. All present came to the conclusion that the murderer had certainly opened the door only a few inches, thus being able to level his gun on the husband without allowing it to project beyond the edge, while the door screened him from the wife’s view. 16

Jesse had another shotgun wound on his right side. The coroner did not say which shot he believed was first, but either of them would have been fatal. The significance of this shot is discussed in part two.

For reasons unknown, someone had tried hard to stop the bleeding before he died. Again from the Courier:

Beneath the chair on which the body rested were two pools of blood, the clothing worn by the deceased also being saturated. About the neck was twisted a large linen tablecloth, and underneath it several napkins. These were almost as thoroughly soaked with blood as if they had been dipped into a bucket filled with it. From the corners and here and there on the edge only could it be told what the original color of the articles were. From the snowy whiteness of these spots, still stiff with starch, it was evident that the tablecloth was taken from the drawer in which the linen was kept for the express purpose of absorbing the blood. 17

Sarah was found in their bedroom. Her wrists were tied behind her back with the same clothesline rope looped around her chest, the end tied to the bed (I’m guessing the rails of a brass bed). She was half-kneeling beside it with her head resting on the bed. She had one shotgun wound to her right side. The bed was neatly made and unruffled. The coroner made no mention of sexual assault, but he also did not describe the condition of her face, which several newspapers described as being “mutilated.” One account claimed her nose was broken and the reliable Petaluma Courier reporter wrote her “face was swollen and bruised.”

And then there was the cake story. “One of the most curious things discovered was a piece of cake, which had been placed by the murderer after accomplishing his diabolical designs on the pillow beside the dead woman. It is said that this is a custom of the Chinese to exorcise evil spirits from the bodies of the dead,” wrote one Healdsburg paper. In another account there were five pieces of cake. 18

There is indeed a religious belief that the spirit of someone who has died violently can become a “hungry ghost,” but it’s hardly a secret that Chinese generally made food offerings to the dead. The meticulous Courier reporter does not mention anything about a piece of cake on the bed; the newspapers that did so were quoting or paraphrasing Marshal Blume or Constable Truitt, who both kept pushing the “outraged” claim even after the Wickersham family asked everyone to knock it off. In short, I don’t think there’s much question that this part of the story was planted in order to prove the Chinese cook had to be the killer.

The cook’s room was also inspected, and will be discussed in part two; all that’s crucial to know is that nothing incriminating was found there except for some clothesline like the rope used to tie up Sarah. Elsewhere in the house someone found Jesse’s meticulously-kept journal with the last entry made after Sunday night supper. That and a burned-dry lamp on the table led them to conclude the murders happened between 5-6PM on Monday, four days earlier.

The house was not ransacked and Wickersham still had his watch and pocket change. “This shows that the object of the fiendish criminal was not robbery,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the papers pushing the outraged/cake angle. 19

But at least some times of the year, Jesse kept large amounts of cash around to pay ranch hands. Again the Petaluma Courier seemed to have the last word: “A small satchel, however, in which the rancher was known to sometimes keep money, was found open… No one present was able to state whether there was much or little money in the house before the deed was committed.” The Courier also had an anecdote about Jesse unexpectedly settling a $100 debt with a neighbor – the equivalent of over $3,300 today. Another time he had to defer paying the neighbor because “He had nothing less than a twenty.”

While the Healdsburg doctor did the autopsies, Marshal Blume took a party of the men to search the range for any signs of the cook. Finding nothing, the coroner’s jury heard evidence from the doctor and Elliott Jewell, coming to the conclusion that the Wickershams “came to their death from gunshot wounds, inflicted by unknown hands, ail evidence pointing towards a Chinese cook in the employ of deceased.”

And that was all, except for getting the bodies back to Petaluma for a funeral. It took them until Sunday to reach Healdsburg; the Alta California speculated the bodies were lashed in a wagon which was floated across the flooded creeks. 20

A Santa Rosa paper reported, “In consequence of tbe bad weather and swollen streams great difficulty was experienced in bringing them in. People gathered at every settlement along the roadside to get a sight of the sad procession.” When the bodies finally arrived in Petaluma on the night train, “The crowd that awaited the arrival of the bodies at that depot on Sunday night was a large one, and when the rude coffins were placed upon two express wagons, the citizens forming about escorted the remains to the undertakers.” 21

The funerals were held in Petaluma on Monday, and the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the mood of the town:

There was a Sunday stillness in the town of Petaluma yesterday. The stores, saloons, and even banks were closed. Conversation was carried on in undertones, but underneath that sorrow lurked a revengeful spirit, which displayed itself by frequent gesture and ill-guarded remark against the race from whom came the murderer that laid low in a foul and bloody death their esteemed town people. There were no Chinese to be seen on the streets. 22

Sarah and Jesse were buried in the Wickersham family plot at Cypress Hill Cemetery in Petaluma.

NEXT: MANHUNT FOR THE WICKERSHAM KILLER

1 The Saint Paul Globe, January 24, 1886

2  “I think Indians are friendly” Jewell inquest testimony, page 3
Dialogue from Jewell interview in Petaluma on January 25. San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

3 Chronicle, ibid

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 Some accounts state he rode immediately to Skaggs’ Springs, but I found it doubtful that he would leave his wife alone, given that the murderer could still be in the area. Two people traveling in a buggy would also be slower and help explain why the trip took around six hours. 

7 Chronicle ibid

8 Interview in Petaluma with J. Seawall on January 22. San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886
op. cit Jewell interview Chronicle, January 26

9 Truitt quoted in the Daily Republican, January 25, 1886

10 Petaluma Argus, January 23, 1886

11 Oakland Tribune, January 22, 1886

12 Sacramento Record-Union, January 23, 1886

13 San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

14 Truitt interview in the Daily Republican, January 25, 1886

15 Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886

16 Petaluma Courier, January 27, 1886

17 ibid

18 Russian River Flag, January 27 1886 

19 San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 1886

20 Daily Alta California, January 24, 1886

21 Daily Democrat, January 26, 1886
San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 1886

22 Chronicle, ibid

Read More

1908chinatown

WHEN THE POSSE RAIDED CHINATOWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 HIGHBINDER SCARE IN SANTA ROSA CHINATOWN LAST NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, March 21, 1912
STILL IN FEAR OF HIGHBINDERS
Celestials in Local Chinatown Perturbed Over News of Tong Slayings in Other Places

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

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

– Press Democrat, March 23, 1912
QUONG SING PROUD MAN ON SATURDAY

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

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 4, 1912
POSSES RAID CHINATOWN AND SEVEN ARRESTS MADE
Raids Also Made in Petaluma and Sebastopol
More Arrests in Petaluma and Sebastopol–Opium and Yen She Found and a Number of Outfits on Wednesday Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tried a Getaway

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

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

The Sebastopol Raid

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

Raid in Petaluma

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

– Press Democrat, August 1, 1912
CHINESE PAY $450 FINES
Result of Rain on Opium Dens Wednesday

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

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

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

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

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 1, 1912
THREE LONE CHINAMEN REMAIN NOW

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, October 16, 1912
CHINESE GAMBLERS CAUGHT IN A RAID
Police Visit Doon Kee’s Place Thursday Morning and Capture Six Visitors Playing American Game With the Stakes

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, December 1, 1910
ARREST CHINESE FOR GAMBLING
Officers Make Third Raid Early Tuesday Morning and Gather in Fifteen Orientals

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

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, August 7, 1913

Read More

mendocino1903-1

WHAT’S NEW IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, 1912-13

Santa Rosa is going to pave your street soon but unfortunately you, dear homeowner, will be paying for it.

Those were the rules during the early 1910s in Santa Rosa, and doubtless elsewhere. The town owned the streets as well as the water/sewer lines beneath and maintained them, insofar as a water wagon roamed around during warm weather sprinkling down the dust. But if you wanted pavement – or to be clear, if a majority of neighbors on the street wanted it – please make your check payable to the city, cash also accepted (I’m sure).

Today it may seem bizarre to expect residents would pay for street paving, but it wasn’t so odd in the context of the times. Homeowners were also required to provide sidewalks, which meant losing several feet of your front yard to public access – and maybe the side yard as well, if the house was on a corner – and hiring a cement contractor, lest the town have someone do the work at your expense. (Gripes about the sidewalk issue were heard regularly by the city council, as described in an earlier article). Likewise paved streets were not desired by everyone; they were great if you had a car and didn’t want it to sink up to its axles in winter mud, but auto owners were still a minority in 1913. Pavement even could be a hazard for horses, as that spring Earl LeDue was on his colt riding home from the high school on Humboldt street when the horse slipped on the slick street and fell on him, badly breaking the boy’s leg.

Earl’s accident happened on Mendocino avenue near downtown, which we know because the pavement ended at the College ave. intersection. Beyond that, “at present the street north of College avenue is anything but inviting for driving, owing to its roughness in dry weather and muddy condition in wet seasons,” according to a Press Democrat article from the previous year.

These 1903 photos, probably taken on a windy spring day, show the unpaved street. The picture on the right provides a glimpse of the Paxton House, the lost Brainerd Jones mansion. Beyond that is a partial view of the Lumsden House, today known as the Belvedere.
Photos courtesy Sonoma County Library

 Mendocino avenue was slated to be part of the state’s first highway system which was then in the planning stage – but conditions were “almost impassible,” according to the city attorney, who told the city council that something had to be done immediately. That lawyer happened to be James Wyatt Oates, past president of the Sonoma County Automobile Association, avid automobilist and owner of a home on that street (which would become known as Comstock House).

At Oates’ urging the council held a special meeting a few days later and agreed Santa Rosa couldn’t wait for the state to take over responsibility for the street a year or more in the future, even though paving this stretch of Mendocino Ave. would be far more expensive than the average residential street; at the time it varied between 63-65 feet wide. “Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months,” the PD reported, “as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest.” In other words: Pay or move.

We don’t know how much property owners were charged for the paving, but in 1911 when Mendocino avenue was paved from Fifth street to College avenue, the presbyterian church decided to sell the building housing their charitable operation because of the “very heavy expense to be incurred for street paving,” according to the local church history.1

Their building was in the triangle formed by the Mendocino / College / Healdsburg avenues intersection, which today is noted for a piece of art. (A Google search for the artist along with the sculpture’s name – spelled both “WholeSome” and “Whole Some” by the city and its maker – returns about 41 unique hits, demonstrating the popular appeal of this “distinctive visual landmark for the entrance into the city center,” which will continue to inspire us all for many, many, many years as we wait for the light to change.)

There the church had a building known as the “Chinese Mission”, which served to educate – and presumably, Christianize – young Asian immigrants. According to the church history their missionary work started around 1876 “when the Chinese population was relatively large” and the church bought the building in 1883, apparently expecting to serve an ever-growing immigrant community. They couldn’t have been more wrong; the Chinese Exclusion Act passed by Congress the previous year effectively ended Chinese immigration to the U.S. In the years following, racist anti-Chinese fever raged hot it Santa Rosa, with a banner hung over the Mendocino/ Fourth Street intersection just a few blocks from the Mission reading “THE CHINESE MUST GO. WE MEAN STRICTLY BUSINESS.” (MORE). From a peak of forty students there were “about 12 Japanese and one Corean” [sic] twenty years later. At its 1912 closing the Press Democrat noted there were only about “three or four who use the Mission at all.”2

The new owner of the Mission property was Raford Peterson, perhaps the county’s largest hops grower. Just a few weeks before the Great Earthquake, Peterson bought several lots on the northwest corner of the intersection. Just a door down from the corner at #451 College he built a modest home which, believe-it-or-not, is still there, hiding. The front was modernized as an office building sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, but you can see the original bones of the place from the rear. It is currently the offices of Gehrke Realty.

So what did Raford (also spelled Rayford) Peterson (also spelled Petersen) and wife Cornelia (“Nellie”) want with an odd-shaped lot on another corner of the intersection? He already owned the house next door at 611 Mendocino ave, where his son, Wilson, lived with his family. Did he plan to merge the lots? Apparently not – it appears he just wanted the old Mission building.

As no photographs or descriptions of the building survive, all we know is gleaned from the fire maps – that it was a single story and rectangular. It was certainly old, since the church began using in 1883, but we don’t know how old. It must have been pretty nice, however, because Peterson had it moved next door to his own house, right on the corner, where he had recently torn down another house. He left the triangular original location undeveloped to serve as a little park, which made the park-crazy Press Democrat very happy.

When Raford died in 1914 widow Nellie moved into the former Mission, which now had the address of #701 Mendocino ave (the same address as the present Chevron gas station). She was there at least through 1930, when she can be spotted in the census living with her grandsons.

All said, the old Mission had a unique place in Santa Rosa’s history; not only was it something of a sanctuary for immigrants at a time when they were widely hated outside its doors, it was likely the only building that occupied two corners of the same intersection. Such a pity that no picture exists.

Next in the 1912 neighborhood series: The Children of Jeremiah Ridgway.

1 Sweet, Julia Goodyear; Seventy-five years of presbyterianism: compiled for the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of Presbyterian Work in Santa Rosa, California; Press Democrat, 1930.

2 A Press Democrat article below states the property was “bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the ’70’s from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church,” but is incorrect. The church history details that most of the $1,000 to purchase it came from East Coast donations.

WILL BUILD A NICE RESIDENCE

Raford Peterson, the well known hop man, has purchased the splendid lot at the northwest corner of Healdsburg avenue and College avenue. The former residence that adorned the lot is being moved around to make room for a handsome residence the hop man will erect there for himself and family. He is one of Sonoma County’s most enterprising men, and many friends will be glad to know that shortly he will be a resident of Santa Rosa as well as being a business man here,

Mr. Peterson stated today that he did not know just when he would begin building, but he may undertake the matter in the near future. When he does build, the public may expect to see one of the handsomest residences in the City of Roses on the site he has purchased.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 30, 1906

OLD LANDMARK TO DISAPPEAR
Chinese Mission Property on Mendocino Avenue Has Been Sold to Raford Peterson

The old Chinese Mission property at the intersection of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues and Lincoln street owned by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, has been sold and will be improved.

The purchaser is Raford W. Peterson, who owns the adjoining property occupied by Wilson Peterson. He will remove the building, which as been used as a Mission, enlarge his present lot and improve the remainder and allow it to be used as a public square.

The property was bequeathed to the Presbyterian Church in the ’70’s from the Rev. F. M. Dimmick, pastor at that time of the church. Mrs. E. P. Wilson has been superintendent of the Chinese mission work in Santa Rosa since 1876, and at times there have been very large numbers of Orientals under instruction, but of late years the number dwindled down until at present there are but three or four who use the Mission at all.

– Press Democrat, January 14, 1912

AN OLD CHINESE MISSION HOUSE TORN DOWN

The old Chinese Presbyterian Mission, which has occupied the lot at Mendocino avenue and Joe Davis street at the intersection of Lincoln for 25 years or more, is being dismantled and is to be moved to the vacant lot on College avenue adjoining R. W. Petersen’s residence. The lot, it is understood, is to be fixed up as a pretty little park site. This will add materially to the appearance of the corner and make it one of the most attractive in the city.

MARBLE STEPS FOR RESIDENCE

Campbell & Coffey, the marble men of this city have completed the work of placing marble steps at the entrance to the handsome cottage of Dr. S. M. Rohr, at College and Mendocino avenues. The steps are ten feet and six inches wide and five steps high. It makes a near and attractive finish to the front of the structure.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 19, 1912

PARK IMPROVEMENT ON MENDOCINO

Raford W. Peterson, who purchased the old Chinese Mission at the corner of Mendocino and Healdsburg avenues at Lincoln street, has removed the old structure to the lot adjoining his home on College avenue and the lot has been cleared and leveled ready to be beautified. The change is a marked improvement in the locality which will be increased when the site is prettily parked.

– Press Democrat, April 9, 1912

City Attorney J. W. Oates called attention to the almost impasible condition of Mendocino avenue on behalf of property owners on that thoroughfare and asked that some steps be taken to put the street in better condition until it is known how the State highway is to be constructed and then the property owners desire to continue the same character of pavement from the city limits to College Avenue.

– Press Democrat item on City Council summary, February 19, 1913

WILL EXTEND PAVEMENT ON MENDOCINO AVENUE

The immediate permanent improvement of Mendocino avenue from College avenue to the city limits was informally agreed upon by the city council at the special meeting held on Thursday evening. The plan is to grade the street, lay concrete curbs and gutters and a substantial pavement upon a heavy concret foundation.

The movement has the approval of a large number of property owners on the thoroughfare and will be very heartily welcomed by all who have occasion to use the street for a long time. Many of those who previously opposed improving the street are now warm advocates of the work.

Attorney J. W. Oates, who at a recent meeting of the council asked that temporary repairs be made and permanent work be held up until the State highway is completed, has now taken a stand for immediate improvement and will lend his encouragement in getting others who were standing out to join in the crusade for a good street.

A petition will be circulated at once for signatures by the property owners, and it will be presented to the council at the earliest possible date. Should there be an effective protest it will only delay the work six months, as under the charter the council the authority to force the work after six months elapses in case of protest, and it was agreed that such action should be taken in the case of Mendocino avenue if objection is urged. It is confidently believed that there will be no opposition at this time.

– Press Democrat, February 28, 1913

Read More