1936grandstand

THE LOST HISTORY OF THE SONOMA COUNTY FAIR

Come August it’s Sonoma County Fair time in Santa Rosa; you can set your calendar by it. Even if you don’t attend the Fair anymore it’s one of those milestones that stubbornly refuse to be ignored, like Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December. One morning the checkout line at the Cash & Carry was taking forever because the people ahead of me were mostly paying with crumpled one dollar bills. Then I noticed what was on their warehouse push carts: The cheapest cooking oil, bags of sugar heavier than a five year-old child, gallons of colorful fruit syrups. Ding! August. County Fair.

But it wasn’t always in August, or in Santa Rosa, and the fairgrounds has a very spotty history of even being a fairgrounds. Nor was there something every year which could be called the Sonoma County Fair; draw a timeline between 1883 and today and randomly pick a year – about a third of the time you’ll come up fairless.

This is a history of how the “Sonoma County Fair” evolved, but just like every evolutionary tree there was no clear, inevitable path from when it took root to where it is now; what we have today is just one branch that won out among several of its kin that didn’t happen to do as well. Some were organized by locals who created an association or society for that purpose; some were an official event of the state’s agricultural district for the North Bay. But even whether the fair was independent vs. government-sponsored doesn’t fully explain how things developed – at different times, what became the “Sonoma County Fair” has been both. The district fairs were mostly exhibits to promote local livestock and produce; the private fairs usually featured professional/semi-professional horse racing. And again, the “Sonoma County Fair” embraced both.

Rightfully Petaluma’s Sonoma-Marin Fair should probably have the County Fair monicker, as it has a longer record (starting in 1867) and has been held most consistently. Even older was the San Pablo Bay District Fair, which began in 1859. It was held in both the town of Sonoma and Vallejo and morphed into what was called the first “county fair” in the newspapers – the fascinating “Sonoma-Napa Mechanical Fair,” which drew Victorian nerds from all over the state (lots of wine drinking, too). That one will get an article here of its own, someday.

But while those other towns were earnestly trying to establish and maintain their annual festivals, in Santa Rosa there was tepid interest in fair-making, and what did exist proceeded in fits and starts for decades. What the City of Roses really wanted was to become the City of Races.

Whenever a town in the Old West rose out of the dust to become something better than just another stagecoach stop, it seemed there was always one guy who did ten times more than anyone else. In Santa Rosa, that was James P. Clark.

Clark arrived here with his brother in 1852, the year before the town was born. Over the next three decades he would be a founding member of the volunteer fire department, sheriff and mayor. As the latter he cast the tie-breaking vote to establish a public library here, the 1884 City Council being split between those who thought libraries were a waste of tax money or not. (Oh, Santa Rosa…) He bought Julio Carrillo’s “stall and buggy shed” and turned it into the Fashion Livery Stable, which became the hub for anything related to horse travel – an operation so big it took up the entire city block where the Roxy movie theater complex is today. He also bought from Julio the first house that was ever built in town, plus another 180 acres which he subdivided into (what would become much of) the West End Neighborhood and Railroad Square.

James Preston Clark (1820-1886) Image courtesy Sonoma County Museum
James Preston Clark (1820-1886) Image courtesy Sonoma County Museum

But what interests us here most about J.P. Clark is his interest in building racetracks and founding fairs.

In 1860 a group of local men formed a jockey club – which is to say, they agreed to pay dues of $25/year to construct a racetrack and organize several days of races. Clark built the track near the future Railroad Square depot location (no trains here yet in 1860, remember). Gamblers and horse breeders from all over the Bay Area came to that race, which was a big deal; $1900 in prizes were awarded – about $83k in today’s dollars.

Meanwhile, another group – the Sonoma County Agricultural and Mechanical Society (no connection to that Sonoma-Napa fair) – was starting to organize something like a proper fair for Sonoma county, with livestock exhibits plus a pavilion where locals could show off handiworks and things they grew. The first was held in Healdsburg in 1859, Petaluma the next year which was followed by Santa Rosa, where the fair included the second jockey club event. That 1861 fair was the marred by violence, due to the gamblers who came here for the races. The paper reported there was “but little drunkenness, comparatively, but whiskey has been the cause of several fights; among them one in which a deadly weapon was used.” A local man was shot in the leg outside the fairgrounds and “a fight occurred at the race track on Tuesday. One of the combatants was badly whipped.”

That violence may have been why interest wained in sponsoring big races here, as the jockey club disbanded and the racetrack was plowed under. No matter, really; there were similar clubs popping up frequently in those years and there were always private tracks where horse lovers could watch the racers train or compete in ad hoc meets. A few years later Clark built a half-mile track at his own ranch, which was close to our modern Costco shopping center.

1867southernfundThe unofficial title of Sonoma County Fair passed between the Agricultural District fairs after the Civil War, switching from Sonoma-Napa to Sonoma-Marin. The Sonoma county fairs were held in Petaluma for years thereafter, although Santa Rosa tried to hijack the name in 1867 for a fundraiser for the “Southern Relief Fund” – in other words, collecting money to send to the former Confederate states. (Everyone together, now: Oh, Santa Rosa…)

There were very few Santa Rosa faces to be seen at the Petaluma county fair meetings, but James P. Clark was Fair Marshal several times during the following dozen years. I can’t determine exactly what that position meant at the time but it was listed directly after president of the society, so apparently it was an important hands-on job and not ceremonial.

Our present Santa Rosa fairgrounds has roots that go back to 1878, when members of the racing crowd formed the “Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association” to buy the original 80-something acres (every account differs as to the exact size). And there was Clark again, not only as treasurer – and later president – of the group but also building the mile track. They began hosting races the following year.

There’s quite an extensive description of the place from 1881 (transcribed below) when JP Clark led a tour. The original grandstand was nothing like we imagine today; it was basically a large 3 bedroom house with dining room, living room, two fireplaces plus a bar room. Upstairs there was seating for 300, but it’s unclear whether this was cantilevered like a typical grandstand; it might have been a big open-air gallery, as the reporter also mentions a deep veranda on the ground floor.

Santa Rosa (or at least, the Democrat newspaper) again claimed the County Fair title in 1883, but it was formally the “first annual exhibit of the Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association.” The title really didn’t matter at that point, I suppose, as the fair in Petaluma continued as always, held a week earlier. Newly built at Santa Rosa that year was a big pavilion for a “pumpkin and turnip show,” as such produce and handiwork exhibitions were nicknamed.

Here I must confess to Gentle Reader that I suffer an OCD weakness to completely read every list of entries from those exhibitions; I am equally fascinated by discovering long lost 19th century arts and crafts along with my amazement at some of the absurd stuff people wanted to show off. Among the offerings at that 1883 fair were Mrs. R. McGeorge’s wax dowers (fake pearls or flowers molded out of sealing wax); corn on a stalk from William Moss; Frank White’s mangel wortzels (sic: mangelwurzel, an inedible beet); and from E. W. Davis, brooms. How I could go on…

Even the Petaluma papers tacitly conceded that Santa Rosa’s doings were now the “Sonoma County Fair,” so peg 1883 as the birth year for the Sonoma County Fairgrounds – although it wouldn’t be that for very long.

The latter part of the 1880s were boom years in Santa Rosa, the town propelled forward by easy money and a frenzy of construction. James P. Clark’s racetrack was now called the fastest in the state and the Association joined the northern racing circuit, which meant that almost all of the horses running at the track were from out of the area, and maybe out of the state; gone was any pretense that it was still a county-centric event. Part of the scene was also the opening of “Kroncke’s Park” in 1886, giving Santa Rosa its first real park – albeit one that charged admission. The park often had novelty events on weekends and underwrote fares on excursion trains from San Francisco, which brought up daytripping city folk as well as hoodlums wanting to get drunk and brawl. It’s likely no coincidence that the worst violence seemed to come when an excursion coincided with race week at the fair, as it did in 1887.

It was around this time that Santa Rosa’s history took a dark turn. The professional horse races brought in professional gamblers and the town came to welcome them by throwing out state and city betting laws. By the time this was exposed in 1905, Santa Rosa was a corrupt “wide-open town” where police tolerated criminal activity. Even though local children were found gambling at roulette wheels and crap tables in the backrooms of downtown saloons and hotels, this illegal gambling was condoned, even encouraged, by the City Council – as well as by the Press Democrat. For more, see the “WIDE-OPEN TOWN” series.

1899raceThe racetrack and fairgrounds were privately owned for most of that time, the Association having sold it in 1890 to Ira Pierce, a wealthy San Francisco horseman. Locals bemoaned this meant the end of horse racing in Santa Rosa, as Pierce was mainly interested in using it for training his own stable of horses at first. After several years he began hosting annual Breeders’ Association races around the turn of the century (1898, 1899, 1901, 1904, 1905, 1907 and 1908, if anyone cares, with races at the District Fair filling in the gap years 1900 and 1903).

He formally renamed it the Santa Rosa Stock Farm in 1900. That year the Sonoma-Marin Fair – which had not held since 1896 – was revived and hosted in Santa Rosa, but not at the fairgrounds. Pierce allowed his track to be used for races that one year, but the exhibitions were at Ridgway Hall on Third Street and the livestock were shown at the Fifth street stockyard. The fair repeated in 1901 and 1902 but without the races, and now it was called a “big street fair.” Fourth street was spanned by a canvas tent for free concerts and vaudeville shows.

Pierce and his brother sold the (old) race track (and stock farm) (at Agricultural Park) – among the name variations used by the Press Democrat – in 1911, and the next year it was owned by two local men: C. C. Donovan and his brother, Ney. Their first plan was to subdivide it for homes; it hadn’t been a fairgrounds for nearly a quarter century at that point.

That could have been the final end of this evolutionary branch, but the Donovans had incentives to restore it as a racetrack and fairgrounds. There was $1800 being held by the District Agricultural Fair Association ever since the last one, and the legislature approved even larger appropriations to promote District fairs with Sonoma county getting $4k of that money. So once again Santa Rosa hosted the Sonoma-Marin District Fair in 1913.

This was the first Sonoma County Fair that would seem familiar to today’s fairgoers. From the Press Democrat:


The pavilion in which the great agricultural and horticultural display will be made will be brilliantly lighted, as will the other exhibit stands and places and grounds. There will be something to entertain the crowd all the time. Hoffman of Sacramento will have some good attractions for the “Midway Plaisance.” Spectacular features will be pulled off each night, and two nights of the week an added attraction will be a grand display of fireworks. The electrical effects on the grounds and at the entrance arch are to be something very fine.

This would have been one of the great fairs to attend in a Wayback Machine. Both Jack London and Luther Burbank were on hand (showing cattle and “famed creations,” respectively). The centerpiece of the pavilion was an illuminated globe covered with dried apples and prunes, for some reason. The exhibits included Pomo basketry collections, A. C. Hessell’s corn on stalk, Mrs. G. R. Unzelman’s jabots, Mrs. Hawley’s crochet tidy, and Mrs. Edith M. Davis’ angora and persian cats. There was a “Better Baby” contest. (“There will be no prizes for mere prettiness. The babies will be judged by scientific methods. Not only will they be judged but an endeavor will be made from year to year to raise the standard of babies.”) On closing night there was a “Mardi Gras” on the Midway.

That incarnation of the County Fair lasted until 1916. It was revived with great enthusiasm in 1920; the fairgrounds received a major facelift and they even built a new grandstand which could hold 2,000. That year proved to be ill-fated. On Saturday a stunt pilot crashed his plane and died in front of the audience; on Sunday two race car drivers were killed along with a 7 year-old boy watching outside the fence. And just prior to that Sunday accident a man working at a concession stand noticed flames were licking up one of the support posts of the grandstand, a fire presumably started by a cigarette dropped in the sawdust under the newly-built stands. Quick work by him and a Deputy Sheriff put out the fire with none of the audience the wiser. “Had it become known among the crowd that an incipient fire was burning under the stand it is considered almost certain that there would have been a panic,” commented the Press Democrat.

Those incidents may have contributed to moving the fair to the Cotati Speedway in 1921, followed by two years back in Petaluma as the Sonoma-Marin Fair (featuring Egg Day!) but after that there were no more fairs here by any name for more than a decade. In 1931 the grandstand in Santa Rosa was razed again and a golf course constructed in the middle of the race track. The property was primarily used by a riding club, for horse boarding, and rented by visiting circuses.

And finally came 1936, the year that the Sonoma County Fair & Exposition, Inc. considers Year One, ignoring everything that had happened up to then.

Reviving the fair was a team effort of the Chamber of Commerce and all the other booster groups, with leadership from Joseph T. Grace and Ernest Finley, the PD’s editor-publisher. Finley made it clear in an editorial that there would be no more of this “Agricultural District Fair” crap – this was to be branded as the Sonoma County Fair, by god, and it was gonna make Santa Rosa a force that would command R.E.S.P.E.C.T. His obit said Finley regarded this as his finest achievement along with the campaign for the Golden Gate Bridge.

That fair was unabashedly an excuse for horse racing; there was surprisingly little else to see or do, although there was – significantly – a floral show, where Mrs. H. J. Holtorf of Graton took home an astonishing number of ribbons. Some local bands played concerts (see photo at top, courtesy Sonoma County Library) and there was a talent contest that stretched over several days, the big winner being Vera Potapoff for her dead-on impersonation of Popeye.

How things have changed since then; the races have increasingly taken a back seat to all other entertainments at the Sonoma County Fair in the decades since, and as the Press Democrat recently noted, interest in horse racing has particularly declined sharply over the last decade, and betting along with it.

But there’s still one year back then worth revisiting: 1945. When the gates opened on September 22 to the “Victory Fair,” the air must have been electric with excitement. The fair went on hiatus in 1943, when the fairgrounds were used as Regimental headquarters for the Ohio National Guard 107th Cavalry, which patrolled the North Coast that year. There was no fair in 1944 either, but come September 1945, the war had ended just weeks before; returning soldiers and sailors by the thousands were stepping off ships and airplanes nearly every day in San Francisco. Over 10,000 were jammed into the fairgrounds on the afternoon of that first day and over 11k the next, both remarkable because Santa Rosa’s population was about 15,000. The Press Democrat offered a picture of the grandstand looking down from the high back wall: “Like Sardines,” was the photo caption. “City Overflows With Visitors,” was another headline.

Alas, the PD chose to focus almost entirely on the races – which horse had the best odds, was scratched from the racecard, won the biggest purse. Stuff that no one cared about even a day later. What a lost opportunity; that was surely the happiest Sonoma County Fair in its history, and an unforgettable moment in the lives of everyone there. How rare it is that we can point to a spot on the calendar and say, yeah, that really was the best of times.

Press Democrat, September 22 1945
Press Democrat, September 22 1945

 

sources
Jockey Club. — All persons who are interested in, or lovers of, Fine stock are requested to meet at the Court House in Santa Rosa, on Wednesday, Feb. 22d, at 2 o’clock, p. m., for the purpose of forming a Jockey Club.

 

Mr. Clark, of the Union stable, is preparing an excellent track, and putting up the necessary buildings to accommodate trainers and their stock, which he will have in readiness by the time the sporting season comes on.

– Sonoma Democrat, February 9 1860

 

A VISIT TO THE RACE TRACK. — We had the pleasure a few days since of a visit to the Santa Rosa Race Course, where the Fall races of the Sonoma County Jockey Club are announced to take place in September. The track is a new one just being made by Mr. Clark, of this place. The location is excellent and the grounds good, and the proprietor has displayed both good taste and judgement in the selection. Mr. Clark has erected twelve excellent stalls and is progressing rapidly with the other work in and about the course, and by the time the races come off everything will be in excellent condition….

– Sonoma Democrat, July 19 1860

 

CROWDED BUT LIVELY. — Since the Fair commenced, Santa Rosa has been crowded, and presents a lively appearance. The gambling fraternity, as was expected, are largely represented. We have noticed but little drunkenness, comparatively, but whiskey has been the cause of several fights; among them one in which a deadly weapon was used. On Wednesday evening a difficulty occurred in a gambling house between several persons. Harry Howe interfered on behalf of a friend in settling the affair, and after, as Howe supposed, the matter had been arranged, and he was walking down Main street, he was fired upon with a pistol, it is thought in the hands of the person with whom his friend had been quarreling. The ball entered the calf of his left leg. The wounded man was attended by Dr. Green of Napa, who extracted the ball from the instep of the foot. Howe was at last accounts, “doing as well as could be expected.” A fight occurred at the race track on Tuesday. One of the combatants was badly whipped.

– Sonoma Democrat, September 26 1861

 

RACE TRACK.—The race track which we spoke of as being under headway a short time since, on James P. Clark’s ranch, about a mile and a half from town, is now finished and in good condition for training purposes. The track is a circle one, half mile in length, and the soil of such a nature that there is no danger of injuring the feet of horses. A number of gentlemen are training their horses at the new track, and it is rumored that in about two weeks the first races will come off. We hope this may prove a success, as it will encourage the raising of fine stock in the county.

– Sonoma Democrat, May 29 1869

 

THE CLARK ADDITION.—This property, belonging to James P. Clark, Esq., consists of some forty acres of as rich land as can be found in the county. It is close by the depot, and has been surveyed and laid off in town lots, the dimensions of which are 40×100. In a short time all will be disposed of, as we understand they are to be offered for sale at a very liberal figure.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 19 1870

 

Race Course and Fair Grounds. —A movement is on foot to establish a race course and fair grounds near this city. The location spoken of is on the lands of Mrs. Hendley, three-fourths of a mile south east of the plaza. The track will be one mile in length, and nearly elliptical in form. A diagram of the grounds and proposed location of the buildings and stands has been made by Captain J. T, Kingsbury.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 11 1877

 

The Agricultural Park.

The talk that has been indulged in for so long by our citizens relative to the construction of an Agricultural Park, has at length culminated in the purchase of a tract of about ninety acres from Mrs. Headley for that purpose. The land was surveyed on Saturday and the bargain closed.

That such an enterprise will be of incalculable benefit is a self-evident proposition, and now that the movement seems to be fairly inaugurated, we hope it will be carried on successfully and to the satisfaction of all.

The probable expense of getting the matter under way, and of fitting up the grounds, can hardly be estimated. A mile track is to graded, leveled and fenced; the entire grounds must be enclosed; a number of sheds for the stabling of stock and storing of feed must be provided; and last and greatest expense of all, a pavilion must be erected.

The means taken to raise the money for the purchase of the land, was by circulating the following petition: We, the undersigned, hereby agree to pay, in gold coin, the respective amounts set opposite our names for the purpose of raising $7,000 tor the purchase of 95 acres of land of Mrs. Hendley, to build and erect an agricultural park. Said land being situated on the south side of the Bennett Valley road, one-fourth mile east of the Petaluma road, and being distant from the Court House three-fourths of a mile. The following fourteen Gentlemen and firms have subscribed $500 each…

No plan for the erection of the buildings and completing the other improvements has been matured. The gentlemen above mentioned will doubtless hold a meeting soon to inaugurate some system, and then let their plans be submitted to our citizens.

We feel assured that the institution will be a success, and we hope that our citizens will aid in the advancement of the enterprise, and hope that the “Sonoma County Agricultural Society” will be one of our best and most promising County institutions.

– Sonoma Democrat, December 7 1878

 

THE FIRST RACES.

The first races over on Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association’s track were held on Thursday, in spite of the short notice and in consequence the meager amount of advertising the races were well attended. The arrangements were not perfected until late late week, and the whole affair may be considered impromptu and by no means the formal opening of the track. The track is still heavy not having had the benefit of a winter’s rain, but is other* wise in excellent condition. ..

– Sonoma Democrat, October 11 1879

 

Agricultural Park Association.

Prominent among the important enterprises which have been started in Santa Rosa, the Sonoma County Agricultural Park Association deserves mention as being one much conducive to business interests and the welfare of our city generally. It was incorporated on January 11th, 1879, the charter members being… During the month of January, 1879, 60 acres of land south-east of Santa Rosa, and lying partly within the city limits, were purchased for $6,000, and work immediately commenced on the construction of a race track and for the beautifying of the grounds. The present stockholders are… The officers are: President, James P. Clark: Treasurer, Geo. P. Noonan; Secretary, Chas. Hoffer…

Last Wednesday, through the kindness of Mr. J. P. Clark, behind Lake and Black Jimmy, a spanking team, we had the pleasure of a drive over the track and grounds of the Association. Leading from the Petaluma road eastward, a short stretch up Bennett Avenue brought us to a drive, having on each side a row of poplars and at the end of which is the main entrance to the grounds. The track, which is one mile in length, and the soil of which consists of loam and sand has been so thoroughly worked that it has remained in good condition, notwithstanding the late very severe storm, is said by experts to be the best in the State, Among the many whose opinions are worthy of note are… all of whom concur in proclaiming that it is unequaled anywhere and is all that could be desired by the most exacting horseman….The grand stand which is a model of architecture, was completed yesterday by our well known builder. Hank C. Paul, at a cost of $2,500. It is situated on the east side of and 50 feet from the track and covers a space of 36×60 feet. It consists of two stories, having an elevation of 28 feet. In the upper portion of the building are comfortable seats for 300 spectators and from which an excellent view of all points of the track may be had. In the lower story on entering the main hall, which is six feet wide, the first room on the right is the sitting room 12½x14 feet; then there are three bedrooms, each of which is 12 feet square; on the left a dining-room 12½x26, a kitchen 12½x14, and a bar-room 12×21 feet go to make up the complement. Besides these there are wide halls throughout the building. The ceilings and walls, the former of which are 10 feet high in the clear, are constructed of grooved lumber. Two fireplaces lend to the comfort of guests and a porch 18×60 feet serves to protect spectators from any inclemencies of the weather. The whole, painted white, surmounted by a flag-staff 32 feet high, and so thoroughly constructed as it is, is one of the most beautiful and substantial buildings in our city and an honor to the contractor, Mr. Paul. There are about the grounds large numbers of trees—ash. maple, poplar, locust and evergreens in abundance, which as yet have not attained a full growth, but which in time will make the whole a handsome picture. Mr. Clark informs us that it is the intention of the Association to plant 2,500 Monterey cypress trees about one foot a part from the first quarter pole to opposite the third quarter pole, and around the fence of the entire grounds an evergreen hedge. North-east of the track there are fifty stables of an improved pattern, having every convenience for attending to the racer in a proper manner. There are two large tanks used as reservoirs for supplying water for sprinkling. A handsome building for the judges has been erected opposite the grand stand and from which an excellent view of the track can be obtained. The drainage system, now very good, is to be improved, and here we might also remark that the City Council propose widening to 60 feet Bennett Avenue, which leads to the grounds…

– Sonoma Democrat, March 5 1881

 

Sonoma County Agricultural Course.

As early as 1860 the citizens of Santa Rosa wore impressed with the idea that a race course would be an advantageous adjunct to the permanent improvement of the town, as well as the improvement of stock in the country around. Accordingly in the Fall of that year through the liberality of James P. Clark, who owned the land about where the depot now stands, and a few enterprising citizens, a course was built and a set of purses given to be contended for, to which contest the neighboring counties of Sonoma, Napa and Marin were invited. During that year, Orphan Bay, owned by Dr. Williams of Mendocino, Dashaway, owned by Achillis Grigsby of Napa, and several running celebrities put in an appearance. The track was kept up until the next year, 1861, when the second Agricultural Fair was held, when it was used as the Fair track and several very creditable races were run. The track was only of a temporary character, not fenced, nor graded, and the public spirit of the citizens not proving adequate to the expense of keeping up a good track, it was allowed to go into decline and was plowed up and turned into a grain field. Afterward it was laid off into lots and now forms a beautiful portion of the incorporated city of Santa Rosa. Scarcely a year has passed since that time, that the subject of the importance of a good race course has not been broached by some of our citizens, until in 1878, a few individuals formed themselves into a joint stock company and inaugurated an enterprise which has culminated in the establishment of one of the finest running and trotting courses in the United States. It is known as the Sonoma County Agricultural Park, is situated about one mile south of the Court House, is equal to and not surpassed by any course in the State. The Association have made arrangements for a meeting in August next, for two and three-year-olds owned in the District, composed of Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Marin, in each of which there are already nine entries. A visit to the Park on Sunday last, took us somewhat by surprise, not only at the conveniences of the track but the number that have taken advantage of them for the purpose of training. We found there the following: In the stable in charge of Guadeloupe Carrillo, a beautiful blood bay, five years old by Bayswater, owned by John Merritt…

– Sonoma Democrat, May 21 1881

 

Our Exhibition.

Frank H. Swett, Superintendent of the pavilion informs us that applications for space are coming in thick and fast, each day, and every arrival of the mail brings new ones. Sufficient applications have already been made to assure the success of the pavilion exhibition. We learn incidentally that Mrs. C. E. Pope is engaged in making a handsome satin and silk bedspread which will be placed on exhibition, and our Artist M. Schramm is prepared to cover over 200 square feet with an exhibition of oil paintings, crayons, etchings and every variety of photographic art. The entries to the races are filling rapidly and will be ready for publication in a few days. Mr. Laughlin Superintendent of the stock exhibition thinks there is not enough stalls to accommodate those desirous of exhibiting. We have already mentioned the fact that Sylvester Scott will place some of his pure bred stock on exhibition, and Wm. Bihler has sent up for space of nine stalls. Many others are coming in. Mr. Laughlin says that Uncle Jerry Beam is keeping a register of persons applying for space in the stock yards, for the convenience of all, as he resides in Santa Rosa and can be readily found at any time.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 11 1883

 

THE SONOMA COUNTY FAIR.
The Opening — Prospects of a Successful Fair — Large Number of Exhibits — Banquet in the Evening.

FIRST DAY.

Santa Rosa, August 16th. – The morning of the first day of Fair week dawned deliciously cool and refreshing. The remnants of the heavy fog of the night previous lingered till long after breakfast hour. Nature seemed to smile in her happiest mood as if to sanction the efforts being made at our beautiful fair grounds for the propagation of the industry of our county. Early in the forenoon the carriages and vehicles of all descriptions began wending their way out to the grounds. As we approach the large enclosure the eye is struck with the beauty of the surroundings as viewed from the avenue. In the foreground is the large line of stalls with their coat of white, almost blinding to the eye. As we near the entrance the soft, mellow lowing of the kine, reminding one of the old-fashioned barnyard they love so well to recall. Further on a glimpse of the track is seen now and then, dotted here and there with the flyers destined to afford the visitors so much pleasure in the days to follow. Then there is the pavilion and grandstand looming up high above the surrounding tents and booths. As we near the gate the whole panorama-like scene, alive with busy life, bursts upon the view. At the gate the familiar face of “Gee Whack” meets our gaze, dispelling all sentimental thoughts occasioned by the lovely morning. But, stop! No entrance fee is charged this morning. “Has the enchanting morning rendered the Directors generous?” No, it’s the first day, and things have not settled down to their natural groove — business has not begun. Once inside, one begins to question within himself, which way first. The horses are being exercised, and the question is soon answered, as we find ourself gradually approaching the spectators that are congregated near the grand stand watching the noble animals as they whirl by, and on around the course. The familiar names of the noted trotters are called out as each favorite passes and is followed with glowing eye, until followed by another, and another. Even the horses seem to feel the magical influence of the perfect morning. Their nostrils dilate as they quaff deep draughts of the pure air, direct from the heavens. After watching the course and its occupants for some time we wander on and enter the pavilion. The exhibitors have just begun to arrange their goods, and one is not able to chain his attention to any one thing, so great is the hurry and bustle…

– Sonoma Democrat, August 21 1886

 

The Circuit Is Still Open.

The question has been asked whether, if the Agricultural Park is sold, Santa Rosa will be assigned a position in the northern circuit as formerly. One of the Directors of the Association says that it was only by special request that the Santa Rosa track was given a place in the circuit two years ago, and that it will be admitted on the same conditions if Mr. Pierce, the purchaser, carries out his intention of holding annual race meetings, concerning which there seems to be little doubt.

– Daily Democrat, March 22 1890

 

WHAT WILL BE DONE ABOUT IT?

We quote from the Breeder and Sportsman: “An item under the heading of Turf and Track, informs the public that the Directors of the Santa Rosa Association have had their annual meeting and elected new officers for the ensuing year. So far so good, but there is a line or two at the end of the item which calls for comment. ‘The sentiment of the Board is opposed to holding a fair or races this year, unless a disposition different from that of former years is manifested by the people in this part of the country.’ It seems a shame that such a resolution was passed, and yet the Directors were compelled in justice to themselves to let the people of Santa Rosa know that there would be no more racing at that point, unless the citizens are willing to financially assist the gentlemen who usually have to put their hands in their pockets and pay a deficiency each year. During the year 1889, Napa made money, and Petaluma scored a financial success, but Santa Rosa lost. There Santa Rosa people at the Petaluma race track on one certain day, than there were Santa Rosa residents on any day at the track during the late Santa Rosa Meeting. They seem to have lost all interest in their own town and are all looking for the almighty dollar, without giving the requisite support to those who are trying to keep up the sport of the kings at that point. From the present outlook, Santa will be dropped from the circuit and it is nothing more than is due to the Santa Rosans for the lukewarm manner in which they have supported the late Directors in their efforts to secure good sport. What is to he done in the matter?

It is hardly possible that our horsemen, with all the eclat attaching to them through the fame of Anteeo and his progeny, with other promising developments, will allow the well improved Park course to deteriorate back into a grain field, or be cut up into town lots.

The stock of the association consists of 2,500 shares, the par value of which is $10 per share, making a capital of $25,000. The property embraces eighty acres of land, well improved, part of which is within the corporate limits of the city, 300 stalls for horses and cattle, a grand stand with seating capacity for 3,500 people, a commodious pavilion, water tanks and pipes, a growing park of nut and evergreen trees, and a cypress hedge around three-fourths of the track… Here, it seems to us, is an opportunity for some good conductor of a racetrack to make an investment which properly managed,should pay handsomely. Something should be done at once and we hope our local stockbreeders will give the matter serious consideration. If they do not then, Mr. Breeder and Sportsman, it will be in hand for you to send somebody with capital up to look into the matter.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 25 1890

 

THE RACE MEETING.
Highly Probable That the Matter Will Be Carried Through.

Santa Rosa horsemen are much interested in the proposed races to be held here, Frank Burke, one of the most prominent members of the Breeder’s Association, has signified bis intention of seeing what arrangements can be made about securing the track and giving Santa Rosa a first-class race meeting. There is not time enough for the local horsemen to arrange for the meeting, but the Association, being in the business, could handle the muter with more ease and facility.

The track is in good shape, and but little work would be required to place it in prime form.

There is not a question of the feasibility of the proposition. The races heretofore have always been satisfactory from a pecuniary point of view and the receipts from the meeting would leave a comfortable sum over the expenditures.

A large number of our business men would help raise the necessary money. Every one interested in racing speaks of the favorable condition for a race meeting. The failure of Petaluma to bold the annual race meeting leaves a vacancy in the racing circuit that we can easily fill with the assistance of the Breeder’s Association, who, it is believed, will be willing to take the matter in charge.

– Sonoma Democrat, August 3 1895

 

THE TRACK GOSSIP
Fine Horses and Trainers are Arriving Here Daily
Magnificent String of Racing Stock at the Track Ready for the Great Meet

A good many people were out bright and early at the Santa Rosa stock farm track yesterday and found much pleasure in watching the trotters and pacers work, training for the race meet.

A look at the fine animals at the track now from many places in the state, is sufficient to warrant anyone in saying that the race meet which opens here on Saturday afternoon, will be successful from start to finish.

The track gossip among the trainers and drivers already here is that some records will be established at the meet on a fast track, records which will cause the grand stand to open up with applause… There is no question but that next week will be a great occasion for Santa Rosa and Sonoma county.

– Press Democrat, August 17 1898

 

SANTA ROSA RACES
Nearly Two Hundred Horses Already at the Track
The Fastest Trotters and Pacers in the State Will Start at the August Meeting Here

A scene of great activity is to be witnessed at the Santa Rosa race track every morning when the light harness horses are brought out for their regular work preparatory to the races to be given by the Pacific Coast Trotting Horse Breeders Association which will commence on August 14th and continue for one week. More interest is being taken throughout the East in harness racing this year and the meetings on the Grand Circuit there are drawing the largest crowds of people that have attended the races for many years past. With the district fair appropriations restored in California a prosperous racing season is assured fur those interested, and more horses are in training this year than for several seasons past. The prospects are that the meeting at Santa Rosa will show some of the most exciting contests to capture the big purses offered, that have over taken place on this coast…

– Press Democrat, August 2 1899

 

COMING RACES WILL ATTRACT BIG CROWDS

All roads and all trains will lead to Santa Rosa during Fourth of July week, and with the double attraction of a grand celebration on the Fourth and the races to be given by the Pacific Coast Trotting Horse Breeders’ association the county seat of Sonoma county will contain several thousand more people than its regular residents. The California Northwestern railway will run excursions from all points on its line to Santa Rosa on the Fourth of July at half fare. The day will certainly be a gala one and a red-letter event in the history of the county…

– Press Democrat, June 27 1900

 

RACE MEET OPENS
Good Day’s Sport At the Local Track
Auspicious Beginning of the First Annual Meeting of the Santa Rosa Racing Association

Lined up against the infield fence at Pierce Bros.’ track yesterday afternoon were most if not all ot Santa Rosa’s swellest turnouts. The occasion was the opening of the first annual meet of the Santa Rosa Racing Association, and the local admirers of the thoroughbred were out in good force.

The ladies were especially in evidence and the fluttering of ribbons and summer fineries added much to the gaiety of the scene. The day was ideal and the track was fast. Music by Parks’ full orchestra filled in the time between heats and, taken all in all, the occasion was a very auspicious one. The attendance was fully up to the average first day’s turnout and considerable money changed hands, the bookies, it is said, quitting losers.

This is the first time in twelve years that Santa Rosans have had the privilege of witnessing running races at the local track, and the interest taken in the bang-tails showed that the oldtime tendency of the public is still there…

– Press Democrat, August 13 1901

 

SANTA ROSA PROUD
LOU DILLON’S GREAT ACHIEVEMENT CAUSES MUCH ENTHUSIASM HERE
The World’s Record Breaker Was Born, Raised and Trained at the Santa Rosa Stock Farm

When the news was received here Monday and displayed on the Press Democrat bulletin board that Lou Dillon, the Santa Rosa mare, had lowered the world’s record to two minutes at Readville, Mass., enthusiasm ran high among the horsemen and citizens generally, who were greatly pleased at the worldwide reputation the City of Roses had gained in producing the fastest trotter in the world.

Lou Dillon, in her wonderful race on Monday, greatly exceeded what the world of sport expected she would do. During the afternoon and evening men gathered in knots of twos and threes and later in greater numbers, and the mare’s achievement was the one topic of conversation. It seemed like a dream to the horsemen. At first it seemed too good to be true.

– Press Democrat, August 25 1903

 

133 ENTRIES FOR SANTA ROSA RACES
THREE BIG EVENTS EACH DAY WITH AN AVERAGE OF OVER ELEVEN ENTRIES IN EACH

[..]

– Press Democrat, June 12 1904

FINE ENTRANCE TO THE RACE TRACK

A fine entrance to the race track and stock farm where the big district fair will be held is being erected, and when completed it will be most attractive. During fair week it will be a blaze of electric globes. In fact, it is planned to string lights from Fourth street to the entrance of the grounds as a part of the exterior decoration.

– Press Democrat, July 26 1913

Read More

timetrip2

LET’S GO, 1870!

Thank you for the ticket purchase to   SANTA ROSA, CA.   in the year 1870. We just KNOW you’re going to enjoy your visit back then!

Your costume will be arriving by drone shortly (DO NOT WASH OR HAVE CLEANED). Prior to departure from the atavachron station, the purser will issue you $ 52 in replica gold coins which will have the purchasing power of approximately $1,000 today.

To make the most of your trip, it’s helpful to be as knowledgable as possible about local topics. As many events carry over from the previous year in your time window, our bots have prepared this overview of 1869-1870 by scanning a local newspaper,   The Sonoma Democrat. Selected tips and advisories from previous time travelers are also included.

TRAVEL ADVISORY   Those with asthma or other respiratory difficulties should note that air quality will be very unhealthy to hazardous throughout Sonoma and Napa counties during the Great Fire, October 15-22 1870.

GENERAL   Santa Rosa is a frontier village on the cusp of becoming part of the greater San Francisco Bay Area. In the space of two dramatic weeks between October 15-31 1870, railroad service begins, the first streetlights appear and there will be fears that a wildfire is poised to destroy the town. Aside from the 1906 earthquake and the 2017 Tubbs fire, these are the most impactful days in Santa Rosa history.

FROM CORY298: When the topic of Santa Rosa comes up in Petaluma, shake your head sadly, tsk-tsk or optionally chuckle; if Petaluma is mentioned in Santa Rosa, shake your fist and cuss.

The population of Santa Rosa is about 1,800 with the overall Santa Rosa Township approx. 3,000. Petaluma, the other major community in the area, has around 4,500 residents. A significant rivalry between the towns began a dozen years earlier and in 1870 there will be a renewed call to split the county in half, with Petaluma intended to be the county seat for the southern section. You will be expected to express your feelings about this rivalry generally.

Santa Rosa is roughly 30 square blocks with an open plaza in the center (see 1866 map below). Salmon run in the adjacent Santa Rosa Creek, but the waterway is not navigable in 1869 due to obstructions from two buildings that collapsed into the creek bed. Small corn and wheat fields surround the village on the other three sides. Santa Rosa has no library, no bank (until November, 1870), no water, sewer, or gas utility services.

All streets are unpaved and plank sidewalks in front of businesses or homes are at the prerogative of property owners. Until late 1870 there are no streetlights so a lantern or the company of a local resident is recommended when walking at night. In November the downtown area after dark is transformed by the addition of lamp post lights fueled by “gasolyne” (essentially large gasoline-fed bunsen burners). As a result, the Santa Rosa newspaper states, “Main street at night looks quite brilliant.”

TRAVEL   San Francisco can be reached via steamboats/ferries departing from Petaluma/Vallejo. Stage coaches to those towns may not connect reliably with ship departure schedules, so an overnight layover may be required.

All roads are unpaved and during rainy periods the Petaluma and Sebastopol road is sometimes nearly impassible. 1869: “…[there are] two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider.” 1870: “…[there are] lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface.” When a stage becomes stuck in mud, all passengers are expected to assist in pushing it out.

THE RAILROAD   The train will not actually arrive in Santa Rosa until mid-March, 1871, but daily service begins Oct. 22 1870 as stages shuttle passengers back and forth from the downtown hotels to the terminal point of the approaching track (MORE details). The objective is to connect Santa Rosa to Petaluma immediately (preferably direct to its steamboat pier) with rail extensions further north to come in following years. Work is intermittent in 1869 due to the developer having financing and supply difficulties; by the end of the year there is only 1½ miles of track laid north of Petaluma.

Since the rail line will eventually connect to the ferry in Sausalito, there is a widespread conspiracy theory that Petaluma is somehow responsible for the slow progress. Supposedly interests there wish to block or delay construction because a direct train connection to the Bay will lead to a dropoff in steamboat passenger and freight traffic.

FROM RAILROADGUY-SF: The excursion departs San Francisco at 8:30AM and there will be no food, drinks or bathroom breaks until the party returns to the steamer at 5PM, so be prepared.

A new developer takes over the project in August 1870 and work resumes swiftly. The first San Francisco excursion train to Santa Rosa is announced for December 31 and over 1,200 people will take the trip, riding open freight cars fitted with seats. Unfortunately the tracks terminate a mile south of Santa Rosa and the train will start its return to Petaluma an hour after it arrives at the end of the line. There will be only a few buggies and wagons waiting to transport visitors into Santa Rosa, so those wanting to visit the village will have to dash for it. As this is the most popular event in this venue, arrive early and please refrain from gambling on the running excursionists with other time travelers.

POLITICS   Avoid generally, but understand most in Santa Rosa still view everything through the prism of the Civil War. Sonoma county was one of the few places in the state which never voted for Lincoln, and Santa Rosa remains a hotbed for Confederacy sympathies in 1870. In Santa Rosa it is not the “Civil War” but the “War for Southern Independence.” The Democrat newspaper will regularly denounce the government as a fanatical mob of revolutionaries who have divided the nation and trampled on the Constitution.

Travelers not on the women’s suffrage tour will be interested to know this venue includes a Jan. 21, 1870 lecture by nationally famous activist Laura de Force Gordon in Petaluma. Women’s suffrage is the main political topic in this time window, as Wyoming gives women the vote in December, 1869 and the 15th amendment is ratified as part of the Constitution in March, 1870, which grants citizens the right to vote regardless of race, but does not include women.

Other names which will be heard mentioned on the subject include Anna E. Dickinson, arguing forcefully for women’s rights and considered one of the most eloquent speakers in the nation and Emma Webb, an actress who opposes suffrage (and also gave speeches in support of slavery during the Civil War). During 1869 there will be evening Lyceum debates over suffrage at the Santa Rosa courthouse in April (decision in favor suffrage) and May (decision against). There are no women participating in either debate.

Trigger alert: Those wishing to avoid exposure to extreme misogyny should avoid reading coverage of these events in the Sonoma Democrat.

THE GREAT FIRE   The “Great Fire” of 1870 matches the pattern of the 20th century Hanly Fire and 21st century Tubbs Fire. It begins in the Calistoga/St. Helena area and burns through Knights Valley and the Mark West Creek watershed towards Santa Rosa, driven by high winds. On the night of October 16 the fire is three miles from the village and a collection is taken to pay three men to stay up all night and sound the alarm if needed. No lives are lost, but farms are destroyed with some livestock killed (MORE details).

LODGING   Santa Rosa has an acute housing shortage in 1870, in part because of anticipated rapid growth once the railroad arrives. Finding a room in a boarding house or private home should be a high priority as the hotels are expensive (if rooms are even available), charging about $1 per day and 40¢ per meal. From the March 12 1870 newspaper: “There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know ‘if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?’ Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time.”

FUN & GAMES   There is great excitement on April 27, 1869, when the first velocipede arrives. Purchased by a group of young men for about $60 in San Francisco, a crowd will gather in the plaza to watch them attempt to ride it, and fail. By the end of the week they are accomplished “velocipedestrians” practicing on the Sonoma road. In June some will open a velocipede school which closes after two days because everyone who wants to learn already has. By July the paper reports “the velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust.”

October 1869 will see the formation of Santa Rosa’s first Base Ball club, which will begin playing as soon as instruction books on the rules arrive from San Francisco. On December 4 they challenge any nine who show up at their field as long as they are residents of Santa Rosa.

DRINKING   Santa Rosa is already on its way to becoming a saloon town in 1870, with six bars in the village. There are breweries in Healdsburg and Petaluma but none in Santa Rosa. Isaac De Turk’s winery in Bennett Valley produces 6,000 gallons of wine, most or all of which is shipped to San Francisco.


POKER NO, FARO YES

Card players should expect to play faro, which is by far the most popular game throughout the West until the early 20th century. It uses a regular deck of cards but suits don’t matter; just bet on any of the 13 ranks – a king, 4, etc. The “bank” deals two cards pushed up from a spring-loaded shoe as in blackjack. The first card turned over is the loser, and the second is the winner. It’s the simplest card game possible but every dealer has additional rules on betting.
Faro is popular because it is fast moving and a social game like roulette, where there are often onlookers placing bets during the course of the game. Betting on the order of appearance for the final three cards remaining in the deck has the highest stakes.
Faro game in Bisbee, AZ, 1900
This card game is also famous for cheating. From an often reprinted 1882 booklet titled “Faro Exposed”: “…all regular faro players are reduced to poverty…almost every faro player has some peculiar system which he strives to believe will beat the bank, but in the end all systems fail.” For more on faro, see the comprehensive “Faro: A 19th-century gambling craze.” Other popular card games include monte-bank, chuck-for-luck, seven-and-a-half, keno and rondo.

Public drunkenness is scorned but not against the law in Santa Rosa. In late 1870 the City Marshal will construct a Calaboose behind the jail to hold intoxicated men until they become sober. Previously the Marshal had crated drunks. (Crating is a traditional prank children in this era play on drinkers whom they find unconscious, placing a Queensware crate over them and weighing it down so the victim cannot easily escape.)

There is no temperance group in Santa Rosa akin to the Dashaway Associations of the early 1860s and the Blue Ribbon Clubs of the late 1870s. This will be a disappointment to experienced travelers who know those popular non-religious meetings are great opportunities to mingle with locals, find lodging and even employment, if desired.

GAMBLING   Wagering at card games is a preoccupation for many men, but caution is strongly urged. Violence can erupt over trivial gambling disputes, and in 1870 a man named Charles Coburn is stabbed repeatedly at a card game in Sebastopol. Also that year a man known only as Clark is stabbed in the neck at Santa Rosa’s Rialto saloon over cards. Travelers will not desire to experience emergency medical care in this time window.

Often any opportunity to place a bet is welcomed. In Sept. 1870 an imitator of Edward Payson Weston calling himself Prof. Western wins $5 here for his prowess at long distance walking. Young men are racing their horses on the road to Petaluma “for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece.”

Depending upon the time of your arrival, there are any of six horse tracks in the vicinity: The Petaluma Race Course, the Santa Rosa race track, the Sotoyome Race Course near Healdsburg, Watson’s race track near Bodega, Gannon’s track at Sebastopol and the James Clark race track south of Santa Rosa. Having so many racing venues in the area is a point of local pride. A racing program consumes most of a day, including amateur scrub races and sometimes foot races.

FROM TAILROTEEL: Bet on the raccoon.

Be advised many travelers find an event on Jan. 11 1869 at the Santa Rosa plaza upsetting, as a large crowd of men and boys form a ring to watch a raccoon fight “all the dogs in town.”

CHILDHOOD ACTIVITIES   For travelers not part of the “Tom Sawyer” tour, expect to see lots of youths in 1870 Santa Rosa. There are 581 school age children (exactly one-third of Santa Rosa’s population) and the newspaper complains frequently about the lack of parental supervision.

Besides gambling on scrub horse races on the Petaluma road, boys eight years old and younger are often seen riding at full gallop. Mobs of small boys roam the streets late at night, sometimes making a racket with homemade musical instruments. The 1869 velocipede fad is followed by 1870 stilt walking, with children wobbling around the main streets on stilts up to five feet high.

Map of 1866 Santa Rosa

 

 

Great Sport.—On Monday last there was quite a large crowd of men and boys congregated in our plaza for the purpose of witnessing an encounter between a coon and all the dogs in town. A ring was soon formed, and the friends of the combatants took their positions. The betting seemed to be in favor of the coon, although there was no limit to the size and number of his antagonists. Among the canines present, “Ephraim,” the cat-exterminator, was the favorite, and a number of his friends thought Eph. would get a notion into his head that the coon was nothing more nor leas than one of his particular admirers belonging to the “Thomas Cat Serenaders,” in disguise. If this should happen, the coon would get a “head put on him sure.” Everything being ready, the coon was pitched into the ring, and a shout of joy went up announcing that the sport had commenced. His first opponent was a canine of ordinary pedigree, and as soon as he came in sight the coon got his back up,” and assumed a hostile attitude, ala Joe Coburn. This round did not amount to much. The second dog was brought forward, and he eyed the coon closely. All at once the coon fastened on him, and in a short time he beat a retreat. Great shouts of victory were now heard arising from the coon’s corner. Some half dozen dogs were then put on him at once. But this resulted the same as the former ’bouts, and those backing the coon could not help but cheer over this last grand victory. Things bad gone one way long enough, and loud cries were heard for Ephraim. Eph. was led towards the ring by a little urchin, exclaiming as he approached, “Here’s Eph., now let that darned critter get him back up!” In a minute Eph. had Mr. Coon down, but he could not hold him long, owing to the interference of other canines, resulting in a general fight and race around the Plaza. The crowd then dispersed much pleased with the sport. – January 16 1869

Why are They not Removed?— For some months past there have been a couple of old buildings lying in the bed of the Creek, almost at the very entrance of the town, and it is a question to many why the Trustees do not have them removed. Almost the first thing that meets the eye of the stranger as he enters the town, are these miserable old dilapidated wrecks, which certainly does not tend to make one form a very favorable opinion of the town. We hope the city trustees will take this matter in hand, and attend to it without further delay. – March 13 1869

Velocipede.— As the velocipede mania is extending all over the Slate, it has at last reached Santa Rosa. Mr. Henry Allen, a mechanic, of this place, has commenced the construction of one of these new “hosses.” It is a three wheeled one, and runs either way. Some time next week, it will make its appearance on the Sonoma road. – April 24 1869

Bad Roads. — Every winter loud complaints are heard about the dreadful condition of the public roads in this county, and the season just closed has proven no exception. At this time it is not only difficult, but dangerous, to travel between Santa Rosa and Petaluma or Sebastopol. On the first several adobe quagmires are encountered, which threaten to mire the horses and pull the buggy or wagon to pieces. On the latter are two or three swimming holes, almost deep enough to drown horse and rider. We are aware that considerable work was done last summer on both the roads mentioned, but not sufficient to keep them in proper condition for travel. This is a matter of great importance to the county. Many a man, intending to settle among us, has turned back and gone elsewhere, discouraged and disgusted with the terrible roads. It would be better to expend three times as much annually on the roads than to have them in their present condition. – March 27 1869

The wonderful velocipede “hoss” arrived in town on Tuesday last, direct from the city. No sooner had it been taken off the stage than a large crowd of aspirants for velocipede honors, surrounded the wonderful animal and earnestly gazed at its strange appearance. To all those who made a thorough examination it appeared to be perfectly gentle and decile, exhibiting no kicking or “bucking” propensities. It was led into the Plaza, followed by a large crowd, when a person possessing quite a reputation as a rider was induced to try it and see what it could do. No sooner had be mounted than be got “bucked” off. He tried it again, and met with the same fate. Other owners in the “critter” tried it and they too met with similar results. Since its arrival it has became quite gentle, as there are now a number who can ride it without the use of spurs. Every afternoon, on the Sonoma road, this strangely constructed beast goes through a course of exercises, and creates great amusement for those who witness its “fantastic tricks.” – May 1 1869

The velocipede fever has abated at this burg. The new machine from the city, purchased at a cost of fifty or sixty dollars, is now used up and laid aside, while the one built here only serves for the amusement of boys. Our folks evidently think velocipeding too much like work to be good fun. – May 29 1869

Woman Suffrage. — It will he remembered that the question of female suffrage before the Santa Rosa Lyceum, several weeks since, drew on a denserly [sic] crowded house and elicited an able and interesting discussion. The champions of the “strong minded” succeeded on that occasion, obtaining a decision in their favor. But the supporters of the negative have never been satisfied, and so last Saturday night they threw down the glove for another contest on the same subject. The other side, confident of victory, promptly accepted the challenge, and this (Saturday) evening has been fixed upon to “fight their battles o’er again.” The question reads: “Resolved, That women are entitled to the right of suffrage.” Affirmative— Barclay Henley and John Ferral; Neg. Major Brown and Wm. McCullough. A rattling discussion is anticipated, and we advise ail who can to be present. – May 29 1869

Miss Emma Webb, a beautiful and talented young actress, intends to take a the stump against female suffrage. With such a Webb we should be able to catch all the young fellows who have gone off after Annie Dickinson, and other strong-minded females. – June 5 1869

Getting it Down to a Science. — There are quite a number of boys around this place, who on velocipede riding are becoming immense. They prefer the two wheeled one, on account of it being the most difficult to manage, and are trying to see how many different ways they can ride it. So far the youngsters have got along admirably, and perform some expert movements, but one of these young velocipedestrians, Master Pope, proposes to cap the climax by standing on his head on the saddle and working the cranks with his hands. Pope is determined to beat young Seigrist, of San Francisco, or “any other man.” – June 12 1869

Velocipede School. During the past week a velocipede school has been organized at this place, under the control of Millett & Co. These gentlemen have fitted up a room, near the now Presbyterian Church, and have some ten or twelve new velocipedes, of all sizes, constantly on hand for the use of those who desire to learn. The velocipede is excellent for exercise, and we advise all who want to harden their muscles and promote digestion to give Millett & Co. a trial. – June 19 1869

The Velocipede school, started at this place, last week, closed up business in a day or two, as the boys around here were experts in Velocipede riding. – June 26 1869

The velocipede fever, which prevailed here a few weeks ago, has now entirely died out. Even the boys have come to the conclusion that there is too much work in managing the machine, and have given it up in disgust. – July 24 1869

We observe that Master John Dougherty, the “Little Giant” of Sebastopol, has at last got into the papers, and is hailed as a rival of Gen. Tom Thumb for lilliputian honors. Master Johnny is now fifteen years old, and yet weighs only thirty pounds, and is but four inches shorter than the General. The Herald was the first to bring our little friend before the public, a reporter having noticed him while on a recent visit to the city. – September 25 1869

Base Ball Club. — A number of the young men of this place met a few nights ago in the Board of Supervisors room and organized a base-ball club, styling themselves “The Young Wide-Awakes.” They have sent to the city for books of instruction, and intend in a short time to take the wind out of the sails of the Red Stockings. – October 23 1869

Be Careful. — There are a number of young boys around here, scarcely any of them over eight years of age, all of whom have horses, and make it a practice of riding at full speed up and down the roads. We fear if these daring juveniles don’t slack their speed we will be compelled to chronicle an accident before long. – November 13 1869

Challenge. — The first nine of the Lightfoot Base Ball Club desire us to state that they will play against the field, or, in other words, any nine outsiders, residents of Santa Rosa, who will meet them on their grounds this afternoon, Saturday, at 3 o’clock. – December 4 1869

On the Rampage. —Laura de Force Gordon, of Oakland, is going to stump the State in favor of Female Suffrage. She has challenged Miss Emma Webb to meet her and discuss the merits of the question. Miss Emma, were she to agree to meet Miss Gordon, would always have the best of it, for she claims that every lady can be a woman and every woman a lady, while Miss Gordon wants to make every woman a man and every lady a pot-house politician. – January 8 1870

Woman’s Rights. — We understand that Mrs. Laura de Force Gordon intends lecturing at the Court House this (Saturday) evening on the subject of Woman’s Rights, but as we have not been officially notified of it we can not say positively that such is the case. If the report is true, we can only say “let her rip” — howling female dervishes are at a discount, and petticoat nuisances will sooner or later be abated. Such women can do more good by staying at home and raising a family than by going around over the country showing their boots, breeches, stockings, shirt buttons, etc., to curiosity-seeking crowds. – January 22 1870

Dear Editors — A large, intelligent and appreciative audience, last evening, listened to a most eloquent and cogent appeal on behalf of woman suffrage, by Mrs. Laura De Force Gordon. She showed most clearly the manifest injustice of a republican government in denying to one-half its citizens (?) no ! not citizens, but one half the people, the right to a voice in its laws. Women are taxed equally with men. They are alike amenable to law, yet are classed with criminals, idiots and pauper’s. Her argument on this head was unanswerable.

She also showed in strong terms that women do want the ballot and that they will have it.

Her last argument was clear and forcible as to their need of the ballot in regard to the care of themselves and their children in earning, owning and disposing of property.

Mrs. Gordon is an exceedingly pleasing and interesting speaker and commands the entire attention of her audience. She was compelled, by press of engagements in San Francisco and vicinity, to postpone her lectures in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg until after the Woman Suffrage Convention which meets in San Francisco on Wednesdav next. We hope that Sonoma county will be largely represented and an interest awakened in this important subject.

Mrs. Gordon will lecture again here, in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, as soon after the Convention as arrangements can be made. We send from this town a petition of four hundred names, of some of our best men and women to Congress and our State Legislature for the enfranchisement of woman. If the Democrats in our Legislature are as rational and consistent as those in Wyoming we shall soon enjoy all the rights of citizenship m a free republic. Justitia. Petaluma, Jan. 22d, 1870. – January 29 1870

None to Rent.— There is scarcely a day passes but that some person calls at this office and wants to know “if there are any houses to rent in Santa Rosa?” Although there have been several new buildings erected within the past year yet we do not know of a house to rent in our town at the present time. – March 12 1870

Pretty Good.— Three of our citizens, who are experts at trout fishing, went up to Mark West Creek one day during last week, and returned home in the evening with three hundred of these fine fish. This is what we call pretty good work for one day. All of the streams in this vicinity are visited daily by parties who are fond of fishing. – April 16 1870

Horrible Noise.— Some few evenings since the youngsters of our town who keep late hours, favored the citizens with a serenade which was not appreciated by anybody. They had with them a number of instruments of a peculiar kind, and the way the serenaders bandied them was a caution. We are fond of music, but hope that the youngsters will not annoy our citizens with any more of just such musical treats in the future. – April 16 1870

Female Suffrage.— Mrs. Carrie T. Young lectured at the Court-house on Wednesday evening last, in favor of Woman Suffrage, We regret that her talents are not employed in promoting some worthier cause. – April 23 1870

Horse Racing.—A number of scrub horse races came off here during the week, on the Petaluma road, just below Santa Rosa bridge. The boys of our town had the management of them and they would run for anything from a jack knife to a two bit piece. – May 21 1870

Stabbing Affray. —On Tuesday evening last a stabbing affair occurred at the “Rialto” saloon, in this place, in which a man by the name of Clark was stabbed in the neck by a man named Willis Cockerill. From parties who were present and witnessed the difficulty we obtained the follow)ng information about it. The parties were engaged in playing cards together when a dispute arose about a trifling sum of money. One word brought on another until at last it came to blows. They were separated by outside parties, but soon clinched again, when Clark drew his pocket knife out. Cockerill then drew his knife and cut at Clark, the blade entering the neck below the left ear. The wounded man fell to the floor, and bled profusely. Dr. Allen was immediately called in to his assistance, and proceeded to dress the wound. Cockerill was arrested by Marshal Park, and had his examination before Justice Brown on Wednesday morning. He was found guilty of simple assault. The injured man is out on the streets again, and expresses a great astonishment at the arrest of Cockerill for the commission of such a trifling offense. – June 18 1870

Cool Customer. — Clark, the man who was stabbed here on Tuesday night last, has learned to take such things cooly. While lying on the floor, covered with blood, he calmly asked for a “chaw of terbacker,” and next day invited the party who did the cutting to take a drink with him. – June 18 1870

The Social Evil.— St. Louis, following in the wake of Paris, Berlin, and other European cities, has concluded to deal with the “social evil” in a practical manner, by licensing houses and providing medical examiners, etc. Santa Rosa hasn’t any of that kind of evil, so we don’t feel particularly interested in the license question. – July 30 1870

Great Walker. —A huge bilk, calling himself Prof. Western, the “greatest walker in the country,” gave an exhibition of his agility in that line in this town on last Wednesday night. He never stopped walking to settle his bills, and victimized us to the amount of five dollars. Look out for him, for he will walk off with a red-hot stove if he gets a chance. – September 3 1870

Our Calaboose Our town authorities not having authorized the building of a “lockup,” the City Marshal is often at a loss to know what to do with troublesome reprobates. He cannot arrest one who is beastly drunk and keep him until he sobers off. because no place has been prepared in which to stow him away. But on Thursday morning last, as there was a man who could not take care of himself, and, besides was making himself a common nuisance, the Marshal took a queensware crate, and turned it into a temporary calaboose, and in it confined the inebriated individual. It served very well for the purpose. – September 17 1870

Calaboose. — Workmen are now engaged in putting up the calaboose in the rear of the jail. Although this is an institution that is but little needed here, it is well to have one on hand for the accommodation of all persons who would disturb the peace and quietude of our town. – October 1 1870

Keep Them at Home. — There is a number of small boys in our town ranging from eight to ten years of age, who are out on the streets almost nightly to a very late hour. We would suggest to parents that there is no place where children are as safe from temptation at such hours as home. A little precaution in this matter may save much trouble in the future. – October 15 1870

New Gas Lamps. – Within the past week a species of gas called the gasolyne has been introduced into our town, and so far has proved satisfactory to those who have used it. No chimney or wick is required, and each lamp has a patent burner which generates the gas. There is no danger whatever of explosion as the gas is consumed as fast as it is made. The town trustees have had four gas lamps put up in the Plaza, which are a great convenience to all persons who have occasion to be out at nights. The Kessing Hotel is lighted up nightly with this gas which is a great improvement on coal oil. Both livery stables have adopted it, and as it is much cheaper and safer than coal oil, its use will soon become general. Frank Coe has purchased the extensive right to sell these lamps in this county and Napa, and will attend promptly to all orders left at the Hotel. – October 29 1870

More Buildings. — Since the completion of the railroad to this point, there is scarcely a day passes but what strangers are looking for vacant houses. Many of them are energetic men, and have not the means at command to buy homes for themselves and families. They desire to rent and locate among us, and by their labor and industry assist in building up the interests of our county. Those of our citizens who have a surplus of capital on hand, should take cognizance of this matter, and not allow worthy men who come here with the intention of making Sonoma county their home for the future, to go away and locate somewhere else. Here is a chance, gentlemen, to show your liberality and enterprise. – October 29 1870

Calaboose. — This institution in the jail yard is now completed, and ready to accommodate all disturbers of the peace of our town. At present there is little if any necessity for it, but as the town is growing so rapidly in population, it is well to have one on hand. Two or three persons here already been confined in it, for having turned the sidewalks into lodging apartments. Our Marshal is ever on the look out, and all can rest assured he will make no distinctions among law breakers. There was a party of noisy individuals out late on last Sunday night, and if they make a few more such trips to town, they need not be surprised if the Marshal gives them free lodgings for the remainder of the night. – October 29 1870

The New Gas.— Last week we mentioned the fact that gasolyne had been introduced into our town. It has worked to such perfection that almost every house in town, especially the business portion of the community, has adopted its use. A number of new gas lamps have been put up, and our Main street at night looks quite brilliant. The great charm about this gas is that it is much cheaper than kerosene oil, and will not explode under any circumstances. Coe, the popular hotel keeper, is kept busy filling orders both here and in other portions of the county. Frank has secured the agency for Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. – November 5 1870

Rapidly Changing. — Our town is rapidly changing from its former rural appearance, and beginning to assume the life and activity of a young city. The streets are usually crowded to a much greater extent than formerly, and the mode of travel by pedestrians is assuming the Montgomery street style. We understand that two omnibusses will soon put in an appearance at the depot, When we will hear the cry of “Free bus to Colgan’s Hotel,” “Right this way for Kessing’s Hotel,” “Take your baggage free of charge,” etc. No less than eight stages are running here daily. Who says the railroad has not thrown new life into our town? – November 5 1870

New Buildings. — In strolling over town a day or two ago on a “localizing” tour, we observed a number of new frame buildings being erected. Even on the outskirts of town the evidences of industry were apparent on all aides. Several gentlemen owning land just outside of the city limits have erected large and handsome residences thereon, and otherwise greatly improved their premises. No one will deny, now, that in a year or two Santa Rosa will be one of the handsomest interior towns in the State, and as far as educational facilities are concerned, she stands second to none other. – November 26 1870

Crowded. — Both of the hotels at this place, although large and commodious structures, are now crowded to their utmost capacity. The travel through our county has increased to such an extent within the past month, that our land lords are kept busy day and night providing accommodations for their numerous guests There is some talk on the streets about the erection of a large brick building to be used as a hotel. None can doubt but what it would pay, and before long some enterprising persons will take the matter in band and commence work in earnest. – November 26 1870

The Plaza. — Now that our town is attracting considerable attention throughout the State, and numbers of persons are visiting it from a distance, for the purpose of taking observations, and perhaps making it their home, would it not be well for us to endeavor to make the town present as creditable an appearance as possible? It looks well, now, but yet there are many things that can be done which will add greatly to its beauty, one of which is to take hold in earnest and improve the plaza — lay out gravel walks through it, plant some nice shrubbery, and give the fence a new coat of paint. We are under the impression that this would add greatly to the appearance of the town, while the cost of the work would be but trifling. As the case stands now, the visitor, in passing through, finds but little worthy of admiration in it. If we are. to have a plaza, let us keep it in good condition, or abolish it entirely. The matter is in the hands of the citizens, and it rests with them to say whether the work shall be done or not, – November 26 1870

Real Estate. — Considerable business is now being done in real estate in and around Santa Rosa. Parties are in town almost every day, making inquiries in regard to the price of land, location, soil, etc. During the past week quite a number of small tracts have changed hands. Negotiations were under way for the disposal of the two hundred acre tract which faces the property of Mr. John Ingram, but the sale was not made on account of some misunderstanding, Buyers complain of its high price asked for land, which, in some cases, we believe they are correct. Use a little more liberality, gentlemen, and sales will be mere numerous. – November 26 1870

Horrible Condition. — The streets of our town are now in a most horrible condition, and in many places are almost impassable. On the low grounds the water has lodged in such quantity as to form lakes deep enough to admit of gondolizing upon their muddy surface. In fact there is scarcely a good crossing to be found anywhere? Can not our town officers take some steps to drain or in some other manner improve their condition. Should they continue much longer as they are now, it will be found necessary for every man to provide himself with a mud scow to get around to attend to business. Besides this it is now impossible for the ladies to go out “shopping,” a little amusement which is generally very popular with them, but seldom meets with the hearty approbation of their liege lords. If something is not done in their behalf soon, our town officers may expect to hear “Rome howl” ere long. – December 10 1870

Base Ball. — The young men of Santa Rosa have organized a base ball club, which promises to be an active and efficient institution. They may never rival the Red Stockings, but the exercise will do them good and afford much amusement. – December 10 1870

Fell Down. — A young urchin, who was perched on a pair of stilts some three feet high, which were tied to his feet, fell down on Third street, on Monday last, and severely sprained one of his ankles, there is quite a number of little boys in town who can be seen daily perched on high stilts and some of them, we fear, will meet with a severe accident yet. Older heads have suffered by too hasty endeavors to get up in the world, and our ambitious juveniles will learn that stilts from three to five feet long are a little too much too high. – December 31 1870

Read More

opensafe

STOLEN: THE SONOMA COUNTY TREASURY

The safe was open and Sonoma county’s treasury was gone, every last cent. As a key was needed to unlock the safe and the end-of-year tax money was going to Sacramento the following day, it was presumed the robbery was an inside job. It was: the county treasurer stole all of it. Maybe.

In January 1857 one William A. Buster was the county treasurer and kept the county’s safe at his house. That was not as dumb as it may seem; at the time Santa Rosa was still a village at a muddy crossroads – later that year, the newspaper editor boasted there were “probably upward of a hundred” buildings. There was no bank and although it was also the county seat, the only public buildings were the courthouse and jail, both criticized for being dinky and rickety.

Initial details in the newspapers were scant, but add in later remarks and it seems Buster was playing cards at the saloon on Saturday, the 17th and went home around midnight accompanied by two friends. They found the front door partly ajar and the safe open with all the money gone: $14,439.13 – equivalent to over a half million dollars today.

Buster offered a $500 reward and left for Sacramento, where it was presumed he intended to lobby members of the legislature to not hold him personally responsible for the theft. While he was there he also picked up $2,795.10 from the State School Fund intended to support county schools. Also while he was there he hooked up with Joe Nevill.

“I told Nevill what I wanted to get,” Buster later told the court, meaning indemnity from the stolen tax money. “[Nevill] went with me and seemed to know most all the members. Harrison and Taliaferro talked favorable; Edwards I did not see. Nevill seemed to be very kind, and done all he could for me, and we drank considerable with members of the Legislature.”

His pal Nevill was still around the next morning as he prepared to leave. “He said he was out of money, and so was I, and if we would take some of the money and go to a faro bank we could win expenses.”

“I took out one hundred dollars – it was lost; we drank some brandy – it was good brandy.” Lest we get distracted by his tasting notes, keep in mind that Buster is talking about dipping into the school fund money.

“[Nevill] insisted the stake was so small he could do nothing, and wanted me to increase it and he would certainly win. I did so until we had lost a thousand dollars. He swore by his right arm and the blood of his heart, that if he lost he knew where he could get the money and would pay me back.”

The two men took a boat to San Francisco with Buster growing anxious over having gambled away so much money. Nevill proposed a poker game “and make a sure thing for me to win.” A third man joined the hand with Nevill as the dealer. “I watched him deal; he took my cards from the bottom and the other man’s from the top – the other man bet along moderately for some time and then raised to four hundred and fifty dollars.”

Buster continued: “…And then I found that Joe was not acting fair with me, and I was then all out except what I had in my pocket, one hundred and forty dollars and a bit. I talked with him, told him I was broke and ruined; he said he would make it all right in the morning.” He wandered down to the wharf where he found a Faro table and lost the $140.

He returned to Santa Rosa with only a bit (12½ cents) in his pocket and immediately confessed having gambled away the school money. Buster was jailed until the next session of the court in April. There were four indictments against him. Apparently there was also talk of people storming the jail and lynching him.

When all this occurred, Buster was already in trouble for playing fast and loose with the county’s treasury. A year before he had “borrowed” $2,000 from the safe and loaned it to a man in San Francisco. When this was discovered he was indicted by the Grand Jury and due to appear in court in January, 1857 – which is why he hadn’t gone to Sacramento on New Year’s Day to make the big end-of-year deposit, as was customary for county treasurers. That indictment was quashed when it came before the court, and at the sentencing he went on at length about this 1856 crime and seemed miffed at having been arrested for embezzling that $2k; after all, by the time his case came to trial he intended to have paid it back with interest.

William Anderson Buster had no prior government experience; he was elected treasurer in 1855 as part of the “Settler’s Ticket” that swept the local elections that year. (His opponent was one of the town founders, Barney Hoen.) Aside from having a gambling addiction and/or being remarkably stupid, all we know about him is that he was 37 at the dawn of 1857 and with Margaret had four children: Harriet, John, Missouri (female) and Eliza. Years later he would say he was just a farmer, but I cannot find anything about what he was doing in Santa Rosa at the time. The only clue comes from his courtroom soliloquy where he volunteered, “Gentlemen, I have borrowed money of many of you, not by dollars but by hundreds and thousands, in my business, and paid you back honestly.”

The Buster trial lasted all of April, 1857. He was found guilty of embezzling state money (2½ years), county money (2½ years), and county school funds (8 years). He also paid a $300 fine for gambling.

His odd speech at his sentencing hearing (transcribed below) is worth reading in full, although much has been already excerpted here. Even skipping the part about how easily he was conned by Joe Nevill, Buster comes across as a rube.

He pled guilty to gambling, but insisted he did not steal the treasury money in the safe. Yes, he admitted, “I was in debt in my business, and wanted to borrow a thousand dollars,” but the money stolen included the $2000 and $88 interest from his “borrowing” crime the year before. The proof of his innocence, he argued, was he had bothered to repay that earlier theft when he was caught: “If I had been disposed to rob myself, I might have taken much more; and you all know I am in the habit of doing things by the wholesale.” In other words, I didn’t do it in 1857 – because I could have done it in 1856.

Gentle Reader may now pick up his/her jaw from the floor.

According to the Petaluma Journal, “The prisoner shed tears quite copiously during his remarks.” The court apparently ruled his terms were to run concurrently, so he was sentenced to eight years.

Unfortunately, nothing further appeared in the newspapers about the case against him. Yes, he confessed to “borrowing” money the year before and gambling away the school funds, but it wasn’t explained why he was convicted of embezzling the $14,439.13. Did the prosecutor show he lost it at card tables or tapped it for loans to himself and others, despite having been caught the previous year? One might expect juicy details of proven guilt would have appeared in the press, even though papers were few and far between in 1857 California.

The ease of the robbery – knowing where the key to the safe was and when the home would be empty – gives me reasonable doubt that he was guilty. Then a few months later, the Santa Rosa paper printed this:

It is well known that some eight or ten thousand dollars of the missing public moneys [sic] for the loss of which Wm. A. Buster is now serving a term of years in the State Prison, was abstracted from the county safe without any agency of his. Since that time, it has been a matter of wonder how certain men not more than sixteen miles from Santa Rosa, having no lucrative business, could become “men of leisure” and always have plenty of money.

The “men of leisure” remark was likely just a swipe at Petaluma, as this was the beginning of the feud between Petaluma and Santa Rosa newspapers – but what was this about “it is well known” that Buster didn’t steal the money?

In 1860 and under a different editor, the Santa Rosa Democrat urged the governor to pardon Buster. “…There is no doubt but his temporary departure from the paths of rectitude is thoroughly cured, and we dare say, that a large majority of his old acquaintances, even here where his misdeeds were committed, would trust him to-day, as readily as they would men whose integrity has never been impeached.”

The warden at San Quentin gave him a week furlough (!) to visit his family in Santa Rosa, and later in 1860 he was pardoned. The family continued to live here for a few years – apparently next door to the notorious Otho Hinton – then moved to Anderson Valley. They ended up in the Los Angeles County town of Wilmington, where William Buster died in 1890.

The obl. Believe-it-or-not! epilogue to this story is that in 1859 the Petaluma Journal mentioned that treasurers in nine other counties had vanished with public funds. And at the exact same time in 1857 while Buster was awaiting his trial(s), the state treasurer Henry Bates was arrested for losing about $300,000. In Bates’ first trial there was a hung jury, followed by a second mistrial. As far as I’m able to tell, the only person in California who went to prison for stealing public money in those days was William A. Buster – who possibly did not steal it. Well, not all of it, anyway.

 

Robbery of the County Treasury.

W. A. Buster, Treasurer of Sonoma County, reports that the safe in which was deposited the public funds, was robbed some time during last Sunday Evening. Of the particulars of this affair, we are unadvised, other than by rumor. As near as we can get at the matter, it would appear that at the time of the robbery there was, or should have been. In the safe, from $13,000 to $14,000, all of which belonged to the State, excepting about $1,200. – That the robbery was discovered about 1 o’clock, A. M., Sunday morning, by two acquaintances of Mr. Buster’s whom he was lighting to their rooms, and that his attention was called to it by one of them remarking that the safe door was open. We further learn that the safe exhibited no evidence of force having been used upon it, but on the contrary went to show that it had been opened by a key.

Whoever committed the robbery was evidently perfectly familiar with the premises and state of finances. One day later, and they would have had dry picking, as Mr. Buster was to leave for Sacramento early on Monday morning to pay into the State Treasury the money belonging to the State.

Mr. Buster had offered a reward of five hundred dollars, for the apprehension of the robber and recovery of the money.

– Sonoma County Journal, January 23 1857

 

THE MISSING FUNDS — We cannot learn that any additional light has been thrown upon either the whereabouts of the funds missing from the County Treasury, or of the perpetrators of the robbery. Mr. Buster, we believe, has gone to Sacramento, probably with the view of getting the Legislature to release himself and bondsmen from the payment of the sum due the State. The Board of Supervisors meet on Monday next, when it is probable an additional reward will be offered for the detection of the robbers. We are also informed, that the County Attorney has given an instruction to the Sheriff, to retain in his hands, until further ordered, all moneys which may be paid in, belonging to the County.

– Sonoma County Journal, January 30 1857

 

The Late County Treasurer.

By reference to the Report of the Board of Supervisors, it will be seen that W. A. Buster, late Treasurer of Sonoma County, is a defaulter to the State to the amount of $17,263.98. Of this sum, $14,439.13 was money collected in this County, for State purposes, and paid over to him, to be paid by him into the State Treasurer’s hands. The remainder, with the exception of $29.75, is money drawn from the State School Fund, $2,795.10 being the proportionate amount due this County for school purposes. This money he drew from the State Treasury since the reported robbery of the County Treasury, but when called upon by the Board of Supervisors to make an exhibit of the same, he was unable to comply. How this money has been disposed of, remains to be proven.

The evidence that Mr. Buster was unlawfully appropriating the public moneys to private purposes, has been so strong from the time of his entering upon his official duties, that legal proceedings were instituted against him as early as October, 1856, at which time the Grand Jury found an indictment against him for the improper use of public funds. In the following December he was arrested on a bench warrant and held to bail in the sum of $3,000 to appear at the January term of County Court. From some informality, the indictment was quashed at the January term, but the case submitted to the Grand Jury which will be summoned previous to the setting of the April terms of the Court, and bail fixed in same amount. On the 5th last, his sureties surrendered him to the Sheriff, and he is now in prison awaiting his trial at the April term of Court.

Of the guilt or innocence of Mr. Buster we wish not to speak at this time. The feeling already existing against him, is strong. We would not add to this feeling by giving publicity to the thousand and one stories in circulation, lest the public mind might become prejudiced to such an extent as to render it difficult to obtain an impartial and unprejudiced jury to try him. He is now in the hands of the law, and no doubt justice will be meted out to him according to his deserts. If proven guilty of the offence charged, his punishment, according to the statutes of 1855, will be imprisonment in the State Penitentiary from one to five years, or a fine, discretionary with the Court.

Since his imprisonment Mr. Buster has sent in his resignation, and the Board of Supervisors have appointed Dr. J. HENDLEY of Santa Rosa, who is now acting as County Treasurer.

– Sonoma County Journal, February 13 1857

 

THE ROBBERY OF THE SONOMA TREASURY. — Some time since it was stated that Mr. Buster, the Treasurer of Sonoma county had been robbed of $13,000 of State and county funds. — The people in that section now generally believe that Mr. Buster robbed himself, as appears by the following from the Napa Reporter:

MR. BUSTER. — This County Treasury “busting” official, it in currently reported, went to the Capital to have his bonds cancelled, which he didn’t do, as far as we can learn. Report also says that he was paid the apportionment of the School Fund due Sonoma county, which he “bucked off” before reaching the locality of the county safe. He is now in the Santa Rosa jail, we understand. He’ll do to play second fiddle to the State Treasurer.

– Daily Alta California, February 16 1857

 

Wm. A. Buster, Late County Treasurer, was arraingned [sic] on Tuesday, and entered the plea of “not guilty” to two indictments, one for using and loaning County funds, and one for using and loaning State funds. His counsel, C. P. Wilkins, gave notice of a motion for a change of venue on the ground that the prisoner could not obtain a fair and impartial trial in Sonoma county.

Oliver Baileau, arraigned for branding cattle with intent to stal the same, was discharged – the jury rendering a verdict of “not guilty.”

An unsual number of persons have been in attendance. There is no apparent indication in regard to time of adjournment. Should Busters’ application for a change of venue be denied and his case tried at this term, the court will probably be in session during next week.

– Sonoma County Journal, April 10 1857

 

COURT OF SESSIONS — The case of the People vs. W. A. Buster charged with using and loaning State funds, is drawing its weary length to a close. On Saturday last the Court appointed Thomas Hood, elisor, to bring into Court, on Tuesday, 48 jurors. This duty Mr. H. performed. Out of the number the Court succeeded in getting a panel. The prosecution was commenced on behalf of the State, on Tuesday evening, and closed on Wednesday morning. The defence offered no testimony, but asked time to prepare instructions, which request was granted. The case was submitted to the jury on Wednesday evening, who, after a half hour’s absence, returned a verdict of “guilty.” – Sentence not passed at out latest date. On the charge of gambling, to which it will be recollected, Mr. Buster had plead guilty, the Court has fined the prisoner $300. On the charge for using and loaning County funds, he is yet to be tried. As order for the jury has been issued.

– Sonoma County Journal, April 24 1857

BUSTER SENTENCED. — Last Wednesday morning the Court passed sentence on W. A. Buster, found guilty of using and loaning State Funds. His sentence is thirty months imprisonment in the State Penitentiary. The venire issued last week for a Jury to try the prisoner of the charge of using and loaning County Funds, was returned into court on Wednesday. A panel has probably been selected [be]fore this. We learn that there is still another indictment against him – that of embezzling the School Money, upon which he is yet to be tried.

– Sonoma County Journal, May 1 1857

 

Defaulter Convicted. — W. A. Buster, the late defaulting Treasurer of Sonoma county, has been found guilty of trafficking in State funds; and has also been fined the sum of $300 for gambling part of the money away. He will shortly be tried for squandering the moneys of the county in the same way.

– Sacramento Daily Union, May 4 1857

 

COMMITTED. — Last Wednesday. Deputy Sheriff Greene passed through Petaluma, on his way to San Quentin, accompanied by the late treasurer of that county, W. A. Buster, who is about entering upon new duties in that institution for the next eight years.

– California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences, May 8 1857

 

The People vs. Wm. A. Buster

This trial which has occupied the Court of Sessions for the last four weeks, terminated last Saturday. There were four indictments against the Defendant – the first for permitting gaming, upon which he plead guilty, and was $300. The second, for using and loaning State Moneys, which came to his hands as Treasurer of Sonoma County, on a plea of not guilty and a verdict of guilty, he was sentenced to 2 1/2 years’ imprisonment. On the third, for using the moneys belonging to the County, he was found guilty and sentenced to 2 1/2 years’ imprisonment. – On the fourth, for embezzlement of School Moneys belonging to the County of Sonoma, he plead guilty, and was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment. On being called upon, before sentence in the last two cases, if he had any cause to show why judgment should not be pronounced against him, he said: –

“I wish to state to the people here how all this came about, and if I say anything incorrect, I want to be corrected. I don’t know that Mr. Wickersham, the District Attorney, has had any cause to do so, but I think he has not only prosecuted but persecuted me. In his argument to the Jury, he said that my attorneys had not even proven that I had previously sustained a good character. I was born in Tennessee, and have taught school about ten years of my life; and I defy any man to bring anything against my character up to the time these indictments were prosecuted; and I don’t want any disgrace cast upon my family.

In the early part of my official duties, I did not know that there was any exceptions taken. After I borrowed the $2000, testified by the high Sheriff, I started to Sacramento, on the 4th of January, 1856. I deposited the money at Sacramento, and went up into the mines on other business, and remained until the 16th, when I returned to Sacramento, and settled with the State Treasurer, and came down to San Francisco and loaned to Menefee $2000. When I came home I was surprised to hear that it was reported I had run away, and some of my securities had withdrawn – that it was known how much money there should be in the Treasury, and all the Scrip had been bought up a few to make a run on the Treasury – and I was to be raised right out of my boots! I met all the warrants presented, and was then easy until July ’56.

Gentlemen, I have borrowed money of many of you, not by dollars but by hundreds and thousands, in my business, and paid you back honestly. Now, as to the August report: I did make a previous report which the Board of Supervisors accepted, but did not publish, and I was censured, and also charged with not having made a report; and I had to make this report, going back and including my previous one, and am charged of using $2000 of the public money, which I had to raise to make up the amount of the August exhibit, which I shall neither admit or deny; but I think the District Attorney took a very ungentlemanly course to make it appear that I was delaying the Board of Supervisors and trying to borrow money to make my exhibit. It is not true; and they did not wait one day on me, but remained in session three days after on other business. The District Attorney did not read all the report.

Above what I exhibited with my report, there was sixteen or seventeen hundred dollars at that time paid into me by the Sheriff and that was all that could have been lost to the people if I had eat it up.

I had bought some county warrants; as I have been charged with one crime I might as well admit that. The new Board met to organize and I wanted them to do business; the old Board had ordered me to give a new bond in the sum of $40,000, which, under the excitement against me, was out of the question. I expected them to require me to make a full exhibit, and I was ready to do so. I was indicted in January, and had to be here, and could not go to Sacramento on the 1st of January, ’57; it was usual for other Treasurers to settle with the State any time during the month, and I did not think it was material. Some one reported that I was not going to Sacramento; God forgive him, for if I knew who it was I could not.

I was in debt in my business, and wanted to borrow a thousand dollars. I concluded on Saturday the 17th of Jan. to go to Sacramento on the following Monday. I was at the saloon on the evening of the 17th (Saturday) at 10 or 11 o’clock, playing cards for one thing or another. Treadwell (Jo.) and Russell went home with me to go to bed; they found the front door partly open and the safe partly open. I had gone round the back part of the house, and they called to me. I went round and all the money was taken out of the safe – God knows by whom, but I didn’t. That is the only thing for which I can make no showing excepting my acts.

If I had been disposed to rob myself, I might have taken much more; and you, all know I am in the habit of doing things by the wholesale. From the time I should have started to Sacramento up to the time the safe was robbed, I paid two thousand and eighty-eight dollars, and offered to pay more. Now, you will all agree with me, that any man who would have done this, (if he intended to steal) would have been a fool; but I could only deny the charge and give the above reason; and my best friends passed me by without speaking and thought me guilty, and I was almost driven to despair.

Sometimes I thought I would not go to Sacramento – Dr. Williams told me he heard I was afraid to go; I told him that I had rather die than be thought afraid to go; I don’t know what fear is. I went to Sacramento, and fell in with Jo. Nevill; some of you know who he is; and now I will relate the only thing I regret in this whole matter. I told Nevill what I wanted to get; (a relief bill passed) he went with me and seemed to know most all the members. Harrison and Taliaferro talked favorable; Edwards I did not see. Nevill seemed to be very kind, and done all he could for me, and we drank considerable with members of the Legislature.

Next morning I went to draw the School Money, and he helped me pack it up; and after I had deposited it, he said he was out of money and so was I and if we would take some of the money and go to a faro bank we could win expenses. I took out one hundred dollars – it was lost; we drank some brandy – it was good brandy; he insisted the stake was so small he could do nothing, and wanted me to increase it and he would certainly win. I did so until we had lost a thousand dollars. He swore by his right arm and the blood of his heart, that if he lost he knew where he could get the money and would pay me back.

We got aboard a boat and started for San Francisco. I felt so bad I could not sleep; he said he could not and would get up a game of poker, and make a sure thing for me to win. I gave him a twenty; he was to put up the cards so as to deal me a full; I suppose you know what a full is. I watched him deal; he took my cards from the bottom and the other man’s from the top – the other man bet along moderately for some time and then raised to four hundred and fifty dollars. I supposed he meant to bluff me, and proposed to let Jo. hold my hand until I went for the money, but he would not consent. I then sent Jo. for the money; when the money was up, I said I had three fives and two sixes – I will always recollect the hand; he showed four kings, and took the money – and then I found that Jo. was not acting fair with me, and I was then all out except what I had in my pocket, one hundred and forty dollars and a bit. I talked with him, told him I was broke and ruined; he said he would make it all right in the morning.

I felt as though I was gone in, and the next morning I went down on the wharf and had a great mind to throw the hundred and forty dollars in the Bay, for I knew that amount was no use to me; I went and bucked off the hundred and forty dollars and kept the bit. I had lost all confidence in Jo., and told him that he had ruined me; he told me not to go home; I told him by the Gods I would and let the people all know what I had done; he said he could not find the man he was to get the money from, but would get me the money and bring it up.

I came home and was loathe to tell it. Dr. Williams asked me if I had brought the School Money, and I said yes. Ogan wanted me to pay a school warrant, and I told him just how it was; and I was then charged all over town of stealing the School Money; and I suppose it was no better. I was then delivered over by my securities to the Sheriff, and had to go to jail, where I have been ever since.

Many reports were circulated against me, and I understand they threatened to take me out of the jail and hang me; all I could hear was through my family; no man could come, he was denied admission either by the Sheriff or Jailor. I don’t know which, nor do I care.

I was told I would be punished to the extent of the law, and I don’t believe there could have been a Jury in the county but what would commit me. I was without money and without counsel; I told C. P. Wilkins my situation, and he offered to do all he could for me; he was in bad health, and I asked Temple to assist; he said he could do me no good before this community, but he would assist all he could. I made an application for a change of venue, but was denied, and was advised to run away; I could have done so and been gone long ago, but I would rather hang than to acknowledge the crime by running away and thereby saddle it on my family.

I expect if I live, to serve out my term and come back here – for if I cannot live here. I cannot anywhere. I don’t make these remarks with the hope of influencing the Court; I want them to do their duty – appoint the time which they see cause to allot me, and I will go and try it. I have nothing more to say.”

The prisoner shed tears quite copiously during his remarks, and when he took his seat he covered his face with his hands and wept. The Court House was crowded to excess, but the strictest order prevailed.

– Sonoma County Journal, May 8 1857

 

PARDON ASKED FOR.

Margaret F. Buster, wife to Wm. A. Buster, given notice that she will apply to the Governor for the pardon of her husband, now an inmate of the State Prison, for the crime of embezzlement of the county and school funds of Sonoma county, and for using and loaning the funds of the State; also for using and loaning the funds of this county. The aggregate term of imprisonment imposed by the Court for these offences, is eight years. We learn that petitions to this effect are now in circulation for signatures.

However deeply we may, and do sympathize with the afflicted wife and children of the prisoner, we cannot so far forget our duty to society, as to thus early lend our aid in favor of the object prayed for. The character of the crime for which Mr. Buster is now incarcerated within the prison walls, has been, and still is, one of too frequent occurrence in California to permit this course on our part. Few indeed have been the cases of either County or State officials retiring from posts of trust, with an untarnished name. Many have been the evidences of peculaton or defalcation, on the part of men placed in positions of honor and trust; but few the convictions. Indeed, until within a few months past Justice has apparently withheld her hand, and the criminal has escaped merited punishment.

Though others equally guilty, and may be much more culpable, have been allowed to escape through the meshes of the law, and Mr. Buster alone occupies the prisoner’s cell, we cannot see that he should be thus early liberated. Scarce eight months of the eight years have yet expired. For the Governor to pardon the prisoner, under the circumstances, at this early day of his confinement, would, to say the least, be setting a bad example. There can be little or no doubt that a too free exercise of executive clemency, is pernicious in the extreme to the well being of society. If to the difficulty of conviction is to be added a ready pardon, we need not be surprised should crimes of every kind become of even more frequent occurrence. It is not the severity of law, but the certainty of its enforcement, that deters men from crime. While, therefore, humanity pleads for the liberation of a devoted husband and a kind parent, justice and the public good requires that the laws of our land be faithfully and impartially administered. But while we thus stand for the supremacy of law, let me not forget the demands of humanity, and if need be, let us all show our sympathy for the bereaved family, by more convincing proofs than mere words, or scrawls of pen and pencil.

– Sonoma County Journal, November 13 1857

 

Wm. A. Buster.

We last week called attention to the fact that Wm. A. Buster, formerly Treasurer of this county, and who is now in the State’s Prison, where he was sent for embezzling the public funds while in that office, was here on a visit to his family. He returned on Saturday last.

We have before had occasion to speak of the propriety of enforcing the remainder of Mr. Buster’s sentence — and as we are informed a Legislative committee will visit the State Prison soon, and that the case of Mr. Buster will be laid before that committee, with a view to his release prior to the expiration of his sentence, we deem it appropriate that we repeat those views. Our opinion, as heretofore expressed, is: that the Governor would be fully justifiable in interposing the pardoning power in his behalf; and we will endeavor to express as plainly as we can our reasons for that opinion.

While it is not contended even by his most interested friends that he was not guilty of the offense charged, those who know him best, even among those who are not his personal or political friends, do not pretend to ascribe to Mr. Buster a really depraved heart. We believe it is admitted by nearly all these, that he was led away by the circumstances that surrounded him, having lived the early part of his life in an humble, unpretending sphere, away from the follies and dissipations incident to life in towns, and particularly in that society composed of county officials, who are very liable to be flattered by the vicious, and tempted to dissipation by his most intimate associates. In fact he was a novice, wholly ignorant of the vices to which he was exposed, on entering upon his official career. He engaged in those vices and follies which we all see almost every day of our lives, not realizing that any harm was likely to grow out of his indulgences. He held the key of the county safe, and at the same time was allured with the prospects of wealth to be derived from speculations and gaming. he embarked in both; but it does not require a great stretch of the mind to divine how and wherein he must fail to cope with the more experienced and shrewder portion of mankind, whom he in this sphere had to contend with. He became, as he supposed, temporarily embarrassed, and used the public moneys in his keeping. We will not say he fully intended, and thought he would be able to replace this from his own funds; for these thoughts can bedemonstrated only by himself and his God, But so far as we have heard the expression of those who were acquainted with the circumstances, we believe all are impressed with this belief. This, we admit, is not a legal excuse for his conduct — neither should it prevent his punishment; but wo do think it should materially mitigate that punishment.

All know the theory upon which penalties for crimes is based. It is, first, to imprison the criminal, that the power to do harm may be placed out of his reach. Second, that the fear of punishment again shall in future deter him from crime, and thus reform the abandoned; and thirdly, an example to the depraved part of the world that if they are detected in similar crimes they will be punished in like manner.

In Mr. Buster’s case, the two first of these reasons are out of the question, so far as future punishment goes. There is no doubt but his temporary departure from the paths of rectitude is thoroughly cured, and we dare say, that a large majority of his old acquaintances, even here where his misdeeds were committed, would trust him to-day, as readily as they would men whose integrity has never been impeached. Even more, that the lesson he has already had, would have the effect to make him even scrupulous in his efforts to do right. Everything indicates this: He has a family — an interesting, and we may say a respectable family, with whom he wishes to reside. Were he a depraved, irredeemable outlaw, who cared not what part of the world he might be compelled to flee to, nor how soon he had to go, it would be different; he is trusted by the keepers of the Prison to visit his family, fifty miles off, without guard or bond — with no more than his own word and his attachment to that family — rather than leave which, he will return to the degrading bondage with which he suffers.

The man who will thus suffer affliction, with the hope of once more being called an honest man by those who have best know his short-cormings — who would prefer incarceration in the State Prison to abandonment of his family — is not at heart a bad man; and after the serious evidence ho has already had of the danger of crime — would be the last man in world again to violate the law.

We have but one more reason to give why he should be released. Other men, both before and since the development of his case, have proven in like manner, and even to greater extent, delinquent, but have uniformly escaped punishment. So generally has this been the case, that persistance in the continuation of his punishment has no terror to others. Men of more craft, but less real merit than he possesses, escape with impunity — laugh at the law, and call him stupid for allowing himself to be proven guilty. They attribute his conviction, and his punishment rather to his verdance, than to the excess of his crime.

Then every argument for the punishment of criminals, so far as he is concerned, fails. Holding these views of the matter, which we certainly do, we hope Governor Downey will take the very first opportunity to give Mr. Buster an entire legal pardon for his offense, and in doing so, we have good reason to believe he will receive the approbation of nine-tenths of this community.

– Sonoma Democrat, January 26 1860

 

PARDON BUSTER. — We are pleased to see so much interest taken in the pardon of this unfortunate man, as has of late been manifested by our citizens. We learn from good authority, that a petition has been forwarded to Governor Downey, signed by the proper officials of this County, asking his release, and hope soon to hear that it has been granted. There is no doubt but that the news of his pardon would be welcomed with gladness by a greater portion of our people.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 28 1860

 

We are pleased to announce that Gov. Downey has at last complied with the prayer of many citizens of Sonoma County, and pardoned Wm. A. Buster. It is our candid opinion, that the action of the Governor in pardoning Buster, will meet with the approval of two-thirds of the people of the County. Mr. Buster arrived home on Friday last.

– Sonoma Democrat, October 18 1860

Read More