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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonoma County, Champion History Maker of California

by Frank L. Mulgrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– San Francisco Call, August 4, 1912

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Santa Rosa Republican, May 23, 1910

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

– Press Democrat, July 27, 1911
Fine Publication Compiled by Tom Gregory and Issued by History Record Company of Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

– Press Democrat, December 13, 1911

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

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

– Santa Rosa Republican, August 5, 1912

Read More



Like zombies they stumbled towards courthouse square in downtown Santa Rosa as county workers, already buried under great piles of documents dumped upon them, struggled bravely on with forlorn hopes that someday the onslaught might somehow end.

Do I exaggerate? Only a little; sans the “zombie” flourish – which, as you’ll soon learn becomes weirdly apropos later – that description is true to the spirit of how the Press Democrat described the situation in the beleaguered County Recorder’s office during the spring of 1912:

The recording of these deeds has thrown Recorder Nagle and his force away behind with the regular work…Recorder Nagle is now receiving many letters of inquiry from many States in the Union, and especially has this been so during the past few days. It is impossible for him to answer all the letters that come. They arrive in stacks. Two thirds of the heavy mail received at the Recorder’s office Thursday was made up of these deeds…

At issue were deeds to Sonoma County property which were often won in far-away raffles or drawings for a lucky admission ticket at a nickelodeon movie theater – another article here, “DAWN OF THE DEED” explains how that worked. Other local parcels were sold by real estate hustlers who printed up brochures promising summers spent at a Sonoma County vacation home “roaming through the Redwoods, over the forest-clad hills or along the side of rippling streams, watching and listening to the tumbling falls,” or trying ones luck at tempting “the elusive mountain trout from its hiding place in the shady woodland pools.” All for as little as $10/acre.

It was a con game, or course, but probably not the kind you suspect. This was actual land – albeit divided up in so-called “paper subdivisions” which only existed on maps. Rarely surveyed and often drawn up as drafting school exercises, the maps presented neat rectangular grids, usually of parcels 25 by 100 feet, that followed streets with charming names: “Cherry Creek Boulevard,” or “Walnut way.” In reality, the lots were often on steep, unbuildable hillsides where no streets would ever wind around those impassible slopes. Another name for these subdivisions is “wildcat” – they were on land only wildcats roamed.

As the 1912 Press Democrat reported, County Recorder Fred Nagle found himself under siege by people from out of the area who honestly believed they would soon be moving to California’s Eden. “Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions,” historian Tom Gregory wrote in a letter to the PD.

One man wrote to ask if the San Francisco trolley ran out to “Cloverdale Heights.” A guy from Albuquerque came out looking for his lot near the town of “Russian River” and someone from Denver stopped by the Recorder’s office to record his deed and left disgusted that he had been tricked into also buying another lot adjacent to the phony homesite he won with his “lucky number.”

But Recorder Nagle and his staff weren’t only kept busy answering letters and fielding long-distance phone calls; they were actually busily recording deeds for those unusable chunks of land because the new owner had sent the county the $6.50 recording fee. “The recording of these deeds has thrown Recorder Nagle and his force away behind with the regular work,” reported the PD, noting the volume was particularly harmful because the county was then at the start of a legitimate real estate boom.

While the scam first attracted attention in 1912, that was by no means the end of it; wildcat lots continued to be given away or sold for years to come. Had even a teensy portion of these properties been developed, Sonoma county would be a far different place today. With over 15,000 of these lots in the Cazadero vicinity alone, “Cazadero Woodlands” and the other subdivisions would have been the largest city north of San Francisco – over five times the size of Santa Rosa at the time.

Virtually none of this land was developed, of course, and most buyers simply stopped paying taxes when they realized they had been swindled, so the land went back to the county or state. But holding on to the land was easy, too; the property tax was almost nothing and sometimes Uncle Fletcher’s mysterious property out in California was handed down. Taxes paid or not, there always has been a steady trickle of people coming in to the Assessor’s office with a yellowed slip of paper to enquire whether it showed they had a secret forgotten fortune. The answer was always: No.

That is, until resurrection day.

Flash forward sixty years as California enacts a minor tweak to the law to “let property owners know where they stand.” Say you inherited 100 acres handed down in the family from great-great-grandpa. He bought half of it from a neighbor in the 1880s, tore down the separating fence and farmed it all as a single plot. Did you inherit two parcels or one? According to the new law, you owned two – as long as some paperwork called an “administrative certificate of compliance” was obtained from the county. Sounds fair, right?

But that was just the beginning. State law also decreed anyone with a deed had the right to reclaim property lost in tax default by paying all the back taxes due. Thus whomever had the deed to Uncle Fletcher’s worthless little parcel could own it again. That deed-holder could then go to the county to obtain one of those administrative certificates. And with that in hand, the little parcel, once just part of a grid on an old and useless map, sprang into life as a duly-recognized legal property that could be sold – or developed.

‘Turns out quite a bit had happened since back in the day when poor old Fred Nagle was grumbling about the futility of recording all those worthless paper lots – namely, it wasn’t so certain the land was still worthless. There were now paved roads and utilities available in once wild ‘n’ wooly places like Cazadero and Dry Creek, and modern construction techniques made it possible to build on places that would have been impossible when the maps were drawn. At the same time all Sonoma county property values were skyrocketing in the 1980s, in large part because there were strict zoning restrictions on new land development – regulations that didn’t apply to Uncle Fletcher’s movie theater prize, once it was awarded a certificate of compliance.

In the early 1990s I wrote often about the fallout from the certificate process for the old E.I.R. newspaper, California Lawyer magazine, and other publications, and much of what follows is lifted from those articles. I found planners fearful the certificates would destroy Sonoma county agriculture, turning the rural areas into a crazy quilt of McMansion subdivisions, far from sewer lines, modern roads, and other infrastructure needed for their support. And under state law, the county was powerless to stop it. “It’s like ‘Night of the Living Dead,'” one county planner grimly joked to me, “all of these old properties are rising from the grave.”

They had reason to fear: There were an estimated 75,000 lots in this county that could be resurrected by certificates. Recorder Fred and his successors had been busy, indeed.

Making matters worse, developers were always two giant steps ahead of the county. Uncle Fletcher’s bungalow-sized parcel wasn’t worth developing by itself – but having deeds for almost every parcel in his entire wildcat subdivision was a different story. In the 1980s and early 1990s there were companies formed in Sonoma county to search out descendants of all those people who once sent the county that $6.50 registration fee. It was no easy task; the average size of these wildcat subdivisions was over 800 lots, according to a county memo. The game of find-the-heir was like a marathon scavenger hunt – collect ’em all to win the prize.

Was it worth all that work? You bet; Mr. Developer could then strut through the doors of the county planning department pushing a wheelbarrow full of documents – one infamous submission included over 25 pounds of paperwork – and declare he had the rights to build a mammoth project. As the parcels were recognized as having existed since 1912 (or whenever), his project superseded all modern rules and environmental protections. It didn’t matter if the land was in an agricultural preserve or community greenbelt; it didn’t matter whether the land could pass a septic “perc” test to allow homeowners the luxury of flush toilets. It even didn’t matter whether the property had reasonable access. In a scandalous 1992 application, a developer claimed two hundred certificates on a remote, 3,000 ft. elevation hilltop near the Geysers where the only access was Pine Flat Road, terrifyingly steep and scarcely wider than a private driveway.

But the developers never proposed following the original subdivision layout on the old maps; those were just grid lines, remember, with no relation to actual terrain. No, the certificates of compliance were just bargaining chips. After paperwork for the certificates were filed, developers would follow by requesting “lot-line adjustments,” allowing them to cluster lots on the best parts of the land and build as many homes as possible. This also allowed developers to posture as the good guy while negotiating with the county – “Hey, I have 500 certificates, but I’m asking permission to build only 150 houses.”

And in some cases, the threat of possible certificates was all a developer needed. The county was so worried about development at the peak of Pine Flat Road that the Open Space District bought it. No paperwork was filed applying for certificates on the supposed 200 parcels, although the Sonoma Land Trust and the developer privately agreed he could probably get at least 27 recognized.

Sonoma county led the legal fight against the certificate process for more than three decades. Details would probably bore most readers here, but it was mostly a story of disheartening defeats. The county adopted a cutoff date of 1929, which was the year the Subdivision Map Act was passed in the state. That law required counties to have regulations and local ordinances defining how subdivision should be done, and the county reasoned that properties after that year would at least have been surveyed or otherwise proven to be real. But a few months later the Attorney General slapped that rule down, leaving all doors open.

Only since the year 2001 has the pendulum has begun swinging back to local control. In a landmark case involving land near Sebastopol, the state Supreme Court ruled that old maps weren’t necessarily legitimate simply because they existed, and certainly were no justification for bypassing current rules and regs. Another court decision ruled against a Petaluma developer and has apparently quashed the hopes of anyone using a paper subdivision map created prior to 1929. So at long last, the fake subdivisions seem to be dead and buried.

The long arc of this story is amazing, if you ponder a moment on it: A 1912 movie ticket sold in Kansas became part of a magic talisman that would allow its bearer immunity to laws in California, 70 or 80 or 90 years later. Robert Ripley might have enjoyed writing it up for his Believe It Or Not! series. He liked to tell unbelievable stories.

Rushing Business Being Carried On by Numerous Nickelodeons Throughout the Country

Editor Press Democrat: The “Bungalow Site Industry” in Sonoma county goes merrily on, and the “Fairy Sylvan Resorts” where the fairies may resort after they have fallen to the “game” and have come through with the $6.50 or other cash for the deed to the lot are going just as fast as the “drawings” can be drawn. Imperial Sonoma has fallen into hard lines, and her name is being used abroad to extract coin from the “easy” ones. The game is a little, simple thing–a sweet little simple thing. Somebody files a map–calls his tract by a catchy name–offers his lots by divers and lottery-ish methods, and the fish rises to the bait. These “opportunities” are not given generally to the public in Sonoma county, but at a distance. Letters from other counties, from British Columbia, from Nevada, from Arizona, from Oregon and Washington are pouring in to the Recorder, the Assessor, the Tax Collector and to other officials of Sonoma, pleading for information regarding these peculiar transactions. The character of the victims may be determined by the tenor of these letters–they are poor, and in many instances, illiterate, just the class of persons that may fall to such a cheap skin-game as this…

…And the location where these “Sharks” are doing their “best” work strike one as peculiar. Around Sacramento, where a local real land-boom is on, the victims are buying $6.50  mirage bungalow site in Sonoma county; in Los Angeles–where every prospect pleases (or is advertised to please) and every man is not vile–they are sending their six-fifty deeds to the county for record. A man in Albuquerque, N. M., in a raffle won a six-shooter, and with his “win” was a lot–20×40 feet–somewhere in the neighborhood of “Russian River,” Sonoma county. After he had dropped eight or ten dollars in the game, he loaded the other portion of his winnings and went gunning for the “lot” sharp. He is now putting in his leisure time cussing Sonoma county, Cal., and yet admiring the scheme that beat him–an old, seasoned territorial sport–so easily.

Among the letters the County Recorder receives daily is one he found in his mail yesterday from Oregon City, Or., in which the writer says he won at a Nickelodeon in his city a lot in this county and he wants to know if the property is worth the $6.50. D. Andersen–that’s his name–(can anybody give him the information?) inclosed with his note of inquiry a handbill of the show describing the mythical lot, and that description is a gem: “Two bubbling, dashing, splashing, crashing, like the famous waters that come down at Lodore[,] branches of Russian River flow the idealic [sic] place; it is on the Northwestern Pacific line, while Healdsburg, a city of over 4,000 inhabitants, is not; Santa Rosa, “the ideal city of California” and Luther Burbank, “the plant wizzard,” (with two z’s) are invoked to further the “boost.” And it ends up with a request to “Come Along and Bring the Children and take Advantage of Thes FREE DRAWINGS and Secure a Home Site at this Famous Resort in Sonoma County, where a Chance is Given Away ABSOLUTELY FREE With Each Ticket.”

The time has come to stop this business. If the Board of Supervisors, or a Grand Jury of this county cannot do something to discourage the traffic, the newspapers should take the matter up. Every exchange should reprint this article, and spread the tiding abroad that this cheap, cheap game may be ended. Our splendid county, with her grand scenic features, is getting the advertising she does not deserve, and does not want. Sonoma wants “everybody to come along and bring the children,” but she does not want the bunkoed before they get here.

Tom Gregory.
Santa Rosa, Feb. 9, 1912.

– Press Democrat, February 10, 1912
“Cloverdale Heights” a Rugged Piece of Hill Not Yet Surveyed, They Say

From Cloverdale comes another complaint of the manner in which people are being duped all over the State and in adjoining states by the sale of lots in worthless tracts.

Mention of what looks like near fraud, at least has been made from time to time in the Press Democrat in connection with the immense amount of work entailed at the office of County Recorder Fred Nagle by the recording of deeds to lots given away with tickets at moving picture shows in different parts of the State. The following from the Cloverdale “Reveille” will be read with interest:

Cloverdale business men have the last several days received letters from parties making inquiries regarding “Cloverdale Heights” and another piece of property which bears the rather high sounding title of “Cloverdale Terrace.” These inquiries, which come from San Francisco and other cities, some from as far as Kansas City, Mo., are from people who have invested small sums of money under the delusions that they were securing a fine summer home overlooking Cloverdale. In some instances the inquiries show a lack of information regarding the location of Cloverdale, evidently believing the “Orange City” is a suburb of San Francisco and connected with the metropolis by cable or trolley car. The Reveille is informed that the Recorder’s office is kept busy placing deeds on record to lots in the above named tracts. As near as can be learned “Cloverdale Heights” is nothing more than a rugged piece of land located about three miles northwest of Cloverdale via air line, with no road leading to the land, except an old untraveled one new unfit for use. Until sold a short time ago it was owned by Erik Angler, who took it up as a homestead some years ago.

– Press Democrat, April 13, 1912
“Does San Francisco Street Car Line Run Out to Cloverdale Heights?” Asks One Enquirer

Wouldn’t this jar you?

“Will you tell me if the San Francisco electric car system runs to the place?” asks an inquirer in a letter for information about Cloverdale Heights, one of the rock-bound “paradises” for which tickets are being “given away” in chances in moving picture houses, presumably all over the country. This inquiry came from a lot “winner” in Kansas City.

Such a big laugh. And yet it is quite possible that the inquirer had been led to believe that the beautiful city of Cloverdale was located on the electric car system of San Francisco, when in reality it is many miles away and on the line of the Northwestern Pacific. Some time since the Cloverdale people considered the taking of some steps to prevent deception practiced upon unsuspecting people by such clap-trap as the proposition mentioned.

The other day a well-known citizen of Cloverdale called at the office of County Recorder Fred G. Nagle to ask where the “Heights” were located, and was surprised to find that such a place really existed.

Still They Come

Stacks of deeds are still being received at the Recorder’s office from lot owners in the several plots that are being handled in different parts of Sonoma county by means of the moving picture house tickets. The plan has been explained several times in this and other papers. But people are still biting. The recording of these deeds has thrown Recorder Nagle and his force away behind with the regular work. The recording of legitimate transactions has been very heavy for months on account of the activity in the realty business and the many new settlers who are coming to the county and purchasing homes.

Came From Denver

A few days ago a man came to Recorder Nagle’s office. He had traveled to Sonoma county from Denver, Colorado, to inspect the lots he had become heir to through holding “a lucky number.” In addition, he had been induced to purchase an adjoining lot. It cost him his time and about $200 to come to the “ideal summer site.” He turned back disgusted and went home.

The plan has progressed far beyond the boundaries of California, as this instance indicates. Recorder Nagle is now receiving many letters of inquiry from many States in the Union, and especially has this been so during the past few days. It is impossible for him to answer all the letters that come. They arrive in stacks. Two thirds of the heavy mail received at the Recorder’s office Thursday was made up of these deeds to lots.

As much as possible, Recorder Nagle, County Assessor Frank E. Dowd, and the newspapers of this city and county have been sending broadcast that the great county of Sonoma, with its unequaled resources and matchless climate, has nothing whatever to do with this false boom of practically worthless property. It could all be avoided if people would reason out the improbability of securing for the song of a few dollars–$6.50 for the deed–must be in the nature of a catch for an easy mark.

– Press Democrat, May 24, 1912

Read More


There was no driver’s license exam in 1911, which was probably just as well; few people would have passed it.

(RIGHT: Fourth street, looking east from between B and A streets. The white building with the red and white awning on the left is currently labeled the “Zap building”. Image courtesy Larry Lapeere collection)

Automobiles had claimed Santa Rosa’s downtown streets by that year – in the postcard shown to the right there is not a single horse-drawn buggy or cart, nor a telltale plop of manure (but note the guy toodling down the wrong side of the street).

There were more cars to be seen simply because more households had cars, and that was because they were now far more affordable. The basic Ford model “T” had been recently introduced to Northern California and it cost $695, or about the same as the town’s average household annual income (and by 1915, a new Ford would cost only half as much). Better still, Studebaker dealerships began offering a revolutionary new thing called an “auto loan.” Press Democrat editor Ernest Finley did journalistic backflips of joy announcing the news, introducing it as dialog between characters from a series of popular humorous short stories: “Cheer up. You’ll get one yet. Automobiles are to be sold on the installment plan from now on. It’s a fine day Mawruss! Can you beat it?” (“Mawruss” was the name “Morris” spoken in Eastern European dialect.)

Each of those new cars was supposed to be registered with the state (two dollars a year, please) but until 1914 there was no requirement that Mr. or Ms. Reckless Driver have a license, much less any knowhow on how to operate the machine safely. The exceptions were “chauffeurs,” which in that era meant any driver-for-hire. A chauffeur had to be 21, personally registered with California’s Secretary of State along with the make and horsepower of the vehicle, and wear at all times while driving a numbered aluminum badge “upon his clothing in a conspicuous place.” But while the applicant had to swear an oath that he had at least three months experience behind the wheel and “was familiar with the mechanism of motor vehicles,” there was no provision for revoking the license should the person prove incompetent. Most of the law concerned instead the description and treatment of the badge.

But even if drivers were required to pass some sort of written state test, it would have been so short as to fit on a postcard (unless it included questions about that damn badge). California motor vehicle laws were few and rudimentary – don’t endanger people or property, be careful while passing horses, operate at a reasonable speed, and that sort of thing. It wasn’t until 1911 that the state even required drivers to stop after a collision and made drunk driving a serious offense.

Instead, California relied upon cities and counties to set their own rules of the road, which ended up creating a crazy quilt of inconsistent laws. In Petaluma motorcycles were required to have mufflers; not so in Santa Rosa (many bikers apparently believe this is still the case). Santa Rosa drivers were required to toot their horns near intersections. Lake County required motorists to pull off the road and turn off their engine if a horse was approaching.

Worst of all were the inconsistent speed limits. Santa Rosa had set a single speed limit of 10 MPH in 1908 (amid much griping from car owners that it was so slow that engines might stall) which was about the speed of a bicyclist – an important comparison point to know, as many cars did not have speedometers. But Oakland had a speed limit of 18 MPH in residential areas while L.A. traffic ordinances set the speed limits of 12 MPH downtown, 8 MPH in tunnels and 20 MPH otherwise, except for track crossings when 6 MPH was the max. Driving over 30 MPH in Los Angeles was a mandatory ten days or more in jail.

Before radar guns, policemen learned to use stopwatches – and thus was born the speed trap.

Santa Rosa’s historian and humorist Tom Gregory joked that the city streets were a potential “gold mine” if only the city were to crack down on speeders. (Five years earlier, he proposed a similar idea to profit on bicyclists riding on sidewalks.) “The streets out in the vicinity of Grace Brothers Park [intersection of College and Fourth] would yield a rich monthly revenue, and Mendocino avenue north of Cherry street would pay the salary of the plain-clothes man stationed in that locality,” he suggested. Everyone would benefit, Gregory teased; the ticket-writing officer in the police force – “each man of it stacks up like a Greek god” – would ride like a king in splendor down to the station where the offender would pay the speeding ticket. And besides, the tickets would be like a badge of honor for many car owners: “The sporty driver would like nothing better than several notches on his steering wheel, recording the number of fines he had paid. Such would prove his mettle and establish his standing as an up-to-date car buster.”

New Law Passed by Legislature Will Be Bar to Future Careless Driving

A check to intemperance on the part of a driver of an automobile, or other motor vehicle is placed by a law just enacted by the Legislature. The danger of an intoxicated driver having been very apparent on many occasions in different parts of the State, a law was introduced and passed. It provides as follows:


– Press Democrat, April 8, 1911

Important Innovation in Selling Methods Now Being Inaugurated by Studebaker Corporation

Cheer up. You’ll get one yet. Automobiles are to be sold on the installment plan from now on. It’s a fine day Mawruss! Can you beat it?

The Studebaker Corporation, the $45,000,000 concern which manufactures the “E. M. F.” and “Flanders” cars, is about to inaugurate an entirely new policy in the matter of selling its product, and one that will in all probability revolutionize automobile salesmanship. Notices are now being sent out to agents of the company in references to the matter.

In brief, the company’s plan is to accept part cash with notes for the balance from responsible parties. Of course, to a concern in a position to finance such commercial paper, notes from the right parties are as good as the cash. But heretofore the purchase of an automobile has been a cash proposition, that is, as far as the manufacturing company was concerned. If an agent here and there found himself in a position to accommodate a customer and did so, it was his own business. When the machine was shipped from the factory the money had to be there to pay for it.

It is generally conceded that the new plan of selling now being inaugurated by the Studebaker Corporation is the most important innovation that has for years developed in connection with the automobile industry. It means that the automobile has ceased to be a luxury and has become a recognized necessity, and as such takes its place on the same plane with other necessities of business life, practically all of which with the exception of the auto has been sold “on terms to suit.”


– Press Democrat, December 9, 1911

Chief J. M. Boyes desires to call the special attention of all automobile owners and drivers to the law which requires machines to be equipped with two bright lights in front and a red light in the rear, showing to the opposite direction. Also to the fact that the law requires drivers to sound a warning with a horn as they approach corners. Orders have been issued calling for a strict compliance with the law as it is equally important as that limiting the speed.

Three more speed burners were arrested Sunday by the police for exceeding the speed limits within the city limits. Each put up $15 which City Recorder Bagley declared forfeited Monday when he called court.

– Press Democrat, May 30, 1911

Editor the Press Democrat: Touching the “matter of rights on the streets or public highways, and the general rights of vehicles thereon,” in this locality as ably referred to in your issue of Wednesday morning, I desire to add a paragraph. I am not reflecting on the financial foresight of our city governors when I say that this municipality has here, within its limits, a mine, and the good yellow metal–free gold, and oodles of it, is not utilized. O, the shame of it! The mother lode stretches along Fourth street from the railroad on the west to the cityline on the east. The outcroppings of paying ore show well all along the way, increasing in value as it nears McDonald avenue. East of that point the rock will assay pure gold, 24-carats fine. A branch ledge runs north along Mendocino avenue, growing stronger in the indications as it approaches and passes College avenue, when it abruptly shows free gold. Another branch ledge swings off at right angles from the main lode, running down Main street to the creek. Across the bridge the outcrop is so rich that it is practically minted and ready for circulation.

This is not a guessing contest, and the point appears: Every day of the year, and many nights of the year, at the east, west, north and south localities of the thoroughfares given in the foregoing, automobiles and motorcycles are driven at a rate of speed regardless of the “matter of rights on the streets and public highways, and the general rights or vehicles thereon.” Not only are these machines turned loose to burn up the miles at these points remote from the policeman’s sight, but around the plaza and in the central portion of the city they rush along the streets with no regard for the rules-of-the-road, right side, left side, any old side–whirling the corners, cutting the segment of the curb, endangering life and motor, hurrying to get somewhere, anywhere, under the drive of the speed-fiend that roosts on the steering wheel of these rushing machines. Occasionally the slow-moving and harmless bicyclist is picked up on the sidewalk, but the autoist, hurling his ponderous mass of wood and steel among pedestrians and other vehicles, goes free. Why? I have seen women and small children in the streets of Santa Rosa spring frantically from before a speeding automobile, whose driver should have been arrested and fined. I saw a young fellow in his big car the size of a locomotive, drive as close to a lady scrambling across the street as he could without hitting her, and he whizzed past highly amused at her fright.

The city needs money, and here is the gold mine. Let measures be taken to check and regulate this rush of motors in the crowded streets. Let measures be taken to watch the thoroughfares beyond the police beats. The streets out in the vicinity of Grace Brothers Park would yield a rich monthly revenue, and Mendocino avenue north of Cherry street would pay the salary of the plain-clothes man stationed in that locality. And the gleanings from Petaluma and Sebastopol avenues and the ordinary pick-ups in the vicinity of the court house would sweep the streets. The auto folks wont [sic] mind it. The sporty driver would like nothing better than several notches on his steering wheel, recording the number of fines he had paid. Such would prove his mettle and establish his standing as an up-to-date car buster. Moreover, every conscientious autoist would be glad to have him “run in” at lightning speed, and much good money burned out of him. The summer is coming–and so are the hosts of automobiles. The town does not need them, but it needs the coin of the speed breakers–domestic and foreign. We have a fine police force. Each man of it stacks up like  a Greek god. The blue of his uniform is as deep in dye as the royal purple of Tyre, and the gleam of his buttons makes the noonday look twilightish. How fitting his personal splendor would be a grand auto-car and he aboard it like a king enthroned, on his way to the police station–for the purpose of observing the owner of the machine donate a bunch of dollars to this needy municipality. That would be a parade worth while, and the grand cop would be making money, and history for the town.

Tom Gregory.

– Press Democrat, May 26, 1911

A prominent Santa Rosa woman is much enthused over the fact that in the city of Petaluma they have adopted a new ordinance, which compels riders of motorcycles to put mufflers on their machines and thus stop the distracting noise that often frightens and annoys people and startles horses. She is heartily in favor of the Santa Rosa city council adopting a similar ordinance, and so expressed her sentiments when she called for that purpose at the Press Democrat office. The city dads may be applied to later on.

– Press Democrat, July 21, 1911

Read More