wildwest1880

2½ TALES FROM OUR WILD WEST DAYS

Yay, sesquicentennial! So what was Sonoma county really like in 1868? If a movie was made of Santa Rosa in those days, would it have the flavor of the sweet little town in “The Music Man” or the sort of rough place seen in “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral?”

I recently visited the Midwest and while waiting at the St. Louis airport I met a very nice Dutch family (Jan, if you’re reading this, please get in touch; I lost your business card). They found it novel to meet someone from the West Coast, then became excited when they learned I was a local historian – to them, this place called Santa Rosa was somewhere between Deadwood and Dodge City.

Jan used to follow the Wild West festival circuit around Europe (yep, that’s really a thing). He even had a custom-made Indian costume which he said was authentic down to the eagle feathers. (NOTE: the feathers were probably imitations, as it’s illegal to sell them in the U.S.)

He peppered me with questions: Does our history museum have any guns of famous outlaws? (Uh, I doubt it.) Was Billy the Kid ever here? (No.) Jesse James? (No.) Wild Bill Hickok? (No.) Buffalo Bill? (Yes, but only with his circus.) Was there an army fort? (No.) Did Indians go on the warpath? (Oh, please.) Were there gunfighter shootouts? (No.) Were there lynchings? (Sure, the last being in 1920 – which gave him such pause that he asked me to write down the year to make sure he understood correctly.)

There never really was a “Wild West” here, I explained; Sonoma county was mostly settled by farmers from Missouri, and as a result the people in Santa Rosa and the rest of the county acted pretty much like, well, Missouri farmers. Yeah, it was unusual that Santa Rosa cheered for the Confederacy to win the Civil War and anti-Chinese racism was virulent, but there was never exceptional violence or lawlessness in Sonoma county during the latter 19th century. Then reflecting on our conversations during my long flight back to California, I regretted portraying that our history was ever so clear cut.

First, Sonoma county indeed had the sort of Old West outlaws that so intrigued my friend from Holland – he even might have heard of the poetically-inclined “Black Bart” who robbed three stage coaches here. B.B. gets all the press, but there was also the Cloverdale-based Houx Gang in 1871 and just a bit further north there was the cattle rustling and stage robbing Buck English Gang in the mid-1870s (and yes, Jan, his gun is in a museum). This pattern of stick-em-ups continued through the next decade with Dick Fellows and others whose names were never known.

As per Missouri: Sure, Santa Rosa’s love of Dixie came from Missouri families often having deep ties to the Old South – but it was simplistic to say those Missouri immigrants hung on to all their Midwestern values once they were here. Even a deeply-rooted belief in civility can be degraded when someone is dropped into a frontier situation, where there are loose rules for conduct and weak institutions. All of the tales told below show the result; there are acts of impetuous behavior which never would have been tolerated back in their hometowns – including person-on-person violence and community vigilantism.

Historian Frederick Jackson Turner discussed this across several essays about the unique problems of the American frontier. When people are “unchecked by restraints of an old social order,” it didn’t matter if the frontier was the Carolinas during the 1730s, Missouri in the 1810s or California in the 1850s. The pattern was the same: American pioneers were quick to take the law into their own hands instead of waiting for the legal system to preserve order. “If the thing was one proper to be done, then the most immediate, rough and ready, effective way was the best way.” That often meant lynching or pulling out a pistol.

Turner also pointed out that “a crime was more an offense against the victim than a violation of the law” and an insult or show of disrespect could swiftly lead to violence. Add the presence of firearms and a confrontation which might never have gone beyond shouting or bloody noses can become deadly. And that brings us to the first tale from our Wild West days.

This is the “half” tale, which means I’m only summarizing it because you should read the whole story in John Schubert/Valerie Munthe’s Hidden History of Sonoma County. It’s a gripping yarn and well told by them; the book also has a chapter that reveals the history of Houx Gang (I once tried to figure out their doings, but there was so much confusing info I gave up). All together, “Hidden History” is easily the best book on Sonoma county history published in ages. My only quibbles are the lack of footnotes/endnotes, and the title grossly overpromises – a full “hidden history” would fill bookcases. As of this writing, it’s even on sale at the Santa Rosa Costco.

In 1867, Charles Henley killed James Rowland. The two farmers lived about a half-mile apart near Windsor, and there was bad blood between them because Henley’s pigs kept getting loose. Rowland corralled some of those hogs and Henley went over to fetch them, carrying a shotgun; there was a confrontation inside the pig pen and Rowland was shot dead at close range. The animals would mutilate his body until it was later discovered.

Later that night Henley visited a friend, confessed to the shooting and sought advice. The friend urged Henley to ride over to Windsor and surrender to the authorities, though he was hesitant because “they are all Odd Fellows,” as was Rowland. Henley also asked the friend not to tell his hired hand because he was likewise a I.O.O.F. member, but the man had overheard Henley’s confession anyway. Henley turned himself in the next morning and later that day, members of the Windsor Odd Fellows Lodge showed up to claim the body. Lodge members wore their badge of mourning for thirty days.

Henley was taken to the county jail to await trial. Exactly thirty days after the killing, Santa Rosa’s night watchman was surprised by four masked men. “Keep quiet,” he was told, “there are 150 of us, well-armed, and we have come to take a certain man out of jail.” The watchman was held captive and soon joined by the jailer. Another of the masked vigilantes encountered a policeman on patrol and held the officer at gunpoint.

The jailer was forced to open Henley’s cell and the prisoner was bound and gagged before being carried away. His body was found hanging about a mile west of town in what’s now the Roseland district.

There was an outcry over the lynching in both the local press and the big San Francisco newspapers, with a reward of $2,000 offered for information on the identity of the mob. Any suggestion that the masked men were Odd Fellows was met with fierce denial and the pursuit of the guilty was soon forgotten.

Then just a few days after the lynching there was another killing in Santa Rosa.

Around midnight on the night of June 20, 1867, Byrd Brumfield used his pocket knife to slash John Strong to death at Griffin’s Saloon. The number of wounds varied between 7-16, depending on who was telling the story. Although witnesses testified that Strong was running for the door at the time, the Coroner’s Jury ruled that Brumfield had killed him in self defense. Testimony also revealed Strong had a six-shooter that he may (or may not) have attempted to draw, but the verdict seemed to come down to the jury being told that nobody liked Strong  and Brumfield was a good guy.*

Between the slashing and the lynching, we can all probably agree 1867 was a pretty violent year in Santa Rosa (and remember, that was the year just before the one which we are about to sesquicentennial-ly celebrate). Still, the Sonoma Democrat boasted after Brumfield was acquitted, “to the credit of our town, that this is the first man ever killed in Santa Rosa. Few California towns can say as much.” That of course was technically true, as Henley had been just strung up outside of city limits and when Michael Ryan had buried the point of a pickaxe in his poor wife’s head two years earlier, his murder victim was not male.

Brumfield apparently decided that a pocket knife was no longer adequate for his needs. The following year he had an argument with Captain L. A. Norton and both men drew their guns. Brumfield fired four times before Norton’s sidearm left his holster and the Mexican War vet was wounded in the left hand. A jury again ruled Brumfield merely acted in self-defense.

In his youth Byrd had worked on the big Brumfield family farm, somewhere in the Russian River valley. By the 1870 census he appears at age 32 with the profession of “sporting man,” by which we can assume means he was a professional gambler. By 1875 he found himself blacklisted by all saloon owners around Healdsburg; we don’t know if that was because he was a card shark or just a violent alcoholic.

“Byrd’s on a big drunk today,” Harry Truitt warned those sitting in front of a Healdsburg Hotel on an afternoon that November. Brumfield was more than just liquored up – he was looking for a fight.

“There’s been a big poker game in town,” Byrd told a friend. “I’m going to play poker in this town,” adding he had been kept out of the bars long enough.

“They don’t treat me right in this town,” he told another, who asked, “Who don’t treat you right?”

“These Zane boys; they’ve got rich now and don’t notice a common man. I knew them when they didn’t have a cent: then they treated me all right. I’m going into Will Zane’s saloon today or die; and I’ll get away with it if I go in.”

Byrd held some sort of grudge against Willis Zane; six months earlier, Brumfield had borrowed Zane’s revolver only to turn it on the owner and attempt to kill him (or so the “special reporter” for the Sonoma Democrat wrote). Zane was warned that Byrd was drinking and telling people he intended to show up at the bar. “I’ll let them know that I’m not dead yet, but don’t care a damn how soon,” said the drunken Brumfield.

Shortly before sunset, Byrd staggered into Zane’s saloon. Willis told him twice to get out. Byrd didn’t say a word, but moved towards Willis (it was unclear whether his gun was drawn or his hand was still reaching under his coat). Zane drew his pistol from a pocket and shot three times. Byrd Brumfield was dead.

The Coroner’s Jury acquitted Zane, declaring it was justifiable homicide, but much of the testimony was a mirror image of the 1867 inquest – only this time, nobody liked Brumfield and Zane was the good guy.

The takeaway from the story is not that Byrd Brumfield was a bad guy (which is pretty indisputable); it’s how every time he had a beef with someone, he expected that other person to be armed. And he was right.

Scholars like to point out communities in the Wild West had strict no-gun laws, requiring those entering town to check firearms with a peace officer – remember the plot of “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” While that’s true, our local newspapers also show there were multiple “shooting affrays” every year in Sonoma county, although rarely did the incidents end in a death or even injury.

It’s doubtful anyone ever walked the mean streets of Healdsburg or Santa Rosa with a gun holstered on his hip (other than lawmen), but all those affray items reveal too many people were certainly packing under that Victorian garb. Often they were the Usual Suspects (see Male: young, drunkenness of) but others would probably be surprising. Captain Lewis A. Norton, the man Brumfield shot in the hand, was not a cocky ne’er-do-well; he was a middle-aged Healdsburg lawyer and local Democratic party bigwig, a former Justice of the Peace who ran for county judge the year before he was shot, then state senate a year after.

And sometimes the shooters were even women.


J. G. Hill of Forestville, better known as “Sock” Hill, while on his way to church at Forestville last Sunday evening, was fired at twice by Miss Georgia Travis. The first shot passed close to his left ear and through the rim of his hat, the second shot missing him entirely. Miss Travis was arrested Monday morning, on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder…

That little item appeared in the Healdsburg Enterprise and other local papers in September 1879. (The item right below it, incidentally, was another shooting affray, describing a 21 year-old Lakeport bartender killing a patron who was told to leave but went for his gun instead.)

Details emerged a few days later: Sock – whose real name was Joshua – along with two young women, were walking to a Sunday night church service, as was Georgia. As they passed Faudre’s Chair Factory (there’s a reference sure to excite Forestville historians), Georgia drew her “bull-dog” pistol and began shooting at him. After firing both shots, she handed the gun over to a man who intervened. Sock and his women friends sat through the entire service (!) then went to Santa Rosa to file a complaint. He said Georgia had been threatening to kill him for over a year and he was afraid. The Grand Jury dropped the charges for lack of evidence, and it was never explained why she wanted the 42 year-old man dead. All she ever said was that she had been “slandered” by him.

Another month passed and there was a meeting of the Forestville Blue Ribbon Club, part of a very popular nationwide evangelical temperance movement. Although it was a night of heavy rain, 60-70 still turned out including women and children. Sock Hill attended as did Georgia Travis and her brothers, Wirt and John.

John was seated two rows behind Hill, and Wirt was the same distance in front. John reached over and punched Hill in the face. Sock Hill jumped up and confronted John Travis, drawing his gun. Wirt Travis then shot Hill point blank in the base of his skull. Amazingly, he would remain conscious until he died about fifteen hours later.

Panic ensued. John Travis apparently fired his own gun and Wirt shot again, wounding a bystander in the leg as he fled the room along with the dozens of other attendees. In court testimony there would be the usual claims and counterclaims – Hill fired his gun, John did not, John socked Hill because he turned around “made a face at me,” Wirt claimed he shot Hill because he believed his brother’s life was in danger, &c.

Wirt was found guilty of manslaughter and sent to San Quentin. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty for his brother John. “One of the most exciting trials ever had in Sonoma county,” sighed the Sonoma Democrat, having stretched the sensationalist coverage over two issues.

So there you are, Jan; I was mistaken to tell you at the airport that we were just a bunch of boring ol’ Missouri farmers. There absolutely was a true gun culture here in Sonoma county, and our communities – with somewhat of an exception for Petaluma – were very much gun-toting “Wild West” towns. Here I’ve only describe some of our frontier-type violence over a dozen years, but there could be dozens of essays like this to document all our uncivil behavior in the latter 19th century.

And don’t presume the pistol-packin’ days ended with the Gaslight Era. As documented here earlier, it was common to carry a “bicycle revolver” at least through the 1910s. There was also a dramatic four-way shootout in 1907 that managed to avoid hurting anyone seriously because no one knew how to aim.

A final note: Lest anyone rush to claim that crimes were deterred in those 50+ years of locals carrying concealed weapons, let it be known that I’ve never found an incident where a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a gun. Instead, it’s a miserable chronicle of holdup men using them to scare victims, fools and drunkards wielding these deadly toys at times of heated emotions, plus a hearty portion of gun owners shooting themselves by accident. Just tragedies with a dose of farce.

 

* Later that year Byrd’s sister, Jane, married an Alfred Strong, who is listed in the 1860 census as a farmer living in the Brumfield family home. I cannot find any family connection between him and John Strong. Byrd was living with the Alfred Strongs in the 1870 census.

 

Quick Work.—Santa Rosa might be called a fast place in some respects. This week a man was killed, buried, and the perpetrator examined and discharged, all in less than twenty-four hours. We may remark, to the credit of our town, that this is the first man ever killed in Santa Rosa. Few California towns can say as much.

– Sonoma Democrat, June 22 1867

 

Disgraceful. —We regret to see in the San Francisco Police Gazette a disgusting wood cut, purporting to represent Byrd Brumfield in the act of killing John Strong in Santa Rosa on the night of the 20th of June. The Gazette was grossly deceived by its informant in regard to the relations of the parties, circumstances of the killing, and burial of Strong. The latter, we learn, was buried under directions of a relative, had a good coffin, and was decently interred.

– Sonoma Democrat, July 6 1867

 

Testimony in the Case of the People vs Brumfield

[inquest]

– Sonoma Democrat, October 26 1867

 

Death of Byrd Brumfield.

[inquest]

– Russian River Flag, November 18 1875
– Sonoma Democrat, November 20 1875

 

From Forestvllle. Our regular correspondent writes us November 11th, as follows; “Forestvllle against the world. We have said this before and have occasion to reiterate it now. Saturday night last, 8th Inst., was one of our dark limes, and we were pained to witness such scenes as then occurred in our usually quiet village. As our tempetauce club was about to be called to order its peace and quiet was disturbed and the lives of women and children endangered by two brothers, Wirt and John Travis, who assaulted and shot to death J. G. Hill. The meeting was of course broken up for the evening, and the Society will hereafter convene at the Christian Church instead of the hall. Mr. Hill’s funeral took place at 2 o’clock on Monday, and the high esteem in which he was held by the community was manifested in the unusually large number of persons who attended the obsequies, over three hundred persons escorting his remains to the grave. He was a kind hearted man; one who was always ready to help the needy and to accommodate his neighbors. During an acquaintance of twelve years your correspondent always found him correct in his dealings, and his neighbors generally deplore his untimely death.

– Sonoma Democrat, November 15 1879

 

People Vs. Wirt Travis

[testimony]

– Sonoma Democrat, March 20 and 27 1880

 

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pocketgun

WHY YES, THAT IS A GUN IN MY POCKET

Questions we forgot to ask grandpa at the reunions: Did you ever shoot anyone? Were you ever shot at? Did you ever shoot yourself?

Open any Sonoma county newspaper from a century ago and prepare to be surprised at how often our ancestors reached for their guns to shoot someone. Keep in mind we’re not discussing the rootin’ tootin’ days of the Wild West but the early 20th century, when Santa Rosa and the rest of the looked pretty much like any place in Mid-America, particularly after 1910 or so. Breakfast was poured from a cereal box, people chatted on telephones, electric appliances were in the kitchens and in the evenings kids listened to recorded music their parents didn’t like. It wasn’t so different from today except everyone’s clothing had too much starch and men’s pockets bulged with guns.

It appears most were packing a snub-nosed “bicycle revolver,” so named because it was small enough to be carried by a cyclist to fend off dog attacks. There were many models that promised to prevent accidents by being “hammerless” with no exterior hammer to catch on clothing and/or with grips which prevented the trigger from being pulled unless the handle was being squeezed at the same time. Still, there were many cheap little .32 and .38 caliber revolvers available with no safety features at all – sometimes not even having trigger guards. As a result, the most likely person to be shot was the gun owner himself and filler items in the papers reported doctors patching up many a leg and foot wound.

When they did draw their weapons and begin blasting away our ancestors proved to be lousy marksmen, with their intended victims rarely seriously injured or even hit. In one of the wildest events chronicled here, Santa Rosa barber Andy Carrillo was in a four-way shootout in 1907 where he shot one man in the chest, causing a fright but little harm. When another of Carrillo’s bullets grazed someone else, that fellow pulled out his own gun and the two of them began shooting at point-blank range, both missing entirely. When the case came to trial, Carrillo went free – he was not even found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. But had he not slightly wounded the guy, the customary penalty for shooting at someone was merely a fine of $5 for each shot fired.

Among the shooting stories of 1913 was an incident near Guerneville that seems like a sketch from an old cartoon: Boys steal Farmer Jones’ fruit, Farmer Jones puts up a warning sign, boys steal fruit again and Farmer Jones peppers them with his trusty ol’ shotgun. Not so comic was that his gun was loaded with lead buckshot, not salt, and the boys were not comically wounded in the backside as they were running away. Farmer Jones badly injured one of them, with a doctor removing 24 pellets from a youngster’s face. This time the grand jury called it assault with a deadly weapon, but the judge allowed him to plead down to simple assault because he hadn’t intended to hit the kid in the face – he was aiming for their feet but alas, missed. Pay the forty dollar fine, please.

The other episode happened in downtown Santa Rosa. Since the previous year, the Rose theater was the target of pranksters, who jumped on the roof, shouted “fire,” and otherwise tried to panic the audience. Police were called to no avail. This time the manager grabbed his gun, ran through the restaurant next door and began firing away, although it was so dark he could not identify the people he was shooting at. Naturally, no one was wounded. This story had an unexpected O’Henry twist, however, when it was discovered that the theater projectionist was in on the malicious mischief: It was a cover for his theft of little parts and tools from the theater, along with his breaking some equipment which he could steal after the theater bought replacements. He pled guilty to petty larceny and was given a fine of $90 – or, as they might have said around the courthouse, two face-shots plus a couple of grazes.

BYSTANDER HIT BY BULLET AND SUES FOR DAMAGES

Peter Daliavanto, a 19-year-old youth, through his guardian ad litem, A. Bacci, commenced an action in the Superior Court yesterday against J. W. Leroux, a well known Cloverdale citizen, in recovering $750 damages.

The complaint alleges that on September 13, plaintiff was struck in the leg by a bullet and sustained severe injuries. He alleges that the bullet came from a revolver in Leroux’s hands at a time when defendant was aiming at A. Guicco for the purpose, as he alleges, killing Guicco. In other words, he says he was an innocent bystander and that Leroux’s aim was unsteady and the bullet intended for Guicco stuck him.

Allison B. Ware and Phil Ware are the attorneys for the plaintiff. The complaint gives the first news here of the alleged assault upon Guicco by Mr. Leroux. It is known here that Mr. Leroux has been worried over domestic troubles for some time.

– Press Democrat, October 1, 1913
ONE OF A GANG OF VANDALS ANNOYING THE ROSE JAILED

With the plea of guilty made by C. Croft before Judge Atchinson, Monday afternoon, petty thievery which has extended back for almost six months at the Rose Theater, was brought to an abrupt end. Croft pleaded guilty to the charge of petty larceny preferred by C. N. Carrington. He was sentenced to a fine of $90 or ninety days in the county jail, and elected to serve out his sentence.

The arrest is the culmination of a long series of thefts and acts of rowdyism after the shows were out, which have perplexed and bothered the management of the Rose Theater since last June. With the giving of a false alarm of fire early in June last the management has been continually harassed by several unknown individuals. Throwing rocks on the roof of the theatre was a favorite pastime of the hoodlums. This was stopped when Mr. Carrington ran through the restaurant next the theater and fired at the men. The first time the trigger was pulled the gun failed to go off and this is responsible for the saving of the life of one man as he had time to get out of the way before Mr. Carrington could pull the trigger again. One shot was fired at a man who was on the roof of the theater but the bullet did not take effect.

During this time many things have been stolen from the theater and several machines broken. Suspicions fell on Croft, the operator, who has been with the theater ever since it was opened. A search warrant was issued Sunday morning and Chief of Police Boyes and Constable John Pemberton went to Croft’s residence, on Santa Rosa avenue. They found a lense [sic] from the machine first broken, a roll of tickets and a number of tools. They later searched the attic of the theater and found a moving picture machine and a number of parts of machines which had been stolen and hidden in the loft.

Croft was arrested and readily confessed his guilt. He said that he had no excuse to offer and could give no reason for his actions other than it was a policy of his to steal little things at every job he had. He said that he smashed the machines because he wanted Mr. Carrington to get new ones.

It is known that several were involved in the plans to harass and annoy the Carringtons, as different ones have been seen about the place at the same time. It is believed that Croft is one of a gang and could throw some light on the attacks if he were so inclined. The Carringtons have been put at a loss of about $500 altogether by the work of the gang.

One moving picture machine was stolen, another taken out and left on the roof of the building and a lamp-house valued at $40 was broken all to pieces Saturday night after the last performance. It was this last act of vandalism which led to the discovery of Croft’s part in the job. It is known that he is the only one on the inside who has been involved but the authorities have a clew on which they are working which may lead to the arrest of his associates.

– Press Democrat, January 28, 1913
IRATE FARMER SHOOTS YOUTHS
Boys Stealing Fruit Give Severe Treatment

Warning.

I have a shot-gun. It is not loaded with salt.

I use No. 8 shot. Stay out of this orchard.

Disregarding the above sign which is prominently displayed in front of a peach orchard above Guernewood Park three boys were shot Sunday and more or less seriously injured by the owner of the orchard. One of the boys was shot in the face, the other in the neck and the third in the hand and stomach.

The boys were found a few moments later by Sheriff Jack Smith, who took them in his auto and rushed them to Rionido where they were given medical attention. One of the boys had twenty-four of the shots taken out of his face.

The farmer who shot them claimed to have been bothered so much with people stealing his fruit that he was compelled to resort to heroic measures to save his crops. He put up the sign which is about then feet square. The boys admitted that they saw the sign but “took a chance.” They decided not to prosecute the farmer, and all parties considered themselves well out of the mixup.

– Santa Rosa Republican Ju;y 7, 1913
FARMERS ARE VICTIMS OF LAWLESS HOODLUMS

A few days ago a Sonoma County farmer was indicted for shooting at some boys who had been caught stealing his fruit. The boys had been warned repeatedly but took no notice nor paid the least attention to the signs that had been placed in plain sight to warn trespassers. Now what was the farmer to do? He had been annoyed repeatedly by summer campers coming into his orchard, taking no heed to his warnings, so when the boys bent on stealing, came into his property he was so incensed that he raised his gun and fired the shot hitting all of the boys.

This is only one case of trespassing. The farmers in this and other countries also are being repeatedly annoying by summer campers going on their places, stealing fruit, shooting in many cases killing stock, and destroying sometimes many thousands of dollars of property, by carelessly throwing burning cigarette and cigar stubs in the dry grass.

What would the city man think if you came to his yard and set fire to his house? The people seem to take no notice of the signs placed near approaching roads and trails; in many instances tearing them down or disfiguring them so that it is impossible to read them.

Now can you blame the farmer when he takes the law into his own hands, when the people treat him as if he were an agent to serve them and long after their pleasures?

– Marvin A. Watson letter, Santa Rosa Republican July 21, 1913
PEPPERED BOYS AND IS FINED $40
Farmer Jones Dealt With Leniently by Judge Seawell Here on Monday

Farmer J. C. Jones who “peppered” three San Francisco boys with small shot while they were robbing his peach orchard, located on top of a hill, some distance from Guerneville, appeared in Judge Seawell’s department of the Superior Court on Monday to answer the Grand Jury indictment, charging him with assault with a deadly weapon. He was allowed to plead guilty to a charge of simple assault, and under the circumstances the Court was lenient with Mr. Jones, who is seventy years of age, and fined him forty dollars.

Jones told the Court of the depredations of the young hoodlums in his orchard on a number of occasions. This case was an aggravating one. He had already given the boys a basket of cherries, he said, and while his back was turned they broke into his orchard and filled baskets and hats with fine fruit and decamped. Next day they broke into the orchard and stole fruit again. The third time they came they were received with a volley of small shot from Mr. Jones’ gun.

Farmer Jones told the court that he had not intended that any of the shot should hit the boys in the face. He said he aimed at their feet, but was fired down hill.

Several good citizens of Guerneville were on hand to give Mr. Jones a good character…

…Dr. C. J. Schmelz was called as a witness. He is the resident physician at Rionido, and he extracted the small shot from the boys’ anatomy. The boys admitted to him that they had been stealing fruit, and said they did not wish anything to be done to Mr. Jones.

– Press Democrat, August 13, 1913

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THE PECULIAR WAYS WE WERE

Let’s go hunting for the “peculiar” items in the 1910 Santa Rosa newspapers – the offbeat or odd or just damned strange. This time the theme is mostly advertising; Gentle Reader might also want to check out “Did’ja Hear About…” which covers other odd news stories for the year and “The Peculiar is What is Missed Most,” which is the roundup of similar articles from 1909.

Before getting to the funny stuff, some housekeeping is necessary, as this is the final entry for the year 1910. By this time the Comstocks were well settled in to Santa Rosa, as described in a separate item. Also covered previously was the death of Maria S. Solomon, the mother of Mattie Oates, whose demise three weeks into January must have cast a shadow over their fine house on Mendocino avenue. Hints also appeared in the society columns that Mattie’s health was beginning to fail. In April she and Wyatt spent a month in Southern California, where they made auto trips with close friends Mrs. Dorothy Farmer and her daughter Hazel. On their return the Press Democrat gossip columnist remarked “she is well and strong again.”

The new year had started cheerfully for the Oates; on New Years’ Eve, he served as master of ceremonies at a large card party at the Saturday Afternoon Club. There he handed out prizes for events such as the “gentlemen’s noise contest,” where undertaker W. B. Ward’s drum won out over a state assemblyman’s cow bell and the former mayor’s bread pan. Other than that, it was another quiet year for the semi-retired lawyer (he was 60, she was 52). They also spent a week at the ranch of friends near Duncan’s Mills and as was their custom, hosted an extended visit by an ingenue of marriageable age, this time the niece of famed judge Amos P. Catlin. Their other houseguests were the Farnhams, a San Francisco couple often mentioned in the city papers. Mrs. Farnham was a prominent clubwoman and Dr. Daniel C. Farnham was an osteopath and a leader in the “National League for Medical Freedom” – a special interest group set up to fight the creation of a national public health bureau on the claims that it would hamper “individual rights.” As this was completely out of step with the Progressive Era they were widely condemned as tools of the patent medicine makers, who funded their prolific amount of advertising. Whether or not the Oates’ agreed with these aims is unknown, but the connection with the Farnhams could have been long-standing; at a 1911 rally, Dr. Farnham was introduced by Barclay Henley, Oates’ first law partner in Santa Rosa.

Our first 1910 peculiarity is the clever ad above for Joseph Tarzyn, a Russian-born tailor whose shop was at 406 Fourth street. (And no, his name had nothing to do with the popular Tarzan character, whose first story would not appear until 1912.) To the right is another advertisement for Professor Whittier, exhibition roller skater; we met the good professor earlier in another bizarre photo where he seemed to be staring down a row of mismatched kitchen chairs. His “coast to death” involved jumping through fire and here he exhibits “clubfoot skating,” which was surely every bit as offensive as it sounds.

Out at Bodega Bay there was another type of jumping and awkward movement reported as Mrs. John Turner, fed up with being cussed out by her neighbor, pulled out a gun and began making him dance in the manner familiar to anyone who has watched a Yosemite Sam cartoon. “He at first demurred,” the Press Democrat dryly noted, “but when the gun was brought into play he changed his mind, and as one shot followed another, he danced faster and faster, until finally a bullet hit him in the hip which ended the dance.” The cusser was not seriously injured; the cussee discussed the matter with a judge a few days later and was released on parole.

Alas, the papers did not report what happened in the case (as far as I can tell) but it’s likely she only paid the customary fine of $5 for each shot fired; gun violence was not viewed with special concern – recall the 1907 shootout where a member of the Carrillo family did not spend a day in jail after shooting a man in the chest, yet his wife was behind bars for 30 days for public drunkenness in the same incident. And anyway, profane and vulgar language in the presence of a virtuous woman or child was considered as serious as physical assault, so the court may well have viewed Mrs. Turner’s “dance music” as a kind of self defense.

Handguns were also routinely carried and handled without modern concerns about safety – accidents of men shooting themselves through a pants pocket or coat were so frequent I stopped keeping track. That many people were routinely packing heat may or may not seem unusual today (depending upon your politics) but the ad below certainly falls into the peculiar pile. The “Yellow Kid,” an impoverished but cheerful waif, was the best known and best loved cartoon character of the day; using his image to sell firearms is a bit like Colt or Remington licensing the image of cowboy Woody from Toy Story to endorse real shootin’ irons.

The downtown hardware store presented the Yellow Kid in another firearms ad that similarly used a dash of funky speling for whimsy (“You Cant Miss It” his nightshirt read as he carried a shotgun while waving a revolver in the other hand). Unfortunately, someone with the Epworth League of Santa Rosa’s Southern Methodist church didn’t understand a little of that schtick goes a very long way, and their entire notice about an upcoming dance was written in a mock childlike Swedish-Irish (?) patois that was nearly inkomprehensibl:

YU AIR AIST TU A POVERTY PARTY
SEPT. 23, 1910

That us folks of the Epwurth Leeg of the Methodist church, South, air goin to hav in the Leeg rume. If you kant finde it kum tu the church on Fifth an Orchurd streets.

These air ruls wil be enforced tu thee leter:

1. A kompetant cor of menergers an aids will be in attendunce.
2. The hull sassiety wil interduce strangers an luk after bashful fellers.
3. Fun wil begin tu kommance at 8 o’clock.
4. Tu git into the rum yu wil hav to pay tin sents; tu git enything tu eat yo wil hav tu pay 5 sents.

Kum at Kandle lightin’ an stay until bedtime. No obstreprus er bad boys permitted.

Signed. The Kommity.

But the most peculiar ads of all that year were the campaign ads for a man running for County Surveyor, the sort of political job that usually draws hardly any attention at all. The fellow apparently covered the town with so many little posters it became a newsworthy item for the Press Democrat: “A unique little ‘paster’ is being used by J. C. Parsons, the Democratic nominee for County Surveyor, to further his campaign. It shows Mr. Parsons in action, and was gotten up by him personally. The little pasters are everywhere, and one is produced here for the benefit of our readers.” But it was his big ad in the PD, shown below, that has to win some sort of award for strangeness. (“Worst. Ad. Ever,” as the Simpsons’ character Comic Book Guy might say.) The unphotogenic Mr. Parsons lost by a landslide to the incumbent surveyor George H. Winkler, who promptly died. It was bad enough to lose after spending quite a pile of coin on the ads but as it was apparently known that Winkler had been quite ill for some time, it must have truly stung that the voters still preferred a nearly-dead candidate.

The last peculiarity of 1910 concerns Doc Summerfield, the town’s veterinarian. One evening after supper he pulled a bottle off the shelf and popped down a “digestive tablet.” To his horror he realized that he had picked the wrong jar and had swallowed a mercury bichloride pill instead, “enough to kill several persons,” according to the Santa Rosa Republican.

Let us pause for a moment and contemplate what sort of idiot would keep identical bottles next to each other when one contained a terrible poison and the other had an old-fashioned version of Tums. Let’s also wonder why he had mercury bichloride anyway, which was mainly used in tiny doses to treat syphilis, and ponder further if that meant he was still operating his side business – in 1908 he was mentioned as one of several upstanding Santa Rosans who was a landlord for a brothel on First street.

Summerfield ran to Hahman’s drug store downtown and was given an emetic plus some sort of antidote “hypodermic.” There is no clear definition of what that might have been; medical literature published the following year stated colloidal silver seemed to work best, although the drawback was that large doses might turn the patient’s skin a shade of metallic blue-grey known as Argyria. Three doctors rushed to the pharmacy to attend Dr. Summerfield but there was little they could do except observe (perhaps they all whipped out their pocket revolvers and were taking bets as to whose gun metal would soon match his complexion). By the following day the Doc was doing fine and presumably reorganizing the shelves in his office.

DR. SUMMERFIELD TAKES POISON

Mistook it for Digestive Tablets; Close Call

A mistake that might have been fatal was made by Dr. J. J. Summerfield Friday evening just after he had eaten his supper. Only his presence of mind and promptness saved him from death. He took a tablet containing bichloride of mercury, thinking that it was some of his digestive tablets which he had been taking after each meal.

It was about 8 o’clock when Dr. Summerfield went into the room which adjoins his stables and hospital on First street and in the dark he took down a bottle which he supposed contained his digestive tablets, and took one of them. As he returned the bottle to the shelf he noticed that he had gotten hold of the wrong bottle and that he had taken a mercury tablet, which contained about seven and a half grains of the poison, enough to kill several persons. He immediately ran to the Hahman drug store on Exchange avenue and there told them what he had done and asked for an emetic. Physicians were also called and it was not long before Doctors Cline, Bogle, and Bonar were at the doctor’s side.

Before Dr. Summerfield arrived at the Hahman drug store, a messenger more fleet of foot had preceded him and announced what had happened. Paul T. Hahman had an emetic ready and also gave him a hypodermic. This counteracted the effects of the poison, and later the physicians reached the patient. J. Walter Claypool and Dr. J. H. Rankin remained with Dr. Summerfield  until long after midnight and he was resting easy at the time.

On Saturday Dr. Summerfield was doing nicely, and all danger from the poison he had taken had entirely passed away. It was only the fact that the doctor knew what a deadly poison the stuff was and the promptness with which he went to the drug store for antidotes that he owes his life. Dr. Summerfield  is also a very big, strong man and has a good constitution, which also helped him throw off the effects of the poison.

– Santa Rosa Republican, March 26, 1910

I heard of a “patent medicine” party the other night. The idea was carried out not in the administering of medicines to the guests but in the adornment of the rooms with all sorts of advertisements. Prizes were awarded those who proved the most proficient in the guessing contest that located the advertisements with the medicine to which they belonged. It afforded much merriment.

– “Society Gossip”, Press Democrat, June 19, 1910

FORCED TO DANCE TO THE TUNE OF WHISTLING BULLETS AS MUSIC

Mrs. John Turner of Bodega Bay created considerable excitement on the bay shore Saturday when she compelled Captain Hart, a pioneer of that section, to dance on the beach by firing shots at his feet and between his legs to emphasize her commands.

The trouble is one of long standing. The Turners, husband and wife, reside on the country road, near Bodega Bay, while Captain Hart is a neighbor. They have had considerable trouble of various kinds at various times, so that when the Captain pulled a plank out of the water Saturday and left it on the beach and returned later discover that it had been thrown back into the water by his enemy, he could stand it no longer.

According to the story which reached here Monday, the Captain, in addressing Mrs. Turner, used language far more expressive than polite and better fitted for use on sailing vessels than in polite society on land. When he had exhausted his vocabulary and stopped for breath, Mrs. Turner took a turn at telling the Captain what she thought of him, and then ordered him to dance. He at first demurred, but when the gun was brought into play he changed his mind, and as one shot followed another, he danced faster and faster, until finally a bullet hit him in the hip which ended the dance.

Mrs. Turner was taken before Justice Cunninghame Monday, and after some discussion, she was allowed to go on parole until Wednesday, December 14, when the case will again be called in court. Meanwhile it is expected that Captain Hart will fully recover from his wound.

– Press Democrat, November 29, 1910

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