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

 

Read More

barlowmesstent

THE UNTOLD ESCAPES OF THE BARLOW BOYS

It was like clockwork: In June the Barlow boys arrived, then a few weeks later came reports of runaways. But after the 1911 season, it appeared the escape attempts stopped. What happened? Boys were still trying to get away, all right – but the Santa Rosa newspapers just stopped reporting about it.

(For those just tuning in: In the early Twentieth Century, California courts usually sentenced boys who committed minor crimes or were deemed incorrigible to spend the rest of their youth at institutions not unlike a modern prison halfway house. One of these places, the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of San Francisco, struck a deal with the Barlow family of Sebastopol; during summers the boys would camp on the ranch and pick berries and fruit for low pay. Soon other farmers were asking for orphans and it wasn’t long before the Aid Society and similar institutions were sending up hundreds of boys – some as young as seven – to work in West County fields and canneries every year. For more background, see “SEBASTOPOL’S CHILD LABOR CAMPS“.)

We know the escapes continued thanks to the archives of the Petaluma Argus-Courier, which just came online this week via newspapers.com. It’s a huuuuge deal that this trove is simply available, but that it’s also searchable with great accuracy is enough to make genealogists and historians purr and mew.

There are a few possible reasons why the Petaluma paper informed their readers about the runaways while the Santa Rosa papers blacked out the news. Rarely were escapees nabbed around Santa Rosa; usually they were caught in the countryside or en route to San Francisco, so it was more likely the boys would be seen close to Petaluma or Marin. There also might have been editorial bias in keeping quiet about bad news; the use of child labor was a fast-growing part of the West County economy – in 1912 the boys picked 407 tons of berries and fruit, up from 125 tons just five years earlier, showing farmers were lining up to get in on this sweet deal for ultra-cheap juvenile labor. And to be fair, it must be noted that in 1913 the Press Democrat did offer a paragraph on seven runaways being captured and even mentioned the Barlow ranch by name.


(RIGHT: Mess tent for boys working on the Barlow ranch, date unknown. Photograph courtesy Western Sonoma County Historical Society)

But there was one related story which the local press couldn’t ignore because it made all the Bay Area papers: The 1913 theft of summer earnings by the boys of the Armitage Orphanage – and that the robber was the orphanage’s superintendent.

While it was was rarely mentioned which orphanages and charities were shoving their kids down the Sebastopol berry picking pipeline every June, it comes as a shock to find this outfit was among them. The [Episcopal] Bishop Armitage Orphanage was a pet charity of the San Francisco swells who funded it via lawn parties, balls, country club polo matches and other high society soirees (“Tableaux Vivants to Show Masterpieces – Famous Art Works Will be Staged by Members of the Board” – San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 1910).

That orphanage certainly didn’t need any income from the boys; the stolen $3,000 was petty change to its society matron directors and to their credit, they promised to reimburse the children. Well-funded does not mean well-run, however. While the 150 boys were working in the orchards and fields, the orphanage was being closed and their buildings sold, so at the end of summer the Armitage inmates were split up other institutions. The superintendent who disappeared with their money was known as Robert Ellis, although that was not his real name for some reason – and the directors were aware of that. He had been superintendent for a couple of years, the board having raced through four managers in six months before him. There seems to be a quite the scandal unreported there, although the society sections did not speak of such unpleasantries.

On related news, the Press Democrat recently presented a couple of items about the orphanage at Lytton Springs operated by the Salvation Army. The property near Healdsburg is now on the market with an asking price of $24 million.

One PD article nostalgically waxes about Lytton success stories – a pair of brothers who built a successful contracting business and a man who became an important Santa Rosa lawyer. Healdsburg High School welcomed the Lytton kids, according to the PD writer, because the Salvation Army encouraged them to play band instruments and the boys were strong and scrappy from all their farm work.

That’s a very rosy view. The situation may have changed later but in their earlier days  Lytton youths were allowed to attend Healdsburg High only if supervisors ruled the child had “capacity for high school training;” per a 1909 article about Lytton, only about 5 percent of their residents were permitted to continue schooling beyond 8th grade. Otherwise, the kid had no choice but to work on the Salvation Army’s commercial farm. As I wrote earlier in “THE CHILDREN OF LYTTON:” The cruelest aspect of the “orphanages” was that wards of the system lost nearly all chance of an education beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. While Santa Rosa High School was then offering typewriting classes and teaching other office skills which were in growing demand, Lytton and other Aid Homes were preparing kids for a 19th century future.

While the institutions could have done more to keep their kids in classrooms, a century ago state law didn’t require it. The Jones-Hughes Act of 1903 made it compulsory for every child in California to attend school between ages 8 and 15, but offered a grabbag of loopholes allowing families to opt out of schooling altogether – children who lived over two miles by road from the nearest school could be claimed as exempt, for example. Those exemptions were removed in 1919 and the compulsory age raised to 16, but that still didn’t mean a child would make it to high school. According to a report that year from the state’s Dept. of Education, most of the students who were to be added to the attendance rosters hadn’t yet finished elementary school by age sixteen.

There were many institutions far, far worse than Lytton, but it wasn’t free of controversy. In November, 1913 the Oakland Enquirer published a series of investigative articles “berating the management of the institution for alleged cruel treatment of children at the institution,” according to a mention of the articles in the Santa Rosa Republican. Unfortunately, not much more can be said about that reporting because the paper is not online and the only known surviving editions from that year are at UC/Berkeley. The Republican added the main incident was “punishment meted out to two boys who stole horses and got away from the institution.”

Sonoma County District Attorney Clarence Lea thought the charges were credible enough to have the grand jury investigate. Oakland Enquirer reporter Fred Williams was summoned, and the mother of the boys also testified, which suggests the pair were at Lytton not for being orphans but having been sentenced there by a court for delinquency.

Jurors visited Lytton and found it was overcrowded, but the children were well cared for and no “unmerited punishments were inflicted.” The grand jury report concluded with praise for the institution, which deserved “support and commendation.” The jury foreman wrote, “in view of the splendid work that is being accomplished at the institution we feel that minor criticisms which might be made would be uncalled for.”

Not so fast, there, mee bucko. Their report did not mention the jury interviewed the boys making the charges although it’s implied (“we investigated all cases called to our attention”). Nor did it explain what the Oakland Enquirer reporter had to say; that was a significant newspaper with a reputation for muckraking – it’s doubtful they would run a series based only on wild yarns from a pair of malcontent kids who apparently had been in trouble with the law.

More interesting is a mention at the end of the jury report that the superintendent and his wife together earned only $14 a week, and no one there was paid more than $400 a year. Those earnings are on the low side for unskilled labor at the time, but not unreasonable. But from a Press Democrat article the previous year, we know that Lytton annually spent about $3,400 on salaries. Now project the numbers: Lytton must have operated with only eight paid staffers, twelve max – to run a 400+ acre commercial farm AND care for about 250 kids full time.

“Mother Bourne,” the beloved figurehead of Lytton may indeed have been worthy of sainthood, but the institution was clearly dependent upon the children to keep the wheels turning. And barely supervising so many kids – most there because they were deemed to be “unmanageable” – is surely an invitation to bullying or even worse forms of abuse.

But as the Santa Rosa papers seemed wanting to tell readers only good news about the Barlow boys, the grand jury wanted to see Lytton as a shining example of noble work. Look how well we are treating these troubled and troublesome youths, our ancestors seemed determined to boast. We have plucked them from nothing and given them something.

 

TWO BOYS MADE ESCAPE

Two boys whose names are given as Butts and Landingan by Superintendent Turner, escaped from the Barlow berry fields above Sebastopol on Monday afternoon at an early hour and later Deputy Sheriff R. L. Rasmussen was notified.

He kept a close watch on all departing trains and the steamer Petaluma but the youngsters have not yet come to this city.

A watchman was in this city on Monday evening investigating. Both the lads are wearing blue overalls. They are from the Boys and Girls Aid Society which is now at Barlow’s picking berries.

They have only been there two days and during that time the two boys have been trying to get away. They are thought to be in this county yet.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, June 18, 1912
TWO MORE BOYS MAKE ESCAPE

The local police were notified on Wednesday night that two boys had escaped from the berry pickers’ camp at the Barlow ranch near Sebastopol and the officers are keeping a watch for them and examined the outgoing trains and steamers Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The boys are Harry Herman, aged 18, and Chas. Sargent, age 17, both of San Francisco. The former is 5 feet four inches in height and the latter slightly shorter. Both wore straw hats, blue overalls and dark coats. The former wore a yellow khaki shirt and the latter a light colored soft shirt. Herman is slightly stooped and walks with swinging gait and has dark brown hair and dark eyes.

Sargent is of dark complexion with light brown hair. Both wore heavy shoes. For some reason the custodians of the boys, are unusually anxious to capture these escapes, so it is probably that they are detained fore [sic] more than the ordinary wrong doing.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, July 11, 1912
THREE BOYS RAN AWAY

Several officers of the Boys and Girls Aid Society were in this city on Sunday morning looking for three runaway boys who made their escape on Saturday evening from Barlow’s station where the girls and boys were picking berries. The officers remained here for a short time and then went to Sausalito where they captured the three runaways who were taken to Barlow’s on the next train.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, June 23, 1913

 

HERE AFTER RUNAWAYS

Special Police Officer T. Connolly of San Francisco who is connected with the Boys and Girls Aid Society was in this city on Wednesday seeking Allen Luhra, Joe Fahey, Abe Bernard, Sam Telaxney and Charles Griffin, who escaped from Barlow’s station during the present week. The last four named left on Tuesday afternoon, while younger Luhra left on Monday.

Chief of Police Flohr has been notified of the disappearance of the boys and has been given a good description of them so if they are in this city they are likely to be captured in a short time.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, July 16, 1913

 

 MANY OF THE BERRY BOYS ARE FOUND AND RETURNED

The Sheriff’s office received word on Thursday that four of the boys who escaped from the berry picking camp on the Barlow ranch had been captured by the Aid Society’s officers, and had been returned to camp. Four boys were found in Forestville, and three in Green Valley. Thursday Mrs. Dick Isaacs telephoned the Sheriff’s office that four of the boys were on a place back of their ranch. Superintendent Turner was notified and went after the boys.

– Press Democrat, July 18, 1913
DECAMPS WITH COIN OF BERRY PICKERS

Thirteen days before the Armitage Orphanage was to pass out of existence and his term of office expire, the superintendent, known in San Mateo as Robert Ellis, disappeared, and is accused of having taken with him about $3,000 belonging to the boys in the institution. Detectives are searching for the former superintendent, but have found no substantial clews.

The orphanage will pass out of existence on October 23, when the property will be taken over by Antoine Borel and Ellis’ employment would have expired on that date. He disappeared last Friday, but the loss of the money was not discovered until yesterday by Mrs. William G. Hitchcock, treasurer of the orphanage.

The money represents the earnings of 114 boys who picked berries at Sebastopol last summer, and was given to the superintendent for keeping. It is said that the boys will not lose by the theft, as the directors will make good the deficit.

Ellis has been superintendent of the orphanage for two years. He went to San Mateo well recommended, and although it was known that Robert Ellis was not his true name the directors made no objection to the masquerading. He is the son of an Episcopal minister in Philadelphia and is married, but separated from his wife.

– Santa Rosa Republican, October 16, 1913

Read More

lytton1909

THE CHILDREN OF LYTTON

It was like part of a riddle: What’s an orphanage with few orphans, a detention home that has no guards or locked doors? Answer: The Salvation Army Orphanage at Lytton Springs.

In the early 20th century it was formally called the “Boys’ and Girls’ Industrial Home and Farm,” or just the “Industrial Farm” by those who ran it. The Salvation Army still quietly uses it as an adult rehab center, but a century ago the facility about three miles north of Healdsburg was well known, highlighted in newspaper Sunday features and something of a tourist attraction.

(RIGHT: Children at the Lytton Industrial Home and Farm, 1910. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

The Lytton farm in that era was just one of many outposts in the state’s vast child welfare/child labor system. California had more kids per capita in institutions than anywhere else in the United States; in the early 1910s it was estimated more than one child out of 50 was in some sort of institution each year.1

Those staggering numbers reflect the complicated attitudes towards children a century ago. Although Lytton was also known as the “Golden Gate Orphanage,” only eight percent of the kids were truly orphans; “Mother Bourne,” the driving force at Lytton and wife of the superintendent said most children were there because of unfit parents, particularly drunkenness and “looseness of the marriage tie” (another writer listed “modified hoboism or Bohemianism” as a factor). Altogether, two out of three were there for such reasons or because they were deemed to be “unmanageable.” The good news was that very often their stay at Lytton was temporary, with a child returning to his/her family once the situation stabilized.

But “mild delinquents” were also sentenced to Lytton by the courts, and one who made news locally in 1912 was Jimmy Gillespie. The 11 year-old ran away immediately and made his way to Santa Rosa, where he burgled two houses and stole a bike. After being captured by a deputy he escaped before he could be sent back to Lytton, this time stealing $4.60 from the purse of a woman on Orchard street. Superintendent Bourne came to town to pick up the boy after he was caught, promising he would be closely watched, according to the Republican paper. But a week later Jimmy ran away once more, this time breaking into a general store in Geyserville and making off with valuables, including “some marbles.” This time he was nabbed after robbing a railroad station of tickets he planned to use to flee to San Francisco. The paper reported he was “rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials” with “a record of petty offenses that is appalling.” One of the headlines in the Republican went so far as to call his mini-crime spree “evil acts.”

Jimmy’s next stop was probably one of the seven reformatories where he would be locked up until adulthood. Three of those were run by the state but Lytton and the 78 other institutions like it in California were privately owned, and nearly all were operated by a religious organization.2

Conditions at the Lytton farm were among the very best of the institutions; at the other end of the scale were operations that crammed up to fifty kids in a cottage. There were no state standards for living conditions, nutrition, medical care or basic record-keeping on the kids, aside from a statistical report to the State Board of Charities. Nonetheless there was public money available from the state and counties to take care of the children, and that contributed more than half of operating costs in some cases. Lytton was in the middle, with about 30% of its funding coming from taxpayers.

Then there was the tradeoff between education and work. With an average of about 230 children, Lytton was large enough to have its own county grammar school staffed by public schoolteachers. But that was as far as education went in that era; older kids were allowed to attend Healdsburg high school only if the “boy or girl has capacity for high school training and wants it,” according to a 1909 feature article in the San Francisco Call, a year when there were only three high school students from there.

This may be the cruelest aspect of the “orphanage” system: Even if your parents’ divorce leads to you being sent to one of the nicer places such as Lytton, it ends up costing you an education beyond readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. While Santa Rosa High School was then offering typewriting classes and teaching other office skills which were in growing demand, Lytton was preparing kids for a 19th century future.

Lytton was very much a working farm, with a particularly successful poultry and egg business. Kids had plenty of milk thanks to their own dairy but the place wasn’t entirely self-supporting; there wasn’t enough water available for irrigation, so they had to buy vegetables and fruit. Choice eggs were sold to the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, which in turn donated its chipped dishware to the orphanage.

(RIGHT: Children clearing rocks in a field at the Lytton Industrial Home and Farm, 1909. Photo courtesy Sonoma County Library)

Yet there’s no getting around that Lytton was a commercial farm being subsidized by public monies and nearly free child labor. (The Salvation Army did pay them something for farm work, but no articles could be found describing how much.) Functionally it was not much different from the Sebastopol child labor camps, where many Bay Area institutions sent youngsters to work during summers – often from dawn to dusk during harvest season – and a 1917 study found that work could only be justified as a reason for kids to be outdoors.

For young people inclined towards egg sorting and milking, Lytton was a sanctuary, and some received permission to stay on past the age where the institution received charitable subsidy for them. And while the Salvation Army’s main objective was always trying to get each kid into a normal home as soon as possible, state law partially blocked such efforts because Lytton was not a licensed child-placement agency. (The need for adoption regulation seems obvious but before the law changed in 1911, the Salvation Army in Santa Rosa gave away a 7-month-old baby at one of its services.) In 1912 only eleven of those agencies existed in the state; closest to Lytton was Santa Rosa’s branch of the Native Sons’ and Native Daughters’ Central Committee.3

It’s a bit surprising to learn the Native Sons of the Golden West and Native Daughters auxiliary ran an adoption agency; the organization is best known today for erecting historical monuments and such. (Their Santa Rosa lodge still exists on Mendocino Ave. near Fifth St.) But in 1912 they ran a notice in the Santa Rosa Republican listing all the adorable “tots who are free for adoption,” ages from less than a month to thirteen years. Many were probably Lytton kids except the youngest; Lytton was not setup to handle infants, and only accepted children under three when there were other boys or girls from the family.

Children were listed by religion with the notice, “Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.” Categories also specified race/ethnicity: Chinese, “Colored,” Jewish or “Spanish.” From the descriptions apparently the children could be attractive or smart, but not both. There was a girl that was so pretty it had to be mentioned twice: “Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.” One also has to feel sorry for the 3½ year old girl someone felt compelled to describe as “not pretty but bright.”

1 1910 California census: 621,666 under 20, with over 14,000 different children in care each year

2 Child Welfare Work in California: A Study of Agencies and Institutions; 1915

3 ibid

 DOES ANY ONE WANT A CHILD?
 Native Sons Seek Homes for Orphan Babies

 Santa Rosa Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, met at Native Sons hall on Thursday evening…The Native Sons’ and Native Daughters’ Central Committee on Homeless children have a large list of little tots who are free for adoption and whom it is wished to secure homes for. C. A. Pool, Jackson Temple and J. M. Boyes compose the committee of the local lodge that has charge of finding homes for the children. The following list includes some of the most attractive children from which proper people can secure a lovable baby by applying to the local committee.

 Protestant children must be placed in Protestant homes and Catholic children in Catholic homes.

 Protestant Girls

 Brown eyes, 3½ years old, not pretty but bright.
 Black eyes, 7 years old, very attractive.
 Pretty girl, brown eyes, light hair, 5½ years old.
 Attractive girl, 9 years old, brown hair.

 Jewish Children

 Lovely little girl, 2 years old, dark eyes, brown hair.
 Handsome boy, blonde, 2 years old.

 Catholic girls

 Two baby girls, 1 year old.
 Beautiful girl, 11 months old, part Spanish, very beautiful.
 Two pretty babies, 2 years old, have been delicate, need good homes.
 Pretty baby 6 months old.
 Very attractive baby, 3 months old, blue eyes, brown hair.
 Attractive girl, 10 years old.
 Italian girl, 13 years old.
 Nice girl, 7 years old.

 Chinese

 Very attractive and pretty little girl 2 years old.

 Twins

 Lovely girls 2½ years old, brown eyes and grey eyes, curls.

 Protestant Boys

 Several lovely baby boys under one month.
 Handsome boy, 2 years old, light curls, gray eyes.
 Fine boy, 9 months old, brown eyes, light hair.
 Bright lad, 3 years old, blue eyes, brown hair.
 Three boys, about nine years; want home in country.
 Handsome Spanish boy, 2½ years old.

 Catholic Boys

 Six fine boys about 3 years old.
 Nice boy, 5 years old.
 Beautiful boy, 2½ years old, blonde.
 Two fine babies, 1 year old, a very high type, brown eyes.
 Two nice boys, 5 years old.
 Handsome Spanish boy, 7 years old.

 Colored Children

 Handsome, bright little girl, 3½ years old.
 Fine boy, 7 months.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, August 16, 1912
 BOY CONTINUES HIS EVIL ACTS
 Jimmie Gillipsi Escaped From Detention Home

  Jimmie Gillipsi, the 11 year old boy who was arrested here Friday by Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds and turned over to Probation Officer John Plover, continued his evil ways later that evening. It will be remembered that the lad entered two houses and stole a wheel before being caught here. After his arrest Probation Officer Plover found that the boy had been sent to the Lytton orphanage from Alameda the evening before he ran away and was arrested here.

He was taken to the detention home Friday night, to be cared for before being sent back to the orphanage. While a room was being prepared for him at the detention home and while he was left in the sitting room by himself, Jimmy escaped.  When the matron, Mrs. Parish, returned she discovered the boy had gone and the police and probation officer started out to search for him. He was discovered about 2 o’clock in the Northwestern Pacific depot.

Evidently the first course de determined upon after his escape from the detention home was to resume robbery attempts, for he went into the home of Mrs. Wells on Orchard street and took a purse from the lady’s handbag. The purse contained $4.60. The boy came down town and purchased another purse, throwing the one away he had stolen, so that the money could not be identified. When arrested he had spent 80 cents of the stolen coin. This he had used in getting the new purse, ham and eggs for supper and an ice cream soda. Saturday Major Bourne took the boy back to the orphanage, where he will be closely watched and cared for.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, September 28, 1912
  SMALL BOY IN TROUBLE
  Incorrigible Lad Has Record of Many Thefts

  Jimmie Gillespie, who is rated as an incorrigible by the Sonoma County officials, was captured neatly by Conductor Ab Shera on Tuesday morning and turned over to Officer Andy Miller at the local station when the train from the north arrived here.

  During Monday night at the depot of the railroad company at Lytton was robbed and some tickets taken. Conductor Shera was notified of the robbery by the agent at Lytton Tuesday morning and was on the lookout for the pasteboards. Gillespie boarded the train at Healdsburg and passed one of the stolen tickets up for transportation to San Francisco. He had realized that the tickets must be stamped to be good, and had placed a stamp on them, using the postoffice stamp for that purpose.

  What will be done with the boy is a matter of conjecture. He has been in trouble before and it looks like he will get a pass from the county to the Ione reform school. The lad is only 11 years of age, but has a record of petty offenses that is appalling. He was taken into custody and placed in the Detention Home here and broke away from that institution, and robbed the Wells residence. He secured $4.60 and some articles of value. He was placed in the Lytton orphanage, from which institution he broke out Sunday night and went to Geyserville. There he robbed the rochdale store of a couple of knives, a watch and some marbles, a stick pin, some other jewelry and some change. Returning to Lyttons he robbed the depot, which led to his capture.

 – Santa Rosa Republican, October 8, 1912

Read More