wellordered

A WELL-ORDERED MILITIA

They made a terrible racket, shattering the early morning peace by honking horns and cranking sirens as the caravan entered Healdsburg and rounded the Plaza. Many in town, however, were probably awake and anxiously awaiting just such a signal – that they had pulled off a perfect crime and killed three men.

This is a postscript to the series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa, “THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID” and looks into the most significant of the conspiracies of silence that followed: How people in a small farm town executed a triple murder, then kept the planning behind it and the names of all those involved secret for 65 years. Now – more than a century later – new details have emerged that show the vigilante operation was even more cunning than suspected.


THE LIST

Does your family have a story about great-grandpa hoisting the gangsters up by their necks? Is there a snippet of rope or a yellowed newspaper clipping of the death photo among the family heirlooms as proof of his role? Unless he was from Healdsburg and intimate friends with a certain small clique in the town it’s unlikely he was part of the lynching party. “Later, lots of people said they were there, were part of the group, people that weren’t there at all,” Barnard said.

When the first chapter in this series was posted several people immediately contacted me via social media and email asking about a list containing the names of all the vigilantes. The list was supposedly going to be made public when the last participant died – which was Barnard, who passed away at age 108 in 2008.

There never was any such list, according to Gaye LeBaron and Lynn Prime, curator of the LeBaron special collection at SSU. The rumors arose over the secrecy surrounding the recording of the 1989 interview, which was kept in the safe of the Local History room at the Sonoma County Library until his death, per a promise of anonymity.

Had someone foolishly written and circulated a list, the vigilantes could have been charged years, even decades later – there is no statute of limitations for murder.

A previous chapter, “VENGEANCE FOR SUNNY JIM” covered events of just that night as reported at the time by first-hand witnesses. Also incorporated were later comments by Clarence H. “Barney” Barnard, the only member of the vigilantes to talk about it. Gaye LeBaron broke that story in 1985 after he spoke to her and in 1989 she recorded an interview which is available on the SSU website.

Barnard said the decision to raid the county jail and lynch the gangsters was made the same day that Sheriff James A. Petray was killed. On that night – Sunday, Dec. 5 – a mob of up to 3,000 had attacked the jail to seize them but the sheriff and deputies, reinforced by the Santa Rosa police and fire departments, were able to repel the rioters. It’s likely many of the Healdsburg vigilantes were also on the scene and came away with the lesson that brute force was no guarantee of success.

“We could have had 500 men, if we’d wanted them,” Barney told Gaye in 1985. “But the fellow who got it all organized, the Captain would only take 30. he wanted everybody to have an assignment and didn’t want anybody who was going to get trigger happy and blow it all.”

After a day spent organizing the crew, they gathered together for the first time on Tuesday night to begin rehearsing the mission in the back part of the Standard Machine Works building.

They drilled again on Wednesday night and made a final run-through on Thursday before leaving for the county jail in Santa Rosa. Each man knew his role and was expected to act without supervision.

Before they left, Barnard recalled the Captain saying, “If any one of you wants to back out, this is the time. Do it now. There won’t be one word said. Nobody will think you a coward. But if you stay, from now on, we’re all one.” Barney repeated much the same thing in his 1989 interview, except changing the speech to end with, “after tonight, we’ve got an active war.”

The Captain finished by telling the men to meet back at the same building. “We’ll count noses [and see] if anyone’s missing.” If detained, he told them “just don’t say a lot, answer simple questions, but don’t mention any one of the rest of us and we’ll come back and get you” (1989 interview).

So off they went to Santa Rosa in a dozen (or so) cars with plans for all to convene at the Rural Cemetery. From there about twenty would head for the jail where they took their assigned positions – some as armed guards on the street, others in teams of three to tie up each of the gangsters and pack him out of the jail to a waiting car, carried by the shoulders, waist and feet. It was even planned where each car was to park. They were in and out of the jail with their prisoners in less than ten minutes.

At the cemetery the nooses were already knotted and securely anchored around the locust tree. All that remained was to slip the ropes around their necks and hoist them up. The gruesome work finished, the Healdsburg vigilantes drove home and began leaning on their car horns.

Now let’s crack this nut and see what’s inside.

The Standard Machine Works building c. 1921. Photo courtesy Healdsburg Museum
The Standard Machine Works building c. 1921. Photo courtesy Healdsburg Museum

Perfect crimes are rare, particularly when they are this serious and have so many people involved, both actively and passively, that you can compare the lynching to “The Murder on the Orient Express,” where everyone on the train played some role in the murder.

All credit for its success was given to the leader whom Barney called the Captain, and there’s no dispute the mission was brilliantly planned and executed. As Barney Barnard said in 1989, everything “worked just like a clock. It was so well organized.” But the closer you examine the story, it becomes apparent everything hinged not just upon a single person but also primarily a place – the Standard Machine Works.


THERE WILL BE PRICES PAID
Series on the 1920 lynchings in Santa Rosa

BAD TO THE BONE
THE WOLVES OF THANKSGIVING
A FORESHADOW OF TERRIBLE DAYS
FATEFUL KNOCK ON A COTTAGE DOOR
MOB SIEGE OF THE JAIL
96 HOURS TO HANGTOWN
VENGEANCE FOR SUNNY JIM
CONSPIRACIES OF SILENCE
    HIDDEN GRAVES
    A WELL-ORDERED MILITIA

The Standard Machine Works building was at 125 West street (now Healdsburg Avenue) and the vigilantes drilled in the garage section in back, where they did auto and tractor repair. It was, according to the 1919 blurb about its opening in the Healdsburg Tribune, the best equipped machine shop north of San Francisco. When the crew stormed the jail they brought along acetylene torches and the tanks to cut through the cell doors if they couldn’t find the keys; the same Tribune item states welding was “a special feature” of the garage. (In 1920 the equipment was primitive and needed a skilled worker – just a few weeks earlier a Santa Rosa welder suffered facial burns from an explosion.)

The significance of the business goes beyond the use of the premises (which by itself shows a high level of involvement with the scheme); several who worked there had ties to the martyred Sheriff Petray or other law enforcement officers in the county.

In 1920, of course, a great many around here had some sort of connections to Petray or his deputies. We were a small rural county; Santa Rosa’s population was 8,758, almost exactly the size of Cloverdale today (2021). Between memberships in churches, fraternal groups like the Elks and extended families through marriage, probably everyone in the county was no more than two degrees of separation from a man with a badge. That would be particularly true in the village-sized community of Healdsburg, where Petray came from one of the prune-growing family dynasties of Alexander Valley.

But it still seems unusual for a tiny company such as Standard Machine Works to have so many ties specifically to the sheriff’s office going beyond friend-of-a-friend links; there were multiple personal and professional relationships with not only Petray but Sheriffs Jack Smith (before Petray) and Boyes (after Petray). In short, they were men who wouldn’t need arm-twisting from the Captain to convince them the murder of a sheriff was something which must be avenged.

Below are thumbnail introductions to three of them, plus another man who we know was among the vigilantes. Besides showing those connections (and offering a few pretty good stories) it provides context to the most ingenious part of the Captain’s plan, which has been previously untold: Just before the masked vigilantes stormed the jail, he positioned one or more unmasked spies inside the building.

DON PATTESON   was a machinist and co-owner of the Standard Machine Works. He was the boss of the county’s motor pool in the mid-1910s which could be why he was spotted driving places with Sheriff Smith. While the newspapers usually didn’t name members of a posse, Don was listed twice in 1915, searching for bandits and a missing man, plus being part of a 1913 opium raid on Sebastopol’s Chinatown. Presumably he was deputized in other Smith posses as well.

Don came from an Alexander prune growing family like the Petrays, Youngs and Lattins discussed in this story. His father, C. L. “Ned” Patteson also served as the popular fourth district Supervisor during the 1910s. In 1915 Ned gave then-Deputy Sheriff James A. Petray a political boost by having him produce a series of Christmas benefits. Petray would later win his tight election for sheriff in 1918 thanks to the larger margin of votes cast for him in Healdsburg.

HARRY PATTESON   was a younger brother of Don. When their father died on New Years’ Eve 1917, the Healdsburg and Geyserville newspapers endorsed the 30 year-old Harry to fill out Ned’s term on the Board of Supervisors (the governor chose a man from the Dry Creek area).

Although his only background was in farming, Harry was working at the Standard Machine Shop around the time of the lynching, according to the Healdsburg Tribune. Less than three months after the men were hanged, Sheriff Boyes hired Harry as a full-time deputy sheriff and Superior Court bailiff.

Harry Patteson later became a five-term sheriff (1934-1958) as well as the Healdsburg Police Chief twice.

MAYNARD YOUNG   would be the top contender to play the role of the Captain, if that part was not otherwise cast. He had a salesman’s type-A personality and was forceful in convincing others of his views. Maynard almost seemed like a politician with his high level of civic involvement and also acted (and seemed to be expected to act) like a law enforcement officer. He knew Sheriffs Petray and Smith personally.

Maynard Young had a new car showroom in the front of the Standard Machine Shop where he sold the Stephens Salient Six, a mid-priced touring car. He was Don and Harry Patteson’s brother-in-law and when Supervisor Ned Patteson was dying he acted as spokesman for the family. He was also considered another possible candidate to fill out the term.

maynardyoung(RIGHT: Maynard Young 1923 portrait)

Maynard was the subject of a “Velvet Hammer” profile, which was considered something of a badge of honor in the county. (Note to genealogists: If researching someone who lived around here in 1921-1922, hope they were mentioned in “The Velvet Hammer by A. B. B.” There were over a hundred of these little poems in the Press Democrat, each three stanzas of charmingly awful doggerel, to wit: “If you accept the echoed word of Mr. Maynard Young; you’re sure to bite, the car is right, you simply can’t be stung.”)

During WWI, Young was on the three-member draft board covering most of Sonoma county, a job he took very seriously; in 1918 he paid a condolence call on the family of a dead soldier. Other civic duties included being on the executive committee of the county Board of Trade and after Petray was murdered he served as treasurer of the Petray Memorial Committee.

Fun story #1: Maynard was driving back from Petaluma with Sheriff Petray and a deputy in 1920 when they spotted two men arguing by the side of the road. One began chasing the other and “kicking him as he ran.” The sheriff and deputy arrested the drunks and stuffed them in the back seat of Young’s auto. The pair, both masseurs at Burke’s sanitarium, were jailed and fined $25 the next day.

Fun story #2: Serving on the draft board with Maynard was Deputy Sheriff Joe Ryan. In late 1920 (roughly thirty hours before the lynching, in fact) Ryan told Young to be on the lookout for two 14 year-old runaway boys. As Maynard was driving back from the town of Sonoma he saw them hitchhiking. Want a ride to Santa Rosa? Sure, they replied. Once they arrived he asked: Wouldn’t they like to see the inside of a jail? They went along but once inside, one of the boys poked a hole in his trousers pocket and a gold ring fell out as they were walking down a corridor. “You dropped a ring there, didn’t you?” Maynard was asked. Then two more rings were noticed on the floor along with a pearl and opal pendant. The boys were searched and more jewelry and silver coins were found on them. When asked where their riches came from, they claimed, “Just find it in the street, that’s all, lyin’ right there in the street.”

Maynard Young opened another auto dealership in Santa Rosa at Third and Main streets in 1921 (his partner was the other draft board member) but his interests turned to oil. He leased 8,000 acres near Willits and attracted many local investors and when that failed tried drilling near Eureka. His presence in Sonoma County began fading when the auto dealership closed in 1925 and was all but forgotten by the time he moved to Los Angeles and became an oil broker.

RAY LATTIN   had no apparent connection to the Standard Machine Shop or the Pattesons – aside from being another Alexander Valley native – but the family was close friends with the Petrays. During the 1920s and early 1930s he ran the prestigious Cummiskey vineyards and ranches near Hopland and Windsor.

He is of interest because after Gaye LeBaron wrote her 1985 column about Barney Barnard’s confession, she received a letter stating Ray Lattin was also among the vigilantes and the stories he always told about the lynching matched the details provided by Barney (this letter can be found in the LeBaron archives at SSU). The importance of this revelation will be discussed in a moment.

Like Maynard Young, Lattin was law enforcement-adjacent in those years. He narrowly lost an election for Cloverdale constable in 1918 but was appointed a reserve deputy sheriff for the town, which gave him a badge. When a forest fire started near Annapolis also in 1918, Jim Petray, acting as deputy fire warden for the district, had Ray organize and supervise the firefighters.

Believe it or not: Ray Lattin’s name still pops up in “Today in History” type newspaper columns because he was owner and trainer of “King the wonder dog” in the early 1940s. King could bark out numbers written on a blackboard and supposedly add/subtract up to five. The dog once selected a beauty queen and after the U.S. joined WWII, entertained enlisted men by playing dead after being asked to show what he would do to enemy soldiers. Ray told audiences the dog was 34 collie and one part wolf.

All of those wordy introductions were necessary to provide context as to what happened at about 11:15 on the night of December 9, 1920, when three men from Healdsburg rang the doorbell at the county jail (here’s a direct link to that part of the story to jog your memory).

The three men were Maynard Young, Ray Lattin and Joe McMinn.1

They were, of course, unmasked, and did not reveal that one of them – and quite likely all three – were members of the vigilante party. The letter to LeBaron about Ray Lattin stated there was no question “he was at the jail that night specifically for his part in the operation.”

This was a bold strategy to gauge how well the sheriff was prepared to resist an attack on the jail; although the vigilantes were armed, all planning by the Captain showed he counted upon facing no serious resistance. The lynching crew did not want to find deputies and policemen guarding the jail door, as happened at the Sunday night riot.

The supposed reason why Lattin, Young and McMinn were there so late at night was to warn the sheriff that Healdsburg was “pretty well stirred up,” and “there is going to be some trouble.” Not long afterwards the office received a second phone call reporting that a suspicious group of men were gathering near the cemetery.

With only himself and three deputies on hand, Sheriff Boyes asked McMinn and Lattin to go the cemetery and see if their leaders would speak with him. The two men left and returned almost immediately, telling Boyes someone would come there in half an hour.

It was a lie. The vigilantes burst through the jailhouse door just a few minutes later – which suggests Lattin and/or McMinn gave the green light to launch the assault. And so the blitzkrieg attack began, wrapping up under ten minutes later with the gangsters tied and gagged and being chauffeured to their doom.

During the operation the sheriff was moved to the rear office in the cellblock, watched over by five guards. With him were the Healdsburg visitors, or at least Young and McMinn; Lattin’s whereabouts were not mentioned, although the letter to Gaye LeBaron claimed he “gave the keys to the mob,” which can’t be literally true.

Where was the Captain during all this? He was confident enough in his crew that he stayed among those in the office with the sheriff. Asked by Gaye LeBaron in 1989 if he was nervous, Barney replied, “No, we felt relaxed because I went right by Boyes…and two of the, oh, the Captain was there when I went by [unintelligible] and they were just as calm as if nothing was happening.”

So now we come back to our starting place: Who were the vigilantes, and who was the Captain?

As Barnard told LeBaron, besides all of the vigilantes being from the area “we were all friends of Jim Petray’s.” In the 1989 interview he added, “some of them was his close relatives.” During the Sunday night riot Petray brothers Edward and Frank were inside the jail and vowing to kill the gangsters on the spot, so surely they were among the avengers along with Ray Lattin, Barney and his dad. There was the likely participation of the welder from the garage; stir in a few Pattesons and we’re up to ten, easy.

As for the other two dozen (or so) vigilantes, search out the northern county newspapers, particularly editions from before he was elected sheriff in 1918. Small town papers in those days were like collective FaceBook pages, reporting every mundane detail of who was doing what; as a result we can roughly map out who Jim Petray socialized with, from hunting deer to attending events to participating in fraternal groups (Knights of Pythias, Elks, Masons, Woodmen, Native Sons). What emerges is that he and his family seemed to spend time with others who likewise came from Alexander Valley.

As for the mysterious Captain: In its digital exhibition, “Crime of the Century: The Lynching of 1920”, the Healdsburg Museum noted, “the Captain was so competent in his role that people could not resist praising him, revealing his identity.” The person named there is Fred Young.

Fred was absolutely no relation to Maynard Young; their common name is a coincidence.2 That Fred would be the mastermind ends this long story with an unexpected twist because he was such a surprising candidate to plan and lead the mission.

As far as I can tell, Fred Young had no personal ties to Sheriff Petray or any of the other Alexander Valley families mentioned. Nor did he associate with anyone in law enforcement or their offices. The Standard Machine Works opened while he was away in the service so he never worked there; if he had been inside previously it would have been as a guy who walked in because he needed his magneto fixed or something.

The unlikely Captain, part II: If Fred was called the “Captain” it was an honorific; he was in the Army during WWI with his highest rank as a Lieutenant, promoted because he scored well on a test. After the end of the war he stayed in the service as personnel adjutant at the base – there was no leadership experience apparent in his military record.

His wartime assignment was as a flight instructor in Southern California. When it was over he flew a Jenny back to Healdsburg in 1919, becoming the first airplane to land in town and to great excitement. Unfortunately, he was not so skilled at takeoffs; the ballpark where he landed was too short for the ungainly aircraft and he made the rookie mistake of trying to fly underneath telegraph lines. He crashed into a barn and destroyed the “government flying machine” but was unhurt.

Fred’s father was long the town’s mortician and when he died at the close of 1919, Fred inherited the funeral home and the job. He resigned from the Army and moved back at the end of Feb. 1920, about nine months before the lynching took place. Even if he was the Captain he probably would have needed help assembling his militia, as he mostly had been away for three years (before being drafted, Fred was working in Arizona).

In later years Fred Young was a popular and respected Healdsburger, active in the American Legion and several fraternal groups. He was elected County Coroner from 1926 to 1940 when he retired because of ill health. The mortuary still bears his name.

The identity of the Captain and (most) of the vigilantes will never be known for certain. Those mysteries join a substantial list of “what-if” scenarios where something could have easily gone awry and many men from Healdsburg could have ended up arrested or even dead.

For example: All of the vigilantes had loaded weapons – but were they really prepared to use them? If Santa Rosa policemen had arrived while the vigilantes were inside the jail seizing the gangsters, would they have surrendered or started a shootout? When Maynard Young, Lattin and McMinn were talking to Sheriff Boyes before the assault, would they have subdued him if tried to contact the state police? (And for that matter, were they secretly armed?) The Captain anticipated there might be an attempt to capture them after the lynching via roadblocks, ordering some of the men to return via Coffey Lane or other roads; would a 40-something Alexander Valley farmer have maintained his composure if stopped by a patrolman and asked, “why are you out this late with a shotgun in your car?”

Through both the brilliant planning and great good luck, everything went off perfectly. There was no serious investigation by local authorities and the state did not intervene, although Governor Stephens grumbled there had better be some Sonoma County prosecutions.

But now that it was over, everyone was glad of being rid of those troublesome gangsters. It was two weeks to Christmas; there was shopping to do and dinners to plan. Children decorated school auditoriums with colorful bunting before performing holiday pageants. And around Healdsburg and the Valley of Alexander there were thirty men who carried only a lightly troubled conscience over an extraordinary and violent thing which already seemed as if it happened a long time ago.

 


1 Joseph A. McMinn was a director of the First National Bank of Healdsburg and a former County Supervisor. Like the others, his roots were in Alexander Valley prune farming and had a Patteson connection, being a pallbearer at Ned’s funeral. He would be named interim sheriff for a few months in 1926 following the sudden death of Sheriff Joe Ryan – a controversial appointment because McMinn had no experience in law enforcement.

2 Confusing matters further, there was another Fred Young in Healdsburg at this time who was born in 1880 (nine years before this Fred) and worked as a butcher.

 

sources
 

FRED YOUNG AN AVIATOR

Mr. and Mrs. Tom Young received a letter from their son Fred, who is in the aviation section at San Diego, announcing that he had experienced his first flight. “I handled the controls some,” says Fred. “There isn’t anything to the flying — the landing is the hard part.”

– Healdsburg Tribune, May 2 1918

 

FRED YOUNG A LIEUTENANT

Fred Young, son of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Young of Healdsburg, has received a commission as a lieutenant in the aviation branch of the service at San Diego. Fred won the promotion in competitive examination, his percentage being 95. He has been detailed as an Instructor at the San Diego aviation field.

– Healdsburg Tribune, July 11 1918

 

MAYNARD YOUNG HERE

Maynard Young, who returned from a visit to his Colusa County ranch on Friday night, was here on business Saturday. On his way home Mr. Young stopped at the country home of former Sheriff and Mrs. J. K. Smith at Knights Landing and found them comfortably installed in a nice home.

– Press Democrat, June 22 1919

 

First Airplane to Visit This City, Piloted by Local Man

Healdsburg received its first visit from an airplane Saturday, when Lieutenant Fred Young dropped out of the sky into his home town, making a landing at the ball grounds, where on many occasions as schoolboy Fred had contested on the diamond and in athletic events.

For a half-hour or more before making his landing, Fred treated his friends to an exhibition of his skill as an aviator, in stunts that even Beachey of fair-time days would have hesitated to attempt.

It was a little before twilight when the whirring of the engines of Fred’s airplane told of his coming. He circled far above the city, going to a height of about eight thousand feet, and then returning by means of nose dives, glides and apparently end-over-end maneuvers, to within a few hundred feet of the earth.

He easily made the landing at the Luce field, and was given a glad welcome home by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Tom O. Young, and by his wife, who had come to Healdsburg to be present when he arrived…

…Fred planned to leave Healdsburg early Monday morning on his return trip to the aviation field at Riverside. A great crowd of home folks was at the field to see him start. But within a minute or two from the moment that the motors started at the upper end of the field to give the plane its momentum to leave the ground at the south side and soar into the air, the big piece of mechanism was a mass of wreckage just across the street from the field.

As with the start on the previous day, sufficient momentum was not obtained for the big plane to rise above the telegraph wires, and Fred resorted to his trick of that day to dive beneath the wires.

But just as he reached the point of making the dive, one of the wings of the plane collided with the top of a small oak tree. This swung the plane out of its course and lessened its momentum, and before it could recover the plane collided with the roof of a barn, just across the street. In an instant it was a wreck. Fred jumped from the seat of the plane as soon as it fell to the ground, and did not receive a scratch. The car was injured beyond repair except at its home workshops, and it will be shipped to Riverside by rail.

The accident was a great disappointment to the young aviator, and to the hundreds of his warm friends of this community. The wreck has been visited by hundreds of sightseers…

– Healdsburg Tribune, July 10 1919

 

MAYNARD YOUNG HAS THE AGENCY FOR SALIENT SIX

Maynard Young, who a short time since disposed of his ranch interests in Alexander valley and moved into Heaidsburg to reside is now the agent in this section of the state for the “Stephens Salient Six” car, one of the classiest of automobiles and a good seller. Mr. Young is confidant that he will do well in the handling of this car and already has had many inquiries concerning the same. He will go here and in this county and adjacent territory in his car and will have his salesrooms in Healdsburg, and it will be well equipped. Mr. Young is an active business man and before he entered into the auto game with the Stephens car his friends knew that he must have satisfied himself perfectly as to the merits of the machine before taking it up and recommending it to his friends. He will undoubtedly meet with success.

– Press Democrat, July 18 1919

 

Patteson and Woods To Have Machine Shop

Don C. Patteson and Jack Woods are to have a first class machine shop in Healdsburg and it will occupy the back part of the Maynard Young auto sales shop. Mr. Patteson is a well known mechanican [sic] and has had much experience in garages and machine works here. He and his partner will undoubtedly establish a first class business in Healdsburg. Mr. Patteson, discussing his plans here Thursday stated that the machine shop will be equipped with everything right up to date for the handling of work.

– Press Democrat, July 18 1919

 

STANDARD MACHINE WORKS TO OPEN IN HEALDSBURG

The Standard Machine Works, the new company formed by Don Patteson and L. B. Woods, better known as “Jack” Woods, will be ready for business next Monday. The company has a lease of the Hiatt garage, on West street and the machinery is being installed this week. The building is being rearranged to meet the needs of the company, and additional skylights have been built to afford abundant light. The company will make a specialty of lathe work of every description, and will be equipped to make any part of an automobile or tractor. Welding in any of the metals will also be a special feature of the service of the machine works. Ail of the machinery of the company is of the latest design for auto and tractor repair.

Maynard Young will have a salesroom for the Stevens Salient Six at the front of the building. The entire building is being whitened inside. The ladies’ rest room is fitted up attractively, and is conveniently located near the front of the building. Auto and tractor owners of Northern Sonoma county have been compelled heretofore to send to San Francisco for repair work of the kind that the new company is prepared to do, and the enterprise will meet a present and growing need in this section.

– Healdsburg Tribune, August 14 1919

 

Sheriff Petray Returns

Sheriff James A. Petray has just returned from a business trip to Colusa county…While away he visited his old friend Jack Smith. former Sheriff of Sonoma county, now engaged in ranching at Knights Landing.

– Press Democrat, June 25 1920

 

CELEBRATOR STOPS AUTO ON HIGHWAY; SHERIFF IS IN IT

While driving home from Petaluma about 11 o’clock Thursday night, Sheriff James A. Petray and Jailer Gus Jewett, riding with Maynard Young, espied a man standing in the middle of the highway a short distance out of Santa Rosa and wildly waving his arms.

Young stopped his car and discovered that the gesticulating gent had a companion near an automobile which they had left standing at the side of the highway. When the officers arrived the man who had been standing in the highway started an argument with the other and started pursuing him, kicking him as he ran.

Petray and Jewett started a little pursuit themselves, with the result that in about the time it takes a watch to tick, they had the two celebrators safely tucked away in the back seat of Young’s machine. They were brought to the county jail, where they gave their names and occupations as Walt Connors and F. Mulhall, masseurs at Burke’s. They probably will be put under a charge today.

– Press Democrat, June 25 1920

 

HEALDSBURG TO HAVE BIG SHOW
Maynard Young Arranges Special Exhibit Space for North End of Sonoma County.

Maynard Young of Healdsburg was here yesterday and madr arrangements with the directors of the Sonoma County Fair for exhibit space for Healdsburg and Dry Creek valley districts. Young promised that an exhibit would be brought here that would open the eyes of Sonoma countv people. This exhibit will be outside the regular farm center exhibits and will be staged in the industrial tent, which will in itself be a unique feature, as it will be the only horticultural and agricultural exhibit in that tent.

– Press Democrat, August 11 1920

 

TWO BOY BURGLARS AGAIN JAILED; MUCH LOOT FOUND
Bianchi Boy and Companion, Each 14 Years of Age, Arrested Once More; Pockets Are Found Full of Money and Jewelry.

When Mario Corelli and Joe Bianchi, both 14 years old, stopped Maynard Young, of Healdsburg, this side of Sonoma and asked him for a ride to Santa Rosa, they reckoned not that their path led straight to the county jail.

Without questioning the lads. Young took them into his car and proceeded to town. Arriving at the jail, he invited the boys inside. Then a veritable shower of jewelry occurred.

“You dropped a ring there, didn’t you?” someone asked Young, and he bent down and picked up a small gold ring. Then his eyes caught another ring, and another, and another; then a dainty little pendant, set in opals and pearls rolled out onto the floor, apparently from nowhere. Young gathered this up also…

[..]

Shortly after the boys left Sonoma Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Sheriff Joe Ryan received word to be on the lookout for them, and he requested Maynard Young to pick them up if he saw them along the road. Young recognised them when they hailed him and brought them to the county jail without warning of his intention.

– Press Democrat, December 9 1920

 

HEALDSBURG LAUDS MEN WITH ROPE

Some Healdsburg members of the mob which lynched Boyd, Valento and Fitts early this morning, are making no effort to hide their identity, according to reports from that city this morning.

In fact, report says, they are being acclaimed as public heroes.

“I’m prouder of you than if you’d gone to France and killed a hundred Germans,” cried one Healdsburg woman as she greeted her husband on the street after his return from Santa Rosa, and as she spoke she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

A great demonstration was made in Healdsburg by the returning lynchers. A dozen automobiles, before daylight, circled the Plaza, tooting horns, blowing sirens and making a huge racket which woke up the town.

More than a dozen of the masks used by the gang were found scattered along the edges of the highway between Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.

Several of these masks were brought to Santa Rosa by a member of the Democrat staff, and are now on exhibition at this office.

– Press Democrat, December 10 1920

 

HARRY PATTESON DEPUTY SHERIFF Harry L. Patteson of this city has been appointed to the office of deputy under Sheriff John M. Boyes of Santa Rosa, and takes up his work immediately in Santa Rosa. Patteson is universally known in this section, and his selection will meet with popular approval. Mr. Patteson is the son of the late Supervisor Patteson. whose family has been connected with official life in this county for years. He has been associated with his brother, Don Patteson, in the auto business at the Standard Machine Shop.

– Healdsburg Tribune, March 2 1921

 

PATTESON NAMED DEPUTY SHERIFF

With the appointment of Harry Patteson of Healdsburg as deputy sheriff to be detailed as bailiff in department one of the superior court, Sonoma county has one of the best organised sheriff systems in the state, Patteson took up his duties as deputy yesterday.

With Patteson as bailiff of the superior court, Marvin Robinson will be freed for general work throughout the county. Robinson has been handicapped in his work since the murder of Sheriff Petray.

Patteson is well known through out the county. He is the son of a former supervisor, is a prominent business man and is very well known. He will retain his residence in Healdsburg while serving on the sheriffs force.

– Press Democrat, March 2 1921

 

THE VELVET HAMMER
MAYNARD YOUNG
By A. B. B.

Some people muffle their remarks so neighbors cannot hear. They make few contributions to the other fellow’s ear. But Maynard Young has got a voice which does not waste a word. When he proceeds to state a fact, that fact Is always heard. Opinions do not die with him because they can’t get out. nor does his language leave them in obscurity or doubt.

The motor cars he sells you at his Healdsburg auto shop have got the gears that run for years before they stall and stop. If you accept the echoed word of Mr. Maynard Young; you’re sure to bite, the car is right, you simply can’t be stung. The engine will co-operate with axles in the rear; the only question on your mind is where you go from here.

He deals in grapes and raises prunes and has a mind acute for getting on the happy side in marketing the fruit. Ha helped us win the recent war with services of weight (a member of the draft board, we specifically state). He is a county pioneer whom everybody knows, who does not wander far and fast with every wind that blows.

– Press Democrat, October 26 1921

 

Local Wonder Dog Amazes Crowd

“King,” the wonder dog owned and trained by Ray Lattin of Alexander valley, amazed hundreds of guests with his ability to add, subtract, select a beauty queen and intelligently obey the slightest command of Lattin at the opening of a Santa Rosa cafe Tuesday night.

The dog, to be shown at the coming Petaluma Dog Show, November 22–23, astounded spectators by identifying figures chalked on a blackboard and barking the numbers, in addition to presenting a routine of unusual tricks.

– Healdsburg Tribune, November 13 1941

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Mazama

I’LL BE RICH, I TELL YOU, RICH

 When the big book of Sonoma county history is writ, there should be a special chapter on some of the remarkably dumb business ventures that were tried here and flopped spectacularly.

 Near the top of the list would be Jack London’s eucalyptus obsession, which caused him to squander a fortune. London wasn’t alone in the mistaken belief that blue gum trees would be a valuable cash crop but he was probably the largest investor, planting about 100,000 seedlings. The trees proved worthless (plus a fire hazard, to boot) and just made London’s Beauty Ranch stink like cheap menthol cough drops.

London only wasted money with his dream of a eucalyptus plantation, but in the 1870s a Glen Ellen farmer inadvertently launched an environmental disaster. In 1871 Julius A. Poppe set up a fish farm but he didn’t stock it with Steelhead or Rainbow Trout or another native fish; instead, he imported common carp all the way from Germany.

Often called a “trash fish,” common carp could be the eucalyptus of the piscatorial world. They grow big very fast, spawn prolifically and crowd out any other species in its vicinity. And like blue gum trees, they are mostly worthless – very difficult to clean as well as eat because of their tiny bones, not to mention being also an acquired taste. Yet it was a traditional food for German/Central European immigrants and carp ponds became a local fad, with Poppe selling breeding fish to more than a dozen farmers.

Big winter storms caused some of the ponds to overflow and by the middle of the decade carp were found in creeks, rivers and the Laguna. That was the death knell for commercial carp farming in Sonoma county, although Poppe also sold stock to farmers in Southern California, Hawai’i, and even Central America.

But there seemed to be an upside to the release of the fish into the wild; carp fishing in the Laguna became a popular sport and a tourist draw. In 1879 the State Board of Fish Commissioners even supported carp by introducing catfish, which would eat the “water dogs” – newts of the now endangered tiger salamander – which preyed upon juvenile carp.

Shift forward fifteen years and attitudes are flipped. Sportsmen realized the carp were forcing out trout and other types of fish which people actually liked to eat, while carp were also reducing the food supply of migratory ducks. Thus in 1896 the state introduced largemouth bass into the Laguna to eat the carp (“all the carp which are now in the stream will eventually be destroyed, as black bass are death on carp” – Sonoma Democrat, 4/24/1897). Two years later the bass itself had become such a nuisance that someone began trying to wipe them out with dynamite: “Every few days a stick of powder is touched off under the water and as a result dead bass in great quantities can be seen floating on the surface,” reported the Sebastopol Times in 1898.

What a fine example this was of the Unintended Consequences Law; in less than a quarter century, a modest side business of a few farmers ended up wrecking an entire ecosystem. Even today, catfish and bass appear to be in all our local waterways, while Mr. Poppe’s carp can still be found in Green Valley Creek, Estero Americano, the Petaluma River and elsewhere.

Although the carp and eucalyptus projects didn’t make any money (or at least not much), at least they moved the ball forward; Poppe successfully imported fish from Germany and sold some. London indeed planted a carpload of trees which no one wanted. But John M. King badly fumbled between the dreaming and the doing. John M. King wanted to become the first steamboat captain on the Russian River.

A 1908 steamer with the same dimensions as King’s Enterprise

 
 

Nothing is known about King – whether he had any experience aboard ships or even how old he was. “John King” and even “John M. King” was a surprisingly common name at that time. From descriptions in the weekly Russian River Flag newspaper we know he indeed built a very small stern-wheel steamboat in 1869. There are no photos but it must have resembled the Mazama steamer shown above. Named the Enterprise, King’s little ship was only fifty feet long and sat high in the water, with a draft of only a foot and the paddles dipping in merely ten inches. Although it was so tiny that it probably looked like somebody’s hobby boat, the specs were a good match for the shallow Russian River except for one issue – the very first article about him mentioned “…in the season of high water the Captain expects to run to Healdsburg.”

Paddling around the lower Russian River and piloting a boat through the bendy twists of the river around Healdsburg are two very different goals. Yes, his dinky steamer was more maneuverable than a larger craft, but that’s not gonna help if that part of the river dried up completely (or nearly so), as it did every autumn back then. The river was only legally declared navigable in 1976 by a court revising the meaning of “navigable” as not necessarily allowing passage year-round. And closer to King’s day back in 1886, the state Supreme Court had declared specifically that “the [Russian] river is not navigable for boats larger than canoes, skiffs, etc., and is not in fact navigable for commercial purposes.”*

Captain King built the Enterprise just downstream from Heald and Guerne’s lumber mill, which is to say a mile west of today’s Safeway store in Guerneville. He also built two barges to tow with his steamer; he had a contract with the mill to carry shingles and lumber to the mouth of the river, where presumably an ocean-going ship would connect to take the barges down to San Francisco. But before he began barging or making his quixotic run to Healdsburg, King wanted to show off a bit.

King took out an ad in the Flag announcing an “excursion” from Guerneville to Duncan’s Mills. “…The trip will afford one continuous panorama of the most beautiful and romantic scenery,” he burbled, as well as the chance to see lumbermen’s camps – which seems to me a bit like the SMART train trying to draw riders by promising scenic views into junky backyards and homeless encampments.

Alas, a cancellation notice quickly followed. “The excursion trip is postponed for a few days, owing to an unavoidable accident which will be soon remedied, when all will be right again.” As the summer and autumn of 1869 passed, King continued to tinker with his boat and just before Christmas the Flag reported that he was actually towing cargo. The excursion to Duncan’s Mill and back (with dancing on the barges in tow) supposedly happened Dec. 23-24, but nothing further appeared in the paper.

He failed to meet his goal of reaching Healdsburg before Christmas, but told the Flag he “intends next Summer to make regular trips – three times a week — from the month of the river to Healdsburg.” Besides working on his boat, “the Capt. has constructed a dam and lock, which gives the river a three foot rise above the dam,” reported the Flag. “He will open the lock and let the boat ride through to the sea on the accumulated waters.”

Then sometime after the New Year with the river around its winter peak, he made a run for Healdsburg. He sank two miles past Guerneville.

“The indomitable Captain has got her afloat again,” reported the Flag a few weeks later. King was aided by someone from the Mare Island Navy Yard as well as fifteen men clearing obstructions in the water. “Capt. King’s steamer, ‘Enterprise,’ will probably reach Healdsburg today. as she is now but a short distance below town,” the paper reported on March 24.

He didn’t. The ship ran aground again and this time could not be budged. It stayed wherever it was for months, maybe years.

In November of 1871 a visitor was told “…she twisted off her shaft and went to the bottom; and how the hulk now lies half-buried in the sand — a warning to any man so presumptuous as to attempt steamboat navigation on a river along which there is not yet enough traffic to have made even a decent bridle-path…”

Hannah Clayborn, who writes some about the steamboat in the “Roads, Ferries, and Bridges” chapter of her Healdsburg history page, suggests it got no farther than the Windsor area, but Dr. Shipley’s “Tales of Sonoma County” says King almost made it to the summer dam:

She struck hard aground and fast, the water went down and left the tug high and dry on the bar and it had to be abandoned until the next high water when the fall rains set in, at which time she was repaired, re-caulked, and with the crew who brought her up the river the spring before, they sailed, or rather steamed, down the muddy water back to the sea…

Why he risked – and ultimately, lost – his river hauling business at Guerneville is a mystery. What was so important about reaching Healdsburg by water? His steamer was so small he could not have carried much cargo aboard, and he certainly could not have gotten his barges through the channel. And even in the middle of the rainy season, Healdsburg was not cut off by road, or at least no more than other towns. A January, 1870 letter from a Healdsburger who went to Vallejo remarked, “the road to Santa Rosa was so so – very fair for our county; from thence to Petaluma it was too abominable to talk about to strangers.”

My guess is that King’s venture was bankrolled by Thomas W. Hudson, who owned considerable property on the southern end of Healdsburg. A one-term member of the state Assembly 1869-1871, the only bill he tried to get passed was to declare the Russian River navigable so state money could be spent on improvement. “This is intended to encourage and protect the indomitable enterprise of Capt. John M. King,” the Flag noted. Hannah Clayborn wrote, “…declaring the river navigable would have served Hudson’s interests, as he owned the west bank of the river and half of a ferry system throughout the 1860’s, a natural location for a proposed Healdsburg Wharf.”

There’s an odd little Believe-it-or-Not! twist to the sad tale of steamboat captain John M. King, and I’m not sure what to make of it. About two months after the (final) sinking, he wrote a letter to the Flag informing them he was now running a sawmill near Cloverdale, and would return to the Russian River soon and build a new ship which he would name the “Perseverance.” Alas, he wrote, Heald and Guerne were trying to break him and had attached the Enterprise for money owed. They had even attached his dog, Gipsey, “which I valued more than money.” The pooch was supposedly sold for $200. “This seems like a large sum. but I would not have taken twice that amount for it.”

The next week Tom Heald wrote the paper. “Heald and Guerne have not attached the boat as represented by King, and, as to his dog ‘Gipsie,’ I never as much as knew he had such a dog. Heald and Guerne do not wish to ‘break’ J. M. King, nor to ‘keep him broke,’ but suppose we will have the pleasure of seeing the ‘Perseverence’ when she comes along.”


* The 1976 case was Hitchings v. Del Rio Woods Recreation & Park District. One of the lawyers in the 1886 Wright v. Seymour suit was this journal’s favorite antihero, James Wyatt Oates.


The Steamboat “Enterprise.” — This boat now being built at Heald’s Mill by Capt. John M. King, will be launched next Saturday the 15th. The machinery is all aboard now and the boat will be completed within two or three weeks, when she will make an excursion to Duncan’s Mill on the Coast, going down one day and returning the next. As many of our citizens will want to join the excursion the Flag will give timely notice of the day set for it to come off. The livery stables will run stages down to the landing twelve miles from Healdsburg. Capt. King has been running a barge on the river, drawing from fourteen to twenty-six inches, according to the load. He has made six round trips from Heald’s Mill, carrying, in the aggregate, 200,000 shingles and 20,000 feet of lumber, besides considerable farm and dairy produce. He has built another barge drawing only twelve inches when loaded. He is now building the “Enterprise” to tow these barges. The boat is 50 feet long; 10 foot beam on the bottom and 14½ on deck; Engine 15 horsepower; draught 12 inches; depth of hull 44 inches; dip of paddles (stern wheel) 10 inches. She is built in a superior manner and fitted up with a cabin and all necessary conveniences for carrying passengers. Capt. King having a contract for carrying the lumber from Heald & Guern’s Mill the regular trips of the boat will be between that point and the Coast. In the season of high water the Captain expects to run to Healdsburg. This would give us cheap freight between Healdsburg and San Francisco while the mud road to Petaluma was at its worst. We hope Capt. King’s enterprise in building the “Enterprise” will be richly rewarded.

– Russian River Flag, May 13 1869

Particular attention is likewise invited to the advertisement of Capt. John King, of the new steamboat “Enterprise.” He proposes an excursion which will give every one an opportunity to enjoy the delightful scenery along the navigable portion of Russian River, and also to visit the coast on the first steamboat ever built or run on this river. We hope the Captain may have an encouraging benefit on this occasion. His pioneering energy should be well rewarded. It is twelve miles we believe to the Mill from which the excursion starts.

– Russian River Flag, May 20 1869

Read Capt. King’s advertisement carefully once more and decide whether you can afford to lose the trip. — We learn from Capt. King, and you will learn from our correspondent “Visitor,” that the excursion is postponed for a few days. Be ready for another announcement.

– Russian River Flag, June 3 1869

Letter from “Big Bottom.” Big Bottom, May 29th, 1869.

Mr. Editor: The most important event of th« day to the people of Lower Russian River, is the successful launching of the steamboat “Enterprise” built at Heald’s Mill by Capt. J. M. King. The scene was witnessed by many of the citizens — ladies and gentlemen — who met there on the occasion. The little boat sat on the water beautifully, and promises all that her sanguine friends could have anticipated of her. The excursion trip is postponed for a few days, owing to an unavoidable accident which will be soon remedied, when all will be right again. When ready, due notice will be given to all. – Visitor

– Russian River Flag, June 10 1869

The steamer Enterprise, Capt. John King, has steam up again and is running. It will make a trial trip to the mouth of the river this week. The Capt. has constructed a dam and lock, which gives the river a three foot rise above the dam. He will open the lock and let the boat ride through to the sea on the accumulated waters. — Capt. King says that three locks would be sufficient to make the Russian River navigable to Healdsburg the whole year; also that we may expect to see his boat up here the first Fall rains.

– Russian River Flag, August 12 1869

We visited the steamer Enterprise, lying one mile below the mill. Capt. King is quite confident that he will visit Healdsburg by steam before Christmas. Says he intends next Summer to make regular trips – three times a week — from the month of the river to Healdsburg. Next Saturday he intends making his first trip to the mouth of the river.

– Russian River Flag, August 26 1869

Capt. King of the steamer Enterprise was in town last week having some repairing done to the machinery of his boat, which will soon be skimming over the waters of Russian River.

– Russian River Flag, September 2 1869

A Success. – The new steamer Enterprise recently constructed by Captain King for navigating the Russian River, made her trial trip on the 23d ult., and we are glad to learn, proved a success. Her speed was some ten miles an hour.

– Petaluma Argus, October 7 1869

The Steamer Enterprise. — We are pleased to learn from Mr. J. W. Bagley that Capt. King’s boat, the Enterprise, is now successfully running on Russian River. She left Heald & Guern’s Mill on the 16th with several passengers for Duncan’s Mill, with barges in tow loaded with charcoal. On her next trip she will carry hoop poles and several thousand Christmas trees for San Francisco. At last, after several unsuccessful attempts, Russian River is navigated by a live steamboat, and we hope, when the river rises, to see the little vessel throw out her bow lines and stern lines and spring lines to the Healdsburg wharf! Captain King is entitled to great praise for his indomitable pluck and perseverance under difficulties and we hope his “Enterprise” may prove a great success. Since the above was in type we are informed that the boat will leave Heald & Guern’s Mill today at 12 o’clock on a pleasure excursion to Duncan’s Mill and return at noon tomorrow. Fare down and back, $2.50. Two barges fitted up for dancing will be in tow.

– Russian River Flag, December 23 1869

Mr. Hudson’s bill declaring Russian River navigable and providing for its improvement, has passed the Assembly. This is intended to encourage and protect the indomitable enterprise of Capt. John M. King, who has built a steamboat to navigate Russian River, and it will no doubt become a law. It will be of great benefit to our county.

– Russian River Flag, February 17 1870

The Enterprise. – Some weeks since Capt. King attempted to make a passage to Healdsburg with the “Enterprise,” but a little above Heald and Guern’s mill the pilot backed the boat upon a snag and sank her. This occasioned delay and considerable expense, but the indomitable Captain has got her afloat again and with the experienced help of his friend Capt. Parker, of the Mare Island Navy Yard, he will make the first voyage to Healdsburg as soon as some obstructions can be removed from the river, which he is now engaged in doing, with a force of fifteen men. The boat is now above the mouth of Mark West creek about ten miles below Healdsburg. The captain has bought new sixty horse power engines for her and he will keep her here when she comes up until they are put in.

– Russian River Flag, March 10 1870

Capt. King’s steamer, “Enterprise,” will probably reach Healdsburg today. as she is now but a short distance below town.

– Russian River Flag, March 24 1870

The Russian River Boat.

We have learned with considerable regret that Capt. King’s boat the “Enterprise.” is, for the present, a failure. The Captain has met with many serious difficulties in his undertaking, the chief of which lately, seem to have been the summary manner in which some of his creditors have secured their claims, whether rightfully or not we have no knowledge, and of course have nothing to say upon that head, though we had hoped that the Captain’s energy and perseverance would be rewarded. At his request we publish the following letter:

Eds. Flag: — I take this opportunity of thanking you for the many favors you have done me during the time I have been endeavoring to prove that Russian River is navigable. Although I differ very widely from you in politics, yet as long as I can use a hammer and cold chisel you may consider me one of your subscribers. Messrs. Heald & Guern have attached my boat, but that will not prevent me from making a living, as some friends have engaged me to run the Perseverance Saw mill, which is located thirteen miles above Cloverdale. They also attached my dog, “Gipsey,” which I valued more than money. They sold the dog for $200. This seems like a large sum. but I would not have taken twice that amount for it. They may break me, but they cannot keep me broke. The first of August, I will commence building another steamboat, at the mouth of Russian River, to be called the “Perseverance.” Again thanking you for past favors I ask that you do me one more by publishing this letter. Respectfully, yours,

John M. King.

– Russian River Flag, May 5 1870   

A Card From Mr. Heald.

Eds Flag: — If I may be permitted the space in your paper to correct some errors in the card of John M. King, in your issue of May 5th, I will be thankful for the favor, as it seems to throw the blame of the failure of his boat where it does not belong. I think, however, the fact of his trying some four weeks to get the boat to Healdsburg over the shoals, with the river falling every day, without any probability of a rise till next December, and only making twelve miles, should convince any one that the “Enterprise for the present is a failure,” and Heald and Guerne not wholly answerable tor it, if they had lately attached the boat; but the facts are, that Heald and Guerne have not attached the boat as represented by King, and, as to his dog “Gipsie,” I never as much as knew he had such a dog. Heald and Guerne do not wish to “break” J. M. King, nor to “keep him broke,” but suppose we will have the pleasure of seeing the “Perseverence” when she comes along.

Thos. T. Heald. May 8th. 1870.

– Russian River Flag, May 12 1870 

IN THE REDWOODS.
Life among the Lumbermen – How the Redwoods are Cut and Hauled, etc.
[Correspondence to the Bulletin.]
Stumptown, Sonoma Co., Nov. 20th

…Two or three hours I listened to these heavy stories, and to my hosts narrative of his financial shipwreck through a rash steamboat venture up Russian river with one King; how she twisted off her shaft and went to the bottom; and how the hulk now lies half-buried in the sand — a warning to any man so presumptuous as to attempt steamboat navigation on a river along which there is not yet enough traffic to have made even a decent bridle-path…

– Russian River Flag, November 30 1871

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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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